Don’t Tell Me What I Think

It’s terribly tempting to try to crawl into someone’s head in an attempt to psychoanalyze them, to cover your criticism, whether it is justified or not, with a patina of professional jargon to make your own argument look better (see this as an example). Atheists, especially those that want to come off as rational and reasonable, even though they often fail to provide grounds for what is or is not rational and reasonable, will often take pot shots, like this post over at Atheist Republic by Michael Sherlock titled, Inside the Mind of a Believer —Part 1: The Ego

He begins,

Now, I do not presume to know the specific cognitions of every single believer, nor do I pretend to understand the contents of the billions of individuals infected with the plethora of religions that plague our chaotic planet, but there are some common psychological and neurological phenomena that present us with sufficient grounds to generalize, albeit cautiously.

There’s a few things that need to be observed here, namely that he claims that he is not omniscient, that there are things that he is ignorant of, but he does admit that certain generalizations can be made. Let’s see if his generalizations, if true, can be truly generalized.

Religious people arrive at their psychological dead ends via a variety of means.

Gee. Be honest about what you think.

Some, perhaps most, are indoctrinated from childhood, well before the age of reason, by role models who believe they are teaching, rather than warping their children’s fragile and suggestive minds.

This also poses a problem for atheists who raise their children as atheists. Careful, that sword cuts both ways, Michael.

Others grow up in one faith and through the intervention of a missionary or friend, become re-programmed into a new religion; others still, are persuaded by some form of media, and so on.

Again, the atheist has the same problem.

Notwithstanding the numerous ways in which people adopt a religious belief system, we already we have sturdy grounds upon which we may establish our first generalization.

You haven’t differentiated atheism from any other religion in order to make any meaningful generalization.

Religion is a social virus, contracted and spread via social interaction between human minds, whether directly or indirectly.

I like playing word games too. So let’s play. “Atheism is a social virus, contracted and spread via social interactions between human minds, whether directly or indirectly.” The generality seems applicable, so far. So, let’s continue,

Having demonstrated the ability to make certain generalizations, let us proceed from the point of infection, and examine some of the common psychological strategies employed by believers to reconcile their unnatural beliefs with the natural world, as well as investigate how they shield their minds from evidence that comes into conflict with their socially acceptable delusions.

(Raises hand) Upon what basis do you draw to assert what is or is not natural, Michael? Or, what is or is not a “socially acceptable delusion“? Just have to ask.

After giving a brief lesson on the origins of the term “ego” he finally gets down to some brass tacks, talking about doomsday cults, which I would point out as being religious outliers to begin with, and Young Earth Creationism, which can be just as cultish. Of course he doesn’t give any meaningful grounds for responding to such, he just ridicules them with psychological lingo. The real meat comes in part 2, titled Psychological Storms, where he writes about egocentrism,

Egocentrism describes a preoccupation with one’s own beliefs about the world. Put simply, it enunciates the immature failing to understand that the world appears differently to different observers.


Although many adult believers appear capable of understanding that the world appears differently to different observers, they seem incapable of understanding that the world may well be different to the way in which they have been indoctrinated to observe it; but why?

Good question. Better question, why does it matter? Can he answer that?

Despite strong prostrations to the contrary, open almost any religious book and you will find the soil in which unhealthy egocentrism is sown, particularly within the insane compendiums that form the foundations of the exclusivist Abrahamic faiths.

I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life… ~John 14:6

Surely the true religion with Allah is Islam…and whoever disbelieves in the communications of Allah then surely Allah is quick and reckoning.  ~ Quran 3:19

So you, Michael, aren’t making claims of exclusivity?

The mentality seems to be; “My beliefs, my god, my religion, my, my, my; me, me, me.” I think it is fair to say that this crude preoccupation with such stagnated, and stagnating beliefs, has been at the heart of much of the chaos wrought by both Islam and Christianity throughout their sordid histories.

What about your beliefs Michael? What’s wrong with “chaos”?

The Muslim conquests, the Christian Crusades, the Spanish and Goan inquisitions, the Fatwas, the apostasy-inspired murders, the oppression of women, the execution of heretics and homosexuals, the religious wars; all of this chaos can be explained by the psychological immaturity of exclusivist, and false-certainty-producing faiths.

History is an interesting subject and it is a very illuminating subject when approached through primary sources. All of his complaints require a grounding, one that can provide certainty to meaningfully say that any of those things that he lists were certainly wrong. History can tell you what happened, but it cannot give you any meaningful justification to pronounce moral judgement. That comes from somewhere else, by faith. Michael is tacitly expressing belief in a certain sense that he believes that those things were wrong, but what makes them wrong and why is he certain of it?

He continues, after giving a (self-serving) quote by Will Durant

Tolerance requires understanding, and understanding, in turn, requires psychological maturity.

No debate there.

I imagine this is why we don’t see too many scientists strapping bombs to their bodies to defend Darwin’s theory of evolution, or why not too many secular humanists lobby their governments to strip the human rights from same-sex couples.

We can debate this, but not here, and I find this debate between Andy Bannister, of Solas-CPC, and a secular humanist rights activist Peter Tatchell to be rather interesting in regards as to what human rights are and who can meaningfully define them.

