Christians believe religion began when God created human beings and revealed himself to them. But is there sufficient evidence for this belief?
In the nineteenth-century academic world, a story debate took shape over the origin of religion. A dominant view emerged that religion began with animism-the veneration of spirits-and only later evolved into higher forms, from polytheism to monotheism.
Yet, on the basis of discoveries made throughout the world, some scholars challenged the prevailing view. Andrew Lang and Wilhelm Schmidt contended that there are as many cultures on the lowest level of material development that orginated 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 a 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 any further. The work of Lang and Schmidt has since been largely ignored.
However, the evidence on which these scholars based their conclusion is still there, and the case for an original monotheism still stands. In the Beginning God educates Christians about the debate--the facts that were accepted and those that were ignored--and how one can put this knowledge to use in making a case for the truth of Christianity.