Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Reality Test 12-How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on September 11, 2010

12) It’s irrational to think because a claim can’t be disproved, for instance that God exists, the claim must be true–also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam

People like to appeal to a lack of knowledge or ignorance on a topic as evidence their claim is true. This phenomenon is related to the burden of proof and because something is unexplained it’s unexplainable arguments. I was recently accused of having faith because I stated I was an atheist. The argument was something like because I couldn’t prove God doesn’t exist I’m making a leap of faith to call myself an atheist. Clearly they didn’t understand that using the label atheist doesn’t indicate a person is saying God doesn’t exist absolutely, simply there is no evidence God does exist, so why assume so. Most atheists are also agnostics because they know there is no evidence to disprove God exists. But many people who claim agnosticism use the label from a place of belief, since upon discussion it becomes clear they believe something supernatural does exist because the supernatural can’t be disproved. Even though there is no evidence at all for anything supernatural. These New Age thinkers may be thinking because science can’t disprove the existence of physic powers or the supernatural, they must exist. My question is why?

This argument is absurd and creates circular thinking, which lends to circular conversations even once the Santa comparison has been made. “So I suppose since I can’t disprove Santa exists, then he must exist?”  Is it really “belief” when there is positive evidence to support a claim, and a willingness to change thinking if evidence changes? Knowing something supported by science is very different from believing in something with a complete lack of evidence to support the belief and no changed thinking even when there is evidence a claim is most likely false.

22 Responses to “Reality Test 12-How has my thinking gone wrong?”

  1. Paulo said

    When it comes to God and the supernatural, you are in the realm of pure imagination. Christians and believers in the supernatural believe in what they do not because of scientific proof, but because, for whatever reason, they want to believe it. The lack of scientific evidence only reinforces their beliefs: they believe their claims to be so far beyond the grasp of scientific understanding and empirical evidence that they cannot be disproved by the absence of these. In short, as long as they feel the need to believe whatever they believe in, they will continue to treat it as if it’s real, because the feeling that it’s real is still there.

    My thoughts, anyway…

    • Ann said

      I agree with you Paulo. And I think many believers can also understand your point.

      Unlike all other feeling experiences such as love or hate for other people, frustration or joy over real life experiences, the feeling that the supernatural exists is not based in anything tangible. It’s completely unlinked to reality. It’s purely imagination. While there is no evidence to support the idea that the supernatural does exist, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that it does not exist. Psychologists continue to conduct research on the human brain and continue to uncover more information on how the brain functions to explain humans’ experience of the supernatural.

      In another century it’s going to become much more difficult for people to continue their rationalizations as the gap of the unexplained narrows. I dare say, when it comes to decimating religious beliefs, psychology is where it’s at. My theory, as supported by psychology as it stands today, is that much of what adults feel is real in relation to supernatural experiences is something hardwired into the human brain during formative years combined with the evolved biology of the brain. When this biology and hardwiring is put together with a desire for the feeling to be real, maybe partly because it has been romanticized since childhood, maybe for existential reasons, or maybe because most everyone attests to the veracity of the feeling, an unshakable belief system develops for most people.

      I think it indicates something intrinsic about any person who somehow escapes this hardwiring when they are put through the exact same process. This doesn’t make the people who escape better than those who don’t escape, but it definitely makes them different.

      • JN said

        I disagree with Ann. It belief in God is not completely unlinked to reality. Perhaps it is not directly linked to our reality, but the belief still has its roots in reality.

        We conceptualize our world through metaphor (life is a journey, people are plants, lifetime is a day, etc.). I think it makes sense for people growing up with metaphors ingrained in their conceptual framework to believe in God.

        It’s not too surprising that Midwestern farmers cling to their beliefs in God. It’s not necessarily that they’re more ignorant than everyone else. They are surrounded by cycles of life and death. They sow seeds in the spring and harvest the fruits in the fall. Their conceptual mapping of life is largely reflective of this process(people are plants, lifetime is a year, death is the reaper, death is a destination). Naturally, the personification of these metaphors point to a God.

        Don’t confuse this as evidence for God. It’s just a reaction to the statement that the belief has no grounding in reality. Like it or not, our realities are highly figurative.

        • JN said

          Um, yeah, I should have proof read this before I posted. Take the “It belief” part as a sign that I really didn’t sleep well last night.

        • Ann said

          JN, you can add child language development and learned metaphors as major contributors to the human hardwiring experience. Believers want to believe, so language and learned metaphors support their belief or “conceptual framework” or “perspective”. That doesn’t mean belief is linked to reality. Belief is believed to be linked to reality, it’s not linked to reality itself.

          Unless you are arguing belief is a part of the natural world, and has roots in the the natural world. Everything is part of the natural world. That’s all there is.

          I would agree that everything is natural.

