There is a beautiful speech by the late Douglas Adams about the possibility of there being an artificial God — God imagined by man to fill in gaps in his understanding of the world. In one part of the speech, Adams suggests that early man, when he found that the world suited him so much, imagined that it must have been made for him, and that whoever made it must love him a lot therefore.
Let me start out by saying that I am not at all opposed to this idea. I have pondered this angle a lot and have even explored it in a post I wrote a few years ago. It is certainly possible that the idea of God came out of man’s mind and I would be lying if I said that this does not strike me as logical.
Having said that, let me also add that the idea does not negate anything in my belief system. I believe that God exists – either as an entity, or an idea, or a force, or a guy with a thousand arms and forty thousand heads – I don’t know. All I know is that he (or she or it) does exist. My personal definition of existence is very wide and allows for a whole lot of abstractions to share space with elements of the tangible universe. So when I say God exists, I may mean that he is in my head and that is quite enough for me.
But let us not make this about me. My interest in the question how God came to be is perhaps inferior to my interest in the question of why God came into being. The how-why divide may seem facile to some. So hear me out.
Regardless of whether God — a force superior to man — created him, or man imagined a superior force after he “just happened”, we are still faced with the inescapable presence of God in our lives, if not as a tangible reality, then at least as an idea.
My question is this (and try and think it over with an open mind): Why did man create God? Why did he imagine Him? What was the need for it? Why did he feel compelled to find a meaning in the world around him that there was no physical need for?
Animals don’t do this. They get along just fine without bothering with the meaning of things. Why is it only man that has this need to imagine things, to tell stories, to wonder about things higher than himself? Why does man have these fancy philosophical questions? Why does man feel humbled? Why is he always looking up? Why do we personify nature? Why do we imagine the wind to be a god? Why do we imagine the sea to be the thousand-eyed Varuna? Why to we consider the earth our mother?
Some will label it delusion of the mind. But I think that is simplifying it far too much. Imagining things is not an option that we exercise. It is a very deep-rooted human tendency. We indulge in little acts of imagination (acts of faith?) uncountable times everyday, mostly without even knowing it.
Many people cherish objects handed down to them by their parents. These can be a pen, or an item of clothing, or something like that. But to them, these are more than just simple objects. To them, these are something more. They imagine a higher meaning in them. Many people yell at their computer when it hangs. Many people find themselves considering certain places more significant than others – the house they grew up in, their first school, the bridge on which they kissed someone for the first time, etc.
These things, while they may not look related, demonstrate the same function of the human mind. Namely, the tendency to believe that the world is more than it appears to be. Belief in the existence of God is just a larger concept than imagining that the bridge on which you kissed your first girlfriend is somehow special and unique. It is all imagination.
My question (as if I have not asked it enough times already), is WHY. Why do we do all this? I have blogged before about our need for rituals and superstitions. Plus, there is scientific evidence of our brains being hard-wired to be superstitious. But that doesn’t answer the question, it only adds to it. Why is man built this way?
For the purposes of this post, I will ignore the idea of God as creator, because we started off with Adams’ suggestion of God being an artificial construct. Thus, we end up with the theory that man naturally evolved from lower animals and got to be this way. But even so, the god-damned why remains unanswered.
If man evolved from lower animals, and lower animals lack the sort of rich imaginative tendencies that man has, does it not naturally follow that what we have is something superior to what they have? Does it not say that the ability to believe and the ability to imagine meanings and the tendency to see things for more than what they seem to be, is something that we gained through the marvelously complex system of evolution by natural selection? May it not be that we evolved to believe in God? And if we did, the question that follows inevitably is – why. Why did we evolve to believe in forces higher than ourselves? Why can’t we just live our lives like animals without wondering about our place in the universe?
I don’t have an answer. But I will not pretend that the question doesn’t exist. So in order to show respect to the question, I will proceed to make some logical deductions.
Let us consider the human body to be a computer. It is a fascinating machine, capable of amazing feats. It boggles our minds. We grow curious and start exploring it. As time passes, our understanding of the computer grows better and better. We get to its very basics. We discover that it is made of metal and plastic. We go even deeper, down to the circuits. We find what makes the software work. We then sit content in the knowledge that our understanding of the computer is complete.
But what we conveniently ignore is (brace for impact) the why. Why is the computer there in the first place? Why is such amazing software installed on it? For what purpose? Ignore the question about who made the computer if you want to. What we should at least wonder about is why it exists at all.
This is, in fact, the single greatest philosophical question that has obsessed man since the beginning of time. Why does anything exist at all? What is the point of it? The name religion gives that reason, is God. Plain and simple.
And the question is not as hopelessly unanswerable as it may seem. We have the computer and we know what it can do. We know that there is an operating system (the soul?) and a web browser on it (imagination?). Does it not naturally follow that there may be a web out there, waiting to be browsed? I mean, why would we be given an Internet Explorer if there were no Internet to explore?
I think the problem here lies with our temporal way of seeing things. Humans have very definitive ways of defining concepts like “beginning”, “end”, “creation” etc. And as we have learnt more, these definitions have been challenged and, in many cases, demolished. For example, our ideas about “up” and “down” disappeared the moment we ventured into the weightlessness of outer space. Could it not be that the limitations of time (as we understand it) do not apply to the force that created us? Why does God have to be something that came “before” us? After all, there are objects in the known universe that mock “time” all the time (black holes for example).
The other idea is to look at the God concept as something resembling music. Music, as we know it today, didn’t exist till humans came around. But we definitely didn’t create music. It has always been around. What we really did was perceive it in a way that none had done before.
Why can’t this be the way man “created” God? The force that made all things may have always been around. All man did (when he got around to being able to do so) was perceive him with a faculty only he possessed — imagination.