Is religion really universal among humans

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Discussion by: BenCarollo

         Reading through Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion". I cant help but notice that he buys into the anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal. I would like to bring that hypothesis into question. It is easy to assume, when raised in modern western culture, that religion is universal. Being constantly surrounded by superstition and religiosity there appears to be no doubt that religion is universal, but that would be to blind oneself to the rest of human history. Even theories that try to explain how religion is beneficial, using theorys such as group selection, but all of these theories focus on modern religions. We have to keep in mind the fact the humans have been anatomically modern for about 200,000 years, and so only goin back 6,000 to the origin of the monotheistic three and hinduism, does not necessarily reflect the whole of human kind. 

 

         It is well known that many ancient cultures had interest in natrue and a special place in their hearts for astronomy. Now while writing was used 160,000 years ago it did not become common until approximately 10,000-12,000 years ago. So, this leads to the question of how these ancient peoples could keep track of star patterns and botanical information. This brings me to a method of memorization that has shown it self to be at very lest just as universal as religion seems to be, if not more, and that is the pneumonic device. Using a story to explain a phenomena is much simpler than memorizing the phenomena itself . So from this a story can arise about heros and gods and different spirits and such. They key difference being that while the stories are just the same, they are not believed to be factual in and of them selves but are simply ways in which people memorized observed features of the physical world. 

 

          I do admitt this is not a completely new idea in the sense that religious stories reflect physical and natural phenomena, but it is different in the understanding of what the stories mean. Perhaps only recently have people generated the lie that these stories are more than just an easier way to remember the complex interaction of constelations and planetary bodies in space, per the view of earth. Now the incentive to take these stories and lie about them is very obvious once you note the correlation with agriculture and religion arising at similar times, because being in the religious clergy allows one not only to avoid the physical labory of the layperson but it also allows them much political and economic control of well intentioned people who simply evolved to believe their parents warnings of danger (a much more parsimonious explination of belief rather than justifying the belief in specifically religion simply the trust of social elders, particularly in the realm of life and death.). 

48 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, interesting however,

    I think it is clear that we seek patterns to explain things. Skinner boxes for example, where pigeons get random rewards but believe because they were bent over at the time triggers superstition in animals. Humans have similar tendencies. Look at the studies on why gambling works neurologically. This links to very real behaviours that have fairly clear links to reward seeking and looking for patterns.

    Knowing this now, and looking at stories and myths pasted on by indigenous peoples seems to indicate that what you are saying about the real relevance to their lives and superstition can be fairly safely asserted. So I’d ask I suppose do you have any evidence of the discovery of a tribe in New Guinea say or in the Amazon jungles that did not believe in Gods or practice religion? I think it is a fair bet that considering how superstitious we are now it seems unlikely that with less knowledge then, we would have been less religious.

    I also don’t think keeping track of the stars etc. was as difficult as you make out. As an amature astronomer I can tell you the only reasons we don’t know the sky better oursleves is because a) our skys are polluted with light and b) we never look up. Spend a few months pulling out a telescope and finding things to look at and you start to see patterns emerging you notice the retrograde motion of Mars against the background constellations, the fact that the Moon rises slightly latter each night and the phases are linked to that fact. You don’t need the star charts anymore you can confidently swing from object to object. You notice that certain constellations always rise at certain times of the year. The Aboriginals used the rotation of the Southern Cross as a clock at night, and spend a few hours at night looking at it and you can see it is very good for just that. It is obviously good for that. Now these guys had no TV, no distractions just blackness and the stars and planets to watch. They didn’t need stories to learn it you could not help but notice the patterns just by being alive and looking up which we can assume would have been fairly common. The Aboriginals in Australia noticing that When this constellation was up in the sky that the Dingo Puppies would be being born and could be raided for food, or when this constellation was setting that the rains where going to come was inevitable. The particualr myths different groups came up with I don’t think were necessary.

    I do think that making up stories about things would give people power over others though. The telling of some myths to say young men at initiation, and some only to leaders etc. is a very explicable by social power games and politics.

  2. I heard a Canadian native story explaining the big dipper about three hunter brothers and their dog with eyebrows that looked like an extra pair of eyes. The story had the feel of a children’s story. It some morality tale to it, but basically it was a story how to recognize the big dipper. I think you can have spectrum of folk tales to murderous religion.

    It seems to me you need a hierarchical power structure before religion can get really obnoxious. That implies some sort of city state.

  3. The first indications of the practice of a religion would probably be in burial sites. These appear to date back as far as 300,000BCE. Once burial sites began to contain personal possessions and evidence of ritual it’s obvious that some religion was being practised.

    Human beings are story tellers. It’s not a great leap to assume that the stories developed with the development of language.

  4. ORIGINAL POSTER:- “Reading through Richard Dawkins book “The God Delusion”. I can’t help but notice that he buys into the anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal. I would like to bring that hypothesis into question. It is easy to assume, when raised in modern western culture, that religion is universal. Being constantly surrounded by superstition and religiosity there appears to be no doubt that religion is universal, but that would be to blind oneself to the rest of human history.”

    You started off as above declaring very strongly that it’s an “anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal” as if it’s an established fact [perhaps known only to you] that universal religious belief is indeed a myth…

    So I’m expecting a Dawkins quote & an example of an anthropologist who claims that religion is universal [I'm sure there are a few or maybe nearly all think this I haven't looked] & then I’m expecting you to supply a counter-example of a society that has no religion. But none of this happens in your next two paragraphs! How can you open your case that universal religion is a myth in such a manner ~ unsupported?

    Your post would be better if you’d left out the first paragraph entirely.

  5. There are several reasons why religion exists

    In the first instance, the original Egyptian religion was a search for gnosis (scientia, or science). So ancient religion was the same as today’s science – an attempt to explain the inexplicable and provide some reasoning for the marvelous and sometimes destructive effects of nature. It was also a search and explanation for the motions of the cosmos, for surely if we could predict the motions of the planets and stars then we must be able to predict the future (always important for a king). And if god had made a universe, then surely god would be very pleased with his creation trying to find out how it worked. So research and development of knowledge progressed unhindered.

    But Gnosticism was supplanted by Christianity at the turn of the 1st century, which had a fixed creed. But gnosis (science) threatened that fixed creed by pointing out its errors, so the Gnostics were suddenly Christian heretics. The high priesthood of knowledge were now despised heretics, and their temples of gnosis were destroyed. Now, it was all about control and power.

    So in the second instance, modern religion is as universal as the school bully saying: “I’ll get my big brother to beat you up”. But as they get older, these same bully-boys realise that an invisible big brother is actually quite useful. Take a look at a Vatican conclave. None of these effeminate characters could have had positions of power in the brutal and barbarous Dark and Middle Ages, where might was right, were it not for their invisible friend threatening everyone – including kings and entire nations. Hulking great knights came and prostrated themselves before the runt of the family. Now that is power.

