The existence of God is a subject of debate in the philosophy of religion, popular culture, and philosophy. A wide variety of arguments for and against the existence of God can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. In philosophical terms, the notion of the existence of God involves the disciplines of epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge) and ontology (study of the nature of being, existence, or reality) and the theory of value (since concepts of perfection are connected to notions of God).
- Definition of God
- The problem of the supernatural
- Nature of relevant proofs and arguments
- Outside of Western thought
- Aquinas Five Ways
- New Age revival of old time religion
- Rational warrant
- Ontological argument
- Inductive arguments
- Other arguments
- Arguments from historical events or personages
- Arguments from testimony
- Hindu arguments
- Arguments against the existence of God
- Empirical arguments
- Deductive arguments
- Subjective arguments
- Positive atheism
- Negative atheism
- Strong agnosticism
- Weak agnosticism
- Agnostic theism
- Agnostic atheism
- Psychological aspects
The Western tradition of philosophical discussion of the existence of God began with Plato and Aristotle, who made arguments that would now be categorized as cosmological. Other arguments for the existence of God have been proposed by St. Anselm, who formulated the first ontological argument; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Thomas Aquinas, who presented their own versions of the cosmological argument (the kalam argument and the first way, respectively); René Descartes, who said that the existence of a benevolent God is logically necessary for the evidence of the senses to be meaningful; and Immanuel Kant, who argued that the existence of God can be deduced from the existence of good. Philosophers who have provided arguments against the existence of God include David Hume, Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. In modern culture, the question of God's existence has been discussed by scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, Lawrence M. Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and John Lennox, as well as philosophers including Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart and Sam Harris.
Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. On that basis the existence of god, for which evidence cannot be tested, is incompatible with science. The Catholic Church maintains that knowledge of the existence of God is the "natural light of human reason". Fideists acknowledge that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone. Atheism views arguments for the existence of God as insufficient, mistaken or weighing less in comparison to arguments against. Other religions, such as Buddhism, don't concern themselves with the existence of gods at all, while religions such as Jainism reject the possibility of a creator deity.
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
Definition of God
In classical theism, God is characterized as the metaphysically ultimate being (the first, timeless, absolutely simple, and sovereign being, who is devoid of any anthropomorphic qualities), in distinction to other conceptions such as theistic personalism, open theism, and process theism. Classical theists do not believe that God can be completely defined. They believe it would contradict the transcendent nature of God for mere humans to define him. Robert Barron explains by analogy that it seems impossible for a two-dimensional object to conceive of three-dimensional humans.
By contrast, much of Eastern religious thought (chiefly pantheism) posits God as a force contained in every imaginable phenomenon. For example, Baruch Spinoza and his followers use the term God in a particular philosophical sense to mean the essential substance/principles of nature.
In modern Western societies, the concepts of God typically entail a monotheistic, supreme, ultimate, and personal being, as found in the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. In monotheisms outside the Abrahamic traditions, the existence of God is discussed in similar terms.
In the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, reality is ultimately seen as a single, qualityless, changeless nirguna Brahman. Advaitin philosophy introduces the concept of saguna Brahman or Ishvara as a way of talking about Brahman to people. Ishvara, in turn, is ascribed such qualities as omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence.
Ignosticism or "igtheism" is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism and atheism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God. The view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless. The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by 'God'?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless.
Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, while others have considered it to be distinct. An ignostic maintains that he cannot even say whether he is a theist or an atheist until a sufficient definition of theism is put forth.
The term "ignosticism" was coined in the 1960s by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure of Humanistic Judaism. The term "igtheism" was coined by the secular humanist Paul Kurtz in his 1992 book The New Skepticism.
The problem of the supernatural
One problem posed by the question of the existence of God is that traditional beliefs usually ascribe to God various supernatural powers. Supernatural beings may be able to conceal and reveal themselves for their own purposes, as for example in the tale of Baucis and Philemon. In addition, according to concepts of God, God is not part of the natural order, but the ultimate creator of nature and of the scientific laws. Thus, in Aristotelian philosophy, God is viewed as part of the explanatory structure needed to support scientific conclusions, and any powers God possesses are, strictly speaking, of the natural order—that is, derived from God's place as originator of nature. (See also Monadology)
In Karl Popper's philosophy of science, belief in a supernatural God is outside the natural domain of scientific investigation because all scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable in the natural world. The non-overlapping magisteria view proposed by Stephen Jay Gould also holds that the existence (or otherwise) of God is irrelevant to and beyond the domain of science.
