Biology Magazine

Cloned Neanderthal Religion

By Cris

Over at the Guardian, Andrew Brown asks if we should clone Neanderthals (assuming it could be done). For me, the easy answer is no.

Cloned Neanderthal Religion

Brown then asks a series of nonsensical questions which imply that because Neanderthal brains were different from human brains (Neanderthals in fact had bigger brains than humans; the difference is in shape), a cloned Neanderthal would have different supernatural beliefs:

What religion would these creatures have? We know that Neanderthals had rituals, and presumably beliefs, around death. These are lost forever. Should they be replaced? If Neanderthals are enough like us to bury their dead, they will make mythologies with or without our help. What should those be? If two separate countries or cultures cloned two different Neanderthal cultures, would each regard the other as heretics?

While it is true that brains capable of symbolic thinking and language fluency will naturally generate supernatural concepts, the particulars of these ideas are not imprinted on the brain or dependent on it. Brains don’t have ritual or myth modules.

Religions are social constructions. Individuals do not spontaneously create particular kinds of belief. Brains may be naturally wired and primed for religion, but the content of such belief is never predetermined.

The cloned Neanderthal’s cultural environment will determine what s/he believes. If the cloned Neanderthal is raised in Oxford, s/he will probably have Anglican beliefs. If the cloned Neanderthal is raised in the bible belt of America, s/he will probably have Protestant evangelical beliefs. If the cloned Neanderthal is raised in Saudi Arabia, s/he will probably have Muslim beliefs. If the cloned Neanderthal is raised in India, s/he will probably have Hindu beliefs. If the cloned Neanderthal is raised in Thailand, s/he will probably have Buddhist beliefs.

And if Richard Dawkins raises our cloned Neanderthal, s/he will probably think that all such beliefs are ridiculous.

As for one cloned Neanderthal regarding another cloned Neanderthal as a heretic, this kind of belief is mostly limited to exclusivist forms of monotheism. So if we had a cloned Neanderthal who was raised Catholic and another raised Sunni, they might regard one another as heretics.

If Neanderthals had anything like religion, it surely would have been similar to the shamanic practices of Upper Paleolithic humans. Because shamanic supernaturalism is pluralist and not exclusivist, the concept of heresy would not have existed.

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