Christians believe that religion began when God created
human beings and revealed himself to them. But is there scholarly
evidence for this belief?
In the nineteenth century academic world a stormy debate took shape
over the origin of religion. Scholars explored the ancient
languages of mythology and then considered evolutionary
anthropology. A dominant view emerged that religion began with
animism -- the reverent honoring of spirits -- and from there
evolved into higher forms, from polytheism on to monotheism.
However, scholars Andrew Lang and Wilhem Schmidt contended
there were cultures throughout the world -- pygmy people in Africa
and Asia, certain Australian Aboriginal groups and Native American
tribes -- that originated as monotheistic, acknowledging the
existence of one supreme God who created the world and holds people
accountable for living morally upright lives.
The debate wore on, and Schmidt, a member of the Catholic
order and a priest, was accused (without evidence) of letting his
faith interpret the facts. By the mid-twentieth century a silent
consensus formed among scholars not to discuss the origin and
evolution of religion any further. The discoveries of Lang and
Schmidt have since been largely ignored.
However, the evidence on which these scholars based their
conclusion of monotheism is still out there. In the Beginning
God attempts to educate Christians about the debate on this
topic, the facts that were accepted and those that were ignored,
and the use to which Christians can put all of this material in
making a case for the truth of Christianity.