Thoughts on the Evolution of God

“Gene frequencies in a population change over time in response to environmental pressures”

A very fine description and explanation of speciel evolution.

Ideas also change over time according to environmental pressures.

There are no ideas in a vacuum. They are influenced by the past and they are influenced by the present surrounding thoughts and conclusions. Ideas which do not fit into the current intellectual environment eventually disappear, being replaced by ideas which are acceptable within the constraints of the time.

Phlogiston and the flat earth are examples of scientific ideas which disappeared with a change in the prevailing intellectual landscape.

It is interesting to follow the growth of religious thought through the millennia. How some religions grew and then faded. How others succeeded until their followers were defeated in a battle.

Baal was defeated by Jehovah, Hera was married (defeated) by Zeus and in each case kingdoms rose and fell.

In what became the Grecian sphere of influence, the Gods and Goddesses remained recognisably human in their attitudes and habits. Jealous and promiscuous with a fair measure of random nastiness to fit in with observed extreme natural events. Over a thousand years of intercity warfare the Gods and Goddesses waxed and waned, yet they survived in the stories of the region. They spread as far as India under Alexander but returned to their own lands in time to be adopted by the Romans.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the pantheon of their Gods was joined by one who was so powerful his priests decreed that His name could never be spoken. Worshipped by a small and quite insignificant nomadic tribe, this God was able to lead His tribe into a number of victories and so they were able to gain a land of their own. Despite defeats by newer invaders who had larger, better supplied armies and exile from their land their God continued to be worshipped and every time those worshippers found themselves in charge, they attempted to destroy all other Gods.

Then, as happens in most historical events, there was a rather unusual set of circumstances. As a consequence of these events, an offshoot of this small religion was adopted by the Romans and so spread throughout Europe and nearby regions. Finally this God was strong enough to squash all other religions in His sphere of influence.

Now it is the dominant religion in the Western World.

But is this still the same God which first appeared in the Middle East some three or four thousand years ago?

Many modern-day believers will automatically reply in the affirmative. Yet let us look at the over-all habits of this ancient Middle Eastern God. He was no lover of any who opposed him. He was rigid in His  expectations of his followers. He had no difficulties in ordering His people to commit genocide, either to take their land or to remove all trace of another God.

Compare this with the God of Love who is worshipped today.

He has evolved as philosophy and ethics and knowledge have evolved. He has not been existing in a vacuum. His attributes have developed as society has developed. He has developed an omnipresence and he has developed “omniknowledge”. He did not know all while he was in the desert. Otherwise He would not have tested Job at the request of a fallen angel. Come to think of it, the Devil and God no longer communicate in the modern world. Another evolution of ideas. Anyway, He would not have tested Job for He would have already known the future.

His present day worshippers will consider that any changes in God are due to our increased knowledge of Him and His attributes. So much so that it has been necessary to create numerous versions (species) of worshippers. Just as the followers of Al’lah have formed a number of species within the worship of Mohammed’s God and the followers of the original incarnation of this God have a number of species. In fact there is a case for arguing that “The People of the Book”, the genera of Jews, Christians and Muslims, all belong to a specific religious Family with its roots found four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia. There are still in existence, some small groups which are possibly descended from the same Order which led to the Family of “People of the Book”. The Zoroastrians of Persia are an example of this. Other species within today’s pantheon such as the Hindu, Voodoo and the pantheism of Africa have different ancestors and may even have arisen from other Orders or even Classes.

The important thing is that each of these religious species has adapted to its philosophical environment and so has succeeded. As that environment changes, with new ideas and ideals, then each will change. Some will be wiped out by invasion, some will lose their relevance. Most, like the ancient Egyptian and Greek Gods, are now extinct.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that I began with a quote about evolution; “Gene frequencies in a population change over time in response to environmental pressures”. I have come to see that it also applies to civilisations and religions.

Mores and Memes in a population change over time in response to ideological pressures.

(Written on a Saturday evening without reference to  my library so some small parts of the above may be refutable. However, I was exploring a general idea from a layman’s POV.)

9 Responses

  1. Interesting post…of course, the notion of an evolving God made be a point of contention for some but I think as we become more apprised of the world around us, the universe as a whole, our perception of God necessarily must change and therefore GOD changes. Becomes irrelevant for some but all the more powerful and majestic to others. Keep writin’…

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  2. Interesting idea. I’ve written on occasion that societies and humanity in general tend to go through the same developmental features as individuals, therefore social constructs (religion, governments, etc) go through those same stages. The idea of “social evoluntion” is often put upon by critics, but there is some validity in saying that if a social construct doesn’t fill a void… or fit into a niche… that it becomes extinct.

    I’m sure that gods are finding their niches smaller and smaller, and that they’re a species of socail thought eventually doomed to extinction, unless new niches can be created for them.

    I rather think that’s what’s going on here in the US… proponents of this social construct are trying to carve out bigger and bigger niches for a shrinking god by taking away properties of education, government, and social conciousness and replacing them with religious inspired ideas and behaviors.

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  3. Cliff, If I had the skills I would follow the Ur-religious figures of the Middle East through a philological evolution. “El”ohim, Ba”al” and “Al”lah, Zeus and Ea are another pair of Gods who move across tribal lines. Possibly even the continuance of a Virgin Goddess gene within religion. From Hera to Mary, we have a series of “Mother of God” figures who are also virgins. It will be interesting to find the proto-Indo-European language syllables for their deities.

    dorid, I am sure that what we are seeing in America (and Australia) is a growth of fear. Fear of the future, fear of the “Other”, even intergenerational fear. Religion is a first stop for society in times of fear. In Muslim countries we are seeing this fear being exploited by unscrupulous leaders and wannabee leaders much more clearly (possibly because we are outside) than we see the same thinngs happening in our own society.

