Saturday, January 19, 2013

On the evolutionary roots of religion

Suppose religion is something to do with the supernatural, then what does studying the evolutionary roots of religion mean?

As we have already seen, it definitely does not mean that human brains universally and naturally come up with the ontology dividing the world into the natural and supernatural.  We have seen the arguments already that the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans and ancient Indians had no such ontology.

We can think deep and hard about it - I will simply present the conclusion, which is what is to be explained is the human tendency to create intentional agents - entities with intentions that they act upon - where there are none.  Yes, that seems to be everywhere, and may be something seeking an explanation.  But what does that have to do with religion?   It is not clear to me how we distinguish Herbie, The Little Engine that Could or Belldandy from Thor or Athena or Ganesha - per science, these are all non-existent intentional agents that do not exist in nature -  without smuggling in the concept of supernatural. 

The other human quality is that of having "mystical experiences" that might be ripe for an explanation from evolution.  Of course, I don't know whether "mystical experience" is problematic, so I'm just guessing.


Another try - as you may know, Islam teaches that Allah sent many prophets to humankind, prophets being entirely human messengers of God.  Muhammad was the final and best of them, and we've lost the names of most of the couple of hundred thousand of them; but Adam, Moses and Jesus were also prophets.   Now, as per Christianity, Jesus is the Son of God, more than just a human.  If you recognize that "Jesus is a prophet" is the claim of a particular religion, then I say that you should likewise recognize that "the world is divided into natural and supernatural" is the claim of a particular religion.  At least, as it stands today.   Can this claim be made universally intelligible?  Either one has to do some hard work to make it so, or else one can perhaps count on globalism to uniformize humanity so much that there is no one left to assert that it is not intelligible.  Extinct cultures cannot talk back, and so we can safely assume anything.