Why Humans Invented the idea of “God.”

Why have humans invented anthropomorphic (human-like) Gods? The very concept of “God” is an invented, emergent phenomenon. It emerges from the interaction of human beings with their environment.
Specifically, it arises from five early human traits (indeed, pre-human traits) whose evolution goes back tens of thousands of years:

  1. Humans evolved a very early built-in tendency to see patterns everywhere we look. For example, when we look at cloud formations, we see the shapes of ships, towers, human faces. We also tend to see patterns (real and imagined) in events, and we love to tell stories about those events.
  2. We have evolved a high anticipation of danger, so we see danger and threat at every turn.
  3. We perceive causation behind every event. We think everything happens because someone or something caused it to happen. If we are pummeled by a catastrophic hailstorm, that storm must have been caused by something or someone. (“Thor is restless tonight!”)
  4. Since the greatest danger to an individual usually came from other humans (enemies, rivals), we tended to personify the sources of the danger or evil. So, we thought the hail was caused by a person, (or a person-like demon), not by an impersonal force. (Early humans didn’t understand “impersonal forces.”)
  5. We tended (and still do tend) to impute a reason for the personified agent to send the hailstorm. “Maybe we didn’t sacrifice enough lambs to Thor! Or to Jehovah!”

Therefore, we humans invented the idea of God (or Gods) who caused all the natural forces and events that we couldn’t understand — earthquakes, floods, plagues, defeat in battle.
(For more on this topic, see the online Essay, “Nature Continues to Create Complex Systems.”)

The practice of anthropomorphism was a convenient way for ancient humans to find “answers” to natural phenomena that we didn’t understand. One of the things early humans might not have understood is recognizing the “inner voice” as their personal pronoun, “I.”  To them it may have sounded like a voice coming from the outside (much like people with hallucinations do) giving them instructions on how to react in novel situations, and thus creating God in their minds.

Another likelihood is that God was imagined as an extension of animism — the human need to understand the world in terms of what sociologists call “agency.” When magic failed, early humans invented the idea of an executive agent — a deity.   When magic failed, unusual or extreme events were attributed to spirits, Gods or to a singular, all-controlling God.

In many (but not all) religions, humans made their gods more relatable by giving them human traits — wrathful, commanding, jealous, judging, punishing, forgiving, and many more depending on the particular religion. The genius of writing Jesus into Judaism is that God was given a gentle, loving, human face.

 

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