Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Would you rather be happy or know the truth?

Far too much of religious faith is based on this scary fact: People believe what makes them happy, not what's true. Worse, they even admit it proudly.

There was a great discussion yesterday over at Unreasonable Faith called Thoughts of a Dying Atheist. One exchange summarized one of my favorite topics:
John C [a Christian]: So sad, such utter darkness and despair. “Nothingness” is not the truth, is not the offer that the Truth (Himself) makes you, its far better and its…true.

Ty: No despair. And nothing is sadder than delusion masquerading as hope. You’ll wind up in exactly the same place all the rest of us will, you’ll just have wasted the one life you had first. What could be sadder than that?
Ty hits the nail on the head. I'd rather live the truth, however sad, than to live a lie. Darwin himself said it best:
A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone.
In other words, what we want to believe doesn't matter. We have to seek truth, no matter how unpleasant. In my mind, this is the single most important sentence that Darwin ever wrote. It is the very foundation of the scientific method, the very thing that made all of Darwin's other discoveries possible.

Religion works in the exact opposite direction from Darwin's advice. With religion, people believe things because they want them to be true.

How many times have you heard, "If science says we're monkeys, I'll take religion." But what if we really did descend from monkeys? Should we just ignore reality? Or another favorite, "Without God, there can be no morality." Does that prove that God exists? No! But it is one of the most widely used arguments for God's existence. If God doesn't exist, and there is no God-given morality, then maybe we should use our heads and figure out how to be moral all by ourselves. Pretending God exists, and pretending he made up some rules, can only lead to trouble.

If something that's not true makes you happy, would you rather have the happiness or the truth? Until you can honestly say "I'd rather have the truth," you are in no position to criticize science or to judge your own religion. If you reject truth because it's unpleasant, then truth is beyond your grasp.


  1. But remember Darwin also said this, later in his life:

    "Up to the age of thirty or beyond it, poetry of many kinds... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare.... formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.... I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.... The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature."

    I'm a Catholic turned atheist turned JesusLover. And I agree with your statement "If you reject truth because it's unpleasant, then truth is beyond your grasp", because I am a truth seeker, and I follow that command/promise, "Seek and you shall find". Though as I have experienced personally, to be proven wrong is *VERY* unpleasant. Remember to apply this saying to yourself!

    Because I disagree with your other statement "With religion, people believe things because they want them to be true". No! It's the exact opposite, actually. We DON'T want God to be true! Because we love sin. We want to continue to do as we wish, not as he commanded. Why would I want a God who requires for me to turn from my own way? especially when his character looks suspect? especially when the trustworthiness of his Word is unproven? but ESPECIALLY when that turning will cause me to lose my "dignity" and "self-esteem" and "joy" and "pleasure" and "happiness"??

    I'm sure you have heard the gospel of John316? But when you see people claim John316 for their own and living as if the grace of God is cheap, you are very right to question them. So please do not mistake the fake to be the genuine. (I'm not at all saying that JohnC is a fake. I'm talking about people in real life, not the internet.)
    This is the whole context of John316:

    "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." John 8:28

    "'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die." John 12:32-33

    " Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." John 3:14-21

  2. Jus said on June 16, 2010 6:42 PM
    "Though as I have experienced personally, to be proven wrong is *VERY* unpleasant. Remember to apply this saying to yourself!"

    Sigh. The burden of proof is not upon the non-believer. Religion makes a claim. It must prove claim. If religion can't do so without heavily relying on metaphors, "strong feelings!111" and/or smelling salts; I have no reason to listen to your bullshit. : ) Thanks for playing!

  3. @Anonymous: You misunderstood. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear. What I was trying to say is... I was an atheist, and then I was proven wrong, not by any reasoning, but by the presence of Another.

    And it was *VERY* unpleasant at the time. I had to admit that I was wrong. All of my seeking and studies and research and knowledge were only partial truths. And it turned out that the complete truth is found in the proverb that I hated: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge..." So I pushed the truth to *ALMOST* "beyond my grasp", because I didn't want to admit it, I didn't want it to be true, it was *VERY* unpleasant. And ESPECIALLY because if it is true, I HAD to leave my lifestyle and many of the things I enjoyed doing.

    So I was trying to tell Craig, when the time comes to you, when you are faced with the choice to either accept or reject truth, ultimate and absolute truth, remember to apply this word to yourself and choose truth, even when it is *VERY* unpleasant.

  4. Jus said on June 16, 2010 11:02 PM

    "@Anonymous: You misunderstood. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear. What I was trying to say is... I was an atheist, and then I was proven wrong, not by any reasoning, but by the presence of Another."

    No. YOU misunderstand. You make a claim. In order to be taken seriously you must provide proof. Your "proof" consists of:

    "presence of Another" = strong feeling!111

    but unfortunately:

    strong feeling(s)!111 ≠ Proof


  5. @Anon - you are mistaking truth for faith. From everything you've written, all I can see is that you decided to reject science because you had some sort of internal epiphany. You're only reinforcing my thesis: You WANT to believe in God.

    One misunderstanding is my use of the phrase, "makes them happy." A more accurate phrase might be that the religious beliefs are appealing for some reason. But "appealing" can arise from both positive and negative forces. A faith can appeal to you because you're afraid to not believe, or because you like it when you do believe.

