A common question asked of many Atheists is how can human beings be the only species on the entire planet that is self-aware and able to reason if God did not have a hand in it. Actually, it’s a very good question and it is one that is asked by some very intelligent people. On the surface, it might seem a difficult question to answer because every living thing on this planet has been evolving and most of the species that exist have been around a lot longer than us. These creatures may have significanly evolved, but nonetheless, have not sauntered into a Starbucks to order a half cup of double half-caf decaf. Fundamentalist Christians believe that the ”spark” (our consciousness) which gave humanity our concept of “self” was a gift from god delivered to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Even the more moderate and progressive Christians who accept the theory of evolution credit god as the creator of all things, setting the process of evolution in motion and then at a precise moment in our evolution gave us the divine gift of consciousness. It is very common for believers to credit god for the unknown, particularly if it appears to be “supernatural”. This is especially true when they percieve a fortunate coincidence or the altruism of their fellow humans to be miraculous interventions by god in response to their supplications. Atheists, however, do not credit anything to the unknown. It is the point of view of the unbeliever that something is unknown because knowledge has not been discovered.
The development of our consciousness and why we believe in gods is the subject of much study in various scientific and psychological fields. There are several hypotheses regarding this issue and even the most implausible ones offer better ideas than “god did it”. It’s hard to ignore how easy it is for humanity to believe in a diety. It’s almost as if we were wired to believe. In that vein, there is one hypothesis that exists in the field of evolutionary psychology that offers a very plausible explanation, and it is a hypothesis that fits in very nicely with Natural Selection being the driving force behind the fact of all aspects of human evolution. This hypothesis, along with it’s supporting archeological evidence, suppposes that the “spark” from god that Christians believe gave us our ability to be self-aware was not a spark at all, but a very slow burn and has, obviously, nothing to do with anything supernatural at all.
There was a time in history that saw our species evolve from nomadic hunters and gatherers to tribal communities who used agriculture to survive, in addition to hunting skills. Farming did, indeed, change the world. The hypothesis puts forth that in spite of our ancestors evolving enough to hone agricultural, weapon production and construction skills, what we define as consciousness today did not start out with anything even remotely connected to a divine spark. Modern man possesses the ability to differentiate between the memory of a voice spoken in the past and a live voice coming from somewhere within hearing distance. This is due to both sides of our brain functioning together, as a whole unit. Because of this, we can store, recall and use what we have in our memories to aid us in making rational decisions. This interior reasoning between the two halves of our brain has been termed ”Unicamerality”.
During the time of our evolution from nomads to settlers, we did not possess this ability because we had no sense of an interior reasoning self. We did not possess the concept of “I”, and our ability to store information for later recall was limited to repetitive actions which were useful in our hunting skills, rudimentary farming skills and primitive cooking skills. Hunting skills were instinctive, including the knowledge on how to make a weapon. Modern primates will make similar crude weapons and hunt in much the same way we did at that time. But the ability to discern and reason by using memory recall, as well as the concept of self-awareness was not developed yet, except by one member of their society, and this was the village leader. Chiefs, so to speak. The tribal leader who had the ability to recall memory was the only one who had the ability to keep the tribe functioning as a single unit, a village. This is because he had the ability to give daily instructions using whatever form of primitive language that had developed. Though this ability was not undersood by the rest of the villagers, when the leader’s instructions were followed, the end result that things got done.
This leader was most likely male and every day he would remind the villagers what their daily responsibilities and activities were, which resulted in constant interaction. The need to instruct the villagers on a daily basis was necessary because our sense of “memory” was not perceived as a part of us, but as an externalized self. This is a consequence of the split between the two halves of our brain which had not yet evolved to think as a whole unit, or unicamerally. We were still bi-cameral beings. The left and right brains were not integrated the way they are today. The “two brains” worked independently of each other. The left half of the brain received instructions by the chief, and then were obeyed by the right half of the brain. There was no connection of individual thought to action.
