About a year and a half ago I wrote about how an experiment by B.F. Skinner may explain the roots of religion. Now I would like be a little more specific. Why did man create god? Religion without a god l would have been possible as well, but for some reason there was a need for one higher being. Did the one-god theory perhaps naturally evolve from ‘several gods’ systems? The irony would be divine. Unfortunately, such may not be the case. In the following theory evolution does play an important part in the rise of one-god religions, just not a direct one.
Larger communities and Dunbar’s number
There is sufficient evidence that as recent as only a couple of thousands of years ago people started living together in larger communities. There is archeological evidence for this, but also evolutionary biologists have found proof when looking at the development of our brains. The parts of our brains that are directly linked to our social behaviour expand dramatically (we also find this growth in our cousins, the great apes, but not as much). And although larger communities come with great benefits, better hunting, agricultural development and safety to name but a few, when communities grow beyond Dunbar’s number (somewhere around 150) the social ties within that community begin to fade. community members don’t know each other that well anymore.
Law and order
What happens when social cohesion disappears? Well, Sodom and Gomorrah obviously. That is, unless you start developing rules. Rules that everyone has to abide to. Commandments if you will. But these laws are the easy part. It is not so difficult to write down ‘do not do to another as you would not have done to yourself’ (Which in itself is only true as long as you and the other have the same preferences, but that’s a different story). The challenge is enforcing those laws. And setting up a judicial system is a difficult thing to do; independent law making, enforcement and jurisdiction. And all the while a bear could be eating your wife. So for the leaders of not-yet-so-very developed societies it would have been much easier to imagine a divine entity who sees all, is completely just and flawless and will judge you after your dead. If you don’t live by the rules we have set to keep our society manageable, this will be seen every time, never forgotten and after death you will suffer for eternity. Scary. Best not covet my neighbour’s goat then. And how is one god better than several god’s? Well, the trouble with several god’s is that they’re not flawless and they cannot see all. If you have several gods, they will fight amongst each other. They will conflicts of interest. They will have to spent time doing other things than watching our every move. One single god is of much more use when one wants to control the masses.
So is god merely practical? Probably not. God is also a wonderful excuse for sharing ceremonies. For doing things that ties communities together. Singing, chanting, praying, sacrificing and fasting are all team building experiences. Doing them together makes you feel more committed to each other, the same way when your boss takes you and your colleagues for an afternoon of paintball. And when done to the extreme, e.g. ‘don’t eat for three days’ you might even get an enlightened experience like seeing the maid Mary.
Facts and fights
It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a religious person and an atheist to discuss theological matters. Both have a fundamentally different view on everything. not just a different view on the facts, but also on the facts themselves. And if you disagree on the interpretation on what facts mean, you can have a discussion, but if you disagree on what the facts are, you can only get into a fight. So you may have a different view on why god came to be. I’d love to read about it. Like I said, plausible as it seems to me this is just another theory.