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Whenever there is an discussion about religions and changes in religions someone always pulls out the argument that religions evolve. I am very sorry but I believe that applying the concept of evolution to religion is not a valid argument.

The argument suggests that religions start off as primitive beliefs and then change to become better beliefs. This is not the idea of evolution. Evolution does not necessarily make life forms better. Evolution changes life forms and sometimes these changes enable the creature to survive in its environment better, but if the environment changes again the creature could be doomed to extinction. Evolution does not mean that a creature becomes a better or more advanced creature.

Since animism appears to have been an early belief system does that make it more primitive then polytheism? Since polytheism appears to be an earlier belief then monotheism does that make monotheism a better belief system?

Change in religions must come from within the religion. Should individuals who are not members of a religion try to change that religion? Or should change occur from the inside by members of that religion who have a true understanding of what that religion means?


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 2nd, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)
This is purely my personal opinion, and should be given the appropriate worth.

What does change in any given religion over time is the number of extremely learned people that are given the chance to think, philosophize, and write about that religion. The major organized religions of the world don't rely solely on what they consider to be sacred scripture, but also rely on a body a written works by people who had entire lifetimes to think about that sacred scripture(such as St Augustine, Moses Maimonides, Imam Bukhari, Adi Shankara). My opinion is that, as more people have time to think and write about a religion, the better the interpretation of the original source material (the sacred writings).

Paganism and Wicca, as we currently know it, have the disadvantage of being relatively new to the scene, and the "Great Doctors of Paganism" have yet to be born (once again, in my opinion). The other disadvantage is that there is no universally recognized "sacred text" from the Earth Mother spelling out, well, anything. In tech geek terms, right now it is "open source" religion with many different distros all claiming to be the best way.

You are correct that "evolution" may not be the correct word for it. Perhaps it would be better to say that there are some religions that have more decades of thought than others.
Feb. 3rd, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
In tech geek terms, right now it is "open source" religion with many different distros all claiming to be the best way.

Um, last I checked, Wicca (as we define it here) isn't trying to claim to be the best way.
It's not looking for converts to its OS.

It isn't pulling the "I'm Windows." "I'm a mac." "I'm linux." thing.
Feb. 4th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC)
You're right. No wiccan is elitist in the slightest bit. They don't quibble about what is true Wicca and what is not.
Feb. 4th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
Um, there is a difference between being selective, being elitist, and what you originally said: "claiming to be the best way".

Additionally, for the purposes of THIS community, Wicca is defined very specifically.

Also, those of the Wicca aren't going out and saying that theirs is the best so you MUST have it.
Feb. 4th, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
Um, there is a difference between being selective, being elitist, and what you originally said: "claiming to be the best way".

I disagree. In my opinion, it's exactly the same thing. Just different audiences.

Additionally, for the purposes of THIS community, Wicca is defined very specifically.

Linux has a specifically defined kernel as well.

Also, those of the Wicca aren't going out and saying that theirs is the best so you MUST have it.

There isn't a singular all encompassing Linux entity claiming to be "the best way" to Windows users either. Neither are they claiming that you MUST have it.
Feb. 4th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
>They don't quibble about what is true Wicca and what is not.

Having that argument isn't the same as trying to claim to be the best way. They can say, "X is Wicca, Y is not" without inserting a value judgment -- the value judgment seems most often inserted by the folk who are being told "Y is not." In a general sense, what I've seen when the argument comes up is "X is Wicca, Y is not, but Y is still a completely valid way to believe. Just don't take our name."
Feb. 4th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
The question I would ask, then, is what gives any person the authority to claim the "X is Wicca and Y is not"? The answer is usually something along the lines of "Well, I get my authority from {insert whatever evidence leads to the person's brand of Wicca as the correct and true way}, and therefore you have no authority to decide whether Y is Wicca. I do!".

"The best way" can mean many different things, depending on the audience and the intent (trying to convert people of other faiths, or reassuring your faithful adherents). But the sentiment remains the same, in my opinion. It's neither good nor bad, it just is.

Edited at 2008-02-04 05:56 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
>The question I would ask, then, is what gives any person the authority to claim the "X is Wicca and Y is not"? The answer is usually something along the lines of "Well, I get my authority from {insert whatever evidence leads to the person's brand of Wicca as the correct and true way}, and therefore you have no authority to decide whether Y is Wicca. I do!".

I suppose. Although generally I've seen the argument as "Because members of the Wicca do certain things within the context of their ritual worship. If you are not doing these things, you doing something different that is not what the Wicca do." I guess you could argue that that's an authority issue, but ... to me it's akin to saying, "Catholic priests do X, Y and Z. If you do A, B and Z, you are not a Catholic priest -- you may be some other kind of priest, but you're not a Catholic priest."

