We believe there is sufficient evidence to provide a plausible argument that early forms of terror management altered the course of human history. The awareness of death arose as a by-product of early humans’ burgeoning self-awareness, and it would have undermined consciousness as a viable form of mental organization— hurling our terrified and demoralized ancestors into the psychological abyss and onto the evolutionary scrap heap of extinct life-forms— in the absence of simultaneous adaptations to transcend death.
But our ancestors ingeniously conspired to “Just Say No” to reality by creating a supernatural universe that afforded a sense of control over life and death.
Symbolization, self-consciousness, and the capacity to contemplate the future were extremely helpful to our ancestors. But these highly adaptive cognitive abilities also gave rise to an ever-present potential for mortal terror.
Our ancestors consequently used their imagination and ingenuity to stifle their existential dread.
So our ancestors made a supremely adaptive, ingenious, and imaginative leap: they created a supernatural world, one in which death was not inevitable or irrevocable.