Re: Self-deception, faith, and scepticism

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Feb 14 2006 - 08:32:38 EST

I would argue that atheism is the ultimate self-deception (I think the Bible
has some things to say about this too). There is of course "not a shred of
scientific evidence" to prove atheism either, particularly if "science" is
defined to preclude investigation of the supernatural. But there are many
lines of evidence from culture, history, philosophy and elsewhere supporting
a theistic and, I would argue, specifically Christian worldview. Quite
honestly I think some of what we know from science about the anthropic
principle, evolutionary convergence and such supports theism as well, even
apart from any specific ID arguments. I don't think the arguments
supporting atheism are as strong. Indeed, I think they fall to pieces under
scrutiny and readily reveal atheism to be just as much faith-based as any
theistic religion. It seems to me that you are ceding far too much ground
here. I'd agree that human knowledge and the human mind are incapable of
resolving the God question through rational argument alone, but I don't
think that leaves us only to toss up our hands and content ourselves with a

On 2/14/06, Iain Strachan <> wrote:
> Some while back I posted a thread on "skepticism - uses and abuses". Now
> I'd like to examine the other side of the coin, concerning self-deception,
> uses and abuses. [Note, also to our USA friends; my spelling of
> "skepticism" has mutated to the correct version ;-) however as there are
> more Americans than Brits, I guess Natural Selection will win out ...
> <sigh!>]
> What prompts the observation was a comment in the wikipedia entry on
> self-deception that according to the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers,
> a capacity for self-deception may present a selective advantage. I think
> the article in argues that if we were brutally honest about
> everything, we would be overwhelmed with depression.
> Then a concrete example occurred to me, the British poet Philip Larkin.
> Larkin was an avowed atheist, but in addition had the obsession that he
> could never come to terms with death. In his last major length poem
> "Aubade", he dismisses both ways of coping with the thought of death as
> forms of self deception:
> This is a special way of being afraid
> No trick dispels. Religion used to try
> That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
> Created to pretend we never die....
> ie religion is self-deception - a way of pretending that everything is
> OK, but he goes on further to look at the other side of the coin, and finds
> no comfort there either:
> .. and specious stuff that says
> "No rational being can a thing he cannot feel,
> Not seeing that this is what we fear:
> No sight no sound, no touch or taste or smell
> Nothing to think with
> Nothing to love or link with
> The anaethetic from which none come round.
> Larkin sees the argument that you can' t feel it so you shouldn't fear it
> also as "specious", because he knows that ultimately the fact of your death
> means the total loss of everything you value and that means anything. In
> another of his poems he describes life beautifully as "the million-petalled
> flower of being here", but he never can come to terms with the fact that the
> petals are going to drop off.
> Larkin was too "honest" to indulge in either form of self-deception (as he
> saw it), and the consequences were disastrous. He didn't propagate his
> genes - he could never pick one woman and deceive himself that he'd picked
> the right one (though he had numerous affairs and treated the women who
> loved him abominably). And he never, ever came to terms with death - and
> when, dying of cancer, he was carried out of his house to the hospital for
> the last time, he was raving with fear.
> The final song in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" ( "Got to look on the
> bright side of life") shows us the necessity of self-deception. In one of
> my favourite (but rather rude) rhyming couplets, the song says "Life's a
> piece of S**t/ When you look at it". Ie if you're honest with yourself,
> it's all pointless, so you have to deceive yourself by "looking on the
> bright side of life" & pretend it's not a piece of s**t.
> The point is that in order to cope with life, we all have to indulge in
> some form of what might be self-deception. To an atheist, religion is
> self-deception - to us believers, we cannot say it's self deception because
> we believe it is the truth - though we don't have a shred of scientific
> evidence to prove it, despite what creationists and ID'ers would have us
> believe.
> I wonder if the urge to have "proof of God" that Intelligent Design seems
> to offer, is to do with our desire not to indulge in self-deception -
> concrete proof of God would allow us to be honest and say there's no element
> of self-deception. The certainty that ID promises is attractive, because we
> instinctively think self-deception is a bad thing. But maybe it's not such
> a bad thing. As Larkin and Monty Python both show us, in order to cope
> without religion, we still have to indulge in self-deception. Perhaps if an
> atheist told you that your religion is self-deception, a response might be
> "Oh yes? And what form of self-deception do you use as your coping
> mechanism?"
> Iain
> --
> -----------
> After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
> - Italian Proverb
> -----------
Received on Tue Feb 14 08:33:23 2006

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