Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chesterton and paleolithic man

In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton spends a great deal of time arguing that man did not evolve into a spiritual being, but rather that man was spiritual from the beginning. He uses the Cro-magnon cave paintings as examples of paleolithic man creating genuine art:
For in the plain matter like the pictures there is in fact not a trace of any such development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race horse a Post-Impressionist. All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone. (Ch. 1)
Now archeology is beginning to discover the same thing. Recent finds in Turkey affirm that corporate worship on a very elaborate scale predates even agriculture itself (see Smithsonian article):
To Schmidt [the chief archaeologist on the dig] and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.
Religion did not come from agriculture; rather, agriculture came from religion!


Joe said...

It is a magnificent find but it is a bit premature to draw certain conclusions. Having said that, it seems quite reasonable to believe that at the first moment of homo sapien consciousness, there was the power of reflection and abstraction which makes art, morality, and religion possible. And so, it is entirely plausible that religion preceeds agriculture (I suspect that it probably does).

Robert Gotcher said...

My sentiment exactly. And Chesterton's.