Wishful Denial

We are often told that Christians believe in God simply because they want to believe in God.  Such belief is supposed to be comforting and reassuring.  The atheist, in contrast, is said to be strong-minded, with the ability to follow the evidence, even if it leads to the denial of God and an afterlife.

But maybe things are a bit more complicated than this.  We’ve already seen the subjective aspect of evidence, such that while Christians can be guilty of confirmation bias, atheists can be guilty of disconfirmation bias.

Well, consider how Richard Dawkins views the God of the Bible:

a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. 

Now, I think it safe to assume most Gnu atheists would share in this perception, given that many have applauded this description while I can’t seem to find one who has objected to it.  So what would that mean?

 

Would you want to believe that the Universe was created by a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully?  Well?  Would you want to believe such a being existed and was also omnipotent and omniscient?  And had the power to judge you in the afterlife?

I think it safe to say that no atheist would want such a being to truly exist.  It would be more comforting to believe there was no God.  Sort of like a wishful denial.  So it looks like the sword cuts both ways.  If Christians believe because they want to believe, atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.  Throw the subjective aspect of evidence into the mix and it becomes even clearer why most debates about the evidence for God’s existence are silly theatrics.

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29 Responses to Wishful Denial

  1. Crude says:

    Thomas Nagel is usually a great example of this, for his honesty.

    In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

  2. charlie j. says:

    Atheists don’t believe because for the thousands of years that people have believed in God(s), there has been no physical, recurring and undeniable proof that any of them have ever existed. Atheists don’t believe in a God because the burden of proof is on the person saying that something is there, not the other way around. I don’t not believe in God because I don’t want him to be “a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” I don’t believe in “Him” because there’s nothing proving that he IS.

  3. I know that back when I was an agnostic I wanted very badly not to believe in God, because I did not want there to be someone there who could run my life. I have always found the wish-fulfillment argument a weak argument. There are biases both ways, but to claim there is no strong bias not to believe in God is naive.

  4. Apollyon says:

    What’s interesting about Dawkin’s view of the God of the Bible (and presumably shared by many other atheists) is that it says nothing as to whether or not such a God exists. Only that Dawkins et al. find such a God distasteful…therefore he rejects His very existence.

    That’s not a rational response. “I don’t like you or what you stand for. Therefore you don’t exist”. Seems rather childish and even quite foolish (If I don’t believe in Him, He can’t hurt me)!

  5. charlie j. says:

    You obviously have read a completely different Dawkins than I have. Proof, Apollyon, proof is all we ask for.

  6. Cale B.T. says:

    Perhaps some of these arguments are better interpreted as being about aesthetics, rather than wishful thinking. For example in his debate with Rowan Williams, Dawkins said “Why would you want to clutter up your world view with something as messy as a God?”. The language used here (i.e. “clutter” “messy”) tells us something about Dawkins’ aesthetics. Similarly as to when miracles are spoken as violations of those beautiful laws of nature.

    As Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics entry on Deism puts it: “Any suggestion of a deviation from the established order is resented, as though to admit it were to be wanting in respect for the inviolable majesty of God’s unchangeableness and the original perfection of his work. A perfect machine, it is supposed would not require from time to time to be adjusted [nor conserved or directed, for that matter] by its maker; nor would the Unchangeable introduce any later corrections into a creation which from the first reflected his omniscience and omnipotence.”

    The bracketed text is my addition. I found this quote in the excellent but out of print “Christian Theology and Natural Science” by E.L. Mascall which I can thoroughly recommend.

  7. Cale B.T. says:

    One of the points (I hope I’m not misrepresenting him) Mike has been trying to hammer home is that when you or Dawkins say “proof is all we ask for” there is a underlying realm of considerations (such as the one pertaining to miracles mentioned in my previous comment) involved. Furthermore, the discussion of these considerations can’t be brushed off as “obfuscation” or “Sophisticated Theology ©”.

  8. charlie j. says:

    Recurring evidence and proof that can be collected and observed. For a Christian to sit back and say “Atheists just don’t believe because they don’t want to believe that God could be like this” is a)ignorant and b)smug – but those two generally go hand in hand. Your logic is not sound and you have only opinions to back yourself up – which is a bit like how you have to be to believe in God. Many people I’ve met who don’t believe in God WISH that they could but they don’t because there has never been anything to show that there is. Just because you believe something, doesn’t make it true.
    Ignorance is bliss, so they say.

