Sunday, October 3, 2010

Origins and Evolution of Religion

As it is a rather popular topic, I decided to write some more about this repulsive antithesis of reason. You might find this post boring but it might give some more insight into why religion is the way it is. Perhaps you will find interesting the fact that evolution of religion mirrors greatly the evolution of living creatures. Bear that in mind while reading this.


The right eye of a giant bird-god.
..Or it's a large ball of hydrogen.
The first "religious" memes came into existence when a member of some primitive tribe of apes claimed that they figured out some of the following: volcanoes, thunder and lightning, the wind, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, disease etc. Their explanations included magic, giant/invisible humanoids, anthropomorphic animals etc. (Most of them have since left religion because science explained it all.) Some of the reasons why people come up with and spread such nonsense, include:

  • Desire to impress or deceive (cf. "bullshit")
  • Mental disorders
  • Mushrooms, yopo, virola, cannabis ...

The first one listed being by far the strongest. I rarely encounter people who readily admit that they do not know, they bullshit instead. Impressing others is of vital importance to the continuation of the species, and no one is impressed by ignorance.

But why would anyone believe any of it? Well, the human brain is not perfect, it's a kludge. We tend to believe authority figures (especially when we are children), we tend to conform to the majority, we make plenty of logical fallacies, we tend to not understand large numbers, probabilities etc. I will come back to this point in a future post.

The crucial meme of religion is the idea that death is actually not the end of life. It's a very pleasing idea to someone whose main fear is death*. It is so pleasing that it is almost certain to occur and spread.

The first religion is formed by connecting several such memes. E.g. "when you die, you join the bird-god".
*Fear of death and desire to live are products of evolution. People who have neither tend to die without progeny, it's as simple as that.


Once you have this basic "organism" called religion, the evolution takes care of the rest. New memes can be added and mutations can occur on existing memes, changing them a little bit. This organism will be attacked by reason and by other religions that contradict it. Its fate is either to perish, as the vast majority of religions have, or to evolve. Religions today are the lucky ones that have evolved rather than perished. Just like living organisms, they have adapted to their surroundings.

A nice example are the Abrahamic religions. A mutant child called Christianity was born and it had Hell, and eternal love and forgiveness. It might not make much sense but that does not matter. It works. That's why it's still there. If you join them, they promise salvation and if you don't, they promise eternal fire. It is an effective weapon against atheism, agnosticism and many religions. The other offspring, Islam, was born with additional mutations: Muhammad was the last prophet and apostasy means death. These are even more effective. Had any peaceful religion been born in that area in place of Islam it would have perished. Islam, and religion in general, is a product of its surroundings.


  1. its to control, purely. also apparently man is wired in such a way to believe in a greater being than himself.

  2. Love the new content - you always provide such challenging and rewarding subjects of thought.

  3. interesting thoughts... I'm usually very interested in every religous debate so a few new infos are nice :D

  4. Don't really care about religion myself. If a person feels that religion helps them live their life better, then I don't conemn it. Forcing it unto others is just wrong, though.

  5. I'm not a religious man myself, but I love studying and debating all types of religious topics. I'm glad I found this blog.

  6. Bro, your words are music to my ears. Keep fighting!

  7. " Some of the reasons why people come up with and spread such nonsense, include:

    Desire to impress or deceive (cf. "bullshit")
    Mental disorders
    Mushrooms, yopo, virola, cannabis ..."

    I love that, made me laugh.

  8. I remember an "ah-ha" moment in school. We were going over ancient mythology and the teacher said that it was the way ancient cultures explained things they didn't understand "that the gods did it." And I thought "doesn't that apply to the judeo-christian god?" I never brought it up because i lived in the South and i would have gotten my ass kicked.

  9. I was training to be a priest once! but meh!!

  10. Ever heard of the religion gene? Science is finding that some carry this gene and that is why they need religion.

    One would think as sophisticated as our species has grown, as technologically advanced, that religion would be placed where it always gets placed once used up... with mythology.

    However, no matter how logical and rational an argument against mythology in favor of science, some just can't make the connection. Thus, a built-in need for religion a la the religion gene.

    Seriously, we all think of the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as mere child's play. Why then do some hang on to a silly story of a space alien zombie? The religion gene... or anosognosia. Read about it at my blog:

    /end shameless plug

  11. But we couldn't have evolved from monkeys! Why are there still monkeys then, huh? I mean, why are there still fish, before the monkeys? I mean, why are there still single-celled organisms, before the fish? I mean...

  12. When people debating me pull out the "why are there still monkeys line I purposefully laugh in their face. Practice your most scornful, condescending laugh and use it then. Then calmly explain why they're wrong. But laugh first.

  13. im finding myself more and more inerested as i read on, i've always been a sceptic and this is really forfilling

  14. I'll bite: I'm religious. BUT your article is incredible written and though out... kudos for that.

  15. I rather enjoyed this. Very informative, and funny at times as well. Keep up the good work.

  16. i like that phrase you used... "religious memes"

  17. Nice post.

    I, personally, am agnostic and sit back and let people believe what they want to believe.

    It makes them happy and I'm fine with that. Also, the world is full of religious extremists who would rather die than believe a word that went against their beliefs, so there's really nothing that can be done about it.

  18. religous beliefs truly are the origin of all evil :(