Musings on God, Belief, and Occam’s Razor

While watching the movie “Contact” tonight, it got me thinking again on a subject brought up in a previous post about gods, humans, and belief.  For those who may not know what the movie is about, it’s based on a novel by Carl Sagan.  The main character, Ellie Arroway, is an astronomical researcher working on the SETI project who hears a strong signal from outer space that indicates alien life.  The movie posits what contact with an alien race might be like and how it might occur, and the struggles and problems inherent in contact with extraterrestrial life.

One of the scientific concepts brought up in the movie was Occam’s Razor, which says, in laymen’s terms, that all things being equal the simplest solution is the right solution.  The question asked by Ellie Arroway that brought up this subject was when this concept is put into play, the existence of god doesn’t match; the simpler solution is that god does not exist and that men created god in order to make ourselves feel less alone, rather than that an all-powerful deity created the universe and man but decided to give no proof.  This comes back to bite her at the end of the movie, but it does present a big question that perhaps has no answer.

Is it possible that humans created god?  Depends on what you mean by “god.”  The force behind the universe is not something we could create even with our extensive and powerful imaginations–something had to create the planets and galaxies and the universe, and set the scientific principles into motion.  That part does not fit with Occam’s Razor.  The part that does fit is that we imagined and created the facets of this universal force that we acknowledge as god.

This, in turn, raises the question of why humans feel the need to believe in the god forces in the first place.  One theory that explains the ancient religions was that the gods were used as a means to explain natural phenomena that the ancient peoples did not have the technology and science to understand.  However, I do not think that theory entirely fits.  The Greeks, a very ancient people, and some of the civilizations around them, were very advanced and did have scientific understandings of some of the natural phenomena, including space, and would not have needed gods as an excuse to explain their world.  Why then were these peoples so believing in the gods when they did not scientifically need them?

Perhaps it is because they wanted some kind of connection to the universal force that they could not otherwise reach.  The gods and belief in a higher power opened them up to the influence of the universal source and its energy.  They wanted a connection to something greater than themselves that they knew existed but couldn’t fully grasp.  It’s similar to how our minds grasp the scale of the universe–when you really think about it, you find that actually you have to really think about it.  The idea is just so large, so huge, that our minds have difficulty grasping even the thought of something that big.  The universe is a macrocosm that we have trouble grasping, and the same could be said of the concept of the universal Source.  The gods, as a smaller subset of the Source, were easier to grasp and understand, and thus the basis of religion–a connection to the higher power.

This is, of course, only one theory.  It also brings up the question of atheism–if all humans need something to believe in, why then do atheists not believe in god?  If you work from the idea that the universal Source is behind everything in the universe, and if atheists believe in something even though it is not god, then atheists still believe in something that the Source created.  It doesn’t have to be god; if the Source is behind all creation and all ideas, then believing in anything I suppose could create that connection to the highest power that religions create for those who do believe in a god or gods.

I’ll end with my favorite quote from the movie, since the movie is what inspired this post: “If it is just us, it’d be an awful waste of space.”

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2 responses to “Musings on God, Belief, and Occam’s Razor

  1. Recently I was corrected on the proper terminology of what I previously believed was the scope of the term Atheism. Apparently, I apply to the group “Strong Agnostic”, which in short I believe means something along the lines of…If there truly is an all powerful being or force then I doubt our minds could possibly comprehend it. This relates back to your idea of trying to imagine the universe, you really can’t. Many forms of “proof” of a God is usually disproved and even if something seemingly definitive happens to try to prove God exists I’m not sure myself or many would believe it (as demonstrated many times by the Twilight Zone haha).

    I do agree that it seems that religion strives on so much today because of the things we can not explain, specifically the afterlife. As has been teased so many times before, “What if I die and Heaven does exist!”, and has been countered just as many times, “What if MY religion exists and you die!”. This is another concept that people such as myself try to invent ideas about and usually this manifests itself in the form of religion, though in reality I just don’t think our minds can comprehend it until we experience it.

    Nice article and good thoughts ^_^

  2. I think many, with some thought, would agree that humans have certainly created an aspect of our gods. I usually explain it that while there is an all powerful source, I myself choose to give it a name and emotions and features – not because I have proof, but because it makes it understandable.

    I may certainly find myself invoking different goddesses or gods depending on my work – I may refer to them by classical mythological name or just be simple undetailed pronouns. By specifying a name, I specify a different aspect of the same force.

    Of course, this all the heresy that is my personal views. There is certainly some truth to the phrase that all people create their own god – examine the different nuances in different forms of Christianity around the world from USA to Korea.

    As a side note, the Greek view on the gods did change – at first it was a truly religious view that held the gods a reality as firm as flesh, but as the Greeks progressed, the gods became more abstract and philosophical.

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