Why the question about the origin of religion is ill-formulated?

1. Are there accounts about the origin of religion? Yes, there are at least two kinds. One kind tries to localise the origin of religion in human beings and the other in God.

1.1. If religion is what it also says about itself, namely, it is the word of God, what are we trying to answer when we try to answer the issue of the origin of religion? Are we trying to give a scientific answer to the question, why God gave religion to humanity or are we trying to answer the question why humankind believes in the existence of God? If the former, then this question has been answered differently by different religions, i.e., this is the theology of these different religions.

1.2. We could assume that God does not exist and try to answer the question why humankind believes in His existence. If we do this, we will not be studying religion at all (because religion is what it says about itself) but something else. Most so-called ‘scientific’ theories about the origin of religion go in this direction.

1.3. What do I say? I do make the strongest claim: there can be no scientific account about the origin of religion, ever, that is not theology. That is to say, my hypothesis entails two claims: all existing theories that claim to explain the origin of religion assume the truth of what they want to explain; and no future theory will ever solve this problem, unless it is theology. Thus, one way of refuting ‘The Heathen…’ is to show that there exists a ‘scientific’ theory about religion that does not commit the fallacy of petitio principii. And that it does tell us how religion came into being in a scientific way.

1.4. Does this make the origin of religion into a mystery? Of course not. We do have accounts that explain religion as the act of God. It might or might not be a mystery why God does this or anything else, but the origin is not a mystery.

1.5. However, this does not mean that we cannot study the history of some or another specific religion (say, Judaism) scientifically. By doing so, however, we will not be saying anything about the origin of religion.

2. Let me totally trivialize ‘The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’ to give you an idea of the nature of the difficulty involved in explaining what religion is and hence the impossibility of explaining its origin.

2.1. Is religion present in human communities? This is not a simple question to answer because it is actually asking the following question: “Is there an account, which fuses the causal with the intentional explanation in such a way that it is the unconditional truth about everything that was, everything that is, and everything that shall be in the Cosmos?” How are you going to answer this question? If you say ‘yes’, then you are endorsing the claim that religion makes about itself: so, you are doing theology. If you say ‘no’, you are denying the manifest truth that there are people who do believe that they have a religion.

2.2. One trivial way of solving the question is to say ‘there are people who believe they have a religion’ and one good reason why people believe in this is because they also believe that religion exists (i.e., such people are neither stupid nor hallucinating or whatever).

2.3. Why do people believe that they have a religion? Because they believe that religion exists. The existence of an object is a good reason to believe in the existence of the said object; such people believe in the existence of such an object; therefore, they believe that they have a religion. In short, believers are rational because they believe that religion exists. The so-called scientific theories want something more: they ask whether such an object ‘really’ exists. Unfortunately, they cannot ever answer this question because the question cannot be properly formulated at all.

2.4. Why? Note that the question is not about the existence of Christianity, Judaism or Islam. It is about whether they are religions or not. Again, you cannot settle the issue by looking at how many call any of the three using the word ‘religion’. It is about whether these three are religions or not. How can you find out whether they are religions or not? They are religions if they are the gift of God, otherwise they are not. How can you settle the issue whether or not religion is God’s gift to Humanity without talking about God (i.e. without doing theology)? In other words, there cannot ever be a scientific answer to the ill-formulated question about the origin of religion. ‘The Heathen…’ shows why the question is ill-formulated (even though the prima facie appearance of the question about the origin of religion is that it is well-formulated) and thus explains why it has not been solved ‘scientifically’ so far. Thus, the book predicts that the issue will never be settled ‘scientifically’, unless we allow theology as the science of religion.