Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Origins of Religion: The God of Creation

A free online textbook for Historical Geology courses

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The Origins of Religion:
The God of Creation

As we continue to examine the origins of religion I wish to make a quick apology to my Christian friends and readers who would prefer a simpler reading of the bible. At one time I had as well but no longer.

You should know that Adam and Eve did not drop out of the sky already pre-formed and living in an idyllic garden with a talking snake. That the Tower of Babel was not the start of many languages. And that Noah's Flood was neither a global event nor singular incident.

And most of all, the stories in Genesis do have a very deep and rich history but not one which goes back eons-and-eons into man's primative eras. That Genesis' oral teachings (say, 2400 BC) and written pages (say, 750-350 BC) were speaking only of their most recent memory passed to them from earlier civilizations.

Thus I have written this extended series of articles on the evolution of man and religion as a necessity which much of the church has tended to ignore.


I think I need to spend some time in this post by re-orienting our Christian approach to God's formation of creation by asking the question, "What Does It Mean When We Say that God is Creator?"

This statement will require addressing some deeply held Christian beliefs which must be adjusted when re-assessing modern Christianity's ideas of "God and creation."

Which means my next post will be better able to list out and evaluate the underlying commonalities we might expect to find when thinking through the origins, or evolution, of religion - irrespective its many evolutionary-specific eras, portrayals, comportments, beliefs, and shared communions.

What Do We Mean When We Say
"God is Creator"?

Here is my tentative list of things I mean when I say God is my Creator.... This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but rather as way for establishing discussion between one another.

  • First, the origin of religion does not begin with doctrine. The academic development of a system of theological doctrine is a new form of believing in God. A substitute form of faith. More like a faith in a faith rather than as a faith in God who is described by doctrine.
  • Church theology in its systems, creeds, philosophies, religious rites, and behaviors are more of a modern day occurrence which has been developing over the past 2000 years of the Church Age. Before the Church we might say there were very few, if any, "systematized" collections of belief in God before the Church Fathers:
Wikipedia - The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. The historical period in which they worked became known as the Patristic Era and spans approximately from the late 1st to mid-8th centuries, flourishing in particular during the 4th and 5th centuries, when Christianity was in the process of establishing itself as the state church of the Roman Empire.

