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Posts Tagged ‘Jared Diamond’

Within the atheist community many argue that religion is always evil and has not done any good; that religion is an impediment to rational thought; and that if religion had never come along the world would be much more advanced and a much better place than it is now.

My take in regards to religion is a bit different though.  I would agree that religion can be and often is an impediment to rational thought, however I do not believe that it has to be so.   Given the number of contributions to both science and secular government made by theists, including some saints, I feel my position is well supported.

I agree that religion has done much that is evil, however I do not believe it to be all evil; indeed, I would argue that it has also done much that is good. 

I also am not so certain that a world without religion would have been better.  Of course, there has not been many opportunities to see what would have happened in an atheist friendly world, but the few times that atheism has been the official position of the government (Soviet Russia and Communist China) things have not worked out well for either science, civil rights, or morality. 

I know that many atheists will then chime in with the fact that all of these lapses were not done in the name of atheism but were politically motivated, or that the ideology of communism functioned in the same way as religion in regards to creating moral and intellectual blinders; and I won’t totally disagree with that. 

However arguing this rather misses my point – which is that atheism is the belief that god does not exist.  It does not espouse any other ideals or ideology.   To live, to make decisions, to create a purpose for your life – these require something more than just a belief that god does not exist. 

Communism was one try at providing such an ideology.  Others exist too, some good and rational, others not so much.  And that is my point when I bring up Soviet Russia and Communist China – atheists, when they try to fill up the void left by not believing in a religion are just as likely to latch onto an irrational ideology as they are onto a rational and moral one.  Or, at least that is a very real possibility. 

Given that, and given the mixed bag of our human nature, the claim that getting rid of religion would have improved the world seems to be very questionable. 

I mentioned earlier that I believe that religion had done much that is good.   One of the most basic of these actions in the good column is that I believe that religion allowed the creation of larger social groups – that they facilitated and allowed the transition from societies based on family groups to the larger groups that consisted of many different family groups that came about at the time of our discovery of agriculture. 

I have recently been in a lengthy debate about this subject on a certain atheist facebook page. Now, judging by the responses generated during this debate, mine is very much a minority opinion within atheism (although due care should be taken with this statement since this one forum does not represent all atheists), but I was not a minority of one.   A couple of other atheists supported my views during this debate, one actively, another with the good old thumbs up like- both of which were appreciated. 

Now, I thought it would be fun to copy my posts from those debates here in order to outline some of my thinking about religion.   I realize that while I have done many posts on why I do not believe that God exists or that an afterlife exists or on why God and religion are not necessary for the creation of morality – I have never really dealt much with what I thought about religion.  And given that many theists believe that all atheists hate God and hate religion, I thought that it might interest and enlighten any of my theistic readers about the broad range of thoughts and feelings atheists actually have in regards to religion. 

From that post, slightly edited


It seems that several of you are taking issue with my argument that religion was necessary for the development of larger social groups. Because of this, and because the questions are being asked on at least two different threads, I have opened up a new one that mentions all of ya’lls names.

Part of the issue here may be my choice of the word necessary. To clarify a possible source of confusion, I would like to distinguish between an absolute necessity and an historical one.

An absolute necessity would be one in which something is required and without which a process could not have happened. . In the case of religions an absolute necessity would be that religion always has to be present in order to form larger social groups. That is, without religion larger social groups cannot form and there is no possible substitute for it.

That is not my argument.

My argument is more one of historical necessity. Historical necessity is when something else could have served in its place, but given the times there was nothing else available at that time to do so.

This is the argument I am making.

At the time of the formation of larger social groups there was nothing else available that could have served as well as religion did. There are such now, and if they had existed then, religion would not have been necessary. However to argue that religion was not necessary on the basis of something that was not created until thousands of years afterwards – well, that is not very rational to my mind.

It is rather akin to saying that General Custer should have used a cell phone to call for help when surrounded by all of those Indians and that he would not then have been killed. Well, yes – theoretically if cell phones had been around at the time then he could have done that. However they were not and to make this argument is nonsensical.

The same holds true for intellectual and social institutions. If they had not been invented yet to try to argue that they should have been used instead of religion is as nonsensical as that of the cell phone and Custer above.

Let’s look at one specific example, critical thinking. I know that Matthew keeps mentioning that little piece of reasoning skill.

From his own source http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/a-brief-history-of-the-idea-of-critical-thinking/408

“ The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.

He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic Questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.”

If critical thinking was not really developed until about 500 BC, then can it really be considered as a viable alternative to something that came into being long before? The answer is clearly no.

Critical thinking, scientific thinking and such are all recent inventions of humanity. They are not our natural way of thinking and so took time and work to develop. Such concepts and intellectual tools were not available to those living in 10,000 BC and therefore to expect them to be able to use it then is ludicrous. You cannot use a tool until it has been invented. That holds true with intellectual ones as well as physical ones.

Other sources for history of critical thinking – oh and by the way, please note that they do include religious thinkers and even some saints as important in the development of critical thinking.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking

http://www.wdil.org/resources/the-foundation-for-critical-thinking/

Again, yes our ancestors could have used something other than religion to form social groups and to do all of the other functions religion has historically done – if those other substitutes had existed at that time. Just as biological evolution works with what is at hand instead of what might be best, so too in this case – superstitious beliefs and the start of some rituals were available to be used. Critical thinking and science were not.

If such tools had existed back 12,000 years ago, the argument that religion was not necessary would be on firm foundation. However they did not exist then and would not for thousands of years.

Further, our natural way of thinking is to assign personalities and purposes to the inanimate; which is one of the reasons that the belief in the supernatural is so universal and appeared so early (much, much earlier than science and critical thinking) in our history.

From http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21749-analytical-thinking-erodes-belief-in-god.html

“Humans use two separate cognitive systems for processing information: one that is fast, emotional and intuitive, and another that is slower and more analytical.

The first system innately imputes purpose, personality or mental states to objects, leading to supernatural beliefs. People who rely more on intuitive thinking are more likely to be believers, while the more analytical are less likely. This doesn’t necessarily mean analytical thinking causes disbelief, but activating analytical thinking can override the intuitive system – and vice versa. “

From

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/philosophy/people/staff/academic/papineau/files/teaching20089/biocogsci/biocogsci2008-9/ER2Barrett-Naturalfoundationsofrerligion.pdf

“On the basis of ethnographic data and psychological research, Guthrie argues that people have a bias towards detecting human-like agency in their environment that might not actually exist. Thus, people are particularly sensitive to the presence of intentional agency and seem biased to over attribute intentional action as the cause of a given state of affairs when data is ambiguous or sketchy. These observations suggest that whatever cognitive mechanism people have for detecting agency might be extremely sensitive; in other words, people can be said to possess hyperactive agent detection devices (HADD). According to Guthrie, such a biased perceptual device would have been quite adaptive in our evolutionary past, for the consequences of failing to detect an agent are potentially much graver than mistakenly detecting an agent that is not there. The implication for religion is that the HADD might lead people to posit agents, perhaps of a counterintuitive sort, that are then well-transmitted because of their easy fit within intuitive conceptual systems. Similarly, counterintuitive-agent concepts would be more likely to receive attention and be transmitted than non-agent concepts, because agent concepts are more likely to resonate with agents posited by the HADD.

