Why the Yhwh 'god'?

(Jon Earnshaw) #1

Science (archaeology, anthropology, palaeontology), history (search evolution of religion) and to some extent even neuroscience all show how early humans developed a ‘god space’. All these ‘gods’ (the Ancient Egyptians had over 1000) have been shown by common sense to be non existent. So how is your ‘God’ (the Hebrew Yhwh and Christian Yashua) any different?

The expression ‘god space’ (The Story of God by Robert Winston; The History of God by Karen Armstrong; The God Impulse by K. Nelson) cannot be found in a google search so I will define it -

Over the course of thousands of years humans have struggled to survive in a very hostile world where death and disease would strike indiscriminately from every angle and the average life expectancy of Palaeolithic Man was 30 to 40 years. During this struggle humans had to develop various strategies in order to survive. These strategies were both conscious (using objects as tools or weapons, keeping together in small groups) and unconscious (brain size increased) and were driven by what is now called natural selection. During this time (the Palaeolithic and before) there were many dangers, fears and unknowns. Just looking up at the stars at night was for these early humans totally different to what we feel or know today; being near to or caught up in an earthquake must have been terrifying; having your entire family wiped out by a pack of wolves . . . . unimaginable.

Unanswered questions were everywhere – why does the sky make water, why is the sun hot, why does the grass move when there is no wind, ‘why are all the animals out to kill and eat me’ and so on. All these and many more can be found on cave paintings (some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago). Proper burials and rituals surrounding the dead began at about the same time. When humans could not understand something, were afraid of something or could not find an answer to a particular problem, something above humans or out-of-reach of humans was produced to fill the gap – the god space had begun.

Examples abound – if you were a pre-Stone Age human and you were caught in an earthquake or flash flood your fear could only be explained by something unknown and out of your control; if you were a Stone Age man or woman and you lost your children due to an illness which you had no knowledge about whatsoever, it was ‘because of something unknown’ or ‘you had done something wrong and had to make it right’; if you were an Aztec city dweller of around the 15th century and none of your many wives were able to have children, or children were born and immediately died, it was the same reason – ‘somebody had done something to upset something unknown’ and you would have to do something about it such as prepare a sacrifice; if you were a farmer in Middle Age Britain and all your hard work in the corn field was wiped out by an unknown insect blight, it was ‘because you hadn’t prayed hard enough for a good harvest’.

So unanswered questions and daily lives lived in fear of the unknown produced in humans what is now called the ‘god space’. Biological evolution produced a space in the human mind (variously called conscience, morality, intelligence, reasoning, self-awareness, consciousness) for things that they could not explain (this has nothing to do with the expression ‘The God of the Gaps’ by the way). The evolution of thought or ideas is not new and can be found in any encyclopedia of philosophy. PC search meme or read the three books mentioned above. Even recent neurological research has shown fairly convincing evidence that there is an actual physical part of the brain dealing with the ‘god space’; i.e. it may not just be a mind/conscience/spiritual idea.

So every civilisation since the beginning of time has had their own god or gods. History has shown that none of these gods exist in reality (we no longer pray to Zeus the Greek god of the sky for rain nor Poseidon for our fishing). So how is your Hebrew Yhwh/Christian God any different?

(Randy) #2

Thank you for the question. Seems to me it is a mistake to think that the only reason one believes in God is to control the uncontrollable…particularly when speaking with naturalistic evolutionists. It is worthwhile asking why people believe. Cognitive science of religion, purpose, forgiveness of sins, the God shaped void in each of us, evidence of physical law constancy, and many more are excellent avenues for reflection which others on this discourse can comment from their own reflections and studies better than I


I know that does not completely answer the question (I’ll need more time to pick the references to adress each point properly). But that is just a hypothesis. By no means the question of “why human beings believe in God(s)” is a closed matter in cognitive psychology. So I don’t think that hammering the idea that “people believe in God(s) because of their fears” as evidence to God’s non-existence is any better than hammering ideas like “people only believe in God because they have been indoctrinated to do so”. If we are following that standard, I could also hammer the “people believe in God because that belief reflects something true about reality” as well. The overall question however is actually pretty good: “If so many gods from so many cultures proved to be false, why would the Judeo-Christian God be real?”. That will take a little bit more of time to answer properly, but I’m working on a proper response worthy of that very legitimate question.

