Evolution of Religion


This relates to some other discussions, but I wanted to start it separately. The Big Conversation is a Christian Radio based deal, bringing together scholars with different ideas, but not in a combative debate format. Weinstein tells a little of his back story in the beginning if you don’t know it already. Then he talks about how his thesis is, humans evolved to value belief systems. No matter where we come from, we learn that picking the right one is important. It’s long, so here’s a couple key points.

27 minutes - To do science, you have to accept that we exist as independent minds in a universe. It’s not “faith” in the religious sense, but it’s a starting point without complete proof.

41 - McGrath, the believer, makes a statement about multiple causes and how Christianity is limited in its ability to make sense of the world and that we shouldn’t be “locked into” an interpretation from the past. He’s able to do that because this is a safe place for him to say it. I think your average church goer thinks this way, but they don’t want to say it in mixed company, because it could put them in an uncomfortable position.

Brett responds in a way that keeps the conversation open saying, “those books are full of wisdom that is not up to date”. People who go to church listen to these YouTubes and Brierly’s radio show. Conversations like this can help move this kind of talk into those churches.

I never did understand the rigid Christian who insists that nothing can change. They say that God is the same yesterday, today and forever to justify that they can never change the rules, never update their beliefs. But their beliefs have been updated. The Bible describes in great detail how you should treat your slaves. That is usually explained away by, “That was a different time.” Exactly! It was the bronze age! A thing or two has changed since then!



Evangelicals and Pentecostals believe that they’ve brought back the old time religion of "ancient Christianity. " They’ve done this by adhering to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, eschewing ritual and liturgy, and focusing on Christ dying for them.

But they are idiots, because:

:heavy_check_mark:The early church WAS very liturgical and ritualistic, as Judaism had been. And it was nothing like a goddamn rock concert.

:heavy_check_mark:The Bible (as complete as we know it) was unavailable to many churches for the first 1,000 years, and interpretation was more mystical and allegorical than literal.

:heavy_check_mark:There was never consensus on what “Jesus died for me” even meant." To modern Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, the very definition of a “Christian” is individual cceptance that Jesus was tortured and crucified as punishment for your sins so you can be saved. But the Eastern church never accepted the Augustian doctrine of Original Sin, nor the idea of Penal or Substitutionary Atonement (they find it horrifying), and worship was more collective than personal.

The branch of Orthodoxy to which I belonged used the The Divine Liturgy of St. James, the oldest Eucharistic service in continuous use. Other than having been translated into English, the ritual and chants were exactly the same used in early 5th Century Jerusalem and Antioch, and continues to this day.

Yet I wish I had a nickel for every Evangelical who asked me, “But do you believe in Jesus?” or “Do you have the Bible?” I mean, we thunk up the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the nature of Christ. We literally fucking wrote the Bible. (You’re welcome.)

I used to say then, and in this exact language, that if some people from “the early church” found a time machine and stumbled into a modern Evangelical service, they’d be like, “What the hell religion is this?” Because it would not be recognizable as “Christianity” to them.

To be clear: as an atheist, I don’t believe ANY religion is “right.” That’s not my point. What irritates me is that these “newfangled Christians” have the audacity to look down at traditional Christians, and have proclaimed themselves the original church by adopting a narrative that’s historically false. It’s arrogant.


Sorry, that rant has been in my head a long time.

To your point: the deconstruction of my faith came in many layers over many years. But I distinctly remember one night in 2013, standing in my kitchen, pondering Hebrews 13:8:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
To Christians, Christ is God. But the very act of becoming incarnate, born, living on earth, dying and resurrecting are changes. A perfect, eternal thing cannot "do" anything, because any process involves a change.

And with that, the last little piece of my faith vanished.


You need look no further than the Bible to see radical changes in the beliefs of the primitives who started the religion. In the very early Bible God is clearly described as being a volcano god. He lived atop a mountain which shot out fire and smoke when he was angry. But then mountains became less mysterious, so he moved into the clouds where he personally controlled the rain by opening windows in the “firmament”. They almost built a tower to get to heaven before he was forced to strike it down. But then the sky wasn’t so far away any more, so he moved further way until now Heaven is another realm altogether. But early on Heaven and Hell clearly referred to the sky and beneath the surface of the Earth.

And OT God was an angry desert god reflecting the hard life his followers endured. He was erratic and vengeful, allowing his followers to improperly load up the Arc of the Covenant to cart it away, but then striking dead the man who reached out to steady it when he thought it would fall. He was bipolar, angry and killy one moment and then “repenting” and being an all around nice guy the next. He killed Job’s entire family on a bet with the devil. But it was okay because he gave him a better family in return.

Then you have NT God, a touchy-feely god who has the same great forgiveness as original formula God, but with none of the wrath. The worst thing NT God did was turn over some tables. He even undid the wrath of others and said to them that it was bad, m’kay?

The beliefs have evolved several times over just within the Bible. Men had multiple wives and slaves, sending your daughters out to be raped was cool, getting so drunk you didn’t realize you were sleeping with your own daughters is something the ONE man worth saving in two cities did right after. Twice!

