Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Religion: Humanity's Creation

   So on a link to this blog that I posted on my Facebook page one of my old soldiers posted this bible quote: "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." - Isaiah 40:31 NLT.  While I originally planned on saving this topic for a later time that quote inspired me to talk about it now.  I'm first going to talk about scientific reasoning about man's creation of religion.  I find it fascinating and mostly because it ties into one of the skeptical reasoning's I had as a child.  There's a famous quote used by many atheists that goes something like this: "We are all atheists; I just go one god further."   I love this quote because it is so true.  My first skeptical question of religion was this: Ancient Greeks and Romans believed it multiple gods.  So what makes them wrong and Christians, right? Who is to say that the Greeks didn't have it right all along?  When you look back in time you see that before the Abrahamic religions ever came to fruition multiple cultures developed multiple belief systems.  This right here was evidence enough for me that religion was a human idea.  I could go on all day talking about my questions as to why god waited so long to reveal himself and why he only revealed himself to a small, particular group of people.  However, that's not the basis of what I'm here to talk about.  My other point is the idea that people believe they can sense/feel god's presence and what that might actually be.
    If you find the time (about an hour) I recommend this talk given by Andy Thomson at the 2009 American Atheist Convention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg.  The fascinating thing about freethinking, logical human beings is that they are always looking for scientific evidence that what they believe is true.  An hypothesis, such as that god exists, needs to be put to the test and cannot be accepted until there is scientific evidence to demonstrate that hypothesis is true.  We don't leave it up to "faith".  For this reason we continue to search for the evidence to back up our claims.  That's the beauty of science.  Even though all around us there are things that show us that what we believe is true, we don't except those things until it can be proven that they support our theory.  That is exactly what is being done in regards to the hypothesis that humans created god/religion.  In this lecture by Thomson there is a lot of points made.  I implore you to watch the lecture to grasp the full scope of what he has to say. 
    A couple of the points I want to talk about are the things that really opened my eyes and lead me to this blog post in the first place.  One of the things Thomson talks about is the idea that the mind can exist without the body.  Before you jump the gun and start thinking about the soul just be aware that I will get to that shortly.  As human beings we instinctually are aware that the mind of a person exists regardless of whether or not that person's body is currently in front of us.  He uses the example of being able to imagine a conversation with somebody who is not really there.  You can imagine yourself having a conversation with the president if I tell you to do so.  This is possible because we are aware that his mind exists regardless if we are actually having a conversation with him currently.  This is a default way of thinking as a child and further develops as we get older. This is where the idea of a "soul" comes into existence.  We take what we already know and then assume that it can be taken one step further to prove that we can, indeed, exist without a physical body. Another example that I got from a different talk (I don't remember by whom) was the idea that we, as a social species, give cognitive existence to things that don't actually have that ability.  Think about when your computer is running very slow, or your car won't start.  You blame the computer, you talk to the car.  We know the computer is just a machine and it's not doing it on purpose.  We know the car can't actually here us.  But as a social species it's natural for us to give these object personal identities.  It is also this natural ability to "make things human" that makes god in our minds.  It makes us susceptible to the idea that he does, indeed, exist.  Evolutionary traits also make it easier to believe this.  Language, music, writing; these are all things that have developed from evolution of our species.  Developing a complex system to communicate with one another leads to language.  Putting that language to a rhythm leads to music, and so on.  When you personify a being such as god it makes him much easier to relate to and therefore believe he exists.  This is possible because of the circuits developed in our brains to accomplish other tasks.  Now Andy Thomson does a much better job describing all of this which is why I encourage you to watch his lecture, but that is the basic idea of it (or at least how I understood it anyways).  Another subject touched upon briefly brings me to my next point.
     As a social species relationships are necessary to our survival.  Especially the relationship with your caregivers as a child.  The attachment that is formed with your family at a very young age is an evolutionary trait develop for the benefit of our species as a whole.  We see this in many species of animal, in fact, and so it should be very obvious to us at this point.  We look up to our family and friends.  Look to them for knowledge and understanding.  This trait is yet another that makes it very easy for us to see a god as a loving, wise individual that will take care of us.  Religious people look to their god for knowledge and wisdom on such things as morality and understanding of our purpose.  The fact that an entity was created to provide these things allows us to let go of that curiosity and accept what was written as truth very easily.  A different argument for attachment derives from our need to belong.  A topic brought up a lot among my atheists friends is that there are actually a lot of people that have lost faith and do not believe in a god but are afraid of being rejected by their family, friends and community.  This attachment to their social connections prevents them from admitting the truth of how they really feel.  This is also very common among homosexuals afraid to "come out" to their families and so is not specific only to religion.  The fact of the matter is religion is so powerful and has lasted for so long because it was designed in such a way that it is very difficult to deny the beliefs instilled in us.  Which reminds me of an episode of "The Atheist Experience" I watched.  A man called in on behalf of his wife who had written a letter that she wanted read on the air.  In this letter she describes how she had a very religious upbringing but always had her doubts.  There was one point as an older child, while she was attending a service that she just gave in to the whole concept of her religion and god.  She describes this moment as pure joy.  This feeling she felt inside herself was the best feeling she had ever felt.  All she had to do was stop fighting her doubts and just except it.  Does this sound familiar?  As a religious person it should.  This feeling she had, she was told by her fellow church goers, was god's love.  All she had to do was accept Jesus into her heart  and she could feel his presence.  Since she had never felt anything like this before she knew it had to be true.  Fortunately for her, as an adult, she regained her sense of logic and reasoning and eventually rejected the existence of god based on the insurmountable evidence that exists to the contrary.  But yet, still, those feelings she had way back when were very real.  So what were they?  Well after reflecting on it for a long time she finally realized what it was.  It was the relief of stress of not fighting against what she was being told.  It was the attachment to her friends and family that grew stronger by giving in to their beliefs.  The acceptance that she gained by not questioning what she was being told was so easy to grasp.  The point of this story is this;  people who claim to know god exists because they can feel his love aren't really feeling his love.  They are feeling the love of their family and friends on a level that they have never before experienced.  Religion capitalizes on this experience by telling you that what you are feeling is god's love and telling you that that is proof of his existence.  The fact that this can be explained in another way proves that religious people aren't right.  Their proof is the explanation of this feeling.  But I just gave you another explanation as well.  Now I agree that this doesn't prove that god does not exist.  However, it does prove that more scientific evidence needs to be discovered to truly answer that question.  And each and every day we are presented with more and more evidence to that end.

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