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How far back does religion go?

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Suzan Mazur asks neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, who offers some thoughts at HuffPost:

Suzan Mazur: What is your understanding of when, historically, humans thought up religion? British anthropologist Maurice Bloch has said humans largely live in their reflective imagination, something that first arose 40,000 to 50,000 years ago and that “[t]he kind of phenomena that the English word “religion,” and the associated word “belief,” can be made to evoke have, at most a history of five thousand years.” You’ve said religious and spiritual ideas have been around “since the dawn of civilization.” When would that be—-“the dawn of civilization”? And what is the evidence?

Andrew Newberg: Certainly, a more formalized aspect of religion has been around for about 5,000 years going back to the Egyptian dynasties. There is evidence before that in the tablets of Sumeria, [circa 3,300 bc]. There was a discovery in recent years at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey of 11,500-year-old stelae inscribed with animal images.

Suzan Mazur: I’ve written extensively about ancient Anatolian art and archaeology, and recently interviewed Ian Hodder, director of the Çatalhöyük project in Turkey. Hodder told me there was religion there on the Konya plain at 9,500-year-old Çatal because he’s found little evidence of fractured skulls, and the ancient inhabitants appear to have swept out their houses. Hodder has described the stelae at Göbekli Tepe as “a scary, fantastic world of nasty-looking beasts.”

Regarding Göbekli Tepe, in the late 1980s I interviewed Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff—- the preeminent expert on Colombia’s pre-Hispanic past—-who after drinking six cups of yajé with the Barasana Amazonians was convinced that their art was drug-induced. Reichel-Dolmatoff also argued, based on his excavations in southwest Colombia at San Agustin that the fierce “jaguar” statuary there did not represent a memorial site but was part of a settlement inhabited by a succession of societies and that the statues were sculpted by its inhabitants while in drug-induced trances.

Some of us think that religion, like philosophy, arose from the discovery that no one is invulnerable and everyone dies. Yet the idea exists.

See also: Breakthrough: Understanding that human creativity requires the whole brain

Can't let "religion" be the intersection of basic cognitive processes. Can't look back at the fast catching forms of the endogenous constraints of our "progressive" social evolution. Can't let the 2nd Law's foot in the door of Utopia. LocalMinimum
These assumptions that religion must have started with some event don't make any sense. Anyone who pays attention to dreams realizes that the world we see is not the only world. My dream-generator's knowledge base overlaps my waking knowledge by less than 20%. The dream-scripter knows many PERSISTENT places and people that I've never seen in waking reality, and it doesn't know very much about my waking life. I've lived in the same house for 26 years, yet it's never appeared in a remembered dream. If early people talked about their dreams, they would inevitably form ideas about a "spiritual" world, whatever it was called. polistra
The core human beliefs (there is a God, all humans have immortals souls, all souls go to heaven when their bodies die) are at least 60,000 years old, since they are at the center of Bushman culture. And the Bushmen have been at home in the Kalahari at least that long. But those same shamanic beliefs are present in cultures around the world: Siberia, Australia, Polynesia, and through the Americas to Tierra del Fuego. For these beliefs to be common to all humans around the world requires that they were already held by the first humans who walked out of Africa into Europe and Asia more than 200,000 years ago. ORGANIZED religion,which has a professional priesthood who make their living by scaring the pants off people, is very much younger and is coincident with humans becoming civilized (i.e., living as groups in fixed cities). First you get professional priests, then you get professional kings. And it all goes downhill from there. But ALL of the original scientists (Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks), were believers. As were the unnamed peoples who expended immense amounts of effort to very carefully align really big rocks with celestial objects. But I assume that this argument is the one that began in the 19th century over whether Christianity is compatible with modern Science. Humans who follow Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc., have never had any such problems. And the problem with Scientists in Europe complaining about "religion" had most to do with educated men rejecting the power of Catholic clergy to control civil society. When was the last time that a group of Scientists (or other Atheists) gathered to speak out against the undue influence of Islam on theories in nuclear physics? What we're talking about is Western Atheists who hate Christianity, not some general debate about Science and Religion. vmahuna
It all depends what one means by religion... Religion could have many meanings and it is often misapplied or mixed up with faith... Jerry Coyne, in the introduction to his book "Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible" pooped a great stinkel and got religion mixed up with faith... I have pointed it out to him but he banned me... How in the hell the publishing house missed this fundamental point still boggles my mind...It tells me something about the state of the editing staff in the publishing industry and Jerry's total inability to see the difference not only between faith and religion but more so the his faith that he presents as facts... J-Mac
The word "religion" appears several times in the Bible. All in the New Testament. Acts 25:19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Acts 26:5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Dionisio

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