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Religion – The Origin of Humanity Essay

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Updated: Jan 18th, 2019


The answer to origin of humanity can be traced through evolution of culture of religion. Religion has been in existence since the earlier man’s period, and records that show that some form of gods were worshipped, which can be found on caves and statutes. In addition, practices by Homo sapiens of burying their dead indicate the existence of religion. Religion also appears to be the only unique practice with human beings.

On the other hand, Darwin model of evolution indicates that through adaptation and selection, there were some forms of changes that took place in earlier organism.

By treating religion like some organism, it is possible to explore some its adaptability and selection, which made human beings more superior than other animals. In such cases, certain attributes of a religion succeeded to the next form. Within these trends of religion, it can be possible to trace exactly the period and the type of religious belief that led to humanity perception in human beings.

This paper explores the argument of other Paleolithic’s and archeologist on the origin of religion. It also explores the transformation of the first form of religion to modern type. Then in a generative discussion, it proceeds to argue that cultural changes in religion as opposed to brain development or species evolution are responsible for the change in human perception of themselves.

Literature Review

Mind Development

The past holds the key to understand the present and this is in archaeology hands (Mithens 10). His archeological work looks at how the human brain developed overtime by overcoming various selective pressures. According to his argument, the mind not only creates but is also capable of imagination. He disputed information from evolutionist psychologist, which argued that the mind can act like Swiss army knife.

He argued that when looking at the brain this way, it would not be possible to understand why modern brain is able to perform tasks not present in the ancestral periods. Instead, he suggests that general intelligence exists. Using a cathedral metaphor, he describes three stages of mind development. First is domination by general intelligence, which is supplemented by domain specific modules, and lastly these modules work in concert with an endless information flow to all domains.

After describing his architecture of the brain, he explored the various human evolution stages to describe the various selective pressures present. His journey begins with the exploration of the ape, common human ancestor. In this stage, he makes several deductions including that due to Chimpanzee problems in tool making, they lack technical intelligence and therefore only general intelligence can describe their behavior (Mithen 34).

He also concludes that they posses certain levels of natural history intelligence and social intelligence. The latter is due to their ability to interact. Finally, he attributes their inability to communicate to their low level of general intelligence.

The next human evolution he described is the Homo Habilis. For these, he finds their ability to form shaped tools as an indication of development of certain technical knowledge as opposed to just general intelligence, which cannot be associated with this kind or craftsmanship. As for other types of intelligence like natural history, he considers some development to have taken place. According to him, brain development reached its climax in the neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens species.

Their natural history intelligence was also more developed especially because of the increased demands by the environment. He further points to existing tools in this period as indications of improved technical intelligence (Mithen 38). To him, these humans had knowledge and abilities equivalent to the present human beings. However, he also observes that they lacked the connection between natural history intelligence and technical intelligence necessary to design multiple-purpose tools.

According to his argument, modern culture originated from increased assimilation of various specialized modules. Therefore, human beings developed objects such as artifacts to communicate social messages. In time, human also demonstrated abilities to read the mind of others as indicated by art work in the time. To him, human beings increased in flexibility on social abilities.

Darwin’s Evolution Theory

His evolution theory consists of two assumptions. The first one is that all living things share the same ancestor. Second is that of natural selection, which explains why existing living things are not similar. Therefore under natural selection, differences occur through DNA mutations.

Some mutation changes to the species characteristics can result into improved reproduction. As a result, this change enables species to survive to the next generation. Species that adapt well to a certain environment are likely to undergo little change in an environment.

Mutation though is said to be progressive even in such environment, only that now the species would remain the same. On the other hand, when the environment is changing or dynamic, the evolvement of a species would be fast. Adaptations previously enjoyed in such an occurrence would cease to be of any benefit to the species. Mutations that take place in this stage would result into changes that make the species fit into the new conditions, and the new genes would be reproduced among generations (ASSS 11).

Apart from natural selection evolution is also a factor of sexual selection. Various male species compete for sexual partners by putting on show, brilliant colors, complex calls, and other physical attributes. As for the female partner, preference is on impressive males. Consequently, these are able to get more of their DNA in the next generation. As a result, some of the traits that are attractive but have little benefit for survival are distributed in a population, like the peacock tail.

Empirical Evidence for evolution

Darwin’s theory of evolution is characterized by changes and adaptation and suggests a common ancestry for all forms of life (Ridley 44). In the contemporary society, molecular biology and chemistry evidence have continued to support his argument; that is, all living things’ physical bodies are made of same basic cells and these are made up of similar molecules.

Similarities of cells between species are more than the differences that have been observed. Anatomical structure across species are said to be more similar. For instance, frogs, rabbits, lizards and birds all have a similar bone arrangement in their forelimb, in spite of the different ways they are used.

Transitional fossils also provide other evidence for evolution of species. They record changes that take place in species across lines separating one body plan to the other and across species as well.

Evidence gathered from them points that a chronology from land mammals to whales as well as dinosaur to birds took place. It has also been verified that as expected, the most primitive organism live in deepest geological layers and complexity and variety of fossil organism increases with the layer preceding the other as one progress to the earth.

Another premise held is that related species should be close to one another both in time and space and have more similarities with existing species in their specific regions as opposed to others living elsewhere. This has been found to be true although at times, fossils of a species are not found in its habitat. Evolutionary theory explains this as a result of migration to other areas, which has been verified by scientific evidence (ASSS 12).

Questioning Darwin Theory of Evolution

The first argument put against it, challenges the first hypothesis of a common ancestry. This hypothesis suggests that all forms of life have a similar origin. It relies on argument that all species have the same DNA or genetic code, to support the similar origin.

Critics of this position argue that God used a common design plan to make the various types of living things that he created. However, they also observe that by arguing so, it might be easy to believe that similarities in various species are due to the shared ancestry or relatedness (Zacharias & Geiser 45).

One of the weaknesses of this theory is that in its argument there are no transitional species. We learn that when Darwin was challenged to defend this weakness, he said that these would be discovered in the long run. However, up to date this has not happened. Instead, just a few transitional species to date have been discovered.

However, critics argue that if his theory was true, millions of these transitional animals would be discovered in the fossils records. They therefore conclude that, although DNA argument backs the common ancestry for this theory the lack of evidence in fossil records circumvents it.

The other level of criticism challenges the mutations forces of change ability to produce new species that have certain traits making them competitive in an environment. Zacharias & Geisler argue that there is no evidence that exist today that supports ability of any mechanism to produce complex living things that exists in the world today, from single celled living things (46).

They further say that the existing evidence on the rate of change, challenges this premise. By examining other work which describes the taxonomy of evolution, they conclude that this would be impossible especially because of the long process.

The second issue taken with Darwin’s theory hypothesis of natural selection is in its inability to explain the source of irreducibly complex system. This particularly takes offense, with some of the suggestions that piecemeal changes can take place. They observe that some parts of the organs would not accommodate such piecemeal changes. In addition, no scientific evidence exists to explain that this kind of piecemeal changes could have existed (Zacharias & Geisler 47).

Biblical understanding of the World

In the nineteenth century, many Europeans believed that God inspired the Bible and that it represented the truth in all respect. From this believe they proceeded to hold that, Creations was directed by God working on his own, that he was actively engaged in it, and he created each species in its original kind and form (ASSS 7).

One of the books of the Bible called Genesis claims that human beings seized a unique place in this formation because they were the last to be created, were made in God’s own image, and were given the powers to dominate the earth.


Emergence of religion

It is not definite when religion began, although evidence points that there of the religion’s main characteristics can be traced back to Upper Paleolithic Revolution. These are shamanism, ancestor worship and belief in supernatural (Rossano 3). This period is about 40,000 years ago.

In this period the cultural changes by the Homo sapiens were evident. The brain of the Homo sapiens did not change, rather it is their capacity to transmit and develop culture. As a result of this form of change these species were able to have some form of symbolism practices in the form of statutes, burial of the dead and cave art.

The earlier man used these caves for more than just aesthetic value, to other purposes like religion. In these caves, graphics of mixture of animals and human have been discovered. They focused their artistic form of worship with their practices of biological necessities that is reproduction through genes transmission and food for survival. The period that followed was Neolithic revolution or agrarian revolution. In this period, food was available in abundance due to agriculture and domestication of animals.

As a result, populations exploded and there was an improved chance for survival. Consequently there was need for more organized religion to bring some form of social order (Hoffman, 1). Diamond argued that this form of religion was important for social cohesion among individuals who otherwise would be great enemies (277). Furthering this point he argued murder was the main cause of death for hunters’ gatherers community.

Polytheism emerged, which is the belief of multiple gods. This was practice in ancient Egypt, Greece and India. In spite of it being developed by a more developed human society, it also retained many attributes of the previous religion. For instance supernatural beliefs continued with statues and cave paintings.

