Essay:A Comprehensive Examination and Analysis Concerning the Existence and Rationale of Religion and God

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One of the most controversial and debated pillars of society is religion. Much of the disagreement surrounding it deals with the existence of God and whether or not religion is a force for good or evil in this world, to name a couple, and is primarily between theists and atheists. In this exposition, I will discuss these and other topics concerning religion and what I find that they mean.

The existence of religion itself doesn’t seem to be a particularly controversial topic at first. The explanation for its origins, though, isn’t a subject religious persons seem very keen about discussing. When people describe the origins of ancient Greek religion, for example, it is always that the ancient Greeks could not find a way to explain the natural phenomena around them and thus turned to creating gods to explain what they could not explain themselves. But when this idea is applied to modern monotheistic religions that are widespread and have many devout followers, the situation becomes uncomfortable and monotheists seem to downplay the idea. The postulation that this was also the origin of current monotheistic religion seems incontrovertible. The only difference is that the ancient people who started these religions chose to explain the phenomena around them with one god instead of many. To explicitly deny this strikes me as unreasonable, irresponsible, and ridiculously stubborn. The concept of God, therefore, was not given to mankind by God himself, but was a creation of man that evolved throughout the ages. I assume that reasonable theists believe in God because when ancient people derived this idea, they had stumbled upon the “truth,” not “truth’ revealing itself to the ancients. This explanation, though, still doesn’t seem strong enough to convince theists that the existence of God was made up. Choosing to ignore it to eliminate the spiritual conflict it would cause would be much more appealing.

It also seems interesting to me that the potency of religion and God, especially to explain scientifically understood phenomena, is still relatively powerful in today’s scientifically advanced society. Despite innumerable advances in knowledge and undeniable explanations of natural phenomena, God is still seen as the driving force behind all of it. Even athletes claim that it was God that allowed them to perform well in their respective sport, giving up all of their own hard work and credit to him and not thinking about that God must not want them to do well at all whenever they don’t perform well. But I believe the cause of people’s strong attachment to religion to this day is rooted in their upbringing. Because a person’s mind is quite malleable when they are young and are predisposed to be heavily influenced by their parents’ religious beliefs (which the parents would have acquired through the same means), being brought up to believe only in one’s parents’ religion I’m sure would be quite enough to leave a person believing in that the rest of their life. I’m sure this would be enough to somehow subconsciously reconcile God into scientifically-satisfactory explanations for natural phenomena. Like religion’s origins, a subconscious anxiety will form in a theistic person if this especially valid argument is proposed and it would be much easier to disregard it than attempt to reconcile or accept it.

Being brought up to believe in a religion is an exceptional means to account for the belief of a religion that that religion is correct unlike every other. As a person is being raised, the religious indoctrination he or she is going through undoubtedly presents to him or her with the reasons as to why that specific religion is correct, whether directly or indirectly. This leads the person to make the assumption that other religions must be false. The fault that I find with this kind of argument is obvious. It seems quite preposterous that a person can simply write off another religion as false when he or she him- or herself has never had any experience with any other religion that would allow him or her to pass such judgment. It strikes me as rather religiously irresponsible and almost lazy to unquestioningly accept what a religion teaches while proactively denying another’s doctrines. It also seems to show the close-mindedness of being in a particular religion. A much more open-minded approach to finding what one would choose as the “true” religion would be to let a young person explore all religions equally without any kind of bias or attempt at indoctrination. This would lead to a vastly more open-minded international religious community.

Something religion doesn’t seem to address is the lack of “miracles” in the post-biblical era. Setting aside occurrences such as miners being rescued after weeks underground, miracles in the “traditional” biblical sense don’t occur in the modern day (unless people with no proof who claim to have divine things happen to them are considered real miracles). No one has ever parted a sea nor has there ever been the modern equivalent of the ten plagues. It appears that if an omnipotent God performed such miracles and feats, he would not have reason to suddenly become shy and cease these actions just because the Bible has already been finished and people can scientifically explain his doings. It seems to me that since God isn’t awing us with his miracles today, he probably was not doing it long ago either. These especially divine miracles strike me as something meant to add an awe-factor to the Bible, which will be discussed later.

