Approximately 80% of all people on earth believe in a god or gods. How can we reconcile this widespread belief in supernatural beings with an indisputable fact: There is not even the slightest shred of objective evidence proving the existence of alleged supernatural beings, such as a god or gods.
Excerpt from Book: "How Life Really Works"
Chapter 09.03: GENERAL ASPECTS OF RELIGION
1. Prehistoric Benefits of Religion
2. Religion versus Rationality and Science
3.The Existence of God
a. Pascal's Wager
b. Epicurean Postulate
c. Rock Lifting Paradox
d. Conclusion: The Existence of God
5. The Equivocation of Deism/Pantheism
6. The Origins of God and the Universe
1. Prehistoric Benefits of Religion
Approximately 80% of all people on earth are adherents of organized religions. No religion can exist without a belief in one or more gods: Supernatural beings who are claimed to be omniscient and omnipotent.
This widespread human trait makes it obvious that the need for religion-based gods is not episodic but has become imbedded in human genes. Only long-term survival factors can embed new traits into the human genome complex.
Like all explanations of human behavior, the answer to this conundrum is simple. It rests in the process of evolution: The natural law of the survival of the fittest.
A survival benefit accrued to prehistoric man as a result of the deification of those aspects of nature that he considered beyond his control: The Supernatural. Without such survival benefits, the inherently irrational belief in gods and a life after death could not have permanently imbedded itself in the human brain and genes.
In primitive societies, definite survival benefits accrue to the belief in the supernatural. Humans, who where motivated by a god or gods whom they feared and whom they were willing to obey, acted with a high degree of cooperation. Fear of punishment from their god or his priests would be a powerful force for socialized behavior.
Under these conditions, individuals subordinated their urges and passions to the commands of their gods. This coordination of activities resulted in civilized behavior and a distinct benefit for survival.
The commands of the gods, as communicated by their priests, worked to the advantage of a particular civilization and its individuals. Groups of people, held together by the glue of a religion, would thrive and would enjoy the increased efficiency and productivity resulting from increased cooperation.
Since a pre-packaged moral code is associated with all organized religions, a belief in the supernatural would also lower crime within a society. Priests or witch doctors established a moral code of conduct. The alleged supernatural powers of the gods enforced this morality system.
A fear of all-powerful gods deterred people from engaging in hostile or destructive acts against other members of their society. The resulting low-crime environment represented another distinct survival benefit within a primitive, religious society. Members of society who refused to participate in such religious rites were ostracized or eliminated and thus did not perpetuate their genes.
This congregation of a society around mutually accepted beliefs also served to reinforce its resistance to external threats, such as attacks from other tribes. By merging his resources under the promised umbrella of a Supreme Being, early man enhanced his chances of surviving attacks by other societies.
It is a well-established psychological fact that people who think alike, meet alike: Baptists congregate with Baptists and Jews congregate with Jews. By coordinating their individual activities with other persons who shared common religious beliefs, this coalescence of spiritual motivations provided for the security and survival of the members of a religious group. Religious beliefs and rites are implanted in adherents of a religion in their early youth, excluding them from rational analysis.
On the other hand, societies that had no gods and thus did not cooperate with each other as well as their god-fearing neighbors did, were disadvantaged with respect to survival. Such atheistic societies would either not come into existence, or they would not be able to compete efficiently with their devoutly religious neighbors. These early atheistic societies would fail to survive, enhancing the evolutionary propagation and predominance of those genes that compelled adherence to supernatural belief systems.
Thus, a distinct survival benefit imbedded itself into the genes of members of prehistoric societies that engaged in the worship of gods or other supernatural beings.
During the prehistoric development of man, he could rely only on his physical prowess and very primitive tools. Many millennia of environmental hardships enhanced evolutionary progress and honed the thought processes of man. He learned to rely on the power of his brain to an ever-increasing degree. Increased brainpower demonstrated the trend of evolution to increase complexity of the brain because increased complexity provides for a higher degree of specialization.
Advanced specialization provides for improved adaptability to changing environmental conditions. The development of life from a simple amoeba to the complex brain of modern man demonstrates the relentless evolutionary trend towards higher adaptability by ever-increasing complexity and specialization.
2. Religion versus Rationality and Science
Whereas prehistoric human societies benefited from the belief in the supernatural, the opposite situation prevails in our modern world, a world dominated by a thin veneer of rationality covering the emotion-based motivations of our ancient reptilian brain.
