Why do people believe in gods
Why do people all over the world believe in some sort of god? After all, people have believed in god s, spirits, and a life after death for probably as long as there have been humans.
Some have tried to tie it to an evolutionary advantage, with limited success. Yes it feels good to think life doesn't end and our loved ones are in a better place when they die; or at least that they still exist. So since intelligence is a double edged sword that makes us consciously aware of our own impending death, which is something less self aware animals may not be burdened with, (I’m not sure) a belief in a soul may not be a bad coping device.
I’ve always thought of it more as a function of the brain. Brains have a prime function, which is to keep the body of cells and thereby the entire system alive. Our human brain may have turned the tables by realizing it can’t keep the system alive indefinitely, so it invents the concepts of souls and gods as a way to beat death.
But even that idea falls short. It’s not just about death. The real reason we all have feelings of “something other going on” in a numinous way is because of life. It’s so damned amazing to think of what it means to be alive. It’s the ultimate mystery.
From there a god or gods is almost inevitable. After all, we didn't create ourselves. That’s not a logical possibility. Appearing out of thin air is also not a rational idea.
So something else created us. That seems like a logical conclusion. One might also conclude that whatever created us must be very smart and very powerful. That “being” then is called god.
So we can say that god is defined as that which created us. That is in effect a proof that god necessarily exists.
But is the idea that god is necessarily a being a rational idea? Well it was for a very long time because we knew of no alternative. Now we do.
Science has given us some amazing insights in to the workings of the universe, and I’m not talking about Big Bang theory here, which is a good working cosmological model not to be taken as gospel. I’m talking about the laws of physics dealing with energy and mass.
The laws of thermodynamics tell us that energy and mass cannot be destroyed or created. That makes them an alternative to conscious gods in that if ever there had been a state where nothing whatsoever existed, nothing would exist now.
That was the other logical appeal to immortal super beings that have always existed. They may have created the universe from nothing, as some would have it, but had they not existed neither would anything else.
Now we have this alternative; not necessarily a universe that has always existed, but the substance of the universe which has always existed in one form or other, always transforming according to strict laws of interaction depending on the specific conditions.
God could be a process. Call it the process of existence. It is to be precise: the nature of energy.
But that’s cold to some people. A process doesn't think. It just does what it does. Purpose is important to some, and many people think a conscious god adds meaning to life, as opposed to a non-aware god that does things purely by cause and effect.
The truth is, that’s pretty impressive. If we exist because of a process, what does that say about the process? It’s a mad incredible thing to think that life comes from the nature of energy. (and consequently matter.)
It would be easy to jump to conclusions like: the universe itself is conscious, but let’s not say that for now. We don’t have any more proof of that than we do of god or gods. And as it happens, Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism do believe in a cosmic consciousness.
But one thing Buddhism and other eastern philosophy’s and religions were right about is that all things are connected. That has been proven by science in a number of fields, not just by physics. We feel that connection to something other, and now perhaps we know why. We are connected to everything. No man is an island indeed.
Another thing that science has to tell us is that things are not random, they are chaotic. And there’s a big and important difference. Random is meaninglessness, and chaos is pure order. In a world of cause and effect, random chance plays no part. In the early years of computing we were shocked to discover that creating true random generators was all but impossible.
What seems like random events are chaotic events. Chaos functions with very simple rules. Ever wonder why trees look like they do? There is one simple rule they follow: Grow a little and divide. How they grow depends on climate, soil, air quality, and a dozen other factors. All those factors together determine what the tree looks like.
This is the way the simple becomes the complex. Simple rules followed flawlessly and how they play out under often changing conditions is the driving force for complexity from simplicity.
A case in point: Atoms live by a very simple rule. All atoms tend toward their lowest possible energy output level. This one little rule often forces atoms to merge in order to achieve their goal. Such mergers create new substances. Different substances interact and create compound substances with new properties unlike those of the individual substances.
And as below, so above. This one little rule can certainly be seen in action in all aspects of our lives. The rules concerning the conservation of energy are the rules that govern how we behave.
Chaos breeds order. Who wins a war? Most often he ones who’s resources hold out. The result of the conflict is new order of some kind. Conflict always demands resolution, and it is the soul author of creativity. No conflict, no reason for creativity.
Conflicts are chaotic systems.
So the laws of very small apply to the very large. But they aren’t really laws at all; they are the nature of what forms all things: energy.
