Testability of Religious Assumptions: An Hypothesis

Eyetulman (eyetulman@aol.com)
19 Feb 1995 22:34:07 -0500

I have a scenario for the evolution of the untestability of
assumptions in religion. Post any responses in the newsgroup, but also
e-mail them directly to me as Eyetulman@aol.com - it€s a pain in the butt
to sort through all those postings. Here goes:

The untestability of assumptions in religion evolved as a sort of
survival mechanism - for religion itself. Early (what some would call
€primitive€) religions were centered around the idea that the gods, or the
spirits, or the ancestors - whatever - could be petitioned or appeased
directly to affect the course of events in this world. [e.g. - The rain
god brings or withholds rain at his whim. Give him what he wants, and
we€ll always have enough rain to grow our crops.] This particular
religious assumption is ultimately testable, but it€s a safe assumption if
you live in a climate with a dependable rainy season. What the rain god
wants for appeasement could be anything - water, wine, animal sacrifice,
human sacrifice. In fact, the offering itself could evolve over the
centuries from direct sympathetic magic (water for water) to analogous
magic (a human€s lifeblood for the lifeblood of our civilization).
If for some reason the climate changes (I could, but I won€t, go
off on a several-page tangent here -- I€m thinking specifically of the
Moche culture of pre-Columbian S. America), the appeasement is shown for
the shot-in-the-dark it originally was. As it becomes obvious that the
rain god won€t come across anymore, the religion dies out. Maybe the
culture, too. All that€s needed is a change in circumstances for an
appeasement religion to be shown as bankrupt.
In this way, there would be a force tending to make religions
evolve toward ambiguity. The less well defined the outcome of divine
intercession, the easier it is to claim success. God no longer accepts our
offerings in exchange for rain, but he now can €move in mysterious ways€.
His reasoning becomes unfathomable, thus, our assumptions about him become
We no longer slaughter children to insure the harvest (thank God).
But God has become just that much more unreachable.

- Mike Eitelman