For example, someone might be told that an invisible person lives in the forest and trips intruders. This story could become salient because it reminds the person of having tripped in
the forest and wondering, ‘Who did that?’ (because of the HADD). Alternatively, a story about an invisible rock is less likely be spread because the hypothesis, ‘Did I trip over an invisible rock?’ is unlikely to be expressed, albeit a more testable hypothesis. Because of the human tendency to seek intentional explanations for a given state of affairs, counterintuitive agents provide ready explanations in ways that nonagents do not. In this way, selective pressure of the HADD might contribute to the prevalence of religious-agent concepts over other counterintuitive concepts. Furthermore, when individuals talk about these agents they may cite empirical
evidence consistent with the agents’ existence.”

By the way, this article also has a bit about the limits of counter-intuitive assumptions, as can be seen above in the discussion of an invisible rock. In other words there are limits to how far HADD can go.

Now, given that science and critical thinking had not been invented yet, and also given that the above is a natural way of thinking for us, then yes superstition was indeed necessary for the formation of larger social groups. If the preferred tools are not available then you have to use the tools that are available. This is a common and basic concept in evolutionary biology; that evolution can only work on the material available to it – so too with intellectual, cultural and societal evolution.

To go over again exactly what I am claiming is a bit of one of my blogs – along with a long quote from another reference of mine – Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies”.

http://badatheist.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/not-dying-not-evil-part-1

“In Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Fates of Human Societies” he writes about how human society has grown throughout history; starting with small family groups and then tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Bands are small family groups consisting of only a few dozens of people. Tribes are groups of kin based clans and consist usually of only a village of a few hundreds of people. Both of these can use family groups and ties to hold the group together and provide it with an identity. Also with these smaller, family based groups an informal system of dealing with problems within the group, making decisions for the group and in deciding how to allocate group resources are possible.

However when we move from those small groups to the larger ones such as chiefdoms which consist of many villages with many different kin groups and states which consist of over 50,000 people and many different villages and cities then you run into several problems.

With the larger groups you have the danger of it fragmenting because of conflicts between the different family groups or clans. Also informal methods of decision making, conflict resolution, and resource allocation are no longer effective.

One of the answers to this problem that was universally used was to use the superstitious beliefs about the world, organize it, and standardize the rites and rituals and the hierarchy and use this to help provide a group identity beyond that of the clan, a means of resolving conflicts, and a way to make decisions.

This was done in conjunction with the rise of the other institutions used to keep large social groups together and to allow them to fuction.

Before quoting Mr. Daimond though let me first mention that when he refers to “kleptocracy” he is referring to any government in which resources are taken from the many and then concentrated in the few. This act by itself it has no moral value either good or bad; consider that all governments good and bad engage in this. The good ones use those resources for the benefit of their society whereas the bad use it for their own personal benefit. Do not let the usual negative associations of this word prevent you from understanding what is being said here.

From “Guns, Germs, and Steel” page 277 – 278.

“ Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions. But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. When supernatural beliefs gained those functions and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion. Hawaiian chiefs were typical of chiefs elsewhere, in asserting divinity, divine descent, or at least a hotline to the gods. The chief claimed to serve the people by interceding for them with the gods and reciting the ritual formulas required to obtain rain, good harvests, and success in fishing.

Chiefdoms characteristically have an ideology, precursor to an institutionalized religion, that buttresses the chief’s authority. The chief may either combine the offices of political leader and priest in a single person or may support a separate group of kleptocrats (that is, priests) whose function is to provide ideological justification for the chiefs. That is why chiefs devote so much collected tribute to constructing temples and other public works, which serve as centers of the official religion and visible signs of the chief’s power.

Besides justifying the transfer of wealth to the kleptocrats, institutionalized religion brings two other important benefits to centralized societies. First, shared ideology or religion helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other – by providing them with a bond not based on kinship. Second, it gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others. At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks.”

I would add here that these changes in superstitious belief mentioned above were, for the most part, not done in cold blooded calculation. Rather it was changes that made internal sense and flowed naturally from the beliefs and the society. Those changes that worked stayed. Those that did not were changed or forgotten. “

Here are some other references for the above along with some passages from them

The Cultural Evolution of Civilizations by Kent V. Flannery published in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics Vol. 3 (1979)

http://www.unitus.it/beni/amministra/privato/4613633432a59/1236601596.pdf

“”Tribes” frequently have ceremonies which are regularly scheduled or “calendric,” occurring at the same time every year. These ceremonies-as well as longer-term ritual cycles which stretch out over decades-may help to maintain undegraded environments, limit intergroup raiding, adjust man-land ratios, facilitate trade, redistribute natural resources, and “level” any differences in wealth which threaten society’s egalitarian structure (cf. Rappaport 39, pp. 8-9).

And

Two recent papers by ethnologist Robert Carneiro (10) and archeologist Henry T. Wright (61) summarize current theories on the origins of the state. Among the “mechanisms of state formation” which have been proposed are population growth (per se, or in areas circumscribed in various ways), warfare, irrigation, trade, symbiosis between contrasting peoples or environmental zones, “cooperation and competition,” and the “integrative power” of religions or great art styles.”

From Institutional Evolution in the Holocene: The Rise of Complex Societies by Peter J. Richerson, Department of Environmental Science and Policy University of California Davis and Robert Boyd, Department of Anthropology University of California Los Angeles

http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/Richerson/evolutioninstitutions.pdf

The existence of contemporary societies handicapped by few loyalties outside the family
(Banfield 1958) or by excessively powerful loyalties to small tribes (West 1941) remind
us that work-arounds are awkward compromises that are difficult to achieve and easy to
lose.

The most important cultural innovations required to support complex societies are
command and control institutions that can systematically organize cooperation,
coordination, and a division of labor in societies consisting of hundreds of thousands to
hundreds of millions of people. Command and control institutions lead to more
productive economies, more internal security, and better resistance to external
aggression. Note that command and control are separable concepts. Command may aim
at quite limited control. For example, a predatory conquest state may use command
almost exclusively for the extraction of portable wealth, not for prosocial projects.
Institutions often exert control without personal commands.”

And

“The high population density, division of labor, and improved communication made
possible by the innovations of complex societies increased the scope for elaborating
symbolic systems. The development of monumental architecture to serve mass ritual
performances is one of the oldest archaeological markers of emerging complexity.
Usually an established church or less formal ideological umbrella supports a complex
society’s institutions. At the same time, complex societies extensively exploit the
symbolic ingroup instinct to delimit a quite diverse array of culturally defined subgroups,
within which a good deal of cooperation is routinely achieved.”