These simple rules of nature make energy exceptionally creative, and qualify as god having created us.
Now, we can’t prove a conscience divine entity exists or doesn’t unless it proves its own existence, but we can prove that energy exists, and what it’s capable of. It qualifies as god as long as you stick to the definition that god is whatever or whoever produced us and all things.
But why do we humans need or want to believe in gods? Do we want to or is there something about our lives that forces us to believe in conscious gods?
Of course there is: Life itself.
We didn't start off as cave dwellers believing in gods. Again, life is strange. To a primitive person the weather was alive like they were. Wind had a life or spirit. Animals are alive like we are. They had spirits too, and some were often thought of as being of a secret world. Native legends are full of stories about animals playing deliberately with the fate of mankind.
Spirits were everywhere, all things including rocks, places, the sun, moon, and stars all were alive and had spirits.
Other cultures believed the dead still lived and watched and helped us. And that’s another key. If something is alive, it might be able to help, and it certainly could hurt you if you pissed it off. So worship, sacrifice and offerings could be used to gain favour with the spirits or eventually the gods, and manipulate them to help you do your will. It worked for humans, why not other living spirits?
In Rome and many other cultures it became mandatory to worship the gods for fear that if everyone didn't participate, the gods could punish the entire society. In Rome atheism was forbidden for that reason. But unlike in other cultures early Rome didn't care who you worshiped as long as it was a god. It didn't even have to be one of theirs.
In fact they adopted the gods of everyone they conquered. You couldn't be too careful, and Rome could always use more support. One notable exception was the Jewish and Christian god who claimed all other gods were false gods or demons. That one was hard to reconcile and was bad news because it insulted all the other gods.
We sleep and we dream, and then we wake up to find we were in another world. No wonder that we believe in parallel universes. Tribes in Australia still believe in sleep as something that literally brings you to another world: the spirit world.
This belief in another world stems from our experience in this one; through our mind and imagination.
Now no doubt, one thing we all know now is that we do not see everything as it is. We are given a skewed perspective due to our limited sensory system. We can’t see from other perspectives like that of the cells or the atomic layer. So we know that while there may not be spirit realms, as such, there are other layers of our existence that we have no control over and that deeply affect and direct our lives.
Not exactly what the ancients were thinking, but experiential realty none the less.
Can anyone say that being alive isn’t the oddest thing there is? We don’t all reflect on it all that much, but pretty much all of us reflect on it at some points of our lives. Life can be amazing, cruel, terrible, and everything in between. But few of us want to die, and some would like to live forever.
Science doesn't tell you about an afterlife, but it does tell us that all our energy and mass will exist forever in one form or another. Not as one entity, of course, but dissipated from the system that was you, and as parts of other systems.
That’s a kind of immortality, though not the kind most people are looking for.
I think numinous feelings are inevitable for creatures that can ask questions like: why do I exist? Does my life have meaning? How did all this come to be?
Even atheists have them. We wonder at the totality; and some are in deep awe of the universe and hold a reverence for it. For those, Scientific or Rational Pantheism may be a perfect fit.
Atheism is a word that tells you one thing only about a person: It tells you they don’t believe in conscious gods. That’s all it tells you, period.
To me studying the findings of science is a truly religious experience because we are studying to find the answers to what this is all about, and that is what believers in god are trying to do as well. Getting answers and revelations is what theology is all about.
Atheists and scientists hate it when believers say science is a religion. It most certainly is not.
But, it can be the basis of a world view that is religious in a very real way. The connection felt to the nature of what produces us and all things is the same as feeling a personal connection to the Christian god.
The awe felt at the universe, the reverence felt, is the same as that felt by believers and just as strong. Pantheists even think that the numinous feelings felt by theists are mistakenly directed toward an entity instead of the true creative force, because they don’t know better.
It is this feeling of wonder and awe as much as if not more than a hard life and desire for a friend in high places that drive the human ideas of divinity and gods. The wonder of being alive; the desire to know what’s really going on.
And almost all people share it. Yet since the advent of modern science Christianity has been in decline. More and more people are becoming atheists and placing their hope on science giving us the answers we crave.
Science may not be able to prove or falsify a conscious god or gods, it has yet to find a need for one. The nature of what all things are made of is sufficiently creative to produce all this. Should that change it might signify that we are missing information, or give a fighting chance of higher intervention.
Until then I’ll remain an atheist and a Pantheist.