Why do most people believe in an ultimate reality, an intelligence behind the universe, that is called God? Children, of course, may grow up believing or not believing in God because of their parents’ influence, but eventually thinking adults decide for themselves to maintain or reject their childhood faith or, sometimes, to reject their family’s lack of faith and become believers.
Believing in God is an act of the will. People choose to believe and to suppress whatever doubts they have. In a previous post I gave the reasons some people do not believe in God. Here are the reasons why I think most people make the choice to believe.
1. People believe in God because they don’t like the alternative. They want to believe in truth and justice as absolutes. They feel repulsed by the concept of a universe without absolute values where only chance, necessity, and self-interest reign.
“If there is no god, then there will be no time when the blind will see and the deaf will hear and the lame will walk. If there is no God, there is no hope of a time when all will be made right.”
Jeff Jordan, “Not in Kansas Anymore,” God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. Thomas V. Morris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 134.
2. People believe in God because they see order in the universe. All science is predicated on the assumption that order exists, that the same experiment, properly conducted, will yield the same result every time. They think there must be some overarching intelligence behind a regular, predictable world that can be described by mathematical equations.
“It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out. . . . Perhaps future developments in science will lead to more direct evidence for other universes, but until then, the seemingly miraculous concurrence of numerical values that nature has assigned to her fundamental constants must remain the most compelling evidence of an element of cosmic design.”
Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983) 189.
3. People believe in God because they are convinced there is a universal moral sense implanted within human beings by divinity.
“The concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species (though its application may result in wildly different outcomes). It thus seems to be a phenomenon approaching that of a law, like the law of gravitation or of special relativity. . . . As best I can tell, this law appears to apply peculiarly to human beings. . . . It is the awareness of right and wrong, along with the development of language, awareness of self, and the ability to imagine the future, to which scientists generally refer when trying to enumerate the special qualities of Homo sapiens.”
“After twenty-eight years as a believer, the Moral Law still stands out for me as the strongest signpost to God. More than that, it points to a God who cares about human beings, and a God who is infinitely good and holy.”
Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006) 23, 218.
4. People believe in God because such belief gives meaning to their lives and to their experience.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.“
C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?" They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses (1945; London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962).
5. People believe in God because they have had some personal experience that has convinced them of the existence of a spiritual reality beyond the natural.
“The expression ‘mystical experience’ is often used by religious people, or those who practice meditation. These experiences, which are undoubtedly real enough for the person who experiences them, are said to be hard to convey in words. Mystics frequently speak of an overwhelming sense of being at one with the universe or with God, of glimpsing a holistic vision of reality, or of being in the presence of a powerful and loving influence.”
Paul Davies, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992) 226-227.
6. People believe in God because they feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing in God.
“Blaise Pascal computed the value of a religious life. . . . The value of eternal happiness must be infinite, said Pascal. If you grant this, he reasoned, it pays to be religious. For if eternal happiness is like the prize in a lottery, and even if the probability of your winning by leading a religious life is very small (like that of the ticket-holder in the lottery), your mathematical expectation (or the value of your ticket in this eternal lottery) is still infinite, for any fraction of infinity is infinite.”
Edna Kramer, The Mainstream of Mathematics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951) 171.
Someone has said, "I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find there is."
7. People believe in God because they generally like believers better than unbelievers, and they take this as evidence that believing in God is better for one’s personal character and mental health (not to mention society's) than not believing.
If you watch the documentary Religulous (2008), you will most likely be struck by how unattractive a person the filmmaker and interviewer, Bill Maher, is. Most believers in God would rather be ridiculed about their beliefs than become the snarky, arrogant, and amoral persona Bill Maher likes to inhabit.
No doubt there are many noble atheists, but, historically, those known for their sainthood have virtually all been believers in God.
“I’ve spent a number of years in India and Africa, where I found much righteous endeavor undertaken by Christians of all denominations; but I never, as it happens, came across a hospital or orphanage run by the Fabian Society or a Humanist leper colony.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, "Me and Myself” in Jesus Rediscovered (New York: Pyramid Publications, 1969) 157. Originally printed in The Observer, 15 December 1968.
Belief in God is known as theism. Theism does not require belief in any of the specific deities worshiped by the great world religions. A theist believes in an ultimate reality, a transcendent mind of the universe, but not necessarily in the God revealed in the Bible or in the Koran or in the Bhagavad Gita.
Theists generally settle on an idea of God they find attractive and convincing. A theist might be a deist like Voltaire who conceived of a being who set the universe in motion but who did not personally interact with that universe. A theist might be a pantheist who sees divinity suffused in nature. A theist might also be a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu. Whatever the case, these are the primary reasons why most people choose to believe in God.