And

“The links between belief systems and subsistence are nevertheless incontestably strong. To build a cathedral requires an economy that produces surpluses that can be devoted to grand
gestures on the part of the faithful. The moral precepts inculcated by the clergy in the
cathedral underpin the institutions that in turn regulate the economy. Arguably,
ideological innovations often drive economic change. Recall Max Weber’s classical
argument about the role of Calvinism in the rise of capitalism.”

More references available upon request (many, many more), but let me end this list with a book that I have just started reading titled:

Between Culture and Biology: Perspectives on Ontogenetic Development, edited by Heidi Keller, Ype H. Poortinga and Axel Scholmerich and published as part of the Cambridge Studies in Cognitive and Perceptual Development.

It is a very interesting book so far and very thought provoking. While not directly discussing the topic of the creation of larger social groups it does have information that is relevant to such discussions. From page 199

“Moreover, the religious background is important. Religion in many aspects underpins the development of a culture, its traditions, social norms and rules and the way individual behavior is interpreted, supported or negatively sanctioned.”

Now, religion since it was used to help create larger social groups then filled a variety of functions from medical to educational to promoting that societies morality. Until it could be replaced it was necessary in those roles. And it could not be adequately replaced until the necessary intellectual tools and ideas had evolved.

Take, for example, hospitals.

From Edward T. Babinski – History and Theology. Mr. Babinski by the way is an agnostic. http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/03/origins-of-hospitals.html

“It can be said, however, that the modern concept of a hospital dates from AD 331 when Constantine , having been converted to Christianity , abolished all pagan hospitals and thus created the opportunity for a new start. Until that time disease had isolated the sufferer from the community. The Christian tradition emphasized the close relationship of the sufferer to his fellow man, upon whom rested the obligation for care. Illness thus became a matter for the Christian church.”

…….

“Religion continued to be the dominant influence in the establishment of hospitals during the Middle Ages . The growth of hospitals accelerated during the Crusades , which began at the end of the 11th century. Pestilence and disease were more potent enemies than the Saracens in defeating the crusaders. Military hospitals came into being along the traveled routes; the Knights Hospitalers of the Order of St. John in 1099 established in the Holy Land a hospital that could care for some 2,000 patients. It is said to have been especially concerned with eye disease, and may have been the first of the specialized hospitals. This order has survived through the centuries as the St. John’s Ambulance Corps.

Throughout the Middle Ages, but notably in the 12th century, the number of hospitals grew rapidly in Europe. The Arabs established hospitals in Baghdad and Damascus and in Córdoba in Spain. Arab hospitals were notable for the fact that they admitted patients regardless of religious belief, race, or social order. The Hospital of the Holy Ghost, founded in 1145 at Montpellier in France, established a high reputation and later became one of the most important centres in Europe for the training of doctors. By far the greater number of hospitals established during the Middle Ages, however, were monastic institutions under the Benedictines, who are credited with having founded more than 2,000.”

Yes there are things that can replace religion now – but those things did not exist then. They have to exist first before they can be considered as a rational alternative to the role of religion in the past.

Summary
– Today religion is not a necessity for society since we have evolved much better substitutes to do the job it did in the past.

- 12,000 years ago such substitutes did not exist.

- Once religion was used to help form larger groups it provided many needed services to support and help the society and government – from wealth redistribution to education to medicine to providing identity and so forth.

- Again, today those services are no longer necessary so that while individuals still may find religion necessary it is no longer needed for the functioning of government and societies and is instead all too often counterproductive and destructive.

That is the argument that I made and it reflects some of my current thinking about religion.  What I found interesting here though is how often atheists who disagreed with my arguments misconstrued them. 

For example, I have said that one of the roles religion assumed was that of promoting and teaching the morality of a given society.  Some atheists took this to mean that I was instead saying the religion is the root and source of morality – which is clearly not what I said, and given that I have just finished a six part blog on why god and the supernatural are not necessary for morality and that morality has its roots in our evolved nature and our societies, it is clearly not what I believe. 

What I believe happened here though is that since these atheists are firmly wedded to the idea that religion is always evil and always unnecessary and since my argument was something new to them (especially from an atheist) they interpreted my words in the context of their debates with theists and with what theists claim – that religion is the source of morality. 

What this shows is that atheists, just like theists, can let their biases and prejudices interfere with their reasoning.  Which is another reason why I am skeptical that a religionless world would necessarily be a more rational and moral one.   

Atheism alone is nothing more than a negation – a void waiting to be filled.   Whether an atheistic world would be better than a religious world depends on what fills that void.  To my mind atheism would have to be linked to another ideology in order to rationally make this claim – something like Humanism or the new Atheist+ movement would probably work.

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In Part 2 I briefly discussed why religion’s role in the formation of and the sustaining of large social groups such as states could not have been done by a secular substitute, which is basically we had not developed our ability to think analytically to provide such structures.  Instead they had to rely on what is our more normal and more easily used way of thinking, one that involves emotive and intuitive thinking and which naturally ascribes personalities to even natural actions. 

As I pointed out in the previous blog (courtesy of Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel”) something had to be created in order to allow the formation of larger social groups, groups larger than family groups.  This structure had to transcend that of family in order for it to function.

Whatever this structure would have been would have had to defend itself against ties of family that would threaten the larger social group as well as against other forces that would diminish it.  Also, since the formation of larger social groups took place at different times and in different places that meant that the forces that created them were also slightly to majorly different with the result that the institutions created would be different too.

These differences could lead to conflicts between different social groups and, more often, help provide additional motivations and support for the actions of that larger social group.  Because of this even if religion had not arisen the institution needed to take its place, even if secular, would still have engaged in many of the same behaviors we now find so immoral today.   

Today though our social groupings have evolved ways to accomplish the same results without regards to superstitious beliefs and increasingly in a way that does not usually involve violence.  Given this, why expect religion to stay?  Especially considering the continuing success that science, our developed way of thinking analytically, has had in explaining the world and how it works.

 

First off, let me mention that the concept of separation of church and state that was first institutionalized as a part of government by the writers of the American Constitution and which has been taken up by more and more governments in the world has largely negated the more violent and repressive aspects of religion.  In those countries that adhere to this principle there are no more blasphemy laws, no more government persecutions for those of different religious beliefs, no more laws mandating the beliefs of those who are elected, no more burnings at the stake, no more use of religion as justification for wars, etc. 

In other words the adoption of separation of church and state by governments eliminates one of the negatives of religion – it’s too often bloody repression of those who disagree. 

Now, let me mention that in Part 1 I listed several different causes of religion.  Most of those causes were not in order to create larger social groupings that transcended the ties of family groups.  Most of them, instead, applied to individuals and provides them with a way of understanding the world. 

To summarize, some of those reason are:

1)    As an explanation for those moments when a person feels connected to something much bigger than him or herself.  For transcendent moments that even atheists feel, although we do not give it a religious explanation.  However in experiencing such moments it becomes understandable why many would. 

