We saw how evolution played an essential part in developing animals and plant species throughout history. While evolution took place, we saw Adam appear and multiply, producing descendants interbreeding with other hominids.
However, evolution affects not only nature but also human beliefs. Hundreds of years ago, humankind witnessed significant world religions suffered schism as they broke up into so many congregations and factions, each claiming to be better than the others.
Prehistoric religion, too, faced the same situation as it morphed from a simple faith into complicated rituals.
The origin of religion
Anthropologists and historians believed prehistoric people had practiced religion since appearing on the earth about 3.5 million years ago. They thought prehistoric religions arose out of fear and wonder about natural events, such as storms and earthquakes and the birth of babies and animals.
To explain why someone died, people credited supernatural powers more significant than themselves or other natural forces around them. Prehistoric people centered their religious activities on the most critical elements of their existence, such as tribe prosperity and survival.
Ritual activities, such as burials of early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals as early as 300,000 years ago, relate to religious ideas that date back several hundred thousand years. They also thought symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age found in Africa to be associated with religious beliefs.
However, the earliest recorded evidence of religious activities such as the Venus figurines and cave paintings from Chauvet Cave dates from only 50,000 years ago. During this period, Homo sapiens developed arts and language. With this new knowledge, they drew pictures and performed dances that promoted women and animals’ fertility and ensured good hunting. They also described god visually.
Religious evolution, according to leading scholars
Edward Burnett Tylor was a British anthropologist of the 1800s. According to Tylor’s theory, ancient people believed spirits dwelled in and controlled all things in nature. For example, they thought spirits lived in such objects or forces or plants, the wind, volcanoes, and the sun. Tylor called the spirits animae, and his theory became known as animism.
Prehistoric people, Tylor said, explained such occurrences as windstorms and the change from days to night as the actions of the spirits. Because many of the objects and forces are impressive or powerful, people worship their spirits. According to Tylor, religion originated in this worship.
Friedrich Max Muller, a German-born language scholar of the 1800s, is often considered the first historian of religion. Muller agreed with Tylor that religion began as spirit worship. But he rejected Tylor’s view that the earliest people believed spirits dwelled in nature.
He began with words and their meanings and sought to show how the idea of gods eventually emerged from them. In his view, human beings first encountered the infinite when they perceived and named objects that were intangible, such as the Sun, Moon, and stars, or semi-tangible, such as mountains, rivers, seas, and trees.
Instead, Muller suggested prehistoric people thought that the force of nature themselves had human qualities, such as good and bad temper. People thus transformed these forces into deities. In this way, Muller explained the earliest belief in gods.
Wilhelm Schmidt was an Austrian anthropologist of the 1900s. Schmidt claimed that the idea of deity grew out of a belief that human life comes from one divine source. Early people understood this source to be the Creator of the world and everything in it. Schmidt’s theory thus states that religion originated in the belief in one God rather than in many deities.
Schmidt explained his theory of primitive monotheism, the belief that primitive religion among all tribal peoples began with an essentially monotheistic concept of a high god called a sky God who was a benevolent creator. Schmidt theorized human beings believed in a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of Heaven and Earth before men and women worshipped several gods:
In the beginning
I think I accept Muller’s theory of how religion originated. By 500,000 BC, hominids might know how to control fire and bury their dead, but this does not prove they are aware of the divine being.
Sixty thousand years ago, Homo sapiens became conscious of their surroundings because of Adam. After Adam’s appointment as God’s first viceroy, Adam became knowledgeable about art and language.
But Adam did not abandon his faith in God. Probably he had directly communicated with his Creator or inspired to remain obedient to Him. Several generations later, after Adam was no longer around, his descendants continued to serve God as Adam had done.
Homo-sapiens new power
Soon men felt proud of their abilities. With their knowledge of art and language, men became arrogant. Since art is a creative work that communicates meaning beyond language, they had the urge to represent God with visual imagery, a compulsion challenging to suppress. They couldn’t accept serving the invincible God.
Homo sapiens related their experiences through stories to their younger generations with a firm command of the language. I believed God, his Creator, had reminded Adam to tell the truth, and Adam must have conveyed this message to his descendants. However, later generations of Adam mixed their stories with facts and fantasies. Every society had its stories about creation, each with a different twist.
The spiritual life of past people was supposed to be simple; serve the One God, tell the truth, and do righteous deeds. However, as time passes, Homo sapiens became bored with this simplicity compared to their knowledge.
The end results
Men became creative with art and language and started introducing new ideas, even doctrines, to their stories to explain what they had experienced and what is unexplainable. Then new generations came along, introducing and adding another round of innovation they thought to be better than their predecessors.
All these ideas became mixed up and became more complicated while the later generations kept adding newer beliefs and doctrines into the stories. To complement the stories told, men shaped artifacts and figurines and declared all these to be the image of gods or goddesses.
Despite creating from clay the image of their deities, they still believed in the unseen One God told by their forefathers. Soon the artifacts and figurines they created with images of gods and goddesses were relegated to become lesser deities. These figurines will act as intermediaries for the One God because He is too high to be contacted!
Jason noticed the crowd has become silent but interested. He saw a woman in front of him who was smiling at him and very engrossed in what he had to say. Jason noticed she was sweet and pretty and got distracted for a while. He coughed and continued.
“But I prefer to accept William Schmidt’s theory. Schmidt was an Austrian Catholic priest who had deep knowledge of cultural linguistics. He traveled around the world; visited and mixed with different tribes; and found out all these primitive people, before being exposed to Christianity and Islam, did worship a high spirit, which they usually termed as the Only One! He was so holy and mighty that it was impossible to visualize him.”
The Viceroys of God: Chapter 4, Page 47