The Evolution Of Adam’s (Modern Humans) Religion – OpEd


Pre-human Homo Sapiens people have walked out of Africa for hundreds of thousands of years, and we have evidence for early (pre-human) Homo Sapiens in Greece and the Levant from around 200,000 years ago. But these earlier exits were overprinted by a big exit around 60-70,000 years ago, which involved the ancestors of all modern people who live outside of Africa today.

This 60-70,000 year ago exit from Africa in described in the Book of Genesis as: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our (spiritual) image, in our (moral) likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own (moral) image, in the image of God He created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over (dominate) the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28) 

For the first time ever Homo Sapiens humans fulfilled God’s commandment to; “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” by spreading from Africa and reaching and settling in North America, South America and Australia. 

A great deal of unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding has been caused by the careless use of the terms ‘human’ and ‘man’ to describe the increasing number of fossil finds of tool using biped primate species, some of them ancestral to Homo Sapiens. I shall try to refer to each distinct species by its scientific name only. 

Most people think that the name ‘human’ or ‘mankind’ should be reserved only for our own species-Homo Sapiens. Not using the name ‘human’ and ‘man’ carelessly would help resolve some of the conflict between Darwinists and many religious people. On the other hand, religious people can find new insights into the teachings of Genesis by understanding the evolution of spirituality. 

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote: “Sociologists studying the religions of primitive (polytheistic) societies concluded that the earliest forms of religion evolved not so much to connect people to God, as to connect people to other people.” This is still one of the most important benefits of ongoing religious rituals and frequent community celebrations and prayer.

All sentient beings are able to respond to the challenges of life. In each species some individuals respond to new environmental challenges better than others do; and their descendants increase. All sentient beings that are conscious, are capable of learning from the challenges of life. They can improve themselves. A few are even able to show others what they have learned and thus improve their group and their descendants’ chances of survival. These species have developed cultural ways of meeting life’s challenges.

One very important challenge is also the ultimate one: death. Homo Sapiens is the only living species that knows in advance that death is inevitable. Genesis 2:17 teaches “on the day you eat it (the tree of knowledge of good and evil you will know) you will surely die.” Elephants, Chimpanzees and Orangutans have been observed to mourn for a dead child, but no other living species practices ritual burial. The intelligent minds of HS responded to the death of loved ones by creating funeral rites and rituals of ancestor worship. 

Evidence from Qafzeh cave in northern Israel of ritual burial and grave goods (red ocher and mollusk shells of an inedible species) goes back 100 -110,000 years or more. These funeral rituals brought comfort and solace to the mourners. Funeral rituals also had the important effect of strengthening group solidarity at a time when leadership might be challenged and changing. Strengthening group solidarity reduced internal conflict and violence thus increasing the chances of raising children to adulthood.   

We now know that anxiety and stress weaken the immune system and increase the chances of not surviving an otherwise survivable illness. Anything that reduces anxiety and stress increases survival rates. The self-conscious fear of illness is the second challenge religious spirituality meets and this is one key reason religious behavior became ubiquitous. Illness, especially mental illnesses that tend to be chronic rather than fatal, provided serious challenges to the intelligent minds of HS. Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Bipolar Disorders and other brain diseases occur in at least 2-3% of the population worldwide. 

Thus there should be at least one or two cases in every band of 50-100 people. Severe cases are very scary and disabling, but the intelligent minds of HS could react to the challenge of mild cases with a variety of rituals and practices that served to alleviate symptoms through mind-body interactions that we recognize today as placebo faith healing. 

Placebo faith healing works primarily by reducing pain through endorphin release and increasing the strength of an individual’s immune response, which is weakened by stress and anxiety. Only HS are known to be capable of placebo spiritual healing. Among HS today only a minority of individuals are able to heal themselves with the aid of placebo faith healing. The believers hope that ritual can heal and their trust in a healer are powerful factors that frequently bring about improvement. But with the support of a community of believers and a tradition that enhances their individual hope and trust, results would be even better. 

A cure, either short or long term, isn’t the only outcome in faith healing. A ceremony itself can reduce many of the side effects of the illness such as depression, stress, anger and negativity. This often ameliorates symptoms and brings relief. Chronic illness negatively impacts the immune system and eventually increases death rates. Long periods of chanting, dancing, fasting and meditation help induce altered states of consciousness that promote ritual faith healing that in turn ameliorates symptoms for many people suffering from chronic mental and physical illnesses. This reintegrates the ‘possessed’ into a support group and reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and reduces death rates.

Elders of each family unit, usually in the home, regularly carry on ancestor worship to this day in East Asian religions. Shamans however, were called in as specialists for unusual situations. These Shamans were the first professionals. Their disciples were their most successful patients. Shamans in different bands and tribes most likely exchanged experiences and techniques with each other. Recent outcomes of psychotherapy studies have shown that Native American Healers have cure rates similar to those of modern clinical psychologists.