    So the search for knowledge became the search for power, and this new creed was perfected by the advent of Islam, which is the religion of the school bully personified. Islam has only existed and perpetuated itself through violence – challenge us, mock us, or expose our vacuous creed, and we will torture or kill you. Which is exactly what Islam has done over the last 1,400 years. In fact, Islam is no longer the creed of the bully, it is the creed of the Chicago Mob or the Mafia. Islam is a Great Protection Racket, no more no less. Their holy book is a joke, containing nothing of interest for anyone out of nappies, while its followers lived like a band of armed thugs who controlled a large dhimmi (slave) workforce. Islam was only ever small, say 20% elite in the Eastern nations, who cracked the whip and lived off the jizya taxes on their dhimmi serfs (Christians, Jews, Sabaeans, Hindus etc:).

    Remember that places like Iraq were predominantly Jewish, until 1947. Turkish cities were predominantly Christian, until 1850. While all of North Africa was predominantly Christian until the Middle Ages. But what did Islam do, when it took over these regions and nations. Errr. Hmmm, Errr. Nothing, because it is vacuous – the Koran contains all the knowledge of the universe – so why research anything? (Yes, incredible as it may seem, educated Muslims actually believe this). In reality, any maintenance of ancient wisdom during the Dark and Middle Ages was performed by the Syriac Christians rather than the Muslims. (The Syriac Christians are quite miffed that their great efforts in translating Greek texts into Aramaic and Arabic have been usurped by Muslim propaganda.) What, for instance, were the the scientific, technical or philosophical advances made by the Ottoman Empire. Errr. Hmmm, Errr. See what I mean.

    This, then, is a potted history of religion from 4,000 BC to the present. It was all about knowledge and science, but it then became corrupted by power and control.

    But we really need to be careful here, because if Islam succeeds in its current bid for world domination, then all science, all enquiry, and all knowledge will be destroyed. We stand in the same kind of era as Western Europe did in AD 450, and whether our Empire of Reason succeeds or falls depends on the decisions we make over the next 20 years. This generation holds the future of mankind in its hands.

    Do we go the same way as North Africa, which used to be a hugely wealthy region in the Roman Empire? Do we go the same way as the Levant and Syria, which used to be the most wealthy region in the Roman Empire? (the largest temples in the Empire were in Syria) Do we go the same way as Mesopotamia, which as everyone knows used to be a hugely wealthy region in the Babylonian-Persian-Parthian Empires? The richest regions in the world, reduced to chaos, disorder, lethargy, sloth, hatred, barbarism and civil strife.

    As I said, this generation holds the future of mankind in its hands.

    • In reply to #7 by raffy:

      In reality, any maintenance of ancient wisdom during the Dark and Middle Ages was performed by the Syriac Christians rather than the Muslims. (The Syriac Christians are quite miffed that their great efforts in translating Greek texts into Aramaic and Arabic have been usurped by Muslim propaganda.)

      That is quite interesting. Could you provide some source material ? I’d like to look into it.

  6. I heard a Canadian native story explaining the big dipper about three hunter
    brothers and their dog with eyebrows that looked like an extra pair of eyes.

    Which just shows how Christianity has debased the original gnostic religions. In ancient religions, and even in Arthurian Legend, Ursa Major (the Great Bear) was actually a wagon – Arthur’s Wagon.
    http://www.souledout.org/nightsky/ursamandm/ursamajorandminor.html

    Now that might sound quaint and rustic, but actually it is pure astronomy.

    The northern skies hold two great axes and two great wheels. One is the Celestial Axle or Celestial Pole (daily circle) and the other is the Ecliptic Axle or Ecliptic Pole (a 26,000 year circle). And these axles hold the two great wheels of the heavens, that rotate around either daily or millennially. This is Arthur’s Wagon, and it accurately describes the motions of the cosmos.

    The two wheels of Arthur’s Wagon.
    http://oi42.tinypic.com/255i96t.jpg

    You see what we have lost, when Christianity and Islam took hold?

    Had it not been for Christianity, we could have had the first rickety aeroplane in AD 500, and a man on the Moon in AD 570.

    The future of the Enlightenment lies in our hands – and simply wringing those hands and muttering a lament will not maintain the Age of Reason, and the technology and wealth that it has created. The time has come for action.

    .

  7. I subscribe to the same idea, in essence. Religions were the first attempt at explaining the world by juxtaposing a ‘spiritual’ element to everything we saw or couldn’t understand. Kept alive, embellished through oral traditions, rituals, propagated by priest, shamans, elders. Then move to sedentism, writing, denser population groups, rigid top-down societies, simple animism naturally transformed into complex religions.

    I’m no anthropologist, so I like to keep it simple.

  8. I cant help but notice that he buys into the anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal.

    He’s not buying into any myths he’s accepting something that has overwhelming support from anthropological data. Every ancient culture I’m aware of had some form of religion, even going back to pre-literate cultures there is overwhelming evidence that they all practiced some form of religious rituals. Can you cite one source that says otherwise?

    • In reply to #11 by Red Dog:

      I cant help but notice that he buys into the anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal.

      He’s not buying into any myths he’s accepting something that has overwhelming support from anthropological data. Every ancient culture I’m aware of had some form of religion, even going back to pr…

      What I am saying is that we are seeing something as religions that is in actuality not a religion at all, a similar bias is described in the book Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and cacilda jetha. In that book they. Provide several examples where our western bias makes many anthropologists see similarities rather than differences where in truth it is completely different. For one example there were anthropologist studying a tribe in India and all of the women in the tribe did all of the organization and gathering of the food and did all the work in raising children, but because of the fact that men got served first when a meal was eating it was said to be a patriarchal society. The men did not do any significant work within the community. So simply because of the fact that we are used to seeing a patriarchy we will se it where ever we go regardless of what actually is the case. This is something commonly known as confirmation bias, and it is not unheard of in the scientific community. Anthropology is particularly susceptible to this because of the example just listed, once something gets published all of a sudden it shifts what people are looking for and as soon as they see something as universal then they see it every where. Now take the case of the Canadian story of the Big Dipper mentioned by one of the commenters, it could easily be perceived as a religious story ,but it is not it is simply a story to explain what the Big Dipper is and how to recognize it. Now take an anthropologist that is looking for religion being universal and all of a sudden you have created a religion out of a child’s story. Go back to the idea that these ancient stories are not religion but simply ways to remember star patterns and you see it makes a lot of sense rather than people just invented gods for the sake of worship, when apes clearly do not do that but they do infact show curiosity into the natural world. And as for star patterns being easy to remember , I would say to a certain extent yes, but I am talking about significantly long and intricate interaction between celestial bodies and then stories makes it a lot easier to explain. Which is why astrology is generally the basis of most religions. But not every culture has astrology.

