Eighty-four percent of the world’s population belongs to some form of organized religion and believes in some form of God. Which at the end of this year is about 5.9 billion people. They mostly promote belief in one God. Christians have about two billion of those 5.9 billion. About half of those are Catholics. Muslims come in at just a tad over 1 billion. Hindus at around 850 million. Buddhists at almost 400 million and then a several hundred million other ethnoreligious animuses and other God believers around the world.
How to Choose Which God Is the Real God?
Why there are about 10,000 distinct religions each one of which may be further subdivided and classified. Christians, for example, may be apportioned among about 34,000 different denominations. From a scientific perspective, such percentages believe cry out for an explanation. Why do so many people believe these things? But from a skeptics perspective, which is what I do, what are the chances that these guys got the right God and the right religion and the billions of other people that don’t believe what they believe got it wrong? When you read this blog, ask yourself that question. What are the chances that they happen you are right in case your belief in one God? How can you choose which God is the real God among so many? And the tens of billions of people that lived before Jesus, they never heard of it. The tens of billions of people that will live since then who don’t believe that they happen to be wrong? Or is it more likely that all of these religious and God beliefs are socially constructed, psychologically constructed and that none of them are right in any real sense and the ontological sense? They’re all constructed this way. In my blog, I will present to you two lines of evidence for this claim that humans created God and religion. Not vice versa.
Two Lines of Evidence
The first is evolutionary theory the second is social psychology comparative world religions and mythology. First, we go back in time. Our story runs for millions of years. I believe that you can imagine that you are back in time let’s say three and a half million years ago. You’re a little hominid on the plains of Africa. A little australopithecine your name is Lucy, and you hear a rustle in the grass. Is it a dangerous predator or is it just the wind? Well if you assume that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator, it turns out it’s just the wind, you’ve made a type 1 error a false positive. You thought A was connected to B, but you’re wrong. That’s a relatively harmless error to make. You just become more cautious vigilant skittish like you see animals on the plains of Africa today. But if you believe the noise in the grass is just the wind and it turns out it’s a dangerous predator you’ve just been given a Darwin Award for taking yourself out of the gene pool early before reproducing. And we are the descendants of those who are most likely to make type 1 errors versus type 2 errors. False positives rather than false negatives.
Now, why can’t you just sit there on the grass and collect more data until you get it right? You have to know that predators don’t wait around for prey animals to collect more data. That’s why they’re stealthy and stalk their prey. So we evolved the propensity to make snap decisions. The rule of thumb is to assume all rustles in the grass are dangerous predators and not the wind. Just in case, assume everything you read and hear and see is real.
Now, what’s the difference between a dangerous predator and the wind? The wind is an inanimate force. A dangerous predator is an intentional agent. He intends to eat me, and that probably can’t be good. So we also evolved the capacity not only to find these patterns and make those kinds of errors instead of the other. Assume everything is real. We also infuse into those patterns of intentional agency. We just think everything is not just real but real and animated, alive even if it’s invisible.
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We now have a lot of evidence from cognitive psychology that this begins at a very early age. Perhaps as early as Age 2 or 3. I’ll just give you one experiment among many. A Jessie Bering’s research with little children who are brought into a room and they’re given one of these little balls with Velcro on it, and you throw it at the dartboard and sticks on it. That’s the goal. So they’re brought into the room, but they’re not allowed just to do that with their good hand. They’re turned around, and they have to do it backward. So they’re really bad at it as any of us would be. And then the experimenter leaves the room, and he says just do the best you can and come out and tell me how you did. So, of course, they all walk up there and just stick it on the thing.
Part two of the experiment. The little children are brought in, and each of them is told. Right next to the dartboard is a chair. Here on the chair is the princess and she’s an invisible princess, and she can see everything you’re doing. Experimenter leaves the room. All of a sudden the children stop going up to cheat. The shadow of enforcement the sort of infusion of agency and an invisible being in a chair that sees what we do keeps track of our moral behavior. Begins at a very early age our brains have evolved this capacity for agency. That’s the earliest God beliefs. Belief in one God who is watching you.
Next Line of Evidence.
Here’s what happened about five to seven thousand years ago. These animistic simple God beliefs and sort of social religions that evolved to help us live together as a social primate species. Began to break down as populations grew from a couple of dozens to a couple of hundred individuals to thousands of tens of thousands of millions of people in state societies. From bands and tribes to chiefdoms and States we needed some more formal means of behavior control and enforcing the rules of social cooperation. Two institutions evolved for that. Government and religion. The government says here’s a copy of the rules everybody gets one and here are the punishments if you break the rules. Religion says if you think you got away with it and you cheated the state, no no. There’s an eye on the sky that knows all and sees all and in the next life justice will be served. Only the belief in one God can save you. That’s a very powerful force for social control. Again if it happens with little kids, you can do it with adults which is what churches are all about. So that’s the modern version. That’s what happens with that.
Now the second line of inquiry on the social phenomenon and comparative world religions. As a back-of-the-envelope calculation within an order of magnitude accuracy, we can safely conclude that over the last 10,000 years of history there’s been about 10,000 different religions and roughly about a thousand different gods.
How Do You Know Which One Is Real?