In traditional dogmatic theology, authors considered Church Fathers are treated as authoritative, and a somewhat restrictive definition is used. The academic field of patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, has extended the scope of the term, and there is no definitive list. Some, such as Origen and Tertullian, made major contributions to the development of later Christian theology, but certain elements of their teaching were then later condemned [in later church eras].
  • Next, much of the religious behaviors and rites of homo sapiens (c.150,000 BCE and forwards) most likely had a "designated" shaman who plead before the gods of storm and wind, life and death, for the clan or tribe.
  • Further, a form or type of shamanism is as old as man's line of homonids (approx. 2,500,000 million years ago); and if taking into account our apian relatives, then the origins of religion is as old as 25,000,000 years ago. (Yes, I realize this is shocking as we don't normally think about such things as modern-day Christians).
  • And since the origins of religion - or its evolutionary antecendents - go so very far back one must assume that the "spark of divinity" - or the "fellowship of creation" with it's Creator-Redeemer God - goes alllllll the way back as well.... How far? All the way back to creation's very beginning. So what then would this mean or imply?
  • That God's loving Self to abide, indwell, be alongside, and be present momentarily and eternally with creation began at the beginning. And will so abide faithfully, fully, essentially, fundamentally, and deeply to creation's eternal, infinite end. So great is the love of God.
  • Meaning, God isn't the Father of creation if God were to leave us on our own. Nor would Jesus or the Apostle's teaching be correct when they each said "God is with us... ALWAYS".
  • More simply, we may assuredly know that the presence of God in creation, or the divinity of God held within creation's very DNA, "goes all the way down (to the merest atom) and all the up to up" (to the highest evolutionary strain... (which temporarily points to us). There is no part of Creation which God has abandoned. Creation IS (or, we are) because God IS.
  • Hence, we may surmise via metaphysical process theology that as God is relational, experiential, panpsychic, and characterized by love, that so is God's creation panrelational, panexperiential, and panpsychic... (the love part we'll discuss in a moment).
  • And although systematized classic theology can say these things it is too often at odds with itself as it views God as far away and beyond us in God's transcendency over creation because God is Holy. That God's holiness "sets-God-apart-from" creation. Which is untrue.
  • It is however more true to say that God is Other-than creation but not that God is un-present with creation. It is a logical fallacy based upon a unbiblical theodicy confusing divine holiness with sin and judgment.
  • It is my view that God's divine sovereignty must be redefined in terms of divine love and immanency as I have discussed at length over the years when exploring and dissecting Whiteheadian process philosophy. That the ideas of man attributing to God divine wrath and anger, transcendent separateness and abandonment from creation are flat out wrong. The prophet's may have preached it to Israel but we misunderstand it incorrectly when judging God to have left us when it was we, ourselves, who left God. 
  • This God of Israel, and of the bible, is love. And love is not any of these things. God is unlike the pagan gods, the Greek gods, or our idolatrous beliefs about God. God abides eternally and presently with us at all times in love... NOT wrath and judgment nor abandonment. God is not dipolar. God is One.
  • Moreover, Whitehead described process philosophy as the Philosophy of Organism. That creation is not a metaphysically reductive, mechanical, or inanimate object (ala Plato et al) but that creation - including a proper processually organic metaphysic to go with it - is a living, dynamic, ever-changing, and thus processually Divine Organism - of which WE are a living part of it connected through and through and through.
  • Why? Because divinity goes all the way down and all the way up. There is nowhere in creation which is not beheld in God.
  • Which means that classical church theology and creedal structures are built on non-processual philosophical ideas. As such, yesteryear's church doctrines and beliefs about God are incomplete, misleading, and unhelpful.
  • Further, a process-based theology built on God's Love says that God's sovereignty is always defined in terms of divine love and not power... nor, as mentioned earlier, by divine abandonment or separation.
  • That God's LOVING sovereignty is the foundation on which all of God's attributes are founded, defined, operate, or behave. Sovereignty for many bespeak divine power; but for a process theologian it refers to God's loving presence and eterternal / intimate relationality with us and creation.
  • That obscure, off-putting words like "sacred, mystical, or sin" take on new meanings beyond what they should mean in church parlance. Referring to unloving abandonment or divine wrath. Idolatrous words more describing man than accurately describing God.
  • Moreover, all creation is beloved and endowed with God's divinity... if not imaged in God's very Self throughout its parts, processes, yearnings, and angsts.
  • Process theology therefore takes commonplace church words like transcendence to mean that God is Other-than Creation but NEVER separate from creation
  • Process theology also takes other words like divine omnipresence to say that God is ever-and-always Immanently with and within (in some sense) to creation. That God abidesbecause of God's Love which the Apostle Paul says "we can never be separated from". Not even by the bad doctrinal words and preachings of the church building on the intemperate sands of man's love rather than on the rocky bastions of God's love..
  • And sin? Will that's a theodicy problem pertaining to the subject of good and evil. Statedly, a loving process theology avows unequivocally that God's Self was poured into creation at it's beginning. That with God's love came (indeterminate) freewill as part-and-parcel of the  divine Self.
  • Why? Because God is a dynamic, processual Being-ever-Becoming in God's experience with creation which is, itself, like to it's God, ever becoming. In Ex 3.14, God says of God's Self, "I AM WHO I AM. Meaning, "I am that which I am becoming." As creation evolves so does God... not as ontologially incomplete but in relational fullness meeting every evolutionary moment with God's relationally becoming Self. God is there as God will be and must be.
  • And because God is a God who can meet the evolving presence of the moment with God's own becoming Self  then we may correctly say that all things are processual in their nature even as god is in God's own essence. Like father, like son or daughter.
  • That creation's evolutionary character from science, to cosmology, to metaphysics, and even the very ontology of its being, is fully and completely a singular, processually evolving, Organism from moment to procesdual  moment.
  • Whether of God or the created, Beingness is NEVER static. It is always Evolving. Becoming. Concrescing. Why? Because all things are always in living relationships with all other living processes - including the Divine!
  • And secondly, that God's Loving Self coupled with divine freedom gave birth to creation alive with possibility... including that of failure, death, and sin. Of which this living, organic constitution can, and will, admit sin and evil, as very real elements to it's inheritance. That not only life, but death, has come with the gift of God's Love on multiply levels and in multiple fashions.
  • And though some say God commanded freewill by divine fiat, a good process theology will say that creational freewill came by the very act of divine Self-giving birthing life by divine Love and not by divine fiat. Because if God had done so by divine command then it would make of God a divine monster and our lives as governed by fate and fortune rather than as by divine Love.
  • Therefore, with God's Love (and Loving act of creation) came uncontrollable (e.g., indeterminant) freewill. And with this birth also came the added problem of love's passion and freewill's waywardness. Sometimes, I think of God's Loving gift of God's Self as a Pandora's Box of divine gifts "hard to hold".