      • In reply to #15 by BenCarollo:

        What I am saying is that we are seeing something as religions that is in actuality not a religion at all,

        Sounds like a game of semantics. What if Dawkins used the word mysticism or supernatural myths instead of religion? Also, do you mean innate or universal? As far as I can tell all of human history is accompanied by supernatural myths and rituals. If you know differently, please share.

      • In reply to #15 by BenCarollo:

        What I am saying is that we are seeing something as religions that is in actuality not a religion at all,

        Before we can debate whether things are or aren’t religion we need a definition of religion. I think the definition by Atran I quoted in a previous comment is a good one. Now, are you saying that his definition of religion is not good (if so why?) or are you just saying its an OK definition but you want to call it something other than religion?

        If you are saying that a lot of what anthropologists call religion in ancient cultures is just people telling stories that help them keep track of astronomical data that would be an interesting claim but you haven’t provided any evidence that supports that claim. I haven’t read Sex at Dawn but I took a quick look at the author’s web site for the book and he’s not making any general claims about religion and anthropology that I could see based on my quick review. And you definitely need to back up that claim because its not at all obvious and its contradicted by all the books on religion that I’ve read recently: In Gods We Trust, Breaking the Spell, The Evolution of God, all those books show very strong evidence that religion (or whatever you want to call it) played a major role in defining social norms in all known ancient cultures.

      • In reply to #15 by BenCarollo:

        But not every culture has astrology.

        But every culture has superstition, whether it is an isolated tribe in New Guinea or the gambling culture of Las Vegas. Superstition seems to be a cruder, earlier form of coherent religious belief systems but is more enduring. Even as organised religion recedes in most of Europe and other developed societies, superstitious beliefs remain a strong but not terribly serious part of the culture and are often resurgent. If we can understand how superstition works in the human brain (the lucky rabbit’s foot, etc.), we might then begin to understand the universality of religious belief.

        • In reply to #18 by Dubhlinneach:

          But every culture has superstition, whether it is an isolated tribe in New Guinea or the gambling culture of Las Vegas. Superstition seems to be a cruder, earlier form of coherent religious belief systems but is more enduring.

          If you are saying that people like the tribes in New Guinea don’t have the same kind of organized belief systems that the west or more developed cultures do then I disagree. I’m asking a question because I’m not sure if I’m interpreting what you say correctly. But if it is to say that primitive tribes just seem to have random superstitious beliefs I disagree. I’m certainly no expert on the anthropology of religion but I have read a few books recently and everything I’ve read shows that there is surprising uniformity in terms of the general structure and purpose of the religious (or whatever people want to call them) belief systems.

          There is great diversity in terms of numbers, kinds, qualities of Gods and the various rituals associated with them but the point is that almost all societies have the following in common: rituals, definition and mechanisms to enforce social norms, individuals identified with unique access to the divine, granting of special powers to cure disease and mediate with the spirit world to these individuals, various forms of self sacrifice designed to require an extreme commitment by individuals to demonstrate their allegiance to the belief system (often involving self mutliation or denial of basic survival and reproductive needs).

          That is why I think the OP is wrong, there actually is a very interesting phenomena in religion, as Atran points out from an evolutionary standpoint its a puzzle how something so counter productive could be so ubiquitous across ancient cultures. You have to sacrifice time, food, blood, body parts, and other things that from a selfish gene perspective you don’t want to give away lightly. Not only do I think he is wrong and has provided no evidence that many religions are just astronomy story telling I think believing such incorrect information severely undercuts why religion can be such an interesting object of study for a sociobiologist.

  9. It is probably more accurate to say that every human society has beliefs about life and death and nature than to lump them all into a category called “religion” simply because that’s the label given to such beliefs in Western European dervived societies.

    • In reply to #12 by EEISElmo:

      It is probably more accurate to say that every human society has beliefs about life and death and nature than to lump them all into a category called “religion” simply because that’s the label given to such beliefs in Western European dervived societies

      Except that isn’t what anthropologists are doing. They don’t label all these different belief systems “religion” on a whim or because of some prejudice handed down by Western culture. They use the word religion because it accurately describes common practices and beliefs that are virtually universal across all the cultures we have records for or can find archeological evidence about.

      From the opening section 1.1 of Scott Atran’s book In Gods We Trust:

      “religion is: 1)a community’s costly and hard to fake commitment 2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents 3) who master people’s existential anxieties such as death and deception. All known human societies past and present, bear the very substantial costs of religion’s material, emotional, and cognitive commitments to factually impossible worlds”

  10. Humans seems to have a very strong desire to explain WHY things happen, and how everything around them works. Our best explanations were spirits, god, and monsters did it which lead to religion. In my reading of history and anthropology I can’t recall reading about a single culture without any religion. Science has started to supplant religion as the explainer, but while it has a strong hold on rich “western” countries we have a long ways to go until religion fades away like a children’s story of our youth.

  11. Here is just a bit of detail of the kind of anthropological data I’m talking about. This is a list from Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust of some of the irrational memes, that primitive people did in the name of religion. Note how certain patterns replicate across so many different cultures.

    • a lifetime of celibacy (Catholic priests and nuns, Lamist monks, Aztec sun priests, Hindu sadhus)

    • years of toil to build gigantic structures no person could use (Egyptian, Mesoamerican, and Cambodian pyramids)

    • giving up one’s sheep (Hebrews) or camels (Bedouin) or cows (Nuer of Sudan) or chickens (Highland Maya) or pigs (Melanesian tribes, Ancient Greeks), or buffaloe (South Indian tribes)

    • dispatching wives when husbands die (Hindus, Inca, Solomon Islanders)

    • slaying one’s own healthy and desired offspring (the firstborn of Phoenicia and Carthage, Pawnee and Iroquois maidens, Inca …Western satanic cults or Afro-Brazilian Vodoo)

    • chopping off a finger to give to dead warriors or relatives (Dani of New Guinea, Crow and other American Plains Indians)

    • burning your house and all other possessions for a family member drowned, crushed by a tree, or killed by a tiger (Nāga tribes of Assam)

    • knocking out one’s own teeth (Australian aboriginals)

    • making elaborate but evanescent sand designs (Navajo, northern tribes of central Australia)

    • giving up one’s life to keep Fridays (Muslims) or Saturdays (Jews) or Sundays (Christians) holy

    • forgoing eating pigs but not cows (Jew…

    These examples are for only one aspect of religion in Atran’s model, the requirement for serious commitment to demonstrate allegiance to the in group defined by the religion. He has similar examples for things like the definition and enforcement of social norms. I would expect astronomical information to be a part of many of these models as well but I’ve never seen one where such information was the total extent of the beliefs and rituals.

    • In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

      Here is just a bit of detail of the kind of anthropological data I’m talking about. This is a list from Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust of some of the irrational memes, that primitive people did in the name of religion. Note how certain patterns replicate across so many different cultures.