One notable characteristic about religion, most markedly with the Old and New Testaments, is the contradictions about God that come from religious texts, such as the example I will be referring to, the Bible. God is introduced to us as a benevolent, omniscient entity that is all-powerful. But many of the noteworthy characteristics of God contradict either real life or the events of the Bible, which is presumably supposed to be believed. The most obvious contradiction that comes to mind would be God’s supposed benevolence. If all the stories of the Bible were true, why would God, in all his kindness, cause events such as a giant flood? Or in real life: why would a benevolent God allow such cruelties as genocide to occur? It seems to only serve the purpose of making God look more cold-hearted and almost spiteful toward his creations at times. Therefore, it seems ridiculous to call God benevolent as if he is always just and never cruel if he would allow such things to happen, especially to good people. I imagine that a kind God would not think it particularly ethical to allow people who do even mildly sinful things during their relatively short and finite lives to be eternally punished in hell. The idea that God is omnipotent seems to make him appear even less compassionate. If God were all-powerful and infinitely kind, why would he create an epic biblical flood to kill everyone instead of just making them good? Why would he allow such atrocious acts to happen in the post-biblical world? Why would God be so harsh on people who are of different faith or don’t believe in him? These people would still be considered his creations and yet God doesn’t seem interested in making them believe in him a different way or even believe in him at all, only in punishing them. Another contradiction concerning God’s benevolence and omnipotence is the embodiment of evil in such entities such as the devil. A totally benevolent God shouldn’t be satisfied with letting such a supposedly powerful and evil force attack his creations and would presumably choose to use his omnipotence to bring about an end to it. But, if the Bible is to be followed, God doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in being neither benevolent towards his creations nor omnipotent towards forces of evil. In these cases, a popular way to write off such an argument would be to claim that God acts in mysterious ways that no mortal can understand. Frankly, this is an obviously lazy counterargument and if a person claiming such a thing were to force himself to overcome his spiritual discomfort with such a heretical argument and look deep inside himself he will realize how bad an argument that really is.

The origins of the Bible itself would make a good explanation to all the contradictions within it and explain the stories themselves. I am sure many theists all over the world view the Bible as a gift handed down from God or the writing of mortal people telling an accurate truth of what happened. So many of the stories told in the Bible, though, could not be accurately accounted by people hundreds or thousands of years later. It simply does not make sense. Most likely, people wrote down different portions of the Bible until it was complete long ago, probably not basing much of it in reality. Many religious people would apply this as an explanation to any other religious text except for their own. For hundreds and thousands of years after that, people have been translating the Bible into all sorts of languages and refining it into different “brands,” such as the King James Bible. Throughout this never ending process, it is overwhelmingly likely that events, morals, and other specific aspects of the Bible have been altered, both accidentally and deliberately. The idea that God is benevolent would have been around long before the Bible was written. It would have been an appealing theme to keep for modern monotheistic texts. But, setting aside modern breaches of God’s benevolence, God still performs seemingly cruel actions in the Bible. I believe the people who wrote the Bible wanted to demonstrate an omnipotent God who should be feared, even if they had to compromise much of his supposed benevolence. Stories like Adam and Eve would have been meant to introduce the origins of mankind when the true origins couldn’t be discovered nor explained. I am sure a few of the tales told would have some of their roots based somewhere in reality, but I’m also sure they would have been greatly exaggerated in order to create a legitimate and influential religious text. In the Bible for example, many stories are based on even older texts and are not solely Christian, such as the biblical flood which was most likely based on one from Mesopotamia’s Epic of Gilgamesh. This could create a paradox by basically believing both your own and another religion’s story, despite denouncing the other’s. Many of the miracles mentioned in the Bible, especially those associated with Jesus for Christianity, would have been necessary to create and establish the basis for a legitimate and influential religion that would have biblical occurrences that would need to be observed and religiously appreciated. I assume the most reasonable and down-to-earth theists who are not willing to gullibly believe every word in their respective religious text literally base much of their following of their text in the moral aspect that the text is supposed to have. But those who believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago, that evolution and natural selection are either preposterous untruths and/or anti-religious conspiracies, and/or that the story of Adam and Eve was factual are totally and utterly ignorant and close-minded. It strikes me odd that people, even extremely religious people, today still belief much of the stories of the Bible and find undeniable scientific answers that do well to explain God as still below God himself. As more and more modern discoveries and breakthroughs explain the phenomena around us, it seems only natural that belief in God would decline, since God was first created to explain what the ancients could not explain themselves (which we discussed earlier). Oddly, this is not the case.

