Re: Self-deception, faith, and scepticism

From: Chris Barden <>
Date: Tue Feb 14 2006 - 10:22:27 EST

Hi David,

I think fundamentally the problem Christian apologists face viz-a-viz
atheism is that the public debate centers on "proof", and the terms of
the debate limit proof to natural science. Janice's point is well
taken here; atheists cannot conceive of a perfect Being who would not
provide such proof. Moreover, Christians cannot be strict fideists on
this issue, for Paul himself puts forward the notion that "since the
creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and
divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has
been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom 1:20) I can
sympathize with agnostics and honest seekers who feel that evolution
gives them a very good excuse indeed. If our entire physical realm is
populated with items not designed but "designoid", in Dawkins'
parlance, then couldn't we all be deceived?

I agree with you that myriad other apologetic arguments, all valid and
effective to varying degrees based on the audience, should be used to
paint a coherent picture of Christianity. But the desire to "prove"
resonates deeply within the human spirit, and there's scriptural
support for at least some kind of natural theology. ID and YEC are
failed attempts at realizing this, yet they generate much more
interest than TE literature. It seems to me that unless we change the
terms of the debate, we aren't going to make much headway in the
public sphere. And our coherent picture must include at least
something like fine-tuning if we're going to make sense of Romans


On 2/14/06, David Opderbeck <> wrote:
> Ok, I think we are on the same page. But about this: "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"
> do you mean evidence from natural science? There certainly are many more
> evidences apart from natural science that support theism. In addition to
> the argument from design / teleological argument / and cosmological argument
> (which are strong even apart from the particular arguments of ID), there is
> the moral argument, the argument from religious need, the argument from joy,
> the ontological argument, historical arguments concerning the life, death
> and resurrection of Christ and growth of the Church, and experiential
> arguments from the lives of individual believers, among others.
> All of these arguments face counterarguments, of course, and none of them
> offer conclusive "proof" of God. When we talk about "proof" of God, though,
> I think we give up the epistemological framework too quickly. In
> apologetics, we should be talking more about the "coherency" of the
> Christian worldview more than any particular rationalistic "proof" of God,
> On 2/14/06, Iain Strachan <> wrote:
> > 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.
> >
> > Iain
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > 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 10:23:03 2006

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