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Dealing With Doubt and Imposing False Patterns

September 09, 2013     Time: 17:59
Dealing With Doubt and Imposing False Patterns


A listener is paralyzed by an objection to God, which claims humans impose patterns, and we therefore impose a belief in God or God's work upon ourselves. Is this a valid objection? How do we handle doubt?

Transcript Dealing with Doubt and Imposing False Patterns


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we have some questions that we get in our mailbox at Reasonable Faith. This one from Venezuela. It says, “Dear Dr. Craig, I want to thank you for being such an inspiration and a faith saver for so many. My question is very concerning to me. I have stopped praying altogether. I really can't pray well with these issues in my head. They all come from Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. Season 3, episode 10, ‘Did we Invent God?’”

Dr. Craig: Now, I want to interrupt at this point, Kevin, and just say that this is a disastrous response to doubt. When we encounter things that cause us to doubt and we face intellectual difficulties, we mustn’t quit praying. Instead, we need to go to God with our doubts and bring them to him and say, “God I doubt that you exist. I doubt that you’re there. Please help me.”

Remember the man who came to Jesus and said “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” That should be our prayer as well. Kevin, I’ve so feared that in a case like this, the enemy of our souls has deceived this fine fellow into ceasing to pray, and so cutting himself off from God, from spiritual resources and spiritual nurture; and this will be a victory for Satan in his life if he can use these intellectual doubts to short circuit his spiritual life. We must, I think, always remember that the problem of doubt is not just an intellectual problem. This has a spiritual dimension as well. There is an enemy of our souls who hates us intensely and is bent on our destruction, and if there is anything he can do to destroy us and our fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God, he will do it; and so, we must be vigilant, I think, in preserving and pursuing our spiritual formation even in the face of these nagging doubts.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, a person can be shut down. Any enemy that can shut you down has won a real victory He is talking also about a T.V. show/T.V. series, Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. He said, “My questions are as follows: 1) Is belief in God a side effect of our developing a theory of mind? Does this not make belief in God very improbable and too much wishful thinking? There are two experiments conducted that strongly support the idea and they are as follows . . .”

Dr. Craig: Now, again, if I may interrupt, Kevin, before we hear the experiments. Let’s get a handle on what the question is here. “Is belief in God a side effect of our developing a theory of mind?” Now, this phrase, “a theory of mind” is a terminus technicus. It is a technical term meaning the ability to treat other sentient agents as conscious beings. Can you look at another person, or an animal, or a dog and sense that this is a conscious sentient being? Low level creatures like spiders and insects have “no theory of mind.” They are just like little machines that interact with each other, but they have no ability to view other animals as minds.

The question is, when in the evolutionary process does the ability to see other creatures as sentient emerge? All right? And so, the question here is, is believing in God just a side effect of human beings developing this ability to see other beings as minds? As we hear about these what we need to be listening for is where is the evidence in these experiments that would show that belief in God is simply the product of our being able to see, for example, other human beings as sentient creatures. Let’s listen for the evidence.

Kevin Harris: “Jesse Berry conducted this experiment. From his experiments he concluded that children under the age of four do not have a complete theory of mind and therefore, although they can pray, they do not recognize God’s work in their lives or an answer to their prayers.”

Dr. Craig: Alright, now let’s just think about that. What the experiments claim to show is that little kids under the age of four don’t recognize other persons as conscious beings, and therefore they can’t recognize God’s answering their prayers. Now, even if that were true, Kevin - let’s suppose that were true that only an adult has the intellectual capacity to discern God’s work or his answer to their prayers.[1] How in the world would that render it improbable that God exists? That this is a developed ability that little infants don’t have. I mean, for goodness sake, that just seems so utterly illogical that it’s hard to imagine that he is troubled by this. But let’s hear the evidence. Let’s hear the experiment where they ask children.

