Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Do We Believe in God?

In an article entitled "Our Brains Strive To See Only the Good, Leading Some to God," Sharon Begly, who authors the weekly Science Journal column in the Wall Street Journal, says that it is as a result of our own brains. To be fair, she isn't really taking a side on it, she's just presenting the findings from Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and Professor Pascal Boyer of Washington University. The article makes for interesting reading. But I was left wondering, is belief in God really "a predictable by-product of the ordinary cognitive function," as Professor Boyer claims?

At the outset, let me stipulate two things: 1) I have not read the journal articles or papers published by these learned men of science (nor would I probably understand them if I did); and 2) the examples given definitely lend weight to their thesis, which is that our brains tend to "interpret unexpected and even unwanted outcomes as being for the best." For instance, they cite the example of the high school senior who, after being rejected by a certain college, decides that he doesn't want to go there anyway. They also discuss an experiment where volunteers are told that they are getting a likeable, trustworthy partner (a lie), and given the biography of a very unpleasant person instead. Because they are predisposed to a positive outcome, "doesn't like people" becomes "exceptionally discerning."

And since the brain, according to Professor Gilbert, "tends to search for and hold onto the most most rewarding view of events...", Ms. Begly concludes that, whether talking about a hurricane or recovery from an illness, it is "much more rewarding to attribute death to God's will, and to see in disasters hints of the hand of God."

As I said, it makes for interesting reading, but ultimately the conclusions are selective at best and misleading at worst. Here's why.

First, it doesn't match up with experience. Human nature isn't always like that. People don't always find the good in unexpected outcomes. For example, when you talk to someone who has been laid off, they may say "it's for the best," but inside, there aren't that many who really believe it. Even among Christians (I speak from experience here). And in general, I find there are more Eyores than Winnie-the-Poohs in my life--more naysayers who can find a black cloud behind every silver lining.

Second, it doesn't match up with Scripture. Scientists say that people look to God because it it more rewarding, but Scripture says that we have all gone astray. Men "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." Gilbert says that "Belief in God is compelled by the way our brains work." But Romans 1 says that although men know God, they don't honor him as God. So if am bolstering their argument by saying that men know God, they are proving my point because they themselves look around and fail to even perceive God's existence; they have futile minds and darkened hearts (Rom 1:21).

So what is the answer? Why do we believe in God? My answer, at least, is that I believe in God because He has revealed Himself to me. While I refused to believe in God, Jesus came and did something about my condition that on my own I was helpless to do. So now I strive to fight the good fight; I strive to run the race, and win the prize; and I strive to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is He who works in me.


Daniel said...

I liked this. Interesting read.

Gummby said...

Thanks, man. I appreciate it.