Sunday, April 2, 2017

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Where Did God Come From? A Dream, A Lie, And An Explanation

Addressing the question of the origins of the god myth, Atheist Republic contributor Dean Van Drasek, finds the answer is simple: a dream, a lie, and an explanation.

You may have come across this topic in books and articles about religion, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, comparative mythology/religion, archeology, and even popular science books. Sadly, there is no answer, as it's buried in the depths of time before humans developed writing, and probably even before there was cave painting. I am not an expert in any of these fields, but I do have some ideas that I find more persuasive than others. Nothing here is original, and it's been picked from a wide variety of sources.

Intelligence in apes seems to be linked to brain size, at least when cross-referenced with technological accomplishments. Hominid's brains in the genus homo developed slowly until about 200,000 years ago. This marked the arrival of our species of hominid, homo sapiens. I suspect that the belief in the supernatural may have been as early as this.

Every human society ever discovered has had some belief in the supernatural. So where does this come from? The answer I find most persuasive is because we, like other animals, dream, but we had the intelligence to question what was the source for this experience.

The origin of gods lies in the belief in spirits, which is the belief that the experience of the mind in dreams was an externally originated experience. Many early cultures (which we know about through their written records) did not know that human thoughts were derived internally from the brain. By the time writing evolved, it was a well-established concept that dreams were frequently thought of as messages from the gods or another outside sources.

All other human sensory perceptions, such as sight, sound, taste and touch, come from external stimulants. When we are awake and thinking, we do not experience purely mental sensory events. Waking memory and dreams use different parts of the brain, which is why dreams can seem so real compared to mere memory. Dreams often use the same parts of the brain which are responsible for the processing of normal sensory signals, such as sight. This, the neurological experience is nearly the same.

In our dreams, which can be fearsomely realistic, we often see our dead family and friends. This presented our ancestors with a logical conundrum, as they "knew" their loved ones are dead, but they could see and hear and may even touch them in their dreams. So without other references, if we see what is real, and in our sleep we "see" those who are dead, then there must be something present that we can't see during the daytime. So an assumption that nocturnal senses would also be stimulated by external forces would be logical.

What happened next was pure human ingenuity. People were seeing these images in dreams, and could not always understand them. At some point in human history, some human decided to lie and claim that they could understand those nocturnal communications. They could interpret the cryptic messages from the dead friends or relatives, or they might even be able to communicate with them or channel them. The first conman was born, who no longer had to hunt or be productive for a living, but who could use their imagination and get the tribe (who more honestly did not claim to be able to understand or speak to these dream-people) to accord them a high status. Thus, the first shamans evolved within the tribes. It is an intrinsic part of almost every human culture, even our modern popular one (just look at all the movies and TV shows where people talk to ghosts and spirits). When we see someone today supposedly channeling the spirit of the dead, we are seeing a relic of humanity going back perhaps as far as 150,000 years or more.

But how to get from spirits of the dead to gods? I like the idea that is based on a basic human weakness that exists still today. People in authority don't like to admit ignorance, because they are afraid this will weaken the regard that others have for them. It would be natural for the tribe to ask the shaman questions such as: Where does the lightning come from? Why does the wind blow? How can I save my sick child? The shaman had no way to answer these questions, but they didn't want to admit this, so they made up an answer based on what people already believed and they knew worked for them within the community: namely, that these other occurrences were also the result of the actions or omissions of spirits, same as in the dreams, but stronger ones. As the lies multiplied and were retold over time, these spirits often became gods. Early recorded religions had thousands of such spirit gods, in the tress, rocks, waters, clouds, animals, etc.

As the explanations got more complex, and writing allowed the stories of the shamans and their ritualistic prescriptions to be recorded, the gods became more complex, rituals more refined, and the priesthood more powerful and organized. Out of this probably arose the institution of monarchy, where a secular ruler was in part entitled to the obedience of the people due to the favor of the imaginary gods. At some point, leadership became hereditary, which is not something we see in most other ape species, where any male can contend for the top spot. But at some point in human history, we decided that a person was entitled to rule over others not because of their own capabilities and merit, but because of their lineage - probably one of the worst ideas in all of human history. At that point, the shaman and the ruling class recognized that they had the same interest in promoting the religion of the gods which kept both in power and affluence.

