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God is a human invention

By David Fisher - posted Friday, 19 February 2010

The phrase, “human inventions”, calls to mind technology: the control of fire, the wheel, the computer and all the other techniques and devices that form our society. Language is also an invention. Our language shows ethnicity, nationality, class and other attributes that separate human groups. Modern society is unlike tribal society in that there is a great deal of change in a life time. Most of us are uncomfortable with change.

In the first sentence of this essay I have shown my discomfort with change by the use of the phrase, “techniques and devices”. A person younger than I am might have used the word, technologies, rather than the phrase, “techniques and devices”. In the usage I am familiar with “technology” is a collective noun referring to all the various techniques by which we control the physical and social world. It has no plural. I am also uncomfortable with the word, “methodology”. Etymologically, it means the study of method, and the word, methodology, as it is used can usually be replaced by the word, method.

Many people are not consciously aware that the entire structure of our society, in addition to technology and language, is all a consequence of human inventions. We invent God, religion, philosophy, mathematics, art and the supernatural in addition to technology. Some readers of this essay will shake their heads at the previous sentence. They will contend that God, religion, mathematics and the supernatural are not human inventions but have a real existence.


Other life forms have some appreciation of mathematics even though they do not have the linguistic capability to express that appreciation. Experiments have shown that crows can differentiate between the numbers four and five, and chimpanzees have the concept of adding a length to a length to make a greater length when they extend their reach by using a stick to knock off bananas from a bunch.

However, the abstract notion of “number”, as in the concept of a prime number, requires language.

Religion can be without God or morality. Buddhism does without God or the concept of a soul. We can have religion without morality. The Roman and Greek religions sought the favour of the gods by sacrifice and dedicating their lives to them. For their morality the better educated Greeks and Romans looked to the philosophers, and the less educated looked to community standards. We connect religion with God and morality because the predominant religions in our society do so, but it is not essential to religion to encompass God or morality.

How did the invention of God come about? We can make a guess. So we can be listened to we put words in the mouth of a respected figure. One example is the famous quote from Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." That's a compelling quote, but the only problem is that Voltaire probably never said it. It was attributed to Voltaire in S. G. Tallentyre's The Friends of Voltaire in 1907.

In the Bible and the Koran there are injunctions and instructions on how to behave from a Supreme Being. That's much more impressive than a quote from Voltaire. Like Zeus and Thor the God of the Bible can speak with a voice of thunder. Those who write scripture tell us we better listen because they speak with the voice of God.

19:16: And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
19:17: And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
19:18: And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.


The Ten Commandments are given followed by more atmospheric disturbances to emphasise them.

: And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

In the 1930s I remember Jack Holt, an action hero whose exploits took place on lonely islands with a superstitious indigenous population. In many of the films of the time a swarthy “native” would announce in portentous, bass tones, as puffs of smoke came from the volcano which dominated the island, "The gods are angry".

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About the Author

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

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