Put simply, the argument is that religion may be a kind of emergent evolutionary phenomena that has a collective value that we may not yet completely understand, but that nevertheless fills some vital role in a way superior to any of our conscious attempts. Basically, despite the universe emerging from bottom-up processes rather than top-down, there may still be a legitimate coordinating role at the top that we subconsciously fill with our artificial gods.
It's a longish piece of writing, but I highly recommend reading the full text.
Religion might just be the precursor to Science; a sapient species trying to make sense of their world and consciousness, plugging the holes in their understanding with whatever means currently at their disposal.
Unless they're born with complete and accurate knowledge about everything in the universe, I think all intelligent life out there is going to have a religion or some form of superstition at some point in their civilization.
Hive-mind intelligences or strictly hierarchical biologies (e.g. queens/workers/drones) may not need concepts like morals or Law or guidance for social conduct, but they may still invent stopgap explanations on their way to understanding mortality and the weather and stars and such.
EDIT: "Religion" in this sense need not necessarily involve the concept of deities either. There are major religions in our own world that do not place a focus on higher beings.
When you're fucked, science will just tell you you're fucked.
Religion, on the other hand, will tell you that God is right there with you, and you can just keep going and you'll find a Way.
This is also the reason why I think white atheism is sometimes racist. If you are a white person who has generally had it easier than people of color, then it's really convenient to say "I don't need faith, I am pretty good just letting reality be all there is". If your reality is that your children keep getting shot by police, or if your reality is that your husband was hung for demanding some white customers pay for the goods they bought, then Science is actually not good. Science will tell you it's bad and it's not getting better. But religion will offer you peace.
And then there's the fact that science has historically been conducted by white people for white ends. Which isn't to say black science isn't an (awesome) thing with a (long) history and a promising future. But to say "just throw out your ancient cultural knowledge about how to survive in a hostile world, science has got your back"... coming from a white person to a black person? Easy to say when science has largely been about improving white lives.
The same thing applies to class: atheists with steady employment sometimes think poor people who believe in God are stupid. But unless you grew up poor I don't think that's fair to say. Someone who never thought they had any choice other than crime, someone who ends up hurting people, killing people, driving into situations where their friends get killed..... When you go through that kind of stuff, and you're sitting in prison and you have nothing to do but think back over your life... You see how evil you've been. You see the harm you've caused, over and over. Science will tell you that when you get out you're probably going to end up in the same environment. Science will say you're probably going back to prison. You'll probably hurt more people. That's a dark place to be.
But religion won't say those things. Religion will tell you to forget about what's probably going to happen and instead to look for your path. And religion will tell you that there are forces in the world which are good and which will always be there with you no matter how bad it gets.
Those situations are where religion really shines. And populations who end up in those situations over and over again need something like that. If you came from that background, or any background of tribulation, and you are an atheist, I have total respect for that. I would love to buy you a beer and listen to your thoughts if you're into that kind of thing.
But if you came from a white family, are relatively employable, and generally treated as a citizen in good standing in your country, then I think Atheism for you is a racist, classist, and cruel worldview. I think you should switch to atheism-leaning agnosticism with a willingness to learn about religion with fresh ears.
Again, not making a criticism, just an observation that I find oft unanswered
Dispassionately, though, the broader problem begs the question. If humanity is jut a product of time and chance, then evil is as much an illusion as any gods are.
But, that being said, some theists see evil as the absence of good. Murder, natural disasters, etc. all result when God leaves the world to its own devices.
To some degree a "good" answer to this question is very reliant on emotional and aesthetic components, so it's extremely fair to call it a hard question to answer.
As a Christian, my own answer (in short) is that true "good" requires that people can choose to either do good or evil. The only alternative is a pretty clockwork. This requires accepting a broader definition of "good" for you to accept that God is both good and accepts this tradeoff, but it's not a contradiction. It's just an emotionally significant consequence of believing God exists.
