Worshipping Waterfalls: The Evolution of Belief

Chimpanzee
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Original Air Date: 
May 14, 2017

Jane Goodall has seen wild chimpanzees dance and bristle with excitement around roaring waterfalls — and she thinks it’s an experience of awe and wonder — and possibly a precursor to animistic religion.

But can we ever know why our ancient human ancestors developed spiritual beliefs? Can evolutionary science uncover the roots of religion?  

At some point our ancestors went from admiring waterfalls to worshipping them - and all kinds of spirits and gods. They developed sacred rituals and turned stones into totems. And then came the Battle of the Gods.

This was produced in partnership with the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization that brings together scholars from a diversity of disciplines to think creatively about our relationships with nature and each other. What do you think evolution can tell us about love and morality? Share your thoughts at humansandnature.org. This episode was made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation.

 
Chimpanzee
Audio

African chimps store caches of big rocks to throw at certain trees. And some scientists wonder, are those trees sacred to them?

Length: 
16:03
lightning
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Ancient humans lived as hunter-gatherers, with animistic religions. So why did people start to believe in Big Gods?

Length: 
11:04
Experience the divine
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Jeff Schloss is an evolutionary biologist. He’s also Christian. As a scientist, he’s trying to develop an evolutionary theory for the origins of religion. But he says science can’t explain everything about religion.

Length: 
9:47
meditation
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Andrew Newberg is a pioneer in neurotheology. He says brain scans can show the neural signature of spiritual experience.

Length: 
11:48
The moral evolution
Articles

The Center for Humans and Nature provides a forum for wider discussion on the link between our evolution as a species and the emergence of religious thought and morality, including several essays by evolutionary biologists David Sloan Wilson and Jeff Schloss.

Show Details 📻
Airdates
May 14, 2017
November 25, 2017
July 14, 2018
Guests: 

Jane Goodall

Activist, Scientist, Animal Rights Activist
kehoe

Laura Kehoe

Wildlife biologist
dewaal

Frans de Waal

C. H. Candler Professor of Psychology, Emory University
Barbara King

Barbara King

Anthropologist
Norenzayan

Ara Norenzayan

Professor of Psychology

Jeff Schloss

Biologist

Andrew Newberg

Last modified: 
July 18, 2018