Thomas Swan has a PhD in experimental psychology. He specializes in the cognitive science of religion.
The date of the first religion
All estimates for when the first religion materialized must predate 50,000 years ago, as this is when humanity dispersed from Africa to populate the remainder of the world. It is unlikely for religious practice to have emerged on each continent separately.
The first evidence of religion
A Paleolithic religion practiced in Israel approximately 100,000 years ago provides the earliest evidence of religious behavior and belief. Archaeological evidence from the Middle Paleolithic historical period (300-50 millennia B.C.) shows that adherents of this faith engaged in ritual burial of the dead.
Grave goods including the mandible of a wild boar were found on excavated skeletons at the Qafzeh site in Israel. The bones of the deceased were stained with red ochre, a pigment derived from clay. Red ochre is thought to symbolize blood in rituals performed to ensure a rebirth of the soul. The religious significance of red ochre can be confirmed by its use with Venus figurines and other artifacts in more recent burials.
While 100,000 years is our best estimate for the earliest religion, there is evidence that humans were intentionally burying their dead as far back as 300,000 years ago. However, this may have been to prevent the spread of disease or the attention of predators following an epidemic, or a clash between bands of foragers. The dead would have been disposed of in burial sites, such as caves or pits, for these preventative secular reasons.
Neanderthals may have developed their own religion at around the same time as modern humans. Neanderthals were a competing species of primate with many human characteristics. Like us, they appear to have engaged in wasteful rituals for the dead. Rather than burial, Neanderthals would deflesh the deceased to reveal the supporting skeleton. The cut marks show this to be for purposes other than cannibalism, suggesting Neanderthals had religious beliefs concerning the dead.
The Story of Gobekli Tepe
What is the oldest surviving religion?
The oldest surviving religion is Hinduism, which is a direct metamorphosis of the ancient Vedic religion that began in India around 3,500 years ago. However, another extant sect of Hinduism called Shaivism (worshipping Shiva) may be even older. Some scholars believe that a seal from the Indus Valley civilization (~4,500 years ago) depicts the goddess Shiva, although more evidence is needed. Judaism is the next oldest at around 2,600 years; however, all religions are descendants of earlier incarnations. Judaism descended from polytheistic ancient Semitic religions, which share a degree of ritual and symbolic consistency.
What was the first organized religion?
Paleolithic religion could never have become widespread without a large scale society for it to propagate within. Up until 12,000 years ago, humans lived in bands of no more than a few hundred individuals. This changed when we developed the skills to domesticate animals and grow cereal grasses. Called the Neolithic Revolution, these advances allowed humans to produce their own food without the need to relocate. Towns and cities emerged as bands of hunters came together to form the first great civilizations. Organized religion grew as political leaders discovered the benefits of claiming divine authority (e.g. the Pharaohs and the Kings of Sumer).
To our best estimation, organized religion began in southeastern Turkey at Gobekli Tepe around 12,000 years ago. Gobekli Tepe is the site of the world’s oldest religious structure; a beautiful temple that is still being unearthed today. It is a 25 acre site with 20 stone circles that are up to 100 feet in diameter. The circle walls are adorned with animal sculptures including lions, snakes, foxes, donkeys, snakes, insects and birds. In particular, vultures are prolifically illustrated, presumably because of their attraction to the dead. The structure is so big that it must have required more than 500 workers to build. However, Gobekli Tepe may slightly predate the Neolithic revolution, leaving unanswered questions about how the workforce could have been mobilized and fed.
Pilgrims to Gobekli Tepe sacrificed oxen, gazelles, deer and sheep, presumably to ensure hunting or herding success. Similar temples were found 45 km away at Nevali Cori, indicating the region was probably home to the first organized religion. Furthermore, from genetic analyses of wild wheat, it is believed that this civilization was the first to master agriculture; the trigger for the Neolithic revolution.
With the invention of writing in ancient Sumer (modern Iraq) 5,000 years ago, religion found a new way to be transmitted between individuals. The mythologies of Sumerian and Egyptian societies became widespread through works such as the Legend of Etana, the Pyramid Texts, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
How did religion begin?
If mankind had been evolving for millions of years, why did it suddenly produce religion 100,000 years ago? There are a number of psychological reasons why people are drawn to supernatural concepts, but these are unlikely to have evolved so recently. The trigger for the development of religion may be found in evolutionary ecology, or the changing relationship of mankind with its environment.
