Surprising title, eh? When's the last time you heard about shamans? But it's not as attention-getting as the Slate article that inspired it: "Do Shamans Have More Sex?" Robert Wright is all over the place these days, for the good reason that he has a new book out, The Evolution of God. I've seen a few reviews of it - looks like a good read. So when I saw the title and byline of the Slate-Faith Based feed, I had to check it out.

Speaking of pre-monotheistic shamans:
What I do doubt is that these earnest, selfless spiritual leaders were any more common in the heyday of shamanism than today, or that the spiritual quest was any less corrupted by manipulation and outright charlatanism than today, or that there was a coherent philosophy of shamanism that makes more sense than the average religion of today.
Hear, hear! Most arguments that involve "The Golden Age" or "Before the Fall" as a premise - meaning that human nature is somehow different now than it used to be - are very likely wrong. In the history of humans, the only thing that absolutely changed something as fundamental as our "nature" is language, at least 40,000 years ago. Agriculture, somewhere around 7,000 to 12,000 years ago, could be considered as well, but its main effect was social, not biological (for the materialist - others can insert any word(s) they prefer here). Monotheism, let's say 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, doesn't come close. The religious impulse has been pretty much the same the whole way. As Ecclesiastes says, "there is no new thing under the sun." (1:9)

UPDATE: Jerry Coyne, author and blogger of Why Evolution Is True, fisks Robert Wright and The Evolution of God in The New Republic and destroys a different essay on his blog. Like I said, Wright is everywhere.

UPDATE II: Robert Wright has the best publicity agent in the whole world. And I'm not going to read his book. The materialist explanations of changing religious doctrines would be interesting, but his conclusion is that this process is purposefully evolving toward "ever widening circles of inclusive moral relationships." That result is great, but natural selection is not teleological. When it comes to this vital point, Wright is on the side of the gods. Which is fine, but don't claim that you are completely materialistic or that you have figured out how to reconcile belief and science. Jerry Coyne dispatches this latest essay as well.


Ryan said...

Yeah, the main effect of agriculture was "social" alright---in that it changed society from top to bottom and caused basically a societal nervous breakdown wherever it appeared. Like Freud said, it has "no volunteers, only conscripts." You still gotta read more Zerzan.

Norwegian Shooter said...

I have to say, thinking Ryan would read this was the last thing on my mind when I wrote the agriculture bit. But it sure worked out well that I told him about this blog just yesterday. I was planning an update on the human nature stuff, I could make it more clear, but I'll write up a new post that deals with Ryan's comments as well. BTW, who is currently the foremost authority on ditching the gold standard?