Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 9 Is God Just a Human Invention?

As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.



A lot of people believe in God around the world. In this chapter we will explore why many skeptics think that God is just a human invention and explore if the best explanation is actually that God really exists.

Sounds interesting, I'm ready.

Also, there is the question of burden of proof, God exists and God doesn't exist are both expressions of fact, both should require proof, non-belief is not the default position, agnosticism is the default position.

The difference is that most atheists (in my experience) don't express the same level of knowledge that theists do. Theists know that they are right. Atheists think that there is no God, largely because of lack of evidence. But the obvious challenge here is to ask the theist what they think of Zeus or Xenu or any other God, are they agnostic on those guys? Or are they sure or at least pretty sure that they don't exist? I think we would agree that the default position on Zeus is that he doesn't exist unless there is proof that he is hanging around somewhere.

The Projection Theory

This idea is from Freud and basically says that we project the existence of God to satisfy a human need for a father figure. We think this idea falls flat for a number of reasons.

1. It begs the question against God. The argument starts with the assumption that god does not exist and concludes that we must be projecting.

Interesting. I suppose I agree with this idea, although I don't think this is supposed to be a proof against God, but more of an explanation for where God could have come from if he doesn't exist. It seems like an answer to the question "If God doesn't exist where did he come from?" In this situation you have to assume that God doesn't exist in step one, that is the space you are working in. (Note: I'm unfamiliar with this argument so I might be way off here, but that is the sense I get from what is being said here. If anyone is more familiar with this stuff please speak up)

We have evidence for God's existence and the New Atheists don't interact with the "most sophisticated defenders of Christianity".

I don't know who these people are, but I see plenty of debates and back and forth between the new atheists and several prominent people on the apologetics side. Furthermore, the evidence that has been presented is of pretty poor quality. In this book I have seen mostly just logical fallacies wrapped up in arguments. Also, I'm assuming one of the defenders of Christianity is William Lane Craig, I have seen a few debates with him and I have looked at some of his arguments, they are terrible.

2. An assumption of the argument is that if a belief brings you comfort it must be false, this is terrible and incorrect.

I agree, the idea that if a belief brings you comfort it must be false is garbage. If the argument uses that as a basis that is poor justification. I don't have the original argument so I can't speak to whether that is really what is being said or if that is the authors interpretation. 

3. This idea is based on Freud's supposed psychoanalysis, but he never really did any on it.

I'll go along with them here, my understanding is that Freud's methods were actually pretty poor. I'm largely in the dark here, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

4. It cuts both ways, if we can project a need for God onto the existence of God, atheists can project a need for freedom onto a lack of God. It's not surprising when you consider what a terrible childhood Bertrand Russell had.

Good point, it could go both ways, I'm not sure why they felt the need to throw in the ad hominem attack though.

5. Perhaps the idea that God was invented to meet our desire is backwards, perhaps we only have desires for a God because it can be fulfilled by God. As C.S. Lewis said "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists."

Seriously? I'm not even really sure how to respond to this. I'm sure there are plenty of things that people desire that are impossible. I'm sure there are people out there who desire to be vampires, does that mean vampires exist and they could possibly give you the dark gift if you could just convince them? There are probably millions of kids (and adults) who desire to go to Hogwarts, does that exist?

The arguments in this book are fucking terrible.

The "God Gene" and Neuroscience

We can look at genetics and try to find a God gene. We can also look at ways to physically manipulate the brain with drugs or electrodes to simulate a religious experience. None of these things disprove a God. The conclusions of these experiments are almost always overstated.

I'm pretty uninformed on this topic, but what is written in this section honestly seems fairly credible to me. The overall premise was that people claiming that neuroscience proves God doesn't exists are overstating their case, and I would agree to that. I would add that if someone were to instead say that we have a possible alternative explanation to God's existence, that would be something that sounds a lot more reasonable to me. Again, I'm mostly uninformed on this, but for now I'm willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.


Dawkins calls religion a virus of the mind, and he postulates that memes are idea replicators. He talks about ideas as replicators, this isn't something that is scientifically proven.

Meh, beat up on the idea of a meme, good for you.

A By-Product of Natural Selection

Many experiments show that the brain comes hard wired with some sort of software preinstalled. This is thought to be a product of natural selection. "This research is fascinating and illuminating, but not very controversial until it is applied to religion.

Shocking, we can agree with something that is evident until it gets in the way of religion and then people suddenly have a problem with it.


That's all for this week, look like next week we are starting part 2 of the book "Responding to Moral and Biblical Challenges". Beginning with chapter 10 "Is Religion Dangerous?"


  1. Freud's Projection theory for the origin in the belief in God doesn't have any more evidence than Julian Jaynes bicameralism hypothesis. It's somewhat easy to takedown, but I'd argue not as easy as apologetic arguments for God. In fact, when he says "the argument starts with the assumption that god does not exist" the opposite is true for EVERY argument for God. None of these arguments arise naturally from an unbiased look at the universe.

    And I'm so tired of the burden of proof nonsense. You're absolutely right, Haus.

  2. Yeah, that burden of proof thing has been driving me nuts too. It's like they said "man, that burden of proof thing is kicking our ass, what do we do" and the response was "I dunno, try to use it on them". It's just not the same.

    I hadn't heard of bicameralism, it's an interesting idea.

  3. Replies
    1. Yeah, it has been a pretty big disappointment for me. I try my best every week to give it a fair shake, and I always try to find things that I agree with and give them the benefit of the doubt when I can...with mixed success. The arguments are so poor that it is sometimes hard to give the next section a fair read, and I don't really believe that the authors are being honest.


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