This doesn't really address the problem. If god is omnipotent and created the universe, he could have made things so that evil is simply physically impossible, with no contradiction of free will, in the same way that I am physically unable to flap my arms and fly to the moon, and yet I still have free will. The fact that he didn't means he's either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent (a contradiction for those who ascribe both properties to god). The onus would have to be on the theist to show how "no-evil" somehow logically contradicts free will; and it must be a truly logical contradiction if it is to be any constraint on omnipotence.
Anyway, I'll try to do better. Basically, in a universe in which "evil" is physically impossible, you may have "free will" in some sense to choose which good, but you cannot choose whether to do good, because all possible choices are "good". It's specifically freedom to choose good or evil that's the key ingredient in "good" being a meaningful concept, or at least it's consistent to so assume. You're back to the pretty clockwork.
I don't know if it's possible to construct a bulletproof argument here. Shaky foundations are an occupational hazard of metaphysics, for both sides. Saying "well, he's God so he should be able to figure it out" works just as well as "he's God and couldn't do it, ergo it's inconsistent". The best we can do is show our positions are consistent under some set of assumptions.
This doesn't really follow. We are creative so we could come up with infinite amounts of nonsense questions that are really logical paradoxes and not real objections. Why can't God create something so heavy that he can't move it? The question of why a loving God allows evil is in that same category if you believe:
- love requires free will
- free will requires choices
- meaningful choices require evil to be an available choice
There are probably other formulations of how love requires the option of rejection and how evil follows from there. But the point is that they turn the contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence into a paradox in the same category as "could God grow a mustache so great that he himself could not shave it?"
It stands to reason, then that the job of the objectors is to show that it's possible to love meaningfully without free will, really. And if you don't believe in objective morality, it's hard to argue what love is and isn't.
Or do I misunderstand and you care to elaborate?
I mean, you must be able to imagine how your reasoning sounds to people who don't already believe in god, right?
I completely understand that my reasoning sounds rediculous from a scientific point of view. However, God is not finite, therefore you will never find or prove God using the scientific method, a method for gaining meaning from finite things.
As the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard expressed, it comes down to a leap of faith. Are you willing to believe something that you yet cannot see?
And yet, when a new explanation is available that conflicts with faith, faith does not give way to it. That's simply wrong.
Tdlr it makes me happy
But, since you bring it up, I'm pretty sure I'm getting basically most of what you mention already, in one form or another, and probably some other stuff that believing in God would diminish. No thanks.
If you have a belief about how reality works, normally you would expect that belief to pay some dividend in terms of what you can expect to happen in this situation, or that. Otherwise you're just believing a thing for no reason at all. So you can call this anticipation of a certain result "evidence", and to have it not materialize is, in fact, a solid reason to suspect the truth of what you believe.
Well, fair enough. If someone who doesn't believe in evils asks and a theist provides the Augustinian answer (evil is the absence of good), then we should all be enlightened, appreciate each other, and move on. But much more often, the people asking do believe in some sort of evil (rape warfare, slavery, child abuse, genocide, etc.) and don't realize the premise of the question is flawed. Again, it may be for reasons of aesthetics and emotion, but it's hard to make the case that there is nothing objectively evil. It's at least as dissatisfying as claiming that God exists and allows the same evils to happen.
The thought processes around this question typically boil down to what matters more: morality or observation. There are some who assume objective good and evil are irrefutable and can fairly cleanly proceed to thinking that something is behind all that. And there are people who assume that physical matter is the only way to prove the existence of things, and so all immaterial things (good, evil, God) are illusions unless we can use matter to somehow measure them.
This is a frequent misconception though. See the Euthyphro dilemma for a rebuttal. TLDR: are things right/wrong because god says so, or does God say so because they are right/wrong. The former implies a completely arbitrary morality. The later implies that morality is independent from God.
Or, in the case of some older religions, they just accept that the gods are spiteful and cruel.
For God to be beyond good and evil, someone (probably God) has to have the authority to decide that. This is analogous to the concept of standing in the legal code. So even to say that God is beyond evil, you'd have to admit that there's some ultimate judge out there somewhere. And therefore something that defines what doesn't count as evil.
Basically, yes. In the Book of Job, God's justification for visiting such cruelty onto an admittedly righteous man who didn't deserve it (to win a bet with Satan, no less) was, in essence, "Because I'm God, and you're not." God doesn't have to play by human rules, humans have to play by God's rules.
