Evolution Intelligent Design Religion

Attempts to explain away religion don’t explain anything

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Yuval Noah Harari is next up to the plate:

I’ve been reviewing the bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and as is the case with so many other aspects of the book, when it comes to the origin of religion, Yuval Noah Harari tells the standard evolutionary story. According to this story, religion began as a form of animism among small bands of hunters and gatherers and then proceeded to polytheism and finally monotheism as group size grew with the first agricultural civilizations. At each stage, he argues, religion evolved in order to provide the glue that gave the group the cohesive unity it needed (at its given size) to cooperate and survive.

Casey Luskin, “Reviewing Sapiens: Getting the Origin of Religion Backwards” at Evolution News and Science Today

Harari’s 2015 book rehashes some very old claims. there. We actually don’t know that it works the way he says and efforts to evolve a theory of religion are falling on hard times:

Recently there was a spat over a 2019 article in Nature. The article, titled “Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history,” was just retracted. It proposed that societies produce beliefs in “moralizing gods” in order to “facilitate cooperation among strangers in large-scale societies.” The article purported to survey 414 societies, and claimed to find an “association between moralizing gods and social complexity” where “moralizing gods follow — rather than precede — large increases in social complexity.” As lead author Harvey Whitehouse put it in New Scientist, the study assessed “whether religion has helped societies grow and flourish,” and basically found the answer was no: “Instead of helping foster cooperation as societies expanded, Big Gods appeared only after a society had passed a threshold in complexity corresponding to a population of around a million people.” Their study was retracted after a new paper found that their dataset was too limited. When a proper dataset was used, “the reported finding is reversed: moralizing gods precede increases in social complexity.” It seems, therefore, that belief in a just and moral God helps drive success and growth in a society.

Casey Luskin, “Reviewing Sapiens: Getting the Origin of Religion Backwards” at Evolution News and Science Today

The oldest type of religion was probably a form of naturalism. Non-naturalist religions are better accounted for by revelation.

See also: If naturalism can explain religion, why does it get so many basic facts wrong?

Evolutionary conundrum: is religion a useful, useless, or harmful adaptation?

Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain

23 Replies to “Attempts to explain away religion don’t explain anything

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    Peace & joy, child. Ain’t you EVER heard of Shamanism?
    Shamanism is older than anybody can count and ALWAYS believed that there was a God (singular). At some point in their lives, some Individuals within a man-pack identify themselves as having made contact with The Deity. The local Shaman then takes the newbie under his (or her) wing and helps sort out the confusing parts of having DIRECT contact with God (still VERY singular). God talks to YOU. You talk to GOD. It becomes VERY natural. After all, God LIKES you. And when we die, EVERYONE goes to Heaven to be closer to God.
    ORGANIZED Religion is ENTIRELY different and is about getting suckers to PAY some liar to pretend to talk with “the gods”. First you get Kings, THEN you get Priests. It’s a civil service position.

  2. 2
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Shamanism is satanism . God don’t talk with people using hollywoods props like shamans use(d).
    God use His organised Church openly not in the hidden like satan. Being only one God there is only one true Christian Church .
    Human is fallen so anyone is sinner (including Priests) but don’t bother to judge Christ’s Priests because Jesus will ask you about YOUR sins not about those Priests sins.

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    No, like everything else religion devolves. The oldest religions, like the earliest languages and the earliest versions of human inventions, were HUGELY complex. Dozens of gods and subgods and angels of various ranks, competing and intermarrying and fighting and winning and losing.

    Christianity is simpler, with three gods of variable abstraction, plus a few half-breed angels and saints.

    Islam is simple and elegant. One purely abstract god. Nothing else.

    More recent versions of Christianity are the simplest of all, with a vague undefined ‘sense of oneness’ or whatever.

  4. 4
    EDTA says:

    >”At each stage, he argues, religion evolved in order to provide the glue that gave the group the cohesive unity it needed (at its given size) to cooperate and survive.”

    And now that Western society is becoming more secular, we’re also in the process of falling apart. Maybe he’s got something there. (Although, having read Harari’s book, it’s dang depressing. Don’t pick it up.)

  5. 5
    mahuna says:

    Let me dig through my heap of books and find the latest one by a fully modern Shaman (who leans Baptist). What he describes is all very nice and friendly. God (singular) talks to him. He talks back to God. There ain’t a lotta Theology involved.