Somewhere along the line, though, a series of unprecedented environmental stresses in the second millennium B.C. forced the two halves of the brain to merge into unicamerality. The link that was developed during this stage of our evolution developed into what we now define as “memory”. It allowed us to recall the commands that the Chief gave even after he died. This development of memory was a major step towards our evolving into thinking, rational beings
However, even though we knew the chief had died, we still did not have the mental acuity to understand why we remembered his commands. We did not say to ourselves, “Oh, I remember what the chief said”. Thus these commands were still perceived by the right brain as coming from somewhere “outside”—as if the Chief were still giving commands after he had died, and doing so directly into the consciousness of the individual. Naturally, this elevated the Chief from the status of leader to that of a “god”. The ability to communicate from beyond the grave was obviously something special. So our ancestors gave the deceased Chief special honor by burying him in a special grave, centrally located in their small village, because his instructions continued to provide the necessary things we needed to survive; food, shelter, weapons, armor, etc. It did not take very long to make the transition of believing that only instructions came from the dead chief, but that the dead chief was actually providing these things from beyond the grave. Bigger and more elaborate graves were constructed in the center of town and thus we have the rudimentary beginnings of a temple or church. It is an interesting fact that many of our modern towns were built around a central church, temple or mosque.
However, problems arose the first time when a crop yield was insufficient. The villagers had not made any discernable changes in their day-to-day lives, but because of some unknown reason the crops failed. The only connection they could make, being bi-cameral, was that the dead god-chief must be angry with them, as he is no longer providing for them. This was problematic and resulted in one of two responses. In some cases, a combination of the two. Either someone in the village was not pulling their weight and caused the god-chief to become angry or the god-chief was not satisfied with the attention being paid him and/or was somehow getting hungry. If someone was found behaving in a way that was perceived to anger the god-chief, they were blamed for the famine and the offending villager was killed for the good of the community. In the second scenereo, the god-chief being hungry, a portion of the crop yield was brought to the grave and put on a slab (later this became an altar) in the tomb, right in front of the body, which would have been either skeletenized or entombed in a casing, depending on geographical location and whatever local customs had evolved.
Along with these actions came a pleading to the god-chief to accept the apologies, gifts and sacrifices of the villagers and a request to restore the crop yield. This was the beginning of supplementary prayer. A subsequently successful crop resulted in the beginning of thanksgiving prayers, etc. These beliefs had gradually become burned into our DNA. Dogmas and doctrines began to take hold, and thus religions were born. The myriad of religions we have in our world today all hold commonalities that can be traced back to the origin of consciousness and the breakdown of the bi-cameral mind. Archaeological evidence has proven that many of the stories in our holy books were either non-existent, wildly inaccurate or just plain mythological.
Like a living organism, religions, particularly revealed religions, have evolved over the millennia, taking on parts and pieces of other religions. Christianity, for example, was infused with Hellenism during the time of Paul, and Dante did a wonderful job of transforming the myth of “the realm of the dead” to a horrifyingly hellish place in his work “Inferno”, which shaped the view of what hell is for millions of Christians worldwide.
One of the reasons why many Christians are so resistent to evolution can be traced back to influence of Plato’s “essence” hypothesis, which states that everything that exists in the material world is nothing but a shadow of a perfect example that exists in heaven. That even though there might be a hundred different varieties of rabbits, they are all merely imperfect shadows of a perfect rabbit, or the “essence of rabbit”. This Platonic influence in the development of Christian doctrine, the concept “each animal according to their kind” explains why most Christians cannot accept the fact that we share a common ancestor with a creature that would not even be recognized as a primate, let alone a human being. It is easier for them to believe something as ludicrous as god creating everything as it appears to us now less than ten thousand years ago.
As previously stated, Christians believe that humans were created by God as special, over and above the other animals. The fundamentalists believe that God himself breathed life up the nostrils of Adam, and many post-modern believers believe that consciousness was given to man somewhere along our evolutionary dvelopment. The hypothesis that religion was conceived by our ancestors out of thier inability to distinquish between a direct voice command and a memory of a voice command is a fairly solid one, although enough evidence has not yet been collected to qualify it as scientific theory. It is certainly plausable and a better explanation than what the bible teaches. Conclusively, this hypothesis credits the survival of religion to this day due to the DNA remnants of a bi-cameral mind which allows a Christian to believe that god speaks to them through a variety of venues and that god hears them when they pray. It also accounts for the ease that Christians have in believing in things like satan, angels, ghosts and the supernatural in general. It is also one of many reasons why they are so resistant to accept anything that serves to discredit thier beliefs.
For more information about this hypothesis, the archeology behind the formation of the monotheistic religions as well as more on the development of consciousness and the breakdown of the bi-cameral mind, click below:
The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of It’s Sacred Texts