How Did We Get Here?

It continues to amaze me how otherwise intelligent people can cling to a belief in God.  A belief that there is an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent supernatural being who, in addition to creating everything that has ever existed, is interested in our daily lives, what we eat, who we have sexual relations with and what clothing we wear.

But how did we get here?  Why do we believe these things?  How has it become so ingrained in our humanity to believe in a god, be it the god of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic holy books or any of the other gods that have come and gone throughout our recent history, say the last ten-thousand years or so.

There is a hypothesis that exists in the world of evolutionary psychology that offers a very good explanation, and it is gaining ground toward theory as we discover more and more that Natural Selection is the driving force behind the fact of Evolution.

It all started when we made the transition from a nomadic species to a communal one.  When we made the jump from camping, hunting for food, eating it and then moving on to camping, farming, building permanent dwellings and becoming a community.

Our consciousness as it exists in our time was not always as such.  For the most part, we are able to differentiate between instructions we’ve received in the past and a voice coming from somewhere within hearing distance because both sides of our brain function as a whole unit; the ability to store, recall and use information to make ration decisions. This is called Unicamerality.

In our very distant past, tens of thousands of years ago, we had no sense of an interior reasoning self to direct us in our daily lives.

Take a walk back in time with me to one of the small and primitive clans we lived in. As with many of these clans, there was a leader of sorts.  An individual, most likely male, who would instruct the rest of the clan in their daily chores.  This information was given every day in whatever oral communication was being used at the time.

Day in and day out the clan obeyed these instructions because in doing so it yielded the things that were required for survival. Food, shelter, weapons, armor, etc. Every day we received our instructions from our clan Chief because we did not posses the mental acuity store and recall detailed instructions because our sense of “memory” was perceived more as an externalized self. This is a consequence of the split between the two halves of our brain which were not yet evolved to think unicamerally.

We were, at that time, bi-cameral beings.  The left and right brains were not integrated the way they are today. Basically, it was like brains working independently of each other. The left half of the brain, the logical, language-using half, generated ideas and commands which we received, from our clan Chief for example, which the right brain then obeyed.

Somewhere along the line, though, a series of unprecedented environmental stresses in the second millennium B.C. forced the two halves of the brain to merge into unicamerality.  We developed a rudimentary link between the two halves and when the clan Chief died, we achieved something that was a major step towards our evolving into thinking, rational beings.  We achieved the ability to recall the commands that were given to us.

However, we still did not have the acuity to understand why we remembered, so the commands were perceived by the right brain as coming from “outside”—as if the clan Chief was still giving commands after he had died, and doing so directly into the consciousness of the individual.

This elevated the clan Chief from leader to god status; for the ability to communicate from beyond the grave was obviously something special.  So we give the clan Chief special honor by burying him in a special grave, centrally located in our small village, because his instructions continued to provide the necessary things we needed to survive; food, shelter, weapons, armor, etc.  It did not take very long to make the transition between believing that the instructions from the dead chief allowed us to provide these things to dead Chief actually providing these things from beyond the grave.

So, a better, higher and more elaborate grave was constructed, and thus we have the rudimentary beginnings of a temple.  It is an interesting fact that many of our modern towns were built around a central church, temple or mosque.

However, as we know, nature has a funny way of throwing agricultural curves, and as it was bound to happen, one year the crop yield was insufficient, as was the game needed to provide clothing and shelter and the ores needed to craft armor and weapons was no longer as abundant as it was.  We, as clansmen and clanswomen were still doing what we have always done, but for some reason the dead Chief must be angry with us, as he is no longer providing for us.

This was problematic and resulted in one of two responses, and in many cases, a combination of the two.  One, either someone in the clan was not pulling their weight and caused the god-chief to become angry.  Two, the god-chief was not satisfied with the attention being paid to him or was getting hungry.

Over time, the reaction these responses gave way to sacrifice and tithing.  In the first example, someone was found who was not doing their job and therefore upsetting the god-chief and thereby was blamed for the famine.  The offending clansman or clanswoman was removed from the clan, either by exile or by death.

In the second example, a portion of the crop yield was brought to the grave and put on a dinner table (later an altar) in front of the body, which would have been either skeletenized or entombed in a casing, depending on geographical location and whatever local customs had evolved.

Along with these actions came a pleading to the god-chief to accept the apologies of the clan and to restore the crop yield and game to the area.  This, of course, was the beginning of supplementary prayer.  When things started looking up, well, you have the beginning of thanksgiving prayers, etc. ,etc.

These beliefs had gradually burned into our DNA, along with the extant instinct for a child to unquestioningly obey an authoritative adult such as a parent or clanswomen as survivalist protection against strangers and dangers.

Gradually, dogmas and doctrines began to take hold, and thus religions were born.  Even with the myriad of religions we have in our world today, they all hold commonalities that can be traced back to the origin of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind and archaeological evidence has proven to us that many of the stories in our holy books were either non-existent, wildly inaccurate or just plain mythological.

Like a living organism, religions, particularly revealed religions, have evolved over the millennia, taking on parts and pieces of other religions.   Christianity, for example, was infused with copious amounts of Hellenistic aspects during the time of Paul and Dante did a wonderful job of transforming the myth of “the realm of the dead” to a horrifying place in his work “Inferno”, which shaped the view of where the infidel will find themselves if they did not please God.