    The Celts were Shamanists. Their Druids were Shamans. Druids were always on the lookout for a rising young Druid to train up. The MOST fundamental belief of Druids was that no Druid could EVER tell a lie. Otherwise he lost his union card or something. So Druids spoke in convoluted poetry that might appear to have more than 1 meaning.
    It’s hard to say whether Druids believed that there was more than 1 God because God can of course take many forms.

  6. 6
    Bob O'H says:

    More recent versions of Christianity are the simplest of all, with a vague undefined ‘sense of oneness’ or whatever.

    “Oh, glad you could join us” say the Taoists.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    God use His organised Church openly not in the hidden like satan. Being only one God there is only one true Christian Church .

    Is the Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Methodist Church the one true Christian Church?

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    Bob O’H, to put your question in proper context, is the foot, hand, ear, eye, or nose the one true human body?

    1 Corinthians 12:12-27
    For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
    For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
    Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

    And Bob, while we are on the subject, exactly what is the unifying principle within the reductive materialistic framework of Darwinian evolution that makes the human body cohere together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”?

    The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings – Stephen L. Talbott – 2010
    Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.
    ,,, the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?
    Despite the countless processes going on in the cell, and despite the fact that each process might be expected to “go its own way” according to the myriad factors impinging on it from all directions, the actual result is quite different. Rather than becoming progressively disordered in their mutual relations (as indeed happens after death, when the whole dissolves into separate fragments), the processes hold together in a larger unity.
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....-of-beings

    Reductive Materialists simply ‘can’t do context’.

    A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature – Book Review
    Excerpt: They focus instead on what “Methinks it is like a weasel” really means. In isolation, in fact, it means almost nothing. Who said it? Why? What does the “it” refer to? What does it reveal about the characters? How does it advance the plot? In the context of the entire play, and of Elizabethan culture, this brief line takes on significance of surprising depth. The whole is required to give meaning to the part.
    http://www.thinkingchristian.n.....821202417/

    Moreover, the fact that Darwinian reductionism ‘can’t do context’ is not just a common sense fact, but is now also empirically proven, via the extension of Godel’s incompleteness into quantum physics.

    The following article entitled ‘Quantum physics problem proved unsolvable: Gödel and Turing enter quantum physics’, which studied the derivation of macroscopic properties from a complete microscopic description, the researchers remark that “even a perfect and complete description of the microscopic properties of a material is not enough to predict its macroscopic behaviour”,,, The researchers further commented that their findings “challenge the reductionists’ point of view, as the insurmountable difficulty lies precisely in the derivation of macroscopic properties from a microscopic description.”

    Quantum physics problem proved unsolvable: Gödel and Turing enter quantum physics – December 9, 2015
    Excerpt: A mathematical problem underlying fundamental questions in particle and quantum physics is provably unsolvable,,,
    It is the first major problem in physics for which such a fundamental limitation could be proven. The findings are important because they show that even a perfect and complete description of the microscopic properties of a material is not enough to predict its macroscopic behaviour.,,,
    “We knew about the possibility of problems that are undecidable in principle since the works of Turing and Gödel in the 1930s,” added Co-author Professor Michael Wolf from Technical University of Munich. “So far, however, this only concerned the very abstract corners of theoretical computer science and mathematical logic. No one had seriously contemplated this as a possibility right in the heart of theoretical physics before. But our results change this picture. From a more philosophical perspective, they also challenge the reductionists’ point of view, as the insurmountable difficulty lies precisely in the derivation of macroscopic properties from a microscopic description.”
    http://phys.org/news/2015-12-q.....godel.html

    Bob, (assuming that you are the least bit interested in finding out), the answer to the question of, ‘what makes the human body cohere together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”?’, is the ‘soul’.

    i.e. It is the unifying principle of the ‘soul’ that must be, and is, cohering the human body, all 30 trillion cells of the human body, together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”.

    Verse and Videos

    Mark 8:37
    Is anything worth more than your soul?

    One Body – animation – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDMLq6eqEM4

    Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – Part II – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSig2CsjKbg

  9. 9
    Viola Lee says:

    Re 6: Good one, Bob! 🙂

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    Bornagain77/8

    And Bob, while we are on the subject, exactly what is the unifying principle within the reductive materialistic framework of Darwinian evolution that makes the human body cohere together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”

    Good question, just not the one Darwin was trying to answer.

