One argument that I seem to hear a lot these days is the argument, that belief in God is so common among people, that it is outright ridiculous to propose that they may all be wrong. Well I disagree. For the purpose of illustration, why I don’t accept this “argument” allow me to formulate it as a syllogism:

  • P1: Belief in God is almost Universal or at least largely agreed upon among humanity
  • P2: It is unlikely that such an overwhelming consensus is wrong
  • C: It is therefore more likely that God exists, rather than that he doesn’t

So let’s take a look at it. In principle it is valid in form. The structure is correct and if the premises are true the conclusion follows. But are the premises true? I don’t think so.

It is estimated that homo sapiens (that’s us) hit the stage on his Earth at least 195.000 years ago . We have also found the so-called Löwenmensch figurine and it is one of the earliest man made sculptures ever. It is estimated to be roughly 40.000 years old. It is the earliest evidence of the worship of deities we have so far. But even if we’re charitable and round those 40.000 years up to 50.000 years, this would still entail that homo sapiens hasn’t worshipped any deities whatsoever for roughly 75% of its existence.

If we count those in, then Premise one is false. Additionally it may be noted, that this sculpturine is a far stretch from the Creator deity of Yahweh within Monotheism.

I also don’t think we should count Polytheism in the variety of Greek or Egyptian Gods and Godesses. Those deities were more or less Superheroes and not the modern conception of what we mean by God.

So the question we need to be asking ourselves at this point is when does the Creator God appear on stage? It is estimated that if the story of Moses is real it must’ve happened between 1450 and 1200 BC.  So humanity has been around for 200.000 years and in the last ~0.75% of its history God has been worshipped.

Now it is true, that humanity has been exponentially growing since then, so let’s just assume outright, because we’re charitable, that the first 193.000 years are negligible.

What is the religious landscape today like? In 2010 (I couldn’t find anything more up to date) we find that 31.5% identify as Christian, 23.2% identify as Muslim, 16.3% are unaffiliated, 15% are Hindu, 7.1% are Buddhists, 5.9% are folk religionists (Native American religions, aborigines etc. ) and 0.8% other religions and 0.2 are jews. If we add everything together, we get a majority for monotheism. That’s true. But Hindus do believe in many deities, however they do have one Creator God Brahma (and I don’t know why we should) , so if we’re charitable we grant the Hindus. Buddhists in general don’t believe in God. They may believe in gods or spirits but not a Creator deity. The Jews do believe in a Creator (although then again, many Jews are secular but let’s ignore that) . So they’re out. The folk religionists and the others are all over the map but I wouldn’t assume that they have too much in common with Islam or Christianity or even Hinduism. We therefore arrive at what I consider to be a charitable estimate on my part at 69.9% who believe in God (Christians + Muslims + Hindus + Jews), belief in God being generously defined as “belief in a Creator deity” .

69.9% is by no means Universal and I’d argue that 7/10 people is not largely agreed upon, especially if we take the stark differences of doctrine into account. It should also be noted, that the numbers might very well have shifted since then, considering that the world, especially the western world is becoming increasingly secular.

So P1 is outright wrong in the worst case and dubious in the best.

Let’s look at P2 though. Is that true?

There have been many instances, when the majority was wrong. The majority was wrong about the shape of the Earth, it was wrong about geocentrism, it was wrong about our origins, it was wrong about the cause of diseases. Majorities are wrong quite often and they’re proven wrong, when we learn more about the world. Popularity doesn’t decide whether an idea is true, evidence does. If it were different than the Sun would’ve been rotating around the Earth before Galileo discovered heliocentrism. That’s of course utterly ridiculous.

Appeals to popularity are fallacious for a reason. They are fallacious, because it doesn’t matter how many hold what position, it matters for what reason they do. Is the reason an overwhelming proponderance of evidence. It may be perceived by an individual to be the case but I disagree and I have my reasons for it.