The defining feature of religious behavior is a time-consuming attention to activity that is unrelated to one’s immediate survival or well-being. When modern humans began staining the bones of their ancestors with red ochre, performing ritual sacrifices, and burying their relatives with prized possessions, they were wasting time and resources that could have been spent gathering food or resting. This behavior could only have arisen if the environment was no longer challenging enough to warrant complete attention to survival.
Over the course of human history, mankind has steadily mastered its environment. We have risen to the top of the food chain through our increasing brain size, the collective security of living in tribes, and the development of tools and agriculture. Each new advantage reduced the ways in which our environment could threaten our survival. It is probable that the level of external threat reached a threshold 100,000 years ago, triggering the first examples of enduring religious belief and practice.
Religion may have been available to us for millions of years, but it would have been unsuccessful before 100,000 years ago. The unlucky trailblazers would have been wiped out because they allocated too much time to fruitless spiritual activity in an unforgiving world.
The imagery at Gobekli Tepe, which principally concerns predatory animals such as lions, snakes and vultures, supports the theory. The imagery suggests a preoccupation with threatening creatures, and perhaps a desire to placate the ravenous nature of these animals with ritual sacrifice. Indeed, the religion of the Ancient Egyptians shared a focus on dangerous animals such as crocodiles, lions, and serpents.
Religion is only useful when comfort is needed.
Why is religion dying?
One must ask why humanity should waste its time on religion at all. As the first religious beliefs concerned the preparation of the dead for an afterlife realm, we can deduce that these beliefs gave comforting assurances about the unknown state of existence that follows death. This would have served to reduce existential anxiety, giving a sense of control and a reduced fear of threatening situations.
While a reduced fear of death can be detrimental, it can also provide the necessary bravery to prevail in conflicts with neighboring tribes or predatory species. To fight bravely for one’s god is to be rewarded in the afterlife. This may have been the initial function of religion once ecological conditions allowed resources to be diverted into spiritual endeavors.
It would have taken several thousand years for religion to disseminate through the people's of the Earth. The Neolithic revolution and the advent of writing would have introduced new social and political catalysts to its spread. However, as humanity continued to evolve, the threat posed by our environment decreased, leading to a reduction in the anxiety associated with that threat. Thus, the comforts of religion became increasingly irrelevant. Indeed, the atheistic tendencies of European populations and the growing population of atheists in North America support this perspective.
The study of religion combines anthropological, archaeological, and psychological research to unearth one of the most intriguing facets of the human condition. Whether we are pious believers or adamant atheists, the wide array of cultural intricacies that define the religions of the world captivate the curiosity of all. When emotions and vendettas are pushed aside, perhaps we'll begin to realize that to understand religion is to understand a large part of what makes us human.
Chante van Biljon from Bloemfontein on April 04, 2020:
Very interesting article. I'm especially interested in why religion is still around, so thanks for the video you shared as well.
Ali rana on June 22, 2019:
No i am right because search history and u will know
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on June 21, 2019:
Islam emerged in the 7th century. There were dozens of religions that came before.
Ali rana on June 21, 2019:
no you are wrong .first region in this world is islam .i think you dont know because you are not muslim.just see quran and read the the holy quran and translate it then you will now which is the first region
Melissa Meadow from United States on October 10, 2018:
Wonderful and informative article, Thomas.
I've gotten myself into debates regarding the oldest religion before and I find it's too often like beating my head against a block wall. Yikes.
I sometimes find myself wondering if all religions will someday dissolve. Will they become unnecessary and eventually obsolete, I wonder. It's a fascinating rabbit hole to think about.
I like your obvious research and flow supporting your topic. Well done.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on November 14, 2014:
Thanks for commenting LADiNardi. It's fascinating indeed. Also, consider how burial or burning removes the dead from sight or sterilizes them. So while we may be consciously trying to "send" them somewhere better, unconsciously, we appear to be motivated by our need to avoid disease and decay. Thus, the behavior is adaptive as well as superstitious. I don't think this is a coincidence.
L.A. DiNardi from New Hampshire on November 13, 2014:
Truly interesting. Many religions feel differently about burial. Some view it as a need to send the body on to the other world, as long as it's intact and complete. Look at the Vikings, who burned bodies at sea to send them to Valhalla. No matter how you look at it, human behavior is always fascinating. Thank you for another great hub!