2)    To explain why and how we came to be. 

3)    To explain what happens to us when we die.

4)    To satisfy our need for justice and fairness that is too often not granted in this world.

5)    As a way to teach and support morality.

6)    As a way for people to make sense of their lives.  Anything from why the termites have caused the house to collapse now to why we are here at all.   

It is important to keep in mind that people are composed not just of brains and the ability to analyze but also of emotions and intuition.  In fact, most of our lives are lived by emotion and intuition and answers and outlooks that do not satisfy these will never be widely held by humanity. 

This is true of everyone, even those who are highly trained in analytical thinking and who make their living by such thinking.  For evidence, I would refer you to the beliefs o many scientists outside their field.  I am referring not only to religious beliefs, but also to those who have and are supporting such ideas as UFO’s as alien visitors, psychics and the paranormal, fall prey to financial scams, and so forth. 

We also dislike mysteries without clear answer.  This means that whatever science does not know will provide emotional support for superstitious answers.  This is especially true for questions such as why there is something instead of nothing, what is the source of our morality, and is there a life after death. 

And, to be honest, there is no clear answer to most of these questions.  Take for example, why there is something rather than nothing; yes, the atheist can point out that positing a God for an answer only pushes the question back, however we cannot prove that the universe is definitely the final answer and that God is not the actual answer.  Because of this, and because that thinking analytically does not provide the emotional satisfaction that most of humanity needs then God will always be around. 

Nor can we prove that the results of analytical thinking are the only source of valid thinking, that when emotional and intuitive thinking clash that analytical thinking should always win in all cases and on all subjects.  We can make a case for it being so, but we cannot prove that should always be so and especially not for all subjects.  No more than we can prove that the sun will rise in the east and not the west tomorrow morning.  Or that analytical thinking is the best and only way to choose a lover and spouse.   

 

Now, what has happened, what is continuing to happen and what will continue to happen in the future is that the form of religion will change.  I think it will eventually be a quite drastic change from what it was a thousand years ago. 

The causes of these changes are exposure to the results of science, the divorce being established between church and state by more and more countries, and the challenge of determining how other religions relate to yours.  All of these pose questions and challenges to theistic faith; challenges that require them to change.

I found these passages from Phillip Gulley’s, a Quaker Minister, book “The Evolution of Faith:  How God Is Creating a Better Christianity” of interest in regards to this. 

 “While my life’s experience confirmed some of my previous observations, much of what I hadwritten years before made little sense now.  Assertions about the character and activity of God, prayer, the purpose of the church, the nature of sin, knowing God’s will, the person of Jesus, and the afterlife now seemed implausible, if not impossible.  I could no longer affirm what I had once believed.

I wasn’t saddened by this realization, nor did I have any desire to return to my former beliefs.  Indeed, I felt energized by my theological journey, believing it revealed a vitality and passion often lacking in my more orthodox days.”

….

“As a student of church history, I knew the pastor’s claims {that the Christian religion has not changed since it’s beginnings} were inaccurate, that over the past two thousand years, the church’s message had undergone significant change, influenced by pivotal figures and movements.”

“At first glance, the title, The Evolution of Faith; How God Is Creating a Better Christianity, may seem presumptuous and egotistical, as if God were using me to liberate Christianity from its ancient moorings and carry it forward.  But on a closer look, it makes perfect sense that if there are many versions of Christianity, that if Christianity has mutated and evolved over the centuries, it’s reasonable to conclude it will continue to do so…..Therefore to speak of an evolving Christianity isn’t to undertake a radical and unilateral overhaul of the faith, but to suggest a possible way forward that not only honors the ethos of Jesus but is conversant with our time and culture.  For while it is clear that Christianity has changed and will continue to do so, what is less clear are the forms it might take.”

“At the Quaker meeting I pastor, a woman of the Baha’i faith joins her Quaker husband in meeting for worship.  Another attendee, a Jewish man, teaches an adult Sunday-school class; a young man in the congregation met a woman of the Muslim faith while in college; they married and are warmly welcomed into our meeting.  Another man, intelligent and deeply caring, speaks openly about his leanings towards atheism.  Imagine my standing at the pulpit and pronouncing these people spiritually lost, urging them to accept Jesus as their Savior.  Not only would my sense of decorum prohibit that, but so would my appreciation for their obvious virtues.  They are, to a person, loving, gracious, and wise.  For me to suggest that they are spiritually inferior would be not only unkind, but untrue.

….

“In addition to this spiritual diversity, the pervasive acceptance of scientific advancements has significantly altered Christianity, especially those kinds of Christianity predicated on an outdated worldview.  It is no longer possible for people to reject the scientific evidence of evolution without seeming ignorant.  Nor is it possible, given what we know about homosexuality, to sustain a Christianity that asserts one’s sexual orientation is chosen or inherently sinful.” 

It is also interesting listening to Christian talk radio.  Frequently a featured topic is about how the youth are no longer as rigid in their beliefs as their parents.  Most of them accept gay marriage.  Many of them do not believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation, that believers of other faiths will also go to heaven, and that there are many paths leading to God.  Polls have been done showing that even among evangelical families the majority of children believe some variations of this. 

Religion can change, has changed in the past, and is changing today.  Not uniformly,  not all at the same rate; but changing nonetheless. 

Science has not killed it, but has caused it to transform itself.  Its separation from the power of the state has not killed it, but has caused it to re-think how it maintains and sustains itself.  The challenge posed by good people who are of another faith has not killed it, but has caused it to reconsider its tenets. 

As further evidence of this, let us consider Sweden.  Some mention countries such as Sweden as an example where religion is dying out.  However that is not quite true.  Organized religion is dying out.  Literalist beliefs are dying out.   However religion, as a belief in the supernatural, is not. 

Many have pointed to countries such as Sweden in which religion appears to be dying as evidence that such will happen all over the world eventually.  However a closer look at Sweden reveals something slightly different happening – religion is changing in response to the challenges I have already mentioned. 

Starting in 1973 the European Commission started sponsoring a series of surveys on different issues relating to the European Union.  In 2005 they commissioned a survey about religion in Europe.  Here is the link to it. 

 http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf

One of the questions asked is does that person 1) believe in a God, 2) believe in some sort of spirit or life force, or 3) do not believe in any sort of spirit, God, or life force.   In Sweden only 23% chose the atheist answer. The same number, 23%,  as chose the God answer.  The majority, 53%, believe in “some sort of spirit or life force”. 

In other words, 76% believe in either God or some sort of spirit or life force, 76% of Swedes still believe in something that transcends or is other than nature and science.   Part of the analysis of this included the following paragraph. 

