Some people claim that science cannot demonstrate either that god does or does not exist.
Though this is probably true, what science can do is study the brain and its functioning – the mind.
In effect, the more we know about the human mind, the more we know about human beliefs. And that includes the neurological & psychological basis for human beliefs in gods.
As my brother says, “There are many different Gods — and the one which you believe is real, lives inside your head. That’s the truth!” ~ David Bloor
Just take a look at the way many different religions claim to find the truth about their version of God:
We know an awful lot about how the mind creates biases and emotions. We know that ‘belief in belief’ is a powerful motivator/demotivator for human beings. That includes ‘belief in anything.’ It doesn’t have to be God in particular, it could be shamanism. Or actually any god. Belief has an effect on the mind. And is itself a product of our minds.
There is plenty of evidence that belief in god or gods is hardwired into our brains.
Human minds are programmed for patternicity. In effect our minds are ‘belief engines’, evolved to recognise patterns that connect the dots and create meaning out of those patterns that we think we see in nature.
Humans also have an innate tendency to bestow the characteristic of agency onto the forces of nature and inanimate objects. To imagine other objects and beings are intentional agents and, using our inborn “theory of mind,” to bestow upon them the capacity to have their own desires and intentions.
This is called agenticity. It is the practice of imparting the patterns we find in nature with agency and intention.
This propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, combined with our patternicity and agenticity, means we form cognitive biases to believe in shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of spiritualisms.
God is the ultimate intentional agent who gives the universe meaning and our lives purpose.
The evidence which comes from evolutionary theory, behavioural genetics, and comparitive studies of world religions, all support the thesis that belief comes first and the reasons for the belief follow.
– (Paraphrased from Michael Shermer’s book ‘The Believing Brain’)
Beliefs can be categorised in levels of realism. Lower level beliefs – just believing that something exists as an idea. Or higher level beliefs – believing that the subjects of one’s beliefs are actual personalities or personages which exist in reality.
Personally, for me now, believing in any god is as useful as believing in Eru Illúvatar from Tolkien’s Silmarillion. He is the ‘One God’ of Tolkien’s fictional universe.
Discussing the relative benefits and problems inherently associated within that fantastical theological belief system can be interesting on an intellectual, probably nerdy, level.
To me, discussing the God of Christianity or Allah of Islam, or the relevance of Satan in our lives is of comparative usefulness as discussing the reasons the Dwarven race in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy worship Aulë, whom they themselves call Mahal, meaning “maker.”
In other words as useful as a fictional narrative.
To me all the religious gods of this world and fictional fantasy rate as lower level beliefs. I believe they exist as fictional characters, but cannot any longer believe they are real, as in a higher level belief.
Most people who believe in god/gods and Satan believe at the higher level of belief.
They have a firm ‘belief in belief.’
This ‘belief in belief’ is indistinguishable from ‘belief in god/gods.’
I think fear plays a massive role in people’s beliefs. Fear of the unknown drives people to believe in false positives. Fear of a fantastical character called Satan and supernatural forces like gods.
Instead of accepting reality based on the evidence, instead of believing that our lot in life is caused by choice, chance and circumstance, there is a natural tendency to blame a mythical third person, Satan, and plead for help from an equally fictitious superpowered being, God.
When really it would make more sense to focus on life right now, for ourselves and the rest of humanity.
One of the most powerful motivators to believe in supernatural forces, including gods, is that often people’s lives can be horribly tragic & painful. Life just doesn’t seem fair, and it is only natural to seek for answers to some of the most poignant questions like, why is there so much suffering in the world.
I guess for many people this one life does not have the opportunities we have, or the relative ease & peace of living in modern industrialised countries. Our life experiences may be vastly different from many born into poverty, or born into a criminal lifestyle. Some people just don’t seem to have much of a chance in life, right from the start.
My heart wrenches in pain when I see photos like this:
I find it nearly impossible to be happy thinking that God answers any of my own personal prayers about finding my lost car keys, or doing well in a college exam or business deal, whilst simultaneously knowing that the most important prayers being asked at that moment are being offered by millions of starving kids which go unanswered every day!!!
If God’s help is really this limited and discriminatory, then I prefer that He give it to people who need him about a billion times more than I do.