A fundamental part of almost any religion is the existence of an afterlife. Religious people all over the world take careful steps to ensure they will be going to their preferred version of life after death. The obvious reason people believe they know for certain that some sort of an afterlife exists and that they know what it is like is the indoctrination discussed earlier. Most people in this case would argue that because their respective religious texts, leaders, and traditions claim an afterlife and describe its characteristics it must be true. Presumably most reasonable, thinking people who haven’t had such intense religious instruction would find such an assumption preposterous. Because no one has ever died and come back to life to explain their post-mortem experience, it is logically bewildering to claim to know what goes on after death. As implied before, religious texts such as the Bible don’t and shouldn’t serve as an accurate representation of the past nor act as a reliable guide to ideas such as life after death. People hundreds or thousands of years ago would not have known any better in this case than people now and some sort of divine revelation seems particularly fanciful considering the only occurrences to ever “happen” were long ago and don’t occur any more. One major reason the concept of heaven and hell is so popular is its appeal; people who are good will live in eternal paradise, people who do not suffer forever. Although this does seem ideal and comforting to believe, the chance that this is exactly what happens after death is quite remote. The only rational and logically proper way to know what happens after death is to die. As thoroughly ingrained in people’s minds as a concrete afterlife idea is, and as widely accepted as it is, the concept of heaven and hell has no credible or reliable source or proof to back it up; it’s credibility is taken for granted. It seems rationally irresponsible to blatantly believe something such as that.

The most hotly debated issue concerning believers and nonbelievers in God has to be the existence of God. The case for God’s existence seems quite compelling at the surface. The creation and complexity of life doesn’t seem as if it could come about through mere coincidence and an already existing and intelligent God would be required. One must also wonder how the universe could have even started without God there to initiate it. But all one has to do is think carefully, deeply, and impartially about all the facts and discoveries civilization has gathered over time in order to take God comfortably out of the equation. Let us begin with the start of life here on Earth. Even though scientists are still unsure about the exact way the first living organisms came about, their first formation without the help of God really isn’t that far-fetched if it is thought about carefully. Life would have had to start out extremely basic: the very bare elements needed to constitute the most basic of living substances. If those few core elements had been mixed together but once, it could then mold itself into a compound that could use some sort of catalyst such as sunlight as a way to recreate itself. At its start, life would have been a series of chemical reactions. This could be compared to the formation of sugar. The elements that constitute sugar molecules come together and bond and then bond with more molecules. Although they don’t technically reproduce themselves, the sugar molecules use the charges on their ions as a way to make more of itself (through their attraction to each other) as it gathers more molecules to make a more complex and bigger substance. The formation of the first substances that will turn into life isn’t as improbable as one might think. With all the space on Earth and all the right elements that constitute it, it seems very likely to me that this process could be sparked all on its own. Gradually the molecules that eventually form life will develop its own way to produce substances such as DNA that fully characterize it as life. As to the increasing complexity of life, one simply has to look at the vast span of time life has had to develop from primitive unicellular organisms to human beings. Life has had well over 3 billion years to evolve in complexity. In today’s world the magnitude billion is not what it used to be; there are billionaires, countries with billions of dollars in debts, and a plethora of other quantities in the billions which begin to desensitize us to the enormous number’s magnitude. In that epic span of time, this slow process of the gradual development of life has ample time to proceed. It is therefore reasonable to picture how all of the incredibly complex systems of today’s life forms have come about, slowly building on and evolving from the previous “design.” Evolution precisely describes the big picture in which life evolves (but I will not go into discussing evolution here). With that, God can be satisfactorily taken out of the picture, for better or for worse, for the creation and complexity of life. Now to discuss the universe as a whole. Theists will often claim that the chance of creating a universe with life like this is so remote considering the epic evolution of the universe and all the near infinite ways it can come out that God would be needed to create it. But we now know that the chance of there being extraterrestrial life in the universe is extremely high, so the chance of life coming about in this universe would also be extremely high. But what about the chance that this universe could be created with such a perfect balance of forces and particles as to let life form? Scientists, particularly cosmologists and theoretical physicists, are working on theories that would be able to explain this. The theory of the multiverse where many if not an infinite number of universes exist says that there is a chance (by the law of averages) that a universe with this perfect combination of coincidences would form. As to the creation of the universe itself, other new and advanced cosmological theories are postulating how something like the universe could form (these incredibly complex and sophisticated theories won’t be discussed in this exposition but they can be researched and I encourage people to do so). Even with all that, a theist can always argue, and rightly so, that these are just theories. But here history can step in and make a valid point. In ancient times God was the explanation for natural phenomena. As time went on and people advanced they were able to explain more and more of these phenomena scientifically, chipping away at God’s role in the natural world. Fast forward to today and most if not all of the workings of the universe can be explained with science. Advancing our knowledge with concrete evidence is a work in process and that is exactly what these new, courageous theories are. It may take time but eventually mankind will have the answer to how the universe formed and other, even higher concepts. In short, I believe the universe, multiverse, and beyond is explainable using science, only that it takes time for human civilization to get to some of the answers as we develop and evolve intellectually. Back on a smaller scale, human consciousness seems to be a favored argument for the religious. But I believe it can be logically explained similarly to my explanation for the creation and complexity of life. Throughout a large enough span of time, the gradually advancing chemical processes in the brain would give rise to more advanced thought, thought that evolved out of more primitive thought such as finding food. This gives the feeling and realization of consciousness itself and the concept of the soul which obviously ties into religion. With all these scientific explanations of life, the universe, and consciousness, God can be successfully explained, as terrifying and unthinkable as it may be to some people. That, in combination with the contradictions about God that religion itself presents, makes for quite a compelling argument in favor of God’s nonexistence.

