Monday, April 23, 2007

The God Urge

There are few things that we want to believe more than that there is a God. We want to believe so much that we will go through absurd contortions of reasoning and belief to make it feel like there is more justification for the belief than merely that we want it to be true. The only other sort of case where the gymnastics of reasoning to compensate for a failure of evidence resemble the case of religion is when the evidence is there that a husband, a wife, a boyfriend, or a girlfriend is cheating. And rather than face the evidence and admit the horrible, painful fact of it, we imagine other interpretations of the evidence, possibilities, extenuating circumstances, and justifying reasons that absolve them of responsibility. The difference with religion is that it’s not just one person doing it with their friends trying to convince him that his wife is unfaithful, it’s the whole race of humanity engaging in the deception. And they support, encourage, and fortify our resolve to sustain the redirection of reason.

Not everyone has the urge in equal amounts, and it often manifests itself in very different forms, but there's no denying that we find the prospect of a godless, material, deterministic, soulless universe ugly, horrifying, nihilistic, and hopeless.

The urge make it harder for us to get our heads straight about why we believe in God and why we are religious--we often think we believe for what appear to be good reasons, but in fact it is our emotional, psychological, and personal enthusiasm for the God idea that makes those reasons look better than they are. The urge makes it harder for us to even know why it is that we actually believe. It seems to us on reflection that we believe because there is good evidence, but in fact, unbeknownst even to ourselves, it is the urge at work behind the scenes.

So it's very hard to find the urge and to know what it's up to in your head. It works hard at hiding itself--we don't want to think about ourselves that we do what we do or believe what we believe primarily out of psychological or emotional need. We have a very hard time thinking of ourselves as mere effects of some causes beyond our control. (It's never seems too hard to analyze the causes of other people’s beliefs, however.)

It should be noted, of course, that it’s not just religious beliefs that have the problem where wishing something is true interferes with our ability to think clearly about whether or not it actually is true. We have this problem for all sorts of beliefs--even atheists have it.

It is this urge to believe that bolsters our God beliefs. It raises our threshold for what we will tolerate in the name of religion. It amplifies our emotional commitments to religious ideas. In general, it contributes to our tolerating and committing all sorts of unpalatable and detrimental things for the sake of religion.

Of course, theists will attest that something similar is going on with the doubters and skeptics. “There’s nothing that they want to disbelieve more than that there is a God. They don’t want to admit the fact, and they will go through enormous contortions of reason to try to make their disbelief seem reasonable.”

If they make that argument, then I guess it will be up to you to determine who is more obviously guilty of distortion and logical gymnastics to justify believing what they want to be true.


Jon said...

A godless universe does not have to be ugly, deterministic, etc... Many Thiests however are told that this is the world of the atheist. Like you said it is "Psychological" - I guess the urge could be just a conditioning. Many atheist scientists/philosophers find the universe fascinating and aesthetically rich. The search for the ultimates in nature can also be an anti-depressent. We don't know if it (the universe) is completely deterministic due to Q.M. But if randomness is the other option, then I suppose that that may not be much different from an aesthetical point of view. We don't even know what "material" or "nature" is in the most fundamental sense except towards a degree of functionality (i.e. the function of two particles in an accelerator anhialating each other). Maybe the Universe is built upon some sort of "Apeiron". I find that I am stuck in the urge to try to know more. However, even though it is unreasonable to believe in God via all the absurdities involved, it is also unreasonable to claim complete knowledge of the universe. It may be more consistent to be an atheist while at the same time to not make certain belief claims beyond scientific discovery. I am claiming that 'there is no God' and at the same time I am resisting the urge to claim "how" the universe operates and "what" it "is" on "the" fundamental level if there is such a thing.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks again for insightful comments, Jon. We all do want to understand. So it's a difficult position for the atheist to be acknowledging that the case against God is compelling but also having to admit that we do not have all the answers. But it's an illusion for the theist to succumb to the urge and think that they have provided themselves and the rest of us with a thesis that explains anything or even makes sense at all.

Anonymous said...

We all have this urge to believe inside of us. We hold hopes and dreams of many things that may or may not be attainable. We have doubts how our lives are turning out or the after-life or the depths of space, etc. It may be part of being human. The problem just comes from the religious conditioning. While we all have this urge to believe, we all don't have this urge to believe in God. This stems from religious conditioning and not so much from the mere possessing of the urge. It's like religion is this one big unifying directed method of believing. It is unfortunate that so many people's urges are directed toward religious dogmatism. To many people let religious methods and pipe dreams easily and openly into they're lives and children's lives easily and discerningly these days. I possess nothing but respect for any religious man/woman whom holds they're beliefs firmly for there own reasons and considerations. I have never had a religious experience in my life but I have had life altering experiences and many powerful, euphoric experiences. I am sure all of us have had some type of another.
I get disappointed with the people who let religion take hold of they're life instead of them taking hold of religion. That all I got to say about that.