Human beings have evolved as pattern-seeking animals. We perceive sequences of events and we see shapes and objects seemingly organized in particular ways, and we tend to want to find a reason for that often-apparent level of organization. We see random sequences around us, and we have devised mental mechanisms that allow us to see them organized in patterns. This mechanism helped our ancestors better cope with their natural surroundings and potential dangers such as a pair of menacing eyes staring from within the foliage, but did not equip them with the tools to discern when a pattern actually exists and when those patterns just seem to exist. Thus, we think we see faces on Mars, dogs and dragons in the night sky, or the image of the Virgin Mary on the glass windows of an office building reflecting a distorted image of a nearby tree.
The individuals that learned how to cope with their environment were the ones that survived long enough to reproduce. That way, they managed to pass along important and useful information to their offspring in the form of orally transmitted tales. As a consequence of this, we have evolved as story-telling animals that pass along our perception of reality to our offspring. We tend to create myths to weave together these apparently purposely created shapes, patterns or sequences of unexplained phenomena in an effort to assign meaning to them. We have evolved a belief engine which has given us the tools to look at nature and find explanations for everything, ranging from why the sun seemingly rises every morning and apparently revolves around us, to why it rains, where we come from and where we go to after we die. These beliefs-and many more-are grounded on a long tradition and history in which generation after generation passed them along to their offspring. They gave people comfort and sometimes helped them survive by making other people aware of dangerous animals or places. Most importantly, they created a sense of community for those people that shared the same beliefs, thus making them stronger as a group in the face of a hostile environment.