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Faith is emotionalism, Part 1: Epistemology

Faith is emotionalism, Part 1: Epistemology

by David Veksler

(In the next few posts, I’m going to re-post selections from a Facebook debate:)

Many apologetics claim that their faith is based on reason and evidence. In fact faith is just a kind of emotionalism.

Two analogies:

Suppose you decided to base your knowledge of reality on the result of dart throws. Whenever you have some doubts about something, you write four possible answers on a dart board. You would aim the dart in the general direction of the board, turn off the lights, and throw. Whichever answer is closest to the dart becomes your conclusion.

What is wrong with this methodology? If you adhere to the correspondence theory of truth (that for a belief to be true, it must correspond to reality) then you should realize that answer “chosen” by the dart has no correspondence to reality. Why not? Because there is no causal connection between your ideas and the random path taken by the dart. The dart’s path is not a valid proof of your conclusion because it is not derived from observation or logical consideration of the ideas in question.

Frustrated, you try another methodology:

You will write down the four answers as before, and then take a large dose of hallucinogenic and amnesia-inducing drugs. You will pick the answer in your drugged state but have no memory of how you selected it when you are sober again. Is this conclusion valid? Now, you are not depending on random chance, but on a distorted version of your own mental processes. Is your method any more valid? No – there is still not causal connection between the idea and your drugged ravings. The answers are you most likely to choose will probably correspond to your existing conclusions. But it will still not be any kind of proof or evidence.

Reason means a valid epistemology:

In order for evidence to be valid, there must be a valid epistemological process. To prove that a claim is true, we must verify it by deriving a conclusion step by step from the evidence of our own senses in accordance with the laws of logic. This process is known as reason. If we fail to rely on our senses and logic, we might as well be throwing the allegorical darts in the dark. Doing so willingly is irrationality.

What is the “evidence” given for supernatural claims?

There are two possible kinds: empirical claims and non-empirical claims. Empirical claims are based on observation, such as “the universe exists, so God must have created it” or “I saw Jesus on a piece of toast I ate last week.” These claims are wrong, but they do not involve faith, since they can be proven or disproven. No one would take such arguments seriously however if it were not for claims based on non-empirical evidence – faith. This takes many forms in different religions, but generally it is a kind of “revelation.” Ultimately, all revelation can be reduced to emotionalism. How so? This requires an understanding of the nature of emotion:

The nature of emotions:

An emotion is an automatic response to an external or internal stimulus based upon your subconscious premises and values. It tells you something about the state of your consciousness. By examining the premises that led to a certain emotional evaluation, we can find the causes for our emotions. By changing our ideas, we can (gradually and automatically) change our emotional responses to the same stimulus. Two people can have two totally different emotional responses to the same stimulus if their values are different.

For example, suppose four men see an experimental new sports car engine. To a race driver, the engine elicits feelings of excitement desire, to an automotive engineer, curiosity and wonder, to a hippie environmentalist, revulsion and anger, and to a primitive man, perhaps no emotion at all, since he does not recognize the object. Clearly, our emotions derive from our ideas and values. They are formed as our subconscious mind has automatizes our premises and assumptions about the nature of the world. If you consciously and honestly examine the ideas you are exposed you and integrate them systematically into a coherent whole, your emotions will be consistent and understandable. If you default on this task, your emotions will be contradictory and mysterious, and you will be unable to identify whether your emotions are contradictory or consistent with your consciously held ideas. This is how most men come to accept religiously-inspired emotions as evidence.

The need for a purpose-driven life:

All men realize on some level that a sense of purpose is vitally important to their life. A life without purpose is a fate worse than death, since death removes the option of achieving future values, while lack of purpose destroys values as such. (See my essay for more.) All religions present man with a basic alternative: accept the supernatural as your source of purpose in life, or face the possibility of having no purpose to your existence. It’s a false alternative, but because believers are unable to identify it as such, it generates very powerful emotions which most people treat as evidence of the supernatural.

Religion is a psycho-epistemological dependency:

Religion offers answers to all the crucial philosophical questions, such as “What is the basic nature of existence?” “How can man obtain knowledge of the “true” nature of reality?” “What is the purpose of my life?” and “How should men related to each other?”

Even the most non-philosophical person recognizes on some (subconscious) level that the answers to these questions are essential to human action (we literally would be paralyzed without them.) Those who identify the answers to these questions with the supernatural are intellectually dependent on their religion beliefs and therefore identify the intense emotions they feel as a validation and as a direct interaction with the supernatural. The forfeit their values and their ability for independent thought for the sake of the values and emotional validation they believe only religion can provide. The primary purpose of regular religious practice is to therefore to continually remind people of their psycho-epistemological dependency on the supernatural to validate their worldview. (This is why music, song, chant, and repetition are used in religious ceremony – they facilitate an emotional feedback mechanism which bypasses the conscious part of the brain and feeds a chemical dependency.)

Overcoming the false alternative of religion:

By contrast, someone who was exposed to a non-religious basis for their basic philosophy is entirely immune to religious argument, as he feels no need to develop an emotional dependency to a pre-rational, pre-scientific philosophical worldview. A reality-based view of existence makes religion unnecessary and exposes its evil self-sacrificial nature. (Of course some non-religious philosophies are so incoherent and irrational that they drive people back to religion.) This is why religious people cannot be “converted” to atheism merely by arguments against the supernatural – they must be presented with a viable rational alternative to the crucial questions provided by religion, and given time to shift emotional responses to this new understanding.

Conclusion:

Emotions are not a means of cognition; they are only an indication of our own mental state. They play a vital role in human life – but they are not an organ of perception. Only our senses can perform that role. If we do not understand the nature of our emotions, we are likely to treat them as a mysterious influence apart from our conscious self. But this is not due to any otherworldly, but only an incoherent, dis-integrated consciousness. A man with an integrated consciousness has no need for supernatural explanations of his soul and no reason to sacrifice his mind and values to mystics.

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