God Evolved from Humans

September 1, 2010 § 19 Comments

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.

– Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

Since the beginning of human history, humankind has tried to make some sense of the things around us. We have an innate need to explain things on a level that other species have no concept of. Non-human animals react to their surrounds in a much simplified way to the manner in which we do, much closer to the stimulus-response mode, and each of course to a varying degree of complexity. No other species has the mental capacity to ask the questions that humans ask such as “What is water?” or “Why is fire hot?”. This is not to say that other species are not capable of thought, just that all species have a different understanding of what the world around them means.

Man without God

Man without God

For instance, cats and dogs make decisions based on the stimulus around them, as well as desire for attention and the feeling of belonging within their tribe or household. (There are thoughts that cats and dogs see you, the owner, as a big weird-looking cat or dog, one who provides for them or is a pack-leader.) But they will never ponder over where the can of cat or dog food came from, they only know that the taste is to their liking (or not) and that they get fed every afternoon at 5pm.

It is not really known what the evolutionary stimulus was which cause humans to move from a simpler “animal” psychology to something resembling human consciousness, only that it was probably not a single event but a series of small changes which took place over many generations. Some theories suggest that an earlier group of human ancestors took hallucinogens to “kickstart” the brain’s evolution to what we now know as human, allowing the primitive brain to think in a different way. Other theories include the idea that the act of standing upright was the catalyst for the species to evolve, because the primate was able to see further, and therefore a primate with a more developed spacial sense had an evolutionary advantage. See also the Aquatic Ape hypothesis for yet another idea on human evolution (this and many other hypotheses are widely disputed). Before the advent of this evolutionary step humanity’s ancestor was probably still quite clever in the animal kingdom, maybe even the cleverest, but until this time, questions would have been much more banal, and probably didn’t involve anything like the inner dialogue we use today when asking questions.

Humans are unique on this planet for the depth of inquiry we make into our surroundings, and in our ability to connect seemingly unrelated concepts, abstract them, and arrive at a new conclusion.The simple idea of taking the concept of the number “four” and the object “apple”, and then be able to count “four apples” takes an abstract path connecting simple maths to simple objects, all within the brain itself. I can even imagine four apples right now, and know most things about them, even if these four apples don’t exist physically.

Humans want to know why everything happens, or why anything is the way it is. But of course, in order to answer any question, we need to have some previous knowledge to draw upon in order to extract an answer. So we draw upon what we are most familiar with in order to reach our conclusions. And we are most familiar with ourselves, and those around us with whom we communicate.

All things took on a human face, and human characteristics. When a volcano erupted, humans would say “The mountain is angry!” When a human captured an antelope, they would say something like “The spirit of the antelope has given up its life so we can eat.”

The tree spirits, the water spirits, air spirits, the sun, the moon, the animals, the plants, all in the past were ascribed with human characteristics, because it was simply that we could recognise something of ourselves in them, some similarity between the way humans are and the way “other things” operated.

It is precisely because we are most familiar with ourselves that when we do not have an answer for something we ascribe a human face to it. Many ancient cultures not only gave human faces to the plants, animals and geography around us, but also to immaterial things like emotions and death. This helped us to understand things on at least some level, rather than wallowing in darkness of ignorance.

These “human” faces helped also with teaching others about themselves, for instance the storytelling of ancient cultures around the campfire. People could use the human/animal/plant/geological hybrids to teach their morality to each other, and also offered answers to questions which were beyond the knowledge of the societies. Over time, and varying from culture to culture, these stories became formalised and were recognised as the basis of histories and very fabric of these societies.

What was once our way to explain the unknown became over time the explanation for the world’s unpredictable nature, and therefore had power over humans and their destinies. For instance in a season of crop failure, because the ground was attributed with a human face, humans reasoned that the ground has human emotions too. What would make a human uncooperative would therefore also make the ground uncooperative. The reasoning may have gone something like this:

“Why is the ground spirit not helping us? Maybe the ground spirit was hungry? A human would be uncooperative when hungry, so why not feed it? We need to give it something of ours to appease it, and next time maybe the crops will be better! Let’s kill one of our goats and feed it to the ground.”

This is just an example of what may have happened in ancient cultures. What was once an attempt to understand what the ground was, it became a force with power over humans. Pass this idea on to the sun, the moon, the wind, the trees etcetera, and what was once an anthropomorphisation of what we didn’t understand has become gods. We birthed gods from our lack of understanding, and in an attempt to appease them, we created ritual and worship. After all, these gods were still like us only more powerful, and who wouldn’t like to be worshiped and fawned over?

As cultures and civilizations became more complex and advanced, these gods became the reason for just about everything humans had no power over; the material and corporeal (physical) events in life-like the growing of crops or the occasional storm; and the immaterial (emotional) things that effected them such as lust, jealousy and anger.