      • a life…

      the Issue with your examples of religious societies is almost all of them are indeed modern cultures, they are within the past 10,000 years of history. The past 10,000 years are in no way representative of the past 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans. Or the approximate 4 million years of our hominid history. Because if you do look into pre-agricultural societies you see, a more relaxed lifestyle , a complete lack of socioeconomic staus among people, no solid organizational structure and you see alot more fluidity between groups and the idea of inter group violence is almost completely unheard of.

      In a culture like it would be hard to push any sort of rigid dogmatic practice such as religion. Only after agriculture can any sort of dogma be pushed usually why a king decides the religion of the group, so even in that case a personal belief is decided by not the individual itself but by another person of a high socioeconomic status. And this is largely how religion spreads today, so it is not something that is universal because if it were people would have some sort of innate need for it. if you saw an equal portion of the population become religious after being raised in an atheist household as you saw from a religious house hold then you may have a acase, but that simply does not happen. You do however see children try to speak when their parents cannot they still attempt to learn speech as a matter of fact there are specific ages where brain development is specifically directed towards the learning of speech. There has not however been such a developmental period seen for religion.

      Now if you are talking about the general agnostisism and inquiry into the natural world in the sense of the divine, to the point of people like thomas jefferson or benjamin franklin I can see you case, people do have the desire to learn about nature and it does seem magical at times, but even look at the native american culture, you could equally see it as reverence for nature as you could see it as religion. Not to mention the fact that the native groups that got wiped out first and fastest by the europeans the less dogmati and less similar to christianity the harder they were to convert and the more likely they were to have been killed by the europeans in which case there is an inherent bias in whatever information still survives of their culture. Add that to the fact the Native americans were indeed already exposed to local agricultural communities and groups like the inca and the maya and the aztecs were indeed larger imerialist agricultural societies, that used religion to maintain order and social status of wealthy people.
      So as far as idolizing nature that is feasible to say that humans idolized nature but at the same time, to completely group that in with religion is a little far fetched because what it lacks is central dogma. and it lack the teacher and practice structure that comes with religion, it is much more like a groups what if situation where questions and unique ideas were treasured and turned into legends, in truth old religions in ancient egaliltarian cultures were probably more like modern myths we have about things like big foot, or cinderella or even things like hanzel and gretel, they are more teaching tools or urban legends, not things that are practiced dogmatically. And as far as burials go they are in truth more for the family than anything else, i mean think about this, how often will atheists have burials? Or i bet at some point you have seen some sort of animal documentary where a mother chimp loses her son in some sort of tragedy and she cries and stays with him for a little while before she leaves, because she is sad about the loss of a child, this is the same concept burials provide that self comfort. To say that chimp was religious because of that sadness would be a bit of an overstatement. and not reflective of reality.

      Finally Human Beings have had writing for 160,000 years but it did not become popular untill people used mathematics to calculate prices and keep financial records, this comes with the agricultural societies. People specifically did not use written language simply because they saw more value in speech than they saw in writing. So you have to put your modern views on writing vs. speech aside and understand that a genuine thought was more respected then a written source document.So even in that culture education of the masses rather than a few is already part of the core of culture, not dogmatic religion. Once again people look at history with shaded lenses that make us see more of ourselves in history than anything else when in reality, this causes alot of confusion in modern time especialy when most of the great anthropologist of the last century had a strong religious bias and set out to prove that their religion was not only the best but that it was universal. This however is not a model that is reflective of reality.

      • In reply to #29 by BenCarollo:

        the Issue with your examples of religious societies is almost all of them are indeed modern cultures, they are within the past 10,000 years of history. The past 10,000 years are in no way representative of the past 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans. Or the approximate 4 million years of our hominid history.

        Now you’re moving the goalposts and appealing to ignorance. We have little or no idea what our pre-civilized forebears got up to and have to extrapolate based on what we know from archaeology. Obviously, go back far enough and religions didn’t exist, but this is banal. The ubiquitousness of religion would still be a fact requiring an explanation even if it only arose ten thousand years ago. Moreover, the prehistoric burial sites found that date to the last Ice Age provide indirect evidence that our ancestors had some religious inclinations. Certainly, they had brains much like ours, which suggests they may have been just as prone to superstition.

        Because if you do look into pre-agricultural societies you see, a more relaxed lifestyle , a complete lack of socioeconomic staus among people, no solid organizational structure and you see alot more fluidity between groups and the idea of inter group violence is almost completely unheard of.

        This is utter myth. Pre-agricultural societies have the highest rates of violence and homicide recorded, and intergroup violence is not only present but far more frequent than it is in industrial societies. They most definitely have authority figures and status in the form of tribal chiefs and family heads, and the main reason they don’t have much wealth is because the post-agricultural societies have taken and monopolized almost everything of worth across the globe. Most of them operate by divisions of labour and family clans with complex political alliances and systems of belief and ritual. Describing them as “relaxed” is pretty questionable.

        I suggest you reconsider your sources before making claims as absurd as these.

        • In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

          Though the evidence is not provided I think your criticisms are entirely unwarranted and substantially misleading.

          We have little or no idea what our pre-civilized forebears got up to and have to extrapolate based on what we know from archaeology.

          Yet we know that we only started to care about old folk from around 40,000BC when the archeological record shows a sudden 400% increase in the survival rate of grandparents (Caspari and Lee 2005). We can extrapolate from this that the old were probably not so valued before this time and were allowed to die when they could no longer provide their own food. Burials with ritual were most likely of valuable individuals. The “sentiment” was probably rather more an expression of loss of real assets which were wanted back. Caring after they’re dead rather than sharing your food before they die, doesn’t make too much sense.

          The change of heart is possibly due to the advent of sophisticated enough language to allow the old to solve problems from experience. (My personal hypothesis here is that, running out of material with which they could sing for their supper, they made shit up…hence religion. A Terminator-style “I’ll be back” might net some real pampering…)

          “Because if you do look into pre-agricultural societies you see, a more relaxed lifestyle , a complete lack of socioeconomic staus among people, no solid organizational structure and you see alot more fluidity between groups and the idea of inter group violence is almost completely unheard of.”

          This is utter myth.

          And this is utterly unfair. Hunter-gather societies are as BenCarollo describes them. Being homicidal is not at all inconsistent. Being entirely dependent on uncontrolled resources makes catastrophe very likely.

          The nature of religion is notably different between low density hunter gatherer societies and high density agrarian ones. The work of Quentin Atkinson is some of the solid work here. The hunter gatherers had occasional blow out parties. The agrarians had regular pep talks and moral stories.

          http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513810001029#

          http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513810000899

          • In reply to #35 by alonthemed:

            A note on the Amazon Piraha people:

            Following a recommendation from someone on this site, I am 3/4 of the way through [this book] (http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Sleep-There-Are-Snakes/dp/0307386120/ref=sr11?ie=UTF8&qid=1377524976&sr=8-1&keywords=don%27t+sleep+there+are+snakes).

