Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Believing What We Want to Believe

Christians have been accused of merely believing what we want to believe.  To test this out, let's do a thought experiment.  Imagine the average person on the street.  Now consider if that person really wants to believe there is a just God who has laid down strict rules that they are expected to obey.  Further, if they desire to believe that if they fail to obey these rules they will be tormented in a hell of eternal fire forever and ever. Now picture them wanting to conclude that there is no way they can live up to God's standards and their only hope is to humble themselves and throw themselves upon the mercy of the judge and trust totally in the work of another to deliver them.  Then imagine that they want to believe that having trusted God for deliverance, they can no longer live their lives for themselves, but for the God who rescued them.  Do you find this hard to believe? I do.

Having been an agnostic and looked at the issue from both sides, I think a much better case could be made for someone not believing in God because it is what they want to believe.  But I am not going to make that case, because I think this whole line of argumentation is bogus from the beginning.  Trying to argue against an opponent by attributing to them ulterior motives for holding what they believe is just a subtle form of mud-slinging and leaves the issue in question right where it was. Almost anyone can come up with some hidden motive for the other person believing something, all the while leaving the only real issue, whether what they believe is true, unaddressed.  It is a red herring that allows someone to assume their point is proven without ever proving it.

Further, as C. S. Lewis points out, some of the things we want to believe must be true.  It is impossible to create a universe that contradicts what everyone wants to believe at every moment. Also, could it not be that one reason we want to believe something is because it is true and therefore gives us some useful benefit? If I believe it is desirable to eat chocolate, could it not be because I have eaten chocolate in the past and have concluded it really does taste good?  Certainly a person may believe something that is false because for some reason they want it to be true.  But until you have adequately proven the position false by the evidence, you  have no basis for concluding that. And if you attribute all behavior purely to people believing what they want to believe, then all knowledge is suspect and we cannot know anything. This is a self-defeating position.

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