Probably the second most fiercely debated topic between pro- and anti-religious people is whether or not the role of religion in the world is positive or negative. Both sides have very persuasive arguments. People who see religion as a force of good in the world look mainly to the moral aspect of society that religion brings. Religion can be strongly and rightly argued that it keeps many people from doing morally bad things and promotes generally just standards (except concerning certain topics which will be discussed shortly). Religion has also initiated positive goals such as raising money for charities and promoting objectives to benefit mankind. Unfortunately religion also serves as a negative force at the same time. For thousands of years throughout history religion has been used to justify some of the most atrocious acts ever committed. Infamous historical events such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were based in religion, causing the loss of an untold number of lives. Scores of wars have been fought throughout history just because of a difference in religion. Even in today’s world, religion is still used as a justification for violence, evident with current terrorism that has its basis in religion (although it stems only from a warped and corrupt branch of religion). Religion is also responsible for some of the intolerance in today’s society. Groups of people such as homosexuals aren’t looked upon very kindly in many religions which leads the people of these religions to be against civil rights for them. Evident from the Mormon Church in Utah’s strong support for the passing of California’s Proposition 8 which would ban same-sex marriage, religion can often promote intolerance for groups of people who don’t match up with the way a religion wants people to be, whether they can help it or not. To definitively say whether or not religion is a force for good or bad in this world is probably impossible to calculate. History has shown it to be a predominately bad influence but today it is much harder to say. Even though it is impossible to find out how much moral and charitable work religion has done in the world, the amount of violence, death, and intolerance it has caused is exorbitant, causing a reasonable comparison between its good and bad effects to be nearly impossible to draw up. Only time will tell whether religion is heading in the right or wrong direction concerning its influence in the world.

Personally, I have no problem with people being religious and believing in God. But there is a catch: religious people should not be ignorant or stubborn about what they believe. Believing blindly, intolerantly, or close-mindedly makes the believer intellectually weak (not to mention annoying and hopeless to deal with) and only serves to make the world more intolerable and close-minded. I believe that if these kinds of intense, in depth explanations and analyses were presented to people more often (and ideally to people who haven’t been severely indoctrinated religiously as have nearly all religious people), then people would be less inclined to believe in God or at least think more open-mindedly about other religions and philosophy in general. The vast majority of people have never thought into the existence of God this deeply (and I don’t blame them), making them less likely to consider this kind of deviation from their religious dogma. I am sure that with the deepness this dogma had been ingrained in people, looking at religion and the universe this way would be spiritually painful. Simply choosing to overlook it would be an easy way to relieve the spiritual stress this challenge to religion would cause. A comprehensive examination and analysis concerning the existence and rationale of religion and God is quite a mature and thought-provoking concept to think about and discuss and can lead to some of the deepest thinking and philosophical pondering a person can attain.