For now, let me end here. Our next post will require re-reading yesterday's articles and vids and the Wikipedia article here below.

As always,


R.E. Slater
March 22, 2023

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Pandora, (Greek: “All-Gifts”) in Greek mythology, the first woman. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, after Prometheus, a fire god and divine trickster, had stolen fire from heaven and bestowed it upon mortals, Zeus, the king of the gods, determined to counteract this blessing. He accordingly commissioned Hephaestus (a god of fire and patron of craftsmen) to fashion a woman out of earth, upon whom the gods bestowed their choicest gifts. In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Pandora had a jar containing all manner of misery and evil. Zeus sent her to Epimetheus, who forgot the warning of his brother Prometheus and made Pandora his wife. She afterward opened the jar, from which the evils flew out over the earth. Hope alone remained inside, the lid having been shut down before she could escape. In a later story the jar contained not evils but blessings, which would have been preserved for the human race had they not been lost through the opening of the jar out of curiosity. Pandora’s jar became a box in the 16th century, when the Renaissance humanist Erasmus either mistranslated the Greek or confused the vessel with the box in the story of Cupid and Psyche

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Evolutionary origin of religion

The evolutionary origin of religion and religious behavior is a field of study related to evolutionary psychology, the origin of language and mythology, and cross-cultural comparison of the anthropology of religion. Some subjects of interest include Neolithic religion, evidence for spirituality or cultic behavior in the Upper Paleolithic, and similarities in great ape behavior.

Nonhuman religious behavior

Humanity's closest living relatives are common chimpanzees and bonobos.[1][2] These primates share a common ancestor with humans who lived between six and eight million years ago. It is for this reason that chimpanzees and bonobos are viewed as the best available surrogate for this common ancestor. Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, and realization of "self" continuity.[3][4] There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead, which would be evidence of mortuary ritual.[citation needed] The use of burial rituals is thought to be evidence of religious activity, but there is no other evidence that religion existed in human culture before humans reached behavioral modernity.[5] Other lines of evidence have revealed that Homo neanderthalensis made cave art, which would require a high level of symbolic thinking paralleling religious thought.[6]

Elephants perform rituals for their dead. They demonstrate long periods of silence and mourning at the point of death; later, elephants return to grave sites and caress the remains.[7][8] Some evidence suggests that many species grieve death and loss.[9]

Relevant prerequisites for human religion

Increased brain size

In this set of theories, the religious mind is one consequence of a brain that is large enough to formulate religious and philosophical ideas.[10] During human evolution, the hominid brain tripled in size, peaking 500,000 years ago. Much of the brain's expansion took place in the neocortex. The cerebral neocortex is presumed to be responsible for the neural computations underlying complex phenomena such as perception, thought, language, attention, episodic memory and voluntary movement.[11] According to Dunbar's theory, the relative neocortex size of any species correlates with the level of social complexity of the particular species.[12] The neocortex size correlates with a number of social variables that include social group size and complexity of mating behaviors.[13] In chimpanzees the neocortex occupies 50% of the brain, whereas in modern humans it occupies 80% of the brain.[14]

