Monotheism Preceded Polytheism
EVOLUTIONARY thinking does not stop with its gradual development of man from inanimate matter. It also makes the supreme God a product of evolution. In the beginning primitive man had no concept of an Almighty God, this evolutionary thinking says. Man first evolved the idea of many gods, and from these many gods the concept of one Almighty God developed. So according to this theory monotheism evolved from polytheism, and it is the view that is generally taught with the same airy glibness and dogmatism that accompanies the teaching of organic evolution.
Life magazine of December 12, 1955, published the article “The Dawn of Religion,” with the subtitle: “Awed by the phenomena of nature and by the mysteries of life and death man evolved a belief in higher powers and rites to honor the spirit world.” Written by the evolutionist Lincoln Barnett, the article said:
“Early man could only imagine some all-powerful and supernatural volition behind such ordered phenomena as the daily rising and setting of the sun, the cycle of the seasons and the nightly rotation of the starry celestial sphere. He could only tremble in fear and wonder at the unpredictable paroxysms of the natural world—the sudden rifting of the earth and the blinking scintillation of lightning in the opaque sky. Here surely lay the origin of his belief in the supernatural. . . .
“But early man must have been aware of equally mysterious and alarming occurrences that took place not in the exterior world but within himself. What, for example, could he think of sleep? The difference between sleep and consciousness suggested that there existed within him something which transcended his body, something which could go away and, in dreaming, lead an active life of its own, traveling wondrously through space and time. And finally, death confronted man with the ultimate mystery. When any individual died the vital attributes of his body disappeared—warmth, movement, speech, breath, volition. Where did they go? Since the flesh itself disintegrated, the body could only be a dwelling place for the spirit that inhabited it in life.”
So it is speculated that from nature myths, star myths, magicism, totemism, fetishism, animism and polytheism man finally evolved the concept of one supreme Almighty God, called in the Bible “Jehovah.” This is not proved. It is only speculation. It is based on another unproved speculation—the organic evolution of man. Since man’s body evolved his brain evolved, and as it evolved his thinking evolved, and from this evolving thinking religion evolved. The article, as is customary in evolutionary writings, cites an imposing list of scholarly authorities as proof of accuracy. This, of course, is no proof to anyone except those willing to follow men blindly.
Are there any facts to prove or disprove the speculation that polytheism preceded monotheism?
THE EVIDENCE FROM PRIMITIVE CULTURES
Scientists seek out the origins of religion by archaeological investigations of the mute remains of ancient peoples and by studying the religious beliefs of the most primitive cultures whose members still live on earth. Lincoln Barnett agrees with this and says that for this latter category the “prime representatives are the Aborigines of modern Australia.” He states: “That their religion has its roots in the depths of prehistory cannot be questioned. And that a similar, if less complex, form of belief prevailed among Palaeolithic men 100,000 years ago is also an indubitable fact.”
But when we go to the roots of these primitive religions we find, not polytheism, but monotheism, the belief in high gods, and the more crude and polytheistic elements of their worship are discovered to be later additions and indicate a degeneration from an original monotheism into polytheism. For example, among the Australian tribes those of the southeast are the oldest, and concerning their religion researcher W. Foy writes: “It is at first sight surprising to find, especially in South-East Australia, a belief in one god, known as ‘father’ or ‘grandfather,’ who is supposed to have created man and the principal phenomena of nature.” Foy adds that this one high god has a son at his side, “acting as mediator between him and man.”1
One of the most prodigious laborers in this field is Professor Wilhelm Schmidt. After showing that the Pygmy peoples are even older than the Australian Aborigines, he says: “Every one of the Pygmy peoples, which without doubt belong to the oldest strata of humanity, is seen to have magical beliefs and practices only to a relatively small extent . . . Now on the other hand, among all these peoples of the lowest stratum, and among them especially, we find clearly and definitely the recognition and worship of a personal and moral Supreme Being. Thus by the methods of historical research we find a certain proof that this religion of a high god is not later than magic nor developed out of it, but in all probability has preceded it.”2
Schmidt quotes another authority as saying concerning the Pygmies: “If we now pass to points of positive comparison, we are struck by one very remarkable fact above all others. That is, the clear acknowledgment and worship of a Supreme Being. He is everywhere the creator and sovran lord of the whole world, thus refuting the theories of those who suppose that such primitive peoples are quite incapable of envisaging the bewildering variety of the universe as a single whole, much less of referring it to a single cause.”3