    I am in the camp which believes a form of religion is essential to human civilisation. Consider the cults of Stalin, Mao and now Kim Il Sung which were developed on the back of a removal and suppression of the “Old” religions.

    It is interesting that recent research seems to indicate that conservatist and liberalist political views may well be hardwired into our genes. This could also be indicative of religious positions.

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  4. I agree that religion/spirituality plays a crucial role in human existence and I believe we wouldn’t have developed as far as we have without it. A sense of mystery regarding the world around us led to all sorts of speculations that led to cave art, burial of bodies with keepsakes, etc. It was the driving impetus for the first plays, stories, dramas. By having a sense of greater power all around us, humans are humbled…and believe me, as a species, we need a lot of humbling. When we dispense with God, you’re right, we get Mao, we get Pol Pot, Stalin (I just posted an essay that brushes on this). Without God, we’re lost…

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  5. Cliff, I agree that we, as a species, have a social habit of following a leader, corporeal or incorporeal. As you say, our arts and customs are based on this habit. Could it be that in order to have a civilisation, or even a small grouping of people, it was better to have a few leaders and many followers, These genetic traits could have been concentrated in successful societies.

    A recent news story I found suggested that it seems that radical and conservative politics attract different genetic types. Could it be that there is also a “Leadership” gene and a “Follower” gene which could be traced back to the original tribal organisation in pre-village life. Having that leadership in the hands of a human individual or, in the hands of a representative of whichever Deity the society condones, doesn’t seem to matter.

    Whether human or divine, it is the fact of leadership within a population grouping which is important. Sometimes it seems that a divine leadership is safer for the general population because there are not generational leadership contests. Too often a human God can go mad as happened with Stalin, Pol Pot and now Mugabe. A God can evolve within a stable community but to change a God requires a macro-shift in exterior conditions. A major drought, food disease, global climate change or innovative change any one of which could lead to population or influence movement where one group wins and another loses.

    While such leader/follower dynamics are necessary for a successful and relatively stable civilisation, often it is the free-thinkers or atheists who create the conditions for progress as opposed to simple change.

    So many points for discussion. Perhaps I need to think about another formal posting to cover them all in full. Thank you for your comments. This is fascinating stuff.

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  7. God has not evolved, but people have definitely tried to create oral and written versions of His Scriptures that causes confusion.

    The Bible cannot be correctly understood by reading it like a story book. It is chocked full of symbolisms, euphemisms, some hyperbole, and lots of language that must be carefully studied in context. To do otherwise can cause the reader to conclude that the Bible is a book of confusion.

    Here is an example; Many people believe that there is a place for the wicked in an afterlife that is called hell, where some of the dead are supposed to be burning in a fire for ever and ever. But the Bible clearly tells us that when a person dies, he will never take another breath unless he is purposely resurrected to life. In the Bible you will find that the word hell means the GRAVE!

    Fire in the Bible is considered the ultimate cleanser, not the ultimate punishment.

    The nomadic Hebrews considered that if ANYTHING happened, God did it. Thus a careless or shallow reading of the Bible can lead one to think that God is a big destroyer. The same phraseology is used in our day by such people as the insurance companies. They call them ‘acts of God. In ancient times, they said that God did this, and God did that, but in fact God ALLOWED those things to happen. And, things haven’t change all that much, people still blame God for nearly every strange things that happen.

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  8. @Jim
    If this “god” failed to act to prevent those things, then is he not guilty of a sin of inaction, since he certainly could have stopped them?

    “In what I have done and what I have failed to do,” no?

    So he is to blame either for intiating “acts of god” or for failing to step in a prevent them.

    @Aerchie, I disagree that a god or belief in one is neccesary. One might as well claim that it is important that some people in society believe it’s bad luck to have a black cat cross your path.

    From the conduct of many good Christians, Buddhists, and others it seems as though religion always contains the seed of justification, for doing whatever it is that you wanted to do in the first place. See also: Iraq war.

    I have no idea what Pol Pot claimed was his spirituality, but Hitler at least rubbed the blue mud of Christianity into his navel when convenient. And he was at least as sound a believer as many in the field today.

    And when you tot up the millions that Stalin killed, how do they stack up to the inspired slaughters that have accompanied Crusades and Jihads through history? (I believe Stalin was worse, but Stalin had an apparatus the Conquistadors would have given their sword arms for).

    No, I think we have outlived the usefulness of gods. We need to stop looking at the sky for solutions. Better to look to one another and try to realize that flawed we may be, but we’re all we’ve got.

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  9. Jim, that is an interesting take on belief. “God has told us all we need to know but he has told us in riddles and conundrums. Yet what he has said is the absolute truth and providing you listen to and learn from ME (to whom God has given special knowledge) you too can learn to read His words in the correct way.”

    Metro, my point is not that those dictators believed or disbelieved in a God. It is that they, in their dictatorial way, rid their nation of the old priests and attempted to create a new heirarchy based on their sycophants. This removed the continuity. As for totalling the number killed by a dictator, remember that most people are followers and accept the necessity for these actions to keep the “State” safe. God, whatever his or her face, is a necessary part of civilisation. Since God does not exist it has been necessary to invent him/her. And to continually re-invent in line with current social mores.

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