            According to the autho…

            no numbers, no colours, no history beyond living memory

            I think this is sufficient to cast doubt on that account. For one thing, it looks suspiciously like another case of “fifty words for snow”, and is potentially apocryphal. Even checking the Wikipedia account, you’ve made an error in your reporting. They have concepts of number and colour. What they possibly don’t have is a special representation of them in their language. On the Wikipedia article:

            Curiously, although not unprecedentedly,[15] the language has no cardinal or ordinal numbers. Some researchers, such as Prof. Peter Gordon of Columbia University, claim that the Pirahã are incapable of learning numeracy. His colleague, Prof. Daniel L. Everett, on the other hand, argues that the Pirahã are cognitively capable of counting; they simply choose not to do so. They believe that their culture is complete and does not need anything from outside cultures. Everett says, “The crucial thing is that the Pirahã have not borrowed any numbers—and they want to learn to count. They asked me to give them classes in Brazilian numbers, so for eight months I spent an hour every night trying to teach them how to count. And it never got anywhere, except for a few of the children. Some of the children learned to do reasonably well, but as soon as anybody started to perform well, they were sent away from the classes. It was just a fun time to eat popcorn and watch me write things on the board.”[5]

            The language does not have words for precise numbers, but rather concepts for a small amount and a larger amount.

            The language may have no unique words for colors. There are no unanalyzable root words for color; the recorded color words are all compounds like mii sai[5] or bii sai, “blood-like”, which is not that uncommon.[citation needed]

            On the linguistic account alone, I’d take that account with a heavy load of salt.

            In reply to #36 by phil rimmer:

            In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

            Though the evidence is not provided I think your criticisms are entirely unwarranted and substantially misleading.

            We have little or no idea what our pre-civilized forebears got up to and have to extrapolate based on what we know from archaeology.

            Yet we know that we only started to care about old folk from around 40,000BC when the archeological record shows a sudden 400% increase in the survival rate of grandparents (Caspari and Lee 2005).

            I’m not sure how to respond to that, except to point out that neanderthal burials of similar kind are known, so either there was some cross-species cultural exchange, or funeral rituals extend back to the last common ancestor of sapiens and neanderthals. However, I think the extrapolation following that is highly speculative.

            And this is utterly unfair. Hunter-gather societies are as BenCarollo describes them. Being homicidal is not at all inconsistent. Being entirely dependent on uncontrolled resources makes catastrophe very likely.

            It’s a matter of statistical fact that pre-civilized societies have higher homicide rates than even the more violent North American cities. The statistics are available in The Better Angels of Our Nature. In any case, it contradicts BenCarollo’s claim that their lifestyle is more relaxed and does not know intergroup violence, since the majority of the killings are done during raids against other groups. The confusion is with the notion that if a society has higher rates of violence, it must be violent all the time. But that is not so.

            While I grant you that their socioeconomic system is egalitarian and more flexible, and thus that I was wrong to think otherwise, I might still point out that it is also family-based and relies on a division of labour, as I said and as the link you provided also says. Also, it’s worth pointing out that this applies mostly to nomadic hunter-gatherers, not to settled ones.

      • In reply to #29 by BenCarollo:

        In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

        Here is just a bit of detail of the kind of anthropological data I’m talking about. This is a list from Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust of some of the irrational memes, that primitive people did in the name of religion. Note how certain patterns replicate across so many…

        Zeuglodon said everything I would have said and said it better than I would have so I have nothing to add to his reply except to point out that where as I’ve referenced three very well known books (In Gods We Trust, The Evolution of God, and Breaking the Spell) that support my position and quoted extensively from one of them all you’ve referenced is a book that is at best marginally relevant and is more a new age self help book about open marriages then a scholarly look at ancient cultures.

  12. In reply to #21 by DonaldMiller:

    In reply to #1 by Reckless Monkey:

    Hi, interesting however,

    I think it is clear that we seek patterns to explain things. Skinner boxes for example, where pigeons get random rewards but believe because they were bent over at the time triggers superstition in animals. Humans have similar tendencie…

    It may be The Pirahu People I don’t know much about them but I think someone mentioned them as a rare example of a society with no religion or at least no concept of God.

    • A note on the Amazon Piraha people:

      Following a recommendation from someone on this site, I am 3/4 of the way through [this book] (http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Sleep-There-Are-Snakes/dp/0307386120/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377524976&sr=8-1&keywords=don%27t+sleep+there+are+snakes).

      According to the author who has lived among the Piraha for years, they differ from most and sometimes all other societies in that they lack a number of facets that we would presume ubiquitous among human civilisations: no numbers, no colours, no history beyond living memory, no “religion” and no belief in a “supreme being”.

      Interestingly the Piraha will not believe what you tell them unless you can show them evidence…

      Even more interestingly, the author, a gifted linguist, joined the Piraha people as a missionary, but his study of the tribe led him to lose the faith he had planned on sharing.

      So far a fascinating read..

      Al

      In reply to #23 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #21 by DonaldMiller:

      In reply to #1 by Reckless Monkey:

      Hi, interesting however,

      I think it is clear that we seek patterns to explain things. Skinner boxes for example, where pigeons get random rewards but believe because they were bent over at the time triggers superstition in anima…

    • In reply to #25 by ashishkumar.singh.988:

      religion is not universal if it was we would all follow same god..

      Isn’t that rather like saying “language is not universal if it was we would all speak the same one”?

  13. religion is not there but what about us.. are we just some complex organisation of organic molecules..?..are we just part of darwin’s survival of fittest theory the organisation of molecule which is best suitted for its environment..

    • In reply to #26 by fantasy.god:

      religion is not there but what about us.. are we just some complex organisation of organic molecules..?..are we just part of darwin’s survival of fittest theory the organisation of molecule which is best suitted for its environment..

      Yes.

  14. In reply to #20 by DonaldMiller:

    You said, “Now the incentive to take these stories and lie about them is very obvious once you note the correlation with agriculture and religion arising at similar times. . .”

    The American Indians were not agricultural, and yet they had their religious beliefs. Also, I think you’re incorrect in as…

    Believe it or not but the physiology of the human brain has not changed much in the past 200,000 years and so thought processes are not likely to have change significantly in that period either as a matter of fact humans were likely more intelligent and questioning than we are today because on average before agriculture the human brain was actually larger, and more healthy and thus would be more intelligent and prone to logical thought and reasoning. So they would be less prone to dogmatic religion. As a matter of fact just one week ago the Richard Dawkins Website posted an article on how intelligence actually correlates with a lack of religion. And as a matter of fact there were agricultural societies within native american groups for example take the Dickson Mounds to explain both this point and my earlier statement on brain health. Also see my reply to Red Dog to see how in fact the information on Native american Culture is quite skewed.