So why do we have gods? Because we dream, and some people are very imaginative liars, and as we all know, any lie told often enough and loud enough tends to be accepted by many people as the truth.

Why do you think god was invented?

23 comments :

Niall said...

I think that originally may be people just sat down and discussed their dreams in an unofficial social capacity and those who gave the more plausible or acceptable explanation began the process of elevation and then the dominant personalities took over. I don't really know to be honest but there also seems to be the presumption that all homo sapiens shared the same level of inteligence to begin with and then at some point some particular member of the group who must have evolved a higher degree of inteligence decided to lie. But where did this elevated inteligence come from?
If they were all living in the same cave and performing the same functions daily how would inteligence evolve?
This why dolphins don't drive cars!

marty said...

We all know (because it was bate into us) that the catechism tells us ths god made the world , what it failed to say was it was my da who carried the bricks,,,

marty said...

Niall do you think magic mushrooms or other herbal influence may have played a part..

Niall said...

Marty,
Certainly but at what stage did they realise that tripping could be used to define their environment? I'm sure the lab trials would have been fun!

marty said...

I,m of the opinion that this god malarkey is the figment of some schizophrenic,s over active imagination, I mean Moses goes up a mountain and comes down with tablets ,what the fuck was that all about,was god a drug dealer? the best bible story is indeed about Moses , it tells us that when Moses went to Mount Olive Popeye knocked his fuck in,

Steve R said...

Our genes strive for immortality. When our ancestors were face to face with death, and in particular, when they watched life become extinct in the eyes of a loved one or family member, they understandably sought reassurance that it was not really the 'end'. Where there is opportunity there are those who take advantage of it. Enter Shaman's and the like telling the primitive that they knew how to talk to their dead relatives. A case of Chinese Whispers over the last 50 thousand years and we have streamlined from pantheism to solar deity worship disguised as a 'singular' 'God', and the utterly ludicrous stories we have today. Just look at the Abrahamic religions. Nothing more than bronze aged desert myths told by bunch of illiterate goat herders and the three versions of it, Judaism, Christianity and Islamism conquered the world! People will believe anything as long as they do not have to think to critically on it.

marty said...

Steve R, Did you not know that under the GFA thought and especially individually one,s were banned,All the churches have backed this ...

Wolfsbane said...

I know you are all good atheists and so must have a biological reason for the entrance and survival of the god-idea. Desire for immortality, reasoning applied to the dreamworld; a brilliant scheme to achieve power hatched by the first cleric... And now that you have evolved so much further than our cave-man ancestors, you wish to eradicate god-religion and replace it with what you know to be the only moral way to look at the world. Marxism? Nihilism?

Anyway, you know my view on the matter - that this universe was created by God, and we are conscious moral beings, conscious that we are not mere matter, conscious that there is a spiritual realm and the God to whom we must answer. That is what drives our attempts to find Him or avoid Him.

As we already know each other's positions, may I just ask a question that is related to this? It should be of interest to us all. It's this: have any of you ever had an experience that you could not put down to the physical realm - ghosts/spirits; poltergeists; foreknowledge? Or has anyone you know had it, someone whose testimony you would be pretty sure of?

If so, how do you fit that into your worldview?



marty said...

Wolfsbane .if god existed how come there were no priests in Startrek,,,

Steve R said...

Oh Wolfie,

Our conscious is a product OF our evolution, it did not pop fully formed from nothing into a fully functional human being however much you would like your fairy-tales to be true. Not for the first time you get the cart many miles in front of the horse!

"As we already know each other's positions, may I just ask a question that is related to this? It should be of interest to us all. It's this: have any of you ever had an experience that you could not put down to the physical realm - ghosts/spirits; poltergeists; foreknowledge? Or has anyone you know had it, someone whose testimony you would be pretty sure of?"

Despite this being a blatant attempt at a wedge 'god of the gaps' strategy, yep, quite detailed in fact. And not for one tiny nanosecond did I attribute it to anything 'spiritual' or 'demonic' (I'm sure you are hankering to use this term). I am of a scientific bent, I am really quite comfortable in saying 'I don't know' rather than pretend my own private wishful thinking can shed light on the matter.

Just for your own info though, bandying about Marxism as a pejorative shows a distinct lack of understanding what his life work was about!

Wolfsbane said...