Manís environmental conditions have changed drastically during the last 100,000 years. Science has transformed nature from a force that man feared and held in awe, to a force that is subservient to him. Untamed nature was, and still is, manís greatest enemy. However, man no longer fears nature. Man has tamed nature and he now dominates nature to a very high degree.
However, obsolete genes favoring the adoration of gods do not disappear overnight. The persistent presence of religious belief systems within modern society restrains rational thought processes. Religion is the essence of irrationality and is a poor substitute for factual, scientific knowledge. Religion, magic and superstition do not provide desired results because they rely on inherently faulty premises.
Science and rationality, based on knowledge and logic, has evolved as the only reliable method for achieving desired results. Scientists do not pray when a rocket takes off for outer space, they utilize technology and rely on hard science.
Only during the last one hundred thousand years did evolutionary pressures bring about a new and extremely powerful tool, the rational mind. Rationality relies on reason and logic, instead of religious superstition, to achieve desired results. Rationality coincided with the development of science.
The cerebral cortex of our brain, our convoluted gray matter, our complex thinking apparatus, our central processing unit, is a relatively recent addition to our brain. Our cerebrum enhanced the more primitive underlying limbic system, the seat of our ancient emotions and our innate temperament. The limbic system is like an old-fashioned hammer, simple, sturdy and rugged.
On the other hand, our cerebral cortex is like a computer: Complex, maintenance intensive, fragile, but capable of speeds and functions undreamed of in the days when man had no tools other than a hammer.
We are still using the hammer, just as we are still using our limbic system. However, we have improved the quality of our lives immensely by using our new computer tool, by using our cerebral cortex, our rational mind. Other animals still operate essentially with their limbic system. Modern man has achieved complete superiority over other animals by developing rationality.
As we enter the third millennium, the scientific approach to human affairs is beginning to supersede the obsolete, ineffective reliance on a god or gods. Religion is still powerful, but it has lost the all-pervasive stranglehold on human affairs that it held a mere four hundred years ago.
As recent as the Middle Ages, clerics and churches dominated the worldly affairs of humanity. Since the end of the eighteenth century, since the Age of Enlightenment, religion has taken a backseat in managing the affairs of state. Man has become tired of exploitation by kings and witch doctors.
In times of trouble, some people still pray for intervention by the gods. Prayers are requests by confessedly unworthy persons to have the laws of the universe repealed in their favor.
However, it is obvious to any rational, intelligent observer that prayer is not as efficacious in solving problems as the rational mind, just as medical quackery and herbal extracts are no substitute for heart surgery and penicillin. The difference between herbal remedies and penicillin reflects the difference between the primitive limbic system and the highly advanced cerebral cortex.
Discussions regarding religion often evoke the question: Does god exist? It is sometimes helpful to apply a little common sense to what pretends to be an intricate philosophical enigma.
What do we mean when we say that something exists? As far as human beings are concerned, nothing exists unless it manifests itself in some form, shape or manner to man or to his extended sensory perceptions.
If something is claimed to exist but does not impinge on man in any way whatsoever, we can safely say that it does not exist as far as human existence is concerned. This purported mirage may still exist somewhere in the universe or another universe. However, since this alleged object or event does not manifest itself to us, it does not affect us in any way whatsoever and we must simply state that it does not exist as far as human beings are concerned.
Religious people argue that, although they cannot prove that god exists, atheists cannot prove that god does not exist. This argument is inherently faulty.
It is logically impossible to prove that an object or event does not exist. However, it is the essence and the backbone of science to provide evidence that something does exist. If something exists, such as energy, matter or space, it manifests itself to us by objective evidence. We can measure such manifestations or we can take objective images of them.
It is axiomatic in the affairs of man, and steeped in common sense that, whoever makes a claim, has to prove its validity. The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
If a person should claim that the moon is made of green cheese, he has to prove that the moon actually consists of green cheese, instead of rock, as established by previous, hard, factual, objective evidence. It is logically impossible and absurd to demand that, whoever does not accept the claim that the moon is made of green cheese, should disprove the claim.
Only persons, who do not utilize logic, will accept as true statements that are completely unsupported by factual evidence. Yet, this form of irrationality and lack of fundamental logic is the foundation of all religions. Since approximately 80 % of the world population accepts the completely unsubstantiated statements of various religions, 80 % of the world population suffers from a severely distorted and thus ineffective worldview.
Christian dogma expects people to believe the fairy tale of Noahís ark, although it is patently impossible to squeeze even samples of billions of the worldís animals into one small ark. Rational persons consider such stories ludicrous. And yet, such is the brainwashing power of religion, that the majority of the people on earth accept such fairytales as facts.
