Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by BiologyOfReligion, Aug 3, 2015.
That you claim this as fact, kind of proves you right.
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I didn't claim it as fact.
People tend to speculate long before facts are available. And natural curiosity tends towards quick explanations whether supported by evidence or not.
Critical thinking takes effort, and most are unable. And even good science is very hard.
The result tends to be popular speculations considered as truth irregardless of evidence and spread as a meme.
Objectively - the idea of gods and spirits are speculative fantasy concepts. The memes are maintained through widespread inability of most people to think clearly.
Are we discussing the reasons for the development of religions, and why we started believing in gods and spirits, i.e. the anthropology, or are we discussing why people are still religious despite the advance of critical thinking? Which end of the religious spectrum is the subject here, or is it both ends?
On second thought:
I think 2 is closer to the earlier history, and 1 is more modern. I think we started to believe that thunder and lightning, for instance, were spirits or animist in nature because it was easier in terms of the advantage gained in cohesion--a collective response to an ancient fear--and agreement about what such things were is an easier choice for individuals who of course want to be in the group. The development of spoken words would have enabled this--give fear a name, say the name, and so on.
By "and so on" I mean the act of naming and speaking, is a way to placate fear in a group, the words become magical, and, erm, so on, if you see where I'm going.
When you kill an animal, you speak its name to placate its spirit, which is actually your own fear of something.
What I'm saying is that language and religion evolved together, but our ancient fears of such natural events as lightning strikes, tornadoes and other dangerous stuff preceded either development. I think that animism and religion are an inevitable consequence of the development of language, beyond something akin to what other apes use to communicate danger, their various different calls. We use language now primarily because we have so many more varied and complex ways that we cooperate, we don't just chase animals any more.
Then what was the point of it?
Is this a fact, or an assumption?
You made a distinction between knowledge and understanding. I was simply pointing out that many people have neither - particularly those who claim to have greater understanding.
I don't see any distinction. There has been advances in knowledge but humans have not altered over time, in any significant manner, the way in which they perform critical thinking. People still tend to believe whatever they wish despite evidence against or the absence of evidence. Without the constraint of strong reasoning abilities, and given strong tendencies towards creativity and imagination, it seemed inevitable that speculative and imaginative concepts, albeit factually baseless, would arise to help explain observed or imagined phenomena. Our strong emotional needs to have answers seem to outweigh our ability to reason clearly.
Given those basics the societal influence then adds further weight. People of like minds tend to group together and the effect is a reinforcement of popular ideas. Strong individuals then take advantage of group thinking and the results are conditioning and propaganda and the formulation of politically powerful religions. Adolf Hitler said it well - keep the message simple and say it often enough and people will believe a falsehood is truth. Religions are hence born.
I don't think people believe whatever they believe despite our advances in knowledge. I think people tend to believe things because of social pressure, and because often it's easier to believe whatever than to doubt it, because that means being an outsider.
Group cohesion is the reason we believe the same things even when they're wrong things; we prefer not to question the status quo. Look at the history of people who have questioned it and overturned old ideas--in general they get ridiculed initially. This happens because "the group" sees its cohesive structure is threatened by new ideas.
I also agree that charismatic people can hijack this group belief system (viz Hitler, the Moonies, etc), and that it's happened many times and is still happening. I don't think it's going to stop happening.
If you read the works of scientists Joseph LeDoux, V.S. Ramachandran, Antonio Damasio, Michael Gazzaniga, Kahneman and Tversky, Cosmides and Tooby, and plenty of others, you'll find that, despite specific functional cognitive changes to human intelligence compared to other animals, so-called rationality and critical thinking are relatively minor contributions to human behavior. Our affective behavioral repertoire, emotions, are responsible for the vast majority of human behavior.