Edit: By the way, I researched the three authors, and none of them actually works with psychology, cognition or anything like that. The closest one to that is Kevin Nelson, which is a neurologist, but his work seems to be with the peripheral nervous system and neuromuscular diseases, not the brain and cognition. So I would assume that most of this books are speculative rather than grounded on actual cognitive psychology. In other words, they are more akin to Dawkins giving his opinion on religion in his books than to a book by a cognitive psychologist that studies the neurobiology of religion talking about the hard science behind it. But the overall question is still valid, like I stated before.

(Luca) #4

Oh wow! My good friend Eric made a post on this in his blog, and now you ask something about it!
Coincidence or an orchestrated event? haha.

Have a look at the post: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/belief/a-scientific-explanation-for-why-we-believe-or-disbelieve/

I can see the kind of link you make between Yahweh and Zeus, Poseidon and the ilk.
But the two are very very different when you look at them in detail. So comparing them is a silly thing to do. If you want me to say why they are different in detail please do reply!

If you are asking why we believe in the Christian God, please do tell me aswell.

(Richard Wright) #5

Hello Jon,

I’m Richard. I’ll start with a short preamble. One, like you said, every culture in history has recognized the divine/spiritual because of the nature of existence. Most people believe in Jesus as God because his message, teachings and life moved their hearts, and many, like myself have made profound changes in their lives inspired by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Other religions have gods fighting each other. History doesn’t come into the equation, we believe by faith.

However, there is historical evidence for Christ. 4 writers wrote about the life of Jesus Christ, 3 who claimed to be witnesses and one who put together 1st-hand accounts. They agree that Jesus did miracles, was nailed to the cross and rose from the dead on the 3rd day.

Secondly, the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion seem to be supported by 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote about what appears to be Jesus, his brother James and John the Baptist. The passage on Jesus, the famous Testimonium Flavianum, minus interpolations, is:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds [miracles], a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Thirdly, there are many passages in the Old Testament that are taken by Jesus and some of the authors of the New Testament to be prophecies of the Jesus. My favorite is Isaiah 52:12-5 - 53:12. The passage seems to be referring to the Messiah giving up his life for sins of the Jews. Here is a sample: (53:10-2):

"Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

Look at the amazing similarities in the life and mission of Jesus to even these 3 verses (I suggest you read the entire narrative). The Isaiah manuscript from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is exactly the same as other versions, existed at least 150 years before Christ per radiodating. So you see, there is historical evidence for the life of Jesus Christ!

(Mark D.) #6

Interesting article! If you wanted to open a thread to discuss it I’d be interested. I think psychology is exactly the right field in which to explore the origins/benefits of God belief. In his last paragraph he suggests that it may be worth nonbeliever’s effort to see if they can thereby distill something of value without the supernaturalism which puts us off. That interests me as well.

The hope for secular and non-believing social scientists, is that secular societies may be able to reproduce some of the benefits of religious belief without the supernatural. It remains to be seen if they can do this.

It might not be everyone’s taste but I think there is room for a natural, intra-personal God relationship which could do the trick. Such a God wouldn’t hold out any hope of an eternal personal afterlife and could not have played any role in creating the cosmos. But it could still inject some of the advantages of God belief for the secularly inclined.

(Luca) #7

Well someone might choose to believe in an imaginary God for the benefits, even though they know its not a real one. But I sure don’t :wink:
Edit: rephrase

(Mark D.) #8

I just left an extensive comment on his blog. I like it.

But I don’t think anyone is choosing to believe in an imaginary God. But is who you take yourself to be imaginary? I don’t think our sense of self is imaginary in the usual sense. So why should an autonomous, co-product of consciousness which you call God be ‘imaginary’?

(Luca) #9

I do understand what you mean! But wow its hard to wrap my words around it.
Let us say that your description of a god isn’t what i believe or could ever believe! (just some personal info! haha) But i do also think someone could recreate this belief but that the god doesn’t have any influence outside his or her brain!

Where have you posted that comment? I’d love to have a peek at it too! haha.

(Mark D.) #10

I’m not sure this God does have any influence outside of my brain, except that this ‘God’ (scare quotes to avoid any false equivalency to what you believe in) is probably less individuated than our conscious selves are so in a sense “It” is more wide spread than “I” am.

Here is a sneak preview:

Hello Eric. Wonderful post. I have been coming at the same questions from the other side for some time now. I agree with you that there can be something of value in understanding why God belief has been so strongly selected for in the origins of humankind, even for those of us who will never believe in anything supernatural. There is a baby in there which is worth saving even if we don’t want the bath water.