  15. The article states —–Now while writing was used 160,000 years ago it did not become common until approximately 10,000-12,000 years ago —— What ??? where is your evidence for this presumption ?? some commenters imply extraordinary ancient dates of 300,000 for religion ? – Evidence ?….Burials are not evidence for religion ….I will bury my loved ones but never believe in any gods ! In principle I agree that religion is not necessarily universal to all humans – but shamen were – they dealt with funeral rituals, nature forces and ancestors and they were common to most tribes of the world….the authority figures of their day…is this implied to be religion ?

      • In reply to #37 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #34 by Light Wave:

        The article states —–Now while writing was used 160,000 years ago

        This, however, is truly wacky..

        Sure is Wacky …….It sounds to me a bit like the kind of claim made by ignorant religious types that are trying to sound like they know science etc…. but he’s clearly un informed….Here are the facts…..
        - Mark making should not be mistaken for script……which was used by Sumerians around 4000bc called Cuneiform…Writing came 1200bc adapted by Phoenecians and later Greeks added vowels to improve it….

        • Quick one on burials; the burial or not of the deceased in itself says nothing about the superstitions of the culture.

          In Britain in the Bronze Age the dead were often given a sky burial, i.e. left out for the wolves and birds until only the bones remained. The bones were then used for some purpose, which is obviously unknown. But the fact that they were kept and moved around suggests something indicating ritual or superstition.

          This may seem obvious to most, but it is the manner of the ritual which gives us clues to the superstitions of a particular culture from an archaeological point of view. Cremations, ship burials, sky burials, burials with grave goods, burials without, etc. There is stacks of info on this, although I’m only really familiar with the different practices in Britain.

  16. In reply to #1 by Reckless Monkey:
    I saw a documentary where someone came across a tribe in the Amazon who didn’t have a religion. But it was long ago, and I don’t know where you’d find it..

    But then you have the Cargo Cults of Indonesia, who created a religion out of WWII American soldiers landing aeroplanes full of boxes of cargo. Until recently they were still creating bamboo airplanes, to honour the gods from the skies. (The called their god Jonfrum – derived from the Americans saying “Hi, I am John from New York….)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult

  17. Sedanar.

    In reality, any maintenance of ancient wisdom during the Dark and Middle Ages was performed by the Syriac Christians rather than the Muslims.

    That is interesting, do you have any references.

    The best book is ‘The Syriac People’ by Yakup Tahincioglu. But I don’t think it is available outside Turkey.

    Try also ‘The Chronicle of Zuqnin’, by Dionysis of Tel Mahre.

    And the ‘Chronicle of Michael the Syrian’.

    That Islam was conceived as a Protection Racket governing a servile serf population is confirmed in the Covenant of Dhimmitude from Asyria (now eastern Turkey).

    Quote:- Only take taxes from the Christians under the protection of the Sultan. It is forbidden to take any taxes from the dhimmis except for protection. (Covenant of Dhimmitude in the Deyrulzafran Monastery)

    So the Syriac Christians had to pay a tax to the Muslim army – the very army that kept them as dhimmi serfs, doing all the donkey work for their Muslim overlords. There were many restrictions on dhimmi Christians, like not being able to ride horses, etc:

    While Caliph Abd-al-Ala said to the Syriacs:

    Quote: Why do you complain, Christians? From the time of the Romans you have consumed the wealth of this land, while our ancestors wandered in an arid desert … Now that we have conquered this land from the Romans by the sword, why do you make trouble instead of leaving it to us, and removing yourselves from it? Arise and leave my presence. Endure your situation; pay the jizya tax and remain in peace! (Chronicle of Michael the Syrian)

    You see, under Islam the Koran gives you three choices – convert, pay the tax on kuffer unbelievers, or be killed.

    And I like this one, from the Chronicle of Zuqnin:

    Quote: The Muslim nation are very lascivious and in need of sexual gratification. Every law instituted for them, be it by Muhummad or by any other god-fearing person, is despised and dismissed if it is not instituted according to their sexual pleasure. But a law that fulfills their desires, even if it is instituted by a nobody among them, they accept; and they say to each other: “this has been instituted by the prophet and messenger of god”. (Chronicle of Zuqnin, year 621.)

    .

  18. My statement on the history of human writing comes from the smithsonian institutes history of human kind and my statement on the rates of violence in human groups come from Robert Sapolsky ( he is an endocrinologist at Stanford and has done extensive research onto the subject of stress which leads directly into the history of violence among early hominids). And once again I would like to reiterate the fact that you are looking at a specific sub group of people when you are talking about these early groups, the groups used for those societies listed by those books are early agricultural societies, not egalitarians, I am talking about egalitarians the best modern example is the Kung! San people of the kalahari desert , and indeed violence is something almost entirely unheard of. Not to mention the controversy cause by anthropologists altering natives behavior, just one example is the yanamamo fiasco.

  19. In a correction to my source, According to the Smithsonian Institute’s record it was 77,000 years ago that humans began recording information on objects, Indicating the capability to do this, it still was not popularized until after currency and agriculture because there was no need, simply out of the fact that the only mental task back then that was needed to be done on paper was indeed mathematical calculations for the purpose of managing currency. And my statement on the 10,000 years is a generalization of about when agriculture and subsequently social stratification began.

    And as far as the evidence for violence most of it comes from early agricultural tribes that were miss classified for the purposes of fitting the idea of violent ancient people (popularized by Thomas Hobbes) for example Steven Pinker when trying to explain the violence of ancient “Hunter-Gatherers” he uses these cultures as examples, The Jivaro, Yanamamo ,Mae Enga , Dagum Dani, Murngin, Huli, Gebusi. None of which are immediate return hunter gatherers and are in fact semi-agricultural societies, not to mention the fact that four of these groups were from Papua New Guinea, which was very densely populated and the dense population in the area led to violence over scarce food resources that happens when one are is over farmed and over hunted. Add in the fact that the violence among the Yanomamo were more likely than not cause by the anthropologist that studied them.

    for more information on the ancient Egalitarian humans you are better off reading Margaret Powers Break down of chimpanzee and Bonobo lifestyles in her book The Egalitarians – Humans and Chimpanzees

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Egalitarians-Chimpanzee-Anthropological-Organization/dp/0521018269
    http://humanorigins.si.edu/human-characteristics/change

  20. In reply to #34 by Light Wave:

    In principle I agree that religion is not necessarily universal to all humans – but shamen were – they dealt with funeral rituals, nature forces and ancestors and they were common to most tribes of the world….the authority figures of their day…is this implied to be religion ?

    The way that shamen’s act to be honest, is more closely related to pseudoscientific practices than it is to religion. They were more like alchemists using trial and error style of medicine to try and help people in their tribes, and using star patterns to try to predict the weather, based on what they had seen previously in their lives and what they had heard from their ancestors, which leads to the reverence for the dead simply out of the respect for the wisdom that was given to them from their past relatives.