“The results reveal some principal tendencies. The first being that there is seemingly a move away from religion in its traditional form – “I believe there is a God” – which seems to affect the Protestant countries, such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, as well as countries with a strong secular tradition such as France and Belgium. At the same time there is an affirmation of traditional religious beliefs in countries where the Church or Religious Institutions have been historically strong, notably, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland. In certain Eastern European countries, in spite of 40 or 50 years of communism, a strong attachment to religion emerges in Catholic countries such as Poland, Croatia and Slovakia. The third tendency is the development of a new kind of religion characterised by the belief that “there is some sort of spirit or life force”. This new religion or spirituality is more marked in certain Protestant countries, such as Sweden or Denmark as well as in the Czech Republic and Estonia.”

Please note the last two sentences of the above. Even in countries such as Sweden which are cited by many atheists as proof that religion is dying still has religion – religions instead is just being changed into a new and different type of religion; to one that has similarities to some Buddhist and New Age beliefs it seems to me. 

You add this to what the practices are of many Swedish citizens – half of all weddings are Christian church weddings, seven out of ten children are christened in the Church of Sweden, almost nine out of ten Swedes have Christian burials and so forth – then religion still has a spot in their lives, even if it is most definitely not the traditional ones.

Let me also note the fact that traditional religion is still very strong in many European countries – including those which were under communistic rule for so long, a rule that was intolerant of religion and which promoted atheism. 

Religion is not a spent force.  Not only is traditional religion still strong in most of the world, new religions are rising up and becoming prominent.  One that has attracted a lot of press in the United States lately is Mormonism.  Founded in the 1820’s it has grown significantly:  in 1829 there were only six members, today though, 183 years later, there are over 14 million members and it is still growing.  In fact today there is even a Presidential candidate who is Mormon.

Some other new religions whose origin is less than 200 years ago includes Scientology, the Baha’i Faith, Rastafarianism, and the rebooting of pagan beliefs in the Wiccan movement. 

The bottom line here is that we cannot prove that God does not exist.  Given the very human need for emotionally satisfying answers to questions such as why there is something instead of nothing, for our need for justice, for our need to live both for ourselves and our loved ones; and given that our natural way of finding answers is intuitive and emotional – I do not ever see religion disappearing.

That is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the religion which survives is one that is liberal and not literalist, accepting of established science, and does not seek governmental power.  In fact, it can actually be a force for needed social and individual change. 

The problem with such broad statements such as “religion is evil” or that “religion will die out” is that it ignores the vast range of religious beliefs; from the most barbaric, restrictive, and oppressive religions to the most open, progressive, and liberal religions.  Such statements treat them all the same. 

Should you tell me which specific religious tradition (and it would have to be much more specific than just Christian, Islam, Hinduism, etc) and during what specific time period and what specific location – then I may agree with you that this particular religion is evil.

But all religion is evil?  No. 

But all religion will die out?  No.

I have too much experience, both personal with every religious people who are good and intelligent people, and through my readings of religion and history of the various religions to ever believe either of those much too general statements.    

A common logical fallacy is to look at only the data that confirm your beliefs and not at all the data.  I would say that those atheists who claim that all religion is evil and that religion is dying are committing just that fallacy. 

As atheists I would suggest that instead of a war on all religion we instead focus more on those religions which are oppressive and literalist, and who seek governmental power.   The others can be worked with to improve our world.  To battle them and to call them evil is to only harm our own image and cause, and to harm the progress that humanity still has to make in creating a fully just, caring, and responsible society.    

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Many atheists believe that religion is evil.  Some even believe it is responsible for most of the evil done in history.  They will cite such actions as religious wars, the Catholics/Protestants in Ireland, the persecution of those of differing religions, the Inquisition, witch trials and on and on and on.  Superficially they seem to have at least the beginning of a case.  However, on looking a bit more deeply their case is lacking. 

Yes, religion has done many evil things.  I would argue though that many of those actions would have occurred anyway since the main motivation was not religious but power, control, and property. 

For example, take a look at the Spanish Conquest of Central and South America.  Specifically, let us look at Pizarro’s conquest of the Incans.  Here is an excerpt from a letter written by one of Pizarro’s companions about this conquest, in which a force of only 168 Spanish soldiers defeated an army of many thousands of Incan warriors and brought down the Incan Empire.  This passage is relating Pizarro’s words to Atahuallpa, the Incan Emperor, after he was captured and his army defeated.      

“We come to conquer this land by his {the Spanish King} command, that all may come to a knowledge of God and of His Holy Catholic Faith; and by reason of our good mission, God, the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things in them, permit this, in order that you may know Him and come out of the bestial and diabolical life that you lead.  It is for this reason that we, being so few in number, subjugate that vast host.”  From “Guns, Germs, and Steel” pg 74, by Jared Diamond. 

Does anyone really believe that the Spanish would not have conquered and enslaved the Indian population if religion had never been created?  Or that they would have foregone conquest had they not been religious?  The goal here was power and riches.  If there had been no possibility of riches or power then there would have been no Spanish conquest. 

The above is a very clear and obvious example of what I believe to be a basic reality of religious wars – their cause are not usually religious at all, but instead about power and riches;  not all, but most.  Because of this, if religion had never been created the wars and atrocities would still have occurred with only the reasoning changing. 

Reflect back on what I wrote in my first blog on this subject, specifically cause 11.   This is the one in which religious institutions and identities were necessary for the transition from small kin based units to larger ones that encompass many different kin groups.  Religion helped provide a needed structure for governing such larger social groups.  They also helped provide it with a new identity that transcended that of kin.  Without religion such larger groups would not have formed.   Without these larger social groups and their ability to support individuals who do not provide food but who instead work in arts, crafts, literature (eventually), and other specialized areas we would not have developed the science, technology, and medicine that we have today. 

Consider the fact that all of these conflicts involve large social groups – states.  Yes, religion was often cited as a cause for conflict between states; however without religion those states would not have existed in the first place.  Religion, in this case, became part of a larger group identity and it is two of these larger group identities that were in conflict. 

If religion had never developed, something else would have had to come about that would fill the same function.  Whatever that something would have been would then become the reason, the cloak for the conflict in the same way that religion was.  The atrocities committed by religions in order to maintain themselves, for example the Inquisition and laws against other religions, would also have been created to support whatever had taken the place of religion.

For evidence of this, take a look at the French Revolution, Pol Pot, USSR, and Communist China.  None of these were dominated by a religious group, but all committed reprehensible atrocities anyway.   

This is not to minimize the blood that is on most religions hands.  However it is pointing out that much of that is in its role as a social institution that allows the creation of larger social groups and not necessarily because of its theology and superstitious belief system. Divorce it from its role of being part of the state then you also get rid of most of the blood and persecution.  I would further argue that something would have had to fill its place even if it did not exist that would have spilled the same blood in much the same way. 

Given this – the fact that the creation of religion helped to foster the creation of larger social groups –  then I would say that religion, despite its often bloody and repressive history, is an overall good.  As I said earlier, the creation of larger social groups allowed the advances of science, technology, and medicine that we enjoy today. 