Sex is never simply a natural act of reproduction for HS. The mind is always involved. It is not just chance that the first situation HS becomes self-aware of in the Garden of Eden is being naked. HS is the only living species that clothes itself. Evidence of textiles from more than 20,000 years ago has been found in the cold climates of ice age Europe. However, the origins of clothing in Africa are not the result of ice age climate but the result of concepts of modesty. Self-aware intelligent minds became moral minds and then became modest minds.

The age when sexual modesty became evident is important. The Bible states that the first thing humans became aware of after internalizing the knowledge of good and evil was their nakedness. If this occurred 50-60,000 years ago it fits right in with increasing evidence of more rapid spiritual and technological development. The tool kit of Homo Erectus, a species prior to HS, changed very slowly over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. 

Early HS tools changed more quickly over the course of tens of thousands of years. But about 50-70,000 years ago the pace of change increased substantially for HS both technologically and spiritually. Many paleoanthropologists think that a major improvement in linguistic ability occurred about that time. Physically the HS body has not changed much in the last 100,000 years. 

The HS body 20,000 years before this transition period (50-70,000 years ago) is not different from the HS body 20,000 years after the transition. But a major change did occur in artistic and other cultural activities during this time span. Perhaps the imaginative faculties of HS grew substantially during this period thus causing inspiration and creativity to become more frequent and more rapidly spread. That something very important happened about 50-70.000 years ago is clear even if we do not yet have evidence of exactly what happened. 

I have not devoted much attention to the development of beliefs about God in this essay. First of all, we know next to nothing about the God concepts of prehistoric humans. Second, while beliefs about God are of great concern to Monotheists, most other religions focus much more attention on myths about the interactions between the Gods, magic and anti-magic rituals, dietary self-discipline, public and private life cycle rituals, standards of social and personal behavior, healing sickness and sin, and community ceremonies and celebrations. 

Formal creeds and religious beliefs are a small and recent development within the much larger domain of feelings of trust and group loyalty that have been evolving among primates for hundreds of thousands of years. Recent brain studies have shown how biologically organic trust and sharing are to human minds. Activities that build group loyalty and interpersonal trust enhance individual survival and promote individual spirituality much more than cognitive beliefs and ideologies. 

But urbanization, writing and mass communications may be changing this. Written revelation introduced a tremendous force expanding the power of religion both in space and time. The development of a class of religious scholars who study sacred scriptures and attempt to spread the sacred teachings among the people only happens when a religion has a “book”. The impact of religions with written revelations on historic human culture is comparable to the impact of modern science and invention on 20th century lifestyles. Both together will make the 21st century a turning point in human destiny.
What role does God (the One God of the three Abrahamic religions) play in all this? According to Genesis 4:26 humans only began to call upon the name of the Lord in the days of Enosh. That could mean that prior to Enosh prehistoric religions evolved naturally. Only with the rise of scriptural revelations did the One God enter into human consciousness. 

Or it could mean that human consciousness had risen to the level of being able to receive Divine communication from the One God. It took over 3,000 years for monotheism to spread world-wide even with scriptural revelations, so it is not surprising that it took 100,000+ years to get humans ready to receive monotheistic revelations.  

There are scholars who think that HS-advanced trade networks helped them out-compete Homo Neanderthals in Europe. The need for all the clans to show up about the same time leads to fixed seasonal holy days and a religious calendar. The need to mark time for pilgrimage festivals led people to study the cycle of the moon and the movement of the constellations and thus to move some of the spirit powers into the sky. Up to 10-15,000 years ago an impressive natural wonder like a mountain or a very noticeable tree served as a holy place for pilgrimage.

Another human survival benefit of pilgrimage sites is that they periodically bring people together from very distant places; which then promoted marriage arrangements that helped reduce the negative impact of large scale inbreeding that results from people living in small hunter/gather bands. A report in the journal Science (October 2017), found genetic evidence that early humans seem to have recognized the dangers of inbreeding at least 34,000 years ago, and developed surprisingly sophisticated social and mating networks to avoid it. 

This might be evidence of God’s interaction/providence in action. “We designated for Abraham the site of the (Holy) House: “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawwaf and those who stand (in prayer) and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj (pilgrimage); they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” (Qur’an 22:26-7)

Spirituality among Homo Sapiens has been evolving for at least 100-150,000 years. It is as deeply, if not more deeply rooted, in the HS brain as are art and music. Studies on adult twins raised apart, suggest genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person’s general religiousness. 

The idea that reason, socialism or modern science would replace spiritual and religious thinking has turned out to be a wish fulfillment fantasy of people many of whom bear a grudge against religion and spirituality. Science is atomistic and analytic whereas religion is synthetic and integrative. Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean. We need both of these two different ways of thinking.

Religious rituals and ideas are ubiquitous among HS and continue to evolve as the creative intelligent minds of Homo Sapiens encounter changes in their environment. This will most likely continue as long as HS have creative intelligent minds. Or as Albert Einstein put it: “What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in asking it? I answer, people who regard their own life and that of their fellow creatures as meaningless, are not merely unfortunate, but almost disqualified for life.” (The World as I See It, Sacramento, Ca. Citadel Press, 1993 p.5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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