The bible account of the creation of man and the universe, as set forth in the Book of Genesis, is in such contradiction to irrefutable facts that a rational person cannot help but laugh about such fantasies. It may be all right for children to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but functional adults are expected to outgrow such fairy tales.
Another absurdity is imbedded in the fact that every religion claims to pray to the one and only true god. How can such contradiction be rationalized? Who is the true god? Allah, or Jesus, or Jehovah, or Buddha, or Krishna?
Where was the Jewish God Jehovah, when Hitler incinerated five million of his chosen people; where was the Buddha when Truman vaporized 250,000 Japanese women and children; where was the Christian God when Stalin killed thirty million Christians?
It defies rationality when religious persons pray to these same gods for individualized help and salvation.
3 a. Pascal's Wager
Another favorite statement by religious philosophers refers to Pascalís Wager. Pascal was an eminent seventeenth century mathematician who struggled with the contradictions presented by Christian theology.
His wager consists of the statement: It is advantageous to believe in god because the worst thing that can happen is that you have spent your life believing in something that is untrue and you will end up just as dead as everyone else will. However, if you do not believe in god and if god actually exists, then godís actual existence will matter in the extreme because you will be in big trouble with Him.
The problem with Pascalís wager lies in the reality hat a person cannot pretend to believe in God just for the sake of a wager. The obvious insincerity in pretending a belief in God for the purpose of a wager makes an actual belief in God impossible.
Theologians have used Pascalís wager to admonish people to believe in God, just in case he actually exists. This situation justifies the old definition of theologians as persons who are looking in a coal-bin on a dark night for a black cat that is not there.
3 b. The Epicurean Postulate
It is pointless to get involved in endless discussions regarding the existence or non-existence of god and the moral qualities of such a god. Such nonsensical and unproductive discussions have raged for the last three thousand years.
One of the problems in theism, the belief system involving a personal god, revolves around the allegedly benign nature of god, the existence of evil, and the resulting inconsistency in the concept of an omnipotent god.
The mere existence of evil in this world makes the existence of a benign god impossible: If god were omnipotent, he could eliminate evil and if he were benign, he would want to do so. Furthermore, if god were all-good, as he is supposed to be, he could not sin. However, if he were all-powerful, he could sin.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus illuminated this dilemma in 300 BC:
If God is willing to prevent evil but is not able to prevent evil, then he is not omnipotent.
If God is able to prevent evil but is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not benevolent.
Evil is either in accordance with Godís intention or contrary to it.
Thus, either God cannot prevent evil or he does not want to prevent evil.
Therefore, it follows that God is either not omnipotent or he is not benevolent. He cannot be both omnipotent and benevolent.
3 c. The Rock Lifting Paradox
If the Epicurean argument does not suffice in pointing out the inherent contradictions in the concept of a god, there remains the somewhat provocative and hilarious Rock Lifting Paradox: Can God make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it? If we assume the common definition of omnipotence, we encounter a contradiction: If God was omnipotent, he should be able to do create such a rock but then he cannot lift the rock and his omnipotence breaks down.
This thought experiment makes it logically and factually untenable to claim the existence of any allegedly omnipotent God. This paradox creates a dire dilemma for the faithful: Who would really want or need a God who is not omnipotent, a god who would not be able to change the laws of the universe on behalf of a sinful supplicant? This paradox does not prove or disprove anything in itself, but it does point out the inherent logical impossibility of the existence of an omnipotent God.
3 d. Conclusion: The Existence of God
Religious people pursue their religion because they have blocked their rationality in all affairs pertaining to religion. They are impervious to the contradictions, logical inconsistencies and other obstacles to the existence of a personal, omnipotent god. They desperately need an omnipotent, omniscient, benign god to lean on. They prefer to walk through life with blinders so that the harsh facts of Objective Reality will not spook them.
There is no need to prove or disprove the existence of god or gods. The mere fact that no god has ever manifested himself in any form, shape or manner, eliminates any reliance we can place on him or any attention we need to pay to him.
As far as modern man is concerned, gods or other supposedly omnipotent beings never have and do not now interact with man. As far as we, as human beings, are concerned, gods do not exist because they do not manifest themselves to us or interact with us.
For the sake of argument, some people suggest that gods may exist in some other universe or plane of existence where we cannot be aware of them. However, as long as these nebulous, hidden gods do not interact with human beings in our universe, we need not concern ourselves with such extra-celestial god or gods.