I found out from my mom last night that her church now uses grape juice for communion. I specifically remember a sermon chastising those who used grape juice, saying it wasn’t right and they were doing it wrong, that it HAD to be wine. And now it’s not. The beliefs of the church have changed and evolved just within my lifetime. It’s much easier to defend an “all alcohol is bad” stance if you don’t use alcohol in your magic rituals. So they changed it. But who has two thumbs and vaguely remembers the sermon condemning the very thing? This guy!





In the very early Bible God is clearly described as being a volcano god. He lived atop a mountain which shot out fire and smoke when he was angry.
In fact, this is one of the arguments I make about Christianity vs Islam.

Because the Bible is an assembly of many books by many authors over many centuries, Christianity’s “God” character evolves and is expressed by different people in different ways.

Because the Qur’an is a single book written by a single man within a few decades (and he was “illiterate,” so the words were channeled through Gabriel by Allah verbatim), Islam’s “God” does not evolve or develop and there is only one POV in the Qur’an: God’s.

I think this makes a HUGE difference, theologically and psychologically.

While there are Christian literalists, there is theological justification for liberal interpretations of Christianity. While there are Muslims who are moderate or liberal, there are few theological grounds for such Internations of Islam.


(Please tell me if this makes sense.)

In the very early Bible God is clearly described as being a volcano god.
Just out of curiosity what's the quote?
To do science, you have to accept that we exist as independent minds in a universe.
I think it's more realistic to except that your mind is of a different realm than this physical universe.


To do science, you have to accept that we exist as independent minds in a universe. -- my summary of what Weinstein said about what you need to accept to start doing science.

I think it’s more realistic to except that your mind is of a different realm than this physical universe. – CC

That’s fine. To me, science is a part of the universe reflecting on itself, so you can call that a different realm. It’s an attempt to step out of what we are and observe it, something our minds can imagine doing. Weinstein is making a rather simple point, although as we’ve seen here, some people really try to take it and run with it. It’s the philosophical question of how can we know anything, how can you prove we aren’t crazy and just believe we’re sane? You can philosophize about that all day long, but if you want to start doing science, you just accept that you’re not crazy, that you can interrogate the universe and get consistent results that are meaningful, then you get on with it.


CC: Just out of curiosity what’s the quote?
I'm curious too because I've never heard that idea before.

Volcano gods are usually associated with Pacific islands where the people live on an active volcano. I wasn’t aware there were active volcanoes in that part of the world that spawned religions/gods.

CC: I think it’s more realistic to except that your mind is of a different realm than this physical universe.
I can't make any sense out of that.

Sorry if I’m dense, but the only way I understand the sentence is to take it that you believe 1) the mind is not part of the physical universe, but rather 2) the mind is part of a different ‘realm’.

Neither of those make sense to me, so what am I missing?

Just out of curiosity what’s the quote?
Almost all of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. When Moses went to get the Ten Commandments from God he "descended on the mountain in fire". There was the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire which lead the Israelites. Deuteronomy 4:24 actually describes God as a consuming fire. The waters receding for the Israelites to cross and then drowning the following Egyptians, that's a tsunami. The waters recede just before the wave hits.

Read those four books knowing what you know now about volcanoes and the problems they cause, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and you will see a volcano god who destroys his enemies with fire and tsunamis and earthquakes. In fact, those three things account for most of the mass deaths caused directly by God in the Old Testament. The only exception I can think of is the passover. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire raining from the sky, the Egyptian army by a tsunami, the makers of the golden calf by an earthquake at the base of the mountain where God was, at the time, speaking to Moses out of fire, etc. Hell, just skim those 4 books and you will clearly see a volcano god.


(Please tell me if this makes sense.)
Sorry I didn't get back to you on that right away. The amount of time I have varies greatly from day to day, sometimes minute to minute. I wanted to read what you wrote carefully to make sure I understood completely what you were saying before simply placating you with an answer. Then I forgot. But then I remembered!

I had never really given much consideration to Islam as it is not the religion which screwed me up, personally, but yes, what you say makes perfect sense. Even in the Old Testament there were 12 Jewish sects (the 12 tribes of Israel) even as parts of the Bible was still being written and other parts were hundreds of years from being written yet. I don’t even know how many there are today, but I do remember a story a few years ago about Israel declaring that American Jews wouldn’t get to Heaven or something because they weren’t doing it right? I don’t remember the specifics. There are only 3 major Islamic sects and maybe a dozen or so worth mentioning in total (that I could find on Wikipedia. I had already written the notion of gods off before Islam became a real force in America, so I have not bothered to learn much about it). Yet there are, last I checked a few years ago, about 38,000 claimed Christian sects. And there are splits within splits. One group of Mormons practices polygamy while the main group does not, for example.

