Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Should Christians be psychoanalyzing atheists?

Paul Vitz does. Me? I'd just as soon all the psychological arguments cancel one another out.

9 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

I wonder what proportion of people who have 'completed' psychoanalysis are atheists vs theists (vs agnostics)? If they were mostly atheists, would that show he was wrong, or that they weren't really ready to finish therapy?

That is some fun stuff. I agree with Victor, though. Regardless of the psychoanalytic etiology of a belief, that doesn't say anything about whether it is justified. Say I'm an atheist because I was held in a prison rape camp for the first six years of my life. As an adult philosopher, I come up with a sound/valid argument that God doesn't exist. That argument would be sound/valid even if my atheism were the result of unresolved issues.

Mike D said...

I wonder how we would rank the validity of reasons for holding one belief/philosophical position over another. What would be the top ten?
1) Family of origin
2) Cost/benefit analysis
3) Rational evaluation of alternatives
4) Response to the speech a charismatic teacher
5) Evaluation of resulting character of professed followers
6) Response to a book or written treatise
7) Reaction to significant life event
8)
9)
10)

What do we consider insufficient reasons? What would we consider as respectable?

John W. Loftus said...

Agreed Dr. Reppert. However a psychological analysis is still needed on both sides of the fence. In criminal cases it's called the "mode of operation" or MO, or motive. If one side can offer an MO and the other side cannot, then that adds weight to their case.

JD Walters said...

I agree with Dr Reppert, but since there has been a disproportionate effort in psycho-analyzing away religious beliefs, now to restore balance there has to be an effort on the opposite side. I think generally late 20th Century scholarship has been very good for that. What was once considered timeless and universal (the eventual triumph of atheism and human reason) is now studied within a specific cultural and historical context, as a response to particular historical exigencies. The same could be said for science-and-religion history, or the universal scope of the Enlightenment project.

In the end what the psycho-analysis basically boils down to on both sides is an intra-systemic confirmation of one or the other belief system. For example, atheists try to argue that psychologically believers are emotionally immature or prone to fancy, in order to explain away opposing beliefs. Believers, on the other hand, explain away atheism on the grounds of arrogance, a desire for human autonomy, etc. Strictly speaking, such critiques are only valid presupposing the particular framework of belief.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I have never seen an atheist use psychological arguments to argue for atheism. Rather, since they are atheists, they have to explain why so many people believe something that is false. The shoe can be put on the other foot, though. For theists, they might seek to explain why atheists believe something that is false. Either way, there aren't particularly good arguments for either view to be found. It usually ends up coming off as ad hominem. It is probably more fruitful, psychologically speaking, to just study the psychology of religious belief (or lack thereof), and ignore questions about whether theism or atheism is true.

Alethes Ginosko said...

Speaking of Freud; check this out.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/

John W. Loftus said...

Sigmund Freud claimed that religion is an expression of the longing for a father figure.

Ludwig Feuerbach claimed that God didn’t make man in his image, but rather we made God in our image.

Karl Marx taught that religion is the opium of the working class people. It is funded and pushed by the rich class in order to numb the working class from trying to right the injustices put on them by the rich class. Religion keeps the working class focused on a hope of bliss in the hereafter.

Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that religion endures because weak people need it.

For Jean Paul Sartre, God represented a threat to authentic morality. If God is autonomous, in the Calvinistic sense, then human beings cannot be responsible for themselves. He argued that the rejection of God makes morality and freedom possible, for only then can people take responsibility for their own choices.

But all of these explanations depend upon the truth or falsehood of theism. However, if theism is false then some suggestions should be offered as to why people believe, and vice versa.

Jason said...

(I wasn't much impressed with the PBS special based on the "Question of God" book/course, by the way. Great concept, sloppy handling. Maybe the book is better. {shrug})

{{However, if theism is false then some suggestions should be offered as to why people believe, and vice versa.}}

Certainly.

But in my experience, an element on either side that is constantly underestimated is the rationality of belief or unbelief. Even if I think someone's reasons are poor, that doesn't mean they're just going around reacting to stimuli. (That would be 'a reason', too, but in a different sense--one which is frequently conflated with other senses, inviting the externalistic fallacy.)