Logical positivists, such as Rudolf Carnap and A. J. Ayer viewed any talk of gods as literal nonsense. For the logical positivists and adherents of similar schools of thought, statements about religious or other transcendent experiences can not have a truth value, and are deemed to be without meaning, because such statements do not have any clear verification criteria. As the Christian biologist Scott C. Todd put it "Even if all the data pointed to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic." This argument limits the domain of science to the empirically observable and limits the domain of God to the unprovable.
Nature of relevant proofs and arguments
John Polkinghorne suggests that the nearest analogy to the existence of God in physics is the ideas of quantum mechanics which are seemingly paradoxical but make sense of a great deal of disparate data.
Alvin Plantinga compares the question of the existence of God to the question of the existence of other minds, claiming both are notoriously impossible to "prove" against a determined skeptic.
One approach, suggested by writers such as Stephen D. Unwin, is to treat (particular versions of) theism and naturalism as though they were two hypotheses in the Bayesian sense, to list certain data (or alleged data), about the world, and to suggest that the likelihoods of these data are significantly higher under one hypothesis than the other. Most of the arguments for, or against, the existence of God can be seen as pointing to particular aspects of the universe in this way. In almost all cases it is not seriously suggested by proponents of the arguments that they are irrefutable, merely that they make one worldview seem significantly more likely than the other. However, since an assessment of the weight of evidence depends on the prior probability that is assigned to each worldview, arguments that a theist finds convincing may seem thin to an atheist and vice versa.
Philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, take a view that is considered anti-realist and oppose philosophical arguments related to God's existence. For instance, Charles Taylor contends that the real is whatever will not go away. If we cannot reduce talk about God to anything else, or replace it, or prove it false, then perhaps God is as real as anything else.
In George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge of 1710, he argued that a "naked thought" cannot exist, and that a perception is a thought; therefore only minds can be proven to exist, since all else is merely an idea conveyed by a perception. From this Berkeley argued that the universe is based upon observation and is non-objective. However, he noted that the universe includes "ideas" not perceptible to humankind, and that there must, therefore, exist an omniscient superobserver, which perceives such things. Berkeley considered this proof of the existence of the Christian god.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity and elsewhere, raised the argument from desire. He posed that all natural desires have a natural object. One thirsts, and there exists water to quench this thirst; One hungers, and there exists food to satisfy this hunger. He then argued that the human desire for perfect justice, perfect peace, perfect happiness, and other intangibles strongly implies the existence of such things, though they seem unobtainable on earth. He further posed that the unquenchable desires of this life strongly imply that we are intended for a different life, necessarily governed by a God who can provide the desired intangibles.
Outside of Western thought
Existence in absolute truth is central to Vedanta epistemology. Traditional sense perception based approaches were put into question as possibly misleading due to preconceived or superimposed ideas. But though all object-cognition can be doubted, the existence of the doubter remains a fact even in nastika traditions of mayavada schools following Adi Shankara. The five eternal principles to be discussed under ontology, beginning with God or Isvara, the Ultimate Reality cannot be established by the means of logic alone, and often require superior proof. In Vaisnavism Vishnu, or his intimate ontological form of Krishna, is equated to personal absolute God of the Western traditions. Aspects of Krishna as svayam bhagavan in original Absolute Truth, sat chit ananda, are understood originating from three essential attributes of Krishna's form, i.e., "eternal existence" or sat, related to the brahman aspect; "knowledge" or chit, to the paramatman; and "bliss" or ananda in Sanskrit, to bhagavan.
Aquinas' Five Ways
In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas developed his five arguments for God's existence. These arguments are grounded in an Aristotelian ontology and make use of the infinite regression argument. Aquinas did not intend to fully prove the existence of God as he is orthodoxly conceived (with all of his traditional attributes), but proposed his Five Ways as a first stage, which he built upon later in his work. Aquinas' Five Ways argued from the unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, argument from degree, and the teleological argument.
