Religion and the Human Ego:
Anthropocentrism is the placing of humanity at the center of all concern, and homocentrism is a similar word meaning the placing of "same species" at the center - i.e., our own species. In general this is a trait of religious theology and has been a feature of most religions across the world1. The words also imply the attribution of Human qualities to non-human beings such as God. A homocentric cosmology is one that holds that the Universe was created and fine-tuned for the creation of our species in particular. On a personal level, the requirements of the fragile Human ego make it appealing to us to think that the God of the Universe cares for us as individuals, that we are important to an all-powerful judge, that the Human concept of morality is preserved by the Ruler of Reality, and that - in short - everything will be alright2. But the opinion has not been universal. 2500 years ago, Aristodemus argued that "the gods do not trouble themselves about mankind"3. Modern science and rational thinking is further destroying these wishful ideas. The vast universe was not created just for us, we are not the centre of creation, any god with Human characteristics is an erroneous projection resulting from Human psychological dysfunction, and, the idea that an omniscient father-figure is watching over us is a misguided result of simplistic thinking and prideful egotism. The grand Universe simply does not care, no matter how much we'd like it to.
We only have limited imagination. We find it impossible to imagine emotions, for example, that we ourselves do not experience. All of our genres of science fiction and theology all attribute spirits, aliens and otherworldly beings with emotions that are merely adaptations of Human emotions. We do the same with our gods. We give them Human emotions. Xenophanes was a Greek philosopher, 535-435BCE, who made fun of this all-too-Human projection.
“Mortals deem that gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form... yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen [...], the Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed: the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.”
Anders Björn Drachmann (1922) cites the same quotation from Xenophanes, and writes that "thus he attacked directly the popular belief that the gods are anthropomorphic, and his arguments testify that he clearly realised that men create their gods in their own image"5. In between the time of Xenophanes and ours, many authors and philosophers have pointed out the Human-made nature of Gods. Col. Robert G. Ingersol in the 19th century wrote:
“To me, it seems easy to account for these ideas concerning gods and devils. They are a perfectly natural production. Man has created them all, and under the same circumstances would create them again. Man has not only created all these gods, but he has created them out of the materials by which he has been surrounded. Generally he has modeled them after himself, and has given them hands, heads, feet, eyes, ears. and organs of speech. Each nation made its gods and devils speak its language not only, but put in their mouths the same mistakes in history, geography, astronomy, and in all matters of fact, generally made by the people. No god was ever in advance of the nation that created him. The negroes represented their deities with black skins and curly hair. The Mongolian gave to his a yellow complexion and dark almond-shaped eyes. The Jews were not allowed to paint theirs, or we should have seen Jehovah with a full beard, an oval face, and an aquiline nose. Zeus was a perfect Greek, and Jove looked as though a member of the Roman senate. The gods of Egypt had the patient face and placid look of the loving people who made them. The gods of northern countries were represented warmly clad in robes of fur; those of the tropics were naked. The gods of India were often mounted upon elephants; those of some islanders were great swimmers, and the deities of the Arctic zone were passionately fond of whale's blubber. Nearly all people have carved or painted representations of their gods, and these representations were, by the lower classes, generally treated as the real gods, and to these images and idols they addressed prayers and offered sacrifice.”
"Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900)" by Robert. G. Ingersol (1900)
A slightly more complex and developed idea of God is to attribute non-Human animal forms to them. This is a form of symbolism used heavily in some ancient pagan religions. Rather than being merely homocentric, these gods are human-experience-centric. For example, no European pagans thought that a god might have the head of a marsupial such as a Kangaroo, simply because they'd never seen kangaroos. As such, all Human gods can be known to be cultural projections as well as solipsistic ones.
