from Atheist Climber Blog
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.”
- Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.
Since the beginning of human history, humankind has tried to make some sense of the things around us. We have an innate need to explain things on a level that other species have no concept of. Non-human animals react to their surrounds in a much simplified way to the manner in which we do, much closer to the stimulus-response mode, and each of course to a varying degree of complexity. No other species has the mental capacity to ask the questions that humans ask such as "What is water?" or "Why is fire hot?". This is not to say that other species are not capable of thought, just that all species have a different understanding of what the world around them means.
For instance, cats and dogs make decisions based on the stimulus around them, as well as desire for attention and the feeling of belonging within their tribe or household. (There are thoughts that cats and dogs see you, the owner, as a big weird-looking cat or dog, one who provides for them or is a pack-leader.) But they will never ponder over where the can of cat or dog food came from, they only know that the taste is to their liking (or not) and that they get fed every afternoon at 5pm.
It is not really known what the evolutionary stimulus was which cause humans to move from a simpler "animal" psychology to something resembling human consciousness, only that it was probably not a single event but a series of small changes which took place over many generations. Some theories
suggest that an earlier group of human ancestors took hallucinogens to "kickstart" the brain's evolution to what we now know as human, allowing the primitive brain to think in a different way. Other theories include the idea that the act of standing upright
was the catalyst for the species to evolve, because the primate was able to see further, and therefore a primate with a more developed spacial sense had an evolutionary advantage. See also the Aquatic Ape hypothesis
for yet another idea on human evolution (this and many other hypotheses are widely disputed). Before the advent of this evolutionary step humanity's ancestor was probably still quite clever in the animal kingdom, maybe even the cleverest, but until this time, questions would have been much more banal, and probably didn't involve anything like the inner dialogue we use today when asking questions.
Humans are unique on this planet for the depth of inquiry we make into our surroundings, and in our ability to connect seemingly unrelated concepts, abstract them, and arrive at a new conclusion.The simple idea of taking the concept of the number "four" and the object "apple", and then be able to count "four apples" takes an abstract path connecting simple maths to simple objects, all within the brain itself. I can even imagine four apples right now, and know most things about them, even if these four apples don't exist physically.
Humans want to know why everything happens, or why anything is the way it is. But of course, in order to answer any question, we need to have some previous knowledge to draw upon in order to extract an answer. So we draw upon what we are most familiar with in order to reach our conclusions. And we are most familiar with ourselves, and those around us with whom we communicate.
All things took on a human face, and human characteristics. When a volcano erupted, humans would say "The mountain is angry!" When a human captured an antelope, they would say something like "The spirit of the antelope has given up its life so we can eat."
The tree spirits, the water spirits, air spirits, the sun, the moon, the animals, the plants, all in the past were ascribed with human characteristics, because it was simply that we could recognise something of ourselves in them, some similarity between the way humans are and the way "other things" operated.
It is precisely because we are most familiar with ourselves that when we do not have an answer for something we ascribe a human face to it. Many ancient cultures not only gave human faces to the plants, animals and geography around us, but also to immaterial things like emotions and death. This helped us to understand things on at least some level, rather than wallowing in darkness of ignorance.
These "human" faces helped also with teaching others about themselves, for instance the storytelling of ancient cultures around the campfire. People could use the human/animal/plant/geological hybrids to teach their morality to each other, and also offered answers to questions which were beyond the knowledge of the societies. Over time, and varying from culture to culture, these stories became formalised and were recognised as the basis of histories and very fabric of these societies.
What was once our way to explain the unknown became over time the explanation for the world's unpredictable nature, and therefore had power over humans and their destinies. For instance in a season of crop failure, because the ground was attributed with a human face, humans reasoned that the ground has human emotions too. What would make a human uncooperative would therefore also make the ground uncooperative. The reasoning may have gone something like this:
"Why is the ground spirit not helping us? Maybe the ground spirit was hungry? A human would be uncooperative when hungry, so why not feed it? We need to give it something of ours to appease it, and next time maybe the crops will be better! Let's kill one of our goats and feed it to the ground."
This is just an example of what may have happened in ancient cultures. What was once an attempt to understand what the ground was, it became a force with power over humans. Pass this idea on to the sun, the moon, the wind, the trees etcetera, and what was once an anthropomorphisation of what we didn't understand has become gods. We birthed gods from our lack of understanding, and in an attempt to appease them, we created ritual and worship. After all, these gods were still like us only more powerful, and who wouldn't like to be worshiped and fawned over?
As cultures and civilizations became more complex and advanced, these gods became the reason for just about everything humans had no power over; the material and corporeal (physical) events in life-like the growing of crops or the occasional storm; and the immaterial (emotional) things that effected them such as lust, jealousy and anger.
For instance, the ancient Greeks for example have a single human face to the sun, light and truth, as well as archery, music, healing and plague among other things, and called him Apollo. The Greeks held many festivals for Apollo over the period of each year, thanking him for such things as aiding Greek soldiers in battle, thanking him for bountiful crops (by offering up food and sacrificing animals), and other celebrations which would ask for a bountiful and fruitful year ahead. And Apollo was only one of dozens of gods and spirits that the Ancient Greeks believed in and worshiped. I imagine life in ancient Greece would be one big long party celebrating one deity or another.
The idea of many gods was eventually replaced by the idea that all the characteristics in the world that we didn't understand could be attributed to a single spirit, a single God. This God was all-powerful and held sway over every aspect of our lives. This God was much more organised than the previous ones he replaced. He had a rulebook by which all men must live their lives, or be punished for it. While he loved to be worshiped, and would offer rewards for a good servant, much as a merciful king may have, this God was also wrathful, and would come down upon those who went against his laws. The laws specifically forbade certain activities, citing them as sinful, and the punishment for disobeying these laws was, more often than not, death or some other grizzly fate.
In fact, this God, while being attributed for the creation of everything, has a lot of very human characteristics including love, kindness, and mercy, as well as jealousy, wrath and vengeance. And he is cited as creating mankind "in his image". Interesting.
So it would seem that humans started by attempting to understand the universe by giving it a human face and human traits, and now the face we once gave it is claimed to be given to us by it
. It is almost a complete about-face, like the friends we have created have turned against us, and now hold dominion over our lives. That is, if you believe in God.
It is in human nature to attribute human traits to things around us. We like to understand as much as we can about our surrounds, about our world, and about our universe. We see faces in power sockets, and we hear voices in the wind. We think our pets love us. But we dismiss these things as paredolia and tricks of the mind, or just imposing ourselves onto animals and inanimate objects. We no longer think our fields need sacrifices in order to appease them, but we still try to appease God. And our societies have evolved so far from the ignorant early humans we started as, we understand so much, yet we still attribute the unknown to a spirit. We invented God to help us, not the other way around.
The face of God is not his, but our own, reflected in the shining questions we have about ourselves and our universe. Once we recognise ourselves in the reflection, then what of God?