New Age revival of old-time religion
According to physicist Bernard d'Espagnat, there is, behind the veil of knowable reality, an Independent Reality, a Being, or even “a great, hypercosmic God”--alluding to the hypercosmic sun-god of Mithraism. The former is a holistic, non-material realm that lies outside of space and time, but upon which one can impose the categories of space and time and localisation. “Independent Reality plays, in a way, the role of God – or ‘Substance’ – of Spinoza,” d’Espagnat writes. Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God, which he equated with nature itself, but he always held this “God” to be entirely knowable. D’Espagnat’s veiled God, on the other hand, is partially – but still fundamentally – unknowable.
Philosopher Stephen Toulmin is notable for his work in the history of ideas that features the (rational) warrant: a statement that connects the premises to a conclusion.
Joseph Hinman applied Toulmin's approach in his argument for the existence of God, particularly in his book The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief. Instead of attempting to prove the existence of God, Hinman argues you can "demonstrate the rationally-warranted nature of belief".
Hinman uses a wide range of studies, including ones by Robert Wuthnow, Andrew Greeley, Mathes and Kathleen Nobel to establish that mystical experiences are life-transformative in a way that is significant, positive and lasting. He draws on additional work to add several additional major points to his argument. First, the people who have these experiences not only do not exhibit traditional signs of mental illness but, often, are in better mental and physical health than the general population due to the experience. Second, the experiences work. In other words, they provide a framework for navigating life that is useful and effective. All of the evidence of the positive effects of the experience upon people's lives he, adapting a term from Derrida, terms "the trace of God": the footprints left behind that point to the impact.
Finally, he discusses how both religious experience and belief in God is, and has always been, normative among humans: people do not need to prove the existence of God. If there is no need to prove, Hinman argues, and the Trace of God (for instance, the impact of mystical experiences on them), belief in God is rationally warranted.
The ontological argument has been formulated by philosophers including St. Anselm and René Descartes. The argument proposes that God's existence is self-evident. The logic, depending on the formulation, reads roughly as follows:
Whatever is contained in a clear and distinct idea of a thing must be predicated of that thing; but a clear and distinct idea of an absolutely perfect Being contains the idea of actual existence; therefore since we have the idea of an absolutely perfect Being such a Being must really exist.
Thomas Aquinas criticized the argument for proposing a definition of God which, if God is transcendent, should be impossible for humans. Immanuel Kant criticized the proof from a logical standpoint: he stated that the term "God" really signifies two different terms: both idea of God, and God. Kant concluded that the proof is equivocation, based on the ambiguity of the word God. Kant also challenged the argument's assumption that existence is a predicate (of perfection) because it does not add anything to the essence of a being. If existence is not a predicate, then it is not necessarily true that the greatest possible being exists. A common rebuttal to Kant's critique is that, although "existence" does add something to both the concept and the reality of God, the concept would be vastly different if its referent is an unreal Being. Another response to Kant is attributed to Alvin Plantinga who explains that even if one were to grant Kant that "existence" is not a real predicate, "Necessary Existence", which is the correct formulation of an understanding of God, is a real predicate, thus according to Plantinga Kant's argument is refuted.
Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.
Arguments from historical events or personages
Arguments from testimony
Arguments from testimony rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, possibly embodying the propositions of a specific revealed religion. Swinburne argues that it is a principle of rationality that one should accept testimony unless there are strong reasons for not doing so.
Arguments grounded in personal experiences
Most schools of Hindu philosophy accept the existence of a creator god (Brahma), while some do not. The school of Vedanta argues that one of the proofs of the existence of God is the law of karma. In a commentary to Brahma Sutras (III, 2, 38, and 41), a Vedantic text, Adi Sankara, an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta, argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).
A human's karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the axe moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious supreme Being who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits. Thus, God affects the person's environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences. Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.
The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma; it is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some are poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual's actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God. This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.
Arguments against the existence of God
Each of the arguments below aims to show that a particular set of gods does not exist—by demonstrating them to be inherently meaningless, contradictory, or at odds with known scientific or historical facts—or that there is insufficient proof to say that they do exist.
Empirical arguments depend on knowledge acquired by means of observation or experimentation to prove their conclusions.
Deductive arguments attempt to prove their conclusions by deductive reasoning from true premises.
Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
Similar to the subjective arguments for the existence of God, subjective arguments against the supernatural mainly rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, or the propositions of a revealed religion in general.