“The satirist Lucian has his fictional character Momus complain to Zeus about all the bizarre representations of the gods with animal heads. In reply Zeus acknowledges, 'These things are unseemly,' but explains that 'Most of them are a matter of symbolism' [...] Celsus likewise explains that the Pagan representation of the gods are understood by the initiated as having symbolic meaning and should not be taken literally, since they are 'symbols of invisible ideas and not objects of worship in themselves'
Ironically, many Pagan philosophers thought it was the Christian conception of God which was primitive. Whilst it was all right to personify aspects of God as the 'gods', they regarded it as impossible to portray the ineffable nature of the supreme God in human terms as the Christians did. Celsus, finding such anthropomorphism ridiculous writes:
'The Christians say that God has hands, a mouth, and a voice; they are always proclaiming that "God said this" or "God spoke". "The heavens declare the work of his hands," they say. I can only comment that such a God is no God at all, for God has neither hands, mouth nor voice, nor any characteristics of which we know. Their absurd doctrines even contain reference to God walking about in the garden he created for man and they speak of him being angry, jealous, moved to repentance, sorry, sleepy'”
Thankfully, modern liberal religions will accept that God is not likely to be anthropomorphic, but would say that it has merely appeared to us in Human form with Human traits so that we would more readily understand it. This is a return to the original Pagan ideas about the gods, where they understood that all we can do is use symbolism to view the divine and that Gods have different faces and characters for different occasions.
It would be foolish to accept any Human emotion could be one of God's: We might as well try and theorize as to what emotions water has, or worms, or the planet Earth: If it is impossible (as it seems to be) to imagine new emotions not already known to Humans, then it is very likely that any statement about the feelings of the Gods is probably wrong, unless it is based on a strict mathematical rationality.
In Christianity the Creator of the Universe has only one son, and that one son was born on Earth in the form of a Human, and died there in order to save humans (1 Peter 3:18). Such a sacrifice only occurred once - not once per planet, once per intelligent species, or even once per galaxy. There is no saviour for anyone who isn't on Earth. Aside from the Creator of the Universe having a human son, but Humans were created in the image of God and the angels, together in Genesis 1:26-27 they say "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground". This special creation of humankind must distinguish us from any race of intelligent aliens, who obviously only merely evolved into greatness. And in Biblical eschatology, when evil and suffering is stopped in the whole of creation, where does God place his new paradise? On Earth, of course (Revelations 21)! That's quite an endorsement of our species, from the creator of a billion billion stars!
Is it amazing divine grace that us Humans are so blessed with the Creator's special and ultimate attention? Or is it an anachronism, written into our myths and religions during a time when Humanity did not yet perceive the vastness of the Universe? Given that Christianity fought major battles with astronomers about the Earth being the center of the world and with biologists about evolution, and lost both major battles, I would hazard a guess that when it comes to the uniqueness of the Human race in the Universe, Christianity also finds itself the wrong side of the divide between mythology and history.
The Qur'an says that cattle, horses, mules and donkeys, rain, growing crops, oceans, fish, and all that is on Earth, were created specifically for mankind, and multiple verses say that the stars were created to aid human navigation, here on earth (Qur'an 2:29, 6:96-99, 14:33, 16:5-8,10-11,16)8. That's an entire universe filled with galaxies of stars, just for the aid of the early maritime exploits of a fledgling intelligent race on Earth! Qur'an 6:165 says we own the Earth (although it has existed for billions of years before us - it owns us!) and in 7:10-13 we learn that the human shape is so noble that God asked all the angels to bow to humankind. All did, except Satan. Satan was ousted and expelled for this. Satan itself - the Universal arch-enemy of God, afflicting pain and suffering on all of the universe, exists in this state because it wouldn't bow to a species God made on the distant planet Earth. This is an almighty scale of creation and cause-and-effect all on our behalf.
The first blow to the homocentricity of classical religion came with the realisation that the Universe did not revolve around the Earth, which has been a classical part of nearly all world religions1. After a while this ungodly belief was eventually accepted as the evidence was so far in its favour. Many theologians could cede this point without changing much of their theology. Organized religion, always the most prominent adversary to modern scientific discovery, eventually accepted it after a bitter battle. Other similar blows included the realisation that the orbits of the planets were not circular, but elliptical, and that the Earth was not a sphere, but more egg-shaped. The circular and spherical designs were approved by theologians because they were seen as perfect shapes, and God's creation is perfect. However, such beliefs were not essential parts of theistic beliefs and the more scientific theories came to be accepted. Battles continue to be fought over evolution.
