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Belief in God: It’s Just Wishful Thinking
by Jonathan Sherwin
“You only believe in God because you want someone to be there. You want your life to have meaning and purpose, you want the comfort of knowing someone is in control of it all. In short, your faith is simply a psychological crutch.”
Have you come across some form of this argument? This common objection against faith in God seeks to argue that many people only believe because they want to believe. That is, they do not believe on grounds of good reason. Belief in God, the argument goes, typically occurs as a result of experiencing pain, or worry, or heartache – something negative – to which the person responds by choosing to believe in God to make things better.
This person is described as projecting a view of God, in much the same way, perhaps, that a child believes that good fairies are protecting them whilst they sleep from all the nasty goblins and things under the bed. It is a belief that one believes to be true in order to feel better.
I was at a recent talk in Oxford listening to A. C. Grayling, the celebrated philosopher and one of the so-called New Atheists, whose recent book The God Argument seeks to counter faith in religion was an optimistic view of humanism.
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One of the more heavily pushed arguments from Grayling that evening was this one of ‘wish fulfillment’. Grayling actually likened the argument for the existence of God as akin to an argument for fairies at the end of the garden (a topic Sarah Abbey deals with well here).
What Does This Argument Really Prove?
Grayling was offering this argument in support of the idea that there is no God. But wait just a minute. What is the argument actually saying? It may be laid out like this:
- Many people believe in God for psychological reasons
- These psychological reasons aren’t reasonable
- Without good reasons for God it’s unreasonable to say that God exists
- Therefore God doesn’t exist
However there is a huge jump from premise two to premise three…
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