Steve R said:
'yep, quite detailed in fact. And not for one tiny nanosecond did I attribute it to anything 'spiritual' or 'demonic' (I'm sure you are hankering to use this term). I am of a scientific bent, I am really quite comfortable in saying 'I don't know' rather than pretend my own private wishful thinking can shed light on the matter.'

Thanks for sharing that, Steve. I appreciate why you put the explanation under 'I don't know' - your materialist worldview would have to fall if you conceded a possible supernatural explanation, and you can't have that. I have an atheist friend who has had a few too, and he is hoping an as yet unknown physical power is behind it all. You know, something like a personal gravity force.

Always interesting to see how you guys think.

Niall said...

Wolfsbane,
By saying yes to one of those experiences....what does it prove?

Niall said...

Marty,
What do you mean about Star Trek and no priests....was Spock not a believer in some Vulcan spirituality, life force thing and Star Wars had the force but the Clangers hadn't and they lived in holes on the moon in zero gravity and no oxygen!! Wait, who's side am I on lol

marty said...

LOL ya dropped a clanger there a chara

Steve R said...

Wolfbane,

"Thanks for sharing that, Steve. I appreciate why you put the explanation under 'I don't know' - your materialist worldview would have to fall if you conceded a possible supernatural explanation, and you can't have that."

Any technology far enough advanced will seem like magic to primitive minds. I paraphrase Arthur C Clarke but the point is well made. Scientific advancement is progressed naturally through the scientific method. If I showed an iPhone connected to a repository of knowledge like the internet to a person in 1789 I would risk being burned at the stake as a 'witch'! That is why I am comfortable saying 'I do not know'.

But what I DO know, is that religion has not brought us the personal computer, the ability to immunise entire peoples against diseases that not long ago would have killed, or even provided basic sanitation and potable water to peoples houses. Religion in fact has fought tooth and nail against humanities advancement and continues to do so as it sees the writing on the wall. With our gaining knowledge superstition finds less corners in which to hide.

Today's inexplicable phenomena is tomorrows punch line. Our grandchildren will laugh at our naivety. Religion will be dumbfounding to them.

Hasten the day!

Wolfsbane said...

Niall said...
'Wolfsbane,
By saying yes to one of those experiences....what does it prove?'

Prove? Nothing. But it suggests that a materialistic explanation of the universe and all in it just might be lacking. That is, it suggests there might be a spiritual dimension as well as the physical dimension. It also tests the 'faith' of the materialist - will he defend his worldview regardless or will he be open to a non-materialistic explanation.

Wolfsbane said...

Steve R said...

'Any technology far enough advanced will seem like magic to primitive minds. I paraphrase Arthur C Clarke but the point is well made. Scientific advancement is progressed naturally through the scientific method. If I showed an iPhone connected to a repository of knowledge like the internet to a person in 1789 I would risk being burned at the stake as a 'witch'! That is why I am comfortable saying 'I do not know'.'

So even if the manifestation was personal - responded to individual's questions, revealed hidden information or reacted violently to the individual - you would still await a materialistic explanation? OK. Your faith is strong!


'But what I DO know, is that religion has not brought us the personal computer, the ability to immunise entire peoples against diseases that not long ago would have killed, or even provided basic sanitation and potable water to peoples houses.'

Many of the ground-breaking scientists were inspired to do their research because they believed in a God-ordered universe. They looked for laws.

'Religion in fact has fought tooth and nail against humanities advancement and continues to do so as it sees the writing on the wall. With our gaining knowledge superstition finds less corners in which to hide.'

That ignores the often sacrificial service of Christians who man the clinics and orphanages of the needy world. But of course, if you class the abortion industry as human advancement, then we must plead guilty in opposing it.

'Today's inexplicable phenomena is tomorrows punch line. Our grandchildren will laugh at our naivety. Religion will be dumbfounding to them.'

You must be living a sheltered life. The history of atheism tells another tale. No laughing matter.

Steve R said...

Wolfie,

"So even if the manifestation was personal - responded to individual's questions, revealed hidden information or reacted violently to the individual - you would still await a materialistic explanation? OK. Your faith is strong!"

Example please.

"Many of the ground-breaking scientists were inspired to do their research because they believed in a God-ordered universe. They looked for laws."

A 'god' is by definition, inherently complex. Everything observed in the Universe started simply and became complex. Do you see the problem yet Wolfie?

