Why do we believe what we believe? Recent neuroscience suggests that most of our beliefs are unconsciously directed by a thousand different sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings before we even begin to rationally consider them. In fact, some studies suggest that our conscious thoughts and feelings rarely (if ever) deviate from the unconscious thoughts and feelings, even though from our point of view it seems as though we have made an educated deduction based on facts we have weighed carefully in our minds. We think we have rationally considered our opinions, when in reality our opinions were formed almost automatically at a subconscious level. We tell ourselves that we are forming rational opinions, when in reality we have only rationalized how we come to believe what we believe after finally becoming conscious of our thoughts.
Of course, if we take this interpretation of the data too far we end up sawing off the very limb we are sitting on. The studies themselves must be more than the inevitable result of biochemical fatalism to be trustworthy or meaningful.
The most recent Unbelievable podcast featured a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan J. Bell, who has decided to try atheism for a year. Unfortunately, he seemed to be taking his cues from the New Atheists. He defined faith as “saying we know what we cannot possibly know.” At one point he even referred to God as a “sky friend.” He admitted he was skeptical of “foundations.” At the same time he wanted to hold on to conventional views of morality-and use them to question Christianity. The other guest on the show, New Zealand philosopher and apologist Matt Flannagan, did a fine job of picking Bell’s views apart. Even Justin Brierly, typically quite neutral, asked some compelling questions of Bell.
I don’t want to be too hard on the guy just based on what I heard on a podcast. For all I know, he was playing the part. Nevertheless, by all appearances Bell’s views were rather typical of many atheists, agnostics, and “spiritual but not religious” folk I have encountered. That is to say that when it comes to authority, they don’t look to the Bible, or tradition, or even a church. They see themselves as the only authority worth considering, and their personal experiences and judgment reign supreme. In fact, many professing Christians today are their own authority, at least in practice.
Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe?
We tend to take things like morality, math, and logic for granted. We assume that the laws of nature will remain the same. We learn in school that 2+2=4. We generally trust that our sensory perception of the world around us is a reflection of reality. Most people don’t question these things. Even nihilists who deny all objective meaning and purpose live as though everything had meaning and purpose. In fact, they know it does, and their actions betray their true beliefs.
None of these things make sense in a world without God. I don’t mean some vaguely theistic creator either; I mean the Christian God of the Bible. When atheists, or even people trying atheism like Ryan J. Bell, assert trust in morality, or logic, or science, they actually have to steal from the Christian worldview. In a world without God, made up entirely of matter, mere particles and waves, why should we expect anything need be logical, orderly, mathematical, or moral?
Such things make perfect sense in a worldview that says, “In him we live and move and have our being,” or even that, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” If God did not exist, we would not even have any good reason to think that our senses were truthful, or that our thoughts meant anything.
The most important thing to know about reality is that science understands it well enough to rule out god, and almost everything else that provides wiggle room for theism and mystery mongering. That includes all kinds of purposes, including even ones that conscious introspection suggests we ourselves have. Conscious introspection was shaped by natural selection into tricking us about the nature of reality. We need always to be on our scientific guard against its meretricious temptations. Treating the illusions that rise to consciousness as symptoms, instead of guides to meaning and value, is crucial to enjoying life. It’s not easy, but taking science seriously is the first step, despite the difficulty consciousness puts in the way of understanding it.
~ Alex Rosenberg, from The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: An Interview with Alex Rosenberg
This is not what Alex Rosenberg actually believes. Despite his denial of the existence of God, meaning, and value, during his debate with William Lane Craig, he couldn’t help but bring up the suffering of his family members during the Holocaust. In a godless world without meaning or value, the violent torture and death of Dr. Rosenberg’s kin wouldn’t matter. To his credit, he admitted to everyone watching the debate that it did matter. However, in admitting this, he unwittingly admitted that God exists and he knows it.
I am reading a very interesting book right now by a missionary named Jonah Haddad entitled, Insanity: God and the Theory of Knowledge. When I’ve finished the book I’d like to write a full review, but what I’ve read so far is penetrating. Haddad observes that thought divorced from God is insanity, and all of us fallen human beings share in this insanity to one degree or another. God is the only true foundation of knowledge. Godless thought devolves into either skepticism or blind faith in our own autonomous reason. Our only sure intellectual rock is divine revelation. Haddad writes,
My purpose is to demonstrate the sanity of a “Christian” theory of knowledge by showing that the most reasonable theory of knowledge must be one informed by an understanding of God. That is, God as revealed both in his creation and in his Word, the Bible. Man-made systems of knowledge will only and always lead to insanity. True knowledge is something given to us, never something made by us. This is surely a bold claim that, for many, borders on insanity. However, it is a claim that I ask my readers, both Christian and not, to consider with utmost openness and honesty. We are liable to knowledge and obligated to truth by nature of who we are. So let us hasten to seek the truth, and in doing so, form a worldview that best allows for and values this truth.
And so we see men like Bell and Rosenberg deny the existence and lordship of Jesus Christ in one breath, but confirm their knowledge of Him in the next.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.
Romans 1:18-22 (ESV)
We all know the truth about God. What will you do with this truth?