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on May 06, 2014:
Thanks Kitty, I think the act of burying the dead is an adaptive behavior that helps to prevent disease. Of course, that wouldn't have been a consciously realized motivation for doing it. The conscious motivation is simply to hide the bodies away (under the ground, or in a tomb) because we are repulsed by the sight of death. In the same way, we are naturally repulsed by feces or the smell of food that has started to rot or develop mold. This aversive behavior is a product of the fact that dead bodies, feces, and rotting food carry harmful bacteria, but we wouldn't have consciously acknowledged this connection. We just behave that way because it's natural.
What defines a religious burial is the addition of burial goods, sacred items, and elaborate preparation of the body for an afterlife. This is all surplus to the requirement of removing the decomposing body from our environment.
I don't know if there would have been a motivation to return the body to the Earth from which it came. The existence of tombs, burials at sea, cremations, and the like, suggests that the motivation is simply to remove the body from our sight. Putting a body in the ground is the easiest way to achieve this objective.
Kitty Fields from Summerland on May 05, 2014:
I was thinking about the oldest human beings burying their dead - doesn't it have something to do with returning them to the earth from which they came? Perhaps? Loved this article!
Stephan on December 04, 2013:
This might be of interest on Göbekli Tepe:
RT Ganger on June 20, 2013:
Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my previous note. The rendition of a dying buffalo and of an apparently sleeping, dead, or entranced human found in the cave at Lascaux, and the almost equally famous "Sorcerer of Les Trois Freres" are supportive of what I'm about to say.
It seems that Paleolithic man imagined, as would his Neolithic successors (See Marija Gimbutas), that both the animals he killed and he himself (by virtue of his being an animal) were, and would forever continue to be, automatically resurrected by Natura after their deaths.
This most ingenious belief, which the skull arrangement at Drachenloch and the flower burial at Shanidar suggest may have been inherited by sapiens from neanderthalensis, not only freed mankind from the guilt associated with its consumption of meat, but assured it that both humans and their prey were immortal. How could any childlike, predatory, but conscientious and over-stressed mind, when told these fairy tales, not believe them?
This was part of the origin of our present misery. Of course there's lots more.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on June 18, 2013:
Thanks RT Ganger. Yes, I read a book once that described children as having the minds of scientists. Their confusion causes them to be open to new ideas. Eventually, they find things like religion that can be used to cope with whatever the world throws at them. Others use science to understand the same kind of uncertainties. I suppose the difference is you either trust in a method for overcoming uncertainty (science), or you dismiss and repress the uncertainty by assuming religion takes care of it.
Religion does seem to make people predictable, steadfast and reliable like you say. It advertises their adherence to a particular moral code among other things. In this way they appear `less uncertain' to other people, reducing the need for a method (science) to understand what makes them unique. The image they adopt promotes the ignorant manner of thinking they often wish to propagate.
I suppose you could make the argument that religion is needed when times are tough. Intellectual development is put on hold for something that draws people together to take on the threat. When anxiety is peaking, the last thing you need is a group of uncertain, unpredictable, free thinkers.
Perhaps if we understand why our unconscious operates in the way it does, we can consciously counteract the role it plays in influencing our decisions.
RT Ganger on June 15, 2013:
Thank you for opening this discussion. As Montaigne indicated, humans are"ondoyant et divers." Their cognitive development proceeds from confusion (infancy) to identifying themselves with a repertoire of collectivities from which they continually select personas to fit the ever-shifting occasion. We tend to like people who are "steadfast and reliable" because they spare us the inconvenience of having to ceaselessly reinvent ourselves in order to cope with the diverse outlooks of our neighbors. Religion is indeed a form of social cement, as is non-religion, and social cement has yielded many positive results for human survival. But it has also helped to define the kind of human that will survive and the kind that won't. From this, you will draw your own conclusions.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on June 09, 2013:
I can certainly agree with that samo. Thanks for commenting.
samowhamo on June 09, 2013:
I think the reason religion is dying is because humanity feels that religion is no longer needed religion was really only created to help humans explian the natural world which was very frightening to them so they used religion to explian why storms happen believing them to be the wrath of the gods or why good harvest comes believing it to be a blessing from the gods. Today we have science to explain these things.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on June 09, 2013:
Jewel, spirituality involves the same manner of experience as religion. Religious belief causes one to interpret those experiences differently.