Robin Dunbar argues that the critical event in the evolution of the neocortex took place at the speciation of archaic Homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago. His study indicates that only after the speciation event is the neocortex large enough to process complex social phenomena such as language and religion. The study is based on a regression analysis of neocortex size plotted against a number of social behaviors of living and extinct hominids.[15]

Stephen Jay Gould suggests that religion may have grown out of evolutionary changes which favored larger brains as a means of cementing group coherence among savanna hunters, after that larger brain enabled reflection on the inevitability of personal mortality.[16]

Tool use

Lewis Wolpert argues that causal beliefs that emerged from tool use played a major role in the evolution of belief. The manufacture of complex tools requires creating a mental image of an object which does not exist naturally before actually making the artifact. Furthermore, one must understand how the tool would be used, that requires an understanding of causality.[17] Accordingly, the level of sophistication of stone tools is a useful indicator of causal beliefs.[18] Wolpert contends use of tools composed of more than one component, such as hand axes, represents an ability to understand cause and effect. However, recent studies of other primates indicate that causality may not be a uniquely human trait. For example, chimpanzees have been known to escape from pens closed with multiple latches, which was previously thought could only have been figured out by humans who understood causality. Chimpanzees are also known to mourn the dead, and notice things that have only aesthetic value, like sunsets, both of which may be considered to be components of religion or spirituality.[19][unreliable source?] The difference between the comprehension of causality by humans and chimpanzees is one of degree. The degree of comprehension in an animal depends upon the size of the prefrontal cortex: the greater the size of the prefrontal cortex the deeper the comprehension.[20][unreliable source?]

Development of language

Religion requires a system of symbolic communication, such as language, to be transmitted from one individual to another. Philip Lieberman states "human religious thought and moral sense clearly rest on a cognitive-linguistic base".[21] From this premise science writer Nicholas Wade states:

"Like most behaviors that are found in societies throughout the world, religion must have been present in the ancestral human population before the dispersal from Africa 50,000 years ago. Although religious rituals usually involve dance and music, they are also very verbal, since the sacred truths have to be stated. If so, religion, at least in its modern form, cannot pre-date the emergence of language. It has been argued earlier that language attained its modern state shortly before the exodus from Africa. If religion had to await the evolution of modern, articulate language, then it too would have emerged shortly before 50,000 years ago."[22]

Another view distinguishes individual religious belief from collective religious belief. While the former does not require prior development of language, the latter does. The individual human brain has to explain a phenomenon in order to comprehend and relate to it. This activity predates by far the emergence of language and may have caused it. The theory is, belief in the supernatural emerges from hypotheses arbitrarily assumed by individuals to explain natural phenomena that cannot be explained otherwise. The resulting need to share individual hypotheses with others leads eventually to collective religious belief. A socially accepted hypothesis becomes dogmatic backed by social sanction.

Language consists of digital contrasts whose cost is essentially zero. As pure social conventions, signals of this kind cannot evolve in a Darwinian social world—they are a theoretical impossibility.[23][24] Being intrinsically unreliable, language works only if one can build up a reputation for trustworthiness within a certain kind of society—namely, one where symbolic cultural facts (sometimes called 'institutional facts') can be established and maintained through collective social endorsement.[25] In any hunter-gatherer society, the basic mechanism for establishing trust in symbolic cultural facts is collective ritual.[26]

Transcending the continuity-versus-discontinuity divide, some scholars view the emergence of language as the consequence of some kind of social transformation[27] that, by generating unprecedented levels of public trust, liberated a genetic potential for linguistic creativity that had previously lain dormant.[28][29][30] "Ritual/speech coevolution theory" exemplifies this approach.[31][32] Scholars in this intellectual camp point to the fact that even chimpanzees and bonobos have latent symbolic capacities that they rarely—if ever—use in the wild.[33] Objecting to the sudden mutation idea, these authors argue that even if a chance mutation were to install a language organ in an evolving bipedal primate, it would be adaptively useless under all known primate social conditions. A very specific social structure—one capable of upholding unusually high levels of public accountability and trust—must have evolved before or concurrently with language to make reliance on "cheap signals" (words) an evolutionarily stable strategy. The animistic nature of early human language could serve as the handicap-like cost that helped to ensure the reliability of communication. The attribution of spiritual essence to everything surrounding early humans served as a built-in mechanism that provided instant verification and ensured the inviolability of one's speech.[34]

