Re: thoughts on origin of religions

From: Jacques Du Pasquier (
Date: Sat Feb 23 2002 - 06:11:54 MST

Miriam English wrote (23.2.2002/13:50) :
> At 12:30 AM 23/02/2002, Anders Sandberg wrote:
> >On Fri, Feb 22, 2002 at 01:08:38PM +1100, Miriam English wrote:
> > >
> > > I have been wondering why so many of the world's most powerful religions
> > > seem to have been born around the same time. It seems to me that many of
> > > the big religions got much of their power from the birth of writing.
> >
> >No; writing was invented long before - around 4100-3800 BCE. The
> >sumerians, egyptians and babylonians were writing thousands of years
> >before the idea of monotheism became fashionable.
> You are right -- I shouldn't have said "birth" of writing. I know writing
> has been around longer than the world's big current religions. The others
> had their religions too... they just died out when their civilisations
> folded. It just seems to me that early writing was dreadfully important --
> the awe they had for the written word -- The Book -- when the technology
> was ooh aah new. It may be the shift from oral to written recording that
> may be crucial -- when writing is new for each people.

I would personally think your first intuition was right. If you take a
larger view, seeing the monotheism as a product of writing makes
sense. While writing was invented "around 4100-3800 BCE" (Anders), one
may hypothesize that pre-monotheist creeds have existed for tens of
tousands years or more before. (see below for some supporting arguments)

So OK, writing didn't instantly produce monotheism, but maybe it
started/boosted a cultural process which in turn begat monotheism (and
Plato), which begat atheism (and materialism) -- which will beget the
Singularity (maybe!).

I see it as a fairly linear world view development (no offence
intended to religious people), in which writing is just instrumental.
(Not "linear" as opposed to exponentional of course.)

> >The first big monotheist
> >religion was Zoroastrism, which emerged around ~1400 BCE. Judaism maybe
> >emerged from around 2000 BCE onwards, hinduism evolved around 1500 BCE,
> >buddhism around 600 BCE. Christianity emerged around 100 CE, and islam
> >around 600 CE. Overall, the emergence of new religions appear rather
> >evenly spaced. However, the ideas that are incorporated may have emerged
> >elsewhere and in far older times.

I agree with Anders that they MAY have, and that my linearization
above may seem arbitrary (not to mention ethocentric and all that). As
we don't have prehistorical documents, somehow anything MAY have been
part of prehistorical culture.

However, I think we can find some arguments to support my and Miriam's

Plato's ideas (whether he invented them or rather crystalized them)
for example were a great support for the development of Christianity.
Can you imagine Plato without writing? In fact can you imagine
philosophizing (for best and worse) without writing?

But forget Plato. A certain level of abstraction, and of persistence
of thinking inside abstract domains, requires writing. And I think
such practical capacity of abstraction may well naturally shape
surnatural beliefs into monotheism, while the absence of such capacity
brings you back to the real world and its diversity, etc.

Another, negative argument I can think of is that writing boosts
knowledge of the natural world, and that this knowledge in turn favors
believing in one unknowable God (like in islam, which is in fact, as
you may note, the most recent), rather than seeing godlets and magic
all over the place.

> >I would really like to know what happend 500-400 BCE - look at the number
> >of extremely influential philosophers suddenly popping up worldwide; the
> >important greek ones in the West, Sun Tzu, Confucius, Buddha etc. Why so
> >many at this time?

Maybe just because of some maturation stage consequent to the start of

I'm sure many of you made this experience: you put some transhumanist
seed into a friend's mind, and your friend's mind computes and ends up
asking questions or making suggestions of its own that you could
somehow expect.

It's like a place you go into, and when people explore it, they
naturally stumble on the same things.

Exploring the logical space of world view is like that, too. When you
get to a certain point, you are bound to ask the questions Plato
asked, etc., just like a child at a certain point of his development
(but not before) asks where children come from.

So it may be that Plato, though an "extremely influential" (Anders)
thinker, is not quite as influential as one may think, but more like
the web protocol. (Are you sure? -- Yes. -- All right.) What I mean
is, thinking that HTTP+HTML invention was something extremely
influential that begat all the web activity we see now is probably an
error. The web is more of an invention that had to happen at that time
so that the development rate of the Internet could be maintained.
There is an internal logic in this development, an unfolding of
possibilities that are good, and begets the necessary "inventions" to
support it. (Think about Moore's law, too.)

The logical space of worldview is not linear, but it has lots of
dead-ends and places you simply cannot go rationnally (some lunatic
may go there, but his thoughts will get lost). And it has one region
which corresponds to the truth, or at least it has a truth gradient,
so that we are probably somehow attracted to this place, and given the
paths available, you don't have so many choices. So it ends up being
quite a linear path that unfolds with time. As you know, even
Dalai-Lama believes in the possibility of upload. :-)


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