It’s been nearly a month since I posted on Jimmy Moore’s raising of the subject of potential conflicts between low-carb and paleo lifestyles and religion. I was surprised to see Chris Masterjohn take up a bit of his time to get involved in the comment thread.
At any rate, apparently the topic interests him enough that he penned a rather lengthy article on the subject: Can Christians Be Paleo? Christianity, Faith, Evidence, Dobzhansky, Evolution, and More. In that post he referenced my post, as well as one by frequent commenter here, Ned Kock: Atheism is a recent Neolithic invention: Ancestral humans were spiritual people.
It’s Ned’s post I wanted to principally address vis-a-vis Chris’ post.
For the sake of simplicity, this post treats “atheism” as synonymous with “non-spiritualism”. Technically, one can be spiritual and not believe in any deity or supernatural being, although this is not very common. This post argues that atheism is a recent Neolithic invention; an invention that is poorly aligned with our Paleolithic ancestry.
Our Paleolithic ancestors were likely very spiritual people; at least those belonging to the Homo sapiens species. Earlier ancestors, such as the Australopithecines, may have lacked enough intelligence to be spiritual. Interestingly, often atheism is associated with high intelligence and a deep understanding of science. Many well-known, and brilliant, evolution researchers are atheists (e.g., Richard Dawkins).
I do have a beef with that position, so here’s my comment on Chris’ post, slightly edited.
Ned Kock’s thesis — that atheism is neolithic — kinda takes liberty with what atheism means or at least should mean.
Atheism is merely the lack of belief in the supernatural, particularly as when expressed in terms of some supreme being. "Atheists" who go a step further to assert that "there is no God" are stepping out of line logically, asserting things that can’t be tested.
On the other hand, the question is no more important than would be the wringing of hands over whether unicorns exist. Yes, asserting that they do not is stepping out of line in a scientific sense; but mainly, it’s stepping out of line because until there is actually some testable evidence for unicorns put forth under the onus of proof principle, the entire thing is arbitrary.
The whole religion thing ought properly be rejected out-of-hand as quickly as one would similarly reject unicorns, Santas, Easter Bunnies and Tooth Fairies: on grounds of arbitrariness. It’s that that makes it ridiculous; and that’s the proper atheist position, in my view.
…And so, as a principle element of thought, reason, logic, rationality…atheism it is not neolithic but as paleo as you can get.
Throughout those millions of years, we evolved the capacity of complex conceptualization that has as its fundamental and essential characteristics: logic (non-contradictory identification), reason, rationality.
Making up arbitrary stuff out of whole cloth and thin air because we do not have the capacity or the knowledge, as of yet, to explain ultimate origins or to explain how the notion of an ultimate origin is bogus (I’ll assume here some familiarization with the logical can of worms that the notion of "nothing exists" implies), is testament to our fallibility in emotion (fear, principally), authority seeking and a host of other things.
Put another way, it is a fundamental misuse of our minds which, so far as we know — and have no good reason to doubt — are merely evolved organs with the amazing capacity to integrate sensory data in order to perceive and then conceptualize reality into a logical hierarchy of conceptual tags we call words (and words are tools and we’re tool makers first and foremost). The human mind is not a reality creating organ or device.
Religion merely represents another stepping out of line in order to attempt to create reality.
But I suppose it’s baked into the cake. Complex conceptualization implies metaphor, simile, allegory, parable and so on.
Yes, it is a marvelous thing that we can learn great lessons and meanings in a social animal context from mere "made up stories." The vast and rich world of literature is testament to that and yes, in some respects, so too is the world of religious literature. It is a profoundly good thing that we can make up a story to teach valuable lessons in social cooperation and personal development.
…Which gets me back to my original point from my post that was linked here: literalism. In the simplest sense, what’s really going on is that some literature (religious) is afforded special dispensation. And I suppose how that happens is an interesting study.
Further to all that I might say that what I think Ned is really meaning to get at is that, in the context of a complex, conceptualizing intelligence that can make up stories to teach valuable social lessons, it is perhaps materialism that is neolithic.
The question is, is materialism a good tool, since we’re tool makers and this is merely another in a long list of them that will continue as we continue to evolve. I tend to think that it is, but within limits, by which I mean that we have no good grounds on which to think that we are merely organic machines executing a computer program and not beings possessing free will.
For myself, I have for many years described myself as a materialist that believes in free will. The question of free will is as unimportant to me as is the question of some ultimate origin or "why am I here" (for my own sake is my answer to that). There are two reasons I think that’s not contradictory:
- Believing you have free will is tantamount to free will.
- There’s no meaningful distinction between a computer program so complex as simulate free will such that its subjects believe they possess it and act on that basis, motivating reaction from other hosts and so on, down the line, and free will itself.
In summary I think that religion or spirituality, and atheism as I’ve expressed it here are all elements of our evolving brains. As we’re understood more about the nature of things in and around us we have tended to become less mystical, more rational. That in itself is the real evolution.
What is neolithic is agriculture and the institutional bedfellows of church and state agriculture and its accumulation of wealth gave rise to. Church and state are merely two sides of the same neolithic con: perpetuate and manipulate convenient "truths" for mass consumption, such "truths" always having the same themes: fear and guilt.