The Evolution of Religion

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The Evolution of Religion

Near the end of his novel, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett questions religion and contends that it was an evolutionary process to keep humans entertained. He says "they [religions] have kept Homo Sapiens civilized enough, for long enough, for us to have learned how to reflect more systematically and accurately on our position of the universe"(519). Dennett's position is a controversial one, and it is difficult to argue because it is such an abstract subject. Religion is associated with free will, and has been part of humans for thousands of years. Is religion as we know it useless now, have we arrived at the point in evolution where it is no longer necessary?

Dennett never completely dismisses current religion, but he does not support its perpetuation either. Dennett's view of religion is as function, something that humans need, like opposable thumbs. He claims that religion has become merely about the actions, and that soon they will die out and belong in museums and "zoos". Dennett elaborates this thought, "what,then, of all the glories of our religious traditions? They should certainly be preserved, as should the languages, the art, the costumes the rituals, the monuments"(519). Is this right? Should only the material aspects be saved? Have they served their only purpose. Dennett seems to say that humans no longer need religions, and that since they have existed for so long they are no longer needed, it is their time for extinction. Will religions disappear leaving only the materials and traditions as Dennett seems to suggest they will, or will they evolve, and change to meet our modern world.

In Karen Armstrong's History of God she says "for 4,000 years it [the idea of God] has cons...

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...sappeared, but they became infused into other religions. The ancient Hellenistic religion became infused into Christianity, and the Sumerian religion was an influence for the writers of the old testament (http://www.comparative-religion.com/ancient/). In that sense the ancient religions continue to exist, they have merely taken a different form.

Will the modern religions of today follow a path decreed by Dennett and Armstrong and disappear, or will they merely become influences in the next wave of religion? The major religions today have been in existence for thousands of years, but that does not mean that they will not evolve. As people and culture change, so will the worlds religions. People will always have faith, and humans have not achieved a point in evolution where religion is no longer needed, and it is highly unlikely that it will ever reach that point.

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