ORIGINS OF RELIGION, MORALITY AND BELIEF—select quotations. PART 1
“If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve its own interests.” Baron D'Holbach
If human morals and values do not arise out of divine command, then where do they come from? They come from our common humanity. They can be properly called humanistic.
A considerable literature exists on the possible natural (biological, cultural, evolutionary) origins of morality. Darwin saw the evolutionary advantage of cooperation and altruism. Modern thinkers have elaborated on this observation, showing in detail how our moral sense may have arisen naturally during the development of modern humanity.
We can even see signs of moral, or proto-moral behavior in animals. Vampire bats share food. Apes and monkeys comfort members of their group who are upset and work together to get food. Dolphins push sick members of a pod to the surface to get air. Whales will put themselves in harm's way to help a wounded member of their group. Elephants try their best to save injured members of their families.
In these examples we glimpse the beginnings of the morality that advanced to higher levels with human biological and cultural evolution. You may call them instinctive, built into the genes of animals by evolution. But this is a plausible mechanism for the development of human morality as well—a purely natural process, arising out of matter alone. Nothing ‘spiritual’ is involved because there is no substance separate from matter that we can call ‘spirit’. (I suggest the name of this magazine be changed to Science & Nothing.)
It seems likely that this is where we humans have learned our sense of right and wrong. We have taught it to ourselves. Do Our Values Come from God? The Evidence Says No. Victor J. Stenger. August 2005
The Beginnings of Morality lie in Primate Behaviour: Frans de Waal. New York Times. March 2007.
Religion can be seen as another special ingredient of human societies, though one that emerged thousands of years after morality. There are clear precursors of morality in nonhuman primates, but no precursors of religion. So it is reasonable to assume that as humans evolved away from chimpanzees, morality emerged first, followed by religion. “I look at religions as recent additions,” he said. “Their function may have to do with social life, and enforcement of rules and giving a narrative to them, which is what religions really do.”
“During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution, human fantasy created gods in man's own image who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate influence, the phenomenal world.” Albert Einstein 1879-1955
“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.” Bertrand Russell 1872–1970
“Gods are all in the mind. They are the imaginations of wishful thinkers who do not think enough because they have not learned enough. In other words, god exists only inside the head, and not outside of it.” Terence Meaden, 17 February 2007.
“The supreme mystery of despotism . . . is to keep men in a state of deception and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear . . . so they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” Baruch Spinoza
“Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence; it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970
“Religions are fairy-like fictions. Once created (usually by men, the makers of male gods), they are promulgated by priests (usually men who promote and sustain patriarchies) and succeed because they nourish easily-satisfied cerebral needs for most people (who get fearful when indoctrinated) in providing personal comfort and solace.” Terence Meaden. Atheistweb. 6 January 2008.
“Traditionally, brand-name religion is instilled from infancy, often with ferocious warnings against heretics and infidels, making it hard to doubt the precepts with which one has grown up.” Damien Broderick. The Australian. March 2007.
“All religions start with the very young, and condition them to believe that their teachings are the correct teachings, and to question those teachings is somewhere between blasphemy and a sin. Many grow up to be closed minded on religion, since it is a conditioning process, rather than a process of logical reasoning. They cannot go against what they have been taught all their lives, and what all their family and friends believe, without becoming an outcast.” Robert Dewar, The Enquirer. 2007
Excerpt from a review, 2006, in Scientific American of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell.
“If nowhere else, the dead live on in our brain cells, not just as memories but as programs—computer-like models compiled over the years capturing how the dearly departed behaved when they were alive. These simulations can be remarkably faithful. In even the craziest dreams the people we know may remain eerily in character, acting as we would expect them to in the real world. Even after the simulation outlasts the simulated, we continue to sense the strong presence of a living being. Sitting beside a gravestone, we might speak and think for a moment that we hear a reply. In the 21st century, cybernetic metaphors provide a rational grip on what prehistoric people had every reason to think of as ghosts, voices of the dead. And that may have been the beginning of religion.
If the deceased was a father or a village elder, it would have been natural to ask for advice—which way to go to find water or the best trails for a hunt. If the answers were not forthcoming, the guiding spirits could be summoned by a shaman. Drop a bundle of sticks onto the ground or heat a clay pot until it cracks: the patterns form a map, a communication from the other side. These random walks the gods prescribed may indeed have formed a sensible strategy. The shamans would gain in stature, the rituals would become liturgies, and centuries later people would fill mosques, cathedrals and synagogues, not really knowing
how they got there.” The complete review is at :
His explanation of the god phenomenon is not so different from what Euhemerus proposed in 400 BC, although it is more satisfactory because we have a better knowledge of the brain and the Neolithic world than did Euhemerus.
“If the philosophers were to form a government, the people, after 150 years, would forge some new superstition, and would either pray to little idols, or to the graves in which the great men were buried, or invoke the sun, or commit some similar nonsense. Superstition is the weakness of the human mind, which is inseparably tied up with it; it has always existed, and always will.” Frederick the Great, letter to Voltaire, 1766.
“I believe that the idea of God has been a disaster for humanity, and any person who bases their morality on the writings of hallucinating pre-modern nomads is going to have pretty warped values.” (Johann Hari, Attitude, June 2006)
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein