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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion - Barbara J. King The anthropologist author of this book interpolates between the probable behavior of the common ancestor with apes (using modern apes as a guide) and the behavior of humans to speculate on the development of religious behavior during the intervening time period. Archeological evidence is used to further support these speculations. Humans are social animals, and religious behavior is evidence of the human desire to show social behavior toward things not seen or understood. The author refers to this motivation as a desire for "belongingness."

There is more anthropology than religion in the first half of this book. We learn a lot about skeletal structure, tool making, and geographic spread of hominids. But the origin of religious behavior is largely inferred from subtle clues.

The author observes that almost all sentient beings, including mammals, fish and birds, show some degree of social behavior toward others of their own kind. This is particularly true with primates and very much so for humans. This human characteristic led to religious imagination.

"The religious imagination thrives on the human yearning to enter into emotional experience with some force vaster than ourselves. This pattern, then - in its essence rather than in its details - stretches back far into our prehistory. For millions of years, human ancestors sought belongingness within their social groups; and spiritually, humans began to seek an emotional connection with god, gods, or spirits."

The author goes out of her way to thoroughly debunk the "god gene" hypothesis. She believes the human brain is far too complex and plastic (as in ability to adapt) to be dependent on a single gene.

The author includes a complete chapter at the end titled, "God and Science in 21st Century America." She summaries the spectrum of attitudes regarding this subject as follows:
1. Accept creationism, scorn evolution.
2. Accept intelligent design, claim to be an alternative view of science.
3. Scorn religion (à la Dawkins).
4. Embrace both (religion and science), but them keep separate (à la Gould).
5. Science (including evolution) helps us understand the actions of God (à la Haught).
The author prefers the fifth approach listed above. She proceeds to conclude as follows:

"A strong dissatisfaction with the gene- and brain-centered scenarios --- motivated me to write this book. Science can look head-on at humanity's hunger for the sacred, a hunger that is far more than a mere offshoot of the workings of our genes or brains ..."

The following are my comments, not necessarily from the book:
Humans are graced with a godlike ability to transcend time and space in our minds but are chained to death. Homo Sapiens are an example of a species who's minds have advanced faster than their physical bodies. They can understand the concept of time, they can know and consider events in the past before they existed, they can imagine and conjecture about events in the future after they no longer exist, but still they remain captive inside a physical body that experiences birth, life and then death. Religion may be the result of the human mind's striving to transcend the limitations of space-time assigned to their physical body.

The following is a link to my review of the book, A Short History of Myth. It is similar to this book in subject material.
(link to my review of A Short History of Myth.)