People Believe and Defend What They Prefer to Be True

People believe and defend what they prefer to be true. This is an obvious and non-controversial fact. That's who we are as human beings. That's what we human beings do. That's what psychological studies have repeatedly shown us over and over.

To understand this just think back to a time when you thought you needed something really badly, but then your hopes were dashed. What did you do? You convinced yourself you didn't need it after all; that you were better off not having had your hopes realized. It may take a bit of time as days turn into weeks and weeks into months, but that's what we human beings will do almost every single time. It's our natural tendency. It helps us deal with our pain and loss. It's how we resolve our cognitive dissonance. It keeps us feeling sane.

This same tendency is what humans have when it comes to religious faith. People believe and defend what they prefer to be true here too. When believers are ignorant (or willingly ignorant) about the available evidence, or when there isn't sufficient evidence to to tell them what to accept one way or another, they will believe and defend their inherited religious faith too. I've devoted a few posts to this topic. [Be sure to read the ones below this first one in that link]. Because of this strong tendency in us all, believers ought to take the Outside Test for Faith. It's that simple.

But despite the facts of human nature the men of Triablogue continue to kick against the goads. They are required to reject many obvious and non-controversial facts in order to believe and defend their faith from the arguments in The Christian Delusion. This is the mark of a blind person, except they simply refuse to see because they prefer to believe.

29 comments:

stone said...

John, you keep pushing this, but it's beginning to sound stale as your default response to any arguments presented. It makes you look like you "protest too much."

John W. Loftus said...

Stone, I have many responses available but at the moment I'm defending the OTF.

Joe Staub said...

I agree with Stone, "Thou Protesteth to much." It's like a person who is vehemently against something, then we find out that what they are so vehemently against they actually are doing or struggling with.

Anyway, if I am reading this correctly, John, you are placing yourself in the category of human nature, which as you say bends toward supporting what we prefer is the truth. Just to be sure, you are like the rest of us, right?

May I add, as I have said before, it is also human nature to seek the divine. Yes, the religious aspects of "spirit seeking" have to be taught and that's why it's different from culture to culture, but it is human nature. And, I would suggest it is just as true as your statement that human nature causes us to defend and believe what we "prefer" to be true. I'd like an anthropologist to weigh in on this one. I don't know of any culture or people group in history that does not have a spiritual bent to it. Except on Star Trek.

Curious to know what you think of this.

Victor Reppert said...

John: I looked at the list of posts where you say people and defend what they prefer to be true, and you assert and defend that thesis except when it is applied to you. Then you deny it.

By your own claim, you are a decisive counterexample to your thesis.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I am like most people. I never denied that. We human beings do not think very well or come to reasonable conclusions based on the objective facts. We're all in the same boat about this. I accept this fact, why won't you?

Yet I most emphatically did prefer Christianity to be true. You have the right to deny this, of course, but it is my claim, as it is with the claim of almost everyone I've ever heard who left the fold. Or are you wanting to claim people don't change their minds against what they prefer to be the case? It happens all the time. It's just that it doesn't happen very often without solid evidence. Evidence will change a mind against what it prefers to be true. The problem is that with the omniscience and mystery cards you believers have as an escape clause for any lack of evidence there is no single piece of evidence that can help you see that what you prefer to believe is false.

If you were to leave the fold in the future then just wait until someone comes along and tells you the reason you left the fold is because you preferred doing so. If that happens then so will the other.

But remember today. You DO prefer to believe. So also once did I.

Victor Reppert said...

People have preference on both sides of most issues. C. S. Lewis says he absolutely hated the idea of believing in God, or becoming a Christian, but that he came to believe because he thought the evidence for it was good.

Hence what we prefer to believe is something of a red herring in the discussion. Everyone has emotional preferences, thinking carefully about these matters is difficult, and sometimes people do change their minds because of the evidence. You have the phenomenon that I have experienced, where your desire to believe something makes you suspicious of that very belief.

But what you have to avoid doing is implying that people on the other side have emotional motives, but that no one on your own side does. That's circumstantial ad hominem, and last time I checked, it was a fallacy.