    The questions I have are such as, if God is a necessary and eternal being, one who is entirely self-sufficient, does not depend on anything outside himself and existed for an infinity before the Creation, why create the Universe when He did, indeed why create anything at all?

    If God did not want Adam and Eve eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, why endow them with the capacity for curiosity?

    If God is all-knowing, why did he pretend to be surprised and outraged by what A&E had done? He must have known about it in advance.

    If God is able to change the way people think and feel if He chooses, why not just change the behavior of those that displease Him? He has no need to kill people in large numbers when He has the power to do otherwise.

    If God is omnipresent, meaning He is present at all points in space and, more importantly all points in time, He must know what is in our future. If He demonstrates certain foreknowledge of the future – as exemplified by the story of Peter’s threefold denial of knowing Jesus – then what price free will? Peter could do no other and neither can we.

    These are questions that some Christians have grappled with over the centuries although a lot of others prefer to ignore them.

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky is rehashing juvenile theological arguments all you have got in response to the question of, “what is the unifying principle within the reductive materialistic framework of Darwinian evolution that makes the human body cohere together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”?”

    I thought you all about the science Seversky?

    Rehashing juvenile theological arguments is, frankly, a quite pathetic response to what is really a quite interesting ‘scientific’ question.

  12. 12
    EDTA says:

    Sev @ 10,

    I see these things are still on your mind. But if we realize that God may have purposes in giving us free will that we aren’t aware of (very likely if he is superior to us), and that he has to talk down to us because we are of lower intellect, then none of those objections are actually surprising:

    – God may not be truly “surprised”, but that may have been the best word available in Hebrew (whatever the Hebrew word is) to communicate to us what he felt.
    – We may not know why he created anything at all. It might be that he hasn’t told us, or that it is beyond our comprehension. He’s not obligated to tell us.
    – He may have valid reasons for not simply changing bad behavior (which would most certainly imply overriding our free will.)

    And so on.

  13. 13
    Seversky says:

    Bornagain77/11

    Rehashing juvenile theological arguments is, frankly, a quite pathetic response to what is really a quite interesting ‘scientific’ question

    If you haven’t got an answer to them, you could just say so.

    I’m quite happy to wait until you can work in the Shroud of Turin.

  14. 14
    Seversky says:

    EDTA/12

    – God may not be truly “surprised”, but that may have been the best word available in Hebrew (whatever the Hebrew word is) to communicate to us what he felt.

    I don’t know the Hebrew words that were used in the original text but He certainly comes across as surprised and affronted when He shouldn’t really have been.

    – We may not know why he created anything at all. It might be that he hasn’t told us, or that it is beyond our comprehension. He’s not obligated to tell us.

    No, He’s not but if He’s so benevolently disposed towards us, why not? What harm could it do?

    – He may have valid reasons for not simply changing bad behavior (which would most certainly imply overriding our free will.)

    I’d say killing people who don’t do what you want is sort of overriding their free will, isn’t it?

  15. 15
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Bob O’H
    Is the Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Methodist Church the one true Christian Church?

    Eastern Orthodox Church means those church bodies unified in theology coming as an uninterrupted chain of ordinations from the 12 Apostles chosen by Christ till todays ( churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Georgia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, Greece, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Albania, Czech Republic , Slovakia, with branches in America, Africa, China).
    Catholic Church jumped from The Church of Christ’ ship in 1054 and later Catholics were dismembered in Protestants, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists,etc…

  16. 16
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky, you completely avoided answering a perfectly valid scientific question with rehashed theological arguments,,, Arguments that have been addressed several times before here on UD. (Theological Arguments which, quite frankly, should have been written in crayon for the level of maturity they displayed), and then you accuse me of ‘not having an answer’? 🙂

    So again Seversky, instead of playing stupid games and trying to distract with your, oft repeated, (and answered), silly Theological arguments, can you, as a Darwinist, seriously address this scientific question or not?

    “,,,, exactly what is the unifying principle within the reductive materialistic framework of Darwinian evolution that makes the human body cohere together as a single unified whole for, practically speaking, “precisely a lifetime and not a moment longer”?”

