The Existence of God

one true god

Guest post by Neil. You can read more of Neil’s writing at Rejecting Jesus.

Amateur apologist and C. S. Lewis wannabee, Don Camp, makes the argument that as human beings have always believed in gods (have they?), it must mean that gods exist. They – or at least one of them – must have planted an instinct for worship within us from the outset. Don, of course, feels it is ‘self-evident’ that the god he believes in (the Christianised version of the Jewish tribal god, YHWH) is the One True God and consequently the deity who imbued us with the god instinct. Eventually, after millennia, during which humans misdirected their god-instinct to create thousands of false gods and imaginary supernatural beings, this One True God revealed himself and made known his expectation that he be acknowledged as the only God.

Where to begin?

It is not ‘self-evident’ that the tribal god of ancient Jews is the One True God. It is not ‘self-evident’ that this god exists while all the other gods humans have created (current estimate: 28,000,000) do not. The people who created these other deities were equally convinced they existed. Some had texts setting out the expectations the gods had of their human acolytes; most had rituals and forms of worship that had to be adhered to; they had experts – priesthoods – who knew exactly what the gods required; many encouraged adherents to serve the gods in their daily lives.

These other deities were every bit as ‘real’ as YHWH. There is nothing that singles ‘him’ out from them; nothing that makes him any more real than they were. He is indistinguishable from them in every way. It cannot be argued that they don’t exist, while, ‘self-evidently’, the Christian god – a very late arrival on the scene – is real.

What of the god instinct then? Where does it come from if not from the gods themselves? As others have argued (Dawkins and Harris, for example) it appears to be a misfiring of our need to know. The ancient peoples who devised gods to explain their world were doing their best with what little knowledge they had. Attributing agency to the activities of nature is an understandable mistake to make. Early people had first-hand experience of human agency and it was not an unreasonable assumption that agency must therefore lie behind other phenomena. We know that very early religions did precisely this in respect of animals, weather, and the stars (animism; while astrology, in which celestial bodies control human behaviour, survives to this day).

We now know, however, that such attribution was wrong. Inanimate phenomena do not possess agency. They do not possess it because they are not cognitive beings; any cognition we think we detect is our own, reflected back at us. The entities earlier humans created to explain what they took to be the purposeful activities of nature had no independent existence.

Our imaginary creations have no counterparts in reality; none of the 28,000,000 gods that humans have conjured up have actually existed. Is it reasonable to assume, then, that one of these otherwise imaginary beings really does? That YHWH is the exception; the one god, who, just because we’re more familiar with him than any of the other 27,9999,999 deities, is one hundred percent real?

What do you think?

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3 Comments

  1. Michael Mock

    That’s a pretty clean outline of my own impression, which is that while human beings are born with a tendency towards some sort of religious belief — a “god instinct” — but that this tendency is extremely broad and non-specific and (historically and anthropologically) tends towards pantheons of one sort or another. Monotheism of any sort, while currently popular, is actually something of a statistical outlier, and you can trace its progress from early Judaism (“ours is the strongest god”) to monolatry (“ours is the only god you should worship”) and only later to monotheism (“ours is the only god”).

    I will also note something that someone else once told me in discussing this topic: it seems very likely that concept of “luck” is actually more universal than the concept of “God”.

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  2. Neil

    Absolutely. Michael. While Christianity is ostensibly monotheistic, it actually suuports a pantheon of gods. (Humans seem particularly inclined towards this kind of theistic invention.)

    Thus, Christianity has a ‘trinity’ of chief gods, together with a supporting cast of angels, devils, demons and, for some, holy mothers and saints; gods in everything but name.

    Plus ca change.

    Reply
  3. ObstacleChick

    Storytelling is an important part of what ot is to be human, a way to convey messages about morals, origins, etc. The gods are part of that storytelling, ways ancient people had to convey these messages. We still tell stories, but now there are more of them available through a variety of media, and most of us realize that most of the stories are fiction.

    I haven’t studied the development of gods as much as I would like yet, but certainly they served a function to explain why. They also served in some societies as a way to enforce morality (don’t do x or the gods will punish you). Also, appealing to gods through sacrifices, worship, and prayer were ways people could feel like they had some control over things they literally can’t control (like weather for crops to grow, or fertility).

    Ot seems sly nowadays that we have scientific findings that can explain some of the “why”, and we have a penal system to manage lawbreaking, that people still believe in gods. But I guess there’s still that element of wanting to control that still isn’t fulfilled. Pray to a God who might give you what you need/want.

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