Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Küng on the physical development of the human species, and their religiosity

(Note on the picture to those who know how hairy I am: This isn't a picture of me)

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 1 of 4.

Are humans anything other than physical stuff, and is the person more than the firing of electronic synapses in the brain? What is a human? What is the ‘I’? To such questions, Küng now turns.

E. The beginning of the human race

1. The physical development of humans

Küng spends a while detailing the standard theory concerning the evolution of the human species (Homo habilis - erectus etc.), while at the same time dismissing some associated myths. During his overview, Küng points out the key role played, in this process, by the growth of the human brain, a subject that shall busy Küng later in the section. An important feature in this growth was the development of a complex syntactical speech, something that differentiates humans from their nearest relative, the Chimpanzee, and led to the human ability of strategic thinking and self-reflection.

Clearly reflecting something of Küng’s Welt-Ethos sensibility, he concludes the section with the words:
‘Never to forget: Aborigines, Bushmen, Asians, Europeans or Americans – these are not different kinds of humans, they all present one single kind of human, the same family of humans. And even if we are very different in our outward appearances, we probably all have, as molecular genetic analysis shows, one common origin. Under our skin we are all Africans’ (184)
In light of the evolutionary model expanded on in the previous section, Küng addresses the question: What are the earliest traces of religion?

In a nutshell, he argues that the two extreme theories concerning the development of religion (that use the Australian Aborigines as a test case) which purport, on the one hand, that magic was first then religion (e.g. Sir James G. Frazer), and on the other hand, that monotheism was first, followed by polytheism (cf. P. Wilhelm Schmidt), both lack empirical evidence. Indeed, an original religion (Urreligion) one can find nowhere. Nevertheless, following the recent presentation of Ina Wunn, Küng affirms that the earliest traces of religiosity are to be found in the Old and Middle Stone ages. Thus, even non-human extinct races of human relatives had religious tendencies, ‘upon which the religions of historical times built’.

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