But beyond this, religious history is not just a history of atrocities, violence, and suppression of knowledge.  Before I go into the specifics of this though let me make a two more general points here. 

First, I believe that our social structures have evolved and improved over the ages.   Just like modern aircraft are faster, stronger, and fly much higher than the Wright brothers plane; just like the way that we walk upright today much more efficiently than did our Ardipithecus ramidus ancestors; so too have our societies improved over the years.   And religion has been a part of that change and improvement. 

Second, given that our default way of reasoning is emotional and intuitive and involves ascribing personalities to the unknown was there ever any realistic chance of a non-superstitious institution coming about that provided the same functions for large social groupings as religion?  I would strongly say – No.  Those secular institutions could not come about until societies had evolved some.    This argument that some secular institutions could have served the same function as religion did in the past just because it does now is rather like saying that the horse was not essential to the history of transport because today we have cars.    Until cars were invented horses were essential to transportation – until the secular social institutions were created the religious ones were essential to the creation and support of the state. 

Now, what has religion done positively beyond that of allowing the formation of larger social groups? 

1)    As part of the formation of larger social groups, but transcending it, is its emphasis on moral behavior.  Yes, between different religions there have been conflicts on what is moral and what is not, and yes, religion has often been heavy handed in its promotion of such behavior it has often declared immoral what was moral and moral what was moral; nonetheless it has also often promoted morality and often improved it. 

It has encouraged charitable giving, support of the widows and orphans and of the stranger in need.  It has encouraged honesty and fair dealing.  I noticed almost all of this in my re-reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey (they had a tendency to promote lying and theft though) and it most definitely is present in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the other world religions. 

Consider the many varieties of the Golden Rule that have appeared in all the major religions and in some variety in almost of the religions in history.   I consider such words a very good moral precept.   

Consider also that the leaders of the abolition movement in both the United States and Great Britain were largely ministers and men and women of strong religious beliefs. 

The Civil Rights movement here in the United States was also led by a great many ministers and religious people – most prominent among them being Martin Luther King Jr.  

That is not even considering the actions of everyday people in resisting evil whether from secular or religious sources – the many Muslims who saved the Jews from the Nazi’s in Albania, the many Christians who decried religious persecution by the fellow believers (try reading Roger Williams someday in this regards – his ideas on church state separation are spot on), the Muslims who are working to improve the role of women in their religion and working to improve relations with Jews, the contributions many religious people give to help those in need regardless of the religious beliefs of those in need, and on and on and on. 

2)    Religion has also tended to be the social institution that until fairly recent times created hospitals.  It was these hospitals which eventually led the way to our modern secular system. 

Consider the evolution of the hospital.  Care for the sick has from the beginning been associated with religion.  Our modern ideas about the hospital originated in Christianity. 

From Edward T. Babinski – History and Theology.  Mr. Babinski by the way is an agnostic. http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.com/2012/03/origins-of-hospitals.html

“It can be said, however, that the modern concept of a hospital dates from AD 331 when Constantine , having been converted to Christianity , abolished all pagan hospitals and thus created the opportunity for a new start. Until that time disease had isolated the sufferer from the community. The Christian tradition emphasized the close relationship of the sufferer to his fellow man, upon whom rested the obligation for care. Illness thus became a matter for the Christian church.”

…….

“Religion continued to be the dominant influence in the establishment of hospitals during the Middle Ages . The growth of hospitals accelerated during the Crusades , which began at the end of the 11th century. Pestilence and disease were more potent enemies than the Saracens in defeating the crusaders. Military hospitals came into being along the traveled routes; the Knights Hospitalers of the Order of St. John in 1099 established in the Holy Land a hospital that could care for some 2,000 patients. It is said to have been especially concerned with eye disease, and may have been the first of the specialized hospitals. This order has survived through the centuries as the St. John’s Ambulance Corps.

Throughout the Middle Ages, but notably in the 12th century, the number of hospitals grew rapidly in Europe. The Arabs established hospitals in Baghdad and Damascus and in Córdoba in Spain. Arab hospitals were notable for the fact that they admitted patients regardless of religious belief, race, or social order. The Hospital of the Holy Ghost, founded in 1145 at Montpellier in France, established a high reputation and later became one of the most important centres in Europe for the training of doctors. By far the greater number of hospitals established during the Middle Ages, however, were monastic institutions under the Benedictines, who are credited with having founded more than 2,000.”

3)    Religion has a mixed record on science.  There has been much destruction and suppression of those views that do not agree with a particular religious stance.  However there has also been support for science and its endeavors, so much so that I do not see how one can make a blanket statement that religion and science are incompatible without defining exactly what type of religious belief you are talking about.  

We always hear about the Catholic Church and Galileo and about its suppression of knowledge (again, I would argue that such suppression would likely have occurred even if religion were not involved since whatever institution that would have taken its place would have done similarly – witness Lysenko and the USSR).   However, religion has also supported science.  Consider these scientists who were also priests:

Roger Bacon (1214 – 1294) – one of the earliest European empirical thinkers who helped develop the scientific method and engaged in important work in optics.  

Robert Grosseteste (1175 – 1253) – his works helped create the framework for modern science.  His work on optics with its surprisingly modern conception of color was continued by Roger Bacon. 

Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) – he is considered one of the founders of stratigraphy and modern geology.  He also did some important work in both anatomy and fossils.  He was considered a saint after his death and has been canonized by the Catholic Church. 

Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618 – 1663) – investigated the free fall of objects and along with Giovanni Battista Riccioli, another Catholic priest and astronomer, calculated the gravitational constant through observations and experiments with pendulums.  He was also the first to make accurate observations on the diffraction of light and coined the term diffraction.

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 – 1884) – it was his experiments with pea plants that led to the development of modern genetics.  His work on the inheritance of traits caused the laws to be referred to as Mendelian inheritance. 

Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (1894 – 1966) – an astronomer who was the first to propose the theory that the universe is expanding.   He also was the first to derive what is now called Hubble’s law and in 1927 made the first estimation of Hubble’s constant.  He is also the scientist who first proposed the Big Bang theory. 

These are just a few of the many Catholic priests who have made significant contributions to our understanding of the universe.  That is not even considering the number of important scientists who were also religious but not priests but instead were Catholic and Protestant believers, Muslim believers, Jewish believers and so forth.  A great many of these scientists cited their religious faith as one of the reasons for why they became scientists.   Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the creators of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, was one such scientist. 

To summarize Part 2 then, yes religion has done a great many evil things.  However, I believe the good outweighs the bad with the first and most basic good being its role in allowing human society to grow from small kin based groups to large states. 

Given our natural way of thinking, there could have been no secular alternative to religion that would have worked as well.   That possibility had to wait until the structures of societies had evolved or developed enough.  

Also, although the wars and persecution are too often laid solely at the feet of religion, most often they are the result of the role religion plays in society in regards to forming a national identity and not so much a result of its superstitious beliefs. 

