In What Ways Can Religion Be Explained In Evolutionary Terms?

1168 words - 5 pages

Religion is a very controversial subject, one that has led to war, mass murders, political movements, and various other events that shape human history. How did something that has created such an impact on our species come into existence? The goal of this discussion is first to examine the various information we have of hominid species up to the Neanderthals and humans to assess the division between when the first signs of religion arose in hominid evolution. The next goal is to briefly outline cognitive and lithic evidence explaining the religion of these two species in the Upper Paleolithic. The object of this analysis is to assess the progression of religious ideas through evolution and, in turn, come to some conclusion as to what advances aided religion.Before one can remark on the advances of religion through the evolutionary latter, one must have a clear definition of what constitutes religion. For the purpose of this analysis, let us use Edward B. Tytlor's definition of religion which is namely the capability of " the belief in Spiritual Beings." For a species to be able to have religion, however simplified that religion may be, it must be capable of having culture. In addition to culture, the species must be proven to be capable of some sort of symbolic or abstract thought. We cannot assume that culture is what draws the line between what does and does not constitute a species' capability for religion. This is due to the fact that certain chimpanzees have been known to carry out the most simplified forms of culture (mMarshack, A.).To accurately analyze religion through evolutionary terms, we must first take a very brief and simplified look at the progression of early humans until Homo sapiens. From approximately six to four and a half million years ago a species existed that carried qualities linking humans to apes. We have no evidence of this species, but scientists must assume the species, which is quite accurately termed the missing link, existed. From about 4.5 to 1.8 million years ago, we observe Homo habilis using tools to butcher animals. At about 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus enters the scene, a taller larger-brained species, descended from Homo habilus. The arrival of this species is observed in East Africa, China, Java, in addition to the Near East, Eastern, and Southeast Asia. There has been evidence in practically every location that this species did utilize tools. From erectus comes Homo heidelbergensis, a similar species with a larger build. More intricate types of tools such as handaxes were used by this species ( Mithen, S.).Though the distinction between these two eras are vague, around 200, 000 years ago, what we refer to as the 'Middle Paleolithic' separates the 'Lower Paleolithic',. What primarily composes this separation is this use of more types of advanced tools such as shaped flakes and points of stones. Finally, 150,000 years ago, Homo neanderthalensis, more commonly known as Neanderthals, appear using tools...

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