There have been plenty of attempts to explain away God. This is to be expected, since fallen man refuses to admit that he is not the centre of the universe, and is not the final arbiter of truth and error, right and wrong. But mankind in rebellion will always seek to repress their innate knowledge of God, and invent ways of explaining him away.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this 2000 years ago of course. In Romans 1:18-23 he says: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Or as we read in Psalm 14:1 (and 53:1): “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” So life for the non-believer is one long attempt to seek to eradicate God. Of course it can no more be done than trying to wish away the sun. It really is the attempt of fools, but they keep on trying.
There have been plenty of ways in which atheists and naturalists have sought to explain away God. Marx for example said that religion was simply the opiate of the masses. It is like a drug, and keeps them contented with their oppression in this life, knowing a better life awaits them. It is all pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.
Freud offered this take on the origins of religion: people are afraid of the awesome power and destructive forces of nature, so they invented a god postulate to help tame nature and to help people cope. The impersonal forces of nature are personalized and brought under control (we say there are personal spirits in the wind, the storms, etc). These animistic spirit-powers led eventually to monotheism he said.
Others, like Nietzsche and Feuerbach, said similar things. Religion is just a way humans cope with their psychological needs. Religious beliefs have come about in order to satisfy deep psychological and emotional needs. God is just a projection of man, said Feuerbach, and Nietzsche also viewed belief in God as mere wish-fulfilment.
But then there have been a number of more recent naturalistic accounts of religion and belief in God based on biology and/or genetics. For example, back in 2004 an issue of Time magazine had a rather bizarre cover story about the “God gene”. At the same time Dean Hamer wrote the book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes.
Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins of course also took this line, and even invented a whole new word for it: “memes”. According to Dawkins, a meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene. They replicate ideas and beliefs. Thus the idea of God is like a virus: it is passed along and replicated in culture, just as physical traits (in the form of DNA) are passed along by means of genes.
There you have it folks. Simple. Why didn’t we think of this a long time ago? Such a clever and profound idea! But of course we have a slight problem here. Such a notion must cut both ways. If the beliefs of believers can simply be explained away by memes, then of course the beliefs of unbelievers must also be explained away in the same fashion.
In other words, if there is no sound reason for belief in God, there is no sound reason for disbelief in God. Both are simply the products of our genetic makeup. So one can no more argue for the plausibility or desirability of atheism than one can for theism.
If everything is determined by our genes and memes, that is just the way it is, and it does no good trying to argue for one belief system over against another. Indeed, that is the problem with all naturalistic explanations of beliefs, of ideas, of the mind, of consciousness, and so on.
If all thought and rationality is merely the result of natural processes, why should we commit to any of it, or believe any of it? As usual, C.S. Lewis was well on top of this quite some time ago. Three quotes from three of his books are worth presenting here:
“If all that exists is Nature, the great mindless interlocking event, if our own deepest convictions are merely the by-products of an irrational process, then clearly there is not the slightest ground for supposing that our sense of fitness and our consequent faith in uniformity tell us anything about a reality external to ourselves. Our convictions are simply a fact about us – like the colour of our hair. If Naturalism is true we have no reason to trust our own conviction that Nature is uniform” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles).
“But if naturalism were true, then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes. Therefore, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Therefore, naturalism is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no truths. It cuts its own throat” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock).
“Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe, and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning” (Mere Christianity).
But this has not stopped the atheists as they keep on trying to come up with new ways to debunk God. A brand new book rehashes these old arguments, and tries again – unsuccessfully I think – to make the atheism case. The fact that Dawkins wrote the foreword to this book is of course unsurprising.
I will let Matthew Cullinan Hoffman pick up the rest of the story: “The ranks of celebrity atheists lionized by the major media is now being joined by a psychiatrist and journalist who have jointly written the book “Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith.” The two authors claim, in short, that God is nothing more than a figment of our biologically-determined imaginations.”
He continues, “The authors then pull the old trick of 19th century German atheists like Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche , and Freud, who never made any attempt to answer the historic arguments for the existence of God, and instead threw out the red herring of psychological, economic, and biological explanations for religion. The assumption is that if you can explain the origins of a belief, you have somehow refuted it, a silly non-sequitur that only serves to remind us of the impotency of the atheist’s position.
“Thomson and Aukofer take the biological route, claiming that we are genetically hard-wired to believe in God because it served our ancestors as a survival mechanism. ‘Like our physiological DNA, the psychological mechanisms behind faith evolved over the eons through natural selection,’ they claim. ‘They helped our ancestors work effectively in small groups and survive and reproduce, traits developed long before recorded history, from foundations deep in our mammalian, primate and African hunter-gatherer past’.”
He concludes, “The questions they leave begging, however, speak more about their own psychology than anything else. If evolutionary biology explains man’s belief in God, how do we explain the authors’ atheism? Do they claim to be supermen who, unlike the rest of us, can transcend their own natures? If religion can be explained by our genes, would the same not be true of atheism? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
“Reducing man’s ideas to his biology, in fact, destroys the foundation of all knowledge. If our ideas are determined by our genes, then how can we know if anything we believe is true? Such refutations were long ago leveled against the muddled thinking of materialists, but the authors, confused by the crude empiricist errors of modern scientism, apparently are unaware of the historic debate. Ignorance of the history of ideas is a woefully common trait among atheists.”
But any silly belief seems to be preferred by these guys than to actually acknowledge God’s existence. They keep coming up with one bizarre and whacky theory after another to make their case. Sorry guys, but I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.