Honestly, I don't see a problem with that. But I understand other people do.

>But the sentiment remains the same, in my opinion.

Okay. My opinion disagrees with yours on that issue.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
I believe that you just pointed out the true argument, which is not whether or not religions "evolve" but from which point they evolve most effectively: without or within.

Feb. 2nd, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
Well, to apply the concept of evolution to religion is valid, but not a valid argument for one wanting to show that changes to religion are self-evidently to be desired. To use justplainbryan's example above, I'm of the belief that Ubuntu 7.10 is actually a poor upgrade, as things that worked just fine in 7.04 (e.g. GNOME and Wi-Fi support) were broken in 7.10 and had to be patched back together. (Yes, I'm a Unix geek. ;-) ) By analogy, then, religions do change; but not every change has been positive. Evolution likewise produces bad effects.

That said, it's silly to think that religious change can come from without. That's not change, that's initiative... and no, it should not be confused with initiation, lest we go down that road once again.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
It looks to me like you are arguing two things:
(1) that religious change is not necessarily an improvement, and
(2) that religious change must come from within the religion itself.

The first point I think is certainly true - and it's important to keep in mind, at least in my opinion. Some changes are improvements and some are not - although different people would disagree over which is which.

But I'm not sure what you are arguing against (or for) in the second point. There is no one single source of authority within any religion. There are usually competing groups with differing opinions and agendas. But a lot of religious change "just happens" from generation to generation. For example a particular cult might wane in popularity until it is pretty much defunct and it might even die out from lack of interest - but then suddenly someone has a dream, or a miraculous healing occurs, or there's an earthquake, or a new prophet or teacher appears, etc - and, voila, that cult is back in business (something like this is reported to have happened with the cult of Pan in Athens after the Battle of Marathon). Also completely new cults might be imported from the Pagans next door (or from far away) - like with the cult of Cybele among the Greeks - or, an even more extreme example, the cult of Isis in Britain.

I guess what I am really wondering is: how does what you are saying (about changes coming from the inside) apply to real examples of religious changes that have taken place in the past?
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:19 am (UTC)
That reminds me of the early days of anthropology, when the concept of evolution was (very erroneously) being applied to cultures. It was thought that "primitive man" with his animism would evolve up through various stages of development, exemplified by cultures living and extinct, all the way up to that pinnacle of evolution, the glorious empire of Great Britain and its monotheistic Anglican church.

Utter bollocks, in retrospect. People were all abuzz with the concept of evolution and applying it willy-nilly. (It seems like they still are.)

(And anthropologically speaking, evolution is a change in gene frequency over time. So religions need not apply. :-)

I think that change in religion should come from within, but I understand the need for religions to at least acknowledge outside influences. (For example, polygyny in the mainstream Mormonism was abandoned because of outside pressures. Was this good or bad?)
Feb. 2nd, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
Good points! I do not know if the abandoning of polygyny is good or bad. I have talked to non-mainstream Mormons who do practice polygyny (Adults only)and they believe there are many advantages to it. The influence was from the outside, but the decision was from within the religion. This may be like the issue of homosexuality and Wicca. Gardner appeared to be against it, but as society changed and societies view of homosexuality changed then initiated Wiccans made a change.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
Speaking of primitive humans, The Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis puts forth a neat theory that the paleolithic cave painters in France, Spain and related areas were actually the first great human civilization. His analysis of the cave art is excellent, and points out a lot of things that people often overlook in the composition and layout of the paintings.

Okay, tangent over :P
Feb. 2nd, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
One of my archaeology professors was always going on about the extreme vision and skill found in much "primitive" art. I remember him going into raptures about a duck figurine, which some may dismiss as a simple carving - yet he asserted that it contained "the very essence of duck - something that later cultures lost.

I went to Lascaux II (the reproduction) a few years after it opened. I have to say that when looking at the paintings, even in reproduction (and apparently the artists tried to stay as close to the original tools and techniques as possible) the word primitive never crossed my mind. :-)
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
I believe that applying the concept of evolution to religion is not a valid argument
And I believe you're arguing an incorrect point.

Evolution, per se,does not anywhere state the species will improve in some form of every-upward spiral. Instead, it specifically states the organism will evolve to better fit its environment at that point.

Religions do, IMHO, evolve. That is, they change to better fit their current environment. Whether that better fit is always "upwards" or not is a matter of some dubious, at best, conjecture. It it, however, a change.

