It's interesting, while I have to unfortunately assume your articles as pop science, therefore their credibilities might be questioned, although I agree with their premises. I will have a full look at them tomorrow as it is rather late for me now.
The New Scientist articles aren't really pop science as much as a selective review of what some very credible researchers, such as Artran and Bloom are saying. The stuff is not bad and there are a LOT of areas for further discussion. This was kicked around briefly in Atheist News Group and also in my nontheist meetup group. It is an article well worth your time, even if it only points you to the original research for more thorough study.
Well, generally stuff posted like this on the internet can be questioned, as I have seen people quote articles like these before but when you look at them more closely it turns out that very little actually makes sense in terms of how facts were collected etc.
My understanding is that people in more, I hate to use this term, primitive cultures often have spirits, but not really gods. In Eastern hemisphere people were taught to think that somebody where deny spirits are often told by other people that they are witches or in Abrahamic religions satanic.
Really, I must have a say here as I am studying anthropology. First of all, what says that a Western culture would be more complex than any other forms of cultures? And secondly, spirits is a part of animism/shamanism, there are gods appearing in shamanism/animism, but they might not be as prominent as they are monotheistic/polytheistic religions, and they may certainly not be labelled as gods by those practicing those religions, but if you look closely at their features they are very akin to those found in polytheistic religions.
You should be very wary of the beliefs you are putting forward here, they sound particularly evolutionistic I am not saying a culture relativism would be ideal, but the idea that the Western society would be better or more complex is an utter ethnocentric lie.
There are cultures out there who are extremely complex in how they are managed but they are yet labelled as "primitive" because we don't recognize the true complexity.
As said, if you can actually define what is complex and not then we can talk further, but you are out on very shallow waters right now as there is no study actually supporting your claims (goes both to Tedster and Jay).
I also feel the need to point out that we got spirits in our Western culture too, ghosts come to mind.
I didn't mean to imply that what are thought of as primitive cultures are not complex. I didn't mean to take away anything from the Incas, Egyptians, Babylonians, they had amazing complexed and nuanced societies. Personally I don't like the idea of the word primitive being used to describe older cultures.
I am just trying to understand why our human brains create the idea's of gods and spirits, or understand as best I can given what current understanding is. I am also the first to admit that when it comes to anything anthropology, I don't know, but I am trying to learn.
As for the definition of complex, I am not sure. But your certainly right no conversation like this could continue without defining what "complex" is.
My idea of complexity has mostly to do with though progression and social interaction in cultural groups (I guess thats how I think of them). I know knowledge is something that is built upon what has come before. (Forgive me as I type this idea out I am not always great at getting my thoughts across), are cultures somewhat that way?
My understanding is that human groups started out primarily organized along some familial line. That is to say the 1st social groups human formed were based mostly on the fact that they were all related in someway. As these family groups met and merged with others they formed larger groups that forced humans to deal with other humans socially that they were not related to. Would this not force these groups into having to form additional relations with this other important yet unrelated set of people, that might be similar yet different then their own family groups. As the groups of people get larger and more diverse, the idea's and relations they have with and about each other, wouldn't they also get more layered? Thats how I think of complexity.
I guess when I say primitive I am thinking of the groups of humans that evolved on the plains, and were just a few generations away from what we think of as "human" or "human ancestors".
As an anthropologist LeaT I am sure you can correct me on points above.
As for your thing about spirits in western culture, I do agree we have them, we seem to have a lot of TV time dedicated to them as well. Also spirits are all over eastern cultures as well. I didn't mean to imply that spirits are any less complex an idea then a god is, both occupy the same mental space in my opinion. Only that as humans understood and asked more questions about the world around them, the images they had in their heads about spirits and god (Ie what they looked like, what they controlled, what they thought about humans) got more layered and more varied. A spirit that is thanked for the light and warmth of fire, might have become a spirit or god that controlled the sun itself.
You know what I wrote this, then I thought about it on the bus ride into work and I see a problem with the idea... its not good.
Large Cultures =/= Large Complex Spirits/Gods
Its an idea and could fit but there is no proof for it, in any form. Its also a bit circular in reasoning. The two things might and could be related but its also very likely that they could just be coincidence, and unrelated.