On a remote hilltop in southern Turkey known as Göbekli Tepe, archaelogist Klaus Schmidt discovered a paleolithic complex of monumental temples featuring massive limestone pillars - the largest 18 feet tall and weighing 16 tons. The architecture is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge - built in the same millennium as the Great Pyramid of Giza - except Göbekli was created 7 millennia earlier and is made not with roughly hewed blocks but from cleanly carved pillars representing sophisticated stylized anthropomorphic forms splashed with bas-reliefs of a variety of recognizable animal totems. Subsurface scans at the site reveal an assemblage of perhaps 18 unexcavated temples that were consecutively built and buried over a period of a little more than a thousand years. See detail views of Göbekli Tepe
Although primitive religious practices - burying the dead, creating cave art and figurines - had emerged tens of thousands of years earlier, the construction of massive temples by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it. When foragers began settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between the human realm -a fixed huddle of huts with hundreds of inhabitants - and the dangerous land beyond the campfire, populated by lethal beasts. Schmidt speculates that foragers living within a hundred-mile radius of Göbekli Tepe created the temple as a holy place to gather and meet, perhaps bringing gifts and tributes to its priests and crafts-people. Some kind of inspired social organization would have been necessary not only to build it but also to deal with the crowds it attracted. One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in flickering torchlight. Schmidt says "Twenty years ago scientist believed civilization was driven by ecological forces - I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind."
Illustration by Fernando Baptista (Map and Diagrams Lawson Parker), NGM Staff; Patricia Healy
click for full-scale image
Although Schmidt's words about the the product of the human mind can be taken in an inspirational and celebratory sense, the reality of the impact of organized religion on how civilization subsequently evolved is almost thoroughly negative. It is not only the historical record of how organized religion is directly implicated in oppression, warfare and bloodshed, (with culpability ongoing) but its continuing effect on the suppression and abuse of women and on overpopulation with the subsequent ecological catastrophes that are ensuing. Perhaps its most unfortunate legacy is how both by default and evangelicalism it thwarts spiritual enlightenment to reach the overwhelming majority of the world's soon-to-be population of 7 billion. At present the most conspicuous counter to fundamentalist prophetic religion is progressive atheism which is a total denial of humankind's instinct to embrace spirituality that Schmidt alludes to in his optimistic commentary - which leaves that existential quality of our human spirit in limbo.
There is a body of non dual religious traditions that contains the seed of spiritual enlightenment but all - Zen Buddhism being the least compromised - suffer varying degrees of piling on of extrapolations of mystical experience by priestly authority that results in arbitrary disciplines like yoga and siddhis and a managerie of invented gods and demigods, symbols and rituals. There seems an inverse ratio in the human mind between imagination and gullibility that results in a perfect storm for explotation that enables charismatic priestly leaders to recruit a constituency for an infinite body of historical and evolving sub-genre of pseudo-religious and political/religious belief systems- paganism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Shintoism, occultism, Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, new-ageism, space-alienism, etc. Thanks to the Internet, this psychological chemistry gives every invented belief voice and audience to subscribe and no Google "knowledge" category is so profusely populated by invention, controversy and conspiracy theory than "religion" all with the potential to evolve from proselytizing via social and information networks into virtual cults.
Postmodern Paradigms - I examine a sampling of emergent, super and meta paradigms and find some analogy in the process by which some scientific pseudo paradigms can evolve into consensus reality much as heretical cults arose out of established culture to become mainstream religion.
If the level of controversy over the present effort for Claremont Lincoln University to establish a broad ecumenical curriculum that features dialogue between the major prophetic religions (with tentative plans to admit Hindus and Buddhists) is any indication of the challenge for finding common ground within the theistic community - much less with the scientism and atheistic communities - the age of universal enlightenment (the spiritual singularity) seems far distant in the future of humanity's collective conscious evolution.
Theosophical Synthesis Presenting resources to explore issues in the tension between science/spirituality and evolution/creation and to examine possibilities for finding common ground and synthesis.
Belief Knowledge Knowing Notes on evaluating credibility of Epistemology, Empericism, Phenomenology, Heuristics, Samadhi.
Psychedelics, Consciousness & the Birth of Civilization by Graham Hancock, editor The Divine Spark , 2015. By 196,000 years ago, and on some accounts considerably earlier, humans had achieved “full anatomical modernity.” This means that they were in every way physically indistinguishable from the people of today and, crucially, that they possessed the same large, complex brains as we do. The most striking mystery, however, is that their behavior continued to lag behind their acquisition of modern neurology and appearance. They showed no sign of possessing a culture, or spiritual beliefs, or self-consciousness, or any interest in symbols which would mean 150,000 years of Homo sapiens without cultural stuff. The problem posed by this gap may be the greatest riddle of palaeoanthropology – how we became human and in the process began to make art and to practice what we call religion.
(MG Comment: In support of an anthropic perspective is - Why/how had our brains, by 190,000 years ago, already evolved all the anatomical/neurological properties for intellectual civilized abilities - far beyond what was necessary to sustain a hunter-gather life style in perpetuity? See next link for obsevations
by E. O. Wilson regarding the same enigma.
Contrasted with the endless, unimaginative cultural desert extending from 7 million years ago down to just 40,000 years ago, the appearance of the first great, fully representative symbolic art in caves and rock shelters between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago represents a spectacular enigma. Accompanied by other significant changes in human behavior – including but not limited to better and more sophisticated stone and bone tools, better hunting strategies, and the first evidence for spiritual beliefs? it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that whatever divine spark led our ancestors to start creating art caused all the other changes as well. A theory originally elaborated by Lewis-Williams and now supported by a majority of archaeologists and anthropologists proposes that the reason for the eerie similarities and universal themes linking all these different systems of art is that in every case – both ancient and modern and wherever in the world they are found – the shaman-artists responsible for them had previously experienced altered states of consciousness in which they had seen vivid hallucinations, and in every case their endeavour in making the art was to memorialise on the walls of rock shelters and caves the ephemeral images that they had seen in their visions.
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson - 1999 - Page 52 - Google Books Result. Evolutionary biology offers a simple answer. Natural selection, defined as the differential survival and reproduction of different genetic forms, prepares organisms only for necessities. Biological capacity evolves until it maximizes the fitness of organisms for the niches they fill, and not a squiggle more. Every species, every kind of butterfly, bat, fish and primate, including Homo sapiens occupies a distinctive niche. It follows that each species lives in its own sensory world. In shaping that world, natural selection is solely guided by the conditions of past history and by events occurring moment by moment then and now. Because moths are too small and indigestible to be energetically efficient food for large primates, Homo sapiens never evolved echolocation to catch them. And since we do not live in dark water, an electrical sense was never an option for our species. Natural selection, in short, does not anticipate future needs but this principle, while explaing so much so well, presents a difficulty. If the prnciple is universally true, how did natural selection prepare the mind for civilization before civilization existed? That is the great mystery of human evolution: how to account for caculus and Mozart. Later I will attempt an answer by expanding the evolutionary explanation to embrace culture and technological innovation. (Wilson later makes an effort to get around the anthropic principle.)