Geza Teleki tells about watching a sunset when two large wild male chimpanzees meet near the top of a small hill. They stand up and shake hands in a very human-like way, then sit down and watch the sunset together. Watching sunsets is just something chimpanzees do and and it’s been seen by Jane Goodall and others. Why? Apparently for the same reasons we do. You don’t need language to enjoy beauty. In fact sometimes it just gets in the way.
Our capacity for spirituality must exist, in part, within our body. I believe this because I feel that getting a body was a necessary part of our eternal progression. When we have a spiritual experience, for example, I believe we are feeling something in our complete personhood. It’s just not our spirit feeling (whatever that might mean) or just our body. Spirituality must be an act of the union of these aspects of our complete person. It seems to me that our body must then at least have the capacity for this sort of experience. Could it have evolved with the rest of our body? The next few posts are going to explore this question in detail. The first part will explore some of the neurology of spiritual experience and trace out some of the archeological evidence for humans engaging in religious acts as early as 40,000 years ago with hints at even earlier religious acts (some evidence exists for Neanderthal engagement in religious ritual, which would push back religious ritual to over 400,000 years ago, if we take these rituals back to a common ancestor of both humans and Neanderthals). In part II we will explore some of the reasons researchers think religious feelings may have evolved, and lastly in part III to explore the implications our for LDS views if these things are true. I’ll tell you up front that I have no problem with the idea that my body may have evolved with spiritual capacities. My body evolved with capacities to detect lightwaves (eyes, certain brain structures, etc), which use real signals to help me navigate in the world. If there are bodily apparatuses for doing the same with spiritual signals I don’t see a problem.
These ideas seem to threaten many people of faith, but I think as LDS we are uniquely placed to make better sense of this than many other religions. This because of the central role that the body plays in our theology.