Mel, thank you commenting. Prayer and social togetherness are certainly very comforting for people. Cigarettes also make people feel good. One cigarette per day will have little effect on a person's health, but 40 per day could cause respiratory illness or worse. Likewise, for religion, a single belief in a deity may be of little consequence, but a belief system in which every facet of a person's life revolves around its compatibility with a religious text.... that's the 40 a day problem. They dismiss and actively fight against all that is incompatible with the religion, harming scientific progress, and preventing their own intellectual development. Like for cigarettes, the comfort drawn from religion is addictive. People don't stop at one belief in God - they lap up religious dogma and base their entire life around it.
Mel Carriere from San Diego California on June 08, 2013:
Fascinating hub, and extremely well written. From personal experience I find that prayer is highly therapeutic. Perhaps psychiatrists fulfill this role now, which could be one reason religion is diminishing. I also believe that religion creates certain milestones in society that help to cement us into more tightly knit groups. People are more successful when connected, rather than disconnected from one another, and religion is an effective means of doing this. Whether one believes in God or not, I think that the continuing decline of religion is disadvantageous to our society.
Jewels from Australia on April 26, 2013:
"Religion is belief in dogma, Spirituality is having experiences without belief. Experience without dogma, does that have a category of it's own?
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on April 26, 2013:
Thanks Jewel. Natural selection has given us a number of dispositions that channel us into religious thinking. The religion that is prevalent within the culture of maturation will trigger these dispositions, leading to a belief in that religion. So I suppose you could say that's an inbuilt memory, but it wouldn't be a memory of specific deities or traditions. It would also be dependent on what was beneficial in our ancestral past.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on April 26, 2013:
Thanks Nell. We do have a disposition to find order in the chaos. For example, we see patterns in random arrangements of dots. We also have a disposition for thinking outside intelligence's are to blame for particular events. For example, we see gremlins in broken machines, chide lady luck, and identify with our boats and cars as if they were living people (giving them human names, etc).
This data forms what is called the cognitive science of religion. However, there is an argument that these dispositions formed as a result of our need for comfort. For example, finding order in the chaos is clearly comforting. Knowing a powerful intelligence is to blame for particular events is also comforting because it gives the events a purpose and meaning that is beyond blind chance. Given that intelligent beings can be reasoned with, this gives a potential avenue for control over the events, which is comforting.
Jewels from Australia on April 25, 2013:
It's wonderful to match evidence to events and get more clarity on religious practices. Like Nell I'm inclined to go toward an inbuilt memory, based on a strong need for comfort because we know that it did exist; And is not something so generously given in modern western society. Knowledge of spiritual experiences (knowledge meaning experience) is often not rational. Dogma is created to try to grasp onto a rational recall to these experiences and myth ensues. Underneath the myth however, is the relaying of an organic type truth, maybe not a shared one, but nonetheless a truth. It's likely to always remain a mysteries subject whilst the western world is dominated by materialistic reductionism.
Nell Rose from England on April 25, 2013:
Fascinating read thomas, I often wondered when and where religion started. it does make sense to think it was comfort so to speak, but i do often wonder whether we have an inbuilt memory if you like, that tells us there really is something out there, even as far back as the so called caveman, I don't think we will ever know the answer to that one I am afraid, but your hub was great in giving me some of the answers I wanted to know, voted up! nell
Sanjay Sonawani from Pune, India. on March 07, 2013:
Thanks Thomas for considering my suggestion. The direct proof is Shivlingam found at Kalibangan site...exact same as can be seen here in every Shiva temple. I admire your open mindedness to look into new facts...
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on March 07, 2013:
Thanks for the helpful comment Sanjay. I have spent the past hour researching Shaivism. From what I can tell, it hasn't been possible to confirm if Shaivism was present before the Vedic Age. There is a seal from the Indus Valley civilization that could depict the goddess Shiva, but it isn't clear. Nevertheless, this is important information, so I have included it in the hub. Thank you again for this contribution.
Sanjay Sonawani from Pune, India. on March 07, 2013:
Wonderful and highly informative article. Voted up. A small correction, the oldest surviving religion is not Vedic Hinduism but Shavism. Indus civilization was made of Mother Goddess and Phallus worshippers. Together both are called "Shaivism" that is still survived on a large scale. Vedic rituals are not practised except handful of Vedic people in India. Vedic religion came into existence about 2500 BC however Shaivait religion pre dates it, i.e. 3100 BC.
I thank you again for such a nice article.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 15, 2013:
Thanks lone77star. All cultures are tending towards Westernization, and Western culture is seeing a growing number of atheists. For that reason, I believe religion is beginning to die out.