But monotheism among primitives is not limited to the Australian Aborigines and the Pygmies: “Such high gods are to be found not only in South-East Australia but also among the Pygmies, the Bushmen, the oldest Arctic peoples, the natives of North Central California, the primitive Algonkin, the Tierra del Fuegians, in a word, all the primitive peoples with whom we have any close acquaintance.”4
R. B. Dixon discloses that one of these Central Californian tribes of primitives, the Maidu, has a supreme Creator and an opposer called “Coyote.” The Creator is benevolent and acts for man’s good and happiness and everlasting life, but Coyote always opposes and seeks to make life hard for man. On this point Schmidt adds: “The reason why the Creator apparently yields to Coyote’s onsets is really that mankind lets itself be misled by Coyote into following him and deserting the Creator. Therefore the latter lets them have their way, and at the same time prepares the most condign punishment thereby.”5
These further statements appear in Schmidt’s monumental work, Origin and Growth of Religion: “Monotheism, under the influence of animism with its offerings to the dead, its ghostly phantoms, its worship of ancestors and its cult of skulls, has often been overlaid, thrust into the background and stifled. Thus the figure of the Supreme Being is obscured and often quite disappears.” “The belief in a Supreme Being is found in its strongest and clearest form among the oldest peoples in particular, and among all of them without exception.” “We are able to show that mythology and magic did not attain to their full vigorous development until later periods of culture, and that the earlier they appear the weaker they are.” “These high gods in their oldest form, that in which we meet them in the primitive cultures, come before all other elements, whether nature-myths, fetishism, ghost-worship, animism, star-myths, totemism or magic, from one or another of which the earlier theories of preceding decades had derived the origin of religion.”—Pages 85, 147, 148, 220.
In 1924 Paul Radin spoke on “Monotheism Among Primitive Peoples” before the Jewish Historical Society and said: “That many primitive peoples have a belief in a Supreme Creator no one today seriously denies.” In 1954 he says in a preface to this published essay: “About the existence of some form of monotheism among practically all primitive peoples there can be little doubt.”6
J. H. J. Leuba writes: “It is an old opinion that even the lowest savage entertains a belief in a Supreme Being, however dimly conceived and little reverenced. . . . Although this opinion suffered temporary discredit . . . recent anthropological researches furnish sufficient evidence to warrant a return to this view.” He concludes his synopsis of this evidence with the words: “The general existence of the belief in High Gods is now accepted by most anthropologists.”7
THE EVIDENCE FROM ARCHAEOLOGY
More important than the present beliefs of primitive peoples is evidence as to the ancient beliefs of the earliest known races. For such evidence we turn to archaeology. It is found that the farther back the history of polytheistic races is penetrated the fewer gods they have and the nearer to monotheism they become. Concerning India and Egypt A. Rendle Short says:
“The literature of India covers a period from about 2000 B.C. to modern times, and as it is traced backwards, by common consent, the stream becomes purer and tends towards monotheism the nearer we get to its source. A. A. MacDonell speaks of Rig-Vedic literature having a ‘monotheistic tinge.’ The Vedic gods, reckoned at 33, in later ages came to be counted popularly as 330,000,000. The whole process was one of degeneration from an early age downwards. . . .
“In Egypt, also, there is evidence that monotheism is earlier than polytheism. To this a number of scholars bear testimony: Brugsch, Blum-Ernst, Renouf. Renouf writes: ‘It is incontestably true that the sublimer portions of the Egyptian religion are not the comparatively late result of a process of elimination of the grosser. The sublimer portions are demonstrably ancient, and the last stage of Egyptian religion was by far the most corrupt.’”8
Historian Dr. Albert Hyma wrote: “According to many present authorities, the Sumerians were originally monotheistic in their belief, for the most ancient written records state clearly that they believed in only one God. This is a very important fact to note, because until very recently (1937) a large number of historians believed that mankind originally was polytheistic and that gradually as human beings became civilized, they formed a higher conception of the deity.” Also, “As stated previously, the Sumerians originally believed in only one God, but after 3500 B.C. [Hyma’s dating] they developed various forms of polytheism. They began to worship a large number of gods, from among whom they transmitted to the later Babylonians their chief god Marduk.”9
Stephen Langdon, professor of Assyriology at Oxford, wrote an article on “Monotheism as the Predecessor of Polytheism in Sumerian Religion.”10 The Sumerians are claimed to be the oldest people known to archaeology and their concepts can be read in their ancient writings. Some of the sites of their prehistoric cities have been excavated down to virgin soil. “In doing this with three hundred workmen at Kish,” says Langdon, “over a period of twelve years, I came to the conclusion that the vast Sumerian polytheistic system was preceded by monotheism. This conclusion was also made more clear to me by the excavations of the Germans at Erech and a city Shuruppak, between Nippur and Erech.”