Unfortunately, I believe you're allowing the people you are arguing with to conflate the concept of evolution with some philosphical statement of 'improvement upwards', however they choose to define same.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
You are right. Many people tend to view evolution as a process that "improves a species upward" when the theory does not state that. And part of the reason why is that earlier disciplines, as mentioned by aislinggheal, used the term evolution in that manner.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
Which is the precise point I was going to raise. Evolution is NOT about "upwards progression." It's about change in response to change in the environment.

Religions change too, in response to changes in the circumstances in which they find themselves, and in response to their practitioners needs and expectations. The principal force behind the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, for example, was a refusal by the Home Mission Society to appoint slaveowners as missionaries. Those Baptists in the south who felt that Scripture gave sanction to slavery broke away from the Home Mission Society and the Triennial Convention to form the Southern Baptist Convention, which is now, 163 years later, the largest Protestant denomination in the US.

To argue that religions, even Pagan religions, do not change is silly. It's arguable, for example, that Wicca is not generally practiced today as it was in the Brickett Wood coven. It's a demonstrable fact that there are significant differences in Wiccan practice between Britain and the US. Is this an example of evolution, or not?

Feb. 2nd, 2008 10:09 am (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
Religion is being spoken of as if it's a self-sustaining organism. Religion - for the sake of any argument involving evolution - does not "evolve" because it does not exist independent of humanity.

(Wo)Man evolves. Religion expresses and instructs us culturally and spiritually, but is not the species-wide impulse and connection to greater Spirit.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
This is too simplistic of an argument. Ongoing growth and development can be applied to a vast number of things, self sustaining or not. See definitions below:

ev·o·lu·tion /ˌɛvəˈluʃən or, especially Brit., ˌivə-/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[ev-uh-loo-shuhn or, especially Brit., ee-vuh-] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
1. any process of formation or growth; development: the evolution of a language; the evolution of the airplane.
2. a product of such development; something evolved: The exploration of space is the evolution of decades of research.
3. Biology. change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.
4. a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure or institutions.
5. a motion incomplete in itself, but combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action, as in a machine.
6. a pattern formed by or as if by a series of movements: the evolutions of a figure skater.
7. an evolving or giving off of gas, heat, etc.
8. Mathematics. the extraction of a root from a quantity. Compare involution (def. 8).
9. a movement or one of a series of movements of troops, ships, etc., as for disposition in order of battle or in line on parade.
10. any similar movement, esp. in close order drill.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
The evolution of language, the airplane, society -- all are dependent on humanity. Lock 'religion' in a padded room, and will it continue to 'evolve' on it's own? I doubt it.
Feb. 3rd, 2008 11:43 am (UTC)
Re: Quit Conflating Two Distinct Arguments
And no where did I say they would. Ideas and constructs are still guided by evolution, however. I stated that assigning evolution to biological processes only is too simplistic. Evolution explains change and the processes by which change occurs. Everything is subject to it.
Feb. 2nd, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
Never forget that religions are social networks, not institutions. Because they are social in nature they must be part of a living, breathing, and ever changing population.

I would argue that in that sense social networks can evolve to fit the environment because the living creatures that form the social network evolve as well. In fact, it seems as if social networks "evolve" much quicker than their base participants. Add great long distance communication? Social networks suddenly can span vast distances. Add an attacking outside force? Social networks split up and reform. Continually changing and adapting to diverse environments.

Assigning words such as "primitive" and "better" really are completely arbitrary measurements of worth that don't have much to do with evolution, as several people have mentioned before.

Good thought though! Its interesting to take a step back and actually think about what "good" and "bad" are with respect to the grand scheme of our lives.
Feb. 3rd, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
I would say that religions change, but they do evolve I think, in that people and the ideas related to the religion or spirituality change in ways that allow people to better understand what they believe for themselves - this is a kind of evolution, where something doesn't fit right in the world, so it changes, and adjusts until it does fit right. We analyze ourselves, the religion looks at itself and sees what works and what doesn't - First Council of Nicaea was a good example of humans forcing a religion to evolve. The bible/s, all made of the stories that made the cut, and not made of the stories that weren't chosen, weren't deemed to work enough with the popular idealogy at the time.

Hell, look at Christianity and conversion. Darwinism in action, the act of the guy who changed Rome to being Christian - sorry to historians but I don't remember the name of him anymore.

Mind you, I don't believe the word Evolution should ever strictly imply 'becoming better' I think it can often be more of simply a change as well. Plus, just because I include christianity as an example doesn't mean I condone the bad stuff (for anyone who might be trying to find a way to get stroppy on me).
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )