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"Religion is a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to create and promote myths, to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, and to reveal the level of commitment to cooperate and reciprocate among members of a community. That is to say, religion evolved as the social structure that enforced the rules of human interactions before there were such institutions as the state or such concepts as laws and rights.

"We would do well to remember that the history of the modern nation-state with constitutional rights and protection of basic human freedoms can be measured in mere centuries, whereas human evolved as social primates over the course of millions of years, and human culture itself dates back at least 35,000 years, if not more.

"The principal social institution available to facilitate cooperation and goodwill was probably religion. An organized establishment with rules and morals, with a hierarchical structure so necessary for social primates, and with a higher power to enforce the rules and punish their transgressors, religion evolved as the penultimate effort of these pattern-seeking, storytelling, myth-making animals."

(Michael Shermer in "How we believe". page 162)

Matias 8 June 5

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"to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism" Obviously he never read the bible....

I can reassure you: he did (a)

@Matias Not very well.... Seems like he skipped most of it because it has very little of what he claims. Most of the bible is written to enforce an insular culture that submits without question to authority.... So either he didn't read it like I did as a child or he simply cherry picked it like Christians always do...


Religion is your rich uncle giving you $50 for graduation while molesting your step brother. Some people would rather celebrate his giving you $50.


What's interesting is how secular institutions taking over religious ones still fall pray to the same problems with religion. So any large institution promoting morality, like the government and it's laws, or altruism, like goodwill, is still seen to be some "higher power" and inviolate by some and not others and is still subject to greatness as well as failure.

Gee, it's like realizing that regardless of the existence of or belief in god(s), it's always humans that interact with humans and thus all foibles, and strengths!, of religions are actually foibles, and strengths!, of humanity... fancy that!


"Altruism"? Read Any portion of the Old Testament, ever?


You are correct, religion was the binding force in society. The problem in the 21st century is that we need to prevent the population from believing in myths as in inhibits the success of modern society. We do need to replace religion with something similar that allows for the teaching of ethics and how things really work in the world and provides a social network. The local atheist and humanist groups are a good start!

What's wrong with believing in myths? As long as those myths don't intercept with known facts, I see no problem. Plenty of people believe in the myths of aliens, string theory and more...

Hence, what problem to believe that morality comes from god(s) as long as you are as moral as someone who believe that morality comes from nature or science or humanity?

I think in terms of morality, the end justifies the means and if you aren't going to kill me, or if you are!, I find it irrelevant why you think that and more relevant the actions you are going to take to do so.

"the god myth is institutionalized and propagated for the purpose of acquiring power and exploiting people."

cynically? Yes.
Historically? No.

As Matias has pointed out in his current series of post, "the god myth" is at once a natural extension of our human desire/requirement to anthropomorphize everything, especially that which is not known, as well as representative of humanities first attempts to lay down a law that people will follow for, in early history and devoid of large government, people may not have responded to a person saying "don't kill" but may/did respond to a priest saying "god tells you to not kill".

As for Christianity and religion being one of the most destructive influences in the history of man, that is clearly ignoring all the artistic contributions said institutions have provided, not to mention the scientific ones. in a time when there was no formal science, like the middle ages, it was these religious institutions that were spearheading asking and answering the big questions like how to do math(algebra and islam, for eg) or what is the nature of our universe (cosmology and vatican observatory, for eg)

This is not to say that they need be the center of art and science today... as a musician and physicist myself, far from it! All I'm saying is that we shouldn't be so short sighted and cherry pick the present evils of large institutions, like religion or government, and ignore the important and beneficial role they have had getting us to where we are today.

No doubt! LOL But no every husband is armed and not every armed husband is present all the time to defend their wife. Better, at least back then, to have a "boogyman" watching and judging you for doing so all the time to prevent you from trying it in the first place.

@TheMiddleWay You actually think it is OK for modern humans to believe that made-up nonsense is real? Therein lies the problem with our society! Morality comes from the fact that we evolved as social animals and need to be accepted by our peers. Morality based on made up carrot and stick is false morality and is used simply to control others.

Made-up concepts like the tooth fairy, santa claus, and the spaghetti monster... which are demonstrably false... no, of course not.
Made-up concpets like string theory, the general concept of god(s), and an after life... which can not be demonstrated to be false or true... sure, why not. I personally remain agnostic on those issues but I'm ok with people taking one side or the other even if I disagree with their reasons to do so.

As for morality, regardless of where you claim it comes from, humans or god(s), it is ultimately enacted by humans and thus morality is de-facto man-made. If a human wants to ascribe the notion of "don't kill" to a god, to a muse, or to their imagination is frankly irrelevant to me... what is relevant to me are the consequences of that morality, not where people claim to have got it from.


You seem determined to push the greatness of religion. maybe you should read the old testament.

Maybe you should realize there are more religions than Christianity and more religious thought that is embedded in the old testament. 😉

Oh, and that realizing that religion has had an important role in human history and development is not pushing it's greatness... anymore than realizing the same about war and disease, charity and altruism.

I am well aware that there are other religions than Christianity. Did I say otherwise ?and if you read the first five books of the old testament, or Torah or Pentateuch you will be aware that they are Jewish , not Christian. The god they adopted was certainly munificent but only if you were Jewish'

Of course religion has been beneficial to mankind but that is probably far outweighed by the harm done.

