# Why do people believe in Gods?

## Main Question or Discussion Point

The title of the psych 401 class i'm in right now... just curious to what people here think?

I'll comment on what the class's viewpoint is after I get a few responses, it will be intersting what kind of viewpoint people take.

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You can only truly believe what you can understand. Understanding science is hard and time consuming. You have to study mathematics, critical thinking, formal logic, proofs and so on. Few put themselves through such hassle. Especially proofs, most students abhor doing proofs because it requires such discipline and formalism. But understanding religion is easy and quick: God wants it this way, period. No proof required either, just blind faith. Your average Joe uses Occam's razor too you know, and sees that you don't need all these books and educators to understand what is going on. All you need is one story book, which is much more efficient. Theist will probably always outnumber atheists. The theory is simply understandable by more people.

arildno
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It is easy and simple to believe in fairy-tales. Children do that all the time, and most adults don't mature intellectually beyond the age of 12.

hypnagogue
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Check out Andrew Newberg's work, e.g. his book Why God Won't Go Away : Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. Beyond the purely social constructionist factors, it seems that the human brain comes equipped with an innate ability to undergo certain kinds of experiences that naturally lend themselves to religious/spiritual/mystical interpretations.

arildno
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Yet again sloppy research posing as science..:yuck:

How is the innateness of some feature demonstrated?

(Don't bother to to refer to identical-twins-separated-at-birth arguments, because all of that empirical material is totally dubious)

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hypnagogue
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arildno said:
Yet again sloppy research posing as science..:yuck:

How is the innateness of some feature demonstrated?
Brain imaging of people undergoing these experiences (e.g. via meditation) show similar activation in certain areas of the brain across subjects; administration of certain drugs can induce these experiences even in an atheist (though the atheist will probably not interpret the experience in a mystical/spiritual way); similar kinds of experiences are not uncommon in certain types of epileptics; historically, there are reports of this type of experience across many different types of religions and cultures; etc.

BTW, when I said "innate," I just meant that there is some common brain area(s) in which certain patterns of activation will invariably cause said type of 'mystical' experience. In the same way, everyone is born with a visual system with basically similar properties, and stimulating that visual system in the proper way should cause broadly the same kind of visual experience in different individuals, etc. We don't acquire the experience of vision by means of cultural learning, nor do we acquire the ability to experience the 'mystical' experience by means of such learning.

Really, I think the kicker is that someone can experience "God-like" feelings just by ingesting the appropriate drug, regardless of one's belief system. Clearly this would not be possible if such experiences could only arise as a function of belief.

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arildno
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hypnagogue said:

Brain imaging of people undergoing these experiences (e.g. via meditation) show similar activation in certain areas of the brain across subjects; administration of certain drugs can induce these experiences even in an atheist (though the atheist will probably not interpret the experience in a mystical/spiritual way);.
Which shows that the whole mysticality of the experience haven't the slightest biological basis, but is a mere particular interpretation generated through habit.

hypnagogue
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There's two things to consider: what the experience immediately feels like, and then the implications it will have for one's world view. The former is the "innate" experiential component, the latter the manner in which one interprets and integrates the experience. What is common to most, if not all, is the potential to experience the former. An atheist may think that his mystical experience ultimately signifies nothing of import, but that won't change the fact that he has felt as if he was one with nature, loved everything, etc etc.

arildno
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Beyond the trivial observation that because there exist religious individuals, then it must be possible for (at least some) individuals to have experiences they might classify as religious, I don't see what has been added by this.

hypnagogue
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The idea is that sociocultural explanations for why people believe in gods are incomplete. There exists a class of experiences that can be generated independent of belief system and culture, such that the nature of the experience itself has strong resonance with some subset of core religious/spiritual beliefs/values/worldviews.

Merely having the experience does not entail that one is religious, nor does the fact that such an experience exists entail that it truthfully represents some aspect of the world. But it seems strongly likely that this biologically based phenomenon is responsible for much religious thought and behavior today, both directly (in the cases of those who are not naive to the experience) and indirectly (by means of social influence from those who have had the experience themselves).

Why do people believe in Gods?

It's comforting, and an easy way to explain away things that are difficult to understand

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arildno said:
Beyond the trivial observation that because there exist religious individuals, then it must be possible for (at least some) individuals to have experiences they might classify as religious, I don't see what has been added by this.
I belierve there must be a bell curve of the ability/propensity of individuals to have "beyond" experiences. Their incidence in the population seems to be on the order of 5%, enough that everybody is likely to know one either directly or via a single close acquaintance. So the population experiences a weak signal that "There are religious experiences, they are not just in books."

Then most people, even intelligent people in modern societies, do not have a feel for the interconnectivity of science; they regard science is being just another bundle of ideas along with many other such bundles in the marketplace. And they pride themselve in being broadminded in not tying their ideas of what is possible to any one bundle.

Put these two things together, and you get a population that is likely to respond to questonnaires that they believe in god, without necessarily having any interest in organized religion.

Without reverting to science and biology there is a simple explanation of why we believe in a god. It gives a meaning to our lives, it gives us something to look forward to after death, it gives us hope and wonder. Think honestly, would you prefer to think of yourself as a smart animal or as something created by a god? If you want an indepth look into the subject read Blaise Pascal, he makes the point perfectly without ever arguing for god's existence.

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Dawguard said:
Think honestly, would you prefer to think of yourself as a smart animal or as something created by a god?
Having been on both sides of the fence I definitely prefer smart animal. It is better to stand on my own evolved feet than to be some superbeing's lapdog.

