Working Toward a Mature Faith

In undergraduate school, I remember one professor marveling at various features of brain functioning and talking about the reasons that a particular function evolved.  It was just as easy, or easier, for me to think of reasons that these features were designed into the system.  In my first class on physiological psychology, the professor did not have an evolutionary bent that I could tell, and merely marveled at the function and complexity of the brain.  I think many students are unprepared for the naturalistic worldview, and that this often can trigger a crisis of faith.  In their book, God Attachment, Clinton and Straub (2010)1 note that people often enter adulthood with the same views they had with their faith that they learned in early childhood.  In other words, they have not developed a more mature faith that allows them to have an understanding of the problem of evil, the existence of many different religions, and the evolutionary viewpoint (a view espousing the all-powerfulness of useful accidents).  Thus, they are setting themselves up for a crisis of faith that will inevitably come with real-world life experiences and the hard knocks that life delivers.  I frequently encounter people who become sort of paralyzed in that crisis of faith without attempting to find answers to their questions.  They will often just resign themselves to somewhat of a wishy-washy stance like, “I’m not sure I believe everything in the Bible.  I believe, but I’m just not sure about X.”  When asked, they’ll admit they’ve never tried to resolve the issue with learning more about the subject.  So, they end up assuming a distant stance with God on the basis of a particular issue that they have not taken the time to resolve.

I don’t think people have to believe that Genesis is literally true to be saved.  I don’t think there is anything in the Bible that would suggest that.  But I do think it is possible to be logically consistent and hold an intelligent worldview encompassing a literal account of Genesis.  Frankly, I think a literal account of Genesis leads to the most logically consistent stance in explaining the problem of evil in the world (i.e., the fall).  Also, one only needs a vaguely possible scenario to explain certain observations (apparent age of the Earth and Universe) to make this tenable.  If God is all-powerful, then He could have done it.  I’m not advocating a kind of “God did it” approach to science, but I am rather asking believers to explore the issue in more depth and to develop a more mature way of viewing their faith.  This can help believers have a more mature relationship with God.

I would also caution creationists against the view of saying that people who advocate for evolution are liars.  Evolution contains many lies, but to lie involves intent to deceive.  There are times when they do likely lie, but it’s better to be careful about this.  I’d rather look at it as a worldview, which I think contains many untruths.  It’s understandable, just false.

I urge fellow believers, and those with doubts, to more fully explore these issues in order to develop a more mature faith—a faith which can stand up to the complexities of the world and the problem of evil in the world.  More personally, it will help with the very difficult things that you face in your own life and promote a deeper connection with God.

1). God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God

The Psychology of Atheism – A Study of Masked Anguish

Paul Vitz – The Psychology of Atheism (MP3 Audio)

Link above is a long audio presentation by Paul Vitz, author of Faith of the Fatherless – The Psychology of Atheism (hat tip Atheism is Dead). This is an excellent presentation in which Vitz presents an historical account of psychology’s history regarding psychological underpinnings of religion. However, the main thrust of the presentation is discussing psychological aspects of atheism. Vitz discusses his theory in a compassionate and caring manner, and also discusses his own experiences as an atheist and the experiences of his wife.

Atheists are 'good' people.

Psychology Today has a hit job on religious beliefs, which is not surprising given their love for Darwin and all things atheistic.(1)

Despite a widespread perception that religious people should behave more ethically in general, researchers find little evidence that religious people either think or behave more ethically (1). One study, found that atheists were significantly less likely than religious students to cheat on an exam (2).

Psychologists find that religious belief stunts moral development, because it commits people to a dogma, or formula, rather than working out ethical solutions for themselves (the highest stage of moral development known as post-conventional morality).

Fundamentalist religions may undermine moral reasoning. People who “know” that they are saved, may be relatively unconcerned about who is hurt by their actions in this world. A Roper survey found that after being “born again,” people are more likely to drive drunk, use illegal drugs, and engage in illicit sex (3).