Atheistic Hindu doctrines cite various arguments for rejecting a creator God or Ishvara. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of the Samkhya school states that there is no philosophical place for a creator God in this system. It is also argued in this text that the existence of Ishvara (God) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. For instance, it argues that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever-changing world. It says God is a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya endeavor to prove that the idea of God is inconceivable and self-contradictory, and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject. The Sankhya- tattva-kaumudi, commenting on Karika 57, argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world, and if God's motive is kindness, Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. Samkhya postulates that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not an imperfect world like the real world.
Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy, decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God is insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a god to validate the rituals. Mimamsa argues that the gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. In that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of gods.
Conclusions on the existence of God can be divided along numerous axes, producing a variety of orthogonal classifications. Theism and atheism are positions of belief (or lack of it), while gnosticism and agnosticism are positions of knowledge (or the lack of it). Ignosticism concerns belief regarding God's conceptual coherence. Apatheism concerns belief regarding the practical importance of whether God exists.
The theistic conclusion is that there is sufficient reason to believe that God or gods exists, or that arguments do not matter as much as the "personal witness of the Holy Spirit", as argued by preeminent apologist William Lane Craig. The Catholic Church, following the teachings of Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and the First Vatican Council, affirms that God's existence "can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason". In Christian faith, theologians and philosophers make a distinction between: (a) preambles of faith and (b) articles of faith. The preambles include alleged truths contained in revelation which are nevertheless demonstrable by reason, e.g., the immortality of the soul, the existence of God. The articles of faith, on the other hand, contain truths that cannot be proven or reached by reason alone and presuppose the truths of the preambles, e.g., the Holy Trinity, is not demonstrable and presupposes the existence of God.
The argument that the existence of God can be known to all, even prior to exposure to any divine revelation, predates Christianity. St. Paul made this argument when he said that pagans were without excuse because "since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made". In this Paul alludes to the proofs for a creator, later enunciated by St. Thomas and others, but that had also been explored by the Greek philosophers.
Another apologetical school of thought, including Dutch and American Reformed thinkers (such as Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd), emerged in the late 1920s. This school was instituted by Cornelius Van Til, and came to be popularly called Presuppositional apologetics (though Van Til himself felt "transcendental" would be a more accurate title). The main distinction between this approach and the more classical evidentialist approach is that the presuppositionalist denies any common ground between the believer and the non-believer, except that which the non-believer denies, namely, the assumption of the truth of the theistic worldview. In other words, presuppositionalists do not believe that the existence of God can be proven by appeal to raw, uninterpreted, or "brute" facts, which have the same (theoretical) meaning to people with fundamentally different worldviews, because they deny that such a condition is even possible. They claim that the only possible proof for the existence of God is that the very same belief is the necessary condition to the intelligibility of all other human experience and action. They attempt to prove the existence of God by means of appeal to the transcendental necessity of the belief—indirectly (by appeal to the unavowed presuppositions of the non-believer's worldview) rather than directly (by appeal to some form of common factuality). In practice this school utilizes what have come to be known as transcendental arguments. In these arguments they claim to demonstrate that all human experience and action (even the condition of unbelief, itself) is a proof for the existence of God, because God's existence is the necessary condition of their intelligibility.
Alvin Plantinga presents an argument for the existence of God using modal logic. Others have said that the logical and philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God miss the point. The word God has a meaning in human culture and history that does not correspond to the beings whose existence is supported by such arguments, assuming they are valid. The real question is not whether a "most perfect being" or an "uncaused first cause" exist. The real question is whether Jehovah, Zeus, Ra, Krishna, or any gods of any religion exist, and if so, which gods? On the other hand, many theists equate all monotheistic or henotheistic "most perfect Beings", no matter what name is assigned to them/him, as the one monotheistic God (one example would be understanding the Muslim Allah, Christian Yhwh, and Chinese Shangdi as different names for the same Being). Most of these arguments do not resolve the issue of which of these figures is more likely to exist. These arguments fail to make the distinction between immanent gods and a Transcendent God.
