Six reasons to believe that traditional conceptions of God are wishful fantasies
There are at least six reasons to consider the standard religious conceptions of God to be wishful fantasies similar to a child’s magical thinking:
I. They appear to be wish-fulfilling projections of a comforting, magical, authoritative parental being into existence (see Freud’s The Future of an Illusion ), a magical supernatural being whose supernatural powers contradicts all empirical data and must be taken on faith from supposed authorities who have witnessed miracles.
a. The evidence regarding miraculous events that contradict personal experience always comes from supposedly impeccable authorities whose credentials are all actually highly dubious in that there is no way to verify their integrity and veracity (see Hume on Miracles and, in contrast to Hume’s arguments, see the religious claims made in Fantasy Faith).
b. The vast majority of religious believers believe the religion (or some variation thereof) that they were taught when they were growing up. And yet, they all seem to believe that they just happened to be born into The One that is True.
c. Almost invariably, we are confronted with the strange fact that most religions claim that God(s) spoke to actual people when the Truth was first delivered to humanity and has since fallen silent.
d. Then we have the incredible hubris inherent in the notion that humans—who can’t even comprehend (truly visualize) the data of the world we know to exist (e.g., infinite space or space curving back on itself, a universe of 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars, the mind boggling paradoxes of quantum physics, how time began at the moment of the Big Bang, etc., see Proof of the Existence of Yo)—could understand the Creator of the profoundly incomprehensible universe well enough to know His nature and His wishes!
e. We are confronted with the common “blasphemy” inherent in making the force/being that created the unimaginable universe into a weak, insecure narcissist, typically a macho, egotistical humanoid with petty jealousies, easily injured pride, and a rapacious capacity for wanton violence when His feelings are hurt.
f. And, finally, we have the explanation that has been developed that shows how the tendency to believe in false religious ideas has been shaped (by natural selection through evolutionary history) into the human psyche, i.e., is adaptive (see Kriegman & Kriegman, 1997). If along with a capacity to distinguish truth from fiction, we also have strong, adaptive tendencies to believe in what is not true, then our convictions and beliefs in things that cannot be proven (or disproven, for that matter) should certainly be taken with a grain or two of salt.
Reason II: Evidence from impeccable authoritiesHow can we have impeccable but dubious authority? Well, the fact that religion A’s authorities were people of near perfect integrity, infallibility, and wisdom is either self-evident or easy to prove to members of religion A. Yet, the much greater number of followers of other religions find religion A’s claims to be of dubious, unconvincing quality, at best. So, it seems that the evidence to support the unimpeachable authority pointing to the miracles of religion A, requires belief in religion A! A rather circular situation that arises frequently because of Reason III.
Reason III: Everyone claims that they have the one, true religion
It is obvious that all the religions—the vast majority of which claim that theirs is the only truth and that the others are false—can’t all be correct. So, if people (including ourselves) believe the religion of their upbringing, what are the chances that we just happened to have been born into the One True Faith? Not very likely when you consider that the world’s largest religion, Christianity, comprises less than a third of the world’s population and is divided into numerous sects that, often as not, claim that the other versions of Christianity are as wrong as the non-Christian religions.
Homer Converts to Catholicism!
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. (Stephen Roberts)
Reason IV: The once articulate, but now mute God
Remarkably, fundamentalist Christians claim that the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God. What is so bewildering about such a claim is that these fundamentalists believe that the Gospel was written by Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John 60 to 100 years after Jesus died. Still, if an almighty God wanted to inspire/dictate/tell them how to write the story as He wanted, we suppose that would be possible. However, these believers also acknowledge that the Bible was originally written in Greek AND that we have no copies of the originals.
Even the fundamentalists admit that all we have are THOUSANDS of copies of different manuscripts that were transcribed by hand over the three hundred years after the death of Jesus by scribes in many scattered Christian communities. And when scholars check, they see that often the text was changed and altered as it was copied. It wasn’t until Constantine’s conversion that Christianity was made “the law of the land” and a group of Christian leaders was convened to decide what the Bible should and should not contain. Since none of this is disputed, the notion that the particular Bible you can hold in your hand today is the same as some original Greek version of the Gospels is simply untenable. Given the way fallible humans decided by committee politics, violence, and fiat which versions of which repeatedly altered and revised manuscripts comprised the “true” Bible, the claim that YOUR Bible is “the exact, inerrant word of God” seems rather far fetched, to say the least.