Now, in the Universe there are billions of stars and galaxies, spread out over unimaginably huge distances. We occupy the tiniest part of the Universe. It seems ridiculous to imagine that the place of Humanity in the Universe is particularly special9. If God created the Universe in order to house mankind then the actual scheme put in place in ludicrously inefficient. Not only is the Universe awesomely massive but the vast majority of it consists of intergalactic space that is all but empty, and most of every part of known reality is completely uninhabitable for Human Beings. There really is very little evidence that the Universe was fine-tuned for Humans.
Life and consciousness can be described and explained with the laws of nature and statistics, without the need for any special creation. Eventually, too, this point was accepted by Western and modern religion. However the theists then arrived at a much more modern theology: That God planned the path of evolution precisely in order to produce the Human species. This theory is called intelligent design or creation science. The response to this is statistical: In any universe, of any time, with any fundamental laws, it is likely that over a vast period of time the particles of that Universe would combine in a self-duplicating manner and evolve into life forms. Every Universe would create different life, it happens that on this planet the life we know is the life that evolved. On other planets and in different Universes, the natural laws would have resulted in different life which had evolved to be suitable for that Universe, such is the nature of evolution, biology, chemistry and statistics. Without God being required to explain life, homocentric religion is committing an egotistical error.
The 'anthropic coincidences' is a phrase used to refer to the theory that the Universe is so delicately fine-tuned for life that it must have been designed with that purpose in mind, by an intelligent creator-god. The main argument is that if you fiddle with the universal constants of physics (such as the strengths of the weak and strong nuclear forces) and change their values even by a little bit, then the Universe would be completely unsuitable for life as we know it. Therefore, God created the Universe for life, and in particular, created it for mankind here on Earth. The main arguments against this are that the unimaginably vast Universe is almost everywhere completely unsuitable for life, and even here on planet Earth we can exist only on in a thin crust of a planet that is two-thirds made of water (yet we have no gills). Also, it took nine billion years to make the Earth, and then another four billion before Humankind appeared11. The timetable makes no sense: If the Universe was designed for life, it ought to have simply started with life. When it comes to the sun, which religionists are sure was created to warm us, "of all the energy [it emits], only two photos in a billion are used to warm Earth, the rest radiating uselessly into space"11. The theory that God done it this way on purpose simply doesn't make sense. Evolution does a much better job of explaining why and how life evolved, and is a theory based on evidence, unlike the "God designed life" theory, which is based on pure speculation. Not only that, but it simply reeks of egotistical and prideful wishful-thinking to imagine that the creator of a billion galaxies made all of it with our particular species in mind. If we did change the Universal constants, then, for all we know, even more intelligent life could have evolved in even more different ways. In other words we have no knowledge at all to indicate that the current set-up is optimal for life. For these reasons, the anthropic coincidences argument has been abandoned philosophically and even used to argue against the idea of a God, although in its simpler forms it is still vocalized by many laypeople as being a reason for their belief in God12.
For a full discussion, see: "The Anthropic Coincidences: Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?" by Vexen Crabtree (2015).
Traditional religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam give official sanction to male-female heterosexuality and to traditional gender roles; declaring marriage to be an act that holds cosmic importance, not just a way of formalising loving relationships and family units in human cultures. Yet nature is full of diverse, weird and wonderful sexualities and genders. Homosexual behaviour, for example, is rife within the animal world. Many species do not have two genders. Is it rather a coincidence that us humans imagine that the divine creator happens to declare that common human sexuality is the norm? And is it not prideful, egotistical and strangely ignorant that some people even condemn all variants to hell? Surely better criteria has to do with the quality of love, the helpfulness and kindness of action, and the caring of others, regardless of gender and sexuality issues.
Thankfully, newer religions are more cosmopolitan. Wicca, paganism, the New Age movement, Satanism, and others, have all completely dropped ideas that divine powers have an interest in particular human sexualities, although forms of paganism often have a godhead that is comprised of a male half and a female half, which is still a cultural conception of an invented divinity.