Family origin, cost/benefit analysis, evaluation of resulting character of professed followers, response to a significant life event, or to a book, or even to a charismatic preacher--these are all (or can all be) rational actions, made by responsible people who are drawing inferences from data to conclusions. Now, in any given case the reasons may not be very strong ones (pro or con), if rigorously examined. But I could not in good conscience say that _that_ makes the belief strictly irrational. Even if someone is fudging past data for sake of convenience (or to be actively deceptive, say for sake of gaining power for one's self)--that is still a rational action. It isn't irrational, much less non-rational. (Irresponsible, yes, even evil in the last case, but not irrational.)

This is why I strongly dissent from attempts to show that naturalism or atheism (usually confuted together {cough}{g}) are "irrational" beliefs, or "irrational" to believe, or that people holding to them in most circumstances are being "irrational". Not only is it disrespectful of the opposition, strictly speaking it also just isn't true.

I also strongly dissent, on much the same grounds, from people who claim to 'just believe' 'apart from human reason'. (Apophatic theology and I don't get along very well... {g} But then, I am somewhat doubtful anyone ever died for a cloud of unknowing. {s})

The main thing, though, is this: that when explanations for mistaken beliefs are sought, the believing agent is not to be reduced to the status of a mere reactor (special types of individual insanity aside). At that point we are no longer respecting the personhood of the opponent, even aside from the not insignificant logical danger of refuting ourselves by incautious generalization.

Jason Pratt

odrareg said...

The way to go about in regard to the socalled psychoanalyzing of theists as of atheists is to detect what are the advantages to the person theist or atheist in keeping to his attachment to God or to no God as respectively a theist or an atheist.

Now, what is an advantage?

And advantage is anything that makes a person feel that he is better off in his own big picture of himself compared to other persons.

For example, a rich man holds himself to be better off than other men who are not as rich, he feels better for it, his wealth.

A poor man can also feel better off than a rich man because he holds himself to be freed of the worries and cares and anxieties that are supposed to be plaguing a rich due to having wealth, which is the cause of the rich man's worries, cares, and anxieties.

Now, an advantage can be positive or negative, so that for the rich man his wealth his a positive advantage while for the poor man his lack of wealth is a negative advantage.

A positive advantage then is the possession of a good thing good at least in human estimation, which others will want to also possess if he has a choice.

A negative advantage consists in the absence of an evil which evil however is a good if the person has a choice to possess what is the corresponding good which other persons do possess, for example wealth.

Now, what are the advantages of the theist who believes in the existence of God?

What are the advantages of the atheist who does not believe in God?


One thing I notice about theists and atheists, namely, while there are theists like Christian missionaries who go forth to preach Christian theism to people who are not yet Christians, giving up the convenience of life in one's own country, home, etc., there are no atheists who will go forth to preach atheism among people who are not atheists, foregoing the convenience of life in one's own country.

In this respect, Christian theists feel a superiority over atheists because they theists are psychologically convinced that their Christian faith is good for mankind and are willing to forego a convenient and comfortable life at home to go forth to preach the Christian faith among strangers away from home.

What about atheists, are they so convinced that their atheism is good that they will for the love of fellow humans go forth away from the comfort and convenience of home to convert fellow humans but strangers to also adopt their atheism that there is no God?

That being said, I will just add that there are more of negative advantages for atheists than negative advantages for theists.

One negative advantage for atheists is that each atheist is for himself the last determinant of what is good and what is bad morally for himself, so if I many exaggerate he will feel no such things as moral qualms in killing for sex, and doing it again and again as a way of satisfying his sex urge.

And what is the reciprocating advantage for the Christian theist? What else but the supposedly positive conviction that in observing the commandments about sexual purity (sexual purity? that is one concept absolutely alien to atheists when they do take their atheism to the letters) they are pleasing God their creator and master and father and Whose presence after death they will be in possession of in the Kingdom of Heaven, or as Jesus puts it, "in my father's mansion" -- something like that I am sure.


Well, go forth and work on the advantages positive and negative of theists as of atheists, that is the way to go about psychoanalyzing theists as also atheists.