In order to prove the existence of gods and other super-natural beings, adherents of religions have often claimed to talk to god. At times, these people claim to see miraculous visions of ethereal superior beings, gods, angels, virginal childbirth, the dear departed and other ephemeral appearances. All such visions or apparitions are strictly subjective and lack any objective evidence whatsoever. It is common for mentally disturbed persons, such as schizophrenics, to see visions or to hear voices that do not exist in reality.
Photography has been available for the last 150 years. However, nobody has ever captured an image of a god or angels or of any other supernatural being. If these omnipotent phantoms cannot even re-arrange a few electrons on photographic film, how are they going to interact with us or save us from disaster?
Where are the miracles that gods can supposedly perform? There has never been any objective evidence of a single miracle. Religious belief systems routinely claim miracles performed by their gods. Alas, not even a scintilla of objective evidence has ever supported an alleged miracle.
Miracles cannot possibly occur in reality because they would violate or modify firmly established natural laws of the universe, such as gravity, time or entropy. If anyone tried to rearrange these fundamental forces, the whole universe would instantly come to a screeching halt.
After horrendous disasters or personal calamities, religious people commonly thank their god for the miracle of saving them or helping them. It does not occur to them that, if god is omnipotent, he could have prevented the disaster before it struck. Since god did not prevent the disaster, he obviously harmed his poor believer purposely and with malice. Who needs gods like that?
Miracles and other reversals of natural laws supposedly occur merely at the whim of a god who is clearly non-existent and non-omnipotent. With modern recording devices, scientists can expose any sham, almost instantly. Since the advent of objective recording devices, there have been no claims for miracles.
5. The Equivocation of Deism/Pantheism
We have concerned ourselves with supernatural events or beings that supposedly interact with human beings on the individual level. Another definition of God deals with the concept that a Superior Being created the universe, that he set the stars in motion and then relaxed and stood back, presumably somewhere in the infinity of interstellar space.
This is the popular view of god as the Clockmaker: He built and wound up the universe. Now the machinery is just running down without further intervention by Him, and He is not paying the slightest attention to human affairs.
This impersonal, pantheistic or deistic view of the universe is popular with agnostics. Persons who hold this view, find it rationally unacceptable to believe in a personal god. This approach is favored by closet-atheists and by many agnostics. Jefferson, Washington and a multitude of other politicians utilized the deistic viewpoint because they needed an affiliation with religion and gods in order to be politically acceptable to the religious masses.
The deistic approach to religion represents a failure to face simple issues honestly and squarely. Who needs a god who blissfully stands back in a dark corner of the universe, ignoring the pleas of his subjects? Religious persons need a God to provide them with miracles. They cry to God and expect help in response to their prayers.
6. The Origins of God and the Universe
Another dilemma that frequently arises in discussions of religion revolves around the origin of God and the universe. If God made the universe, as he is claimed to have done, who or what created God? Did God create himself? Religious persons find it exceedingly difficult to answer this question.
Nobody knows who made this alleged god, but it certainly could not have been another god. Otherwise, the god-creating god would be the real god, instead of the god whom he created.
Another favorite response to the question of who made god tries to stipulate that God has always existed. Therefore, there was no need to create god. This argument is somewhat circular. Nobody has ever proven that god exists, much less that he has always existed. We will concern ourselves with the creation of god after somebody has factually established that god even exists.
Maybe man will never know the conundrum of the creation of the universe. Maybe he will do so at some distant time in the future. However, ordinary human beings do not need an answer to this question because any answer would be irrelevant to human existence and happiness. Whatever we may find, it is extremely unlikely that the ultimate answer to the secrets of the universe will reveal a God with a flowing white beard who answers human prayers.
Understanding the creation of the universe and knowing what lies on the other side of the Big Bang does not have the slightest effect on our life and our happiness. We enhance our happiness, our emotional state of well being, by minimizing pain and by maximizing our alignment with Objective Reality, by understanding how life really works.
Human beings do not live in the fairyland of religious speculation. Neither do human beings live in the world of quantum particles, relativity and cosmology. We merely need to know how life actually proceeds on the human plane, in the world we live in. We can accomplish this objective by trying to enhance our factual understanding of the nature of Objective Reality, without blinkers imposed on us by religion.
Religious persons sometimes claim that atheism is merely another belief system, similar to any other religion. This assertion is due to a lack of understanding of semantic concepts. The word belief is similar to the concept of faith because it implies mental acceptance of something as true in the absence of firm evidence.