Some people with science degrees are indeed religious. A religious upbringing can be very difficult to shake off. If one spends their life interpreting scientific findings as a product of deistic meddling, one can still go a long way towards scientific understanding. I wouldn't call them scientists though because they've assumed a truth without evidence. That doesn't stop them using scientific methods however.
Spiritual experiences come with a degree of selfishness. Why would God choose to reveal himself to you? Why are you special enough to receive his message, or special enough to understand the signs he has left for you? Wanting to feel special is a symptom of feeling inferior, lonely, and anxious. Thus, spiritual experiences also provide a comfort, that of being special and "chosen" by God.
Are scientists in need of humility, or do they merely have a proclivity for uncovering undesirable truth?
I assume you're talking about Neanderthals. If we interbred, it is possible there were differences that precipitated a religious belief in the "rebirth" of man. I'm guessing the fossil record would suggest these weren't anatomical though. These beliefs may have become embellished down the years as a way to explain our origins. It's an interesting theory for sure!
I have written a hub called "The Sumerian Flood Story" which talks about the original (written) flood myth in the Epics of Atrahasis and Gilgamesh. The similarity between this and Noah is too great to put down to chance, yet the differences bring the accuracy of the later Biblical narrative into question. Were there many gods or just one? If I were to trust one of the stories, I would pick the older one. Isn't it likely that a flood occurred at the end of the last glacial period? About 10,000 years ago? The flood story focuses on the region just south of the Turkish mountains, and these were capped with ice sheets that would have melted around the time.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 15, 2013:
Agreed starneri, we are products of evolution, and religion is part of that. We certainly are predisposed to be superstitious. You might want to look at my hub, "Does God Exist? Ask a Cognitive Scientist", to discover some of these psychological dispositions. The dispositions wouldn't be there if they weren't naturally selected, or a by-product of naturally selected traits.
Rod Martin Jr from Cebu, Philippines on February 15, 2013:
Rated interesting, Thomas Swann. Thanks.
You certainly cover some interesting topics, here.
Religion dying? I don't think so. Certainly, you bring up some good ideas for why some people use religion, but you only cover part of the topic.
You cover only the secularist's view of religion. But why would scientists of today still be religious? Some are. Included among them are myself, computer scientist with a degree summa cum laude, and amateur astronomer, geologist and archaeologist. I'm also a life-long student of comparative religion, getting an early start by age 3 (more than half a century ago). My father studied Eastern philosophies and mysticism along with the Bible, while my mother was daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. Quite an interesting mix. I've studied Scientology, Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, the Kabbalah and Christianity.
Those who clung to religion out of fear may not find a need for it in today's insular society (insulated from the dangers of nature), but those who thrive in spirituality because of first-hand experience with the spiritual will never rely solely on science as a crutch or worldview.
Science has its place studying the results of God's creation. But what some scientists and religious fundamentalists seem to forget all too easily is that humility is the first step in learning anything new. Both sides are guilty of a bit too much arrogance. The wise old parable of a full tea cup comes to mind.
I have long wondered if there might be more wisdom in the Bible than a literalist could ever find. Lucky me. I found plenty of it, and yet I've only scratched the surface. I've found a biblical timeline compatible with those of science. It pegs the Flood, not at Ussher's 2348 BC, or even Sir Isaac Newton's biblical date close to it, but rather 27,970 BC. This is closer to Edgar Cayce's date for Noah's Flood. Surprisingly, though, this date matches another date from science which might explain the identity of the "daughters of man" (Genesis 6). In fact, one species ceased to exist then, that humans had found attractive enough to mate with. I cover this topic more fully in my Genesis series of hubs.
But Gobekli Tepe may well have been a refugee site for the recently homeless citizens of Atlantis! Yes, Atlantis. And we currently have proof of an Atlantis-like event occurring 100 years before the Gobekli Tepe date of creation.
For years, sloppy thinking skeptics argued that the lack of proof of a civilization that far back was proof enough that Atlantis never existed. If only they knew more about logic, they'd realize that they were using an argument to ignorance type logical fallacy. Back then, we didn't know about Gobekli Tepe, and the discovery of this site made it evident that such arguments were baseless, after all.