Professor Langdon makes these statements in his article: “We know from inscriptions of about 3000 B.C. that the Sumerian pantheon already contained about 750 deities. . . . It is, however, certain that when we press back towards the beginning of religion on written documents the pantheon of 3000 B.C. dwindles down to four and then only two deities.” “The pantheon in full bloom contained more than 5000 deities great and small. The early history of this pantheon can be traced back through the inscriptions to the most primitive pictographs. A large body of early texts from about 3300 B.C. shows a pantheon of only 500 gods. In all theological treatises of the pantheon right back to 3300 [Langdon’s dating] the Babylonians and Sumerians always place the Sky-God at the beginning.” “I should add at once that in these primitive records there is no trace of magic or demons. Everything points to a primitive personal god with the name An, Heaven, Sky.” “It seems to be admitted that the nature myth gods of India, Greece and Italy and all Indo-Germanic religions started with a Sky-God.”
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING A STONE OF STUMBLING
Professor Langdon noted the difficulty for students influenced by Darwinism to investigate the origin of religion, and he says he extracted himself from the lure of certain preconceptions by his own study of Semitic religions.
Schmidt observed the pitfalls of evolutionary thinking: “According to this, the lower, the more bestial and ugly, must also be the older; the better in each case was the higher, and therefore the later, stage of development.”11 “They [movements under the influence of evolution] assumed that religion began with lower forms, and explained all its higher manifestations, especially monotheism, as the latest in time, the products of a long process of development.”12
Paul Radin pinpoints this evolutionary thinking as the thing that blinded scientists to monotheism’s preceding polytheism when the evidence was first somewhat vaguely presented by Andrew Lang in The Making of Religion, published 1898: “That the professional ethnologist and ethnological theorist should have scouted the idea is natural enough, considering the ascendancy of the evolutionary theory at the time. . . . To have admitted among primitive peoples the existence of monotheism in any form would have been equivalent to abandoning their whole doctrine of evolutionary stages.”13
Again: “The cardinal error is and always has been the assumption that every element in culture must have had an evolution . . . there is no reason whatsoever for supposing that certain concepts require a long period to evolve.”14
In criticizing Dr. Söderblom Radin says: “For, like the most orthodox of evolutionists, he cannot bring himself to believe that the mentality of primitive people is not essentially different in kind from our own. . . . to him explicit and implicit monotheism must represent the last phases of a long and gradual development.”15
Finally Radin observes: “I am afraid that the thesis I have advanced will seem to many exaggerated, quite contrary to all the ideas customarily associated with primitive peoples. Most of us have been brought up in the tenets of orthodox ethnology, and this was largely an enthusiastic and quite uncritical attempt to apply the Darwinian theory of evolution to the facts of social experience. Many ethnologists, sociologists and psychologists still persist in this endeavor. No progress will ever be achieved, however, until scholars rid themselves, once and for all, of the curious notion that everything possesses an evolutionary history.”16
THE CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE
The Bible states that Jehovah God created man and revealed Himself to the first man. Jehovah revealed himself to other men in the centuries that followed. As men drifted away from God they conceived false gods, hundreds and eventually thousands of them, to bring to birth polytheism. But the Bible shows that monotheism was first, and the facts both from primitive cultures of today and from archaeological discoveries confirm the Bible and repudiate the theory that the concept of one Supreme God evolved from polytheism. Jehovah God is no product of evolution. When Life magazine and others teach that he is, they are spreading a message of death.
Jehovah’s servants will not stumble blindly along in the darkness of evolutionary thinking, but will testify to the truth that before Jehovah there were no gods and after him there are no real gods, only the imaginary ones of polytheism. “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”—Isa. 43:10, AS.
1 Origin and Growth of Religion, by Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, professor at the University of Vienna, pages 242, 243.
2 Ibid., pages 157, 158.
3 Ibid., page 191.
4 Ibid., page 88.
5 Ibid., page 190.
6 Monotheism Among Primitive Peoples, by Paul Radin, pages 8, 3.
7 Page 100 of Leuba’s A Psychological Study of Religion, Its Origin, Function and Future, as quoted by Schmidt on page 195 of Origin and Growth of Religion.
8 Modern Discovery and the Bible, by A. Rendle Short, pages 24, 25.
9 An Outline of Ancient History, by Albert Hyma, pages 10, 11, 14.
10 Published in the Evangelical Quarterly, April 1937, and reprinted in Sir Charles Marston’s The Bible Comes Alive, pages 189-200.
11 Schmidt’s Origin and Growth of Religion, page 5.
12 Ibid., page 12.
13 Monotheism Among Primitive Peoples, page 7.
14 Ibid., page 27.
15 Ibid., page 28.
16 Ibid., pages 29, 30.