"That ignores the often sacrificial service of Christians who man the clinics and orphanages of the needy world."

Altruism is not the sole reserve of Christians Wolfie!


" But of course, if you class the abortion industry as human advancement, then we must plead guilty in opposing it."

What is a miscarriage Wolfie?

"You must be living a sheltered life. The history of atheism tells another tale. No laughing matter."

The 'History of Atheism'? What are you on about? Until very recently announcing your atheism would have resulted in your execution and indeed still does in some parts. And before you start waffling on about Stalin and Mao they were not driven by their 'Atheism', that is quite clear, the Nazi's were very much driven by their religious hatred though!






Wolfsbane said...

Steve R said...

'[So even if the manifestation was personal - responded to individual's questions, revealed hidden information or reacted violently to the individual - you would still await a materialistic explanation? OK. Your faith is strong!]
Example please.'

Say a 'possessed' person told you something that only you knew about. Or when you entered a room objects flew across it. Would you still wait a materialistic explanation rather than accept that there may be a dimension in addition to that?

'A 'god' is by definition, inherently complex. Everything observed in the Universe started simply and became complex. Do you see the problem yet Wolfie?'

No problem, Steve. You are assuming the Creator is limited by the conditions you say apply to the creation. That is, if the universe began simple and became complex, so must any Creator. That's like saying a car-maker is constrained by the same conditions as the car. Consider that the universe is not all there is, that it was created by a non-material Creator. He would not be under the same constraints as His creation.

You may believe that the universe originated from nothing; or that it is eternal in its energy/matter form; and that it moves from simple to complex and back again. I believe God is the eternal spiritual thing, and He is the unchangeably complex One. He is the origin of the material dimension.

'Altruism is not the sole reserve of Christians Wolfie!'

Never said it was - but you were dismissing religion as harmful and were looking for its extinction.

'[But of course, if you class the abortion industry as human advancement, then we must plead guilty in opposing it.]
What is a miscarriage Wolfie?'

A naturally occurring abortion. Like death is people dying in their beds of old age; but that is not the same as being gassed and thrown into the ovens.

'The 'History of Atheism'? What are you on about? Until very recently announcing your atheism would have resulted in your execution and indeed still does in some parts. And before you start waffling on about Stalin and Mao they were not driven by their 'Atheism', that is quite clear, the Nazi's were very much driven by their religious hatred though!'

The Marxist murderers had atheism as a cardinal part of their ideology. Their state enforced it in the schools and backed that up by their gulags. Hitler had his own pagan ideology, but it was not quite as effective as the Marxist versions.

frankie said...

Wolfie, do animals have souls and do they go to heaven too?

Steve R said...

Wolfie,

"Say a 'possessed' person told you something that only you knew about. Or when you entered a room objects flew across it. Would you still wait a materialistic explanation rather than accept that there may be a dimension in addition to that?"

Conjecture regarding the 'knowledge' impart, specifics are required and thorough investigation is warranted before making such an assumption. I have seen scissors directly fly towards a minister (of faith) then stop short before falling to the ground, and even the Minister (who was Indian) wasn't fased, as he had come across this type of thing several times in India. He blessed the house but told the occupants that it would be of no use, that whatever it was would go away of it's own accord and would not physically hurt them...which it didn't.(hurt them I mean-it did bugger off).

And yes I will wait for a better explanation. All it did was raise questions not answers, and there was nothing 'sinister' about it. Even the scissors incident we laughed at.

"A naturally occurring abortion. Like death is people dying in their beds of old age; but that is not the same as being gassed and thrown into the ovens."

What an outrageous strawman!

Hitler was a Christian, but regardless, here's a wee list for you..

The Crusades: 6,000,000
Thirty Years War: 11,500,000
French Wars of Religion: 4,000,000
Second Sudanese Civil War: 2,000,000
Lebanese Civil War: 250,000
Muslim Conquests of India: 80,000,000
Congolese Genocide (King Leopold II): 13,000,000
Armenian Genocide: 1,500,000
Rwandan Genocide: 800,000
Eighty Years' War: 1,000,000
Nigerian Civil War: 1,000,000
Great Peasants' Revolt: 250,000
First Sudanese Civil War: 1,000,000
Jewish Diaspora (Not Including the Holocaust): 1,000,000
The Holocaust (Jewish and Homosexual Deaths): 6,500,000
Islamic Terrorism Since 2000: 150,000 (very conservative number)
Iraq War: 500,000
US Western Expansion (Justified by "Manifest Destiny"):20,000,000
Atlantic Slave Trade (Justified by Christianity): 14,000,000
Aztec Human Sacrifice: 80,000
AIDS deaths in Africa largely due to religious opposition to condoms: 30,000,000
Spanish Inquisition: 5,000 (actual numbers probably higher)

TOTAL: 195,035,000 deaths in the name of religion.

