An Addendum

. . . to yesterday’s post, since I likely won’t have time to write a substantial post today.  I left off a final point: that atheism, or naturalism, not only does not require any advanced science to support it–the ancient world had plenty of nontheistic philosophies, like the Stoics and (alas) the original Cynics–but is likely more ancient than theism, or even belief in the supernatural as such.

This should not be surprising; naturalism is far more intuitive than the notion of invisible forces acting imperceptibly to alter the obvious natural order of things.  Anyone can see that the rain comes from dark clouds, that spring follows winter, and that dropped objects invariably strike the ground sooner or later.  That nature is rhythmic and largely regular is obvious.

Now, I have only three data points to support this, because I have not read substantively on the subject.  One: certain modern hunter-gatherers in Africa (a few remain) have no concept of deities or an afterlife.  When questioned on the subject, they invariably reply that a dead person is gone forever.

Two: some of the most stubborn atheists on earth belong to a technologically primitive South American tribe called the Piraha.  Missionaries have been visiting them for decades, and never made a single convert.  When told of God or Jesus, they demand visible proof, and ridicule the notion when said proof is not offered.  But the Piraha are no Western-style skeptics; in fact, they cling quite tenaciously to their traditions, even when shown a demonstrably superior and attainable technology.

Three: the “religion” of the somewhat-more-advanced (in the sense of social organization) Plains Indians was not as religious as New Agers make it out to be, and in fact offers something of a middle point between religion proper and flat unbelief.  As I understand it, they did not view the sun, sky, buffalo, etc. as gods per se, but as impersonal forces which could be exploited by the correct ritual.  Interestingly, these same tribes also supposedly lacked a sense of moral absolutes; there were no fixed right and wrong, only actions, consequences and the expectations of one’s tribe-mates.

Now, these three points do not a coherent argument make.  They only suggest a hypothesis I have not had the time or resources to investigate: that religious belief only develops in societies which have reached a certain level of sophistication.  Anybody know anything about this?


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