Some Christians note that the Christian faith teaches "salvation is by faith", and that faith is reliance upon the faithfulness of God. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in its existence would become superfluous. Søren Kierkegaard argued that objective knowledge, such as 1+1=2, is unimportant to existence. If God could rationally be proven, his existence would be unimportant to humans. It is because God cannot rationally be proven that his existence is important to us. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of his mentor Gordon Clark, which holds that all worldviews are based on certain unprovable first premises (or, axioms), and therefore are ultimately unprovable. The Christian theist therefore must simply choose to start with Christianity rather than anything else, by a "leap of faith". This position is also sometimes called presuppositional apologetics, but should not be confused with the Van Tillian variety.
The atheistic conclusion is that the arguments and evidence both indicate there is insufficient reason to believe that any gods exist, and that personal subjective religious experiences say something about the human experience rather than the nature of reality itself; therefore, one has no reason to believe that a god exists.
Positive atheism (also called "strong atheism" and "hard atheism") is a form of atheism that asserts that no deities exist. The strong atheist explicitly asserts the non-existence of gods. Some strong atheists further assert that the existence of gods is logically impossible, stating that the combination of attributes which God may be asserted to have (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, transcendence, omnibenevolence) are logically contradictory, incomprehensible, or absurd, and therefore the existence of such a god is a priori false. Metaphysical naturalism is a common worldview associated with strong atheism.
Negative atheism (also called "weak atheism" and "soft atheism") is any type of atheism other than positive, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none.
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism as a broad umbrella term does not define one's belief or disbelief in gods; agnostics may still identify themselves as theists or atheists.
Strong agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for humans to know whether or not any deities exist.
Weak agnosticism is the belief that the existence or nonexistence of deities is unknown but not necessarily unknowable.
Agnostic theism is the philosophical view that encompasses both theism and agnosticism. For theism, an agnostic theist believes that the proposition at least one deity exists is true, but, per agnosticism, believes that the existence of gods is unknown or inherently unknowable. The agnostic theist may also or alternatively be agnostic regarding the properties of the god(s) they believe in.
Agnostic atheism is the view of those who do not claim to know the existence of any deity but do not believe in any.
The theologian Robert Flint explains:
If a man have failed to find any good reason for believing that there is a God, it is perfectly natural and rational that he should not believe that there is a God; and if so, he is an atheist, although he assume no superhuman knowledge, but merely the ordinary human power of judging of evidence. If he go farther, and, after an investigation into the nature and reach of human knowledge, ending in the conclusion that the existence of God is incapable of proof, cease to believe in it on the ground that he cannot know it to be true, he is an agnostic and also an atheist, an agnostic-atheist—an atheist because an agnostic."
An apatheist is someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist lives as if there are no gods and explains natural phenomena without reference to any deities. The existence of gods is not rejected, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.
The ignostic (or igtheist) usually concludes that the question of God's existence or nonexistence is usually not worth discussing because concepts like "God" are usually not sufficiently clearly defined.
Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, while others have considered it to be distinct.
Several authors have offered psychological or sociological explanations for belief in the existence of God.
Psychologists observe that the majority of humans often ask existential questions such as "why we are here" and whether life has purpose. Some psychologists have posited that religious beliefs may recruit cognitive mechanisms in order to satisfy these questions. William James emphasized the inner religious struggle between melancholy and happiness, and pointed to trance as a cognitive mechanism. Sigmund Freud stressed fear and pain, the need for a powerful parental figure, the obsessional nature of ritual, and the hypnotic state a community can induce as contributing factors to the psychology of religion.
Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained (2002), based in part on his anthropological field work, treats belief in God as the result of the brain's tendency towards agency detection. Boyer suggests that, because of evolutionary pressures, humans err on the side of attributing agency where there isn't any. In Boyer's view, belief in supernatural entities spreads and becomes culturally fixed because of their memorability. The concept of "minimally counterintuitive" beings that differ from the ordinary in a small number of ways (such as being invisible, able to fly, or having access to strategic and otherwise secret information) leave a lasting impression that spreads through word-of-mouth.
Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (2002) makes a similar argument and adds examination of the socially coordinating aspects of shared belief. In Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion, Todd Tremlin follows Boyer in arguing that universal human cognitive process naturally produces the concept of the supernatural. Tremlin contends that an agency detection device (ADD) and a theory of mind module (ToMM) lead humans to suspect an agent behind every event. Natural events for which there is no obvious agent may be attributed to God (c.f. Act of God).