Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Does 'God' want me to believe in him.

I'm writing this blog entry as though Yahweh - the god of the bible - is real. At least in part. I'm doing so in order to point out a ridiculous premise in the faith of Christianity. This blog entry is inspired by a point Matt Dillahunty made on a recent episode of The Atheist Experience. 

Christians tell me that their God (Yahweh) wants me to believe in him. He loves me and doesn't want me to burn in hell and to avoid that I need to believe that he is real. Of course if big Y doesn't want me to burn in hell then all he need do is let me into heaven when I die, right? 

But apparently that's not part of the deal. Now not all Christians believe this but many will tell me that in order to get into heaven I need to believe in God and I need to believe that Jesus is God's son, he died for my sins and that he's my savior. 

Now let's just put all that aside for a moment. 

Yahweh has given us a tool that we can use to determine how to tell fact from fantasy. How to tell whether we should accept something or discard it as nonsense  It's called 'Reason'. I don't think we're born with it, I think it's something we develop over time and, with the right education, it's something that becomes very valuable to us. We learn reason from those around us - particularly our parents and teachers. 

As I said, reason is very important to us. It lets us know there isn't a Nigerian prince waiting to give us a great deal of his fortune. It lets us know that although leaving from the roof is the fastest way to reach the ground from the top of a skyscraper, it's not going to be safe. It's a good tool to use if you need someone's help and they're reluctant or if someone's a bit angry or upset or frustrated and you need them to be calm. I'm sure we've all heard or said 'can't you just reason with them?'. 

There are countless other examples of where we need reason to live the lives we do. Without reason society as we know it would cease to exist. 

Let's return to Yahweh and his need for us to believe in him to gain entry to heaven (assuming heaven is a place I want to go). The question one must ask is this - why did Yahweh give me such a valuable tool and then make it necessary for me to suspend its use? I can think of no other aspect of my life where suspending reason would be a beneficial thing for me to do. I'm sure I have done it in the past and it's resulted in me being injured, losing money or getting yelled at. Why then would Yahweh make believing in him conditional on me giving up reason and relying on 'faith'? 

The simple point is there's no reason to suspend reason. The idea that a god would value faith not just over reason, but as THE most important trait a person can have is ludicrous. The idea that a god appeared to people, instructed them to do things - including wiping out whole towns (except for the female virgins in one case), told a bloke to build a boat and then flooded the entire planet, came to earth as himself/his son and sacrificed himself to himself to make up for the sins HE knew we were going to commit because he created a world in which those sins were possible and then this God would suddenly vanish without a trace (except for the odd appearance on toast and the arses of dogs) and that this 'God' would then expect the rational, clear thinking humans which HE created to suspend reason to believe in him is totally preposterous. It sounds like exactly what it is - a nonsense idea invented by an ancient superstitious people that didn't know better. 

What kind of god would give us the gift of reason and then ask us to suspend it so we can believe in him and make it to heaven? My guess is an imaginary one. 


  1. Well put Oz, another angle that I always think about when this type of thing comes up, if God really wanted me to believe, there was a time when it would have been very easy for him to get me. I was desperate to believe he was real, I would have probably believed the smallest sign. Now of course if Yahweh is real and he wants me to believe, he has a harder job ahead of him. If he wants me to believe and he is really timeless and all knowing, you'd think he would have taken care of this already.

  2. Are you really interested to hear a sensible counter to this? I picked it up from the Collision series with Hitchens. The kernel of it is sort of buried in your own post: "there's no reason to suspend reason".

    Hitchens said a few times that Wilson (who he debates in Collision) is one of the theist proponents he has most respect for, because his position is completely consistent. The instinct to use reason as your fundamental approach to understanding life, the universe and everything is fundamental to his disagreement with you - he simply says "you started at the wrong place" (though he would level the same charge against Descartes, so at least you're in good company). Your regressive logic (I need a reason to suspend reason) just naturally follows from your starting point.

    His world view instead begins, fundamentally, with faith. He doesn't make reason the cornerstone and therefore, he's free to believe in the tenets of his religion while maintaining a completely consistent world view. He can look at the story of Noah and say, completely honestly and consistently, that that story is true, because at the base of his world view is faith and faith instructs that the story is the word of God.

    If you try to apply reason to it, of course, it all falls down. But by the same token, if you try to apply faith to your reason-based beliefs, they would all fall down also.

    He doesn't say it in the series, but actually, there are LOTS of times when you suspend reason, whether instinctively or deliberately. Grab "Thinking, fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman. It will fundamentally change the way you view your interaction with the world - and your trust in your own reasoning.

    Of course, Wilson's approach may be able to stem arguments about internal inconsistency such as the one you mention above, but it does have other vulnerabilities. He accurately called out that it creates a "race for the high ground" of who needs to "prove" their case and why. There's also the question of the interaction between metaphysical belief (his world view) and reality as we perceive it - i.e. which world view is most consistent with our experience (and how relevant is that?).

    Oh and of course the fact that he's wrong - but that's somewhat begging the question ;)

    1. While being inconsistent is an indicator of something going amiss in your worldview, being consistent is not an indicator of everything being hunky dory. It is possible to be consistent and wrong.
      Starting from a faith cornerstone might lead to a consistent world view, but it will also lead to lots of missteps, some with no effect, others with wide ranging negative consequences. I can't think of anyone who consistently relies on faith alone.

    2. I agree of course - but my point is made in the context of this post. The post's premise is that there is an inconsistency in a universe where God exists, provides you with reason, then asks you to suspend it (read the final line of the post).

      My point is that this inconsistency is eliminated if you base your world view initially on faith.

      I'm atheist myself and I agree with your broader point, but I also feel that we should examine and discuss our own atheist perspectives critically. I'm just as happy to point out inconsistencies and/or counter-arguments against atheist views as I am against faith-based ones.

      In the end, I believe that the atheist perspective proves to be demonstrably more sound. given a level playing field. We don't need to lean on logical fallacy or personal bias to make a more compelling case - and in fact, should actively seek to avoid exactly that, to ensure the atheist position continues to gain credibility in it's own right, rather than as a shrill counter-claim to religious faith.

  3. Really good video here of the same claim being made to Sam Harris. And he quite brilliantly highlights the issue of when that claim comes into contact with reality... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22cYcsVPOok