I have good news.
If you have a belief or theory about reality, there is no number of people, no matter how strong or influential, who can have an effect on whether you are right or wrong. The powers that be can outlaw your belief system, those with opposing beliefs can evangelize against you, they can bribe people to believe otherwise, they can mandate that government schools are forbidden to say anything about your belief system while brainwashing future children to believe the exact opposite, and it won’t matter. The number of people who believe something has absolutely no effect on reality.
It’s a concept that seems to have been particularly lost on Americans, who have been fed the religion of democracy. When faced with, as Al Gore calls it, the inconvenient truth of climate change, we start trumpeting out surveys and polls which cite that a majority of people don’t believe in global warming, and that’s all they need to know – there’s nothing anyone can say to convince them otherwise, now that over 50% of them have decided it doesn’t exist. But, in fact, exactly the opposite is true—the more people don’t believe in global warming, or don’t believe it’s caused by man, the less we will do to temper it, and the more effect we will have.
The same argument is made in defense of a higher power. They cite that 99% of all mankind believes in a higher power. How could it be possible that a higher power doesn’t exist, if so many people believe one exists?
There are two serious flaws to this argument. The first is that the majority of those 99% that particular religious folk (we’ll refer to the Christians here) are including in their ranks the same people whom they often vilify. The argument at the time is that, for all their shortcomings, at least those Muslims, Buddhists, spiritualists, Satanists, pagans, Tim Tebow fans recognize that the world didn’t just happen by random chance. As Walter said in the film classic The Big Lebowski, “say what you want about the Nazis, dude, at least it’s an ethos.” In political circles, there is no societal group that people distrust more than atheists, although among Republicans it’s a statistical tie with Muslims. But where does that fellowship with other believers come in during day to day life?
Christians credit faith for the beauty of church music. So is that the same higher power that Buddhists speak of when they say that all music is a distraction from God? When Muslims say that women are so close to God that if you see them veering into temptation, the merciful thing to do is kill them, can the possibly be speaking of the same higher power as Catholics, who say that women are born farther from God because of the original sin committed by Eve? Did that higher power really tell the Jews that they were the only true descendants, and then tell the Muslims that Allah has specifically cursed the Jews for their heresy? What did Jesus think about the higher power worshipped by the pagans, considering that he spends half his days as a preacher promising that they will all be damned for their beliefs? These people may all believe in a higher power, but it certainly don’t believe in the same one.
The second flaw in ad populum belief is much simpler: belief has no effect on reality. The most popular atheist response to the ad populum argument is this: if, suddenly, fifty percent of humanity suddenly disavowed their belief in God, would his spontaneously disappear? The less rhetorically gifted of Christians would say “of course not,” not realizing (or caring) that they just disproved their own argument. But the point of this blog is not to go after the easy targets, it’s to find the truth, so you have to consider the best argument Christians could provide, and the best argument I’ve heard is this: there can never be a time that people do not believe in God, because the Holy Ghost endows us with belief. In other words, they’re not saying that God exists because people believe in him; they’re saying that people believe in him because he exists. And while we may not see him manifest in literal ways (then we would not be rewarded for our faith, as it was not tested), he created us knowing his existence.
Well, that’s a tight argument. In logic, it’s what’s referred to as a weak theory, in that it’s not falsifiable. You just have to accept it on the basis that it sounds right. After all, if you say that our very beliefs are influenced by God, then how can we possibly judge our beliefs in God? If you accept the premise, then you have to accept that there very well may be a God. So you have to go after the premise. To repeat, the premise is as follows: simply by virtue of being human, we are inclined to believe in a God. If so, why do we need churches? Why must there be a Hell? Why are we inclined to sin? Don’t say it’s the devil’s influence, because there is no infernal ghost. There’s no reason to believe that anyone blessed by the holy ghost would ever turn to sin. Yet Christians acknowledge that all humans sin.
Can it possibly be a coincidence that of those vast quantities of believers, virtually every single one who believes in a higher power was told to believe so once a week for their entire childhood, and in almost every case, as adults they believe in the exact same higher power that they were told to as children. And then you have to account for the fact that an overwhelming number of ardent atheists were raised to believe in God and don’t. So really, it would seem that despite the fact that close to 100% of humanity is forcibly indoctrinated to believe in a higher power, there are tens of millions of them who don’t anyway. It would seem that, in fact, humans are born not believing in a God, and are only later exposed to the concept, along with some very compelling incentives to at least claim a belief in higher power, whether they believe in one or not, if only on the off chance that there is.
But for all of this debate over the Deus ad Populum argument, the fact is that it doesn’t matter. Not at all. Whether there is or isn’t a God is absolutely and completely unaltered by what people believe. All we can really prove is that if we do believe he exists, it’s not because he told us to. We told ourselves. And if all else fails, you Christians can rest assured that no matter how many people agree with me, your God is safe. Our faith that there is no God has no impact on whether he’s actually there.