Animal vocal signals are, for the most part, intrinsically reliable. When a cat purrs, the signal constitutes direct evidence of the animal's contented state. The signal is trusted, not because the cat is inclined to be honest, but because it just cannot fake that sound. Primate vocal calls may be slightly more manipulable, but they remain reliable for the same reason—because they are hard to fake.[35] Primate social intelligence is "Machiavellian"—self-serving and unconstrained by moral scruples. Monkeys and apes often attempt to deceive each other, while at the same time remaining constantly on guard against falling victim to deception themselves.[36][37] Paradoxically, it is theorized that primates' resistance to deception is what blocks the evolution of their signalling systems along language-like lines. Language is ruled out because the best way to guard against being deceived is to ignore all signals except those that are instantly verifiable. Words automatically fail this test.[31]

Morality and group living

Frans de Waal and Barbara King both view human morality as having grown out of primate sociality. Although morality awareness may be a unique human trait, many social animals, such as primates, dolphins and whales, have been known to exhibit pre-moral sentiments. According to Michael Shermer, the following characteristics are shared by humans and other social animals, particularly the great apes:

attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.[38]

De Waal contends that all social animals have had to restrain or alter their behavior for group living to be worthwhile. Pre-moral sentiments evolved in primate societies as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups. For any social species, the benefits of being part of an altruistic group should outweigh the benefits of individualism. For example, a lack of group cohesion could make individuals more vulnerable to attack from outsiders. Being part of a group may also improve the chances of finding food. This is evident among animals that hunt in packs to take down large or dangerous prey.

All social animals have hierarchical societies in which each member knows its own place. Social order is maintained by certain rules of expected behavior and dominant group members enforce order through punishment. However, higher order primates also have a sense of fairness. [39]

Chimpanzees live in fission-fusion groups that average 50 individuals. It is likely that early ancestors of humans lived in groups of similar size. Based on the size of extant hunter-gatherer societies, recent Paleolithic hominids lived in bands of a few hundred individuals. As community size increased over the course of human evolution, greater enforcement to achieve group cohesion would have been required. Morality may have evolved in these bands of 100 to 200 people as a means of social control, conflict resolution and group solidarity. According to Dr. de Waal, human morality has two extra levels of sophistication that are not found in primate societies.

Psychologist Matt J. Rossano argues that religion emerged after morality and built upon morality by expanding the social scrutiny of individual behavior to include supernatural agents. By including ever-watchful ancestors, spirits and gods in the social realm, humans discovered an effective strategy for restraining selfishness and building more cooperative groups.[40] The adaptive value of religion would have enhanced group survival.[41][42] Rossano is referring here to collective religious belief and the social sanction that institutionalized morality. According to Rossano's teaching, individual religious belief is thus initially epistemological, not ethical, in nature.

Evolutionary psychology of religion

Cognitive scientists underlined that religions may be explained as a result of the brain architecture that developed early in the genus Homo in the course of the evolutionary history of life. However, there is disagreement on the exact mechanisms that drove the evolution of the religious mind. The two main schools of thought hold:

  • either that religion evolved due to natural selection and has selective advantage
  • or that religion is an evolutionary byproduct of other mental adaptations.