For instance, the ancient Greeks for example have a single human face to the sun, light and truth, as well as archery, music, healing and plague among other things, and called him Apollo. The Greeks held many festivals for Apollo over the period of each year, thanking him for such things as aiding Greek soldiers in battle, thanking him for bountiful crops (by offering up food and sacrificing animals), and other celebrations which would ask for a bountiful and fruitful year ahead. And Apollo was only one of dozens of gods and spirits that the Ancient Greeks believed in and worshiped. I imagine life in ancient Greece would be one big long party celebrating one deity or another.

The idea of many gods was eventually replaced by the idea that all the characteristics in the world that we didn’t understand could be attributed to a single spirit, a single God. This God was all-powerful and held sway over every aspect of our lives. This God was much more organised than the previous ones he replaced. He had a rulebook by which all men must live their lives, or be punished for it. While he loved to be worshiped, and would offer rewards for a good servant, much as a merciful king may have, this God was also wrathful, and would come down upon those who went against his laws. The laws specifically forbade certain activities, citing them as sinful, and the punishment for disobeying these laws was, more often than not, death or some other grizzly fate.

In fact, this God, while being attributed for the creation of everything, has a lot of very human characteristics including love, kindness, and mercy, as well as jealousy, wrath and vengeance. And he is cited as creating mankind “in his image”. Interesting.

So it would seem that humans started by attempting to understand the universe by giving it a human face and human traits, and now the face we once gave it is claimed to be given to us by it. It is almost a complete about-face, like the friends we have created have turned against us, and now hold dominion over our lives. That is, if you believe in God.

It is in human nature to attribute human traits to things around us. We like to understand as much as we can about our surrounds, about our world, and about our universe. We see faces in power sockets, and we hear voices in the wind. We think our pets love us. But we dismiss these things as paredolia and tricks of the mind, or just imposing ourselves onto animals and inanimate objects. We no longer think our fields need sacrifices in order to appease them, but we still try to appease God. And our societies have evolved so far from the ignorant early humans we started as, we understand so much, yet we still attribute the unknown to a spirit. We invented God to help us, not the other way around.

The face of God is not his, but our own, reflected in the shining questions we have about ourselves and our universe. Once we recognise ourselves in the reflection, then what of God?


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§ 19 Responses to God Evolved from Humans

  • Raithie says:

    “The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair. Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw, and could sculpture like men, then the horses would draw their gods like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.”


    I wrote a post about this exactly quite recently, albeit from a slightly different angle:

  • Fred Rocha says:

    Well put. Poetical and accurate.

    In Sid Meyer’s video game, Civilization, temples become obsolete with the discovery of the scientific method. Why this hasn’t happened in our society is one of the most fascinating questions dealing with sociology and religion.

  • Fergal says:

    ‘The idea of many gods was eventually replaced by the idea that all the characteristics in the world that we didn’t understand could be attributed to a single spirit, a single God.’
    Seems to me that from the POV of a committed atheist in the contemporary Western world, the shift to an Abrahamic patriarchal belief system was a pretty pivotal happening in terms of human suffering at the hands of organised religion (not that anyone else was or is more or less bloodthirsty, just that it’s more culturally relevant to me and thou) and the evolution of what passes for our current grasp of ethics. I’d be interested to see you explore this shift further.

    As an aside, if we ever catch up for a beer (it’s only been, what, 20 years?) remind me to rant drunkenly about the evolutionary disadvantages of intelligence and ‘consciousness’ 😉

    • Laurel says:

      You are right Ferg. Consciousness is a beast. Religion is just another way of humans dealing with being aware of our own mortality and the capriciousness of life. So is peyote, Prozac, meditation, coca leaves, chardonnay……

  • Mark Fyfe says:

    Once again well done, nice work.
    The next stage needs a new approach in education, academia and government to ensure that future society can build laws that are fair, compassionate, grounded and sane. The rights of individuals to make mistakes (freedom to believe in different stuff) is important as is the need that society is based in reality ie physical reality and an understanding of the human personnal emotional pseudo reality. There is a danger here with democracy, if the majority cannot tell the difference then some of us might be in the poo so to speak but hopefully science and measurable knowledge will win through eventually.

  • sapblatt says:

    Excellent post – well done

  • A little off topic I know, Marty, but your title made me think of my posts about Tipler’s “God Evolving from Humans” in a different sort of way – via computers, so i hope it’s ok to take the liberty of linking 🙂


  • Tsuken says:

    Nicely put, Marty. I especially like the last paragraph: clear, poetuc, and evocative.