    This is however a generalization, and the data on these people are very limted simply because of the fact that the people who went out and “discovered” most of these modern practicing versions of shamanistic tribes were indeed christian missionaries and so not only did their preeching taint the beliefs of the native culture but it also created initial view that they were some how devil worshipers, simply because the view of the time, for example Christopher Colombus came back to Spain explaining how terrible and godless the native islanders were in the Caribbean simply because of the fact that there were sexually promiscuous, walked around naked and did not perform any sort of physical labor to obtain food or wealth. Take these same people another 100 or so years in the future and not only are they enslaved but they also have shifted their beliefs to a pseudo catholicism commonly known as voodoo today.

  21. Monotheism is not the only cathegory of religions. Then there are superstitions, that are not necessarily based on exitance of personalised god, but belief in some supernatural forces is still there.

    • In reply to #48 by ieva:

      Monotheism is not the only cathegory of religions. Then there are superstitions, that are not necessarily based on exitance of personalised god, but belief in some supernatural forces is still there.

      There are indeed superstitions, but just because you have a subtle dislike for the number thirteen and you feel like there might be a lochness monster, does not in any way mean that you are spending every sunday worshiping the lochness monster and drawing the number 7 all over your body. There is a significant difference in the way people go about minor superstitions and the way they practice dogmatic religion, emphasis on the dogmatic. In an egalitarian culture the only dogma is that if you are not willing to share with the group you cannot be part of the group, and the buck stops there, the idea of any one person dictating an idea to another would be seen as someone who is trying to be selfish and they are quickly put down, typically with insult and sarcasm, as seen in the Kung! San people with the tradition of “insulting the meat” the issue is, if you have an anthropologist out to prove that religion is universal and they see a small superstition, or people giving respect to a particular aspect of nature they automatically assume religion because it supports what they are trying to prove it is a perfect example of confirmation bias. Because the human brain on a physiological level has not changed in the past 200,000 years (although there is some evidence to suggest the average size of the cortex has gone down in the past 8,000-12,000 years) we can readily conclude that their though patterns were similar to ours, so to give to examples , you dont see people praying to bigfoot and carl sagan didnt worship the sky, and that is the difference between minor superstition and reverence for nature ans complete and totalitarian dogmatic religious belief. But because of this confirmation bias we are more likely to attribute features we expect of people rather than objectively gaging what they are doing.

  22. It seems to me that the answer to your question depends a great deal on how you define religion.

    The Chinese independently developed many aspects of society that also sprang up in Europe. Except, according to reports that I’ve heard, gods. This alone is pretty damning evidence that gods are merely fictional invention.

    If, by religion, we also mean spirituality then the Chinese also have that. But talk of spirituality has always seemed to me to be religionists moving the goalposts – it moves a part of the supernatural realm into common experience, but it also puts it, in some sense, beyond our reach.

    If we define religion as being descriptions of supernatural spaces, entities, or agents this does appear to be a near-universal. Polytheisms, in particular, are very common today and reach back into antiquity. But it is those very same polytheisms – and their obvious roots in animism – that persuade me that these developments are not actually universal but, rather, a common result of priestly development of religion.

    I’m not up on the latest evolutionary psychology but it seems to be pretty obvious that the lives of our ancestors were nasty, brutish and short. We tend to assume that hunter-gatherers and early farmers also had plenty of leisure time – though even a cursory study of such societies today easily refutes that idea. Also, until writing had developed to the point when records were made of oral traditions, any ‘solutions’ or ‘knowledge’ was flexible. Any Shaman worthy of the title knows that theology that’s adjustable is like an adjustable spanner – many times more useful.

    It would appear to be instructive to include, in our definition, that religion is a recognisable aspect of social organisation. Religions quickly gather priesthoods – knowledge has always been a route to, and a root of, power. Though priesthoods are not always organised, they still tended, from the beginning, to take over social events – annual celebrations, rites of passage and so on. Add to this, as Christopher Hitchen’s put it, that religions were our first stab at philosophy, ethics, science, social care, health care, legal codes, courts and much more besides. Should this inform our definition too?

    With the benefit of hindsight we see that our ancestors needed quick and easy answers and, where those answers are known to work, someone to learn and remember. Dressing up these functions in ‘spiritual’ cloth improves the regularity of income and the profit margins.

    Many societies, of course, have successfully resisted the urge to turn their early information silos over to organised priesthoods. It has to be said that those societies did not succeed as well as those that did. Organised religion appears to be hard-wired to the emergence of systems of private ownership.

    The Chinese attempted to lessen the social costs of religion by emphasising the philosophical aspects of early attempts at information discovery and management – leading to Confucianism, which was only later dressed in ‘spirituality’.

    Here we see that the emergence of organised religion is not a given – it is not universal.

    ‘Spiritual’ religions seem to be linked to animism and grieving for lost relatives, particularly those who might have acquired knowledge (i.e. lived to a ripe old age). With no written records, memories were important and ancestor worship may have been an early attempt to keep ideas alive. Animism clearly springs from a human need to understand and control our environment and a supernatural explanation was quick, easy, transportable, flexible, and, and, and …

    Basic animism and ancestor worship seem to be near-universal aspects of early societies. .Of course, they have the benefit of not requiring full-time priests (if they require priests at all – giving the very positive return of low social costs) and they therefore, by and large, seem to have no effect on scepticism. Do they even count as religions? Many theologians and present-day priests have a vested interest in including these social practices and beliefs under the rubric religion – and they strongly emphasise any aspect that appears ‘spiritual’ in order to do so. But, it seems to me, some of these practices could be just as easily interpreted as anti-religion.

    So after thinking aloud for a while my short answer is: No.

    I don’t believe the evidence supports the notion that religion is a universal human development.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #50 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      I’m not up on the latest evolutionary psychology but it seems to be pretty obvious that the lives of our ancestors were nasty, brutish and short

      While the rest of this comment is right on spot, i do have to, for the sake of knowledge correct this one statement. This idea was something that was invented entirely by Thomas Malthus and Thomas Hobbes trying to explain why life was so horrible in their lives, by justifying that it was worse previously in human history. Here is a link to a video of Robert Sapolsky on the subject (on of the leaders in the feild of biology and human behavior) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhdsHxX0_FY Robert Sapolsky talks about the nature of ancient humans about 26 minutes in this is the only place i could find this quote and I do apologize for the length.

      • In reply to #51 by BenCarollo:

        Hi Ben,

        I was borrowing the phrase, as you spotted. I didn’t have time to watch all the video, I maybe got through 60%. Hopefully I understood the basics, I took this away:

        Bio-psycho-social; our nervous systems are driven by our environment (with an emphasis on our interactions with those around us), meaning it is impossible to separate our neurological function from our environment (emphasis on the environment of the developing [youthful] environment). The history of humanity was more social, and therefore more sharing, less violent, etc.. Humanity has enormous psycho-social variety today – aspects of human behaviour, like violence and individuality, are therefore also to be found in every description.

