What would it take for you to believe? It’s an interesting question to put to any atheist, and often the answer can come as quite a surprise…to them. Given that you are aware of the arguments for God’s existence and find them to be un-compelling, which of any of the standard religious experiences would manage to make a believer out of you? A voice from the heavens? “I would probably dismiss that as some sort of audible illusion. Probably thunder, or an airplane, that I’m mishearing and falsely interpreting as a voice.” A direct appearance, before your very eyes, of an angel, or even of God Himself? “Likewise, I’d think I was hallucinating. I’d probably ask myself what I’d eaten that day! Or who had spiked my drink!” What if the apparition came back day after day, and you knew there was no extraneous cause? “Then I’d think that I had gone mad.” Really, the answer is that for many atheists there is simply nothing that they could experience that could convert them from their position. And then they are surprised when they meet the exact same attitude in their theistic opponents!
So, considering this, a sentence caught my eye recently in the abstract for an article on ‘Militant Modern Atheism’ that I happened to stumble across; in talking about the contemporary debate between theists and atheists, “The challenge [for the militant modern atheist] is to develop a well-articulated and convincing version of secular humanism.” This is followed by, “Meeting that challenge is, I claim, one of the central problems of philosophy today.” The author is sensibly responding to the deficiencies of the particular variety of ‘militant modern atheism’, and is pointing out that they need to offer a little more, by way of an incentive to the believer that they wish to persuade to their position, than merely Continue reading “What would it take for you to believe?”
Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Meaning and Mystery: What it Means to Believe in God?
David Holley:The beginnings of the book go back to an experience of listening to a very bright high school senior talk about how he was trying to decide whether to continue believing in God. The young man had grown up in a church environment, but had come to the point where he thought he needed to decide things for himself. The type of reasoning he pursued would be familiar Continue reading “Interview: Meaning and Mystery: What it Means to Believe in God”
Ed Yong (via Pharyngula) reports on a cool study conducted by psychologist Nicholas Epley:
Epley asked different groups of volunteers to rate their own beliefs about important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and the legalisation of marijuana. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an “average American”, Bill Gates (a celebrity with relatively unknown beliefs) and George Bush (a celebrity whose positions are well-known).
The result: “In every case, [Epley] found that people’s own attitudes and beliefs matched those they suggested for God more precisely than those they suggested for the other humans.”
Ed says that Epley’s study shows that “relying on a deity to guide one’s decisions and judgments is little more than spiritual sockpuppetry.” (A sockpuppet is a “false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person, like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet” — Wikipedia.)
I can think of at least one other plausible interpretation of this study.
Reuters have reported the recent publication of How God Changes Your Brain. This book takes a neurotheological – ‘the study of the brain’s role in religious belief’- approach to prayer and meditation in an effort to understand the biological processes involved. The writers, Andrew Newburg and Mark Robert Waldman have used brain scans on individuals who were either praying or meditating, to identify what they describe as “God circuits”. Continue reading “No “God spot” to be found in the brain”