Today, the development of science and technology has reached new heights. A major part of the world’s population is thriving with the help of modern technologies. These have provided food, water, healthcare, security, comfort, recreation and much more to the masses. Humanity has achieved this through a gradual learning process that began in prehistoric period and continues to date. Apart from needs and luxuries, scientists have also solved many age-old mysteries. For example, they have concluded, without a trace of doubt, that the human race gradually evolved from the great apes over a long period; some divine power did not create it. On the contrary, human imagination invented different superhuman powers called gods.
The Evolution of Gods utilizes modern science to explain why, when and how religions and gods became the desirable explanations of inexplicable events. What kind of human sufferings necessitated people to bow down before unseen powers called gods? How did mysteries of nature give birth to divine powers? Who invented morals, methods of worship and the ancient scriptures? In order to answer these and other related questions, I have compiled a brief history of human religious activities from several reference books, and these are listed in the bibliography.
This book is an effort to bring together anthropological and historical facts about the evolution of gods and religions. This begins from the epoch when the human race came into being. Most palaeontologists assert that the species evolved in the period between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. During that era, humans lived in small nomadic groups or bands, more or less similar to the groups formed by great apes today. They had not yet learnt the use of language, dress or morals, and probably they were not aware of any god or demon.
Around one hundred thousand years ago, the incredible invention of language changed the destiny of the race. After this, humans began to discuss and analyze each happening around them; whatever they could not comprehend, the chief or priest of their group must have attributed to some unseen power. Anthropologists believe that people began religious activities only after they learnt the art of communication.
With the aid of speech, people could share their joys, sorrows, mysteries, dreams and many other things. The speaking humans of many places invented the concept of soul—the unseen divine spark that provided life to a physical body and survived the death. The soul was the earliest conceived superhuman power; after its knowledge, humans began to bury their dead. Most anthropologists assert that elaborate burials were the first religious activity of humanity, and such social rituals were the primordial religions. People performed these to wrestle with the inexplicable phenomena they encountered such as diseases, disasters and deaths.
At some point in time—we do not know exactly when this happened—people in various far-flung parts of the world developed an instinct. Whenever people encountered some power beyond their control that could harm or help them, they began to worship that power. They believed that worship protected them and sought the blessing of that power. For worship, priests all over the world devised more or less similar methods such as folding their hands, bowing, kneeling, floral offering, prayers and sacrifices. Priests taught these to the masses and gradually designated the powers as gods.
For example, climatologists have identified an Ice Age, one that stretched approximately between 30,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE. Humans, living during the Ice Age, had largely inadequate protection against the extreme cold: they were at the mercy of available sunlight, and that was inconsistent and beyond their control. In this scenario, people began solar worship and that was a logical outcome. In a similar manner, humans considered thunder and lightning as devastating, mysterious and frightening.
Consequently, their leaders or priests imagined a divine sky god that was behind the changes occurring in the sky. Gradually, they began worshipping the sky as a god. There is enough historical evidence to assert that the ancestors of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipped the sun and the sky, before their religions came into practice.
The ability to speak and share their ideas helped humans invent many useful devices such as hearths, stitching needles, leathers, footwear and stone tools. With the aid of these implements, they began to lead an easier, healthier and safer life. Consequently, their population began to increase: approximately ten thousand years ago, it exploded to such an extent that they faced a food crisis. Since necessity is the mother of inventions, several human bands invented the technique of cultivation and began farming. This necessitated them to settle down near farming fields, and ultimately gave rise to homes, villages, cities and civilizations. Gradually, farmers began to face famine caused by droughts and floods. In order to procure good crops, priests of several places in the world suggested worship of one or other mother goddess. Thus, history demonstrates that whenever humankind faced a new challenge, priests invented a more useful deity and consigned the older one to oblivion.
Around three thousand years ago, cultivation provided ample food throughout the year to farmers, and permanent houses with fireplaces protected them from adverse weather and wild animals. These facilities paved the way for another population explosion. At the same time, farming exposed people to pets, rodents, mosquitoes, houseflies and parasites. All these factors together initiated the outbreak of new diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid and plague. Soon, priests began to cure the sick with the help of worship, rituals, magic and herbal drugs.
