Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God, the Evidence, and its Denial

In a debate against a theist, atheist Justin Schieber argued that if God exists, he would have gladly provided ample evidence of his existence so that humanity would be able to “freely respond to God’s grace.”

Schieber then correctly anticipated the Christian response that God has already amply revealed Himself, but humanity has gladly rejected Him.

Schieber then roughly responded:

·       This is arrogance of biblical proportions to dogmatically claim that all humanity has rejected the evidence of God… There is no reason to believe that this is true.

Schieber is seriously wrong about this. The experimental evidence that humanity is in denial about uncomfortable knowledge is rampant. In a New York Times 2007 article, “Denial Makes the World Go Round,” Benedict Carey, by virtue of the overwhelming evidence, concludes:

·       Everyone is in denial about something; just try denying it and watch friends make a list. For Freud, denial was a defense against external realities that threaten the ego, and many psychologists today would argue that it can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, like a cancer diagnosis.

·       “The closer you look, the more clearly you see that denial is part of the uneasy bargain we strike to be social creatures,” said Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami and the author of the coming book “Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.” “We really do want to be moral people, but the fact is that we cut corners to get individual advantage, and we rely on the room that denial gives us to get by, to wiggle out of speeding tickets, and to forgive others for doing the same.”

These observations are extensive within the world of clinical psychology and perhaps most apparent in the field of addiction:

  • The concept of denial calibrates widely shared ideas about language with the clinical regimen that characterizes mainstream American addiction treatment. Since the 1930s, denial has stood at the ideological center of the field and has enjoyed a wide range of professional adherents across otherwise distinctive theoretical orientations. As in so many contemporary addiction treatment programs, the professionals I studied believed that addicts are—by definition—unable to clearly see themselves. By extension, they also believed that addicts are unable to speak about themselves and their problems authoritatively. 
Psychologist Shelley Taylor writes that denial does not just apply to the addict but to humanity as a whole:

  • As we have seen, people are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal. (Positive Illusions, 46)
Taylor adds that:

  • On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases. (214)
However, she observes that once the depression lifts, “normal” people return to denial and other forms of self-deception.

Psychologist Harold Sacheim also had argued that self-deceptions are normal and even “profitable”:

  • Through distortion, I may enhance my self-image, not because at heart I am insecure about my worth but because no matter how much I am convinced of my value, believing that I am better is pleasurable. Such self-deceptions may prove to be efficient in constructing or consolidating a solid and perhaps even “healthy” identity.
Perhaps denying the evidence for God might also be “pleasurable.” God not only interferes with our autonomy, awareness of Him also brings disruptive guilt feelings.

Psychologist Roy Baumeister has extensively researched the relationship between high self-esteem and performance. He concludes:

  • There are now ample data on our population showing that, if anything, Americans tend to overrate and overvalue ourselves. In plain terms, the average American thinks he’s above average. Even the categories of people about whom our society is most concerned do not show any broad deficiency in self esteem. African Americans, for example, routinely score higher on self-esteem measures than do European-Americans.

In other words, we have a great capacity to believe those things that make us feel good and to deny those realities that threaten our self-esteem and autonomy. The existence of God threatens our self-esteem, exposing our falsely constructed self – the delusion that we are worthy people.

In contrast to this, Schieber claims that there is no evidence of any widespread denial of the evidence for God. Meanwhile, many atheists have even admitted that they don’t want there to be a God. Others have admitted that by going to extra step, denying freewill, they have been able to assuage their guilt.

The Bible claims that we all have the truth but choose to deny it (Romans 1:18-21). We love darkness rather than the light of truth (John 3:19-20) – the very substance of the experimental findings.

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