If you want to know the primary reason why religion exists, look no further than the first words of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning”.
What are the implications of those first 3 words?
That statement is an attempt to answer a question. Specifically, it’s a response to how did we get here? Or perhaps, why are we here? Or, why is it that the world works the way it does?
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”. Good enough?
Humans want answers. We’re curious. And children are more curious than anyone. There is no simpler response than “God did it”? That sort of concrete solution makes children feel better, and it’s easy to say, particularly when it’s integrated with a great big framework centered around that pre-supposed answer.
Humans answer questions and solve problems better than any other species. We have the capacity, derived through millions of years of evolution, to ponder our existence and implement creative solutions to natural problems.
Over the past millenium, humanity has come a long way. We’ve discovered everything from the cell to the origins of the universe, and many things in between. And in all the breakthroughs that led to our increased understanding of the world, the underlying mechanism was a greater emphasis on natural answers, rather than supernatural ones.
The bible does not provide natural responses to questions. It does not resolve its inconsistencies. It’s answer has one syllable: God.
Yet, the bible’s answer doesn’t get us closer to curing diseases or discovering life’s origins. In fact, the reason we discovered natural phenomena such as evolution, a very old Earth, the big bang, germ theory of disease, genetics, and the zillions of other things we’ve uncovered is because there were people who were not satisfied with supernatural explanations for complicated phenomena.
The paradox that comes when we follow the clues the natural world gives is that it eliminates the need for those supernatural explanations we’re so inclined to invent.
How did humans get here? We have an answer to that. A hominid species, called Homo Heidelbergensis, geographically split, some going north into Europe and Asia, and some staying in Africa. This led to genetic offshoots in species such as Neanderthal, Denisovans, and Humans. Neanderthals interbred with some Denisovans. 50,000 years ago, African humans migrated to Europe, interbred with some Neanderthals, and within a few thousand years, all Neanderthals and Denisovans were gone. The only remaining hominids are humans.
I’ve suspected for a while that the reason religious fundamentalists reject evolution, despite the fact that almost all scientists accept it as fact, is because it not only violates Genesis, in terms of the creation story, but because it eliminates the need for supernatural explanations to explain why things are the way they are.
There is a logical dilemma that many have avoided considering: either Genesis is correct, or it isn’t. And the moment you say that it isn’t, you have to ask the question: what else is incorrect in the bible?
Logic tells us that if the implications of a claim are inconsistent with reality, then the claim is at least partially wrong.
Matthew 4:8 says “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”. What amazing eyesight they must have had to be able to see all around a spherical globe.
If one of our contemporaries made a claim like this, we might congratulate him on a terrifically imaginative story, but obviously reject it as a matter of fact. Ironically, this inclination is logically similar to many religious folks’ response to religions other than their own. For instance, how might a Christian respond if you said you were going to pray to Zeus for good weather?
But when we apply even the slightest skepticism to religion and the bible, the whole thing falls apart. It simply doesn’t make sense, and what you’re left with is a document that attempted to do what virtually every human being has attempted; that is, it attempts to provide answers to questions like how we got here, how we should live, how we can live in harmony, and how we can feel better about the harsh realities of life.
We’ve answered some of these questions better than others, but I’m convinced that some of the fundamental human questions, particularly ones about how we can live together peacefully, will never be solved while religion exists.