It's not hard to see the divinity behind the water temples that dot the rice terraces of Bali. It's there in the white-clad high priest presiding in the temple at the summit of a dormant volcano. It's there in the 23 priests serving along with him, selected for their jobs when they were still children by a bevy of virgin priestesses. It's there in the rituals the priests perform to protect the island's water, which in turn is needed to nurture the island's rice.
If the divine is easy to spot, what's harder to make out is the banal. But it's there too--in the meetings the priests convene to schedule their planting dates and combat the problem of crop pests; in the plans they draw up to maintain aqueducts and police conduits; in the irrigation proposals they consider and approve, the dam proposals they reject or amend. "The religion has a temple at every node in the irrigation system," says David Sloan Wilson, professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. "The priests make decisions and enforce the code of both religion and irrigation."
Ask true believers of any faith to describe the most important thing that drives their devotion, and they'll tell you it's not a thing at all but a sense--a feeling of a higher power far beyond us. Western religions can get a bit more doctrinaire: God has handed us laws and lore, and it's for us to learn and practice what they teach. For a hell-raising species like ours, however--with too much intelligence for our own good and too little discipline to know what to do with it--there have always been other, more utilitarian reasons to get religion. Chief among them is survival. Across the eons, the structure that religion provides our lives helps preserve both mind and body. But that, in turn, has raised a provocative question, one that's increasingly debated in the worlds of science and religion: Which came first, God or the need for God? In other words, did humans create religion from cues sent from above, or did evolution instill in us a sense of the divine so that we would gather into the communities essential to keeping the species going?
Just as a hurricane spins off tornadoes, this debate creates its own whirlwind of questions: If some people are more spiritual than others, is it nature or nurture that has made them so? If science has nothing to do with spirituality and it all flows from God, why do some people hear the divine word easily while others remain spiritually tone-deaf? Do such ivied-hall debates about environment, heredity and anthropology have any place at all in more exalted conversations about the nature of God?