Again the house question for you who have read this blog. What is the probability that Yahweh is the one true God and Amenra, Aphrodite, Apollo, Baal, Brahman, Ganesha, Isis, Mithras, Osiris, Shiva, Thor, Vishnu, Wanton, Zeus and the other 986 gods are all false gods? So, how to practice the right belief in one God among so many others? How to choose which god is the real god?
Now think about this as another thought experiment.
– If you happen to be born and say the United States or England in the 20th century, there’s a good chance that you believe that Yahweh is the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe who manifested into flesh through Jesus of Nazareth.
– If you happen to have been born in India in the 20th century, there’s a perfect chance you’re a Hindu who believes that Brahma is the unchanging, infinite transcendent creator of all matter-energy time and space. And who manifest into flesh through Ganesha the blue elephant God who is the most worshipped divinity in India. Is this the answer to the question which God is the real God among so many? For an anthropologist from Mars, these are all indistinguishable. Of course, they’re individually different. But taking the big picture, they’re all indistinguishable in that sense. Even within the three great Abrahamic religions. Who can say which is the right one? Christians believe that Jesus is the savior and you must accept him to receive eternal life in heaven. Jews do not accept Jesus as their Savior neither do Muslims. Back roughly two billion of the world’s 5.9 billion don’t accept that. So what happens to them? Again are they really right and all those other good people who believe just as passionately as they do are wrong?
So Many Prophets so Little Time
Where Christians believe that the Bible is an inherit gospel handed down from the god, Muslims consider that the Koran is the perfect Word of God. It’s unfortunate that the creator of the universe wrote more than one holy book. Christians believe that Christ is the latest prophet. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the latest prophet. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith is the latest prophet. And stretching this tract of thought just a little bit more Scientologists believe that the science fiction writer Ron Hubbard was the latest prophet. So many prophets so little time. Belief in one God. Yes, but which God is the right God?
Very common throughout history. Predating the biblical Noachian flood story by centuries the epic of Gilgamesh was written around 1800 BC warned by Babylonian earth Kia, that other gods were about to destroy all life by a flood nothing to push them was instructed to build an ark in the form of a cube. One hundred twenty cubits on each side hundred eighty feet, roughly speaking. With seven floors each divided into nine compartments in which two of every animal is to be brought on to the ship.
Virgin birth likewise springs up throughout geography and time. Among those alleged to have been designed without the usual assistance of the male lineage Dionysus, Perseus, Buddha, Krishna, Horace, Mercury, Romulus and of course Jesus Consider the parallels between Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and Jesus of Nazareth. Both were said had been born from a virgin mother who was a mortal woman but was fathered by the king of heaven. Both supposedly returned from the dead, transformed water into wine introduced the idea of drinking and eating blood and flesh of the creator. And to have been the liberator of mankind.
Flood myths not original to Christianity. The virgin birth is not original to Christianity. Resurrection myths are not original to Christianity.
Osiris and Cyrus
Osiris is the Egyptian god of life death and fertility and is one of the oldest gods for whom records have survived. From this point of view, he is a very suitable candidate for belief in one God. Osiris first appears in the Pyramid Texts around 2400 BC. 2400 before that other guy named Jesus. By which time his following was already well-established widely worshipped until the required repression of pagan religions in the early Christian era. Osiris was not only the redeemer and merciful judge of the Dead in the afterlife. He was similarly linked to fertility most notably and appropriately for the geography the flooding of the Nile. By the way, there is a geographical link between flood myths and bodies of water that flood. Not Universal floods just where you happen to live.
The kings of Egypt’s themselves were inextricably connected with a Cyrus in death such that when Osiris awoke from the dead so would they in combination with him by the time of the new kingdom not only the Pharaohs but the mortal men and women who built the pyramid. So here’s what happened the Pharaohs figured out that if you offer eternal life for the workers. They’ll work harder, and you don’t have to pay him as much. So Marx got that right one of the few things they got right the opiate of the masses. The masses don’t need promises of an afterlife they need sustenance now. This is a problem with religion. So that’s where that comes from. First, you just want as a Pharaoh King, a leader; you just want to eternal life for yourself. Forget people. Well then you find out they’ll work harder and they’ll support you more if you give them some arms like eternal life.
Shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, there rose another Messiah Apollonius of Asia Minor whose followers claim he was the son of God and that he was able to walk through closed doors heal the sick cast out demons and raised a dead girl back to life. He was accused of witchcraft sent to Rome before the court was jailed but escaped. After he died his followers claimed he appeared to them and ascended into heaven. This redemption after being oppressed is a very common myth throughout history. And you can guess the psychology behind it. The Native Americans in 1890 began a messiah myth with a Paiute Indian Wovoca who received visions of God. He was convinced to be the Messiah, or the deliverer of the Messiah in which the Buffalo would all return the white man would leave and go back to Europe and life would become better again.
Conclusion on Which God Is the Real God
This is what oppressed peoples do. They make up stories that make us feel better. It’s often claimed that you can’t prove a negative about safety as we can’t prove there is no God. I can prove that humans created gods and religions and I just did. And there are 50 more stories like this of the geographical location the time you happen to be born the Anthropology religion the psychology religion the sociology of religion. We know exactly how this happens. All the way down to the neurology the neuroscience. How come we all seem to talk to different gods then. Are there just a bunch of them out there and they’re competing for our brains.
Why is it as Dan Barker pointed out. There’s very little agreement amongst believers. Why is that? What’s more likely it’s evident that all these other gods are made up.