I’m not much on comparing people morally, because the Bible teaches that the notion of a good person is a myth. However, one must consider the agenda of the atheist writing this article on Psychology Today. Yes, I make that prediction even though the author did not state his position on God. The author engages in cherry picking–picking out only that research which supports his position. He did not even consider that governmental systems based on atheist philosophy have resulted in the most catastrophic loss of human life in history.(2)

What the author is trying to do is to say that religious folk are psychologically immature and don’t know how to engage in moral reasoning, whereas, atheists are more developed, psychologically and intellectually. I’ll just briefly include some research that is counter to the claims of Dr. Barber:

1). Religious beliefs is associated with lower levels of delinquency and drug/alcohol use in adolescents
2). Religious beliefs are associated with increased self-control. This is a comprehensive review article on decades of research. Other notable findings included are that religious beliefs result in increased lifespan (25-30%), less likely to use drugs/alcohol at all ages and engage in more health promoting behavior, have higher levels of psychological well-being, more likely to stay married and be more satisfied with the marital relationship, and is associated with higher grade point averages.

Does this sound like psychological immaturity or stunted moral development? Not in the least. Here’s to hoping that Dr. Barber will do a little more homework the next time he decides to write a hit job on religion.

References:
(1). Are religious people more ethical in their conduct? Psychology Today, N. Barber, 4/09
(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Book_of_Communism

Is the use of teleology immature?

Charles Darwin should be spinning in his grave: More than 40 percent of American adults still don’t believe in evolution. Though Darwin’s theory has been uncontroversially accepted among scientists, public resistance remains remarkably forceful. Meanwhile, creationism and intelligent design enjoy widespread public support. (1)

Clichés aside, I don’t think Darwin or any other naturalist should make reference to the continued existence of anyone post-death.  I don’t think most people, other than Darwin worshipers, should be too worried about the post-death radial velocity of Darwin’s remains. This is just another way of saying, “There are a lot of stupid people out there, and IDists and Creationists are among them.”

An academic psychologist, Tania Lombrozo, from a venerable Ivory Tower (2), UC Berkely, has tried to explain teleology from an evolutionary perspective.

Continue reading

Darwinian Psychology-Part II: Why we eat junk

There’s no doubt about it, the average American diet is atrocious.  Give us the 44 ounce softdrinks, Big Macs, ice cream, and snack cakes, and we’ll take that every time over a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables.  Obesity is referred to as an “epidemic” in America.  I agree with all of that.[1]  Here’s where I get off of the bus:

Maybe your mother didn’t cry, “Mangia!” when you ate dinner, like mine did. Still, you’re likely to whisper it to yourself. That’s because you possess a simple survival impulse: Eat until sated. Our neanderthink legacy is to store as much energy as possible, since calories were scarce and uncertain for most of human evolutionary history and our metabolism was set to guard against the possibility of starvation tomorrow. The problem is that eating more doesn’t sate us; we merely recalibrate how much we think we need.

Our evolved mind-set on food hinders us in several ways. Our instincts tell us to keep eating well beyond when we are sated. Worse, the foods we crave—calorie-dense fats and sugars—were once rare and valued as a bulwark against starvation; now they’re plentiful and harmful in excess. We don’t crave plants, precisely because they were more abundant in our past. And if we do manage to temporarily gain a handle on the gustatory Disneyland in which we live, our dietary rigor plummets once we’ve lost weight.(1)

So, the notion is that our Neanderthink makes us do it.  For the sake of argument, let’s say I concede this point for a moment.  What is the recommendation?

We’re good at rationalizations to avoid governing our food intake. We tell ourselves, “I can get away with eating this delicious morsel,” or “It’s too hard to deny myself this scrumptious ice cream.” By yielding to such urges, we ratchet upward the amount of sugar and fat we crave, because we are tampering with a hormonal system finely attuned to the lack of such concentrated energy. On the savannah, the sweetest confection was wild fruit.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, famously summed up what you need to know to consume healthfully: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The method by which we might hew to this Paleolithic regimen can also be summed up in seven words: “Dieting gets easier if you don’t cheat.”

So the question is, how do the recommendations actually follow from the just so story?  They don’t.  It’s just, “Don’t eat too much, and eat mostly plants.  Oh yeah, don’t cheat.”  But this goes back to the premise of my original post, and that is that the Darwinian Psychology narrative is thought to add scientific authority to whatever is being discussed.  Forget the fact that the conclusion does not follow from the premise in the article.  That is irrelevant to why these folks invoke a Darwinian just so story.  They think it adds credibility.  For me, they just prevented the story from being printed out and handed to my patients, which could have been beneficial.