And the dissimilar and conflicting writings makes it easy to build your own “choose your adventure” type of Christian religion by just picking out the quotes you agree with. You can go to the Build-A-God Workshop of the Bible and pick yourself out a vengeful God, a happy God, a forgiving God, a scary God, a comforting God…just put whatever bits and baubles in there you like and you can have one for every occasion. Is Timmy acting up? Hell! Is Timmy crying because he got a D on a test and you just want him to shut up? Forgiveness! Is Timmy all grown up and not giving you any money? Tithes! Does Timmy say he’s an atheist? Well, I don’t know what part of the Bible says to disown him if you like (well, if the church doesn’t want you getting any outside influences who might disagree with them), but apparently the Jehovah’s Witnesses say it’s in there. Want to believe you can’t talk to ghosts and that anyone who thinks they are is actually talking to demons? Ecclesiastes 9:5 says the dead have no awareness. Want to believe you’re talking to a ghost? Samuel 28:15 says Saul did just that. Don’t like a rule that’s plain as day? That rule was for the Jews and doesn’t apply to us today. Can’t get around a verse? Get a different English translation. There are about 900 of them to choose from. One of them has to word it in a way you can get around. The Bible can support literally any belief you want if you just “interpret” it hard enough.

Islam, on the other hand, can only be read in the original Arabic or it doesn’t count. And any translations of it are from the original Arabic, not modern translations of the old Latin translation of the original Hebrew made from copies of copies of the original discovered texts, which, themselves, may have been copies of copies.

There is also ample evidence that much was added to various books of the Bible since the original writings, particularly to add “prophecy” to it after the fact in order to make it appear as if the texts had correctly predicted coming events, which were actually history when those additions were written. And the various authors each wanted something different from the reader. Paul notoriously added his own opinion throughout his works, mixing personal opinion in with the absolute rules in such a way that it still confuses fundamentalist churches today. So yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

Thanks, @Widdershins, and no worries!

Yes, to all you said. A metaphor might be that the Bible’s many authors using their own words, and the Quran’s a secretary or stenographer taking direct dictation:

For Christians, the Bible’s “the word of God” because God “inspired" the many authors, over many years, who used their own words. For Muslims, the Qur'an's the “word of God" because God literally dictated it, verbatim.
⊱⋅ ──────────── ⋅⊰

I think that understanding this difference is crucial in any discussion comparing Christianity and Islam. There’s a psychological difference between the two. I’ve written,

I am absolutely not saying there aren’t Muslims who are Liberal. Clearly there are many. I’m saying that Muslims have less theological justification for Liberalism.

I’ve approached a couple ex-Muslims on Twitter to see if I’m understanding this correctly, because it just happened again yesterday: I made a comment about Islam, and an atheist liberal said, “Funny you don’t mention all the violence Christians have done! Christianity is just as bad as Islam!!

That’s the exact sort of “Christian Whataboutism” I’m talking about.

I also was very disappointed to see Chrissy Stroop of Not Your Mission Field publically condemn ex-Muslim activist Yasmine Mohammed as a “bigot.” Mohammad, the author of "Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam,"was comparing Islam to Nazism, and Stroop said that saying Muslims are like Nazis was disgusting: “We atheists need to do better!”

But Mohummad WASN’T saying “Muslims are like Nazis.” She was pointing out that both ideologies are intolerant of basic human rights, and liberals should not tolerate ideologies that are intolerant.

I see a difference, a huge one, but most people don’t.

GAAHHH, this really bugs me.

There’s a new ex-Muslim blogger, Skeptic Mohamed.

He writes,

Islam and its orthodox values are not only different than the fundamental values of universal human rights, but completely against it.
This is true, and it's true of Islam in a VERY different way than it's true of Christianity. This seems impossible to discuss.



To evolve religion would have to be equal to science.

Profound observation, tho not correct. Religions don’t evolve quite like organisms do. But they do evolve on a cultural level. Hence Christianity today, for example, is not the same as it was in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.


The word “evolve” has meaning outside the theory of evolution and the scientific community. If you recall Obama’s thoughts and opinions on gay marriage famously “evolved”.

@Widdershins is correct.

Human thinking evolves. Philosophy has evolved. To claim religion can’t evolve because it isn’t science is hypersensitive. You can hate all the evils that religion has done in the world and still admit that at least some forms of it are better than in the past.

Lets not forget about the sense of communities and belonging that religions anchor. I have a low opinion of religions, but I got to sit in on a few Unitarian Church services a few years back - fortunately they aren’t holy roller, simple country people believing in old time religion. God was to shine through them, and they weren’t busy attacking others. Sweet kind people too, and given my bona fides (was dating their minister-ess for a few months ) I was warmly welcomed into their fold and was impressed with the humanity all the way around.


I’m very glad it happened, since it does temper my anger when thinking of all the hideous outcomes evangelicals have forced onto us. Faith-blinded to any “truth” but their own greedy desires (their Satanic Prosperity Doctrine) and wanton disregard for physical facts of life, being head of the list.

The sense of community is the one thing I do kind of miss about my old religion. But not enough to join another type of community.

Agreed. :slight_smile:

It’s nice having you on board here at CFI.