Is God Just a Human Invention? - Video Interview and Book Excerpt with Sean McDowell
- Wednesday, October 20, 2010
[Editor's note: the following excerpt is taken from Is God Just a Human Invention? by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Kregel Books, 2010, pages 120-129.]
Is God Just a Human Invention?
A lot of people believe in God—like billions. Religion is all over the place and growing.1 So why are humans so religious? Well, there is no shortage of explanations for belief in God. Our intention in this chapter is to walk through some of the most common reasons skeptics think God is a human invention and see if they sufficiently show that belief in God has been rendered unreasonable, or if the reason that so many people believe in God is best explained by the fact that he actually does exist. First, however, we need to address a common misunderstanding about approaching the question of God.
Many times it is assumed that the one who believes in God—the theist—bears a special burden of proof when it comes to arguing for God's existence. In other words, in the absence of evidence for God's existence, one should presume that God doesn't exist; this is the famous "presumption of atheism." However, both "God does not exist" and "God exists" are claims to knowledge that are either true or false. Both viewpoints require justification or evidence. The New Atheists don't get a free pass; they must make the case for their worldview too. Yet all of the theories we will discuss in this chapter explicitly or implicitly draw on the presumption of atheism.
If there is a default position, then it is "I don't know if there is a God" (agnosticism), not "there is no God" (atheism).* So why don't we just retreat to the default position of not knowing? Knowledge, as the only firm foundation on which to build a life, is always preferable and should be pursued—especially on questions as important as this. Agnosticism can be a virtue for a season of exploration, because we definitely want to avoid being gullible. But as Yann Martel wrote in Life of Pi, "Doubt is useful for a while. . . . But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."2 Moreover, with tongue in cheek, it has been observed that being an agnostic (Greek word) sounds much more sophisticated than being an ignoramus (Latin word), yet both mean not to know. Saying that one is an "ignoramus with respect to the question of God" just doesn't carry the same punch.
* For a more detailed treatment of this issue, see Scott A. Shalkowski, "Atheological Apologetics," in Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). It should be noted that we are intentionally dealing with the "presumption of atheism" as it typically is used, not in the precise sense that Antony Flew originally conceived of it. In the 2009 debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig, Craig pressed Hitchens on this point but Hitchens was either unwilling or unable to set forth a positive case for atheism.
The Projection Theory
In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud wrote that religious beliefs are "illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. . . . As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection—for protection through love—which was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life."3 In short, we project the existence of God based on a human need for him. Is this hypothesis unanswerable as Hitchens claims in this chapter's epigraph? We think not for the following reasons.
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