Both these symbolism contained either animal or human features, or both. For instance, animal gods like those of Egyptians or the Hinduism gods of elephant and cows. These gods had specific roles that they played, like war travelers and so on. This element of worshipping god for specific roles was also common in earlier religion, like for purposes of hunting. In this period there was also pantheism form of religion which involves finding peace in oneself. Its faith is based on belief that everything in the world is divine.

Belief in polytheism not only involved personification of god, but also there was belief in the enlargement of the family. That is faith could be expanded by adding on more gods in the family. In this family, some gods whose roles were not significant were demoted to a low rank in the hierarchy.

This then brings us to the question of who among the many gods was supreme. Within the polytheistic religion supreme gods can be traced such as Zeus of the ancient Greek, who was known as the god of all gods. As for Hinduism they had their Brahma who was considered as creator of universe. These trends in religion were followed by Abraham religion prophets that led to monotheism (Hoffman 1).

This new type of religion involved the worshipping of a single God. Before Abrahamic religion, monotheism existed in the form of Zoroastrianism. This was founded in 6th century BC by a priest known as Zarathustra. He preceded Jesus and Muhammad in converting people to monotheism from polytheism religion.

According to Zoroastrianism teachings, there is only one god and he is the one who created the earth and living and non living things in it. Some of the beliefs that Abrahamic religions adopted are from this earlier form of monotheism. These include concepts of heaven and hell, as well as unchanging cod. Judaism as founded by Abraham though is the largest form f monotheism.

This new religion began in the Middle East around 2000 BC with Judaism being the first form and prophesized by Abraham. Around 33 CE Jesus brought his message of Christianity. Finally at 622 CE, the last form of monotheism, which was Islamic religion, was started by Prophet Muhammad (Hoffman 1).

These religions believed in one god and the message about this god was spread by a human being sent by him. In the new form of religion only one God is to be worshiped and this god was the creator of everything. The new god did not in any way look like human beings.

Morality and living in groups

Although morality is a unique characteristic in humans, other animals that live in groups also exhibits some forms of pre-moral sentiments. Apes for instance practice social bonding, conflict resolution and peacemaking and other forms of morality issues. To facilitate the well being of the groups social animals, are forced to give up some of their individual needs. Within these groups there is social ranking and each animal understands it place in the hierarchy.

Animals such as the chimpanzee have been found to live in these forms of social groupings. In the same line based on the type of live they lived, early men are also presumed to have lived in similar groups. Therefore to control these groups morality is also likely to have evolved to minimize conflict, social control, and for solidarity in the group. However, unlike animals human morality is more complex in that it has stiffer regulation mechanism such as rewards and punishment as well as development of reputation.

More so, human have better judgment and reasoning than animals. Some psychologists have argued that religion developed after morality, and advanced it to include other methods of examining people’s behavior like supernatural beliefs. Through the use of the supernatural powers of ancestors for instance, humans were able to develop more powerful groups that limited selfishness among individuals. In this way religion adaptability helped to improve the chance of group to survive (Rossano 146).


In Darwin’s evolutionary theory argument, making of tools and sexual selection comes out as distinct ways of differentiating humanity from animals. However, from our argument human beings are not the only animals that are known to practice social bonding or make tools. In addition, their brain development is not a factor of expansion of the skull per-se but rather an indication of changing cultural behaviors.

Religion is one such cultural behavior that has transformed for a long time in the history of mankind. Since the early man in the Neolithic times some forms of religion have been practiced by human beings. Rituals like burying of their dead and existence of some painting and statutes have been highlighted as indication of religion in these trends. In addition, human beings are the only animals that have been observed to practice religious activities. This makes emergence of religion as one of the things that differentiate humanity from animals.

Works Cited

Advancing Science Serving Society (ASSS). The Evolution Dialogues. nd. Web. Retrieved

Diamond, Jarred. From Egalitarian to Kleptocracy, the Evolution of Government and Religion. In Guns Germs and Steel, Chap. 14: 277. New York, Norton. 1997. Print.

Hoffman, Howard. “The Emergence and Evolution of Belief, Religion, and the Concept of God Pt II”.serendip, serendip, 15 May 2009. Web.

Mithen, Steven J. The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. Print.

Ridley, Mark. Evolution. Malden. Wiley-Blackwell. 2004. Print.

Rossano, Matt J. Supernaturalizing Social Life: Religion and the Evolution of Human Cooperation. Southeastern Louisiana University. 2007. JSTOR PDF files.

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