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Why do humans believe in God/gods?
12-06-2009, 08:30 PM
Post: #1
Why do humans believe in God/gods?
Faith is the obvious reason why theists believe in God/gods, but why do atheists think people do? Hang ups from pre-history? A need to explain the world? Fear of death and a desire for there to be a meaning to life?

What do you think the gods of ancient history were? Meteorites? Aliens with advanced technologies? Personifications of humanity's personality? Deified heroes?

If I've not made it obvious enough on here, I really like Hindu concepts, but sling a more atheist slant on it. The gods of the Egyptians, Greeks, and to some extent the Hindus, are simply symbolic personifications of humanity. They are not simply myths, in my opinion, but an insight into our unconscious. Though I've not studied Jung, what I have read seems appealing to me regarding this issue.

The concept of God, such as Jehovah or Allah (I know it's the same idea, let's not split hairs) is still a personification to me. Hence the judging, being a designer, revealing holy texts, having prophets, and so on; these are human qualities but they are exagerated to a divine scale, but this is why so many of these ideas fall at empirical examination, or philosophical logic.

As I've inferred, I think there is also a higher psychological state, whatever that is, that some people tap into, and then label 'God', or some other mystical name. They have no idea how to make sense of it, and label it in accord with the symbolic language they can use. Plato used the phrase God separate from the gods, but here I'm more thinking of the likes of Lao Tzu, possibly Buddha, and so on.

So, what do the atheists think of God/the gods?
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12-06-2009, 11:40 PM
Post: #2
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
I think belief in God/Gods is an evolutionary byproduct of social primates who developed language, story-telling, curiosity, and a need for group cohesion in order to survive. I don't think it's any more mysterious than that, though it is undoubtedly more complicated.

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12-07-2009, 06:53 AM
Post: #3
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
I seem to recall Dawkins mentioning a theory in one of his books, something along the lines of children who believe their elders without evidence being more likely to survive through lack of accidents (touching fires etc.) this is a really poor summary and I'll try and find the book I read it in for you.
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12-07-2009, 08:18 AM
Post: #4
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
Here's my theory: religion brought primitive tribes together behind a common set of ideas.

When the entire tribe believes the same thing (and especially when they hold regular ceremonies to celebrate those beliefs), they will be more closely bonded. Thus, a tribe of people with a natural instinct towards belief in the divine was more likely to persevere than a tribe that didn't.

Religion is a vestigial instinct. We no longer have any need for it, yet the instinct remains.
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12-07-2009, 08:52 AM
Post: #5
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
also I might mention that recent studies in neuroscience have revealed an area of the brain which is extremely active in extremely religious people (and also some epilectics), as to why we evolved this 'god centre' my guess is as good as yours, although I just found my copy of the book I mentioned above, in it there is a paragraph very similar to the ideas of mr. Taucer above that a form of group selection took place and as people with a belief in the divine trusted eachother more they were more likely to survive as a group and pass along the genetic coding for a 'god centre' but then goes on to say that religion may be a by-product of another genetic trait with a potential to elevate a species' effectiveness, much like moths flying into flames being a by-product of their useage of stars for navigation. in the case of religion it may be the bt-product of children to rely on the experience of those with experience without questioning it. (Don't eat strange berries etc.) however they are unable to distinguish good advice (such as the berries) from bad advice (such as you must sacrifice a goat every full moon) and hence religion is passed down from generation to generation.

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12-07-2009, 10:34 AM
Post: #6
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
(12-07-2009 08:52 AM)Voidus Wrote:  ...in the case of religion it may be the by-product of children to rely on the experience of those with experience without questioning it. (Don't eat strange berries etc.) however they are unable to distinguish good advice (such as the berries) from bad advice (such as you must sacrifice a goat every full moon) and hence religion is passed down from generation to generation.

Apparently meaningless rituals like your example of sacrificing goats do not necessarily have practical benefits. It is sufficient that they serve as identifiers of a community and thereby help maintain that community as a coherent whole. This identifier might operate in a complex way. Sacrificing that goat might be the excuse for a communal meal in which everyone gets to bond more with his neighbors. Or it might simply be a visual cue to identify who is one of 'us' and so help strengthen the commitment to the communal conventions that aid in preserving the community. Yarmulkes are one example.
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12-07-2009, 01:05 PM
Post: #7
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
(12-07-2009 06:53 AM)Voidus Wrote:  I seem to recall Dawkins mentioning a theory in one of his books, something along the lines of children who believe their elders without evidence being more likely to survive through lack of accidents (touching fires etc.) this is a really poor summary and I'll try and find the book I read it in for you.