    Note:

    On the problem of biological form – Marta Linde-Medina (2020)
    Excerpt: Embryonic development, which inspired the first theories of biological form, was eventually excluded from the conceptual framework of the Modern Synthesis as irrelevant.,,,
    At present, the problem of biological form remains unsolved.
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12064-020-00317-3

    To point out the obvious Seversky, the abject failure of your theory to be able to offer a coherent theory of ANY biological form, is NOT a minor failing for your Reductive Materialistic theory of Darwinian evolution which is “SUPPOSE” to be able to ‘scientifically’ explain the origin of ALL biological forms!

    Again, scientifically speaking, this is NOT a minor problem for Darwinian materialists.

    The following article entitled ‘Quantum physics problem proved unsolvable: Gödel and Turing enter quantum physics’, which studied the derivation of macroscopic properties from a complete microscopic description, the researchers remark that “even a perfect and complete description of the microscopic properties of a material is not enough to predict its macroscopic behaviour”,,, The researchers further commented that their findings “challenge the reductionists’ point of view, as the insurmountable difficulty lies precisely in the derivation of macroscopic properties from a microscopic description.”

    Quantum physics problem proved unsolvable: Gödel and Turing enter quantum physics – December 9, 2015
    Excerpt: A mathematical problem underlying fundamental questions in particle and quantum physics is provably unsolvable,,,
    It is the first major problem in physics for which such a fundamental limitation could be proven. The findings are important because they show that even a perfect and complete description of the microscopic properties of a material is not enough to predict its macroscopic behaviour.,,,
    “We knew about the possibility of problems that are undecidable in principle since the works of Turing and Gödel in the 1930s,” added Co-author Professor Michael Wolf from Technical University of Munich. “So far, however, this only concerned the very abstract corners of theoretical computer science and mathematical logic. No one had seriously contemplated this as a possibility right in the heart of theoretical physics before. But our results change this picture. From a more philosophical perspective, they also challenge the reductionists’ point of view, as the insurmountable difficulty lies precisely in the derivation of macroscopic properties from a microscopic description.”
    http://phys.org/news/2015-12-q.....godel.html

  17. 17
    ET says:

    Charles Darwin didn’t answer anything. Darwin was not even wrong. All he did was start a new religion.

    seversky:

    The questions I have are such as, if God is a necessary and eternal being, one who is entirely self-sufficient, does not depend on anything outside himself and existed for an infinity before the Creation, why create the Universe when He did, indeed why create anything at all?

    Only a whiny infant would ask that question to humans. And here you are.

    If God did not want Adam and Eve eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, why endow them with the capacity for curiosity?

    Because they were also endowed with the capacity to know right from wrong and the capacity to reason.

    If God is all-knowing, why did he pretend to be surprised and outraged by what A&E had done? He must have known about it in advance.

    God knows ALL possible outcomes.

    If God is able to change the way people think and feel if He chooses, why not just change the behavior of those that displease Him? He has no need to kill people in large numbers when He has the power to do otherwise.

    Why do you have to erect straw man after straw man? Does it make you feel good? It must suck to be a materialistic atheist. All you have is your own delusions for support.

    If God is omnipresent, meaning He is present at all points in space and, more importantly all points in time, He must know what is in our future. If He demonstrates certain foreknowledge of the future – as exemplified by the story of Peter’s threefold denial of knowing Jesus – then what price free will? Peter could do no other and neither can we.

    Again, God knows all possible outcomes. And Peter was told to deny he knew Jesus.

    Clearly seversky is just an infantile loser who is unable to think beyond its own arse.

  18. 18
    ET says:

    I’d say killing people who don’t do what you want is sort of overriding their free will, isn’t it?

    No. Actions have consequences. That is why we have prisons and the death penalty.

  19. 19
    KRock says:

    @Mahuna #5

    Outside of some highly propagandistic texts (i.e., Gallic Wars), very little is known about the religion of the Celts (and Druids). Thus, it is important not to make generalizations. Were the Druids shamans? Well, the term shaman is itself controversial; it is argued to be loaded with western baggage (see Kehoe 2000). Also, a so-called defining characteristic of shamanism is said to concern the acquisition of altered states of consciousness. However, archaeologists do not know if such practices were undertaken by the Druid priestly class.