God belief arises in consideration of a number of questions including origins, mortality, morality and purpose. But I think the primary place it comes in is in explaining the phenomenology of our subjective experience and it is there where it has the benefits you extoll. Believing in and revering something within which knows things we don’t and which is or can be benevolently inclined toward our happiness is a psychological benefit.

My theory is that just as our bodies and minds still bear the marks of long evolution, so too might the forms that consciousness has taken over the course of our development. Our bodies/minds/consciousness give rise to our conscious minds and our sense of self and what we call our identity, but how do we know there aren’t other products of consciousness still active within us? It would explain a lot. Earlier products of consciousness may be primitive from our perspective as conscious/rational minds but they may well bear some of the wisdom of our organism so that our conscious minds can work unfettered to reason out solutions which have led to so much material wealth and power. The trouble is that rationality alone can never tell you what truly matters to you as a person and you can’t deduce the correct path to fulfillment by abstraction alone.

Believers have the advantage of faith in something more than reason and an openness toward receiving its gifts. But there is no reason we who do not believe in a creator, can’t still embrace the something more which may well be a co-product of the same consciousness which produces our conscious self.

(Mark D.) #11

My apologies to this thread’s author for the tangent. I promise to come back later and respond more directly to your post, Jon. But we’re getting ready to go on a short trip and I need to get busy now. (Thanks a lot, Totti, for helping me avoid starting sooner.)

(Mark D.) #12

I can’t agree with this:

But I do think this is a criticism worth considering for believers:

God belief was essentially selected for naturally by many cultures so it had survival value. I think it is worth our attention to look for the best account possible for why God belief not only won out but has also persevered even when it is getting harder and harder to find anywhere to place a God in the universe we know. To chalk it up as simple error owing to ignorance just seems glib. You can’t really expect anyone to give up core beliefs based on that sort of reason.

This is much better. But given this research, why expect anyone to give up their God belief just because God has gone by so many names in so many places. One reaction is to say so they must all be in error. Another would be to say all are names for the same thing. But don’t be surprised if believers in a particular God feel they have reasons why that one is the best or that the others were mistaken attempts at understanding the true God.

The question that I think we should consider is how can we who will never accept anything supernatural accommodate this part of who we are? Would there be value for us in doing so? I think there is, even though I don’t think God had any role in creation of the cosmos and can not offer any eternal personal afterlife.

(Paul Allen) #13

In trying to explain the universality of religion, Sigmund Freud asked why it is that people are so incurably religious. He claimed that we have invented God to deal with things in nature that we find frightening. He explained that by inventing God we personalize or sacralize nature. We feel deeply threatened by hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, pestilence, and armies, but we do not have the same terror concerning our personal relationships.

If someone is hostile toward us, there are many ways we can try to defuse that anger. We can try to appease the angry person with words or gifts or flattery. We learn how to get around human anger, but how do we negotiate with a hurricane? How do we mollify an earthquake?

How do we persuade cancer not to visit our house? Freud thought that we do it by personalizing nature, and we do that by inventing a god to put over the hurricane, the earthquake, and the disease, and then we talk to that god to try to appease him.

Obviously, Freud was not on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4) when the storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were sitting. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was asleep, and so they went to him and shook him awake, and they said, ˜Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ˜Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:38-39). You would think the disciples’ gratitude would have led them to say, Thank you, Jesus, for removing the cause of our fear. Instead, they became very much afraid. Their fears were intensified, and they said to one another, Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him! (v. 41). They were dealing with something transcendent.

What we see in the disciples is xenophobia, fear of the stranger. The holiness of Christ was made manifest in that boat, and suddenly the disciples’ fear escalated. This is where Freud missed the point. If people are going to invent religion to protect them from the fear of nature, why would they invent a god who is more terrifying than nature itself? Why would they invent a holy god? Fallen creatures, when they make idols, do not make holy idols. We prefer the unholy, the profane, a god we can control.

The book of Romans helps us …“Because men refused to glorify God as God, they became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). Some of the most brilliant people come to very different conclusions about the nature of reality. Who was more brilliant than Thomas Aquinas or Aurelius Augustine? They were fiercely convinced of the reality of God, and their lives were driven by that conviction, which lay at the foundation of every-thing else they believed. Others of gifted intellect, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, John Stuart Mill, and Albert Camus, wound up on the other end of the spectrum, embracing nihilism la Nietzsche, saying that there is no meaning or significance in human experience. How can such brilliant people end up so far away?

