Monday, September 9, 2013

Religious Belief Is Primarily Emotional, Not Logical

For most people, it's not as if I really need to tell them this, but the primary reason why people come to be religious, besides being indoctrinated into it by culture, is for emotional reasons. They may have either had an emotional reaction to a religious hymn, a religious ritual, or the dramatic retelling of a religious story. Religions are all designed in some way to appeal to that awe and mystery we all feel about the world around us through the use of rituals and stories that create a social cohesion among its believers.

I'm not sure how many people are convinced by many of the so-called logical arguments for god. I suppose an atheist could hear them and become convinced, but without that emotional connection to a particular religion, I don't really see how any of them could get an atheist passed deism. What ultimately pushes a person into a religion is an emotional connection with that religion's teachings, their founder, or the rituals associated with that religion. I had one such reaction to Hinduism when I was in Bali a few years ago. I witnessed a Hindu ceremony in which incense was passed around me with some chanting and I felt this amazing wave of relaxation and calmness come over me. It was as if every drop of tension and anxiety in me had melted away. Had I been a spiritual "seeker" that experience may have converted me. And if something like that had happened to me in a Christian context when I was younger, I might have converted.

All human beings, even the most ardent atheists like me, can experience the numinous and the awe of feeling transcendence. The skeptical inquirer knows that this is all just part of the human brain: our conscience allows us these experiences, and religions attempt to make sense of them. What bothers me is when a person tries to use their personal spiritual experiences to argue that the metaphysics behind them is true. That's when they try to use the arguments for god like the argument from design or the cosmological argument in order to make themselves more confident that their beliefs aren't just all in their head.

How does the Christian distinguish between the spiritual experiences of people in other faiths? Since William Lane Craig often argues for god using his "Inner witness to the Holy Spirit" charade, I will focus for a bit on his justification. He writes in God? A Debate Between A Christian and An Atheist

Unless I have some reason to think that my experience of the inner witness of God’s
Spirit is delusory, the mere presence of other persons claiming a similar experience in support of counter-Christian claims does not in itself serve to make my belief improper. Moreover, the objection assumes that all religious experiences “seem similar from the inside.” That assumption is false, as an examination of the variety of religious experiences reveals. The Hindu experience of one’s subsumption in the Whole is a very different experience from Christian experience of God’s love. The veridicality of Christian experience thus need not imply that other types of religious experience are not genuine apprehensions of God in certain aspects of His being. (p. 74)

Craig here is claiming to know that the spiritual experiences of Hindus is different from that of a Christian's, and by implication, such would be true of all non-Christian faiths. How he knows this is anyone's guess and he does not attempt to back it up. And according to him, the Hindu's experiences are due to "certain aspects" of the Christian god. But why would the Christian god be giving non-Christians intense spiritual experiences that strengthen their non-Christian faiths and thus take them further from ever converting to Christianity? It makes no sense why god would lead people away from him, if his goal is to draw people near to him. You'd have to believe in a god who deliberately deceives and who therefore, could not be perfect. Otherwise, why wouldn't god use his Holy Spirit to lead the billions of non-Christians around the world who experience the numinous every week to tell them that only through Christianity does one find ultimate happiness?

Craig essentially makes the argument that belief in god is "properly basic"  in other words, a fundamental axiom like existence. I suppose he means his god and not just any god, but I'm not sure. I would agree to the extent that most people are hard wired through evolution to believe in supernatural forces, but the fact that we have a natural explanation for that to me is strong evidence that it's a phenomena that takes place entirely in people's heads.

Craig himself has famously written that his faith and emotional experiences of god take precedence over any possible evidence against it in his apologetic handbook, Reasonable Faith:

Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa. (p. 36)

In other words, "I'm going to believe in my God no matter what!" And Craig recommends other Christians adopt this mentality. Well what if every Jew, Muslim, Hindu and atheist adopted the same mentality? Craig and his minions would never be able to convert them. He apparently wants all non-Christians to be open to the Christian faith, but "not vice versa." That's anything but "reasonable."

Personal feelings of god are evidence of nothing. The only evidence of extant things can be found via reason, science, and the proper use of logic. Emotional experiences to unseen and intangible things are always subjective. And this goes for atheists too. There are some atheists who came to their atheism because of a bad experience with their church or religious leader, or they experienced an emotional personal tragedy. Many Jews became atheists for example after the horrors they experienced during World War II. Although I don't chastise atheists for jettisoning their religion due to emotional reasons, I think we all should base our philosophies and worldviews on where the evidence leads, and not on what makes us happy or what we happened to be raised to believe.

That's one of the reasons why I dedicate this blog to taking on the best arguments theists can offer and to defending atheism from attacks.

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