Yesterday I was thinking about why people believe in God. I don’t mean why one individual or another believes — I think that’s based on personal experiences, what we’ve been taught by our parents or other mentors, what continent we were born on, and other social accidents. In other words, individuals today believe in God because other humans have told them about God.
What I’m wondering is this: what made human beings think there was such thing as a god in the first place? I can only come up with two ideas.
1) A powerful being came to earth and revealed itself to some humans a long time ago. This could have been an actual deity or a powerful alien. The primitive humans wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, so they declared that this being was a god.
If this being was an alien, it was misunderstood or it intentionally deceived the primitive humans for the love of power. We’ve seen this in lots of TV and movie plots, from the original Star Trek to Stargate.
If this being was indeed a god, whatever it may have revealed during first (and only?) contact with humans has since been distorted and interpreted in a gigantic game of telephone until the original message is so buried in various religious doctrines that it is unrecognizable. If this indeed happened, is it unreasonable to consider that this could be traced back to its source the way languages can be traced backwards to earlier proto-languages? (On the other hand, if this really happened and this god cared about what we thought about it, why has it been hiding for all these centuries?)
An alternative to this idea is that a human once hallucinated about a powerful being like this, and believed that the hallucination (perhaps drug induced) was a real experience, and concluded that a god had revealed itself, even though it was just a figment of his imagination. People hallucinate today and think they’ve seen real specters, so this would not be a far-fetched idea.
2) Human beings could not understand the universe and their own consciousness and experiences, and they assumed there must be some even more powerful being controlling these things. In other words, man created god to explain natural phenomena that were incomprehensible to those without science as a tool to study, and/or to overcome existential angst that arose once we became sentient and realized that we were going to die.
I can’t think of any other reason that humans would have come to believe in a god. Either someone saw or thought they saw such a god, or they invented, perhaps unconsciously, such a god. Neither of these alternatives leads to any practical or convincing reason to believe the teachings of any specific religion today. Or am I missing something?