Finally, to look only at the evil acts done in the name of religion without looking at the good and moral acts done in religions name is to give a vastly unbalanced view of reality – unbalanced and also unjust.             

 In Part 3, I will go over some of the reasons why I believe religion will still be here and in force a thousand years from now.

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Many atheists believe that religion will go away relatively soon – say within the next couple of hundred years.  Others believe that religion is evil and that its disappearance would be a very good thing for humanity.  There is a considerable overlap between the two groups.

However, I disagree with both groups and both assertions.  I do not believe religion is going away and that, although its form will change, it will still be here a thousand years from now. 

I also do not believe that religion is evil and that its disappearance would be a good thing for humanity.  I believe that certain types of religion are bad and humanity would be better off once they fade into history, but I also believe that religion has done much good, has been necessary for much of our development as a social species and that even if all religion disappeared tomorrow we would still not be better off.  Instead we would come up with different excuses for our conflicts, our hatreds, our bigotry, and our tortures and our murders. 

The problem in this case lies not in religion but in human nature; religion is merely the form that much of human nature is clothed in.  Get rid of the old clothes then new ones will be found and worn. 

Now this blog is obviously going to cover a lot of ground and I thought briefly about doing two separate blogs, one about why religion will still be here a thousand years from now and another about why I do not consider religion evil.  However, to my mind the two subjects are so closely interlinked that to treat them separately would be a disservice to both topics. 

Instead I decided to do a very long blog and break it up into more readable sections (I know at least two, possibly three – still working on it).  So, make sure that you are seated comfortably with a favorite beverage at hand (my experience has been that those of my readers who consume alcoholic beverages tend to better appreciate my thoughts – so please feel free to consume a six pack or two before reading). 

Let’s begin by asking why do we have religion?  Why did it come about, what purpose is served by it, and why did it appear universally in every society, every culture all through human history?  If there are a group of humans interacting there is religion too, at least until recent times. 

There is a lot of disagreement about the answers to these questions.  Part of this is because too many people try to oversimplify and find only one answer, one root cause of religion.  In reality though I believe that there are several reasons for the creation of religion. 

Let me just list some of the causes of why humanity started to believe in the supernatural and the rise of religious rites and ceremonies.  Before I do I want to mention two human traits that are very important in understanding religion. 

The first is our inborn curiosity.  We hate not knowing.  In fact we hate it so much that we will speculate, guess, hypothesize, cogitate, presume and make up answers rather than remain ignorant.  To satisfy this need we will even find links and relationships between acts and facts that are not there in reality.  I believe this to be one of our evolved survival traits, one that can be summarized as “ignorance is dangerous, knowledge is power”. 

Another human trait to keep in mind in reading the causes of religion comes from an interesting study that was published in Science recently.  This study looked at why some people believe in the supernatural and some do not.  This study pointed out that humans have two separate ways of reasoning about the world.  One of these is fast and comes very naturally to us and involves intuition and emotions.  The other is slower and is analytical. 

 From the New Scientist website, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21749-analytical-thinking-erodes-belief-in-god.html

 “Humans use two separate cognitive systems for processing information: one that is fast, emotional and intuitive, and another that is slower and more analytical.

The first system innately imputes purpose, personality or mental states to objects, leading to supernatural beliefs. People who rely more on intuitive thinking are more likely to be believers, while the more analytical are less likely. This doesn’t necessarily mean analytical thinking causes disbelief, but activating analytical thinking can override the intuitive system – and vice versa. “

I have read other evidence supporting this concept of two different cognitive systems.  The first one, the intuitive one, did provide us with an evolutionary advantage.  It was fast and quick, and fairly accurate.  Also when it was not accurate it failed in such a way that you were likely to survive. 

For example, if you hear a rustling in the dark and assume that it is a panther hunting when all it is really just the wind, then nothing bad happens.  However if you believe it to be the wind and it is the panther – good bye. 

Our ability to engage in analytical thinking was with us early on.  However it is not something that is as natural to us as intuition and emotion.  It took time to learn to engage in such thinking properly – which is why it has taken humanity almost 100,000 years to develop science.  Analytical thinking is not easy and it is not fast.  As evidence of the difficulty and unnaturalness of thinking analytically all the time,  just consider the beliefs and statements by scientists when they discuss issues outside their area of expertise; many of them fail to use their analytical ability consistently.  Given that this sort of thinking is part of their everyday work, the fact that they cannot engage in it consistently means that the general population is most definitely going to have difficulties doing so.  . 

I would also point out that since the intuitive and emotional reasoning is our primary way of thinking then any policies, societies, or cultures that do not take this into account are going to fail.   

Let me also re-emphasis something this article said in the above quote – “This doesn’t necessarily mean analytical thinking causes disbeliefHere is another brief quote from the same article:

“But before secularists start putting copies of The Thinker in classrooms, Norenzayan warns that it isn’t so simple. “Many things promote religious belief”, such as fear of death, he says. “You can’t turn a devout believer into an atheist just by encouraging analytical thinking. Other factors will sustain belief.””

In the same vein let me quote from http://blogs.sciencemag.org/origins/2009/11/do-studies-of-the-origin-of-re.html

“In my essay on the origin of religion earlier this month, I describe new research tackling the question of how belief in unseen deities arose. One leading model from cognitive science suggests that religion is a natural consequence of human social cognition and that we are primed to see the work of another thinking being—an agent—in the natural world and our lives. But a person of faith might give a different kind of answer: Religion arose because divinity exists, and belief in deities represents the human response to it.

Does the cognitive science model conflict with that religious perspective? Some creationists find the research an attack on faith. But the scientists I interviewed said that the question of whether God exists is distinct from their research. For example, Deborah Kelemen of Boston University, whose psychological studies have found that children and adults have a natural penchant for creationist explanations, says that her work “does not speak to the existence of God; it speaks to why and how we might believe. Whether God exists is a separate question, one we can’t scientifically test.” Those who are upset by the idea that human minds are likely to construct gods, or that evolution has shaped religion, “are misreading the message of this work,” she says.
 
Charles Darwin neatly articulated the distinction between studying the mechanism of religious belief and its truth. When considering the origin of religion in The Descent of Man, he wrote: “The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one, whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.” (He did not, however, report how he himself stood on the question of God’s existence.)

Some scientists say that the cognitive model of religion is compatible with belief in God. The science explains why humans are receptive to religion, a notion that theologians of various religions have explored, says Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who studies the psychology of belief and is an observant Christian. “Embedded in all of us is a receptiveness to the idea of transcendence—an idea you see in many of the world’s religions. From their point of view, we trot out the scientific evidence for this receptiveness, and their response is, ‘Yeah, right, we knew that,’ ” says Barrett.”

Finally, let me point out that because analytical thinking leads to science and a more complete understanding of how our universe works does not mean that there are times and subjects in which our other, more natural way of thinking would not only be more appropriate but also more reliable. 

Now, let’s look at some (I do not pretend that this list is comprehensive) of those other factors that created and sustains belief in the supernatural. 