Stephen Jay Gould, for example, saw religion as an exaptation or a spandrel, in other words: religion evolved as byproduct of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons.[43][44][unreliable source?][45]

Such mechanisms may include the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm (agent detection), the ability to come up with causal narratives for natural events (etiology), and the ability to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions (theory of mind). These three adaptations (among others) allow human beings to imagine purposeful agents behind many observations that could not readily be explained otherwise, e.g. thunder, lightning, movement of planets, complexity of life.[46] The emergence of collective religious belief identified such agents as deities that standardized the explanation.[47]

Some scholars have suggested that religion is genetically "hardwired" into the human condition. One controversial proposal, the God gene hypothesis, states that some variants of a specific gene, the VMAT2 gene, predispose to spirituality.[48]

Another view builds on the concept of the triune brain: the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex, proposed by Paul D. MacLean. Collective religious belief draws upon the emotions of love, fear, and gregariousness and is deeply embedded in the limbic system through socio-biological conditioning and social sanction. Individual religious belief utilizes reason based in the neocortex and often varies from collective religion. The limbic system is much older in evolutionary terms than the neocortex and is, therefore, stronger than it – much in the same way as the reptilian is stronger than both the limbic system and the neocortex.

Yet another view is that the behavior of people who participate in a religion makes them feel better and this improves their biological fitness, so that there is a genetic selection in favor of people who are willing to believe in a religion. Specifically, rituals, beliefs, and the social contact typical of religious groups may serve to calm the mind (for example by reducing ambiguity and the uncertainty due to complexity) and allow it to function better when under stress.[49] This would allow religion to be used[by whom?] as a powerful survival mechanism, particularly in facilitating the evolution of hierarchies of warriors, which if true, may be why many modern religions tend to promote fertility and kinship.

Still another view, proposed by Fred H. Previc, sees human religion as a product of an increase in dopaminergic functions in the human brain and of a general intellectual expansion beginning around 80 thousand years ago (kya).[50][51][52] Dopamine promotes an emphasis on distant space and time, which can correlate with religious experience.[53] While the earliest extant shamanic cave-paintings date to around 40 kya, the use of ocher for rock art predates this and there is clear evidence for abstract thinking along the coast of South Africa 80 kya.

Paul Bloom suggests that "certain early emergent cognitive biases ... make it natural to believe in Gods and spirits".[54]

Prehistoric evidence of religion

The exact time when humans first became religious remains unknown, however research in evolutionary archaeology shows credible evidence of religious-cum-ritualistic behavior from around the Middle Paleolithic era (45–200 thousand years ago).[55]

Paleolithic burials

The earliest evidence of religious thought is based on the ritual treatment of the dead. Most animals display only a casual interest in the dead of their own species.[56][unreliable source?] Ritual burial thus represents a significant change in human behavior. Ritual burials represent an awareness of life and death and a possible belief in the afterlifePhilip Lieberman states "burials with grave goods clearly signify religious practices and concern for the dead that transcends daily life."[21]

The earliest evidence for treatment of the dead comes from Atapuerca in Spain. At this location the bones of 30 individuals believed to be Homo heidelbergensis have been found in a pit.[57] Neanderthals are also contenders for the first hominids to intentionally bury the dead. They may have placed corpses into shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones. The presence of these grave goods may indicate an emotional connection with the deceased and possibly a belief in the afterlife. Neanderthal burial sites include Shanidar in Iraq and Krapina in Croatia and Kebara Cave in Israel.[58][59]

The earliest known burial of modern humans is from a cave in Israel located at Qafzeh. Human remains have been dated to 100,000 years ago. Human skeletons were found stained with red ocher. A variety of grave goods were found at the burial site. The mandible of a wild boar was found placed in the arms of one of the skeletons.[60] Philip Lieberman states:

Burial rituals incorporating grave goods may have been invented by the anatomically modern hominids who emigrated from Africa to the Middle East roughly 100,000 years ago

Matt Rossano suggests that the period between 80,000 and 60,000 years before present, following the retreat of humans from the Levant to Africa, was a crucial period in the evolution of religion.[61]

