The first chapter of Amir D. Aczel’s recent book Why Science Does Not Disprove God gives a brief (very brief!) overview of the development of religion, from the very early fertility representations and cave drawings tens of thousands of years ago to the emergence of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and the like. He points to the many examples of so-called “Venus figurines” found all over Europe and the Middle East and to cave paintings and images and sculptures of bulls thought to be representative of fertility and the forces of nature. The image to the right (from Wikipedia) was found in Samarra, is now in the Louvre, and dates to some 8000 years ago.
As agriculture developed and human settlements became more permanent other forms of religious observance appeared – with many of the most interesting sites located in Mesopotamia, Turkey, and Israel – a number of fascinating sites are found around Jericho and along the Jordan river. Ancestor worship with plaster covered, painted skulls also become part of the picture.
Making the connection with science Aczel turns to Max Jammer’s work in Concepts of Force and sees ancient divinities as “abstractions of forces seen in nature, mixed with human characteristics and an overlay of an emerging morality – punishments are meted out by these forces for “sins” such as theft and murder.” … “Early science – i.e. an understanding of nature and its forces goes hand in hand with the development of spiritual practice and moral code.” (p. 39) The monotheism of the Old Testament reflects a consolidation of the various gods represent local forces of nature into a single deity – as an example, the ba’als (local “lords”) become consolidated into one supreme divine creator.