In what ways can religion be explained in evolutionary terms?

Essay by Riviera8429University, Bachelor's December 2002

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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...