Use of symbolism

The use of symbolism in religion is a universal established phenomenon. Archeologist Steven Mithen contends that it is common for religious practices to involve the creation of images and symbols to represent supernatural beings and ideas. Because supernatural beings violate the principles of the natural world, there will always be difficulty in communicating and sharing supernatural concepts with others. This problem can be overcome by anchoring these supernatural beings in material form through representational art. When translated into material form, supernatural concepts become easier to communicate and understand.[62][unreliable source?] Due to the association of art and religion, evidence of symbolism in the fossil record is indicative of a mind capable of religious thoughts. Art and symbolism demonstrates a capacity for abstract thought and imagination necessary to construct religious ideas. Wentzel van Huyssteen states that the translation of the non-visible through symbolism enabled early human ancestors to hold beliefs in abstract terms.[63]

Some of the earliest evidence of symbolic behavior is associated with Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. From at least 100,000 years ago, there is evidence of the use of pigments such as red ocher. Pigments are of little practical use to hunter gatherers, thus evidence of their use is interpreted as symbolic or for ritual purposes. Among extant hunter gatherer populations around the world, red ocher is still used extensively for ritual purposes. It has been argued that it is universal among human cultures for the color red to represent blood, sex, life and death.[64]

The use of red ocher as a proxy for symbolism is often criticized as being too indirect. Some scientists, such as Richard Klein and Steven Mithen, only recognize unambiguous forms of art as representative of abstract ideas. Upper paleolithic cave art provides some of the most unambiguous evidence of religious thought from the paleolithic. Cave paintings at Chauvet depict creatures that are half human and half animal.

Origins of organized religion

Social evolution of humans[38][65]
Period years agoSociety typeNumber of individuals

Organized religion traces its roots to the neolithic revolution that began 11,000 years ago in the Near East but may have occurred independently in several other locations around the world. The invention of agriculture transformed many human societies from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle. The consequences of the neolithic revolution included a population explosion and an acceleration in the pace of technological development. The transition from foraging bands to states and empires precipitated more specialized and developed forms of religion that reflected the new social and political environment. While bands and small tribes possess supernatural beliefs, these beliefs do not serve to justify a central authority, justify transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. Organized religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability through the following ways:

  • Justifying the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services.
  • Bands and tribes consist of small number of related individuals. However, states and nations are composed of many thousands of unrelated individuals. Jared Diamond argues that organized religion served to provide a bond between unrelated individuals who would otherwise be more prone to enmity. In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel he argues that the leading cause of death among hunter-gatherer societies is murder.[65]
  • Religions that revolved around moralizing gods may have facilitated the rise of large, cooperative groups of unrelated individuals.[66]

The states born out of the Neolithic revolution, such as those of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, were theocracies with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders.[38] Anthropologists have found that virtually all state societies and chiefdoms from around the world have been found to justify political power through divine authority. This suggests that political authority co-opts collective religious belief to bolster itself.[38]

Invention of writing

Following the neolithic revolution, the pace of technological development (cultural evolution) intensified due to the invention of writing 5,000 years ago. Symbols that became words later on made effective communication of ideas possible. Printing invented only over a thousand years ago increased the speed of communication exponentially and became the main spring of cultural evolution. Writing is thought to have been first invented in either Sumeria or Ancient Egypt and was initially used for accounting. Soon after, writing was used to record myth. The first religious texts mark the beginning of religious history. The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt are one of the oldest known religious texts in the world, dating to between 2400 and 2300 BCE.[67][68][69][unreliable source?] Writing played a major role in sustaining and spreading organized religion. In pre-literate societies, religious ideas were based on an oral tradition, the contents of which were articulated by shamans and remained limited to the collective memories of the society's inhabitants. With the advent of writing, information that was not easy to remember could easily be stored in sacred texts that were maintained by a select group (clergy). Humans could store and process large amounts of information with writing that otherwise would have been forgotten. Writing therefore enabled religions to develop coherent and comprehensive doctrinal systems that remained independent of time and place.[70] Writing also brought a measure of objectivity to human knowledge. Formulation of thoughts in words and the requirement for validation made mutual exchange of ideas and the sifting of generally acceptable from not acceptable ideas possible. The generally acceptable ideas became objective knowledge reflecting the continuously evolving framework of human awareness of reality that Karl Popper calls 'verisimilitude' – a stage on the human journey to truth.[71]

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External links