Re: Testability of Religious Assumptions: An Hypothesis

Gregory Grant (
20 Feb 1995 16:52:38 GMT

In article <3i92jf$>
(Eyetulman) writes:
> 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 - it s a pain in the
> 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
> 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
> 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
> offerings in exchange for rain, but he now can move in mysterious
ways .
> His reasoning becomes unfathomable, thus, our assumptions about him
> untestable.
> We no longer slaughter children to insure the harvest (thank God).
> But God has become just that much more unreachable.
> - Mike Eitelman

Mike, this idea is taken to a more sophisticated level in
Dawkins book _The Selfish Gene_ in the last chapter where
he talks about _memes_, which are like genes, except they
are ideas. Like genes they evolve subject to survival of
the fittest.