Is the Concept of “God” a Placebo?

Mehran Banaei

Often, when the notion of the Creator is brought into scientific discussions, particularly in the context of teleology, many scientists and some philosophers become immediately apprehensive because of the past and present records of many dogmatic religious institutions. A plausible explanation that God must have designed an incredible biological phenomenon is tossed out or not even considered. The trend is, there is no room for “God” in the 21st century science. Atheism is the only possible acceptable paradigm in the post-Darwin scientific community.

In this disposition, what are often overlooked, is first the problematic defence of atheism with all its serious scientific flaws and fallacies, as well as the problematic refutation of theism. The fallacious approach to this issue arises from two faulty ill-perceived notions of: “God” and the nature of “Belief”. These have both led to primitively worthless judgements. Let us analyze both notions.


The profound common mistake in any atheistic, theological, philosophical and scientific discussions involving the notion of “God” is to ignore that there are various concepts of “God”,[1]  just as there are various concepts of ethics and rights. What kind of god is believed or disbelieved? There is the henotheistic concept, the polytheistic concept, the dualistic concept, the monotheistic concept, the Trinitarian concept, the panpsychism concept, the pantheistic concept, the kathenotheistic concept, the anthropomorphic human-like concept, the demi-god concept, the God-incarnate concept, the fatherly-figure concept, the goddess concept, the family god concept, warring god concept, the totemic god concept, the god of the new age movement and so on interminably. It is often pointed out by atheists that the lack of belief in each above-mentioned notion of gods would qualify the unbeliever as an atheist. Therefore, the theists themselves are at odds with each other, having historically fought many wars against one another and committed so many atrocities in the name of their gods.

Furthermore, atheists always assume that any theism must be of a version of an anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian cosmology. Or a pantheistic Hindu like explanation of how the cosmos was created. They fail to recognize that proving the irrationality of a particular concept about “God” and how this “God” created the universe is not at all the same thing as refuting the existence of a rational concept of “God”. For instance, such as a Singular Intelligence as the First Cause, the Uncaused Cause, the Immovable Mover, the Necessary Being, the Designer, the Creator of matter and energy, the Originator of time and space dimensions, the Sustainer and Cherisher of the universe who is not subject to gender, plurality, culture, personification, and time and space continuum. There are many atheists who would still refute this rational definition of “God”. Their primary attack is not to debunk this rational concept of God, but is totally based on exposing the hypocrisies and dogma of many religious institutions that claim to adhere to this notion of God, and exposing their dismal track records. To refute God as the First Cause, they argue that organized religion is no different than organized crime and religious leaders are conniving, no different than Mafia bosses. Religions of all sorts in general have no credibility and must be dismissed. Thus, throwing out the baby with the bath water, rejecting the most essential along with the inessential. They conclude because of, for instance, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, “the suicide bombing community”, or Jewish settlers who kill the rightful owners of a land to steal their land, now this universe does not have a Creator. After all, each radical group claims that God is with them and crimes committed, are committed in the divine name of their almighty God.

The irony of their argument is that they always claim to be using the rational methodology of scientific inquiry to reach their conclusion while they are not. Whilst there are many religions that continue to cash in the gullibility of the masses, this act of thievery does not have anything to do with the teachings of their founders. This approach is a general rule for atheists to discourage people to believe in God.

Radicalism is not the exclusive property of religious ideologies; radicals and extremists are to be found everywhere. There are radical feminists, radical environmentalists, radical libertarians, radical social democrats and radical secularist humanists. There have been so many horrible crimes committed in the name of democracy by the democracy and human rights loving world leaders. How is the crime committed in the name of God any worse than the crime committed in the name of liberation and freedom? How could hypocrisy and religious warfare cast doubts on existence of the Big Bang Originator?


Another barrier involved in belief in God as the Originator is the erroneous nature of “belief” itself. There is an old atheistic adage, purporting that God did not create man, but rather man created God. This idea has been around for more than a couple of centuries and was supported by many famous materialist philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists. Among them were Hume, Freud, Marx, Feuerbach, Nietzsche and the current modern day atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Peter Atkins and Sam Harris. Subsequently, many have been influenced into thinking that this idea is true, because it was pointed out by the above-mentioned array of clangourous philosophisers and academics. This assertion holds that the concept of God, as a powerful Deity, being responsible for the creation of this vast universe, is merely wishful thinking. It is utterly a product of the human imagination. Man, a helpless mortal creature who is terrified by the incomprehensible forces of nature and hardships of life seeks emotional comfort, consolation and protection. Therefore, he invents God. God is man’s oldest and the most urgent need for a strong supernatural and compassionate being, residing in the wonderful imaginary world called heaven, who responds to the outcries of his helpless troubled creatures in misery and misfortune. Thus, this imaginary concept of God is merely the hope of the hopeless, a help for the helpless. In a nutshell, God is invented to be used as a means to a psychological end. Thereby, the rational conclusion in the Uncaused Cause of the universe is painted as cultish diatribe of the hopeless.

However, there are several serious flaws in this myopic outlook that are puzzling, not the least of which is how it could have been in vogue for all these years and still be used. The fallacy arises from the erroneous notion of “belief”, which in turn has led to primitively counterproductive conclusions. The atheists subtly project their own dis“belief” in God a product of logic, but “belief” in God a product of psychology as if it cannot be the other way around.

All of the above theoreticians basically argue that the concept of God as such is a human fabrication, a form of placebo. A placebo is an unmedicated preparation, an inactive substance that has absolutely no physiological effect, but may effect the relief of pain in someone who is set-up to believe that he is actually being easily treated. Its psychological effect, however, solely depends on the person’s expectations. The expectation is the causal factor and plays a decisive role in the treatment.