        If I didn’t have time to watch the whole video, then I surely didn’t have time to look into the claims being made – some of which were very big.

        I’ll grant these ideas a free pass (a collection of ifs – all as big as each claim) because it doesn’t seem to me to change anything.

        I used the phrase ‘nasty brutish and short’, just as you realised, to explain that life was so horrible for our ancestors. I wasn’t making a reference to the philosophers who used the phrase – so sorry for any confusion.

        Rather, I was attempting to find a shorthand for: Our ancestors lives were pretty bad.

        • Diseases were many, and rife, and there was almost no medicine. There was social care, and this would have been extremely costly for those involved in it. Very many young people – probably up to and including the early Iron Age – would have spent something like 30-to-40% of their lives nursing sick and disabled relatives. Many minor ailments would have been common, making life ugly and uncomfortable.

        • Predators, which the vast majority of humans today do not experience at all, ever, would have been common. It puts a whole new meaning on the idea of babysitting or going out for a stroll.

        • Food would sometimes be plentiful, and sometimes scarce. When it was scarce there was no safety net. In the early days, even the domesticated animals would have been dangerous to know.

        • Shelter and clothing would have been very costly in time and effort – and the best materials were rare. The useful life of a shelter or kilt would have been, relative to today, very short. Repairs and renewal would have been an almost daily concern.

        • Bathing and sanitation were simply not understood. I’ve lived on a Farm, and I’ve worked in sewers. It’s surprising what you can get used to, but nobody ever says they want those things in their lives.

        • Clean water would have been plentiful for most people most of the time, but as humans spread this too would have become a greater and greater concern.

        • Human violence was far more common than was claimed in the video. We know from archaeological evidence that the emergence of farming only makes sense if you can own the field you planted, or the pasture where you graze your sheep. Concepts of personal ownership would have rubbed-up against roaming hunter-gatherers, and other farming settlements. But even before that, hunter-gatherers would have had endless disputes over rights to migrating herds, fruiting woods, water, river trade, and many more things besides. One need look no further than the known history of North America before European immigration.

        Biologically speaking our understanding is that these people were just like us – they simply had the misfortune to be alive when life was hard. Problem solving would have been a natural thing for them to do and tools, though crude and easily worn out or broken, were available.

        But their time and energy, in this very demanding environment, would have been constrained to say the least. In this kind of environment a Head Man, Matriarch, Witch-Doctor, or local Wise ‘Wizard’ (let’s call them all Shamen), could easily have made a living by spotting ways to explain things without evidence. It seems likely that they borrowed our ability to suspend our disbelief (developed in its turn to share those long cold nights telling stories round bright fires to keep predators away?) in order to use supernatural fiction as a method of putting some of their explanations beyond investigation. The rest were too tired, ill, bored, hungry, frightened, etc. to care much – and when they did care, they were glad that someone had a nice easy answer.

        To the extent that bio-psycho-social ideas cut across my description above, I agree with the video. My mention of evolutionary psychology was meant, again as shorthand, to say something along those lines. Religious ideas evolved, the evidence for that is irrefutable. Richard Dawkins invented the term meme to describe how bio-psycho-social elements can (did) evolve faster than their biological hosts (us). One of the reasons that we are left with the impression that religion is nearly a universal trait is because of this speed of development.

        There were no intellectual property rights in early human societies and we now know that most of humanity was actually quite well connected. New ideas spread quickly and the early Shamen would have had a great incentive to swap notes. In addition, of course, they were some of the few people who had the time to both learn and figure-out some real solutions to a few problems – thus greatly increasing their value.

        That’s were I was coming from, and I hope that helps.

        Peace.

        • In reply to #52 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

          In reply to #51 by BenCarollo:

          archaeological evidence that the emergence of farming only makes sense if you can own the field you planted

          I would like to point out the fact that what your are talking about is only true for early Agriculturists and Pastoralists, when in truth if you are trying to talk about the majority of human kind over time we have been egalitarians, and in egalitarian societies the idea of owner ship is almost completely outlawed or unknown.

          The notion that there was more disease is biologically falacious, im agine a world where human population is low and while communication can traverse the planet (or at least wherever humans live) as it has for the past 160,000 years, it was in fact very sparse. So i must ask you where would be the evolutionary advantage be for bacteria and viruses to infect humans if our populations were low and we had very little global interaction. In fact our most common diseases today arose only several thousand years ago and originated with birds pigs and dogs. The spread of those diseases to humans coincides with our domestication of them. So this notion is also entirely false.

          Another false notion is the fear of predators.Humans live in groups for a reason and in ancient egalitarians the average group was 75 to 150 add the ability to throw rocks in and that (according to some evolutionary theory) indicates when we were able to focus less on social heirarchy and the threat of predators, and so we began getting more intelligent rather than stronger and bigger to fight other animals. A predator would much rather attack a more veunerable group because gazelles don’t fight together. The same behavior is seen in dolphins how they attack predators as a group, and so sharks would rather go after some other species. This is not to say that these attacks would not happen of course they did just not very commonly at all.

          Because Egalitairans are by nature wanderers they do not have any issue running out of food. In fact, most drought is directly caused by monoculture and thus agricultural societies are significantly more prone to malnurishment to the extreme in some cases 100 times more likely to get diseases and suffer from malnutrition. A good look at the Dickson mounds shows this very beautifully. In Fact the Kung! san people of the Kalahari desert have no problems getting on average 2,500 calories a day, and in a well balanced diet. An early agricultural society was extremely dependant on the weather and much less mobile. Therfore this is another False statement.

          Clean water is only a significant issue when you are eating predominantly rice and grains like in an agricultural society but in an egalitarian society most of the foods are fruit and vegetables rich in nutrients carbs and also a significant amount of water. Also decreasing the chances of getting bacterial disease from river and lake water, not having a need to drink water directly.

          And lastly what you are describing with herds and trade is indeed not a hunter gatherer society but in fact is a nomadic pastoralism and nomadic pastoralism is the most violent of all types of societies. To put the two into the same category is wildly unrepresentative of the truth. And only in areas of large population or extremely low food sources will you see violence in native tribes, if you look at egalitarian groups there is not even close to that level of violence, and to group all of the Native Americans together saying they were violent simply because a few tribes in a heavily populated area were violent is also unrepresentative of the truth. Not to mention the impact on our views based on the writings of people like Christopher Columbus who called the Native Islanders “barbaric” and “Godless” because they walked around naked and had promiscuous behvioral patterns as a social norm, and they readily practice abortions, using various plants. (A common trait of most egalitarian tribes leading to the skewing of the numbers on life expectancy due to the insanely high infancy death rate due to the abortion and extermination of unwanted or antisocial children.In fact when calculating the ages of people who grow past two years old, if you make it to year two statistically in an egalitarian society you would expect to live to about 80 and if you got over 80 you could expect to live to about 90)

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