People typically want a future life, but they also don't want some Supreme Being to be able to tell them that what they are doing is wrong and they have to repent. People want to think of themselves as the supreme being, above whom there is no one. Josh McDowell says there are three reasons why people reject Christianity: Pride, ignorance (usually self-imposed), and a moral problem. I have criticized McDowell for making that kind of a generalization (and Russell for explaining religion in terms of fear of death, fear of hell, and fear that the universe should be meaningless), but you can't deny that these facts do play a role in unbelief, just as Russell's factors play a role in belief.

Your post in which you loudly protest that you don't want atheism to be true rings a tad hollow, in light of what you say in the other posts. Atheists act like they are intellectual saints, that they, and they alone, have transcended all the psychological and sociological forces pressing upon them and hold their beliefs only in response to the evidence. I would never make that kind of a claim about myself.

John W. Loftus said...

All I can say Vic is this: Are you willing to consider that the reason you believe in Christianity is because you prefer it to be true? I have no doubt that I did and yet the evidence forced me to reject my faith. Only you can answer for yourself before your concept of God.

But don't comment as if I wasn't making a point that was on target. I was most definitely. Don't tell me people realize this fact about ourselves. Most of them do not know they believe and defend what they prefer to be true. I'm telling them the truth about themselves so they can really consider the question I asked you above, and THAT is on target, not a red herring at all.

Cheers

Joe Staub said...

Wow, John, sounds to me like you are claiming believers are the preferential thinkers while you are above and beyond such inferior thinking. Your "human nature" claim does not apply to you once you become an Atheist thinker? Or, are you really saying that believers are "emotionally" driven to their conclusions while atheist's are "thinking" driven to their conclusions? I'm just trying to be fair here, so please clarify.

Ignerant Phool said...

I think there's too much focus on whether "this" or "that" applies to you too in the debate between believers and unbelievers. In a case such as this where we're all in the same boat, more focus should be placed on first acknowledging it, and then as best as one can, apply it to their beliefs and truth claims.

I think though that one of main difficulty for the believer/christian is that they have special "reward" at stake for what they believe compared to the unbeliever. This gives them an advantage with the need to "defend what they prefer to be true",(this is undeniable) and therefore plays a very important role in the assessment of a claim such as John is making. When we take into consideration examples like this, you can see why it's not just about, "well that applies to you too sir!" The same thing goes for the OTF.

Andre

GearHedEd said...

Victor said,

"...People typically want a future life..."

In my opinion, everything you said after that is incidental.

Think about it a minute... What's the alternative? It's NOT an eternal existence in Hell; it's complete NON-existence, just the same as we all experienced prior to our birth. Why does that frighten people? Why do we NEED to invent an immortality that doesn't exist?

People want a future life so bad that they're willing to suspend reality to think that it is a possibility.

There is no evidence that there is anything awaiting us in some fantasy afterlife. We are all going to be as dead as the raccoon squashed on the side of the road after we die.

Nothing more.

Cole said...

I'm not sure this is true in all contexts. I for one believe the earth is round and that it spins arround on it's axis along with a whole host of other things that are true. I don't believe these things because I prefer them to be true I believe them because they are true. For me truth matters.

GearHedEd said...

@ Joe Staub:

By many theologians' claims, religion has been a done deal since Jesus.

People who don't believe that it's the end of reason to just accept the gospels have this curious habit of asking questions, many of which either can or have been answered by scientific methods. But science isn't done yet.

The difference between the theist and the atheist is that the theist claims to have all the answers whereas the atheist is perfectly at ease with himself saying,

"We don't know--yet."

When science becomes a "finished product", religion will be all but dead.

"Or, are you really saying that believers are "emotionally" driven to their conclusions while atheist's are "thinking" driven to their conclusions?"

Nope. He's saying that theists have no basis for claiming anything AS a conclusion. There's just NO evidence, and that includes the scriptures as lacking in evidential veracity.

stone said...

@ GHE,

"When science becomes a "finished product", religion will be all but dead."

Did you mean that or were you just exaggerating for effect?

Victor Reppert said...

GHE: The difference between the theist and the atheist is that the theist claims to have all the answers whereas the atheist is perfectly at ease with himself saying,

"We don't know--yet."

VR: Are you kidding me? An atheist claims that the statement "God does not exist" is true. Someone who says we don't know yet is an agnostic.

There are many things Christians will say they do not know yet, and will know only when they get to heaven. The idea that believers are all about certainly is a ridiculous myth.