The second premise is a fallacious appeal to popularity. If people hold to a God belief because of false assumptions and conclusions, which is my position, then the majority may very well be wrong! And let’s ask ourselves: If we see the day on which Atheism has won, the day on which the sides are reversed, would the believer then conclude that God doesn’t exist after all? I don’t think so.

Goodbye from yours truly,

Rene von Boenninghausen @Renevelation

 

5 thoughts on “God’s popularity

  1. 1. Hindus believe their supreme being is a passive part of nature.
    2. You have no proof indicating people eons ago did not worship a Supreme Being. Cave art indicates otherwise.
    3. We are hard wired to believe in God. Why would that be if God didn’t wire us?

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    1. Evolution would explain the hard wiring and the question “Why would that be if God didn’t wire us?” is an argument from ignorance. Cave art from what years exactly? To my knowledge the oldest ones are about 35.000 years old which fits in the upper time frame (50.000 years) which I provided. In my numbers I actually counted Hindus to your side of the argument, which I think was charitable.

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      1. How does evolution explain hard wiring? Are you suggesting humans at one point did not believe in God without any evidence to support your assertion? is this an argument from ignorance from you Rene? in other words, you’re saying that because we have no cave art that is as old as the earliest humans, the answer is that they must not have believed in God.

        Does that make sense?

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      2. What I am saying is that the oldest evidence we have found of deity worship up until now dates back to roughly the number I mentioned. This doesn’t mean that the earlier people didn’t have deities. It’s not just about cave arts it’s about a lack of evidence before 50.000 years ago. It may be the case that the earlier humans did believe in God but we simply have no artifacts to show for it. Currently the earliest evidence we have is from said time period but it can always be pushed back further. It is for instance also the estimate that the earliest humans existed 195.000 years ago. Future evidence may push this number further back. Likewise future evidence may push the number for religious belief further back. I accept this number only tenatively and I’m willing to revise my beliefs with future evidence.

        Likewise you’ll notice that in the continuation of my case I dismissed all that completely, because ultimately this little prequel to the actual “meat” was just having a little fun on my part, providing some interesting stuff, that others may not be familiar with.

        As far as hard wiring is concerned let me revisit Schermer: As he said, Australopithecus aforensis (Lucy) and as I think our ancestors in general have this tendency of attributing agency to observances in nature. I think this by far predates our Primate ancestors, since we can observe it within hunties deers or bunnies (I don’t do it personally) that they run when hearing a sound because it might be a predator. Lucy had the same ability to see agency in nature and so we do the same thing.

        Now imagine yourself about 100.000 years ago, you’re living in a world and you can’t explain it. But you have this ability to see agency in nature and lacking further knowledge about evolution and all the sciences we know today, I’d think you’d have a tendency to fall for Paley’s argument, namely I do see these pattern and I do agency behind it, maybe there was an agent or agents behind it.

        Likewise this would become a tradition within your tribe you would carry it on to your children and so on and so forth. Over time as the tribe divides into more tribes, the story gets changed and modified and we have numerous different deities. Likewise in the future seperated tribes may come together and they introduce the others to their deities, which get adopted and maybe modified etc. . I think you get the idea.

        That is one way I think it could’ve started. Do I know this to be the case? No, it’s a scenario, that seems plausible to me.

        Likewise it is the case that different people groups do introduce others to their religion, which then gets adopted. That’s what happened with Christianity, whether it is true or not.

        To summarize: We as well as other animals do have a tendency to see agency in nature. With our brain capacity, it is not implausible that we saw agency in natural phenonema, such as “Creation” itself and attributed it to deities.

        Last but not least, if this explanation doesn’t make sense to you or isn’t satisfactory (and I have a good feeling it won’t be : ) ), then the hard wiring is unexplained and while you believe it comes from God itself I see no reason to accept that conclusion.

        I hope my response wasn’t too lengthy.

        Have a good one Steph.

        P.S. This will probably be my last reply seeing how long it was. Nevertheless may I with your permission publish our little dialogue on my blog? Might be interesting for my readers.

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