the origins of god, or what does belief in god do?

One of the questions posed by atheist philosophers is: “Did god create man, or did man create god?” I affirm the latter, of course, but the reason for this affirmation is due mostly to an argument from historical progression and historical context. Just to be clear, I am not referring to an argumentum ad antiquitatem (an “appeal to antiquity” or “tradition”), a common logical fallacy, but a recognition that we do know the occasion of certain ideas – including the idea of the divine.

Originally, the concept of “gods” or “spirits” were postulated by primitive man in effort to make sense of the forces of nature (viz. sunrise, sunset, wind, rain, et al) and the events which took place throughout the course of life, e.g. death, birth, illness, etc. Monotheism – belief in only one god – is actually the latest development in the human conception of the divine. The anthropological progression was as follows:

  • animism – ascribing “souls” or spiritual forces to everything, including inanimate objects.
  • polytheism – a belief in multiple gods or goddesses, usually as representatives of natural forces, animals, realms, or objects.
  • henotheism – a belief in polytheism, but a devotion or fealty to a single deity.
  • monotheism – a disbelief in polytheism; a belief in only one god.

As science and philosophy progressed, humanity began to discover the workings of nature and to highlight the logical contradictions posed by animism, polytheism, and henotheism. For a period in human history, monotheism has been the clear logical winner among the theisms, but monotheism poses its own serious logical problems. In fact, removing the possibility of multiple deities in conflict multiplied the already existing problems for monotheism. As we have touched on previously, a singular god is either deficient or immoral (or both).

Scientifically, we have attained to the knowledge that matter and energy are never created or destroyed, but merely change form (i.e. Einstein’s Conservation of Energy Principle; E = mc2). This was essentially Einstein’s mathematical confirmation of Aristotle’s original conception of the indestructible nature of the “four elements” (viz. earth, air, fire, water). Put very simply, despite the constant insistence of a “beginning,” this principle implies that the universe (i.e. the sum total of existents) is eternal. No, I am not outright denying the “Big Bang,” but I do question its exact nature in light of this absolute principle. Even Quantum Physics, which is far from sorted out, although once thought to possibly conflict with E = mc2, has now been shown to be in strict accordance with it.

Only by positing a mystical being which is capable of the absolutely impossible (i.e. creating something from “nothing”; creating and destroying energy) can one retain a belief in a god. So where did the universe “come from”? As Ayn Rand once said, just because we may not know something does not permit us to begin making things up. The ultimate origin of our eternal universe we may never be able to know (if such a concept exists in reality), but until then we can be sure that the basic metaphysical axiom which is at the the base of all else is “existence exists, and only existence exists” – excluding gods, spirits, souls, and all other supposedly supernatural entities. In the words of Victor Stenger: god is a “failed hypothesis” – i.e. to propose the existence of god is of no use whatever and serves to explain nothing.

This leads me to my next point: what does “belief” in a god do, exactly? I have met many people, usually former religionists, who are hesitant to outright deny the existence of a god. “What if he does exist?” they ask. My response is always, “Who cares if he does? What difference is your profession or denial of his existence going to make? Where did you get the idea that simply ‘believing in god’ is what connects you to him and ensures that you will not face some sort of divine reprisal? From religion, that’s where!” The proposition that disbelieving in a god which might actually exist can get you punished is an unproved and baseless claim. If we are going to believe baseless claims, there is no end to the abject nonsense we could obsess over.

But herein, I believe (pun intended), lies the key: since the idea god is a psychological projection into the dark void of human ignorance, ‘believing’ is the only tool available to keep god ‘real’ in their minds. This is why so many atheists hold onto a ‘maybe,’ however slight in their estimation.