For placebo to be effective, the patient is made to think that he is taking the wonder drug. However, a man who is sexually dysfunctional cannot benefit if he already knows that the supposed medication given to him is not Viagra, but only TicTac. Consequently, this would obviously entail that no patient can prescribe himself a placebo. If there is no proper set-up involved, no amount of will to believe can improve his condition.

placeboSimilarly, a prospective and thoughtful individual, as well as a gullible fool, even in the most frightening and unfortunate circumstance, cannot take up a fraudulent belief and false hopes, based on a self-invented notion of God and paradise, when he knows better that the whole idea is illusory and mendaciously unfounded, simply due to its inherent dysfunctional nature. Illusions, myths, false hopes and manufactured reality will remain psychologically deceptive, so long as one mistakes them for reality. Once the truth is revealed, though, the placebo effect is no longer operative, by then taking sugar pill defeats the purpose.

Consequently, a man in a total state of darkness, who denies reality is either a fool, crazy, confused or is knowingly following his selfish desires and vested interests. One cannot manufacture reality and then confidently believe it, just as one cannot knowingly give oneself a placebo pill and expect it to work. One could only accept it, but cannot truly believe it, because it is utterly impossible to believe a manufactured reality once it is realized that it is manufactured. No one has ever believed in his own self-manufactured lies, and then acted accordingly. Therefore, belief per se, can never produce conviction. No amount of staunch belief can produce facts. Belief and conviction are two distinct yet interconnected components. The former is a concomitant result of the latter. That is because, real belief — the result of conviction — can only arise out of understanding; understanding requires justification, justification requires proof, and proof demands evidence; evidence means digging something from reality. Belief without evidence is nothing but self-hypnosis. It is submission to blindness. The security of conviction is that which arises from certainty and verification, which in turn can only be realized, if and only if, one has used reason and examined the evidence yielding conclusions free from all types of inconsistencies. Only then, one can acquire tranquillity and peace of mind. Peace of mind is a product of this process. It comes only after there are no internal and external contradictions. It comes only when paradoxes and ambiguities are eliminated.

placebo-effect-one-a-day-1024x1019It may be argued that a few charlatans who wanted to control the naive uneducated masses for their own vested interests invented and propagated the concept of God. Thus, they prescribed the laymen with placebo of God. That may be very well true. Nevertheless, once the patient finds out that his given medication was only a sugar pill and the man who prescribed it was no doctor, but a crook, then the placebo effect would disappear. Furthermore, atheists seem to assume that only theism produces charlatans—as if atheism does not. Likewise, atheists should be reminded that atheism also provides a manmade consolation, a false comfort zone for the atheists that one can freely do as one likes, and at end not be accountable for ones own values, behaviour and choices made in life.


However, when we deal with the concept of God as unique, outside space-time, indeed the very Originator of space-time, such a placebo argument for every ideology collapses, because according to this non-anthropomorphic concept of God, this God may or may not answer man’s prayer, all depending on His infinite wisdom as to what is best for the individual. To be discouraged and loss faith, it is enough to ask this God once or twice for some favours and protection which the turnouts are not propitious. For this primitive man, the gap between hope and optimism verses fear and despair is only a tin line.

The Big Bang Originator concept of God is not like an action hero i.e. “Superman” or the Genie in the bottle, who answers to every demand that man makes. Therefore, the confirmatory belief in a cosmic Originator who is not subject to push-button demands, cannot be a placeboic belief, “an opiate for the masses”, just as a prescribed placebo of the type in which an acknowledgement is made at the outset to the patient, that it may or may not cure him, has no effect and is no longer a placebo.

Anthropologists assert that in almost all notions of God, which exist in different cultures, God does never unconditionally sign blank cheques to his creatures. That is to say, God is all-powerful and compassionate, yet he also has “temper” when his “expectations” are not met. Just as there is a notion of divine intervention and heaven, there is also the notion of divine chastisement and hell, commonly described as eternal punishment in fire. Let’s assume that paradise could be a manmade wishful thinking, what about hell? Where did hellfire come from? Is the fire from an erupted volcano that the primitive man was running away from more fearful than the eternal hellfire? Therefore, how comforting is it to have the feeling of protection coming from this entity, yet not considering his wrath and anger which is far worse than erupting volcano. The end of time is viewed in many religions to be apocalyptic. Christopher Hitchens accuses God to be a celestial dictator, because of apocalyptic end, torture chambers in the abyss of the hellfire and the fact that God is said to be persecuting man for thought crime. But this God, if created out of human imagination cannot be both placeboic and dictatorial. He cannot be both, as the two concepts are mutually exclusive, yet He is often described by atheists as being both. If one is taken the placebo pill with the knowledge that far from being cured, the pill could actually make one more sick or kill him/her, one would never obtain any psychological benefits from this false medication. What kind of helpless man would manufacture such a notion of God, which is so counterproductive? In the Freudian language man may urge for an Oedipus complex, but the desire results in him having unwanted castration anxiety.

Furthermore, if we are dealing with a concept of a benevolent God, within a common ideology, where He may even respond favourably to the prayer of the disloyals and the unbelievers, then benefits are not exclusive to the members of the believing club. So, why should I then believe and follow a “rigid decree”, when I too, equally have a chance of getting what I want if I am still disloyal?

For those who imbibe in the opiate of atheism, until the proper concept of belief is seen as being based purely on rationality and evidences, it will not be understood that the non-anthropomorphic Big Bang Creator cannot logically be a placebo.

[1] Jordan, Michael (1992), The Encyclopedia of Gods, Jordan provides approximately 2500 different names and concepts of ‘divine deity’ collected from different cultures and era.



Filed under Philosophy of Science and Religion

2 responses to “Is the Concept of “God” a Placebo?

  1. Pingback: Why God? | Atheism Africa

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