Theory of cultural evolution from an unlikely source

He doesn’t explicitly say so, but this seems to be a theory for differential “advancement” in monotheistic and animistic cultures. What do you think of this as a hypothesis? Is this original with Gore, or has someone else expressed a similar thesis?

And where does this leave atheism? Is it possible that theism was necessary for our cultural development, and only a greatly advanced, theistic society can produce a viable atheistic subculture?

This is an ill-informed hypothesis. I would have expected better of a theology student. Given my background and interests I am more inclined to address Gore’s generalizations about monotheism rather than his analysis of animism or his more general conclusions.
The idea that God created Nature as a self-governing and operating system is relatively recent. Inquiries into nature as its own system, per se, did not arise until about the 12th century. Naturally, it took a tremendous amount of time for this belief to gain any kind of common currency.

An example of this phenomenon exists in the medieval study of miracles. Miracles, or miracula, are phenomenon in nature that could not have taken place without the direct intervention of God, who abdridged its laws in order to demonstrate its power. By the end of the 12th century, a new word had slipped into the vocabulary of miracle analysis, mirabella, or marvels. Marvels are natural phenomenon which are extraordinary but are not the result of divine intervention. Natural philosophers merely did not believe that they understood the laws well enough to explain the phenomenon.

These kinds if views found a home in rarefied monastic writings. My WAG is that people were not generally that nature was self-regulating until the 17-18th century.

So Gore is talking about only one type of Christianity, namely post-Enlightenment, and that any view of nature as being animated with the Godhead diminishes curiousity since irregularites are easily explained by whim. But consider this. Christians used to offer the same explanations for natural phenomena. Everything came down to the whim of God. However, for many people, this explanation was not sufficient. They realized that attributing all causes and effects to direct divine intervention was both implausible and facile. So they investigated. After all, man had to discover that nature was its own system from somewhere. They did not learn this a priori just because they were monotheists.

Furthermore, scientific inquiry into the laws and phenomena of nature certainly predates Christian monotheism and stands well apart from Jewish monotheism. There are reams of treatises on the physical world in Latin and Greek, all of which were written by “animists”.

I understand what Gore is saying, but it appears he is speaking out of his depth.


scientific progress is made by such a small percentage of the population to claim the culture is responsible is absurd. the people that do nothing just want a piece of the credit. consider the religious dummies that threatened galileo with torture.

Dal Timgar

Well, it makes sense if you realize that Gore failed out of Divinity school

That aside, it is strange that a man so finely attuned to global diversity would try to create a hierarchy of religious beliefs. I interpret this statement to be equivalent to “we christians are better than those savages because we have one god, and I have a scientific reason.”

but that was, of course, a different version of Al Gore than the one that is running now. HE now runs on software version 14.6. That quote was the old 3.0.

I get the sense that the argument starts with the assumption that Christianity is superior and then makes up a reason why, rather than starting with analysis of how animist and non-animist beliefs systems affect one’s “curiosity”. Maeglin’s last few paragraphs make short work of that attempt.

If I saw this argument advanced by anyone here, I’d be really curious to see supporting data of any kind.

FWIW, one could make a reverse argument: The more one understands the “whims” of all objects in one’s environment, the more likely one is to interact favorably with that environment. That gives you an incentive to be curious. If you’re “Christian”, you just don’t care, since you place your survival in God’s hands. So maybe the animists are more curious to understand the world around them. (Yes, the claims made here are equally unsupportable.)