Tag Archives: belief

How some atheists might do circular reasoning

Last week, I introduced “circular reasoning” to my students. It’s not only about bad reasoning; it makes for bad sentences, too!

Before that class, I had searched Google Images for illustrations and cartoon strips related to circular reasoning. So many of the them related to Christian circular reasoning:

The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God because the Word of God is the Bible.

That’s just a quick summation.

Not being particularly annoyed with that kind of illustration of circular reasoning, I did become a little annoyed at the sheer number of these things in the Google Image results. The sheer number seemed a little too triumphant, and to my way of thinking, triumphalism is poor taste even when you’re trying to answer annoyingly triumphant opponents.

Then, walking to the library a bit later on that class day, the following occurred to me, about how some atheists might be equally circular:

There is no supernatural dimension or anything beyond observable nature. Unexplained phenomena ultimately have a natural explanation because there is no supernatural dimension because all things have a natural explanation. 

Perhaps crudely put, here in the library during an hour’s break, but the above is basically an operating premise for many atheists, and a circular one.

If you’ve read any of this blog lately, you know I’ve tried to record and analyze the nonsense and unhealthiness in American Christianity. I agree with the circularity of the Bible-is-the-Word-of-God-because-it-says-so. This blog could say it is the Word of God and you could even feel like it is the Word of God, but would that mean anything in any ultimate sense? No.

That circularity does not make an atheistic argument non-circular.

Why say, “My natural senses have never detected anything supernatural; therefore there is no supernatural”? It seems like “natural senses” would by definition not be “supernatural senses.”

Just to be crystal clear, the existence of the word “supernatural” and the phrase “supernatural senses” do not create or necessitate any kind of supernatural realm any more than the existence of the word Narnia creates a real place.

Some tangentially related things bugging me:

  • Why should anything in a supernatural dimension have to meet my standards of natural proof?
  • But if we claim to know there’s a supernatural realm, then our knowing might be based on natural experience, which is manipulable.
  • What is the survival function of our ability to imagine a greater, supernatural realm? What is the evolutionary necessity of believing in an imaginary supernatural realm? (These questions spurred in part by something I once heard Malcolm Guite say at a C.S. Lewis conference.) If the supernatural realm is only a delusion, what evolutionary purpose does a belief in the supernatural — especially such a belief among otherwise sane and intelligent people — serve for survival and reproduction?

Engaging the content of their imaginations

If you can exercise authority over people by engaging the content of their imaginations, you will never have to make a rational argument.

(Imagination here means the images, emotions, and imaginative appropriations of beliefs. Not daydreams or fantasies, but the inner moral and spiritual imagination.)

‘Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World,” or why no one really listens

The late French Protestant leader Jacques Ellul in his book Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World

“They comply unfailingly with the law and the commandments. They are unbending in their convictions, intolerant of any deviation. In the articulation of belief they press rigor and absolutism to their limits. They precisely delimit the frontiers between believers and unbelievers. They unceasingly refine the expression of their belief and seek to give it explicit intellectual formulation in a system as coherent and complete as possible. They insist on total orthodoxy. Ways of thinking and acting are rigidly codified.”

And a quotation from Daniel Taylor: “Legalism is one more expression of the human compulsion for security.”

Differences within doubt, Part 2

1. I can admit I’m a sinner, and I can realize that a Holy God would demand recompense. I can even say I could not do anything to get myself into the presence of Absolute Goodness. I could easily say after my physical death there’s no good reason for my essence to continue on or for my body to return. For those reasons, I could easily say I need a Savior.

2. I can also say lectures, debates, books, and research from psychologists, neuroscientists, historians, and other thinkers seem to offer better explanations of human problems than the available Christian explanations, and better explanations of why Christianity captivates people.

Postscript: Oddly enough, when Christians hold up their hands at available information (see Sources section below) and refuse to wrestle with it, that refusal plays into the theories of social psychologists — in two ways. First, “social proof,” or the testimonies and beliefs of the people one knows, tends to weigh more heavily in decision-making than evidence-and-reason. Second, as research suggests, when confronted with strong reasons for an opposing point of view, people tend to redouble their dedication to their original point of view.

Valerie Tarico cites Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman in her video series; here are two quotations from them:

From Valerie Tarico’s video series.

From Valerie Tarico’s video series

Sources:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena by Daniel Dennett

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

Psychologist Valerie Tarico’s video series, Christianity and Cognitive Science

Michael Shermer’s news feature on religious experiences and the brain, Out of the Body Experiment

Andy Thomson’s lecture, Why We Believe in Gods

Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk here.

Differences within doubt

It’s one thing to deliver ultimatums (“Do this or I won’t believe”). It’s another thing to acknowledge that evidence and sound reasoning are lacking (“I believe but I see many reasons why I could be very wrong”).

‘We can’t argue with personal experience’

An excerpt from the recent Strange Days column:

“I’m sure this woman believes she is in touch with God when she speaks in tongues, and I’m sure she feels righteous in dismissing science. I’m not going to judge her faith or religious practice. I probably won’t ever have to converse with her or occupy the same space as her. Right now, somewhere else in the world, someone is rubbing a rabbit’s foot or reading a horoscope or begging a dead relative for rain — and these activities are equally meaningless to me and my obligations to my community and my family today.”

Read all of “See me, feel me.”

Practicing belief could lead to belief — an application of a social psychologist’s work

The following excerpt from an article in Discover leads me to believe that practices, rituals, ceremonies, and so forth could actually cause a belief to develop.

[Social psychologist Daryl] Bem applied to graduate programs in psychology and ended up at the University of Michigan. In one of his first experiments there, he studied the relationship between attitudes and behavior by seeing whether he could get children at a local school to like brown bread, which they avoided. He put half the kids through a weekend intervention in which they got a reward for saying they liked brown bread. The other students simply listened to a presentation of images of different foods along with a voice-over of Bem saying, when a picture of brown bread appeared on-screen, “You like brown bread.”

To Bem’s surprise, both groups increased their consumption of brown bread, and by a similar amount, the following week. “Somehow my saying to them, ‘You like brown bread’ was the same as their saying it to themselves,” he explains. “The leap I made from that is, maybe as adults we rely more on observations and inference from stimuli and our own responses to decide what our internal states are.” An example would be eating a second sandwich and then remarking to yourself, “I guess I was hungrier than I thought,” or realizing only after biting your nails all day that “something must be bugging me.”

By the end of the 1960s, the idea that behavior can be prelude to belief had gained enough support to make Bem a rising star, propelling him to a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh….

Read the entire article on this fascinating man here.