1)    As explanations of dreams and feelings such as deja vu.  Consider this in light of what I wrote above.  The first explanation, the one that comes up most naturally to us, is one which ascribes such things to a being, in this case a supernatural one.

2)    Haven’t you ever felt that someone is watching you?  The monster in the closet, the hidden eyes in the shadow?  

3)    Related to the last two is as an explanation for why a person does something totally dumb and contrary to their usual behavior.  I know that there have been times when I have done something totally out of character for me, something in which I have berated myself and wondered how I could have been so dumb.   Or conversely how someone could have done something seemingly beyond their abilities That too is something that could result in the belief in demon, ancestor, or God/Goddess possession.  Or of being hexed. 

4)    As an explanation for luck.  I once read of an account by an anthropologist in Africa.  In the particular village he was in a person’s house collapsed and injured his son who was inside. 

The villagers immediately tried to discover who had thrown a hex on the man and caused the house to collapse.  The anthropologist looked over the house and discovered that it had extensive termite damage and had likely collapsed because of the termites.

When he pointed this out to the villagers they told him they knew that.  However they then asked him why the house collapsed now so as to injure the son and not at a time when both were out.  They were looking for an explanation of why the house collapsed then and not at some other time.

5)    Have you ever felt an awe inspiring moment?   A moment in which you feel connected to the world around you in a particularly vivid way?  A moment in which, though you could not put it into words, everything felt right and made sense?  I have.  And I am sure our ancestors did too.  That is one of the reasons why we have sacred spots.  It is also the start of our mystical traditions.

In this case, worshipping seems a very natural and very human response.  It is one that Albert Einstein felt and why he did not call himself an atheist as such.  Should you add a personality behind that feeling then you can get not only awe but fear.

6)    To explain nature – disease, lightning, earthquakes, droughts, the stars and moons, ect. 

7)    To explain why we are here and how we came to be. 

8)    To explain what happens to us after we die. 

These all had a role to play in the creation of religion.  Let me now add two more reasons in addition to all of the above:

9)    As a way to control the uncontrollable.  Once our ancestors started to explain all of the above in supernatural terms then the next question would be how do we control them?  How can we prevent the storm from sinking our ship and drowning us?  How can we keep the rain coming so that our crops will grow?  How do we cure our mother who has a hacking cough and high fever?  How do we keep the house from collapsing on us while we are inside from unseen termites? 

 We find ways to placate and please the gods, goddesses, spirits, ancestors. 

I have just recently re-read the Iliad and Odyssey.  These are great books by the way and the translation by Robert Fitzgerald wonderfully done.  Anyway, I noticed in these books how often the people would give sacrifice to placate and please the Gods and Goddesses so that their endeavors would prosper.  This was and is still a common practice.  Today most of the world religions pray instead of offering up sacrifices, but the motivation is still the same.  One comment in regards to prayer though – while many prayers fit into this category there are also many that do not and are more of an attempt to communicate with God than to beg favors. 

10)   As a way to enforce moral (e.g. social) behaviors. 

We have evolved certain behaviors and traits that cause us to form societies – empathy, a sense of justice and fairness, etc.  However these traits are in addition to our older traits that foster looking out for number one.  

Because of this there will always be a tension between being selfish and working for the good of your society.  You can see this in primate groups – many instances of sharing and helping, but also instances of cheating, stealing and hording. 

That is one of the reasons religion was created, to provide support for those traits that are necessary to create societies and to suppress those that harm them.   That is something else I noted in my re-reading of the Iliad and Odyssey, the use of the Gods to provide support for treating the stranger well, in helping those in need, and other social goods. 

11)   As a way of providing a self identity other than family.

In Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Fates of Human Societies” he writes about how human society has grown throughout history; starting with small family groups and then tribes, chiefdoms, and states.  Bands are small family groups consisting of only a few dozens of people.  Tribes are groups of kin based clans and consist usually of only a village of a few hundreds of people.  Both of these can use family groups and ties to hold the group together and provide it with an identity.  Also with these smaller, family based groups an informal system of dealing with problems within the group, making decisions for the group and in deciding how to allocate group resources are possible. 

However when we move from those small groups to the larger ones such as  chiefdoms which consist of many villages with many different kin groups and states which consist of over 50,000 people and many different villages and cities then you run into several problems. 

With the larger groups you have the danger of it fragmenting because of conflicts between the different family groups or clans.  Also informal methods of decision making, conflict resolution, and resource allocation are no longer effective. 

One of the answers to this problem that was universally used was to use the superstitious beliefs about the world, organize it, and standardize the rites and rituals and the hierarchy and use this to help provide a group identity beyond that of the clan, a means of resolving conflicts, and a way to make decisions. 

This was done in conjunction with the rise of the other institutions used to keep large social groups together.  From “Guns, Germs, and Steel” page 277 – 278. 

Before quoting though let me first  mention that when Mr. Diamond refers to “kleptocracy” he is referring to any government in which resources are taken from the many and then concentrated in the few.  This act by itself it has no moral value either good or bad; consider that all governments good and bad engage in this.  The good ones use those resources for the benefit of their society whereas the bad use it for their own personal benefit.  Do not let the usual negative associations of this word prevent you from understanding what is being said here. 

Let me also mention that when I use the term religion I am using it a bit more broadly than Mr. Diamond in that I use it to refer to the supernatural beliefs as well as the social structures arising from those beliefs. 

“ Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions.  But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals.  When supernatural beliefs gained those functions and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion.  Hawaiian chiefs were typical of chiefs elsewhere, in asserting divinity, divine descent, or at least a hotline to the gods.  The chief claimed to serve the people by interceding for them with the gods and reciting the ritual formulas required to obtain rain, good harvests, and success in fishing. 

Chiefdoms characteristically have an ideology, precursor to an institutionalized religion, that buttresses the chief’s authority.  The chief may either combine the offices of political leader and priest in a single person or may support a separate group of kleptocrats (that is, priests) whose function is to provide ideological justification for the chiefs.  That is why chiefs devote so much collected tribute to constructing temples and other public works, which serve as centers of the official religion and visible signs of the chief’s power. 

Besides justifying the transfer of wealth to the kleptocrats, institutionalized religion brings two other important benefits to centralized societies.  First, shared ideology or religion helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other – by providing them with a bond not based on kinship.  Second, it gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others.  At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks.”

I would add here that these changes in superstitious belief mentioned above were, for the most part, done in cold blooded calculation.  Rather it was changes that made internal sense and flowed naturally from the beliefs and the society.  Those changes that worked stayed.  Those that did not were changed or forgotten. 

This completes my list of causes for our creation of religion.  It is not complete and even those causes I listed I did not provide a complete explanation.  However I think it suffices to give you the basics of what I believe about this. 

On my next blog in this series, Part 2, I will briefly acknowledge the evil that religion has done, but then go over the good it has done too and why it was a necessity for our culture to grow and improve.

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