In many old religions, divine beings had no problem killing any mortal they pleased - and the strongest gods tended to be the most petty and violent of the lot. They were manifestations of the wanton and arbitrary power of the natural world. The Old Testament God seems to be cast from the same mold - murder is a sin, but if He commands you to kill your firstborn, you'd better not hesitate.
It's not a satisfactory philosophical answer for modern times but it is an answer. The modern version of this seems to be "God works in mysterious ways," but it's a reformulation of the same argument - God is essentially alien, and not a moral being as humans understand morality.
As for the God of the Bible, I don't understand your point. It seems fair to say that people might not understand the whole picture and that it's not fair to judge God with limited wisdom and perspective. This attitude was Job's sin, not merely being weaker than God.
Are you claiming specific charges against the God of the Bible? Based on whose measure of morality?
Something I find insightful is he argues that, like cold is an absence of heat, evil is simply an absence of good (God, grace, ect.)
If God decides to let individuals or populations live with the consequences of their choices, is He creating evil? Or is He letting things run their course? Giving unbelieving people a taste of the godless universe they prefer?
Anyway, at some point we're having a semantic argument about what definitions of words mean. And the objection about God and evil becomes more banal than controversial.
Religions are ancient cults that were successful in capturing a significant portion of the world's population in a time of scientific ignorance. It's as silly as believing in Zeus. Actually the Greeks knew that Zeus isn't benevolent, so that's less silly.
To be honest, I don't feel like either side answers the question very well
A conclusion I consider "false", which is my usual argument against atheism ("if the conclusion is ridiculous, then the premise is false" aka modus tollens)
I do not believe in a omnipotent God, who lives without restriction and can act arbitrarily. I do believe in one that does His best to help His children become like Him.
I think that principle is necessary to believe in order to arrive at a palatable solution to that question/problem. Any more than that and I'd probably qualify as "preaching".
I do think it's a possibility that people never consider though.
However, for religion to work, we can't be aware that it is artificial -- otherwise we'd stop following it. So we do have to believe wholeheartedly, aside from occasional philosophizing of existential questions.
Yet, the existence of an unmoved mover is still an alternative explanation. At this point, the line between artificial and supernatural is indeed blurred.
Religion is an artifact of one of the most ancient forms of control. Today, it is an institution used to espouse the morals of the elite.
There is no evidence that bad people will be punished when they die. There is no evidence that the good will be rewarded. The universe is ambivalent to the karmic relations we see from our perspective. Karma can be common sense (you do good, good will follow), but in speaking to the spirit, karma has placated humanity into believing that mother nature or god is at the controls.
It is time to abandon the belief in the soul, the spirit, and eternity, and unless evidence presents itself otherwise, embrace the temporal reality before us.
Your worldview seems to be pretty close to Scientism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism), which I think some would consider a religion in itself.
Sure, the problem of evil is an objection to religion, but follow your premise to its logical conclusion and good/evil doesn't exist at all. There is really no reason to want the world to be a better place, preserve the planet, and so on. Is that really a world you want to live in?
> Religion is an artifact of one of the most ancient forms of control. Today, it is an institution used to espouse the morals of the elite.
Do you think so? At least in the United States, religion is generally seen as the domain of the less educated and impoverished, not the elite. Today, you and I are free to determine our own definitions of morality.
> There is no evidence that bad people will be punished when they die. There is no evidence that the good will be rewarded.
Sure there is evidence. It's just historical and relational. It's not something that can be tested through the scientific method.
You can't disprove or prove god because it is a non-falsifiable concept. There are an infinite number of things that will never be able to be proven by Science because by nature of concept, they are immune to experiment.
What are we to believe of something that cannot be disproved? I think groups of people have leveraged this inability to know the truth as a cure for the universal anxiety of permanent death, and as a vector of population-scale control. When you take into account the bias humanity has over its own death, you have to scrutinize worldviews that aggrandize consciousness as a permanent, if not ethereal entity. The evidence before us shows consciousness being entirely contained in the life and death of the body. When evidence presents itself otherwise... then can we start to muse about an afterlife.
