In a brief article in the ‘Opinion‘ section of New Scientist titled “Should We Thank God for Civilization” recently discusses how the current model of how civilizations first developed in human history is being challenged, namely with the discovery of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.
As the article states:
The answer once seemed clear: food. Farming was more efficient than foraging and so people gravitated towards it. Cities, writing and organised religion soon followed… Yet the people who built them were nomads, not farmers. So the radical suggestion now is that it was not agriculture that drove the revolution, but religion. Some archaeologists oppose this idea, arguing that the ruins could have been domestic buildings, or were once surrounded by dwellings that did not survive. But the ceremony-first model is in the ascendancy, supported by further evidence unearthed in the Levant.
Keep in mind that Göbekli Tepe dates back to around 11,000 BCE. That in and of itself is amazing.
Here is a video about the site produced by National Geographic:
Many archaeologists, anthropologists, and paleoanthropologists believe that religion developed as a way or explanation to cope with the reality of death among humans (Neanderthals may have had a belief in the afterlife as scientists have uncovered Neanderthal graves with trinkets, other objects, and perhaps even flowers laid with the deceased). Others have said that religion developed through a sense of awe to understand the cosmos as the first humans gazed upwards toward the night sky and saw a vast stretch of stars spread out before them.
Then again, others have said that religious myths developed in order to keep law and order as large groups of people came together to form a society. You can get large groups of people to conform to a centralized form of government or strong leader if you get them to believe the laws came from a ‘higher power’ or some other ‘supernatural’ force or entity. And those myths or stories evolved over time and grew more sophisticated as civilization progressed.
Regardless of how human beings came to believe or wonder about religious thoughts, it seems evident that the religious impulse has been with our species for quite some time and is still a powerful driving force in modern civilization till this day.
The origins of religion and the cognitive development of belief are fascinating topics to investigate further.