        • Robert said

          Joel, there are atheist farmers too, who conceptualize abstract concepts of life through metaphor just like the Christian farmers, only that don’t make that big leap to believing in Santa Claus. The God you are pointing to is a specific one invented by the Jews a long time ago. To suggest that a farmer in the Midwest’s metaphors “naturally” lead to believing in a god from some tribes in the desert in the Middle East, well, that’s just weird. You have to make your laser sight brain capacity go all soft-focus to make a preposterous leap in logic like that. Keep the laser on buddy.

          • JN said

            No. I was talking about “God” in a general way. You don’t have to agree with me. I’m cool with that. What I’m saying is I don’t think it was originally that big of a leap.

            Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world. It’s an effort to answer basic questions of beginnings, meaning, and purpose. It may ultimately fail to supply a satisfactory answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not based on the tangible or that it lacks any ties to reality. At one point or another, it made a lot of sense.

            Maybe I’m being poisoned by a book I’m reading, More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor, but I think there is some truth to my metaphor hypothesis. I did a horrible job of summarizing what I meant, and I don’t have time now to do it. Not that it’d matter anyway.

            Even imagination has it’s roots in reality.

            There’s got to be a reason that most civilizations have a religious focus. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m not saying alien missionaries came down from the planet Zorg to inseminate our minds with their ideology.

            A great deal of our existence is fabricated. All these ideas we discuss and tout as truth will eventually look silly.

            I think religion reflects part of the human experience and is originally derived from that experience. It is (or at least it was) an attempt to make sense of the world.

            Just about every culture has a creation story, with maybe an exception or two where humans came down from the trees or something else like that. Why? Because everything we have known has a beginning and an end. Naturally, we want to know how things began, so we define that beginning through things we know

            • JN said

              This post was supposed to end after “Not that it’d matter anyway.” You can edit it if you want. I suck.

              • Ann said

                Haha! I actually like your whole post. I understood you are saying the idea of God may be based on experiences with nature where metaphorical coincidences, or observed phenomenon from which humans have derived metaphors over the centuries, have developed. I’m not disagreeing with you technically since of course people think God exists from their personal experience with their environment manifesting itself in their brains. These are inferences made by humans from their feeling of connection with others and nature, along with coincidences they experience using a metaphorical framework for understanding the occurrences in their life and with nature that are completely a product of their brains’ perceptions of their environment. In a post a while ago on this site I made the observation that prior to language humans had only experience. Language most likely evolved along with the brain from the human interaction with their environment. I’m sure metaphorical understanding developed along with language and brain evolution to produce the framework for our perspective of life experience.

                Because people think their feeling of God is real doesn’t make that feeling real to anyone but them. Believers believe the feeling is linked to something real and tangible they are observing, but this feeling is coming from metaphors they think are saying something to them personally because of neurotransmitters firing in their brains. As science and empirical research has shown time and time again, there is no real connection. It’s only a connection formed within the human brain without outside empirical evidence to verify this feeling other than their personal observations of reality. The actual connection with reality simply doesn’t exist. Where is the evidence outside of your brain? I don’t have belief in my brain, so maybe God only exists for believers because the belief exists in their brains.

                A thought, this isn’t the X-Files, we’re discussing God, not aliens. Mulder and Sculley actually discovered hard evidence for alien life (a much more likely occurrence than for God).

                • Ann said

                  I was referring to the 1998 X-Files movie. In the movie alien life is discovered on earth. A science fiction movie. My guess is some conspiracy theorists loved it.

            • Bob said

              I read Lakoff and Turner’s book back in grad school. You might enjoy this little blog post about metaphor that refers to the book you’re reading: http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/the-ubiquity-of-metaphor/

              • JN said

                That post references a different book, but the two books share an author (both named Mark, strangely enough). I’m sure they’re fairly similar books.

                • Ann said

                  Doesn’t it seem like there are very few ‘new’ ideas out there. Most every idea has been discussed that can be discussed, but people continue to discuss them and write about them as though they are their ‘new’ ideas. Two exceptions seem to be in the areas of science and art. But even then, a lot of research is duplicated and a lot of art is just rehashed and unoriginal. The possibility is still there though. Like with Nirvana or the study of the universe, Stephen Hawking comes to mind.

                • Bob said

                  JN, Cognitive Science and metaphor in particular are Lakoff’s expertise. His books aren’t repetitive as far as I know. I’ve read two of them (the one you’re reading and the one mentioned in that article), and they had different goals and focuses.

                  Ann, it is true that in academia folks who made their name doing a specific trick sometimes milk that trick for all it’s worth. Lakoff is not one of those people. His ideas are very new and, if my profs are to be believed, his work on metaphor and human cognition is groundbreaking. Folks rarely get published in peer reviewed journals in any field if they aren’t saying something new or approaching something from a new angle.