The interesting part of this comes into play when we're talking about a hypothetical super-advanced life form essentially posing as a supernatural being for the purpose of deceiving creatures of lesser means. It's not actually supernatural activity though, because there are still natural laws governing the advanced being's existence.
I would imagine, out there in the vast universe this kind of scam is probably taking place somewhere as we speak, and to those most likely unlucky subjects this distinction between "actually supernatural" and "magic trick" is probably entirely irrelevant.
It seems to me that over the course of known human culture, there have actually been several pantheons whose members could be considered non-supernatural in this sense. Essentially this is true whenever we're talking about hero-type deities as opposed to creator-type deities. In principle creator-type deities are still compatible with a hypothetical simulation scenario in which they also choose to take part personally.
Needless to say though, we don't appear to be living in such a universe. As far as we can tell, there is no global artificial god, and no artificial god who is local to us. But there might be many local ones elsewhere.
I would say that "supernatural" doesn't necessarily mean unbound by laws. It just means that the laws in question are not yet well-understood.
And as understanding progresses, it would replace magic piece by piece. You could argue that's what happens with scientific progress anyway, but that's just a psychological description. Very few people are arguing that understanding replaces actual magic.
I guess I'm saying that actual magic wouldn't be merely indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced science, it would be sufficiently advanced science. Magic is just the flashier, stagier term for the same thing.
You're right - once something actually happens it falls under the domain of science. Most people don't realize that, or they don't accept it.
The only way you could have an artificial deity is if human-kind were gods themselves.
P.S. thinking of these things in terms of video game powerups is something I find sort of amusing. I can only imagine what Chun-Li vs Jesus would look like.
In practice it might be impossible to tell the difference.
I agree there is no perceivable difference. As far as I'm aware, the "goodness" of those deities is imbued to them by definition, not because their actions are objectively ethical or even moral by today's standards.
If an artificial (whatever that may mean) being someday chooses to present themselves as that sort of deity, it could exploit this exact same mental vulnerability in humans. It's the ultimate might-makes-right assertion. The only difference would be this being actually exists outside of people's imagination.
> Cult members worship certain "Americans" (such as John Frum and Tom Navy), who they claimed had brought cargo to their island during World War II, as the spiritual entity who would provide the cargo to them in the future. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult#Causes.2C_beliefs.2...
And my personal favorite:
> The people of the Yaohnanen area believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II, is a divine being. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip_Movement
Somewhere on the internet, is a religion that asserts the only true god is in it for the lulz.
Or are you inventing a new Creator who is merely almost omniscient for rhetorical purposes? To what end?
"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, nonsubjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff." -- The Doctor 
To be a bit more serious, causality in general is (by some accounts) an open philosophical problem. That is, there's no generally accepted proof (and not even really a concept of what would prove or disprove) that causality actually exists as an independent rule/law/standard/phenomenon, as opposed to being an abstraction of correlation that we made up to reason about our decisions . For all we know it may be that an effect without a cause violates merely our intuitions, not the laws of nature.
 Doctor Who S03E10 - Blink
On many things it just comes down to a choice of the world you want to live in.
By "constant-vector-forward time-dimensional context" he essentially means causality.
> Seems to me there must me a creationary force that is uncreated.
That is not strictly true in the larger context of physics. Emergent phenomena do not need to be explicitly created, they can arise spontaneously based on simpler parameters.
The (religious) idea that higher-order concepts beget lower-order concepts is true almost nowhere in nature. It's just "a thing" for humans, since we are tool creators and our tools are generally less sophisticated than ourselves. In nature, higher-order things grow out of lower-order things by mere virtue of their properties without any creative act being involved.
For example, a collection of atoms will form molecules, not because someone has intentionally designed those molecules, but because the atoms' properties allow for the formation and interaction of molecules.
And by the way, postulating a creator god should be unsatisfying to you as a believer, too. Because even in your own framework, this raises only more questions like "who or what created my god"?
