The Origins of Gods

The atheist-theist debate boils down to a simple question — Did humans discover God? Or, did we invent Him? The difference between discovering and inventing is the similar to the one between believing and knowing. Theist believe that there was a God to be discovered. Atheists “know” that we humans invented the concept of God. Belief and knowledge differ only slightly — knowledge is merely a very very strong belief. A belief is considered knowledge when it fits in nicely with a larger worldview, which is very much like how a hypothesis in physics becomes a theory. While a theory (such as Quantum Mechanics, for instance) is considered to be knowledge (or the way the physical world really is), it is best not to forget the its lowly origin as a mere hypothesis. My focus in this post is the possible origin of the God hypothesis.

The first point to note is that those who believe in God are overwhelmingly likely to believe in their parents’ God. If God of any particular religion was absolutely the “true” one, how could it be that the believers seem to have this faith in their parents’ God? The only explanation seems to be that it is only a filial faith in their parents, rather than any divine truth, that is driving their subscription to any particular God.

The second point is the incompatibility among the “one true” Gods of the world’s religions. Those who believe in the God of their parents’ scriptures are forced to conclude that the adherents of other religions are condemned to eternal damnation. They are, in effect, atheists with respect to the Gods of all other religions. Given that all “true” Gods cannot all be true at the same time, is it not more likely that all of them are inventions rather than discoveries? That they are human creations? This point, by the way, is one on which all the theist debaters are remarkably silent, probably because political-correctness dictates that they not speak ill of other religions.

Once you accept that all Gods are human creations, you can ask the question why. Why did our ancestors feel the need to create the concept of God? I believe it is the same urge that created our sciences — the urge to understand, explain and control our surroundings. Much like our scientific theories, God also started as a hypothesis. I heard this point in some of the debates, and it is a point that I made in my teens when I first had to explain and defend my atheism. Yes, my godlessness started a long time ago.

As our “real” sciences expanded to explain more and more of what we saw around us, the God hypothesis became progressively more superfluous. But I can imagine a time when God was the only hypothesis that gave answers, albeit circular and useless ones, to all our questions. At the current state of our collective knowledge, however, our filial affinity to God and adherence to religious practice is a liability at best, and often a deadly obsession.

Even when relatively benign, faith generated clergy to whom the general population entrusted their divine entreaties and therefore political powers. The clergy, thanks to their superior education, probably appreciated the true nature of God better than the rest, but stuck to their guns and held on to power. In fact, the true effects of faith in God went farther than such uneven distribution of power and wealth. Faith also provided a ready justification to such inequities, and an invitation to accept them with meekness, with assurances of the this kind: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The self-proclaimed representatives of God always held sway over the general population all over the world. Such power is always self-propagating, which must be the reason for the continued belief in God. But the representatives themselves do not have the same level of faith as the flock — more on it in the next post.

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