Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Is it a cop-out that the Neanderthals never had religion?

by Rob - February 2nd, 2010.
Filed under: Atheism, Hominids, Hybrids.

A minister wrote to me over the weekend to say it was a “cop-out” that my Neanderthals in Hominids and its sequels never had any religion; oh, he could understand a story about a kind of humanity that had turned away from religion, but not one that never had it; he said a lack of religion betrayed a fundamental lack of curiosity about their origins on their part. My reply:

Thank you for your very thoughtful letter.

Indeed, a man of the cloth might say it’s a cop-out to not explain why the Neanderthals don’t have religion and are incapable of the same leap you yourself have taken, but the point I was making was the opposite: the rational position based on looking at the evidence around you is that we’re just here.

It is not a lack of curiosity to say that, and then try to fathom the random mechanisms — from quantum fluctuations in a vacuum to evolution through natural selection — that might have led to that; indeed, the lack of curiosity, if I may be so bold, is in positing some magical cause that requires no other explanation.

That is, rather than asking how do the Neanderthals possibly justify their lack of belief, the books ask how we possibly justify the presence of our belief. :)

Thanks again for taking the time to write me! I really appreciate it.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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