Beats the arse out of Marxism on the death stakes, don't it?


Wolfsbane said...

frankie said...

'Wolfie, do animals have souls and do they go to heaven too?'


They have a spirit. But it is not a moral thing like men and angels have. Animals do not sin, regardless of their behaviour.

There is some debate about animals' eternal state - whether they die and cease to exist, or whether they are part of the new heavens and new earth that is man's eternal home. A notable minister of the gospel, Augustus Toplady I think, once confronted bull-baiters in a village and told them the beast would see God's face, while they would be in hell.


Wolfsbane said...

Steve R said...

'[Say a 'possessed' person told you something that only you knew about. Or when you entered a room objects flew across it. Would you still wait a materialistic explanation rather than accept that there may be a dimension in addition to that?]
Conjecture regarding the 'knowledge' impart, specifics are required and thorough investigation is warranted before making such an assumption.'

Totally agree.

'I have seen scissors directly fly towards a minister (of faith) then stop short before falling to the ground, and even the Minister (who was Indian) wasn't fased, as he had come across this type of thing several times in India. He blessed the house but told the occupants that it would be of no use, that whatever it was would go away of it's own accord and would not physically hurt them...which it didn't.(hurt them I mean-it did bugger off).'

Very interesting event! That's the sort of thing I meant - something not explainable with current scientific knowledge. Something that at least suggests an intelligence behind it.

'And yes I will wait for a better explanation. All it did was raise questions not answers, and there was nothing 'sinister' about it. Even the scissors incident we laughed at.'

I can see how many would laugh it off, since no one was hurt. But that would change if people were assaulted - and many stories like yours have included physical harm, and very many psychological harm. Fear of demons is pervasive in many cultures.

If I understand you correctly, you still wait for it to be explained materialistically, not supernaturally. You dismiss the idea that an immaterial intelligence could be behind it?

'[A naturally occurring abortion. Like death is people dying in their beds of old age; but that is not the same as being gassed and thrown into the ovens.]
What an outrageous strawman!
Hitler was a Christian, but regardless, here's a wee list for you..
The Crusades: 6,000,000
Thirty Years War: 11,500,000
French Wars of Religion: 4,000,000
Second Sudanese Civil War: 2,000,000
Lebanese Civil War: 250,000
Muslim Conquests of India: 80,000,000
Congolese Genocide (King Leopold II): 13,000,000
Armenian Genocide: 1,500,000
Rwandan Genocide: 800,000
Eighty Years' War: 1,000,000
Nigerian Civil War: 1,000,000
Great Peasants' Revolt: 250,000
First Sudanese Civil War: 1,000,000
Jewish Diaspora (Not Including the Holocaust): 1,000,000
The Holocaust (Jewish and Homosexual Deaths): 6,500,000
Islamic Terrorism Since 2000: 150,000 (very conservative number)
Iraq War: 500,000
US Western Expansion (Justified by "Manifest Destiny"):20,000,000
Atlantic Slave Trade (Justified by Christianity): 14,000,000
Aztec Human Sacrifice: 80,000
AIDS deaths in Africa largely due to religious opposition to condoms: 30,000,000
Spanish Inquisition: 5,000 (actual numbers probably higher)
TOTAL: 195,035,000 deaths in the name of religion.
Beats the arse out of Marxism on the death stakes, don't it?'

For a start, several of those were not religious wars. They were ethnic wars. They might have had religious aggravating factors, but were not fought over religion. And some were merely imperialist wars, to grab property.

Then too, Atheism as an essential part of a State ideology is of recent origins. Even if we care to put it back to the French Revolution, it is only a couple of centuries in operation. What great slaughter and oppression it has achieved in so short a time! Imagine what a millennium or two could produce!