When Paul speaks of hearts that are dark, he uses the word foolish. Yet God has plainly and clearly shown himself to everyone. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen” (Romans 1: 20). The Latin word means conspicuous; God has made his self-revelation conspicuous to everyone since the creation of the world. general revelation and because of sin it is interpreted as per your examples.

Every moment since the dawn of creation God has been manifesting himself through the things that are made (Romans 1:20). God is manifesting himself through the things that are made so that his testimony to his nature is plainly evident. We ignore it - we call it mother nature - but our sin and darkened thinking confuses it - until we read the Bible (special revelation). Every human being knows of God and clearly perceives God but rejects that knowledge.


I think that this article by David Bentley Hart addressed some of the OP’s questions.

I might add that there is a difference between Zeus, Woden, Mithras, and all the other pagan gods (the lower case is important) and God, as represented by classical theist traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and (someone correct me if I’m wrong) some brands of Hinduism. All the pagan gods are contingent, whereas the God of classical theism is not. This means that God is necessary, or could not fail to exist. There are other differences, but that should suffice for now. I’m not sure if you’re genuinely curious, or willfully ignorant (it’s hard to tell over the internet). If the former, I hope you reply and we can start a dialogue.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #15

What makes any god contingent or not? Whether or not their story discusses if the god ‘began to exist’ at any time or not? Following along Greek Mythology, Chaos was the first thing to exist (or it just ‘was’ and thus perhaps not contingent?) and several primordial gods came out of that. How do you then judge any non-contingent gods among themselves as they all claim the same argument as their own? Does the Dennett article get in to that some more? (I haven’t gotten a chance to look at it yet)

I’m trying to unpack your argument and thinking here, but it generally follows the classic Cosmological Argument. Is that correct? For various reasons I at least reject the Kalam portion (which I see as a god of the gaps argument) but my general stance is I am left with a ‘necessary fact’ that I choose to believe by faith.


Well, the greek gods don’t answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing” or explain why the universe is the way it is and not other. At best they explain some natural phenomena like lightning. The God of christianity and the other mentioned religions, or even a deist God is an adequate answer to that question. Of course, that answer might be wrong, but it is still a valid distinction between the types of gods, they could both not exist and still be very different imaginary concepts. I also don’t buy the Kalam part, but I think the unmoved mover is pretty solid for instance. But I think it ultimately boils down to “why is it even possible for the universe to be the way it is?”, no amount of fine tuning would make the (literally) impossible possible, just make the very unlikely likely, that is why I think that argument is way more powerful than fine tunig, although we can always go with “it is just the way things are, accept it as a brute fact and move on”.

(Jon Earnshaw) #17

Thank you all for replying to this topic.

I think the discussion has departed from the original question - how is the Hebrew Yhwh/Christian God any different?

This is a really difficult question for most ‘believers’ but for unbelievers /atheists the ‘invented god’ is standard ammunition and we need to have a ready answer - “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” Ephesians 6.16

My own answer is fairly simple – so simple that its probably flawed in some way. The Hebrew Yhwh has to be different simply because the Israelites of the Old Testament rejected Him from the very beginning starting in Genesis 3. Why would anyone invent a ‘god’ which they didn’t want? Then the following 2000 years of history of the ‘Children of Israel’ as we now read it in the OT confirms this rejection culminating in the rejection of Yashua/Jesus. So basically speaking, and no racial prejudice implied, the Jews made the same mistake twice, the first perhaps being a prophecy of the second; but to their credit they readily admit it as the entire Bible was written by ‘Jewish’ people. No other section of society has ever been so frank, honest and open about their own failings which makes it even more remarkable that the Bible ever made it into writing. Perhaps the Divine hand is at work after all.

So I think its very unlikely that the Jewish people spent 2 to 3 thousand years of their life/culture/civilisation trying to avoid something that wasn’t there – the basic story of the OT being that the Israelites fell away, lost faith, followed foreign idols or in their own words ‘just wanted to be like everyone else’ . . . . .“Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We must have a king over us Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles”.1 Samuel 8.19-20

All of which seems to imply that the Hebrew Yhwh must actually exist. ‘Evidence’ of a sort.