Historian William Draper in 1881 writes that it has been a historical feature of nearly all world religions created by mankind that it is, actually, mankind that it is at the center of the creator's plan1. But it makes no sense to think that God is interested in us as a species, more than any other species. The dinosaurs would have had every reason to imagine that the Universe was fine-tuned for them. The stars and moon to provide light at night, the sun to make the plants to grow, for food. The evidence is convincing that everything was designed, just for them. The same logical arguments would lead dinosaurs and Human theologians to the same conclusions: We are the species that God cares about! But how wrong the dinosaurs were! Given the success of insects such as ants, and reptiles, and bacteria, it is actually more likely that the Earth was built for them, not animals, and not Humans. Some bacteria can survive in space; and 99% of the Universe is pure, vast, empty space. To say that the Human species is central to creation is somewhat odd, given the uninhabitable vastness of the universe.
“Given the egocentrism that seems to characterize the human race, convincing people that the universe was designed with them in mind is as easy as convincing a child that candy is good for him.”
"Intelligent Design" by Victor J. Stenger
“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.”
"The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce (1967)
“If Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be; they are of interest to the Creator of the universe, who takes the trouble to be pleased with them when they behave well and displeased when they behave badly. This is a great compliment. [...] It is an even pleasanter compliment if He awards to the good among us everlasting happiness in heaven.”
“Is there not something a trifle absurd in the spectacle of human beings holding a mirror before themselves, and thinking what they behold so excellent as to prove that a Cosmic Purpose must have been aiming at it all along?”
Egocentrism is surely the most pleasing and natural belief system of any species throughout the Universe, until such a time as their philosophy and science learns of the vastness of the Universe. Anthropomorphic gods are a projection of our ego rather than a humble admission that we (as individuals and a species) are relatively unimportant when we consider our place in the massive Universe.
Psychological of God Belief:Experiences of God are Illusions, Derived from Malfunctioning Psychological Processes
Our ego makes us want to feel special, wanted, watched and observed. We want to be punished when we do wrong, because we like to feel that our actions count. Psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, R.D. Laing15, etc, have also held that God is a projection of the ego. God provides an imaginary fulfillment of the role required by our ego; the position of a being that ratifies our importance in the world. The less important we feel ourselves to be, the more this God can assert itself. In angst and powerlessness, people find comfort in a personal "realisation" that actually everything is ok, they are not worthless, because God cares for them. Some turn to God to fill a hole created in our heads by an impoverished ego, filling them with a sense of importance.
Which indicates more pride: to believe that one's consciousness is merely the product of stupid and uncaring random processes, or to believe that one's consciousness is a supernatural phenomenon akin to that of angels and gods?
Which indicates more pride: to believe that the vast and ancient universe has no purpose, or to believe that a universe of 100 billion galaxies was created 14 billion years ago just so that one could grace it with one's presence?
Which indicates more pride: to believe that one's mind will soon forever cease, or to believe that one's mind is eternal?
The obvious connections between an anthropomorphic god, with concerns centered on our own species, has led to frequent ridicule of theism. Anton Lavey rejoiced in such criticism, and his founding of the Church of Satan was in part a result of that ridicule.
“... but let us not forget that man really creates his gods in accordance with his needs. Thus, he finds solace (and importance) by pretending that his god created him. If God is a fuckup and an asshole, it's because of the most visible traits of his creators.”
The Bible's description of musical instruments in heaven gives us more evidence that scripture is human-made and bound by human imagination rather than being divinely inspired. It is well enough that the Hebrews wrote about holy men and other people playing the lyre and other precursors to the harp, as, those instruments were growing in popularity since their adoption from Syrian culture18. But it just so happens that Revelation 14:2 says that these instruments emanate from heaven itself, from the angels! Is it coincidence that heavenly beings play exactly the same instruments as popular at the time of the formation of the Jewish and Christian holy texts? Why do the hosts of heaven not play a Chinese, Australian or even an electronic or modern instrument? The answer to these questions is that the description of heaven is culturally sourced in the time of the Hebrews and early Christians, and is therefore human and not divine in nature. The description of heaven takes elements of Human culture and projects them on to the divine. This can hardly be a phenomenon just of Jewish and Christian holy texts, but is a feature of religion worldwide. Consciously or subconsciously, the details of "divine truth" are simply made up: a form of subconscious, accidental homocentricity.