Robin Pado from Philippines on February 15, 2013:
Religion is a survival mechanism. People needs it and our brains are more likely predisposed to believe in the superstitious. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. We could not have evolved to what we are today without that predisposition towards superstition.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 02, 2013:
Thanks for the comment busillis. I think religion's role in society is unnecessary, but was once favorable because it gave an advantage to religious groups via increased cooperation. However, it's a double edged sword because the cost of a religious society is a lack of creative thought, and a lack of intellectual and technological development. Ultimately, religion is about short-term advantages and long term deficits.
I think we do have a bias for becoming more religious when social pressures demand it, but it's not clear how the bias manifests. There have been surveys showing that when catastrophic events occur, Church attendance goes up. We seem to have an innate desire for togetherness, and religious groups provide this. Is it unclear whether we innately link togetherness with religion, or learn at some point in our life that religion can provide this benefit.
Kyson Parks from San Diego, CA on February 02, 2013:
This is a very interesting and well thought-out argument. One thought: Do you think it is possible that we carry a distinctly modern bias about religion and its role in society - assuming that it is one part of human culture instead of the arguably natural process of trying to make sense of life and ergo substantially transcending culture itself?
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on December 23, 2012:
Thanks Petra. I agree, any advantages that religion has given us are more than countered by the stifling of free and creative thought, and the outright destruction of scientific literature (e.g. Library of Alexandria). Without the Dark Ages we would be flying around in spaceships and living off our robot slaves. Christianity in particular may have set us back a thousand years. This could be the difference between life and extinction. If an asteroid came to Earth tomorrow and we didn't have the technology to destroy it, religion should probably shoulder the blame.
Interesting point about Abraham. I suppose it is the mark of a psychopath to kill people in devotion to a higher power.
Yes, the clergy have been living off the good will of others for thousands of years. The closest comparison in nature would be to a parasite.
Petra Vlah from Los Angeles on December 22, 2012:
Another great hub, Thomas. Organized religion (any and all) has created more problems than it has ever solved. I saw last night a very interesting TV program (it happens at times, believe it or not - lol) about the idea that killing, as a form of devotion started with the sacrifice Abraham was ready to make in order to obey God's will.
Since organized religion is nothing more than a profitable business, the killing will go on - so much for the evolution of the human spirit...
Maria Janta-Cooper from UK on December 04, 2012:
Yes, I also was thinking about the Paleolithic society and wasn't sure about the role of religion in the early stage of human history. Thinking about it again... For the early societies, to be cooperative with the authorities (leader of a tribe) was surely important , and maybe religion (Shamanism) played a significant role in this development. The experiment you write about, shows us the importance of the "supernatural" force to get us back on track. :-)
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on December 04, 2012:
Thanks for the comment jantamaya! You might be interested in an experiment by Jesse Bering (I think). He told people to sit in a room and perform a task while an experimenter watched them and recorded their score. At some point during the task, the experimenter left, telling the person to record their own score. The person didn't know they were being filmed on a secret camera, and usually the person cheated by not being honest about the number of mistakes they made. However, when the experimenter told the participants that a chair in the room was haunted, they cheated far less on the task. When people believe they are being watched by a supernatural force, they behave better. In evolutionary terms, this will make a society more co-operative with each other, and more likely to conquer neighboring civilizations. So I think you're right that religions make people follow the laws. I'm not sure if this would have such a large effect on small bands of foragers in the Paleolithic, but it's another possibility.
Maria Janta-Cooper from UK on December 04, 2012:
Yes, very interesting hub indeed. I think, religions were needed to make humans follow the laws. For example, ten commandments (or Hiduistic principles) are telling us what to do and not to do. When you don't follow them, you'll go to hell (Naraka in Hinduism), or you'll be punished and born again with even worse problems...
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on December 04, 2012:
Thanks for the comment LifeAbundance. There's that old saying "there are no atheists in foxholes", which probably has some truth to it. Of course, not all soldiers are religious, but there is research out there to suggest religious people are more likely to fight in wars than atheists. Much of what I've said about the birth and death of religion is my own theory, but the bit about religion being a comfort is gaining a lot of traction in academic circles. The main focus of research is on the psychological dispositions we have that attract us to religion. You might want to check out the `cognitive science of religion' or conversely, my hub `Does God Exist? Ask a Cognitive Scientist` :)
LifeAbundance on December 03, 2012:
Very interesting hub. I think humans created religions when they began to fear the unknown. It is only natural to create religions to cope with life's hardships as you stated. I'm glad to see research is bringing the true origins to man's religions to light.