Re: Self-deception, faith, and scepticism

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Tue Feb 14 2006 - 08:47:42 EST

I think you're maybe making the same point. Yes, "the fool says in his
heart - there is no god". There are many motivations for atheism - desire
for freedom from a controlling deity being a strong one I guess. But I have
at least one atheist friend who states clearly - he doesn't believe in God
because he doesn't see any evidence of God. Apart from invoking the fine
tuning of the universe (which you could say is a weak form of the
Intelligent Design hypothesis), there isn't any evidence I can offer him.
As I understand it, there are two forms of the anthropic principle, a weaker
form which says "things are as they are because we are" (I remember Stephen
Hawking made this point in his inaugural lecture as Lucasian professor of
maths, which I attended). That form doesn't point to a theistic explanation
- it just says if things weren't the way they are then we wouldn't be there
to ask the question. I think the stronger form of anthropic principle
implies that the universe must have been designed to bring forth life.
Because I'm a Christian, I subscribe to that view - the bible tells me so in
Genesis Ch 1, when God says "Let the earth bring forth .... and the earth
brought forth". But that's a faith-based decision, not one based on hard
scientific evidence - it can never rule out the collossal fluke argument, or
indeed the multiverse argument. I'm not sure if you can say there's hard
evidence to support either form.


On 2/14/06, David Opderbeck <> wrote:
> 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 deception.
> 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
> > -----------

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Tue Feb 14 08:48:17 2006

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Feb 14 2006 - 08:48:17 EST