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Human Evolution and Religion—A Global Truce through Anthropology
by Ezra Niesen
17 Dec 2006
Every religion in the world was created to serve the needs of humans who are evolutionarily equal, and therefore, have asked the same questions about life. Anthropologists have identified a number of universal constants of religion, and have discovered that different religions aren’t so different from each other after all.
In the summer of 1987, scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain met secretly in Budapest to try to figure out why the threat of World War III seemed like such a good idea to so many people. By studying the Homo sapiens species, they could study what everyone in the world had in common and how to recognize their differences. They began studying human evolution specifically as the Science of How to Not Have a War with Each Other.
These scientists reasoned that in the same way that everyone in the world shares the same basic physical structure, everyone in the world must also share the same basic brain structure—simply because brain structure IS a physical structure, it’s just invisible to the naked eye. If everyone in the world shared the same basic brain structure, then people all over the world would have the same basic thought processes. If so, anthropologists would find the same basic behavior patterns among people all over the world. That turned out to be true. The list of characteristics of humanity that exist in every single culture on Earth with no exceptions is hundreds of items long.
Religion and spirituality is a universal constant of humanity. Even though some individual people don’t practice religion or spirituality, in every part of the world there are people who do.
As Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Eugene D’Aquili explain in their book Why God Won’t Go Away, every religion in the world is exactly the same as every other religion in the world. Every religion in the world was created to serve the needs of Homo sapiens who are evolutionarily equal and have asked the same questions about life. Every group of people in the world found answers to those questions that satisfied them, by extrapolating upon what they did understand about the world to try to explain the things they didn’t understand.
If people fighting made a lot of noise, and a thunderstorm made a lot of noise, then as far as people of 40,000 years ago could tell, that probably meant there were a couple of people having a really huge fight up in the sky. The first person to have had that idea might not have completely believed it, but it was the best explantion he could think of. Then he told it to someone else, like maybe his kids, or the younger people of his tribe who looked up to him. Those people thought it made sense, and it was told to them by someone they looked up to, so they assumed it must be right.
Every religion in the world offers its followers the same basic things, which include: An explanation for what makes the universe work, some way for people to escape their physical mortality, ways for people to build healthy families and strong communities, and ways for people to make themselves feel satisfied with their lives. Any differences between religions are based on things other than observable evidence. That means any argument over whose religion is better than whose is impossible to win, because everything about the two religions that has observable evidence to support it is identical, and everything that’s different doesn’t have any observable evidence to support it.
In effect, in the same way that different sects of Christianity are just different versions of the same basic religion, every religion in the world is just a different sect of one universal religion of humanity.
Some religions are practiced in ways that are emotionally or physically harmful to people, and some people even equate global mass suicide with eternal salvation. However, the religions are not responsible for that, the people whose choose to practice their religions that way are responsible for that. Religion is a universal constant of humanity, but globally self-destructive religions are not universal constants of humanity.
Dr. Newberg and Dr. D’Aquili went so far as to hook some neural imaging equipment up to people from different religions to monitor their brainwave patterns while they were at rest and while they were engaged in religious activities. To cut a long story short, the people all showed the exact same brain activity while they were engaged in their religious activities.
The chain of logic they draw for the evolution of religion goes like this: The evolution of human intellect made humans the dominant species of the world, because it gave humans an advantage in hunting that no animal species was equipped to defend itself against. Humans could remember seeing animals in a certain place at a certain time of the year, they could imagine seeing them there again at the same time next year, and they could make plans among themselves to cooperate in hunting the animals.
Those same abilities that made humans the dominant species of the world also made them the only species cabable of perceiving their own mortality at all times. The abilities to imagine, remember, and communicate also gave them the abilities to remember people dying, to hear about people dying, and to imagine themselves dying. That posed a permanent and inescapable threat to people’s survival. That forced them, essentially, to write an escape clause to life, to give them a way to survive their mortality. Religion was an evolutionary inevitability, because without it, our entire species would’ve become extinct due to mass clinical depression.
Those other three universal constants of religion followed close behind the first. Human intellect gave people the ability to wonder how the universe worked and how to make themselves happy, so every group of people figured out ways to answer those questions based on the information they had to work with at the time. While they were telling stories to answer all of those questions, it was easy to add in morality by telling stories about what would happen if people acted in ways that harmed the interests of the group.
Every philosophical ideology that serves in the place of religion also offers its followers these four universal constants. Take Atheism, for example.
What makes the universe work?
The laws of physics, some of which we understand, some of which we don’t, but we keep searching for more answers.
How can people survive their physical mortality?
There’s a lot of different ways this could be answered, but I think this is the most profound: Everyone lives forever in the effect that their lives had on the world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was recognized as a hero in his life, and Adolf Hitler was recognized as a villain in his. Now, decades after their deaths, one of them is still remembered as a hero, and the effects of his life are still benefiting people. The other is still remembered as a villain, and people are still trying to erase the effects his life had on the world.
How can people build strong families and healthy communities?
A good place to start is by learning about things like physics, environmental science, child psychology, and human sciences in general. Then, just act the way people do on Sesame Street. It’s really not that difficult.
How can people make themselves feel satisfied with their lives?
Well that’s up to you to figure out. Obeying the laws of physics is always a good idea. Another good trick is abandoning traditional religious morality that doesn’t serve any purpose anymore. You can drink and have sex all you want now without undermining society or messing up your life, so long as you do it responsibly and avoid all those big time negative consequences that can come with either of those.
Buddhism throws in a couple of unusual twists that at first glance seem to disprove two of the universal constants of religion, even though they doesn’t really.
What makes the universe work?
Nothing. The universe sprang forth out of nothing, and we are all nothing.
How can people escape their physical mortality?
You can’t. When you die, you cease to exist.
While it is true numerically speaking that “nothing” means “the absence of anything”, once you give that nothing a name, it becomes something, because it becomes an idea that people can think about.
Likewise, the ultimate goal of asking, “How can people escape their physical mortality?” is to find an answer to the question. Once you answer the question, you give the people something they can prepare themselves for. They survive their physical mortality by learning to accept it. Once you accept that the force that powers the universe is called “nothing”, and you accept that when you die you become “nothing”, you’ve accepted that when you die you become one with the force that powers the universe. Change a couple of words around there and suddenly we’re talking about Christianity.
See what I mean about every religion in the world being a different sect of one universal religion of humanity?
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