God and gorillas | Salon Books


Well – here’s an interesting bit of research into human beings and religion that I’d not heard of until today:

Link: God and gorillas | Salon Books.

Every human culture has believed in spirits, gods or some other divine being. That’s why human beings have often been called Homo religioso. Some people take this long history of belief in the otherworldly as evidence for God; doesn’t it explain why religion continues to be so pervasive? But many scientists are coming up with their own, decidedly secular, theories about the origins of faith. In fact, over the last few years, a small cottage industry made up of scientists and philosophers has devoted itself to demystifying the divine.

Of course, these thinkers are either religious skeptics or outright atheists who mean to imply that we’ve been duped by evolution to believe in supernatural beings when none, in fact, exist. That’s what makes Barbara J. King, an anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, so unique. She has no desire to undermine religion. In fact, she’s been deeply influenced by the religious writers Karen Armstrong and Martin Buber. But her main insights about the origins of religion come not from researching humans’ deep history, but from observing very much alive non-human primates.

For the last two decades, King has studied ape and monkey behavior in Gabon and Kenya, and at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. In her new book, “Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion,” King argues that religion is rooted in our social and emotional connections with each other. What’s more, we can trace back the origins of our religious impulse not just to early cave paintings and burial sites 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, but much earlier — back to our ancient ancestors millions of years ago. And today, King says, we can see the foundations of religious behavior in chimpanzees and gorillas; watching our distant cousins can do much to explain the foundations of our own beliefs.

So that’s another book to add to my “to be read” pile. I’d just gotten it down to two books…

Make sure to read the article all the way through the interview till the last page. It’s at that point that interview starts to discuss the question of whether or not a scientist can practice religion in an authentic way. (This isn’t a big deal for most folks in the “hard” sciences, but it’s still a real issue in the social sciences – or so I’m told.)

Thanks +Kirk for the pointer to the article!

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. If you have not, you should couple this reading with D. Quinn’s Ishmael series…

  2. Thanks lkc – I’m not familiar with that work. I’ll do a little googling and see what I can find out.

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