(Sunday) God LOVES you!

It is better to stand on my own evolved feet than to be some superbeing's lapdog.

(Sunday) God LOVES you!
That depends on your idea of what god is. I was using a generic, philisophical belief of god rather then a specific religion's idea of god. Having said that, I can see the allure of your point, and I blame the common religious institutions for this. They spread a stereoptyped idea of god which certainly denegrates humans, therefore the example you gave.
What I intended to do was place this in a higher light then an organization's opinion. Take whatever concept you like of a higher being: make it whatever you like, use logic or emotion or both. Then ask yourself if you would rather live with that or nothing.
Anyway, that is almost beside the point. The simple fact is that most people prefer to choose to believe in god. It provides an easy place to throw your troubles and problems without having to face them yourself. Their god is mothing more then something to absord their guilt for them because they don't want to bother. I'm not saying that everyone will choose to believe in god, only that it is easy for the majority to do so, therefore they do.

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Question, if I have no evidence for the specific gods that have been promoted by specific religions, why would I be interested in looking for some generalized god? The OP question was, why do people believe in gods? and your idea just raises the question why if the gods of the past are found deficient do people go looking for new ones?

why if the gods of the past are found deficient do people go looking for new ones?
It must be the hope of finding an even simpler answer. We know that the gods of established religions are deficient in explaining reality but most faithfuls are ok with this because science cannot explain everything either. So further refinements of the God theory offers hope of finding something even more understandable (without all the math).

Question, if I have no evidence for the specific gods that have been promoted by specific religions, why would I be interested in looking for some generalized god? The OP question was, why do people believe in gods? and your idea just raises the question why if the gods of the past are found deficient do people go looking for new ones?
Alright, lets look at the begining of human civilization. What would do you think they imagined lightning to be? How about earthquakes or volcanoes or wind? There was no way they could explain it so they imagined gods that goverened the different elements of the earth. The belief was prevelant for thousands of years, until over time and through growing knowledge it evolved into what it is now. However, when a belief is imbreded into a culture for hundreds of thousands of years it is hard to eradicate it. For all of humanity's memory they have relied on a god for the afterlife. This is why people believe in a god. While its roots are probably in the once unexplained phenomenon of nature, it has evolved over time until it is an integral part every culture on the planet.

Convincing people to believe that they can be relieved of the responsibility they have for their own lives and happiness (to grow up and become adults) is a treasure trove for those who believe the unearned has value. Even more insidious are those who despise existence and wish to deprive others of the value of their existence by teaching them to denigrate themselves.
Compare those who substitute society for ‘god’ to attain the same result and you will see remarkable parallels. Pandemic evil thrives in a world where it is not honorable to value ones own judgment, reasoning ability, accomplishments and success. Until people understand that \$ is worth no more than what one has done to earn it, their is no possible cure for this intellectual cancer.

Ivan Seeking
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I think we have thousands of years of eyewitness testimony that says that we don't know everthing. And I find it interesting that since the god concept is common to human existance, which in most cases involve claims of personal experience as a basis, we assume that this acts as evidence against some kind of "divine" reality. How exactly does that follow again?

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Moonbear
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From my perspective, the easy answer to the question is that people are uncomfortable with the unknown. It is more satisfying to have an explanation for those unknown things, such as a god, than it is to leave them unexplained. Of course, this ends up begging the question of why it is that people are uncomfortable with the unknown. The only explanation I can think of for that would be that if the cause of something is unknown, then we also have no control over it, and we fear that lack of control, so to cope with that lack of control, many, perhaps most, people believe in a god who will take care of those things for them. So, I guess I'd call it a coping mechanism for our fear of not being able to control the unknown.

But, I could be way off, as it's hard for me to really fully understand why people believe in a god, as I have the opposite experience of finding it very hard to believe one does exist.

Personally I have never used God to justify something being unknown. It bugs the heck out of me when I don't understand something, and I don't just give up and say God did it.

I believe just from reasoning that the morales outlined in the bible bring you ahead in life. I mean the actual morales themselves, the things concerning sex, life, death, etc. They just seem like good intelligent practices that are just reasonable to follow. There are certain aspects to Christianity that I believe also are not refelected in other religions which tends to make me believe that Christianity is the right religion.

There are some very logical practices within the OT that literally lead people to have better and healthier lives. There are quite a few verses I have read recently which talked about cleaning oneself with water after touching a corpse, touching another's blood, touching dead animals, etc. It also explored the concept of heat killing bacteria on metal which I find is way ahead of its time. There is a continual repetivness that you should also not eat animals that died from no apparent cause(disease).

This suggests to me that these people were wise. I mean if the text (OT atleast) has been around for several thousand years, it deserves some of my attention.
-Scott

Ivan Seeking
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It makes me wonder: Why do people need to believe that there is no God? By definition, science doesn't even address the issue, yet we seem to assume here implicity that it does. We assume without proof that all human experience in this matter which spans at least six thousand years, is invalid? Based on what; a few lab experiments? You call that good science?

This thread alone is proof that not everyone needs to believe in God. Who here feels the need to believe?

Aren't you people? Of is this a "they" and the enlightened "us" discussion.

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Ivan, the question why people believe, and some even go out of their way to find new beliefs, is interesting in itself. It only becomes personal when some poster makes it so. And I responded to a poster who implied that non-theists were somehow defective.

David Dennett has called for rational scientific investigation of the religious phenomenon. I hope it can get funding; I would like to see it happen. I am not prejudgiing its results.

arildno
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