  20. 20
    EDTA says:

    Seversky @ 14,
    I understand your concerns, but if there is a higher realm, then we can only have partial knowledge of it. The issues you cite may only be problematic from a mere human perspective. And none of them demonstrate that there is no god. If you insist that all these things make complete sense to you before they can be true…well, what other beliefs (including mathematical and scientific ones) would you have to reject also?

  21. 21
    Silver Asiatic says:

    The oldest type of religion was probably a form of naturalism. Non-naturalist religions are better accounted for by revelation.

    That took me by surprise, News. In fact, I thought you were tongue-in-cheek there.
    No – naturalism as the source of religion is the atheist’s claim going back to Herbert Spencer and before him, claiming totemism or nature worship or animism emerged from evolution, naturally.

    Wilhelm Schmidt gives scientific evidence that the first religion was monotheism:
    https://www.amazon.com/Origin-Growth-Religion-Wilhelm-Schmidt/dp/0990738604

    It’s universal and constant to find a single, supreme being as the oldest form and no evidence of a naturalistic cause for that. Polytheism is a degradation of religion which still retained a “high god” at the center.

  22. 22
    Silver Asiatic says:

    “All [ancient] societies, after all, seem to have religions of some sort. “There are no exceptions to this,”
    — Frans de Waal

    Religion is universal through human origins with no agreed-upon evolutionary story to explain what the compelling survival/fitness factor it offered – especially against the high cost of religion (Casey Luskin explains well in EV article) with asceticism, worship rituals, sacrifice of animals (that could provide survival benefits), time spent in prayer …
    The evolutionary explanation is a jumbled mess, even worse than most of what else it tries to explain.

  23. 23
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    These are questions that some Christians have grappled with over the centuries although a lot of others prefer to ignore them.

    Knowing that, you must have read at least some of the best of them by now – St. Augustine for example, St. Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton … right? So, why ask them again as if you had never heard an answer? Why not propose your objections to answers already given, rather than start as if you are a complete novice to the topic of religion? Otherwise, we have to answer these questions as if you’re a 6-year old who has never heard anything about religion, and I know that is not the case.
    In other words, I am grateful for your engaging in serious dialogue (I rank you as perhaps the best anti-IDist this site has ever had) but would encourage you to move past the static position of total-ignorance and start using the knowledge you already have. Take your thoughts to the next level.

    The questions I have are such as, if God is a necessary and eternal being, one who is entirely self-sufficient, does not depend on anything outside himself and existed for an infinity before the Creation, why create the Universe when He did, indeed why create anything at all?

    God is not limited to just those attributes. You have to add that God is a Personal Being, and in the Christian view, lives in a relationship of persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, where love (admiration, honor, respect, reverence, care) is communicated between each. The creation of the universe and of people is just an overflow of that love to share with creatures who, in turn, can appreciate the wonder of life and eventually live with God, their creator.
    Think of parents. Your parents had you and shared their life with you. That’s love. They would have been “sufficient” with the powers they had on their own. Loving parents don’t think of their kids as being nothing but a benefit to themselves – they’re giving life to children who can share what they had (and even have a better life).
    This is really not that difficult to understand – seriously. I think you know this already. But for the sake of someone wondering along with you – God created the universe out of love for the people he gave rational intelligence, the capacity to give and receive love, and the destiny of eternal happiness. Those are some pretty good gifts to receive. Yes, they come at a cost – but so does everything that is worth something.

    If God did not want Adam and Eve eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, why endow them with the capacity for curiosity?

    If children are capable of getting hurt by leaving the house and playing in the yard, why would parents ever let the kid out of the house?

    If God is all-knowing, why did he pretend to be surprised and outraged by what A&E had done? He must have known about it in advance.

    Why did the teacher pretend to be upset even while knowing the kids didn’t study and then flunked the test?

    If God is able to change the way people think and feel if He chooses, why not just change the behavior of those that displease Him? He has no need to kill people in large numbers when He has the power to do otherwise.

    See above: the parents that keep the kids locked in the house. They have the power to do it, and don’t ever want the kids to get hurt or dirty their shoes.

    If God is omnipresent, meaning He is present at all points in space and, more importantly all points in time, He must know what is in our future. If He demonstrates certain foreknowledge of the future – as exemplified by the story of Peter’s threefold denial of knowing Jesus – then what price free will?

    A very high price and thus an immense gifts.

    Peter could do no other and neither can we.

    Peter wept because he knew he could have done better – and so should we.

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