A question often asked is “can you prove the existence of non-existence of a deity or deities” and this question is often asked in the context of religion or belief.
While it’s hard to prove the non-existence of anything when we have knowledge of an infinite universe, the existence of religion can clearly be separated and considered.
Religion can be proven to be a useful mechanism for the creation of society, even in the absence of any deity.
Consider this scenario (which is in line with facts that can be seen from the human historical record).
Many thousands of years ago men were purely hunters and gathers, finding food in the same way as most other animal species on Earth. Over time in some places it became viable for Man to stay in one place and grow plants.
Over hundreds or even thousands of generations some of these Men worked out good processes and timing to maximize their food production. These processes (worked out through trial and error) worked out the right time to plant seeds, so that their leaves would just appear when the frost of the spring was receding and the sun’s energy was able to be consumed by photosynthesis. And they worked out the most effective time to harvest the crops before the seasons changed, allowing the plants to have absorbed as much energy as possible without decaying as would have happened if they would have been left in the ground or on the tree too long.
Even small improvements to this timing would have had a positive effect on the population, making them healthier than others around them.
Learning how to predict this timing was critical. As we know today the Earth rotates around the sun with a pretty precise period. And the earth wobbles on in axis over a cycle of several decades. And the Earth’s rotation around the Sun is not circular but elliptical meaning that the amount of energy the Earth receives in terms of sunlight varies on a rather complex but predicable cycle.
Early Man didn’t know the reasons why, but through careful observation he could predict much of the required data.
Making these predications would have taken many people working together a lot of time and effort, and required careful recording of the information in such a way that it could be considered over hundreds of years to work out the complete cycle.
These people performing this work would not have had the time to perform this function and feed themselves at the same time. So they needed to have a mechanism for barter, so they could sell the knowledge for food.
Also they would have needed to encode the information is such a way so that others could not have just taken if from them by force. And of course they would need to have a way of protecting themselves from others just taking this valuable information through torture.
So you can easily imagine the social, political and security requirements needed to have a society based on knowledge to function. And we can see these societies and how they formed through the archeological record.
The people collecting the critical information would be seen as elite, with a mystical ability to tell the future.
These people were considered special, and spend their lives learning and teaching, and they became powerful and wealthy.
Telling stories as a way of sharing information is core to all teaching, and it can be seen in the historical archeological records that that’s exactly what happened.
When you look at the observable records of stone circle development in Europe, the pyramid based cultures of north Africa and the tribal cultures of south America, it can be seen how critical information about the position of the earth and sun over time was collected from astronomical observations, and in each of these cases strong social infrastructures developed to secure and foster the core knowledge gathering and dissemination processes.
The human brain has a need to apply information to a situation to allow it to be stored. We learn by comparing what we observe to what we already know, this is how we learn. This is how from our very first moment we learn. We compare warm and dark to cold and light, quite to noise.
Information gets communicated through stories. If you want people to grow better crops you can tell them everything you know and then they will grow better crops, but they are less likely to come back to you next year and pay you for the information again. So you tell them a story about how the Sun god told you the information about what day to plant the seed in exchange for three chickens and your cute daughter. It’s not the priest who wants the chickens of course it’s the sun, and if you kill the priest the sun won’t tell you what you need to know.
In fact it would be best of all if you bow to the sun god when giving him your chickens and daughters and hope that that’s all that he wants, and in exchange he will grant you a good crop and the rest of your family won’t starve.
Of course farming is not the only attribute of society that can be improved by careful observation, record keeping and analysis. Everything from human health, engineering, architecture, military technology, social strategy and more benefit from having the time to think, consider, plan and control the distribution of effort. Society stems from a group of people who are able to stand back, look at facts and analyze them.
Religions at their very basis use the scientific method, but there is a need to keep control of a population and it’s easy to make up a bunch of mystical stories to push people down a specific path.
Knowledge is power. Every group throughout time has used mysticism to protect the keepers of knowledge, and the most successful of these became religions. And the most powerful religions taught conversion, and absolute adherence to their words.
The linkage between deities and religion is only in the words of the religion. There exists no observable proof outside of the dominance of the words onto the minds of the religions followers.
This doesn’t mean there is no deity, but it does mean that the observable impact of any deity is trending in that direction, in the same way that any number divided by infinity is tending towards zero.