Kevin Harris: Okay, “An example was an experiment conducted where they asked children to guess which box out of two a ball was in, and they were told an invisible woman, Princess Alice, would help them out. The four year old could not tell whether Princess Alice was sending them a message when a lamp flickered, which was controlled remotely by the scientist, indicating which box out of two they should choose. On the other hand, kids over the age of six and seven understood that the flickering was a sign from Alice indicating which box they should choose. So, it is only when the children grow older that they can fully believe in God because they have a theory of mind, and although the younger children may have known that Alice was doing it, they did not understand it was a message to them.”

Dr. Craig: Now, that’s just hopeless, Kevin. How does that show that little children don’t believe in God, or can not believe that God answers their prayers? I think that parents who have four year olds would really protest this experiment even if the little children couldn’t discern Princess Alice’s indications of which box to choose or something of that sort. That in no way shows that these little children don’t fully believe that God exists, even if they are not able to discern the pattern of His answering their prayers and so forth. So, I don’t even think it shows what it purports to show, much less that this then suggests that somehow God doesn’t exists.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, I can’t make the leap either. It’s the same experiment with monkeys.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, read about the monkeys.

Kevin Harris:It showed that monkeys are different from people since they do not have a theory of mind; therefore, they do not understand that other beings are sentient and conscious, and since they can not form mental ideas of others they can not believe in God.”

Dr. Craig: Right, well that would seem to follow that monkeys don’t have belief in God. Right? Fine. Okay, now what is the implication that he draws?

Kevin Harris:This strongly suggests that we created God and as we age and our theory of mind becomes more complete so does our belief in God. This all means, from our point of view, belief might just be what makes us human, but doesn’t this make it rather improbable that it is God? Since, although this is also a plausible step for God to use in order to allow us to believe in him, it totally fits the atheistic view and leaves it all down to faith, which seems to be rather blind to others. For example, any atheist would find it to be clear evidence against God since God can easily be explained away with this theory.”

Dr. Craig: Kevin, this is a textbook example of the genetic fallacy. Thinking that because you can show how the belief in God originates, that that somehow invalidates that belief, and that is just crazy. I would expect that if God created human beings and wants them to believe in him that of course they would develop from infancy, and as they grow older and more mature into a more full orbed and richer concept of God. That is to be expected on a theistic world view. The point is that the justification for thinking God exists has nothing to do with the psychology of how belief in God originates. I wonder if Gabrielle, who wrote this question, is familiar with the arguments for God’s existence? That’s the justification for belief in God: cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral arguments for God’s existence. We don’t infer that God exists because there is a belief in God that exists among human beings. So, it seems to me there is just a tremendous confusion here between the psychological origins of belief in God, which are progressive and gradual, and justification for thinking that God actually exists.

Kevin Harris:Number two, is our belief in the way God works rooted in the fact that when we are not in control of situations we see a pattern or reason? For example, God’s work in the things around us.”

Dr. Craig: Now again, yes. Let’s suppose for the worst case scenario that this is true[2]That when we are not in control of the situation, we project imaginary patterns on the events around us. Maybe we see a silver lining and we think, ah, this is God’s reason why he allowed these awful things to happen.

Kevin Harris: We impose a pattern upon . . .

Dr. Craig: Right, suppose that is true, Kevin. That we have a proclivity to do that, to impose a pattern and discern God’s actions when we are out of control. How in the world would that justify thinking that God does not exist? It does absolutely nothing to affect the objective existence of God. It would just show that we as fallible human creatures do not infallibly discern the will and providence of God. That is hardly surprising given the complexity of life.

Kevin Harris: After various experiments that seem to show that we impose patterns or look for patterns, our reader says, “Doesn’t that also make it improbable that we see God’s work, and instead it is all a product of our brain? And how can I know I am seeing God’s work, his answers to my prayers, or him speaking to me through the world around me? That this is not just an illusion? In the same way as my last question, does it come down to hard core faith and can an atheist shrug this off quickly and turn the table saying it can all be explained away?