I had a google for this, and it appears to be an example he's quite keen on. It seems to be initially a mazazine article he wrote, but no doubt he's used it in books too. Does this look like it?

Quote:Once again, apply the lesson to religious behavior in humans. We observe large numbers of people—in many local areas it amounts to 100 percent—who hold beliefs that flatly contradict demonstrable scientific facts, as well as rival religions. They not only hold these beliefs but devote time and resources to costly activities that flow from holding them. They die for them, or kill for them. We marvel at all this, just as we marvelled at the self-immolation behavior of the moths. Baffled, we ask “Why?” Yet again, the point I am making is that we may be asking the wrong question. The religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate manifestation of an underlying psychological propensity that in other circumstances was once useful.

What might that psychological propensity have been? What is the equivalent of using the parallel rays from the moon as a useful compass? I shall offer a suggestion, but I must stress that it is only an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. I am much more wedded to the general idea that the question should be properly rephrased than I am to any particular answer.

My specific hypothesis is about children. More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations. Theoretically, children might learn from experience not to swim in crocodile-infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains with the rule of thumb: Believe whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents, obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Obey without question.


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12-07-2009, 09:59 PM (This post was last modified: 12-07-2009 10:16 PM by Voidus.)
Post: #8
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
ah, the god delusion I think, yes that's it Big Grin
@Parousia: Yes I think that this is the original reason for the practise to come into existence and I mentioned something similar earlier in my post about group selection and so those with similar beliefs and events would have formed stronger communal bonds and so were more likely to survive as a group.

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12-09-2009, 12:58 AM
Post: #9
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
The biggest reason people believe in god is because they were taught to believe in god. It generally takes a pretty big shock to get people to leave their childhood beliefs (which is why, regrettably, you have so many angry atheists.) But there are other reasons. It is a mistake to take the sum total of humanity and simplify their reasoning. Some people are simply afraid to live their own lives without some sort of guiding instruction manual. Others want someone to blame for what has happened to them. Others just like the idea of someone watching over them. Others like it for the sense of superiority it gives them. There are many reasons.

Quite frankly, if I had lived prior to around the 19th century, I would likely be a theist. I would still be rational, but the fact is prior to the 19th century some sort of deity made sense. I would likely be a deist, as many great thinkers of that time were. As I am a comparatively rare example of someone who left the church based on rational thought rather than trauma, I have no predisposition against god, I just find him illogical. But god is only illogical when there are alternate explanations for our presence. Thanks to Darwin and others, we have those explanations. It is important to understand that evolution, abiogenesis, and the big bang theory do not disprove god, but they do render god unnecessary. We could very well have gotten here without a god, and so very likely we DID get here without a god.

Not so to the 17th century mind. Even less so to the ancient mind. They did not understand evolution, the fossil record, or cosmogony. If I were a primitive man, and I saw a giant ball of fire rise every day, then set, and I saw mysterious lights in the sky that did not get larger no matter how quickly I ran toward them, what other explanation would I have? Fireflies trapped in the sky? That theory could be easily disproved even with rudimentary understanding of fireflies. No, clearly they are living beings of some sort, whether a god shaped as a human, like myself, or a flaming ball rolled by a dung beetle. Hence primitive man, with their sun gods and moon gods.

As civilization advanced, however, philosophers arose. Rudimentary scientists before the scientific method, they would come up with alternate explanations for these phenomenon. Natural explanations. But major questions would remain: How did it all get here?

With no knowledge of evolution, of chemistry, of cosmogony, or geology, what conclusions can there be? Clearly someone designed it. Clearly someone put it here.

God is logical in the absence of modern science. It is only in the last 200 years that we have learned the things that made a godless universe even possible, and really it is only in the last 50 or so years that we have learned the things that make a godless universe the most likely, one might even say almost certain possibility.

There is no evolutionary imperative to believe in god. There is an evolutionary imperative to learn about the universe around us, and prior to modern science that almost inevitably leads to a belief in god.

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12-09-2009, 04:01 AM
Post: #10
RE: Why do humans believe in God/gods?
I'm not arguing about people believing because they were taught while they were young, merely why the concept was ever created in the first place (why people did not just say the universe always was or something which does not involve the supernatural),

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