To explain the mysteries of the universe
You could argue at length that the various Gods do a pretty poor job of explaining how the universe actually came into existence or operates, but my major concern is that all conveniently leave out the answers to the most fundamental question, “why?”
Why did God create the universe and humans? i.e. Why are we here? Was he just bored? If he existed for all eternity then why did he start the universe when he did (approx 13.75 billion years ago).
Why did he wait so long to build the earth? (9.21 billion years from the start of the universe)
Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people, and good things to happen to bad people?
Why did Jesus have to be physically crucified in order for his father (who is also himself) to forgive the rest of us for sinning?
Why did God create the tree of knowledge on earth if he didn’t want anyone to eat it? (If he hadn’t, according to biblical logic, there’d be no sin and we’d still all be living in the perfect world).
Why is the worst sin ever committed on earth knowledge?
Why hasn’t God spoken to everyone down here for 2000 years?
Why do some babies die? Are they more worthy of getting into heaven/hell faster?
Why are some people born into rich families and others into starvation? Are the starving ones somehow unworthy?
Why did God get so mad at one point that he killed every person and animal on earth but saved Noah’s family and two of every animal. Why didn’t he just start again with a new Adam & Eve, and/or the animals on the ark, and just re-populate the earth himself? Why hasn’t he been as mad since (surely we’re equally as sinful today?)?
Why does our God let his sworn enemies kill his most devout followers?
I’d say that the reason there aren’t too many answers to “why” questions in religion is that they’re too hard for the humans who wrote the sacred texts to dream up credible answers to.
It’s much easier to answer the “what” or “how” questions, like how long it took God to create the universe and everything in it (got that wrong by a few billion years). But even here we find that today many of the “what” or “how” theories in religious texts that have been scientifically disproven are being conveniently “re-interpreted” by the current crop of theists, so that their belief system doesn’t completely crumble apart in the cold light of fact.
Let’s take the rather obvious example of this confused and illogical approach to one of the fundamentals of Christian belief; how human beings were created.
Given none of us were there, there’s two main theories, one each from the scientists and the Christians.
1. Darwin’s theory of evolution, The Origin of the Species.
2. Biblical story of Genesis. i.e. God created the universe and earth (in six days), then plonked down one man, and then later made a woman out of one of his ribs. These two people populated the earth (all of whom were subsequently killed by God, except for Noah’s family who again re-populated the earth. A lot of incest going on in Biblical times).
Darwin’s theory has been peer reviewed by scientists now for 150 years, thousands of scientists have confirmed it’s validity through research, and nothing more accurate has been discovered to replace it.
Meanwhile the Christians have been running away from their own theory ever since the publication of Darwin’s theory, and today many try and argue a hybrid position of “intelligent design”.
Nowhere in the Bible is “intelligent design” mentioned, and until the last few decades, nowhere was it mentioned in any Church scriptures.
Clearly the majority of Christians are no longer prepared to try and argue we all descended from two people (or Noah’s family) who just appeared at the same time as the dinosaurs (who don’t even get a mention in the bible).
So whatever it is they are now arguing, clearly isn’t the ‘word of God”, but the word of his current followers.
So unless one is prepared to accept “the word of God” exactly as written in the sacred texts of his/her particular religion, then one isn’t getting any divine answers to the fundamental questions of the universe at all.
I can hear all you progressive theists shouting back “but the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally!”.
Oh, I see, so we don’t need to take the crucifixion literally then? The virgin birth? Lazarus rising from the dead? The holy trinity (actually I cheated, that’s not even in the Bible)?
You see, that’s the problem with your religious system. Every generation or so someone decides what is or is not to be taken literally, and therefore you don’t really know what is “fact” and what is fiction.
That being the case, you can’t categorically deny the possibility that 1000 years from now your theocracy will be saying it’s all parable and allegory. i.e. that none of it actually happened exactly the way it is written. Then what answers are you really getting from God?
So what if you want to believe the ancient texts literally? Then you best have a time machine to go back thousands of years because it will be hard to stick to that ancient morality, lifestyle, and level of intellect in today’s modern world; or you could move to Afghanistan I suppose.
You’ll probably have a hard time finding a group fundamentalist enough for you though, there really aren’t that many left.
In summary, God via his ancient texts has;
(i) not explained the workings of the universe, just provided some parables for the ancient intellect to digest; or
(ii) told us what and how some of the universe works (even if it seems pretty far fetched); but
he/she has not provided any explanation for the “why” of his/her actions, and hence we can’t truly say we understand anything.
I’m not going to say science has all the answers to the mysteries of the universe. It hasn’t even answered all the mysteries of the human body. But what is an unarguable fact is that each year science finds more answers to how things work and some of this information has real benefits for humanity. e.g. treatments and cures for many diseases.
Human’s knowledge of the universe has come so far in so relatively little time, such that life itself can now be created and manipulated outside the human body, humans can leave the planet, and blow it all to kingdom come (deliberate religious reference) in a few minutes.
As I write this, scientists in Europe are working on experiments using a piece of equipment known as a Hadron Collider, which will allow them to explore the mysteries of matter itself, further than ever before. I am confident that they will find explanations for some of the universe’s greatest questions using this machine.
None of this progress has come as a result of studying ancient religious texts, or the “word of god”. Mostly in spite of it (e.g. human stem cell research).
“Well smarty, who started the Big Bang?” I can hear the theists yell in unison. The question itself shows the bias in their thinking. “who?” A more logical (or philosophical) question would be “what?”.
Scientists don’t know yet. They are searching for the answer, unlike the theists who somewhat arrogantly assume this bit of their book of mythology and parables written by ancient humans is somehow infallible evidence of the most illogical of theories.
Scientists are looking, and I believe they are getting close to finding the answer. But I doubt even this will change the theists minds.
Every year there is less and less logical support for the existence of a silent, invisible and unresponsive God in the modern universe. So the theists have been forced to go back so far in time to cling to a purpose for him/her. i.e. to create it all. If they give ground on this point, there’s really not much room for a divine hand anywhere in the universe.
Is God necessary for humans to understand the big questions of the universe? In today’s world, I’d say not.