Christianity had it's inquisitions and crusades and it held Europe back for hundreds of years in the dark ages. Islam conquered much of North Africa and Europe (was that a good thing?) and now produces some nasty terrorists.

I had some hope for Buddhism, if it is really a religion, but the treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar has been particularly brutal.

Matias seems to have an agenda promoting religion. I wonder if he is on the right site ?

"it held Europe back for hundreds of years in the dark ages"
Speaking of believing in myths, the notion that religion held back Europe and thus kept it "dark" is a great example!!

In fact christian institutions where the only institutions pushing forth any knowledge in the dark ages. For example, the modern university was born in the dark ages as religious institutions wished to better understand "gods work" though education and scholorship and it was widely known and circulated that the earth was round, not flat,

Also, the term "dark" is not a reference to the intellectual content of the time but rather to the lack of records about that time in contrast to other more well "lit" periods of history.

Look no further than Isidore and Bede to Buridan and Oresme to see Christian scholors during this period in history or quotes from modern historians such as [science historian] Lindberg says that, contrary to common belief, "the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led". [1]

"Matias seems to have an agenda promoting religion. I wonder if he is on the right site ?"
Matias is most assuredly not promoting religion. I wonder if you are on the right site as well if you can't distinguish between discussing religion and promoting it or if you insist on promoting your own myths about the role religion has played in history. 😉

[1] Quoted by Ted Peters in Science and Religion at "Lindsay Jones (editor in chief). Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition. Thomson Gale. 2005. p.8182"

@TheMiddleWay You said it " the education establishments were to better understand gods work" not scientific advancement'

Of course the churches, Roman Catholic and Eastern orthodox played a large part in history. They were all powerful and had no opposition until Henry started the church of England which was just a watered down RC church anyway.
It was only after the reformation and the enlightenment that scientific advancement really began. "The enlightenment" ?. get it. the end of the dark ages.

After the reformation the Church of Scotland opened "Grammar schools" throughout Scotland to further the populations understanding of the scriptures. OF course this had the effect of educating ordinary folk and Scotland was at the forefront of advancement for generations. At one time Sctland had four universities when England only had two,

Christians have been holding back advancement from the very early days of Christianity. I recommend you read " The darkening age-- the Christian destruction of the classical world" by academic Catherine Nixey. A fascinating read and definitely not mythology.

To be sure, "science" didn't exist until Galileo. Thus to talk about "scientific achievement" before that is an anachronism. To claim that religions, or Christianity stifled scientific achievement in the dark ages (more appropriate: early middle ages) is imprecise use of language and categorization of events in that time.

Catherine Nixey is a journalist, not a historian.
On the other hand, academics in science and history such as:

Edward Grant (American historian of medieval science, Distinguished Professor at Indiana University, 1992 George Sarton Medal winner, for "a lifetime scholarly achievement" as an historian of science.) and his book "The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts" ...


...James Hannam (physicist, accountant, PhD in History and Philosophy of Science) and his book "The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution" which won the Royal society 2010 award for science book.

...paint quite a different picture than that of Ms. Nixey. 😉

@TheMiddleWay Oh Dear she is a mere Journalist. She has a degree in classics from Cambridge and taught classics for a time before becoming a journalists. Possibly one reason why her book is the best referenced of the type I have read. I haven't read either of the authors you mention but if you haven't read Catherine Nixey's work how can you compare them ?

One small point I was unaware off before reading her book. I always thought that the fact that the beautiful marble statues from ancient Greece had bits missing. Noses, arms feet etc, was just wear and tear from years of handling. No it was deliberate damage by the early Christians who considered them Idolatrous.

Also I don't think Hypatia, the philosopher, astromoner and mathemetician would agree with you, well she couldn't as she was stripped naked,hauled through the streets and killed by a Christian mob.

Fast forward to just over 300 years ago to Edinburgh when Archie Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy.
Yes charmers those early Christians

Of course there was some limited advancement through the Christian era, I remember learning about Mendels peas in science class at school but as the RC church deliberatly kept the masses ignorant to better supress them the priests had a monopoly on education.

I did try to read a book by one author Matias mentions, Pascale Boyer, but virtually lost the will to live after a few chapters. A load of impenatrable gobbldegook, No references, just opinions.


It's a fair point that I haven't read her books nor you mine and thus comparison is moot. But it's also a fair point that a person that has spent their entire lives researching and teaching history and science carries more weight than a person who only teaches. Especially when that book comes 14 years after any formal research on the subject (she graduated in 2003; book came out in 2017).

I have no doubt her book is a good read but when it comes to facts about history, I'll continue to rely on established historians, not up and coming journalists. And those historians don't gloss over the atrocities of the church but neither do they promote the oft cited, but demonstrably erroneous, myth of the church being anti-intellectual as Ms. Nixey's book would have us believe.


What if the religion doesn't in this time ...??


But now that we have governments and access to the science of ethics, we need to ditch the mythologies. Fiction is fine, but it must be conveyed as fiction, not as reality.

Also, people (priests & pastors, for example) should be prosecuted for using myths to scare people into giving them money.


The primary myths were ethnic or tribal. Religion was only a part of those ethnic or tribal myths.

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