When I replace the word ‘God’ in every context where I previously used it, for example when reading the scriptures & saying a prayer, with the phrase, ‘my invisible friend in my head’, it all makes so much more sense.
Because everyone else has their own personal ‘invisible friend in their heads’ too, we are all answered according to our own needs, wants & desires. Except tragically these poor little children in Africa who are starving don’t have very powerful ‘invisible friends’.
It really sickens me that some people consider God to be all loving & all powerful, yet are not bothered by the massive amount of suffering God allows to occur to His children who are desperately clinging to life & pleading with their Maker to ease their plight. Whilst at the same time praising their God that he helped them find their keys or blessed them to find a parking space etc.
It seems the ultimate in self-centred narcissistic thinking!
Saying that “God’s ways are not Man’s ways”, and that “we just don’t understand God’s over-all plan for His children,” is a massive cop-out & allows so many atrocities around the world to occur & go on recurring without our active intercession & practical help.
It may be a way of coming to terms with our not being able to help, but let’s be honest about it, rather than blaming God.
In my experience it seems all to easy to accept dreadful human suffering & atrocities when we believe that this life is temporary & only a preparation for the next, more important ‘life after death.’
Belief in ‘life after death’ can also become an excuse for inaction, whilst real human beings are suffering in this ‘one life’ we know we have.
If everyone believed that this life is our one & only chance at conscious existence, maybe the world would be a safer, happier place to live? Certainly Islamist Jihadist extremists wouldn’t be able to die as martyrs whilst preparing for paradise if they believed this life is all there was.
I believe there is no overarching plan and purpose for life. We all have a life based on choice, chance & circumstances. Often not even as a result of our own choices. Most people’s lives are deeply affected by other people’s choices which affect them. For instance which parents we’re born to, and what type of upbringing we have, often set the stage for the rest of our lives.
In considering a purpose of life I just don’t accept there is any compelling evidence for there being any other existence for us besides this one. It may not be fair, or just. It just is!
It is up to us to make the best of what opportunities are available to us, & that includes education and opportunities to develop our minds, as well as what we do to ease the suffering of others.
As a secular humanist I believe very strongly it is our duty to help improve the lives of every single human being on this planet. To do our best to enhance the human condition so that everyone has the optimum conditions to thrive as a person. So everyone gets to choose their own life experience with the best opportunities for developing their talents and skills.
I think it is beholden to us to work towards this goal.
Belief in an afterlife is at best a distraction, at worst an excuse to squander it on preparing for a fantasy which might never happen.
So much time, thought, effort & money is spent on preparing for something which is just a hope.
I have no concern about receiving eternal blessings from a god, or avoiding his eternal punishments either. I think that if there is a god he would prefer we concentrate on this one life we’re living right now and on improving the life experience of all the inhabitants of this planet.
Any time we focus on an afterlife at the expense of this one we’re living right now we’re reducing our effectiveness in mortality.
Any belief system which idolises the afterlife is distorting our priorities. Some people would rather they or their loved ones died rather than change their beliefs. It is sickly tragic when religious beliefs are held in higher esteem than human life, but it happens far too often. It happens in many religions.
Woody Allen had an excellent point to make on this “IF GOD EXISTS, I HOPE HE HAS A GOOD EXCUSE.”
David Nicholls, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, had this to say:
Woody Allen’s words encapsulate the thoughts of the freethinking community and the sneaking suspicions of a growing number of religious people as well. Considering the immensity of the unnecessary death, pain and suffering on the planet, an alleged all-powerful and all-loving god certainly has a lot to answer for.
Nicholls went on to say,
As far as all evidence to date suggests, the universe runs on natural laws with planet Earth just an insignificant speck in an unimaginably enormous cosmos. A god certainly needs to explain why, with such a mind-blowingly complicated system that can be understood using reason, reason should be dismissed in human affairs in favour of accepting answers based in delusion.
I’ve just discovered Ingersoll. My thanks to my friend Jean Bodie for introducing him to me.
I’ve never heard my own feelings expressed so beautifully.
How wonderful is this!?
“When I became convinced that the Universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world–not even in infinite space.
“I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live to my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my faculties, all my senses–free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests–free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies–free from the fear of eternal pain–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts, and gods.
“For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps- -no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
“And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.” ~ Robert G. Ingersoll. (1833-1899)