According to the Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science:

“All psychological development may be described as a progressive loss of egocentrism and an increase in ability to take wider and more complex perspectives.” [2]

To which he then asks,

But how can a true believer ever truly tolerate other points of view if they have as their central or core belief, the perfection of their own “divinely inspired” worldview, particularly if that worldview has as inbuilt defense mechanism, i.e., the belief that any contrary worldview is inherently evil? How can they possibly take on wider and more complex perspectives about the world?

That’s a question that you have to answer, Michael. You are quick to talk about tolerance, but you refer to the beliefs of others as “psychological dead ends“, “socially acceptable delusions“, and “immature“, so you’ll pardon me if I hold you to your own standards and ask you to provide a justification for those conclusions? It seems like you’ve already made up your mind and don’t want to be confused by any facts.  I don’t think that you really know what “tolerance” means. He continues,

Short of realizing that their beliefs are wants, not necessities, they can’t.

Do you need to believe that, Michael, or do you want to? I think that Michael is making certain category errors and won’t own up to his own presuppositions.

So what happens in the mind of the believer when someone presents them with facts that come into conflict with their core beliefs? The believer, as we saw in the previous piece, will be forced to reconcile such dissonance-producing information with rationalizations, denial and other psychological strategies.

He doesn’t realize that what he is doing is a demonstration of his own cognitive dissonance. He wants to believe that what he believes is true, however when he is presented with something that contradicts it, his mental clutch slips and smokes in an attempt to hang on to what he believes is true. 

He continues, trying to demonstrate that there are problems that induce cognitive dissonance,

The earth is 6,000 years old Vs. Geology shows the earth to be billions of years old.

Both are assumptions based upon interpretations of evidence using unspecified presuppositions. The problem is that there are geologists who are Young Earth Creationists (YEC) and there are geologists that believe that the earth is billions of years old. So he’s simply being dishonest.  Geology doesn’t “show” anything, geologists do. If you’re convinced, by the arguments and evidence presented by YEC, great, wonderful. If you’re convinced by the arguments and evidence that the earth is billions of years old, likewise. However, as I’ve discussed here, even those arguments require a justification.

The bible says God created humans separately from other species Vs. The theory of evolution shows that humans are the descendants and relatives of non-human species.

Again, this is simply dishonest argumentation. The theory of evolution “shows” nothing, it is merely a theory of origins, among other competing theories.

Sins, witches and demons cause disease Vs. The germ theory.

“Sniff” “Sniff” Is that a straw man I smell?

Theistic evolution Vs. Obvious imperfections in nature.

Yep. It’s a straw man.

God is Good Vs. Epicurus’ problem of evil.

Epicurus’s “problem of evil” isn’t really a problem. It’s most modern formulation comes from David Hume’s, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, which says,

Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

Just think about it for a minute. The skeptic asking the question, has to be able to provide a justification by which to call anything “evil” apart from a Good God, within his own worldview. Even in the context of Hume’s own dialogue, which can be found here, on page 44, Philo, who is making the argument and raising the question, makes a common, yet erroneous assertion, saying,

[It] might be suggested, you still stick to your anthropomorphism, and assert that the moral attributes of God—his justice, benevolence, mercy, and uprightness—are of the same nature as these virtues in human creatures?

No Christian, with a biblical foundation for knowledge, would make such an argument. The truly Christian, i.e., biblical, argument is that the qualities of “justice, benevolence, mercy, and uprightness,” are qualities that are present in humans as his image bearers, and that is to say that evil is detected when those qualities that ought to be present aren’t. And, as simply a fact of human existence, we live in a fallen world. God is both willing and able to prevent evil, and he does, but at the same time, being upright, he also allows evil creatures to do evil to one another, and is just in doing so. At the heart of the assumption is that evil is meaningless, rather than the fact that it only has meaning, and is only evil if there is a Good God.

He continues,

To further illustrate the effects of cognitive dissonance, one need only reflect upon the reaction of the Church when Copernicus first published his; ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies,’ in which he correctly put forth the idea of a heliocentric solar system in contradiction to the biblical and ecclesiastic model at the time; the trial of Galileo; the execution of Giordano Bruno, or observe the continuing controversy over the fact of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  If history has taught us anything about the antagonistic relationship between religion and science, it is that if a scientific fact cannot be reconciled with scripture, and that fact strikes at a core belief incapable of being rationalized, it will be rejected and denied for belief’s sake.

I need a moment to recover to this absolutely ridiculous, a-historical nonsense. You can check out this playlist over at godnewevidence on YouTube which sets the record straight.

I find it rather interesting, and demonstrative of his own fideism, that Michael quotes the father of cognitive dissonance theory, especially this part of the quote,

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point…We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief.

There is nothing that I can say or do to change Michael’s mind, especially if he has made up his mind to believe something contrary. But there’s something telling about the quote, something that a real skeptic would automatically agree with: the questioning of sources, which goes to bias both in the gathering of the “facts and figures” and the handling of their sources.

All told, substitute “believer” for “atheist” and the argument still works. He was correct, he made some generalizations, and the problem is that they are so generalized that they apply to his own position.


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