A belief is a vague idea supported only by the confidence that people place in it. If people have to resort to a belief in something, they have doubts regarding the veracity of what they believe in. If we know something to be a fact, we do not say that we believe in it. If people know the facts of a situation, they have no need for beliefs.
Atheists pronounce themselves skeptics or atheists, not because they adhere to a furtive belief system of not believing in god, but because gods do not exist. Gods do not exist in view of the indisputable fact that no god has ever manifested himself to a human being. The atheistic worldview is not a belief system because it does not rely on beliefs in unsupported claims. The atheistic worldview insists on objective evidence.
Much has been made of reports of alleged cures where God miraculously healed a repentant sinner. The purported miracle, lacking objective evidence, was more than likely attributable to luck or to other natural causes. It is a fact that people very often do get better with the help of their immune systems. If the poor sinner had died, as many sinners and non-sinners do, there would have been no miracle.
If our appeals to our God are successful and if He seems to solve our problem, he gets credit for the miracles he works. However, if he does not resolve our predicament, religious persons blame his lack of cooperation on insufficient prayer, the unworthiness of the supplicant, the lack of proper sacrifices, or the inscrutable ways of god.
Such situations arise frequently when human survival is threatened. Persons, who pray to God and who survive a pending calamity, sing hymns of praise to Him for answering their prayer. However, those persons who perished, although they prayed just as hard, are no longer available to blame Him for his failure to save their lives.
In acts of courage and defiance, many men have cursed the gods but the gods did not strike them with lightening, or anything else. Man has ignored the gods and they, in turn, have ignored him. Atheists have to help themselves and solve their problems without the delusion of divine intervention.
Atheists struck a deal with God: We will not bother you, if you will not bother us. They mocked god and nothing happened to them, because god does not exist. If he actually does exist, he cannot or does not want to punish atheists. In either case, he does not respond to prayers or to curses.
Without a god or gods, religion becomes meaningless and prayer becomes an empty delusion. What is prayer, but the appeal to nonexistent supernatural beings, to upset the laws of the universe on behalf of an admittedly unworthy sinner? Of course, in order to rely on prayer, a believer must have faith.
The word faith means to accept something as true without evidence and in contradiction to established facts. Otherwise, no reliance on faith, on unverified religious dogma, would be required: People need not have faith in gravity or other objective facts; people need to have faith only when they face an otherwise unacceptable falsehood. Faith is the unconditional acceptance of the impossible.
As man evolved, the survival benefits of a belief in the supernatural have become obsolete. In the third millennium, in this age of science and enlightenment, survival increasingly depends on increased rationality. The previous century has seen an overwhelming increase in scientific and technological knowledge. The ability of an individual to deal rationally, instead of emotionally, with his environment, has shifted survival benefits from the irrational and emotional arena to the rational and scientific domain.
In prior millennia, men like Socrates and Aristotle lacked the basic tools of knowledge and science to develop a clear view of Objective Reality. They were groping in the dark for small kernels of truth. Since then, manís scientific knowledge has increased by a factor of millions, with regard to both the quality and the quantity of information accessible to him.
A rational, scientific person is able to align himself with Objective Reality, with truth, more appropriately than a religious person is who is relying on prayers to nonexistent gods. A person with rational thought processes is more likely to achieve his desired objectives, including enhanced survival and lasting happiness, than a person relying on prayer.
Adherents of religions often refer to the emotional benefits of reliance on miracles, on life after death, or on other illusory benefits offered by organized religion. They advance the idea that a person will benefit emotionally from such childish illusions although they are clearly distortions of reality. This stance defies common sense since it presumes that irrationality can be superior to rationality in any aspect of life and under any circumstances whatsoever.
The only exception to this rule might apply to religious persons on their deathbed. They may emotionally benefit from a childish belief in a life after death because it facilitates the pain of their departure. Moribund persons no longer need to concern themselves with objective evidence, as the basis for achieving desired results. Their view of reality is no longer oriented towards achieving desired results. They can afford to indulge in dreams of a better life to come, without further adverse effects.
No matter what Henry James says in his "Varieties of Religious Experience", or what Otto calls the Numinous, the fact remains that quackery of any kind, whether medical or religious, remains quackery and can never be as efficacious as hard science. Marx had many faults but he was correct when he stated, "Religion is the opiate of the masses". This pronouncement extends to all forms of superstition, religion, magic and the supernatural.
Copyright © Walter E. Requadt All Rights