Victor Reppert said...

GHE: Somehow the desire for a future life is so powerful that it biases people while the nonrational motivations for atheism don't.

Here's what C. S. Lewis wrote:

"And it remains true that I have, almost all of my life, been quite unable to feel that horror of nonentity, of annhilation, which, say Dr. Johnson felt so strongly. I felt it for the first time only in 1947. But that was after I had long been reconverted and thus begun to know what life really is and what would be lost by missing it."
(Surprised by Joy, Harcourt Brace and Company, p. 117.)

Apparently Lewis, before his conversion, did NOT want there to be a future life. So how did he become a believer.

Hendy said...

@Cole: but a round earth has fantastic evidence supporting it.

I know that reasonable numbers convert to Christianity from atheism, but the overwhelming majority of Christians were raised Christian. To me, the OTF for those raised in a religion is especially applicable because we have no idea what kind of bias is imparted when mom & dad pray and talk about god in front of a trusting child for years before any sort of clear rational abilities set in. There's a reason we don't let people drive/smoke/drink/vote until certain ages. The brain isn't even fully formed for long-term decision making and reasoning until the early-mid 20's.

So, the point is emphatically not the genetic fallacy so please don't go there. The point is that we live in a ridiculously religiously-ambiguous world and it is extremely inconclusive as to what religion, if any, are true. Most of us fail to investigate other religions because we literally feel no compulsion to do so, having already been raised to believe that ours is obviously true.

To rid one's self of bias, it is absolutely helpful to get outside the box. Test your faith like you test that of others. Prod it. Poke it. Analyze it.

Start with any other fact and suspect it true or false and then start digging and you'll likely end up with the same conclusion. Only with religion do you need to suspect it true to discover that it is, in fact, true. It has been said to me several times by a believing friend that I need "faith seeking understanding." I have asked several times in response how this differs from "believe that you may believe more" and not received an answer.

I think my previous POST covered at least some of the disconnects that occur and the protective bubble wrap we save only for religious investigation. This disconnect is exactly why we need to wrestle with our previous biases, especially with the things that are most troublesome to ponder. The more of a threat we perceive, the less likely we are to face it head on.

@Vic: I hear you about a tendency to think of one's self as head above many others. I think a lot of this stems from encountering only a small minority of believers who seem to give the slightest sh*t about actual supporting evidence for their beliefs. I gravitate toward blogs because it's the one place I have found a community that cares to discuss these issues. In my own circles, no one picks up these books with me, no one wonders "could he really have any points?" when I express my doubts and issues with faith, and so on. They look at me like I'm broken and need to be fixed.

So, yes, when I have a desire to persevere and become as sure as I can about the truth about god and everyone around me not only cannot provide reasons or evidence to believe but indirectly scolds me for not believing... I'll tend to think I'm more intellectually honest, truly open to the evidence, and frankly, that I care more about the truth than they do.

Cole said...

Hendy,

There is also fantastic evidence that the whole universe had a beginning. Evidenence that is 99% certain. Something created it.

I wasn't saying that the point was the genetic fallacy. But since you brought it up. Think about how many people are brought up believing that the universe is only thousands of years old. Clearly, this doesn't change the fact that it's arround 13.7 billion. Truth is truth. Think of all the people who have never even heard of the Big Bang. Clearly, just because the've never heard of it doesn't change the fact that it's true. Just as the earth is round. It's a fact period.

GearHedEd said...

Cole said,

"...There is also fantastic evidence that the whole universe had a beginning. Evidenence that is 99% certain. Something created it."

Had a beginning, at least as far as space and time are concerned; but did it spring from literally nothing? Doubtful.

So the statement "Something created it" is an unsupported leap of non-logic. You expose your bias to want to believe in a creator there.

GearHedEd said...

Victor, quoting C.S. Lewis:

""And it remains true that I have, almost all of my life, been quite unable to feel that horror of nonentity, of annhilation, which, say Dr. Johnson felt so strongly. I felt it for the first time only in 1947. But that was after I had long been reconverted and thus begun to know what life really is and what would be lost by missing it."
(Surprised by Joy, Harcourt Brace and Company, p. 117.)"

Apparently Lewis, before his conversion, did NOT want there to be a future life. So how did he become a believer?"