  9. Alan Fox says:

    …atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.

    You really believe this? Do you really? You think some people (obviously ones of less moral fibre, atheists) are able to flip their core-held views on a whim. Good grief, Mike!

    Though I suspect there is an element of emotional need for, I don’t know, explanations, a need to make sense of the universe and our rôle in it which leads people to take one of the dogmatic choices currently on offer (of course that choice is mainly decided by cultural considerations). Or, alternatively to explore the World and seek rational answers.

  10. Crude says:

    Atheists don’t believe because for the thousands of years that people have believed in God(s), there has been no physical, recurring and undeniable proof that any of them have ever existed.

    That’s a ridiculous standard. Any evidence, with some very, very narrow exceptions, is deniable in principle – see PZ Myers.

    Atheists don’t believe in a God because the burden of proof is on the person saying that something is there, not the other way around.

    No, the burden is on whoever is making the claim. If Dawkins says ‘there is no God’ or even ‘there probably is no God’, he’s making the claim and thus has to provide evidence to back it up. Sure, theists have a burden as well – they just do a far better job of meeting it than atheists. Atheists, in fact, are so terrified of having to meet the burden of proof claim that they spend considerable amounts of time trying to legalistically phrase their beliefs so they do NOT make any claims. Hence ‘Atheism is a lack of belief, not the possession of a belief’ being popular among rubes who don’t realize it makes clumps of feces into atheists.

    Many people I’ve met who don’t believe in God WISH that they could but they don’t because there has never been anything to show that there is.

    It’s just that Dawkins and company are not examples of these, certainly with respect to the Christian God. He’s on record as being completely repulsed by the God of Christianity. He’s not alone, and the examples of people who are atheist, specifically reject Christianity, and also demonstrably find the God of Christianity to be offensive and vile are absolutely abundant.

    But, I have an easy task for you. You say many people wish God existed? Alright: provide some examples of the following.

    * They are explicitly atheist.
    * They say that the God of Orthodox Christianity is wonderful, and they wish He existed. (As opposed to, say… ‘I wish a God existed who commanded things that I like, and opposed things I dislike!’ We’re talking orthodox Christian God here.)
    * They can’t be being sarcastic.

    Blog links would work well. You said there’s many of these people – let’s see ’em. I suspect there are many, many of these people… but none of them are online.

  11. Alan Fox says:

    Alright: provide some examples of the following.

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?page_id=2

    Elizabeth Liddle might fit your specification. A life-long theist who became an atheist a couple of years ago.

    You need to distinguish between ex-smokers and non-smokers. I never got to grips with any religion. I was nominally raised as an Anglican but it never made any sense to me. I could not see the difference between all the wrong faiths (Catholicism being the bête noir of course in Anglican circles) and the particular story I was being told. It all seemed like story telling to me.

    Elizabeth says she is an ex-smoker 50 odd years (I think she converted to Catholicism on getting marrie) as a Christian and now a couple as an atheist. She still talks in fond terms of aspects of her former faith.

  12. Alan Fox says:

    Lizzie posts as “Febble” at Talkrational.org, though she hasn’t been active there recently.

  13. Crude says:

    Elizabeth Liddle might fit your specification. A life-long theist who became an atheist a couple of years ago.

    Nope.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t a God who is worthy of worship. I’m saying I wouldn’t worship the God of the Old testament, even if I thought he existed, which I don’t.

    From Here. So, it’s Dawkins redux even there, to say nothing of her very, very particular and non-orthodox view of God previously, which largely amounted to viewing Christ as a very nice moral model.

    You need to distinguish between ex-smokers and non-smokers.

    What’s being done here is having it pointed out that the correlation between ‘people who don’t believe in God’ and ‘people who really, really don’t want God, particularly the Christian God to exist’ seems to be very high, because the number of people who self-describe as atheists AND really dislike the God of Christianity is considerable.

    And really, considering your performance in this thread about evidence and atheists, you are probably the last person who should be lecturing anyone about distinguishing things. Physician, heal thyself. 😉

  14. Michael says:

    Alan:

    …atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.

    You really believe this? Do you really? You think some people (obviously ones of less moral fibre, atheists) are able to flip their core-held views on a whim. Good grief, Mike!

