Given the sense of security that religious faith brings to people -such as quelling the fear of death, answering many of life's important questions, and in addition, the protection of these things through community, is it likely that religion was a necessary component of the evolving human?  Perhaps, the first humans who were able to ask "who am I, and why am I here?" used religious belief to protect themselves from those who lacked this cognitive ability.

If this is true, then doesn't that mean that some or most people cannot help how religious ideas overpower their sense of reason. Science and reason then becomes the scalpal for removing this sense of security.


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I dunno, describing ourselves as clever apes is pretty apt. We are destroyers, but we are also entering an age when we are finally recognizing the impact that we have and are striving more to preserve and enhance life on earth now.

And I hope you didn't mean that the launch from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age came from recognizing heliocentrism and all the rest! ;-)

Oh! my goodness, NO! I was doing a fast forward through time. and I agree "clever apes" suits fine. I hope you call this one correctly, "recognizing the impact that we have and are striving more to preserve and enhance life on earth now". I watched part of Davos on video and a significant number of economists just don't get that global warming is occurring and human activity contributes to the changes. Heads are buried in "the way we have always done it" kind of thinking. 

Well, Joan, I go two ways here. The pessimist in me sees large corporations raping the rain forests and draining the natural oil deposits, and seeing everything as a chance to make a quick buck. However, I also have to hope that scientists and environmentalists will be able to effect enough change and raise enough awareness that we can curb our destructive tendencies.

And just look at how things have changed even in the last generation in terms of awareness! In the next 5-10 years electric car technology should be at the point where getting 400 miles to a single charge is as affordable a reality as the internal combustion engine. The car makers of the early 20th century  wanted to use electric engines since it was more efficient, but due to the technological limitations of the time that just wasn't a reality. But it could be a reality soon, which will decrease our dependence on oil. And with advances in solar and wind technologies, that could be even further decreased. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I do have hope that we are becoming more responsible as a species.

This is slightly off topic for this thread, but I don't put much stock in global warming, mainly because I think it gives humans way too much credit and the earth too little. It's survived worse catastrophes. Not that I don't think the climate is changing, or that humans have a responsibility to not pollute, but I've also done research into alternative theories, such as increased solar activity. These things seem to go in thousand-year cycles. Lord Christopher Monckton has been vocal about the Mediaeval Warm Period being a viable explanation for the warming of the earth.

He's said that "there is a startling absence of correlation between the CO2-concentration trend and the temperature trend, necessarily implying that – at least in the short term – there is little or no causative link between the two . . . Today’s temperatures are unexceptional: it was warmer in each of the past four interglacial periods than it is today. Note the close correlation between CO2 concentration and temperature: but it was temperature that changed first."

David Philip Norris

I like your optimism tempered with a little bit of pessimism. I am an optimist myself and believe that scientists and technologists of today are seized of the problems of today's world and if supported by public awareness, they will be able to overcome these problems before they reach catastrophic proportions. There is abundant human foolishness but there is also a compensating human ingenuity.

I consider myself an opti-pessimist, which I suppose is a kind of realism. I hope for the best, but harbor no illusions about the state of humanity.

Like that label. :-)  Opti-Pessi.  I share your view, knowing things CAN be made better, but absolutely flummoxed by human nature either not caring, or actively fighting change to protect existing interests.

What "sense of security" is there with blackmail? Believe or die? Believe or go to hell? While you're believing make sure you grovel all over the ground and restrict your life with unreasonable requests and make sure you kill your neighbor if they're working on any "holy" days and maybe you'll go to some ficticious "heaven" where you can grovel some more and watch while your family and friends are writhing in hell and you can laugh at them. Is that "quelling the fear of death"? Religion doesn't answer ANY questions of life. It doesn't answer anything more than it used to like lightning is some god being angry or the sun revolving around the flat earth. Ignorance runs long and hard in humanity for some reason. With the advent of the internet hopefully it won't be long before the global community shares the real thruths of life and we all get to witness the death of religion and the birth of uniting people's feeling with their intellect. :-)

vegantiger, "Believe or go to hell" is a terrible thing to teach youngsters, and even worse to believe as adults. The final insult is to "baptize" a dead person into the LDS faith. What hubris! What arrogance! 
I especially like your vision of the internet being a part of the "global community" and revealing  there are other ways of being, and living with a sense of wonder. I also feel a real sense of being part of something very full of wonder and I am made of the same stuff as stars. I am not little, I am.  So are each one of us. 