Also, I am not postulating a creator god; I am reporting on the God who has revealed himself. I didn't used to believe in God until I encountered him through various means. You could also encounter God if you seek him. "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Mt. 7:7-8) Now this is not an instant or casual thing. Seeking is a life-long and life-consuming thing. I've been at it (with an openness towards religious truth) for 37 years and I'm still discovering new stuff. Science is cool because it tells us about the universe that God created, but faith is better because by faith we come into contact with the author of the universe.
Scientifically, there is nothing to suggest these two are related in any way.
I could ask "if cows weren't orange then why do Oreos have white filling?" it would have the same amount of meaning. To stay with my example, I posit the only reason you think cows are orange and therefore Oreos have a white filling is because someone told you so. To an unbriefed outsider, these statements are wrong and factually disconnected.
> Wouldn't it just be random?
There are lots of places where randomness exists in the universe, but more importantly what we're talking about in regard to emergent phenomena is chaos, not randomness. It's the interaction of many unpredictable little factors, and that does not necessarily lead to meaningless entropy.
> To me, the fact that science even works is evidence for creation.
Again, this makes sense because you have been taught that. For someone who is not familiar with these teachings this sentence may not be parseable. By the way, I apologise if this sounds insensitive, I don't mean to be disparaging here. I merely want to invite you to see this from the perspective of someone with a different cultural background where the symbols that are essential to your everyday life may not exist or even be understood.
No apology needed. You are not being insensitive, only expressing you point of view, which I appreciate greatly.
Religions are much more varied than modern science because the subject matter, God, is much more difficult to access or understand than is the physical universe. Religion is a universal phenomenon because humans throughout the world have experiences of God. They then struggle to communicate this encounter with an infinitely higher reality in terms that others can understand.
Christianity teaches that God chose Abraham to begin a people with whom he could have a special relationship through which he could impart a better knowledge of himself than what humans could come up with on their own. After many generations, that culture was at the point in which God could enter it as one of us, and at least some of them could begin to grasp what was going on, and thus the Christian Church began.
No, that's not it.
If you only ever need to talk about the world with in-group peers and you never need to do any science, you can absolutely get by with an arbitrary story. But there are many instances where it becomes essential whether facts were pieced together into a story, or whether the story came first and facts are invented to fit it.
Imagine two groups of people getting placed on two different planets without any knowledge about anything. They don't have any books, any cultural knowledge, nothing. Now give them a couple thousand of years and compare what knowledge they have amassed.
They both have access to the same universe, so they can make the same observations and figure out the same things about the mechanisms governing it. They both likely figure out how quantum physics works and discover relativity, because those are discoverable facts that apply anywhere. It doesn't matter what the philosophical outlook of the people doing this research is, as long as they constrain themselves to the facts they will come to the same conclusions.
But if you compare their religions, if they have them, they will likely be very different. One of them may have an Abrahamic-like creation myth. One might be closer to Buddhism. They might come up with completely different ideas we can't even conceive of. This happens because in the absence of facts you can just make up arbitrary stuff. And when they meet, each one will think their own religion is obvious and inescapable, but to the other one those arguments will sound like the complete non-sequiturs they actually are.
In fact, you can observe the same thing on this planet. If a Hindu, a Christian, and an atheist on today's Earth want to exchange information, they have do it with a factual framework, because cultural/religious conventions and definitions are not transferable across these boundaries. When two biologists are talking about adaptation mechanisms, it's not fruitful if one uses stone age scripture as a reasoning tool.
You asked if laws only have meaning in a learned context. Of course we mostly get to learn from other people, that's how knowledge works in the face of a very limited lifespan, resources, and capabilities. But it still matters where that knowledge originally came from, it's still significant if those laws actually reflect how the universe works or if it's just made up stuff that is in conflict with observable reality.
Science works because the universe is intelligible and in it's creation was made with logic that we can discover with the scientific process.
Problem I see with taking a "if it doesn't pass the scientific method, I am not going to entertain it" worldview, is that you box yourself into a tiny corner of the whole of experience.
There are many things that cannot be tested by the scientific method, it doesn't mean they are not possible.
Even in science you have conflicting views around theories. How is this any different that the different religions?