    I realize, from experience, that you don’t like to address the actual points I make, but why not deal with that snippet from its context? Try again:

    I think it safe to say that no atheist would want such a being to truly exist. It would be more comforting to believe there was no God. Sort of like a wishful denial. So it looks like the sword cuts both ways. If Christians believe because they want to believe, atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.

    If Dawkins description of God is accurate, would you, Alan Fox, want such a being to exist?

  15. Michael says:

    Charlie,

    Recurring evidence and proof that can be collected and observed.

    Evidence is not observed. Data are observed and it is mentally transformed into evidence in a context-dependent manner.

    For a Christian to sit back and say “Atheists just don’t believe because they don’t want to believe that God could be like this” is a)ignorant and b)smug – but those two generally go hand in hand.

    Please make an attempt to deal with the actual point I made. Do you think Dawkins description of God is accurate? If so, would you want such a being to exist?

    Your logic is not sound and you have only opinions to back yourself up – which is a bit like how you have to be to believe in God. Many people I’ve met who don’t believe in God WISH that they could but they don’t because there has never been anything to show that there is.

    So they WISH the universe was created and judged by a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully? Who wishes for this?

  16. Michael says:

    Crude,

    What’s being done here is having it pointed out that the correlation between ‘people who don’t believe in God’ and ‘people who really, really don’t want God, particularly the Christian God to exist’ seems to be very high, because the number of people who self-describe as atheists AND really dislike the God of Christianity is considerable.

    Well said! I don’t think we are supposed to notice that.

  17. Alan Fox says:

    And really, considering your performance in this thread about evidence and atheists, you are probably the last person who should be lecturing anyone about distinguishing things. Physician, heal thyself. 😉

    That’s very Christian of you to point that out. A more devious person might want me to stick around and make atheists look bad. Actually, I should know better than to be led into irrelevant arguments about whether atheist movements exist and should have concentrated on the issue that they might as well not exist for all the political influence they currently exert. I’ll try and raise my game.

  18. Alan Fox says:

    Oops forgot blockqotes. My first paragraph is quoting “crude”;

  19. Alan Fox says:

    You know I am serious about the non-smoker and ex-smoker analogy. I never, since as far back as I remember, not for one moment, thought the version of Christianity made any sense whatsoever. I think Dawkins says something similar.

    But Lizzie, who I find disturbingly honest and good-natured in all her posts that I have read, I can’t understand at all. I feel like the young lad in the crowd watching the emperor’s procession. I don’t see the clothes.

  20. Alan Fox says:

    Oops “the version of Christianity that I was introduced to”

  21. Alan Fox says:

    f Dawkins description of God is accurate, would you, Alan Fox, want such a being to exist?

    That’s such a daft question, it’s hard to know how to respond. If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets, perhaps? People are eminently capable of weaving all sorts of fascinating tales that are marvellous reads. Some of the OT can be read at that level of enjoyment. The Song of Songs is beautiful poetry that bears closer study for example.

    Of course Dawkins’ description derives from a literal reading of the OT. It’s intention is to mock and it’s cruel, sure. That’s Dawkins.

    But do try to take this on board. I am not at all convinced that our universe needs beings with supernatural powers. I think we are on our own and we should relax and enjoy life. It’s this life that counts and the way to achieve immortality is to leave a legacy of fond memories in your family, friends and the wider world.

  22. chunkdz says:

    Alan:

    Atheist movements…might as well not exist for all the political influence they currently exert.

    So an atheist group with 19,000 members who has 13 successful lawsuits in hand and others pending, has their own radio show, and spends a million dollars a year on atheist proselytizing – “might as well not exist”?

  23. Crude says:

    That’s very Christian of you to point that out.

    Oh wow, it’s the Most Typical Passive Aggressive Atheist Response ever. You were given many, many attempts to pull yourself out of that fire, Alan. You stuck to your guns and doubled down. Surprise, it branded you as a hilariously poor reasoner. What, you think this will be forgotten in the space of a day?

    Even here, you’ve changed your tone only slightly. Answering questions directly absolutely burned you and made you look bad, so your new strategy is ‘change the subject and avoid answering questions at all costs’. Keep it up – you unintentionally proved Mike’s point in the previous thread. You’re apparently eager to prove his point in this thread too. 😉

  24. Alan Fox says:

    You mean this point:

    I think it safe to say that no atheist would want such a being to truly exist. It would be more comforting to believe there was no God. Sort of like a wishful denial. So it looks like the sword cuts both ways. If Christians believe because they want to believe, atheists disbelieve because they don’t want to believe.