The same periodical also published an article entitled, How to Be a Good Storyteller not long before.(2)

Perhaps they find these articles unrelated, but I found them to be very related:

Stories also entertain, educate, and instill moral values—sometimes all at once. We can all tell narratives, whether in the classroom, the boardroom, or the living room, but it takes practice to become a fine raconteur.

It seems the folks over at Psychology Today have been getting their practice.

—References—
(1) Neanderthink: An Outsize Appetite, Courtesy of Evolution, Nando Pelusi Ph.D., (11/17/08), Psychology Today
(2) How to Spin a Good Story, Brian Andrew, (10/20/08), Psychology Today

—Footnotes—
[1] I have a simple experiment which I use to teach my patients about their diet. This one has to do with sugar, and more specifically folks who are addicted to soft drinks. Go two weeks without any soft drinks (it actually doesn’t matter if it’s a diet soft drink or regular), and then go out and buy the biggest soft drink you can. Then it will be clear to you what it does to your mind and body. This is something that has worked in each case. In fact, the research shows that drinking just one diet soft drink daily increases the risk of being overweight to an extent that is greater than regular soft drinks, although not by much. One diet soft drink daily increases your chances by approximately 42% whereas one sugar filled drink increases your chances by 38%. It goes up with each additional drink per day.

Darwinian Psychology-Part I: An Introduction

I am going to write an ongoing series on Darwinian Psychology (aka Evolutionary Psychology). Unfortunately, my chosen field (psychology) has probably generated more “just so”(1,2) stories than has biology. Paleontologist and Darwinist, Stephen J. Gould, wrote about “Darwinian Fundamentalism”,(3) and specifically singled out Darwinian Psychology for criticism. He also noted the similarity between Darwinism and fundamentalism:

But since the modern ultras [Ultra Darwinists] push their line with an almost theological fervor, and since the views of founding fathers do matter in religion, though supposedly not in science, Darwin’s own fierce opposition does become a factor in judgment.(3)

Equivalent of Darwinian Just So Story

Equivalent of Darwinian Just So Story

I have noted an interesting phenomena among scientists and in “scientific” writings. Presenting a Darwinian “just so” story for the phenomena that you are discussing seems to provide the research with a veneer of scientific credibility. It is as if a Darwinian “just so” story is a suitable substitute for empirical data.

For those who study persuasion, they will note a similar phenomena in the general population. For example, people dressed in a suit and tie are more persuasive than those not dressed in this manner.(4) Authority is conferred to individuals dressed in this manner.  For those of us who worked in an hospital setting in graduate school, we were always excited when we were able to wear a white lab coat, because the patients listened to us better and were more apt to follow our instructions.

As an aside, this may be related to evolutionary factors indicating intelligence. Intelligence among our ancestors may have been displayed by having unique abilities (such as making unique tools or being able to communicate in a way that less intelligent apes could not understand).[1] Over time, our ancestors would have developed a mutation to recognize these symbols as promoting survival, and would have thus been more attracted to individuals who displayed these symbols. [Yes, I’m being sarcastic here.]

So, I hope you enjoy this forthcoming series analyzing pseudoscientific Darwinian Psychology.  There is a wealth of material upon which to draw.  The motto for this area seems to be, “If it sounds good and references evolution, then it is science.”

—References—

(1) Just So Stories, Wikipedia
(2) Darwin Says “Just So…”
(3) Darwinian Fundamentalism, Stephen J. Gould, (1997)
(4) Perceived Symbols of Authority and Their Influence on Compliance, Bushman, B.J. (1984)

—Notes—
[1]. I have generated a Darwinian Just So Story to help provide credibility to this post. Did it work?

Why the arrogance, disdain, intellectual elitism?

They’re not all that way to be sure, but a sizable portion of the most vociferous naturalistic atheist evolutionists (VNAE’s), come across to me as being arrogant, condescending, and elitist. Now I don’t know about all of the other readers here, but I see very little use in science for these characteristics. Granted, the VNAE’s don’t use overtly arrogant and elitists propaganda in their peer reviewed research, but why do they feel the pressure toward self-elevation, disdain, and intellectual elitism?

Why indeed. I can’t really speculate about any one individual, but it seems to me to be a way for social elevation among the VNAE’s (show me the money? show me the power? show me the fame?). It also seems to be a form of fellowship and social bonding of the VNAE religion. The more elitist, condescending, and arrogant the VNAE, the greater the status among the followers. Just consider the VNAE god (you know who I’m talking about don’t you–odd how that works).