Read it again, please. The quote says not that he was unWILLING ("did NOT want there to be"), but that he was "quite unable to feel that horror..."

BIG difference, unless there's more to his context that was left out...

Then goes on to say that it was only AFTER he reconverted that he thought there was something to lose. So your point was?

I'm OK with Lewis feeling the way he did, if that worked for HIM; what bugs me is the thought that others with THEORIES of an afterlife without a shred of evidence try to dictate what MY beliefs should be.

So how DID he become a believer? The horror he only felt AFTER reconverting is the thought of being separated from his God.

I'm an atheist and I will be dead, returned to the utter nothingness from whence I came. I have no problem with that in this life, and when I'm dead, I'll be beyond giving a hoot.

GearHedEd said...

This:

"The difference between the theist and the atheist is that the theist claims to have all the answers..."

was probably a tad imprecise.

However, you admit as well that you could be wrong when you say,

"There are many things Christians will say they do not know yet, and will know only when they get to heaven."

Heaven doesn't exist for atheists anymore that Hell, eternal souls, angels, devils, and all other insubstantial things that are functionally identical to fanciful imaginings.

They are of no use to me.

Cole said...

Gearhead,

I don't believe the universe came from nothing but that there was a cause outside space and time that produced the effect of it comming into existence making the cause eternal.

You said:

"Had a beginning, at least as far as space and time are concerned; but did it spring from literally nothing? Doubtful."

Then you said:

"I'm an atheist and I will be dead, returned to the utter nothingness from whence I came."

contradicting yourself.


As you are well aware science searches for causes and it operates on the principle of causality that is self-evident and true by definition.

Every effect has a cause. Quantum mechanics doesn't invalidate it because it would be self-defeating.

Quantum mechanics (the cause) invalidates the principle of cause and effect. (the effect)

There's more than one interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Every effect has a cause

Our universe is an effect (it came into extistence 13.7 billion years ago)

Therefore our universe has a cause.

Something eternal gave birth to our universe.

Ignerant Phool said...

I've always wondered about the possibility that God created us: Supposedly he could not have just create us living in his visible presence: Supposedly we have to earn it: So he put us here on earth and left us to ponder about everything: Wants us to believe in him and come to him via one true religion: If you don't get it right, he has the hottest tropical vacation spot for you to spend eternity: If you get it right( I'm really thinking about a cold area here but...), you go to a place call heaven: There, the mysteries of life no longer are mysteries because all your questions are answered: Then you spend the rest of your life getting every question you have answered:

I know I left out a lot of things, but God had to do it this way because......

Andre

GearHedEd said...

Check the title of this thread, Cole.

GearHedEd said...

"I'm an atheist and I will be dead, returned to the utter nothingness from whence I came."

contradicting yourself.

Not at all.

Before I was conceived, I was NOT. When I am dead, I will be NOT again. No contradiction.

GearHedEd said...

Cole said,

"...There's more than one interpretation of quantum mechanics."

Right,

There's the interpretation of the people who really understand it...

and the interpretation of the people DON'T.

I'm guessing you place yourself in the first category.

GearHedEd said...

GHE: The difference between the theist and the atheist is that the theist claims to have all the answers whereas the atheist is perfectly at ease with himself saying,

"We don't know--yet."

VR: Are you kidding me? An atheist claims that the statement "God does not exist" is true. Someone who says we don't know yet is an agnostic.

If I'm 99.999% convinced there's no God, I'll call myself an atheist, even if I can never be 100% sure. You can therefore call me an agnostic if it fits better linguistically, but that's splitting hairs needlessly.

Victor Reppert said...

GHE; But if say you are 99.99% sure of something, and it turns out to be true, then so long as you had a good justification for it, then you would say you know it. So, if atheism is true, and you are as sure as you say you are, then that means that you are not saying "We don't know yet." You ARE claiming to know. If atheism is true, then Dawkins' reasons for believing this are good, then he can be said to know that God exists.

GearHedEd said...

VR,

It's that 0.001% uncertainty that gives an argument a logical "foot in the door", so to speak, that makes me say,

"We don't know--yet."

We may never get answers THAT good.

GearHedEd said...

Call me conflicted about the atheist / agnostic definition if you want; but I'm not holding my breath for the 0.001% chance.