Humans seem prone to coming up with religions; it seems that every culture has at least one that arose in the depths of history, and persists to modern times in our own world despite no scientific evidence that what any of them ask people to believe is actually true.

If we consider magical worlds, they frequently seem populated with gods which have real repeatable and verifiable effects that can be invoked by certain worshippers. However, in my world, it is debatable whether the gods were created by the belief, or if the gods predated the belief. Some of the gods say that they came first, but they may be lying in order to gain more worshippers. More honest gods state that they do not know.

Gods receive worship from many, but the powers they hand out are received by only a subset of all worshippers, the greater the effect's power, the fewer who can use it.

Then we have aliens. In either our real world (assuming that they exist) or my created magical one (where I can state that they exist), they have arisen entirely independently of humanity, and need not follow any of humanity's patterns save where the necessities of living in the same universe dictate that such patterns are necessary.

So, we come to the question:

Would all alien societies develop religion, in the real universe or my created one? Would there be any aliens who would reject religion in a magical universe where it can be shown that deities are real and can have tangible effects (using, say, the argument against pyramid schemes)?

  • $\begingroup$ This smacks of opinion to me. The fiercely religious will say religion is mandatory, while the nonreligious will say it depends. Plus, you can do whatever your want in your universe, so we can't attest to what's true there. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 1:56
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Similar to this question and this question. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on your definition of "religion". $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ The Romans and Greeks didn't have a word closely equivalent to "religion", and their "religions" had little to do with belief, and were almost exclusively based on observance and propitiation. $\endgroup$
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


I think religion may be a natural product of development, but that should be thought of as less of a statement about religion, and more a statement about how we categorize things.

I can say anything I want about religions. Why? Because its remarkably hard to get a solid mechanical definition of a religion. It's easy to point to the large religions like Christianity and say, "See, it's easy to see what a religion is," but it can be harder in some cases where the group is smaller. As a case example, there are small cult-like martial arts groups which revolve around the presumably superhuman power of their leader. Is that a religion, or just a strange group of people?

The part of religion that I think is most meaningful for a question such as the one you have written is that the contents of religion are accepted "on faith." This means there is insufficient evidence to argue a "rational" belief in the faith, but the belief is given anyway. As a class of ideas, you'll find that everything comes with some axiom which must be believed without rational evidence (even science!), however in the case of religions, those beliefs are highly visible. Thus I run with a definition of the nature of a religion: it is a system of thought for which the underlying axioms play a large part in what people see in a religion, but those axioms are hard to defend with purely rational thought. I'll also add that a religion should say something about "everything," because that plays a part as well.

Now consider the alternative case. If no religion forms, meeting that particular definition, then all systems of thought must either be fully rational thought, or must carefully bury their axioms so that they are hard to find. Now rational thought has some limitations. In particular, it is very bad at finding things it isn't looking for, because it only looks where it's rational to find something. This makes it terribly inefficient, and the costs of being irrational suddenly look more valuable.

Also, if the axioms must be buried, it is difficult to make leaps of faith. If you cannot admit that you are just operating "on a hunch," you will always be hyper-conservative.

Finally, there's the question of everything. Given that it is virtually impossible to develop a purely rational theory of everything from scratch, or to try to develop a theory of everything from scratch with a super-subtle assumption at the core. At some point, you're going to find yourself somewhere in the middle, in the region where a religion almost has to appear because it's sufficiently selected for.

Alternatively, an alien race with no particular need for a theory of everything might escape the need for a religion. Whether such alien races are interesting or not is up to you.


In your created universe, it's gonna depend on the alien psychology and physiology and you get to make that up for yourself. We don't have any examples of alien psychology to our own so anything we offer will be pure speculation. Maybe their evolutionary environment favored risk much more than ours or they invented science much quicker than we did and didn't need religion.

Whether the emergence of religion is unavoidable for humans is a question for Cognitive Psychology SE. I don't know near enough to be able to answer that question intelligently.


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