    Good thoughts throughout, as well 8)

  • Infinitepyro says:

    The thing that annoys me about Atheists is that they think they’ve figured out everything and don’t try to act like y’all don’t cz y’all do. I was an atheist for 5 of my early adult years.
    My challenge to any atheist is, if you do not believe in the ethereal, it shouldn’t be too much trouble trying out one or two of the rituals spelled out in the Greater Key of Solomon now is it. Crowley said, “It is immaterial whether these things (gods, spheres, planes) exist or not. By doing certain things, certain results will follow.”
    I then became a Satanist bcz I realized I didn’t want God to exist bcz I hated Him and He must exist bcz Satan exists. But atheists r too weak to choose one side or the other. #pitiful

    • Karin says:

      ha ha, very funny @Infinitepyro, have I got this right?? You are now a satanist so you can get back at a god that you “chose” not to believe in for a while??? Errrrm okay….

    • infinitepyro says:

      I didn’t realise that I actually just hated God which caused me to refuse acknowledging His existence.
      I *was* a Satanist.

    • Rox1SMF says:

      Infinitepyro, you were never an atheist as long as you continued to believe in sentient, personal deities (like God or Satan). It’s all superstitious nonsense. Good luck with that!

  • It dawned on me that I was skeptical of religions when I was around 11; upon seeing the first religious book that wasn’t a bible. It was some Pagan book -don’t remember the name. After growing up in the deep south as a member of a huge Southern Baptist family, I was deeply curious to know more. Then began my quest to study other religions starting with Paganism. I admit that I tried it out for several years, and was as serious as possible about it. Not even once did anything ever make me feel or think that there was something greater than myself/other humans that was at work behind ‘everything’. No spells ever worked for me, no anything ever did. I even studied Satanism for many years, still read about it from time to time. Read all of Crowley’s books as well.
    It’s not the lack of results that led me to continue my studies; which took me to Buddhism and Taoism by my late teens. It’s the lack of the plain and simple fact that there isn’t anything there -as in outside of us in a magical, spiritual, otherworldly, or whatever flavor you want.
    As far as I know, it’s agnostics that can’t choose one or the other. Atheists just lack the belief in deitys -period.
    And Infinitepyro, your simplistic circle logic to follow Satanism is much like the same idiocy that holds the religious to whatever flavor of religion they follow.
    So yeah, I’ve completed your challenge previously -with a fully open mind and the will to believe. Alas, I became an Atheist.

    • infinitepyro says:

      I joined on the reasoning that the enemy of my enemy…plus evil was pretty cool. The power of having ‘friends on the other side’…
      I’m sorry it dint work for you. But I’m glad coz one day you just might find God too, who knows?

  • I totally forgot to address your comment about Atheists thinking they know everything.
    A lot of everyone from all races, creeds, and religions think they know everything. Atheists are not excluded from that fact, but the majority that I have met are vastly open-minded and don’t have a chip on their shoulder about much of anything. In fact, open-mindedness and Atheism seem to go hand in hand, as a norm. It should make sense if you think about it for a bit.

  • infinitepyro says:

    Missing the point as usual. I’m not a Satanist but I explained *why*. The reason contact with evil is easier than with good is because Allah decreed man and spirit should not have any contact with each other. So if you do successfully contact one, it is disobeying God and is thus evil.

    Like Confucius jock riders refrain: it is impossible to fill a cup that is already full. #ohwell

  • Julie says:

    Please do not feed the troll, for he thinks we are crunchy and good with ketchup.

    90% of the atheists I’ve met (including my husband) are the most kind and giving people I’ve ever encountered. The other 10% seem to be bitter and nasty, but hey, that’s people.

    I’m an agnostic. I WANT to believe, but I also developed a rational brain as a kid and almost got tossed out of Sunday School for asking about evolution (I was always a big fan of Lucy).

    The older I get the less I believe that something(s) is there that requires me to believe in them. Long ago I tossed aside the idea of being good for salvation. Being good to others is our responsibility as members of the human species, regardless.

    The golden rule at work. Broadcasted (and forgotten, it seems) by multiple religions, it’s all we need to do.

  • Infinitepyro, I won’t be finding a “god” (of any flavor) one day since you can’t find what doesn’t exist. I’ve been an atheist for over 25 years now, it’s just not likely lol.
    I can’t speak for other atheists, but my cup will never be full. Everyone gets something different out of life and what I strive for is knowledge.
    I do think that many people have fluidity-challenged cups though, including most of the religious people that I’ve ever met. They believe what they are told and don’t think for themselves. Of course, not all of the religious suffer from sheeple-ism. The beauty of an open-mind; not referring to “all” of the people in a belief system as being essentially the same. It sounds to me like you were the type that thought he figured out everything when you were an atheist. If you really were an atheist. It makes sense as to why think all atheists are people that think they have figured out everything.

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