                • Ann said

                  Frankly I know virtually nothing about Lakoff, so maybe I’ll read some of his work. But if he is a cognitive scientist, then he’d fall into one of the two disciplines I mentioned. I didn’t say there were no new ideas, just the rare new idea. I’d argue that most things that get published are not new ideas. Seems most times they just say things a little differently based on previous ideas or research on already foundational ideas. Unless it’s something they’ve researched that has never been researched before. In psychology and counseling, the use of metaphor as a basis for language, thought, and experiencing is old news. Maybe the idea comes from Lakoff, but I wonder.

                • Ann said

                  Freud comes to mind.

                • JN said

                  I think Lakoff’s main gig is challenging the more conventional theories of metaphor, which focus on metaphor as linguistic phenomena. Lakoff argues that metaphor is more integral to the realm of thought, not necessarily an abstraction that can be understood in literal terms. It can get complex, but it makes a lot of sense.

                  One of the prominent professors in our area was a family friend. He used to come over to our house and talk about this stuff for hours. I actually have one of his copies of More Than Cool Reason. It’s rather obvious by the markings on each page that he understands Lakoff on a far deeper level than I do.

                • Ann said

                  The part of our brains that operates beyond thought and has been programmed since birth to make inferences as shaped by metaphor was labeled the unconscious mind by Freud. Our personal perspectives developing from a framework comprised of our experiences and our language. Language originally developing from human experience with the natural environment. Metaphorical understanding possibly one of our most basic frameworks for perspective. Childhood language development, along with other childhood cultural and religious experiences creating our unconscious mind, or “will” in conjunction with our individual brain chemistry. So that much of who we are is just part of our programmed character, with words attempting to communicate our metaphorical experiences. Language, and images, are representations for our experience of living (which includes thought, and the unconcious will from which thought springs).

                  I’ve been criticized for my focus on metaphor as used in language and images, but I think when you pay attention to the metaphors people use unconscously, it’s almost as if they are speaking another language. Maybe only I understand it though, since it is constructed on my understanding of the metaphors and connections of thoughts people are using unawares. I tend to overfocus on people’s metaphors. Maybe why I like simple language so much. My thoughts…

                • Ann said

                  In other words, I prefer speech and writing that is less vague, more direct and reality based. The more flowery, the more complex the metaphors, the less a person seems to be actually saying. Just smoke and mirrors people think indicates some kind of deep spiritual meaning, but really, it’s a meaning that only really matters for that person. Ummm, let’s cut to the chase. Directness to me is refreshing (like as in drinking a cool glass of water…that water from which my thought springs–like a fountain, or an animal pouncing or jumping up and on its prey, your illusive rational thought….lol).

                • JN said

                  Our life in this world–
                  to what shall I compare it?
                  It is like a boat
                  rowing out at break of day,
                  leaving not a trace behind.
                  -Sami Mansei

                  I enjoy this kind of language. I can visualize a boat and the water closing in around it as it passes. I can see a sunrise. I can see fog lifting from the surface of the lake. It’s beautiful, if not a bit lonely. There is no one else on the lake. There is no stopping. There is no return. I can see myself looking back, eventually losing sight of the shore as the shore eventually loses sight of me. The sun sets, and I am gone.

                  That’s powerful stuff. The poet used only a handful of words. Most of us could fill a few pages with words and still not capture everything.

  2. Paulo said

    Perhaps a little observation to add is the fact that the imagination can come up with all sorts of things that don’t really exist, but that are based in its interaction with components in the very real world. For example, children see animals (or even pictures of animals) and imagine all sorts of monsters living under their bed. At one time people believed in dragons. Ancient books said they existed. And when they found bones of huge reptiles in the ground, they believed for sure they had found the remains of dragons. The point is, yes, the belief in God is constructed out of experiences from the real world: but this construct at some point ceases to be connected to the real world and begins to be purely imaginary.

    • Bob said

      It’s also not at all surprising that different cultures’ deities have very similar characteristics based on humans’ own desires: a really strong god (who doesn’t desire more strength?), a kind but just god (who doesn’t want their deity to be nice to them but ruthless with their enemies?), etc. And some supernatural belief systems separate out those desires for various super traits into separate deities. All the magical deities look similar for the same reason that all stories are similar: they are constrained by the limits of the human mind. Dogs like to walk in circles before they go to sleep–to crush the grass and make their nap spot comfy–but they do it on carpet and other grassless areas. Same goes for belief in the superstitions and myths of the past. They served their purpose for our ancestors and helped them explain the world around them. However, us modern folks have a more rigorous, reality-based form of explanation that is a result of the scientific method. We should use it, not an incorrect and outdated method of explaining the world we live in.

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