Vegantiger....It is a false sense of security for sure,  but a real one for those who feel it. As an atheist, now looking back when I was a Christian, I can agree with you 100%.  However, for many believers the choice to rest on their faith (ie.. stick their head in the sand) is most comforting-and much easier than the alernative.  Even within Christianity, for example, their are those who are literalists who dare not venture into the world of the sciences and those who do, transforming all of science to fit their Christian framework-such as those who support Intelligent Design theory. If the value of retaining faith trumps all other competing values, and it is deeply imbedded through human evolution, no amount of reasonable conversation will penetrate enough to cause significant change. Perhaps its just a matter of time..



I actually just posted something about this over at Jerry Coyne's blog:

I’m studying to be a Cultural Anthropologist, and one of my three main interests is the origins and perniciousness of Ideological Fanaticism.

Part of that is attempting a robust hypothesis of the origins of religion (while granting that a fully realized theory may not be possible).

My idea (not yet really “tested”, as far as an anthropological idea can be tested, so I’m not willing to call it a hypothesis, yet… and I admit that it’s not really an original idea) is that religion started with the soul, and that idea started with the recognition of death.

At some point in our evolutionary history, we finally became cognizant enough to recognize when somebody died. This produced two reactions: grief at the loss of someone we had learned to love, and fear that it will one day happen to us (this didn’t all happen at once, of course… we had to become cognizant of the idea of attachment [what we now call "love"] and fear, first).

So how did we deal with this? Over time, we came up with the idea of the soul and an afterlife… “death” wasn’t a “goodbye forever” thing. It was more of a “see you later” thing.

At the same time, we were becoming more and more aware of our natural surroundings, so much so that we could think about them. Of course we attempted to explain the natural world and all the natural happenings, from the existence of life to earthquakes and volcanoes and tornadoes and other natural disasters.

We already had souls and the afterlife, so, taking into account our early attempts to understand the natural world, it’s really just a small step to deities and, finally, religion. And all you need is a basic understanding of memes to see how it might have spread so quickly.

In this sense, I actually agree with Sam Harris when he calls religion “failed science”. If you see science, as I do, as the tool we use to answer questions about the nature of reality, then religion absolutely is a failed science, at least if my idea (please note that I’m not even willing to call it a hypothesis, yet) is right.

So... yeah. I'm not even sure if it's original or revelatory. It's just my thought-process in trying to deal with how religion might have come about initially... that is, the origins or religion... a-religio-genesis? :D

My first question is your statement, "religion started with the soul". People who do not believe god exists also believe there is no soul ... or as I interpret it, the church talks about the soul being eternal and remains after the body dies and that is what all the anxiety is about, saving souls. 

I like your idea of grieving upon a death of a loved one as humans evolved. Even dogs grieve in ways that are unmistakable, and I am sure early humans grieved at death of a loved one and didn't understand the meaning. Stories would be told and retold through the centuries. 

A birth had the same impact on a clan, however, very early in human evolution, they did not understand the role of fathers in procreation. I went on a dig to an archeology site in Turkey and Crete where there was evidence of the first realization of the male role in procreation. The story is goat herders noticed a white female, for example, mating with a black or brown or red goat and the kid sometimes had the same coloring as the male.

There is a little figurine in a museum that shows a human couple mating on one side and on the other a baby nursing his mother. The archeologist suggested this might have been representation of the realization that males played a part in procreation, and thus, the offspring was "his", the beginning of property rights of children and their mothers. Of course all this is speculation. 

It is believed the earlier humans perceived woman as holy or special because women bled and did not die (menstruation), they gave birth to babies and nursed them; men could do none of these functions. This was all a mystery and the family or clan or tribe treated babies as signs to the community proving their fertility and they celebrated. Of course there are all kinds of fertility rites around the earth. This was a common part of the creation story.  

The evolution of religion through births and deaths and other events in their lives surely became the stuff of stories and later scripture and dogma. Stone Age to Bronze Age stories come to us verbally, in written form, and in the rituals and ceremonies that emerged

Maria Gimbutas told me for every one male figure she found, there were 10 female. 




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