five phases of humanity
There exists a tug of war between theists and atheists trying to deliver proof for which of their two stances is natural for humans. In the past, I have unashamedly taken the side of the theists, as I view atheism to be a mark of progression and knowledge that supersedes a natural tendency towards the supernatural. However, I think I was wrong.
On further consideration, I think both positions are completely natural, but not the only stances that should be considered, and that our understanding of life is dependent on the phase of human existence we experience, and the environmental factors that impact our beliefs within that phase.
phase 1 – individual survival
Early humans had little time to consider anything beyond the basics of survival. Hunting and gathering food, finding shelter, creating basic communities for defense, breeding and protecting young. Communication would be basic, outlook exceedingly limited, and understanding of existence confined to the individual.
phase 2 – ritual & superstition
As language developed and more complex ideas could be transmitted, as communities became larger and more organised, we can find evidence of organised rituals such as burial ceremonies. Behaviour we would now call superstitious would be rife, as cause and effect was misunderstood in a sea of ignorance, like pigeons copying ritual dances they misattribute to the appearance of food. The superstitious beliefs least likely to be disproven by observation would be the strongest, and therefore transmitted from generation to generation, providing the foundations for phase 3.
phase 3 – religion
Around 8,000 years ago, humans started to use symbols to express words and concepts, and within a couple of thousand years writing was developed. Oral traditions could now be captured in indelible forms, and passed with ease, clarity and consistency to successive generations. Superstitious rituals had context woven around them as humans searched for answers to the unknown and leaders looked for mechanisms to control ever larger social groupings. Religions (including those of the theistic variety) were born.
phase 4 – scientific knowledge
Here we are, in phase 4 of human existence. We have discovered that every truth explained by religion – from the demons of epilepsy to the vengeful god of weather, from the flat deity-created Earth to the sinful behaviour of genetics and environmental factors – was a fabrication of curiosity and ignorance. At this point in phase 4, the gods of the religious phase 3 continue to take cover in pockets of true ignorance, the tradition of indoctrination and the tragedy of adverse effects on the neural system.
Obviously I have no idea what phase 5 holds for the human race. However, it would be foolish to believe we are in anything resembling a final phase of understanding. The future will undoubtedly bring a whole host of new discoveries for our species. Perhaps our whole universe is but a speck of dust on some dirty toenail.
So, when it comes to the question of whether theism or atheism is natural, I think it’s safe to say we are being misled by the labels and the question itself. They are not the polar opposites they appear to be: they are not the only two conditions in the game. Each is natural within its phase of human existence, but it’s just as natural to simply survive, to be superstitious or to be phase five – all depends on where we land.