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Essay: The evolution theory of religions

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  • Published: 12 September 2015*
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The evolution theory of religions is based on three assumptions. The first assumption is that religion is a part of man’s culture that is easily understood and devised by humans without the mention of extra ordinary (Corduan, 2012). Secondly, religion started in a very basic, primitive way and evolved into a more complex belief system over time (Corduan, 2012). Finally, scholars concluded that less developed cultures of the world are nearest to the religion of their ancestors (Corduan, 2012).

The first of five levels of the evolutionary approach is Mana (Corduan, 2012). Mana is the least complex and most simple of the stages. In the mana belief, there is a basic realization of a spiritual force in the world, and there may be greater concentrations in certain places and things (Corduan, 2012). Followers consider positive contact with the force to give the power for favorable results in health, crops and other life situations, and negative contact will produce tragic consequences (Corduan, 2012). It is believed that this force inhabits objects such as a doll or a stick, and if correct techniques for contact are observed, the human goals will be met (Corduan, 2012).

Animism is the second stage of the theory. In animism, both nature and ancestor spirits are recognized. The nature spirits reside in animals, plants or other forms of the landscape, while the ancestor spirits have to do with deceased family members (Corduan, 2012). The spirits have some powers beyond those of humans. They can cause harm to the living, especially if humans do not keep the spirits informed about plans they are making (Corduan, 2012). These spirits can provide insight to humans through such activities as fortune telling or other readings.
The worship of many gods is the basis of the third stage, polytheism. The gods have much more power than the spirits, and in this level, spirits could be moved to a higher status than in animism (Corduan, 2012). Additionally, a deceased family member who on earth held a prominent position might be revered as a spiritual power to a whole tribe (Corduan, 2012). Followers believe that such forces as weather are controlled by a particular god. Unlike spirits, these gods cannot be commanded by humans, but there is the belief that proper worship rituals will gain favor with them (Corduan, 2012).
In the fourth stage, henotheism, people believe in many gods, but only worship one of them (Corduan, 2012). There may be different gods for every group of people or area. Henotheism was widespread during biblical times. Many examples can be found in reading the Old Testament, such as when the people worshipped the golden calf in the book of Exodus.

The final stage, monotheism, is the top level of progress in the evolution theory, and is the worship of the one true God (Corduan, 2012). The Hebrews, guided by Moses, are credited with the first achievement of this belief theory (Corduan, 2012). This stage represents the belief that God is infinitely greater in every way to anyone and is worthy of worship. Christianity and other religions subscribe to this viewpoint.

There is no proof that any culture progressed through the stages of evolutionary religion model. While it is assumed that a less complex stage must have come before the claimed higher level, there is no information available that this is correct (Corduan, 2012). A sophisticated country such as Japan widely practices the religion of Shinto, which would be classified as primarily animistic, while there are people who are devout monotheists who do not live in a modern, industrialized country (Corduan, 2012). In addition, millions of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, but their behavior suggests inconsistency in actions. The many people in the United States who regularly consult psychics or use astrology are actually following spirits as in the animism belief system. It is contradictory to claim to believe in and follow the one God who controls the universe, yet actively pursue gaining knowledge or insight from mediums or the zodiac signs. This evidence does not support the evolution theory.


Corduan, W., (2012). Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

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