    In reality, religion has evolved to make nearly-perfect use of BOTH of these emotions. Over the last two thousand years, it has been refined and shaped by the forces of cultural evolution to the point where it's very hard not to be frightened by the negative teachings of Christianity (hell, sin, guilt), and very hard not to be lured in by the positive aspects (forgiveness, heaven, love).

    I can't explain this in a few paragraphs. At the risk of sounding self serving, you should read my book, "The Religion Virus." If your faith is strong, it will help you understand your own religion's peculiar history. But beware, it may change you. Not to an atheist, but many of my readers have come to a new understanding of their faith, mostly by rejecting the stranglehold of organized Christianity from their lives, to a more personal outlook.

    You may feel that your "presence of Another" is real, but that's the stuff science rejects out of hand. It doesn't impress anyone, and only tells me that you are not objective about your own mind. I've seen things that I *knew* were real at the time - for example with a high fever. I've lived with a family member who was schizophrenic and believed a certain celebrity was talking to her. But I didn't mistake that for reality.

    The real way to seek the truth is to open your mind to the possibility that your own experiences may be misleading. Otherwise, how is your faith any different from a schizophrenic's faith in the voices she hears? Seriously, this is an important question.

    Anon, you weren't proven wrong. You're just trying to redefine the word "proof." Don't mistake religious faith for fact, or an epiphany for a scientific proof.

  6. @Anonymous: I totally agree with you that strong feeling(s) ≠ Proof,


    @Craig: I have seriously asked myself that important question about how my faith is any different from a schizophrenic's faith. And I guess the only difference would probably be the "fruit that we bear". Besides daily turning back from my own ways, I see an ever growing love toward Jesus and his Word, which flows out into a love towards other people. (which is why I am here) Not much of a difference is there?

    But then, how would you categorize an experience like Paul's, on the road to Damascus? Was it schizophrenia? Seeing things and hearing things?

    "As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'"

    Today we have classified almost exhaustively those weird mental aberrations like schizophrenia. And we think we have solved the mystery of what's causing them, like neurotransmitters, action potentials, environmental factors, etc. But are these really the ultimate cause? Could it be that these things are just manifestations of what is ultimately "spiritual"? Things that science has not "reached" yet at this point in history?

    Guys, I'm not here to redefine "proof", or to prove anything to you at all. I was just trying to say, it is possible that you DON'T WANT to believe in God, and then forced by "schizophrenic" experience to "see the light".

    Let me ask you a question: is it possible at all for God to prove himself to you? What experience must you go through to be convinced? I'm just curious. I'm not saying that God will definitely show himself to you, because in the New Testament, Jesus only showed himself only to his own people. But what if you are one of his people?

  7. Jus - Your last question, "Is is possible ... for God to prove himself to you?" is one of the strongest arguments AGAINST God. It's also one of the largest and most convoluted topics in Christian apologetics. Here are a couple of older blogs that illustrate this point.

    Your own conversion back to Christianity ... let me be frank ... sounds to me very much like Paul's, your brain overruling and fooling your rational mind. I know little about you, but I'd guess that there were other forces in your life that made your conversion more likely. Maybe you were at a low point with emotions, health, or the economy. Maybe someone else you love was disappointed in your atheism. Only you know. But your description of your conversion just reinforces the basic thesis of my blog: People believe what appeals, not what's true. So long as the beliefs aren't in direct, obvious contradiction to facts, most people are willing to accept them as truth if they want to believe enough.

    Here's a puzzle. A twenty-one year old bride who is eight months pregnant learns that her husband was killed in Iraq. The news is so unacceptable to her that she refuses to believe it. What do we say about her? That she is in denial, deluded, and needs counseling. Another twenty-one year old woman starts pondering death, and is so afraid of it that she decides there must be an afterlife. What do we call her? Religious. What's the difference? Just one thing: We can prove that the Marine is dead, but we have no way to prove there's no afterlife. Yet, from a rational point of view, there's very little difference between these two women. Both choose to believe something purely because they WANT it to be true.

    Why do you believe in God? If you take away your desires (read the Darwin quote above), what is left? You have to be brutally honest to actually do this; most people can't. I'd wager that in the end, you'll have to admit that the only reason you believe is because you want or need to have that belief, because without it you'd find some aspect of your life too terrible to contemplate.

    But that doesn't make it true, any more than the widow's anguish will make her husband come back.

  8. Jus - if you're still following this ... I really would like to know your response to my last question. I'm genuinely interested.

  9. Along with a belief in Atheism, comes also the belief that there is no objective morality in the world. Morality is strictly subjective (opinion based) in an Atheistic worldview. This is accepted among atheists across the board. If there is no God, there cannot be an objective (actual) right or wrong. Also, atheists admittedly believe there is no objective reason or purpose for human life. Atheists for centuries have wrestled with this problem. In 1991 a prominant atheist scientist gave a speech to his fellow colleagues. In it, he told them atheists should live telling themselves a "Noble Lie". What he meant was that since there is no objective reason and purpose to life, the proper response should be to live your lives as a lie. His advice is for the atheist to live under an illusion of an objective reason to live, nonetheless the reason to live is actually subjective.

    My question to all atheists: Why would you rather hold the worldview of an atheist and live a lie (under the illusion of a real purpose to live), than hold a worldview (Theism) that offers you an actual objective reason to live where you don't have to lie to yourselves?


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