This section is an extract from:When Human Religions Meet Intelligent Alien Life
When we discover intelligent life in the universe we will have to face certain facts. The first would be that the appearance of an intelligent humankind was not a special act of creation by god(s). If intelligent life can arise in a multitude of conditions it makes it less arguable that God needed to act specially in order to create humankind. Yet such actions are part of the creation stories of all major religions. The particulars of our religions would be reduced to local symbolism and relative truths that apply only in some parts of the Universe, to some species. [...]
Mainstream theologians and intellectuals within the Abrahamic suite of religion have not given much time to discussions of the implications of alien life. However some have, and Erman McMullin warns his fellows that "religion which is unable to find a place for extraterrestrial persons in its view of the relations between God and the universe could find it increasingly difficult to command man's assent in times to come"19.
Some saviour religions actually cater for aliens. The Urantia movement holds that God has 700 000 sons incarnated on various worlds in the universe; Jesus is, of course, one of those divine sons20. The early scientist and astronomer Huygens argued that "the planets must be inhabited because otherwise God had made worlds for nothing"21. The religions that seem best placed to function in a Universe with more than species of intelligent, sentient beings are those that hold to universalist ideals; that is - the creator of the universe saves all living beings, and everyone goes to heaven. Other positions - that God punishes members of one species for doing 'evil' things, while punishing members of a different species for doing completely different things according to local circumstances, does not make sense if God embodies any set of absolute morality. In other words - deist, pantheist, universalist and non-religious forms of deism appear to be able to explain aliens much better than Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).”
By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Feb 11
(Last Modified: 2016 Nov 24)
Originally published 1999 Apr 06
Parent page: There is No God: Theological, Philosophical and Logical Problems of Theism
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]
The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.
Bainbridge, William Sims
(2011) Science and Religion. This essay is chapter 16 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p303-318).
Bierce, Ambrose. (1842-1914?)
(1967) The Devil's Dictionary. Published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz. Published by Penguin Books in 1971, and quotes taken from a 2001 Penguin Classics reprint. Penguin Group, London, UK.
Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. First published 2009.
(1997) A Divided Self: Biography of R.D.Laing. Published by Hodder & Stoughton.
(2006) "Christianity v. Astronomy: The Earth Orbits the Sun!" (2006). Accessed 2016 Dec 01.
(2014) "Alien Life and Planet Earth" (2014). Accessed 2016 Dec 01.
(2015) "Masters of Existence: Subjectivism and Self Worship in Satanism" (2015). Accessed 2016 Dec 01.
(1984) God And The New Physics. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.
Dawson, Lorne L.. Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
(2011) Church-Sect-Cult: Constructing Typologies of Religious Groups. This essay is chapter 29 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages p525-544).
Drachmann, Anders Björn. (1860-1935) Professor of Classical Philology in the University of Copenhagen.
(1922) Atheism in Pagan Antiquity. Translated by Ingeborg Andersen. Gutenberg Project ebook. Originally published in Danish in 1919, Kjoebenhavns Universitets Festskrift.
Draper, John William. (1811-1882)
(1881) History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. 8th edition published by D. Appleston and Co, New York. Digital version accessed via Amazon.co.uk.
Ingersol, Robert. G.
(1900) Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900). Kessinger Publishing, 1998.
(1997) Bible Facts. Hardback. Originally 1990. Published by Grange Books, London.
Russell, Bertrand. (1872-1970)
(1935) Religion and Science. 1997 edition with introduction by Michael Ruse. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1946) History of Western Philosophy. Quotes from 2000 edition published by Routledge, London, UK.
(1957) Why I am not a Christian. Quotes from Fourth Impression of 1967 edition, 1971, Unwin Books.
(1995) Cosmos. Originally published 1981 by McDonald & Co. This edition published by Abacus.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.