|Joe the Ordinary Guy
Joined: April 2006
I’ve often wondered how religion came to be, and my speculation runs along these lines:
At some point very shortly after the first true homo sapiens appeared, there was a group of them, and they did as well as they could with what they had. They could kill and eat animals, and they could gather edible plants. They dealt with whatever the world threw at them: thunder, lightning, rain, snow, insect bites, sunburn, predators. They understood CAUSE and EFFECT. And that’s about all.
One day, while the group is taking cover in a cave from a rainstorm, one of them runs outside and is instantly stuck by lightning and killed.
Later, a youngster asks his dad, “What the heck was that?” And the dad, being the first guy ever, did a classic guy thing: he made something up. “There’s a big guy in the sky, and he throws these things down at us.”
Now, why didn’t the dad make up a “better” answer? Why didn’t he say, “Well, the temperature inversions at high altitudes cause positive charges to separate out and then…”
Why did he not do that? BECAUSE HE DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THAT STUFF! He was working with what he had. He threw spears at animals; maybe a bigger version of himself threw this bigger version of a spear. Sounded plausible to him. More importantly, it sounded plausible to EVERYONE ELSE.
This is why polytheism came first; it postulates gods who are very much like us, only more so. And there’s one for each observed phenomenon.
As homo sapiens gathered more experience and more knowledge, perhaps the need for individual gods went away, and attention could be turned to “bigger picture” questions, which are better answered by monotheism. But the basic dynamic remained: when in doubt, make something up. The really good maker-uppers managed to spread their stories more widely that than the lesser ones. What made a good story is what science seeks today: explanatory power. And religion has the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything: "Goddidit." If a particular thing REALLY doesn't make sense, then the answer is: "The ways of the Lord are mysterious."
Science is a comparatively recent development, but it has proven far superior to religion in delivering explanatory power.
And now a question: were there atheists prior to science? OK, of course there were. What I really mean is, how did they reason in the absence of the scientific method? Any tips on books or articles on this topic would be appreciated.