4/17/2005

Evolution of Religion

This post is essentially a long comment on the Godol's latest. While I agree w/ most (as usual), I have a couple of bones to pick.

1) I don't think that Judaism evolved a systematic afterlife because of the dread of death. I think the perceived injustice of this life mandated the belief that there's a final reckoning where the righteous and wicked reap what they sowed.

2) On the paragraph:

A notion you read about a lot in literature about religion (as opposed to
religious literature) is that one of the primary reasons for religion is
fear of death. The theory is that mankind is so terrified of death that they
made up religion to give them an afterlife.

I agree with the premise, but think that think type of psychology of religion misses a crucial point. Start with the following question: Why haven't animals besides humans evolved a concept of an afterlife in order to deal with their dread of death? It's pretty clear that animals don't really ask themselves questions about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of life. They're not terrified of death because they aren't bothered by the potential futility of their own existence, because they don't have an existential need to be meaningful.
humans, however, ARE bothered. People start asking all sorts of great questions from about age 3, and only stop when they're taught not to ask questions. Questioning is natural for humans. They, apparently, need the world to be comprehensible in a very fundamental way.

So the psychologists of religion can posit that GIVEN the human need for a comprehensible world, they are driven to theological systems, creating evolutionary pressure for religion to develop. But I'm asking a question on that given: Why do humans need a comprehensible world? What forced humans out of the mainstream of the animal kingdom and into this angst-ridden existence of dread and meaning? Can evolution account for it? I'm having a hard time figuring out how.
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