Dr. Craig: Again, Kevin, he seems to think that the justification for believing in God is discerning this pattern of providence in history and answers to prayer. That isn’t, I think, the justification for the existence of God. I do not think that we should argue for God’s existence based on perceived patterns in human history. I know that many times people are tempted to say, “well, why did God let this happen to me,” and look for some reason. In my work on the problem of evil, I have encouraged people not to ask that question because I think it is really unanswerable. Given our finitude in time and space, we have absolutely no idea of God’s wider providential plan as to why this or that evil entered our lives. God’s morally sufficient reason for allowing this to come into my life might not emerge until centuries from now, maybe in another country. So, it is enormously presumptuous to think that I, with my limited faculties and abilities, can discern God’s providential plan in history around me.

Rather than ask why did these things happen, we ought to say “what can I learn from this?” What lessons can I learn? What mistakes can I avoid in the future? How has God shown me that I ought to live through this experience? We can learn lessons from what happens to us without pretending to see God’s reasons for why he has allowed it to happen. And in the case of answered prayer, if you pray for something and the prayer (what you prayed for) comes true then it is entirely appropriate to say “thank you God for doing this.” Now, granted that’s not a proof of God’s existence. It could be a coincidence, but we have never suggested that prayer is some sort of an apologetic for belief in the existence of God. I would say quite the contrary, that prayer is a spiritual discipline that is part of the life of faith, but it is not a blind, unreasoned, hard core faith, as he puts it. This is a reasonable faith which can offer good arguments for the existence of God and his self revelation in Jesus. I think that perhaps Gabrielle’s problem is he seems to be really unaware of the apologetic case that can be made for God and for Christian Theism.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, because listen how he ends his letter. He says, “I love God and prayer and my connection to him, but it is very hard when I feel pressured by the evidence. I feel the evidence is still turned against God and I’m wondering if there is anything I can say to turn the evidence on an equal tide or towards belief in God. Answering this will help me to better discussing this topic with atheists, grown spiritually myself, and really help others with the same question.” That’s the end of the quote there. He watched this T.V. show that kind of blew him out of the water.

Dr. Craig: But at least he is doing the right thing here in saying, is there other evidence that will turn the tide to support theism, and I hope he is coming to the website, Reasonable Faith, and looking at the resources that we offer there. I think that what he needs to understand that these two pieces of supposed evidence that he has offered in no way offer evidence against the existence of God.[3] To think that they do is a gross commission of the genetic fallacy. They only have to do with the origins psychologically of belief in God, what maturation is required in order to have a belief in God, and then to discern God’s supposed pattern of working in the world around us. Neither one of those has any implications for the reality of God’s existence. Then, secondly, he needs to understand that there are good arguments for the existence of God that are objective and that can turn the force of these atheistic claims that this is all psychology.

Kevin Harris: Bill, we do blame God for things sometimes. We discussed on podcasts past, it is perfectly plausible, in fact, we do it all the time. We tend to maybe attribute things that happen to God that maybe God didn’t directly have anything to do with.

When I was in college a bonehead friend of mine nearly got me killed doing this. He said that God needed us to go talk to this woman. It was 11 o’clock at night and I was trying to study. I said all right, and we went over to this woman’s house. First of all, two college boys didn’t have any business going over to a single woman’s house at 11 o’clock at night, and second, her boyfriend came to the house with a gun, and we went out the backdoor! So, that was a real lesson for me. I said I’m never going to listen to you about what is God’s will is again, my friend. What he meant was, here is a person that needs some ministry. Well, then you need to be discerning. You need to pick the appropriate time. You need to think it through. Rather than impose patterns on it even though it sounds godly. We impose things and say “God did this,” and we do that often in the church because we want to be careful to give God the glory. We have discussed in podcasts past it’s better to say “I think” that this is what is going on, because we can even impose a pattern as believers on things.

Dr. Craig: Sure, and I think that it is entirely appropriate to be humble and modest and not presumptuous about discerning the pattern of God’s activity around us. What we can claim, again, is the promise that if we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding that he will direct our paths. We may not see that or discern it but we can claim that promise, and that is not an irrational thing to do because we have independent, objective evidence that God existence and has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ and in the Bible.[4]

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    Total Running Time: 17:59 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)