Apart from bodily diseases, population explosion also instigated social evils such as poverty, inequality, injustice, crime and exploitation; consequently, the majority of people began to lead a miserable life no better than hell. For instance, two thousand five hundred years ago, more than half of the urban population of the world was slave. Around this time, several great prophets such as Moses, the Buddha and Jesus invented the causes and remedies of human sufferings.
For example, Moses suggested ten morals, sacrifices and prayers to protect people from their miseries. The Buddha was the first to propose that human miseries were the punishments of karma, the sins committed in the previous births. He also suggested certain morals to protect people from the miseries. Jesus proclaimed that possession of demons caused the diseases. These masters were designated as prophets after their demise.
Many contemporary priests transcribed the prayers, rituals, myths, allegories and morals preached by these prophets. The ancient scriptures, such as the Vedas, the Bible, the Buddhacharita and the Avesta, were the compilations of such writings. These books advised worship, sacrifices, magic or morals to eradicate human miseries, and the suffering masses had no option but to follow the prescriptions. These holy scriptures fashioned the organized religions of today.
The discovery of writing was a great leap in the progress of humanity. At the same time, it instigated unexpected fallout: people began to consider each written text as a record of actual happening or history. For example, people considered the myths and allegories mentioned in holy scriptures as history, and this tendency laid the foundation of organized religions. During the last two thousand years, the knowledge, documented in the holy books, guided humanity and continues to do so even today.
Priests compiled the scriptures to alleviate human sufferings and teach morals; however, these ultimately produced the contrary results. Humanity suffered many illnesses for more than two thousand years, since the contemporary wise people did not make concerted scientific efforts to find out the causes and remedies of diseases. What could have been the possible reason? In fact, priests advised people to read only the holy books and discouraged writing and reading of scientific texts. Furthermore, priests convicted and punished several secular philosophers and scientists during the last two thousand years.
Thus, priests and their books delayed the scientific progress of the world for quite a long period. However, they could not impede it forever: science ultimately had its way. Science and technology could develop only after discarding the knowledge of the holy books. Gradually, over the last one hundred years, scientists transformed a major part of the earth into heaven; results of this revolution are not hidden from anyone. Today, the vast majority of population is enjoying adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, communication, justice and healthcare. Only one hundred years ago, less than one per cent people in the world could afford similar status. Modern technology has alleviated major human sufferings such as slavery, women-exploitation, famine and poverty. Medical science has discovered the cause and remedy for most diseases. Today, science guides almost every aspect of human life; surprisingly, humanity is thanking someone in the sky for its scientific advancements too!
During the last century, the development of medicine and other sciences gradually limited the role of religions. Science inspired people to come out of the darkness of religious superstitions into the bright light of evidence-based knowledge. However, during the last two decades, the activities of religious terrorists increased, and they killed many innocents. After this, it seems that extremists are going to rule the planet earth again! Contrary to the past, modern terrorists are equipped with the latest weapons and have the potential to destroy the planet. In order to survive, humankind has to eradicate religious fanaticism, which is a mental disease caused by religious brainwashing since childhood.
Furthermore, misinterpretation of the holy books is also responsible for extremism. Each new generation learns the knowledge of its religion through teachings of parents, priests and peers. Today, many modern priests are misguiding people: they themselves enjoy the fruits of science but preach their devotees to follow the age-old superstitions.
In order to create a hatred-free society, the upcoming generations must receive authentic knowledge about the evolution of gods. Schoolbooks must teach the origin of life, anthropology and a brief history of each major religion. Students must learn when, why and how humans invented gods and religions. After the study, it would be difficult to motivate the youths to act as religious terrorists. The knowledge about the evolution of gods may vaccinate the youths against the disease of religious extremism.
Let us think for a moment why humanity developed several religious concepts but only one science. For example, one dogma avers idol worship, and the other asserts the contrary. Scientific principles have no such contradictions. In fact, about one thing or concept there is only one truth, but there can be many lies. The human race conceived and worshipped gods as its creator and nurturer; however, science has not yet identified any divine power that created, nourished or governed human beings. Today, scientists have precisely established the creator and nurturer of life on the earth. This book is an effort to light a candle in the darkest corner of human consciousness.