Monday, June 20, 2011

The birth of religion

The June 2011 issue of the National Geographic carried an article on The Birth of Religion. This article can be read on line. The substance of the article is actually on an archaeological finding at Gobekli Tepe, located at the southern part of Turkey.

To a layman, the site is just like many archaeological sites around the world, with stones crudely sculptured and placed in odd arrangement. But expert said that Gobekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture. The site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that it was built much earlier. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple and can be traced to the birth of religion.

The birth of religion is always an important question for the archaeologists, scientists, psychologists and philosophers. It is not an important question to the religious because as history being exposed, the less holy and less supernatural it becomes.

There has been a long standing theory that the triggering point of human civilization is the Neolithic Revolution, occurred about 10,000 years ago when human settled down in stable communities and started agriculture. The change enabled many groups to grow larger. More resources were available and a society hierarchy was established with clan elders and leaders governing the communities. Religion started at this moment when groups of human worshipped the unknown nature and the respected leaders. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe added more information and variations to the theory because it was much older. Around 11,600 years ago, the Neolithic Revolution was not in full swing. Human were mostly scattered in very small groups as scavengers and hunters. The discovery of such an archaeological site with religious intonation suggested that the fear of nature and the urge to worship appeared much earlier. In fact, it was such psychology that scattered human were attracted to a location of natural significance. The gathering of more individuals would create the problem of subsistence, order and security, thus give birth to the Neolithic Revolution of mass production of food, social structure, exchange and retention of knowledge and civilization. The old model of transition of human from hunter/gatherer - agriculture - religion - to farmer is now supplemented by another model of hunter/gatherer - religion - agriculture - farmer. These two models could co-exist for a long time and interact with each other.

Compared with the birth of religion, the three Abrahamic religions and other existing religions are much younger and developed much later. Religious scholars claimed that from the Bible, the creation of the world occurred only 8,000 years ago. Notwithstanding the scientific discovery of the age of the present universe being 13.7 billion years old, there is now evidence of religion tracing back as far as 11,600 years. Even Adam and Eve did not exist at that time.


  1. Re. Adam and Eve in the Bible. Although I am not a religious person, I sometimes read the Bible. John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian-born US economist once said “Had the Bible been in clear straightforward language, and the ambiguities and contradictions been edited out, and the language been constantly modernized to accord with contemporary taste it would almost certainly have been, or become a work of less influence” (Ref.: Encarta Book of Quotations, St. martin’s Press NY, 2000)

  2. It is certainly true. The Bible is meant to deceit. It is a vague record of history mixed with myths, and worded with a special purpose (not history).

  3. There are other ways to see the Bible and sometimes I treat it as a poetry book. It is an imaginative construction of a world incompletely known. If poetry reveals to us the beauty that our untrained eyes have missed, than the Bible gives us the wisdom to understand and forgive.

  4. I have an e-bible on my phone that I can read all the time. It is certainly not poetry although the language is archaic. I always use it to check what the preachers said. They are frequently inconsistent. The only good use of the bible is when someone read it and did good. Unfortunately many were indoctrinated and fell into superstition.