My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them. (Abraham Lincoln)
Indeed, the majority of religions tell their followers that at some point in the (usually distant) past, the Word of God was delivered directly to one of their religion’s prophets/founders. Often, this is said to be during a period of time when God spoke to humans. It seems like a rather curious and unlikely fact that almost all believers just happen to live in the time of God’s silence.
Of course, there is always someone who claims to be hearing the Word of God. In “civilized” societies, most of these individuals are hospitalized, medicated, or ignored as they are considered to be babbling nonsense. In more fundamentalist societies, they are usually killed (see the tale about the fellow known as “Jesus”). But on occasion, these voice hearers generate a following of fellow believers, usually from their shared religious community of origin. The larger, established religious community always rejects this new vision as heresy and a new sect starts to come into existence.
Again, is it just ironic that when any of the existing religions first began, the established religions considered its claims to be nonsense? Certainly, existing religions invariably find new claims to have an extremely flimsy basis. However, if a new sect survives and is able to establish itself, the vast majority of its believers will once again live in the time of the Mute God and will treat any new claims as nonsensical (and potentially dangerous) babble.
This explains the curious fact that nearly all existing believers believe in a Dumb God who once spoke. Since this requires believers to turn to “impeccable authority” (again, see Hume on Miracles), it is no surprise that those in charge of these religions—who derive their power from their claim to be able to provide the correct interpretation of the words of the Impeccable Authority—insist that God’s words were only spoken to/through that Impeccable Authority. They then insist that the vast majority of those who are currently hearing God’s voice are deluded or wicked (especially if what God is saying to them contradicts anything the priests believe to be true).
Reason V: The limits of human understanding
Consider that human brains were designed by natural selection for functioning in the “mid-world,” not the macro- or micro-worlds. When we attempt to understand the macro-world (infinite space or the number of stars and galaxies in the universe, infinite mass resulting from [and time halting] at the speed of light, events at the moment of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago) or the micro-world (what an electron is made of, or the forces that bind the atom) our mid-world models break down. There was no evolutionary need “to design” (or, no selective pressure “to shape”) a brain that could comprehend the large-scale architecture of the galaxies or the sub-atomic quantum world.
Thus, our psyches are structured to function in a mid-world, while we are simultaneously aware of phenomena beyond our mid-world experience in both the macro- and micro-worlds. We then use mid-world metaphors (creating models) to aid us in attempting to grasp the nature of the unknowable (i.e., that which we are unable to know/experience directly) macro- and micro-worlds. Ultimately, however, our mid-world metaphors break down and we are left with profound paradoxes and impossibilities that cannot be encompassed in models based on our experiential mid-world.
The claim that we can understand many of the essential details of a creator or creative force (if such a being is considered to be the meaning of “God”) “behind” the world—a world that itself is a Divine Mystery that is profoundly paradoxical and beyond our comprehension—is bizarre hubris. A brain not designed to be able to visualize the context (the macro- and micro-worlds) in which the mid-world of our experience exists can hardly be expected to understand the way such contexts came into being or are manifested
Reason VI: A defective God’s overweening need for adoration
The standard, major religions believe that an Infinite Creator acts and is like a jealous man (see the Old Testament) with petty human concerns, such as an infantile need to be adored and a chronic craving for adulation. If you think about it, their very notion of blasphemy is blasphemous; it supposes that an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent being has hurt feelings if you or I don’t worship Him! (And the pronoun “Him” is appropriate because the standard God is usually described as acting like a macho, narcissistic tyrant.)
In the Old Testament, for example, God is angered by the Israelites and decides to destroy them. Moses intervenes and points out that if he destroys them, then followers of other gods will conclude that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, didn’t have the power to deliver on his promise (to bring them into the land of Canaan as conquerors). So, they will conclude, in order to hide His weakness, He destroyed His people out in the middle of the desert where no one would see. God relents because he wouldn’t want to provide ammunition to those promoting other gods, ammunition that could be used to dis’ Him (Num. 14:13-16).
What a petty, egotistical God! He behaves like a street hoodlum, a gang leader. Moses (the Omniscient One’s adviser!) is able to read his Almighty God’s virtually infinite, infantile egoism, and he reminds God that killing all the Jews could be misinterpreted and used to “sully His rep,” mess up his claim to being the most powerful God, The Creator of the Universe. It is wanting to avoid this outcome that is key to stopping God from committing genocide! Such a depiction of God is “blasphemous” in that it makes God into a petty, macho, male bully with an infantile, addictive craving for adoration and praise. Paradoxically, if such a God existed, He would be insulted by such a characterization and He would surely smite thee for blasphemy!