• Six million years ago, our ancestors were apes that surely lacked religion; by the time that the first written documents appeared around 5,000 years ago, there was already religion. We will see what happened in the intervening 5,995,000 years. We will also see what were religion’s antecedents in animals and in human ancestors,when and why it arose; how languages and art originated.
    Why religion was invented ?- it was invented in order to carry out certain functions and solve certain problems, such as maintaining social order, comforting anxious people, and teaching political obedience. Another approach says religion arose as a by-product of some other capacities of our ancestors and of their own animal ancestors, and those capacities had unforeseen consequences and gradually acquired new functions as they developed.
    The search for causal explanations- Animals too have brains and can thereby deduce some intent. For instance, a Barn Owl detecting a mouse by sound in complete darkness can hear the mouse’s footsteps, calculate the mouse’s direction and speed, thereby deduce the mouse’s intent to continue running in that direction at that speed, and pounce at just the correct time and place to intersect the mouse’s path and capture the mouse. But animals, even our closest relatives, have far less reasoning ability than do humans. For example, to the African monkeys known as vervet monkeys, ground-dwelling pythons are major predators. The monkeys have a special alarm call that they give at the sight of a python, and they know enough to jump up into a tree if warned by the python alarm call of another monkey nearby. Astonishingly to us, though, those smart monkeys don’t associate the sight of the python’s track in the grass with the danger that a python may be nearby. Contrast those weak reasoning abilities of monkeys with the abilities of us humans: we have been honed by natural selection for our brains to extract maximum information from trivial cues, and for our language to convey that information precisely, even at the inevitable risk of frequent wrong inferences. We keep trying out causal explanations. When someone caught cold, we asked what he ate. We assumed that particular food might be cause of his disease. Some of our traditional explanations made the right predictions for reasons that later proved to be scientifically correct; some made the right predictions for the wrong reason (e.g., “avoid eating that particular fish species because of a taboo,” without understanding the role of poisonous chemicals in the fish); and some explanations made wrong predictions. For example, hunter-gatherers overgeneralize agency and extend it to other things that can move besides humans and animals, such as rivers and the sun and moon. Traditional people often believe those moving inanimate objects to be, or to be propelled by, living beings. They may also attribute agency to non-moving things, such as flowers, a mountain, or a rock. Today we label that as belief in the supernatural, distinct from the natural, but traditional peoples often don’t make that distinction. Instead, they come up with causal explanations whose predictive value they observe: their theory that the sun (or a god carrying the sun in his chariot) marches daily across the sky fits the observed facts. Thus, one form in which our search for causal explanations overgeneralizes and leads straightforwardly to what today we would term supernatural beliefs consists of attributing agency to plants and non-living things. Another form is our search for consequences of our own behavior. A farmer wonders what he did differently this time to cause a formerly high-yielding field to have a poor yield this year, and Kaulong hunters wonder what a particular hunter did to cause him to fall into a hidden sinkhole in the forest. Like other traditional people, the farmers and the hunters rack their brains for explanations. Some of their explanations we now know to be scientifically correct, while others we now consider to be unscientific taboos. For instance, Andean peasant farmers who don’t understand coefficients of variation nevertheless scatter their crops among 8 to 22 fields; they may traditionally have prayed to the rain gods; and Kaulong hunters are careful not to call out the names of cave bats while hunting bats in areas with sinkholes. We have now become convinced that field scattering is a scientifically valid method to ensure yields above some minimum value, and that prayers to rain gods and taboos on calling bat names are scientifically invalid religious superstitions, but that’s the wisdom of hindsight. To the farmers and hunters themselves, there isn’t a distinction between valid science and religious superstition. Still another form of our search for causal explanations is to seek explanations for events about which modern science just gives us the unsatisfying answer “It has no explanation, stop trying to find an explanation.” For instance, a central problem in most organized religions is the problem of theodicy, the theme of the book of Job: if a good and omnipotent god exists, then why does evil happen in the world? Traditional peoples, ready to discuss for an hour the explanation of a broken stick in the ground, will surely not fail to discuss why a good person apparently obeying the society’s rules nevertheless became injured, defeated, or killed. Did he break a taboo, or do evil spirits exist, or were the gods angry? People will also surely not fail to try to explain why someone who an hour ago was breathing, moving, and warm is now cold and not breathing or moving, like a stone: is there a part of the person, called a spirit, that has escaped and entered a bird or is now living somewhere else? Today, you might object that those are searches for “meaning” rather than for explanations, and that science provides only explanations, and that you should either turn to religion for meaning or else acknowledge that your thirst for meaning is meaningless. But everybody in the past, and still most people today, want their demand for “meaning” answered.
    I think I shall discuss more in second part. This post is already long. Stay tuned with @Electrifying-Guy