No one reason is the cause of the evolutionary changes to our brains. Our brains' organization is due to millions of years of selection and resulted in some very interesting capabilities. Mostly it has to do with being able to process conditional or contingent information so that we are freed, somewhat, from the restrictions of genetics that most other animals have. When animals' environments change, they are limited by their genes to a range of behaviors, which may result in the inability to adapt. Humans are not burdened as much and can modify their environment in their own lifetime and pass that knowledge to their offspring. We call this culture. But that doesn't mean we are completely independent or unlimited in the way our cognition works. Humans still respond behaviorally with heuristics and cognitive biases, not rationality or critical thinking. Wikipedia lists about 150 different cognitive biases. If you're looking for it, you'll regularly see stories in the media of how unconscious mental processes effect us, and we're not aware of these processes at all. Lots of us have wishful thinking that our superior brains can fix the various messes we're in, but if you believe in neuroscience, you have a hard road to hoe.
Yes, it’s a valid question, but like professor Harari said...
This is a fabulous oversimplification. Of course humans have active imaginations to invoke and enjoy fiction and mythologies. Theory of Mind would be a more basic approach that incorporates the concept of imagination and has a lot more to say about human sociality in general.
Beyond that, there's this recurring idea many people carry when discussing human evolution: "Convince millions of strangers to believe in [fictional stories]." The implication is that humans had the choice to invent fiction and campaign for the stories to be accepted, and that people were malleable to believe. It doesn't work that way. We have to start with evolution, otherwise, why didn't chimps and gorillas do this? Obviously there's a BIG difference between their brains and ours, but that difference didn't happen because we chose for our brains to grow bigger. It was evolutionary brain changes over millions of years that resulted in Theory of Mind and the ability to create and consume fiction as well as music, dance, art, etc. All these brain and behavioral changes occurred because they provided some selective advantage and increased evolutionary fitness, whether or not we understand what those advantages were. They may have started as accidental byproducts as most new evolutionary features do, but they wouldn't have persisted unless they were beneficial in some way.
People did not have to be convinced to believe like Dawkins suggests in God Delusion--that a charismatic preacher decided to promote his religious ideology for purposes of aggrandizement and manipulation. Human brains were already on board for belief. Our novel human cognition evolved in tribes over 1000s of generations, but over these generations when humans evolved, they weren't dealing with millions of people. They were dealing with a few hundred people in their tribe and neighboring tribes. Yes, still more individuals than chimp and gorilla clans, and yes, humans have increased cooperation with each other, but it's the development of our brain's new cognitive abilities like Theory of Mind that enabled humans to live in larger groups. My original question was: Why would humans need religion to improve their social relationships when there are already abundant mechanisms and successful social species? Especially with the advent of Theory of Mind, you'd think that we had all the mental tools necessary to thrive socially.
If you look at Christianity, it is not just fantasy programming that gets people to believe. People still believe even though there is a social effort to undermine and limit the teaching. Even with atheism trying to undermine religion with pleasure and secular laws, for 500 years, religion still has an appeal, lasting for thousands of year.
Governments can use the bully pulpit, mind games with propaganda, and the power of law of create mindless followers, but this does not last if there is any push back. Religion is not that vulnerable. A group of trolls can undermine the theory of the mind without even knowing what it is. They are not as effective with religion.
My theory is the human personality is rooted on personality firmware connected to human DNA. These define human nature and are common to all humans. Religion offers tools and command lines for influencing the firmware. Most secular programming tend to impact the person at the terminal level of the ego, with limited access to the mainframe where the firmware are located. Things that last have more access to the mainframe parts of the brain. If you push such buttons, terminal noise will not easily undermine such a command line.
To do this, religion had to understand natural human nature so they could push deep buttons. The DNA and the firmware evolved naturally over millions of years. Religion is part of natural selection, since it was selected to access deep programs.
A fabulous oversimplification? Professor Harari believes that we rule the world because we have an imagination that allows us to cooperate with strangers. Maurice Bloch thinks it’s our imagination, as well.
Do you think that people with more imaginative skills would have had a better survival rate and more reproductive success?
We’re story tellers. That’s what we do. We interpret our environment. We try to make sense out of our surroundings, and to make life more bearable, we need redemption. We need meaning. We need to serve something. Life is redeemed when it is in the service of something grand.
Religion served that purpose. It was a good story.
Blasphemy 101: There are no gods before. There are no gods after me. Deny death and you deny life. I am life, and there is none else.
Have you ever read the play “Arcadia”? I love this part.
