While listening to one of my favorite bands - and one of my favorite lyrics - I realized something that, while it's occurred to me before, the gravity of it just hit me as an 'aha!' moment. Before I get to that, here are those lyrics:
Now the pale morning sings
Of forgotten things.
She plays a tune for those to wish to overlook
The fact that they've been blindly deceived
By those who preach
And pray and teach,
But she falls short
And the night explodes in laughter.
- First Aid Kit, "The Lion's Roar"
So here it goes: Religion is a human invention, just like stone tools and the wheel. In fact, it wasn't until ranching and farming were invented before we even had the spare time to think about these things. Before that, if you wasted your time conceiving of and praying to a deity, you would promptly be removed from the gene pool by either starvation or by getting eaten.
So how on Earth did religious beliefs become "older" and more sacred than atheism? Atheism is not a new or progressive idea. In fact, it's not an idea at all. It is instead the reality that has always existed, even as our human imaginations conjured up these ghost stores of the various supernatural beings we know as gods. It is a cosmological constant, if you will.
Nobody can believe in atheism. Those of us who choose this label for ourselves are simply acknowledging a fact our earliest ancestors knew all along, only in the face of much more complex social, cultural and political systems.
Here's the video, for anyone interested in hearing the song.
I tend to disagree. Religion, or the belief in the supernatural, has been around a lot longer than the domestication of plants and animals, or the wheel. Pick up an anthropological study on non-technological ("primitive") societies. They all had beliefs of one sort of anthropomorphic spirit or another populating the winds, the rains, the trees, the forest, the mountains, etc. In fact, prior to technology finally wiping out those societies in the latter part of the 20th century, there have been countless documented examples of hunter-gatherer societies having belief systems in the supernatural. Sir James Frazier's classic, The Golden Bough, was written in 1922. The works of Joseph Campbell on myths is also insightful.It was only when domestication of plants and animals freed certain members of society to specialize in non-food gathering activities that religion, and the priestly class, became more and more organized, with more complex ideas of gods and their role in human affairs. Superstition has been around for a very LONG time.
Here is some info about origins of religion in the paleolithic age.
And in the neolithic age.
I don't have a reference, but I've read that religion was a major factor in shaping the modern evolution of Homo sapiens.
I've also read that hunter/gatherer lifestyles were less work, and better nutrition per unit of calorie eaten, than the subsequent agricultural lifestyle. Here is one link comparing nutritional aspects of hunter/gatherer vs. pastoral living.
I agree with you that religion is shaped by humans, and atheism is a more scientific approach to life.
I don't think we have evidence to state that out earliest ancestors were atheist. Just my 2 cents, and thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. The important thing is to continue thinking and learning.