Root of Humanity's Belief in Evil Possibly Found

livescience.com | 10/30/2019 | Mindy Weisberger - Senior Writer
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Where did the spiritual concept of evil originate? One possible explanation might be people's attempts to understand and cope with infectious diseases.

Linking diseases and their symptoms to mysterious evil forces is a practice that emerged in traditional belief systems prior to the mid-19th century, when germ theory was introduced, scientists wrote in a new study. Germ theory revealed that microscopic pathogens, rather than malevolent spirits, were the cause of illness.

Connection - Convictions - Presence - Disease - Lingers

However, the connection between religious convictions about good and evil and the presence of infectious disease lingers today, the researchers discovered. They found that, in geographic regions with high incidences of disease, people also demonstrated stronger convictions about agents of evil, such as demons and witches.

Is This the Face of a Scottish 'Witch'?

Face - 'Witch

Is This the Face of a Scottish 'Witch'?

Historically, many cultures in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America have used supernatural forces to explain and guide their responses to disease. One notable example was the surge in witch hunts in medieval Europe when the continent was ravaged by the Black Death, the researchers reported.

Approach - Side - People - Signs - Influence

This approach had a practical side: Sick people — those showing signs of a so-called evil influence — would be isolated, shunned or even killed, thereby protecting others from the spread of pathogens, according to the study. In turn, environments where infectious diseases were common would reinforce conservative ideologies that followed a strict practice of shared rituals and avoidance of strangers.

If spiritual beliefs in evil were more common in regions that carried a higher load of pathogens, "it suggests that historically these beliefs may have evolved to explain the effects of pathogens," lead study author Brock Bastian, an associate professor with the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne in Australia, told Live Science in an email.

Insights

"It opens up new insights...
(Excerpt) Read more at: livescience.com
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