Septimus: “When we have found all the mysteries and lost all of the meaning, we will be alone, on an empty shore.”
Thomasina: “Then we will dance.”
That’s who and what we serve, Life and its future. That’s enough for me.
Religion is a figment of human imagination, is it not?
As you can see, Chris Frith thinks Bloch is right, but that the “Theory of Mind” might be as important as the evolution of imagination.
I think, though, that our imagination is crucial for the “Theory of Mind”. Therefore, our imagination would be a more basic approach. It has been suggested that autism itself may be a disorder of the imagination.
Furthering the theme of the last few posts -
The overwhelming trait of evolutionary success for any given species is an ability to survive. But this is achieved not through the actions of the species as a whole but by innate individual actions. That primeval instinct we all have to survive combined with our ability to imagine, necessarily leads to religion. Barring accidents, disease, murder, suicide, etc, the current state of biological aging guarantees that survival is not possible. This creates a dichotomy that we cannot solve by any known physiological trait. Consequently our intellect creates an imaginary solution that satisfies our base instinct for survival. It doesn't matter whether it is true or not, just that our discomfort with our eventual non-existence is given a distraction.
The common theme in every religion is the promise of life beyond death - i.e. our survival will continue. All the other aspects of religion and the social impacts, are entirely secondary to our desire to survive.
Some recent theories by anthropologists have suggested that religion developed out of shamanistic trance-like experiences in an altered state of consciousness, notably elucidated in Inside the Neolithic Mind. While further parts of the theory mimic James Frazer's rather inaccurate and overblown hypothesis presented in The Golden Bough, the initial starting point is something I find very compelling. It essentially lends credence to the mid-century idea that spirituality developed out of early use of entheogens by stone-age man, which is supported by the evidence that psychoactive substances have been cultivated and used by human societies for tens of thousands of years.
Structuralist theory adds to this, combining these experiential origins with the socialising aspects of religion. Especially of religious ritual and practice, which is greatly more emphasised in most religions around the world than dogma. Religion in the structuralist paradigm is a method by which a community interacts with the sacred, a vehicle for these experiences. The early origins of religion continue to underlie the later developments of specific rituals, combined with socialisation as part of a communal tradition.
If you look at various religions, many of its claims are not substantiated, due to lack of hard data that can be seen through the senses. On the other hand, if you look at animals, all they know and will act upon comes to them through their sensory systems. There is a divide between imagination and the natural sensory systems.
What religion did was open the horizons of the mind, by making things beyond the senses, become an accepted part of consciousness. This opening of the mind was needed for innovation and invention, since these things begin in the mind in places where others are not able to see it. The animal will not appreciate an abstraction, since he can't acquire it through his senses. If man was meant to fly he would have wings. There is a divide between the imagination/creative process and the animal man.
Inventions, like making fire, would be considered from the gods by the ancients. If you only have sensory reality and fire is not there to be seen, it does not exist. If lighting makes fire, now fire will exist. There is nothing in the middle to the animal mind. The matrix of the mind that also includes the gods, would allow humans to ponder making fire, in the mind, apart from the senses. It is not real to the group, since nobody can see it. The idea was from the gods, since it was not already part of reality at that stage, but could appear through ritual action.
Religion appeared, as part of evolution, because the mind opened up. Religion became a way to tap into this higher human potential beyond the animal mind of only sensory.
You don't give enough credit to instinct. Many animals go off on their own immediately after birth (or hatching). Chickens, for example.
And, by the way, humans are animals. After all, there are only six kinds of living things, and I'm quite certain that I am not a plant, a fungus, an alga, a bacterium or an archaeon.
Humans are animals who have lost most their natural instincts, due to willpower and choice. Religion became an external version of human instinct, in that it attempts to define the natural limits of human nature; outside instead of from the inside.
For example, no female animal, besides humans, goes to birthing classes, since this is all preprogrammed in their instincts. Humans look outside themselves for how to do this. Religions may call birth part of God's plan and therefore one has to trust in the outcome; return to their inner voice of instinct. If one does not have this faith, they will look outside for the answers and detach from instinct in favor of external security. Relative instinct is more an atheist concept based on politics and educational fads.
Still full of shit I see.
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