Hello pevaquark,

I believe that another poster touched on your question concerning contingency, but I’ll add some information. You’re going to have to help me understand something first: I’m admittedly poor with Greek mythology, and consequently their conception of Chaos. I don’t enjoy the idea of using Wikipedia as my source, but according to their article “Chaos” it would seem refers to different things. Either it’s a void (or free space), or the first of the primordial deities. If the translation of Hesiod’s Theogeny is correct, he tells us that Chaos was the first god to be. Should this be correct, then Chaos would differ from God, who is uncreated. Even if Chaos was uncreated, there’s no problem, as many pagan cultures seem to have the concept of God, the transcendent source of all being, who created the gods. This David Bentley Hart article addresses more of what you’re wondering about.


As for the Cosmological bit, you’re correct in assuming that that was in the back of my mind. The reason for it should be obvious: if there is a deductive demonstration of the existence of God, then scientists can talk all they want about a “god space”, but the existence of God would be no mere fantasy concocted by a fragile human mind. Essentially (and I feel like this has been pointed out before), the conclusion that humans are naturally “religious” (and the people who make this claim often lump many different things into this broad category) can be taken two ways: a reductionist would say that the only reason religion developed was because it was advantageous, but we now know it to be false, or a theist would say humans are naturally religious because of our ability to reason, God’s desire to develop a personal relationship, and the desire of the soul for transcendence. Science cannot adjudicate between these two without over stepping it’s self imposed limits.

I feel like I’ve derailed this thread enough, so I apologize to the OP. If you want to continue the discussion I’d suggest starting a new thread.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #19

To some degree, though all Cosmogony stories from different cultures sought to answer questions they thought were important. In an eternal universe framework you don’t need to answer that question as the universe would not be contingent in that case. But they did address many other questions of origins as did every other creation story.

I think that this touches upon a very interesting topic though which is whenever we have certain questions that we want answered or are trying to find answers- we look in ancient texts that were not written to answer the questions that we are trying to find answers to. I’m not saying that you were doing this as I’m the one who brought it up – but it does remind me of how we even demand that Genesis give us answers to certain questions that it certainly was not originally written to address. But yet, sometimes we have this amazing ability to find answers in places where they’re not.

I’m not sure how one does go from here as it seems there are an infinite number of possible answers to that question which to me means that none of them or any real answers at all.

Don’t sweat any details, they’re not actually important for what I’m thinking. I just believe that it sounds silly to me to be scouring through ancient cosmogony stories and if any of them happened to admit that their god came out of something then that god became contingent and us we can reject them using this argument. But what if there were some writers who thought that chaos just always existed and is the thing out of which everything else emerges. Then then chaos would be not contingent and thus a possible candidate for the god of the cosmological argument. Or, I write a book outlining my revelation of the flying spaghetti monster - is he now a candidate for the god of the cosmological argument?

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure how this cosmological argument can be used to reject any plurality of gods. Or maybe it’s main point is simply to try to demonstrate that any non-contingent gods are different from contingent gods - but at the same time can say or do nothing about distinguishing between any non-contingent gods. Is that right?

Good points- I agree completely concerning evolutionary psychology. I probably would say the only thing evolutionary psychology really stands against or challenges is probably the believe of the special creation of all people. At least at BioLogos, many are certainly fine with God using evolutionary processes and it really wouldn’t be that surprising if he use them to bring us closer to him over time.


Hello pevaquark,

I’m not sure how to be polite about this, but I think you’re terribly confused about what “contingent” means, and also what cosmological arguments set out to demonstrate. Contingency refers to something that could have been otherwise, whereas necessity implies that something must be the case. I believe in your post you said something to the effect that if the universe was eternal, then it wouldn’t be contingent. This is false, as everything in the universe would still be contingent (note, this does not commit the fallacy of composition), and you could run a cosmological argument. Only the Kalam cosmological argument uses the idea that the universe had a beginning. Thomistic, Neoplatonic, and Leibnizan CAs do not assume the universe had a beginning. You’re correct in saying that a successful CA would not rule out the existence of contingent gods like Zeus. In fact, theistic defenders of a CA might even believe in “gods”, which would be closer to angels than how pagans conceived of their pantheon. Also, the nature of cosmological arguments would rule out “gods” as being candidates for the being (analogically speaking) that they deduce. For example if you eventually get to the stage where you say the First Cause must be all-knowing, that would rule out Zeus. If you protest and say that you believe Zeus to be all knowing, all powerful, simple, etc, then it becomes a mere tautology- you’re really saying you believe in the God of classical theism, and his name is Zeus. Finally, note that this is dealing almost entirely with natural theology. I hope this clears up some of the confusion, if not (or if I made it worse), let me know