re. explanatory coherence

Brown, Alex (
Wed, 6 Aug 1997 15:07:36 +0800

From: "Brown, Alex" <>
To: "'memetics list'" <>
Subject: re. explanatory coherence
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 1997 15:07:36 +0800

Date: 6th August 1997

The current thread about 'explanatory coherence' has drawn out the
polytheism/monotheism issue. If we put these two things together within
an evolutionary context, we have a somewhat different version of how
monotheism could arise.

But first: one of the main aspects of explanatory coherence - the
elegance of the theory - requires that if possible we do not add new
features, elements or dimensions to the theories we already have in
order to explain particular experiences. Parsimony or economy of
explanation is the key rule. The ideal being that we generate a coherent
explanation out of a judicious re-combination of the theories and data
we already have. Along these lines: Monotheism would NOT be a construct
'invented', inserted into and in competition with co-existing
polytheistic religions. It only looks that way if we do not take
developmental time (evolution) into account. If we reject the idea that
it is some way ADDED to an existing set of beliefs, we can pose the
question: how can we generate monotheism out of polytheism? How can we
get one out of the other? How can we turn a 'many' into a 'one'?
Further, how can we systematically and economically map the reduction in
number involved in the evolution of pantheism to polytheism to

In pantheism, the gods or spirits are very numerous because they are
integral to the many natural elements of the environment: trees, water,
sky, etc. In polytheism, there are a fewer number of gods which 'stand
for' or include whole areas of life, not (numerous) individual elements.
In monotheism, there is one god who stands for and represents ALL
aspects of life. It is possible to imagine that what is involved here is
an evolutionary process of 1) articulation: where key characteristics
are identified. 2) fusion: where similar characteristics of the previous
set of gods are merged.

Thus IN TIME, that is, in historical and social terms one could equally
imagine a group of societies in close geographical relationship to one
another, each having its own single god (formed out of previous sets of
gods). Their inescapable relationship and communication between each
other, through commerce, cultural exchange and war would, one might
surmise lead to a constant recognition of similarities between the
characteristics of their respective gods. The end result might be WHAT
SEEMED TO BE the formation of a new monotheistic religion. In fact, it
is the compressed characteristics of several contiguous religions. No
one in particular has to invent the new religion, it would have happened
anyway for purely systemic/co-evolutionary reasons. The religions of the
Middle East had numerous similarities of religious mythology before the
advent of the Judeo-Christian religion which contains elements of those
several orginal religions. The bottom line is the results of
communication between groups within an environment from which they
cannot escape.

There is a point where the newly constituted meta-religion co-exists
with the residue of the poytheistic religions, but (assuming a stable
environment) this is a temporary situation. The meta-system will finally
substitute for the unique characteristics of its constituent systems.
We do not need to invent a monotheism or parachute such a meme into a
society, systemic processes - cultural evolution will do it for us -
over time.

(There is a very interesting and equally systematic explanation for the
reversal of this convergence and the consequent fragmentation of
religions. Depending on the prevailing cultural state: the process is


Alex Brown

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