    It’s Mike pretending to know what atheists (presumably they must all think alike) think. I only know for certain what one atheist thinks and it bears no relation to what Mike says. We* don’t get the concept. When you can’t grasp the concept of gods and the rest of the baggage then talking about whether some hypothetical god would be more comforting than another is just bizarre.

    *We may refer to some other commenters that have appeared to share similar views from time to time.

  25. Alan Fox says:

    So an atheist group with 19,000 members who has 13 successful lawsuits in hand and others pending, has their own radio show, and spends a million dollars a year on atheist proselytizing – “might as well not exist”?

    For all the influence they are currently having in US politics, Yes. But I applaud them for trying.

  26. chunkdz says:

    For all the influence they are currently having in US politics, Yes.

    It’s not zero influence, Alan. They’ve won some pretty high profile lawsuits.

  27. Michael says:

    Alan,

    It’s Mike pretending to know what atheists (presumably they must all think alike) think.

    If you think I am pretending, you must think you know what I think. Instead of trying to read my mind, why not make some effort to read and understand my point? Context, Alan, context. For a start, try reading the very first sentence and then ponder how that might set the context.

    I only know for certain what one atheist thinks and it bears no relation to what Mike says.

    I know how you feel. When you quote-mine me or paraphrase me, you commonly portray me in a way that bears no relation to what I said.

    We* don’t get the concept. When you can’t grasp the concept of gods and the rest of the baggage then talking about whether some hypothetical god would be more comforting than another is just bizarre.

    Sounds like a cop-out to me. If you are truly so befuddled by the concept of God, how can you be so sure God does not exist? If you want to make the “God is incoherent” point, fine. But then give up the whole “no evidence for God” talking point. The two don’t mix.

    That’s such a daft question, it’s hard to know how to respond. If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets, perhaps? People are eminently capable of weaving all sorts of fascinating tales that are marvellous reads. Some of the OT can be read at that level of enjoyment. The Song of Songs is beautiful poetry that bears closer study for example.

    In other words, you don’t want to answer the question. No surprise there.

    Of course Dawkins’ description derives from a literal reading of the OT. It’s intention is to mock and it’s cruel, sure. That’s Dawkins.

    Sure. It’s more evidence that he hates Christians. But I’m trying to take the guy seriously here by following up the implications of his perceptions.

    But do try to take this on board. I am not at all convinced that our universe needs beings with supernatural powers. I think we are on our own and we should relax and enjoy life. It’s this life that counts and the way to achieve immortality is to leave a legacy of fond memories in your family, friends and the wider world.

    Y’know, if Dawkins’ online trinket store ever decides to start selling Greeting Cards, you might want to submit that. It would go nice with a picture of a pretty family on the front of the card.

    But word of advice, Alan. Given the amount of time you invest on this blog, and all the other blogs, I’m afraid the legacy of fond memories you are creating for your family and friends is that of a guy sequestered on his computer arguing with Christians. Why not cut down on all that computer time and create some more fond memories with your family and friends? Or are we more important to you than they are?

  28. Alan Fox says:

    If you want to make the “God is incoherent” point, fine. But then give up the whole “no evidence for God” talking point. The two don’t mix.

    On the contrary. There is no evidence for gods. There is no direct evidence that gods don’t exist but I find the idea that gods are solely the product of human imagination quite persuasive.

    So simply using one’s imagination to do what has already been done very successfully is not going to work. The current assortment of gods have been created and modified by people, a recurring attribute of that collective effort is gods that often have some resemblance to the people who imagine them.

    So what would an imaginary god look like to me? I just don’t know how to explain further how that question just doesn’t begin to make any sense to me. Google ignosticism.

    Your last paragraph makes a lot of sense. I have wasted a lot of time commenting here. It has clarified one or two things for me. Thanks for that. Life is too important to waste.

  29. L.W. Dickel says:

    Here’s a good description of the Judeo-Christian religion.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.
    For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”-Albert Einstein

    Religion is mind rot. A bunch of asinine Stone Age bullshit that only the weak minded, apparently in need of comforting fairy tales, can swallow.

    Virgin births, blood sacrifices, talking donkeys, genocide, infanticide,slave trading, stoning non-virgins to death, stoning homosexuals to death, etc. In other words, absolute Stone Age bullshit!!

    Goddamn!! What a bunch of fucking retards!!

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