Evolution is one of those ideas that is very complicated and has caused much of a debate among almost everyone. Regardless of what you believe there is another side of evolution that I think gets left in the wake, and that is the social and environmental evolution that created our society.
A while back I found two different articles. Both basically talk about the same thing, that a belief in the supernatural, and or a supreme deity helped shape society. This may sound odd but let’s take a look at what these article are saying.
One of the most amazing evolutionary advantages we as humans have been able to exploit is our ability to work together. There are studies that show that working together helped us in so many ways from raising young to finding food, and that these advantages helped ensure our survival. During our early development these skills were used for basic survival, but once we were past those aspects there needed to be something else to solidify our ability to work together. What could be so strong as to force people to work together and build a society, not only that but keep them in line and out of trouble. Below is an excerpt from one of the articles:
Whatever the case may be, both sides agree that supernatural punishment plays a vital role in the growth of societies. Threats motivate groups to coalesce and cooperate, and phantom forces encourage and maintain social order.
A supernatural belief system, is what researchers believe was able to fill this void. This system was used for many reasons one being, to instill fear in the normal population to keep them in line. I am not saying this was the only reason, but one of benefits of the belief system. Throughout human history similar belief systems were indirectly used to keep the populace under control. I am not saying this is some sort of conspiracy theory. Again this was more of a byproduct of the way things worked out.
You better do what I say or the whatever spirit will destroy your crops, you better not steal that bread because the so and so god is watching. It was things like these that instilled fear into a population and more or less kept them from destroying society. In a roundabout way these beliefs gave people an inflated sense of morality that help our species build our great society in the worst times, which is when this would play the biggest part.
There is another interesting question that the articles prose:
Does a belief in big gods spur societal complexity, or do big gods simply emerge in complexity’s wake?
This is a very interesting question. Based on my limited research, I would say that the two almost have to go hand in hand. In a state of nature such a belief system would have almost no place nor have any advantage one way or the other. If you were the father of a family in a state of nature and was extremely religious and spent many hours a day praying and engaging in other religious activities those could be valuable hours that could be spent tending the crops or what have you.
However, again as mentioned above, if it was used to get groups of people to work together and create a common goal, then it suddenly becomes infinitely more valuable. I think this theme is used in the movie Book of Eli, Carnegie, Gary Oldman, is after a copy of a bible so he can use it to unite the people. Without it they are back in a state of nature where everyone is fending for themselves, they need something to bring them together. It is hard to convince a person to share some of their food just because. But if I tell you that if you share some of your food, you will get a reward when you die, the omnipotent man in the sky will reward you with eternal happiness. All I need is just a little food and you will get your reward. Then that deal is suddenly a little more viable.
This sounds silly, but look at ISIS. Their whole insane ideals are based on these principles, and you can see how powerful they are. If I could convince you that if you do what I say you will get forty virgins in heaven when you die. What young boy would not be excited about that? Again you can see the power of these ideals.
The more I think about this it is very interesting, as these ideas are responsible for the birth of civilization and more importantly to understand them is to understand our psychological development through history. That is what I think is so fascinating. If you look back throughout human history there is always a set of beliefs that follow every major civilization, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, and Babylonians, I could go on. So why is that the case, why do civilizations have these belief systems? Back to the question above, is this belief, the belief in something supernatural, something omnipotent, engrained in our DNA? Or is it simply a byproduct of any developing intelligent civilization? Is this the natural progression of things, and if it is a natural progression is there a point to where these ideals are no longer valid or have any merit or usefulness in our society?
It is safe to say that as our society has grown and much has changed since its birth. I have to wonder if we are entering a point in our social development where these beliefs are no longer needed for the purposes they evolved. Studies suggest that this may be the case, although I am not altogether certain what “less religious” really means. Still though I wonder if that we are reaching a point where these beliefs are almost detrimental to the advancement of our society, both physically, but more importantly socially. There is a large portion for the world where women are still discriminated against almost unjustly so, and the main reason is because of the belief system that is in place in these countries. Again I would argue that this is obviously bad for those involved, but even more so as we try to take the next steps in our evolution, whatever they may be. Some say we are on the verge of the technologically singularity, or cracking our DNA and possibly becoming immortal, yet we are still stoning people in these countries for alleged crimes without a trial. I mean really! I also use the word “crimes” in this case very loosely.
Could there be a time in the near future when for a variety of reasons religion is nonexistent? Would that be such a bad thing for our society? Have these belief systems run their course and done their job, and now it is up to us to realize that their usefulness has run its course? Only time will tell…