The reason why evolution is so hardly fought against by Christians, even though it has been proven, beyond any reasonable doubt to be true and factual, is a direct result of the influence of Plato’s “essence” hypothesis, which states that everything that exists in the material world is nothing but a shadow of a perfect example that exists in heaven.  That even though there might be a hundred different varieties of rabbits, they are all merely imperfect shadows of  a perfect rabbit, or the “essence of rabbit”.

The fact that this has been so infused in our DNA makes it very easy for a Christian to believe that God created everything pretty much as it appears to us now and utterly unimaginable that any animal or plant could have evolved from a completely unrecognizable cousin.  Christians, amongst others, believe that humans were created by God as special, that God cares about and guides them, gives good gifts, provides instructions on how to behave and warns of the consequences of disobedience, answers prayers and is present with them in times of crisis.

This evolved religion and the remnants of the bi-cameral mind goes against everything that we know to be true about evolution.  That even though we have evolved through hundreds of thousands of years to be reasoning, rational and intelligent beings, we are still primates.  That we share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, apes, monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, etc.  And that even before that, we share a common ancestor to every other living thing since life crawled out of the primordial soup.

It is a personal affront to them, and until we realize that religion, as it is today, is the root cause of bigotry, discrimination, intolerance, war and the destruction of entire civilizations via “missionaries”, we are doomed to species annihilation.

Albert Einstein said that he was unable to predict what we would fight World War III with, but he was certain the World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones.

This is how I believe (for lack of a better word) how we got here.  How we come to believe in things like gods, angels, ghosts and the supernatural in general and why we are so resistant to accept anything that serves to discredit our beliefs.

Simply put, organized religion embodies the basic human impulses of fear, conceit, and hatred. It’s purpose now is to give those impulses respectability. The scale that this makes for human misery concludes that religion itself is evil and we, as a society, would be better off without it.

Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors killed them a millennium ago; they were more trouble than they were worth.” –Worf, son of Mogh

Here are two books that are well worth reading:

The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
Julian Jaynes.
ISBN 0618057072

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of It’s Sacred Texts
Neil Silberman & Israel Finkelstein
ISBN: 0684869136

  3 comments for “How Did We Get Here?

  1. Charles Terrano
    February 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Love the TNG quote!

    I can understand how religion originated; I can understand its importance in early civilization. What I can’t understand is how ordinarily intelligent rational people can continue to believe to this day. It’s like intelligent people literally shut off the reason centers of their brain as soon as they are presented with religion. It just does not make sense.

    I also can’t understand why America is so much more religious than any other developed country. Around 90% of Americans profess belief in god whereas only about 30% of Danes and French believe. What makes America so ignorant by comparison?

  2. February 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    In my opinion, Joe Stack’s views might be interesting, but any time some one takes their life in suicide to prove their commitment their passion to an ideology, cause, or like the terrorist Islamic Jihadist, the idea dies too.

    The fire and inspiration that burned in Joe Stack’s soul, the statement of revolutionary defiance, and Joe’s ordeal of protest are dead along with him.

    Submit for your approval: A man named Joe Stack,a man who was on a mission.

    Try to remember is name in a year from now.

    Unfortunately, chances are Joe Stack will pass into history not as a martyr but as a sad byline on the back page of the media.

  3. Robin S
    March 23, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Hi Al. While I certainly think that religion is a pox upon humanity, I’d disagree with your explanation of how it came about. My biggest problem is the dilemma of the chief being able to recall (so as to issue) instructions, while the rest of the community lacked this ability. Besides, I’ve witnessed evidence of recall of information in animals, so it’s not at all implausible for me to think primitive humans had this ability. As an example, I once was waiting for a bus, and there was a crumb of food in a clear plastic sandwich bag on the ground. A crow landed, and proceeded to easily turn the bag, dump out the morsel, pick it up, and fly off. Now, either the crow somehow reasoned this solution out very quickly (the entire process took only a few seconds), having never encountered such a situation before, or it had dealt with such a situation, and had memory of it. Another example is when, as a child, we had a cat and a dog who seemed very close (the cat often groomed the dog). When the dog died, the cat used to sit on the landing of the stairs where the dog often slept, crying plaintively. Eventually, she ‘got over it’, and over a year later, my parents brought out a wicker dog bed that the dog had also used. The cat began the crying behavior again, as though she remembered the dog. While I realize it’s impossible to know what’s going through the mind of another being, we can draw certain conclusions.

    I find it much more likely that primitive people sought to explain the unexplained to the best of their ability. Since finding patterns is one of the things our minds do, even when no patterns exist, they would have quickly made associations between unrelated events. Hell, theists do this all the time in this day and age (look at the belief some have in the power of prayer).

    Another factor is, without a doubt, the desire to control groups of people. If one person or group stumbled onto something that allowed them to do some amazing (in their primitive context) feat, such as accurately track seasons so as to know the best time to plant crops, they could well be seen as having some kind of supernatural power. This could explain the start of organized religion, since the priests/shamans/etc clearly wield some unexplained influence over the natural world, which would be seen as stemming from the supernatural.

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