National Geographic has a fascinating article on the recently-discovered Gobekli Tepe religious site. Built around 9600 B.C., the site predates Stonehenge by about 6600 years and places the origins of human religious experience much farther back in the historical progress of our civilization than scholars previously believed possible.
Until the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, archaeologists assumed that religion started only after the hunter-gatherer societies had settled down into more stable agricultural groups. In that narrative, religion would be a luxury, an artifact of economic and environmental forces. This new find upends that story, as the society that built Gobekli Tepe appears to have been purely hunter-gatherer. The implication of the find is that religion might in fact be as old as man is, and therefore something essential to what it means to be human. Bad news for the new atheists, perhaps, but a good confirmation of what Christians have always held to be true.
The whole article is well worth reading and is accompanied by some marvelous photographs, but the closing paragraph sums up the importance of the site:
Schmidt emphasizes that further research on Göbekli Tepe may change his current understanding of the site’s importance. Even its age is not clear—Schmidt is not certain he has reached the bottom layer. “We come up with two new mysteries for every one that we solve,” he says. Still, he has already drawn some conclusions. “Twenty years ago everyone believed civilization was driven by ecological forces,” Schmidt says. “I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind.”
So maybe humans are more than machines, and religion more than a corruption of our programming.