I've been thinking a lot lately about the phenomenon of emergence. Basically, where a system exhibits properties that no individual elements of that system possess. For instance, water possesses myriad properties that could not be directly inferred from examining a single water molecule in isolation. One could never infer the properties of ice or steam or surface tension from a single molecule, but when a large number of these molecules are placed together to form a system, these properties all emerge from the whole. The same is true is human social constructs. If you were some hypothetical observer who met only one human, you would never infer the global economy from that meeting. However, put enough people together, and these systems start to form. Economies, religions, states, nations, etc. The interesting thing about emergent systems is that the individual elements of the system all contribute to affect the system as a whole, but the system affects the individual elements as well, seemingly without direct influence from any one element. Our consciousness is a prime example. We can identify and catalog every individual part of our body, but no single part is indivisibly "us". We have almost no control of our individual autonomous body functions, yet we have direct control over the actions of our body as a whole. We can take direct action (as the emergent system) that can positively or negatively affect the well-being of our individual parts, like smoking or crashing a car. Alternately, our parts can take actions that can inevitably affect the system as a whole, like a rogue cancerous growth. This idea that the influence can go both ways, both up and down the hierarchical structure of the system, is what interests me when thinking about the social construct of religion. Now, before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I'm not espousing an opinion on the validity of anyone's beliefs. I'm just interested in examining the properties of religion as a social construct, and the possible implications and effects of that system on the elements that make it up - people. Religion as a system seems uniquely suited for self-preservation. Perhaps the one common trait of most, if not all, humans is a fear of death and the unknown. Every major religion I'm aware of addresses this issue in some form or another, which presents an almost irresistible incentive. With this uncertainty taken care of, the burden and tragedy of everyday life can seem manageable. Once this is accepted, there is very little incentive to reject this notion, because the alternative is unthinkable. In addition, religion possesses mechanisms for reproduction and mutation. Missionaries, evangelists, crusaders, family traditions - all mechanisms for continued reproduction. Splinter groups and sects form constantly - mutations. Some form and disband in a relatively short time, but others are more successful and flourish, like Islam and Christianity. These now distinct religions then compete with one another for supremacy or survival, just like competing life forms. We've seen this happen for thousands of years. In Egypt and Greece, we can find the fossilized remains of two religious systems that must have seemed all-powerful at the time. This brings me to my main point. Say we have some hypothetical population of a few million people. For the sake of argument, there is no actual divine influence being exerted upon this population from an actual deity. However, these people have a very clear idea and understanding of the deity that they worship, regardless of its actual existence. They have rules covering virtually every aspect of their daily lives which are derived in part or in whole from the teachings of this deity, and each tries to live their life accordingly. With enough people and a complex and stable religious social construct, is the influence of this imagined deity in any way distinguishable from the influence of an actual deity? If everyone is acting in the way that they perceive this deity would desire them to act, then has the emergent system exerted its influence on the population in the same manner a real deity would desire to do so? In short: If God didn't already exist, did we create Him in a way that can still affect the course of human events in a very real way?