Thursday, 17 November 2011

God Is A Myth - Part 5: Experience

5. Myth can be immediately known and experienced. In the last 50 years, calls to authorities about UFOs spiked at points in time when there was science fiction about aliens in the popular culture. Particular spikes happened around Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and The X-Files. Yet there's no hard evidence of any such craft, and the people who spend the most time looking into the sky (amateur astronomers) don't seem to spot anything at all.

Crop circles, alien abduction accounts, cattle mutilations, the Roswell incident, secretive government behaviour, ancient architecture - all of these have been taken as part of the alien accounts on earth. Yet despite the preponderance of anecdotal accounts, we have no hard evidence to think that there are aliens among us. All the accounts associated with aliens may or may not have down-to-earth explanations, but the missing ingredient is that none of these accounts have any causal link to aliens. Aliens are a hypothetical answer for our ignorance, so any new explanation that's explained in light of aliens is building on an unsubstantiated hypothetical case.

Could we make the case for God as separate from the cultural and psychological drive to answer in terms of God? A recent newsworthy story was a man who became a Christian because his mother won the lottery; yet how could he know that was God? It was like another recent, and somehow newsworthy, story of a man who won the lottery after following the advice of a feng shui expert. To take a more objective case, how do we know that the origin of life was something God did? We're left trying to establish something without any known causal link, just an unsubstantiated hypothetical.

Furthermore, how can we know that someone who claims to experience God is actually experiencing God? If someone is psychologically disposed to interpreting such experiences in light of God, then what surprise is it that they have an experience of God? William Lane Craig puts it: "If you're sincerely seeking God, then God will make His existence evident to you." Why only those sincerely seeking God? The Lord may have his reasons, but the most apparent reason would be that people who are seeking God are psychologically-primed to have a religious experience of God.

People who believe in psychics will find people with psychic powers, and even come to believe in their own psychic ability. People who believe in ghosts will be drawn to testimony of ghosts, and even see ghosts themselves. Once a belief is established, we are prone to confirmation bias and ignoring disconfirming information. Indeed, psychologists have shown that disconfirming evidence can make people even more convinced of their own position. Psychologist Leon Festinger, when infiltrating a UFO cult to observe cognitive dissonance, found that disconfirming evidence led to believers proselytising in the aftermath of the failed prediction.

With confirmation bias, our tendency to anthropomorphise, our capacity for rationalisation, and expectation and interpretation of culturally-laden patterns, what can be salvaged of a personal experience of God? Paranormal investigator Ben Radford, in his search for the origins of the chupacabra, found that the initial description matched with the alien from the film Species, and that the original eyewitness had seen the film only a month prior. The chupacabra is now the third most well-known cryptid in the world, with many reported sightings, despite the fairly conclusive fictional nature of chupacabra.

That people experience God personally who are in a culture where people talk of experiencing God personally is no surprise. As A.C. Grayling so bluntly put it: "The nature of religious belief, the reasons for it, and the reasons for its persistence are all explicable without any need to suppose the truth of any part of it."

To wrap it up, I'll give the final word to Richard Dawkins "If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings."

In conclusion, then, we have yet to see any reasons to think that God does exist, and we have seen five reasons to believe that God is a myth. Together these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case against the existence of God. Now if anyone wants us to believe theism instead, then they must first tear down all five of the reasons that I gave in favor of God being a myth and then in their place present a case of their own as to why theism is true. Unless and until someone does that, I hope that we can agree that God is a myth is the more plausible position.

No comments: