Friday, 23 September 2016

Emotional Doubt is Dumb and Annoying

Have you ever had a time when, despite having a good deal of evidence that something is true, you've nevertheless felt like you could be wrong? There is no reason to feel this way; as I said, the evidence clearly favours the position you worry might be wrong. Yet, you have these negative emotions at the back of your mind: 'what if you're wrong? That would be terrible!' If you've ever had this kind of experience, then you've experienced emotional doubt. Once you start entertaining 'what ifs' that have no substance and start thinking 'that would be terrible', you've entered the domain of emotional doubt. This is something that I have unfortunately had to deal with over the years. For the most part, I've kept it in check by simply going over the hard evidence for my position in my head. However, I have Asperger's Syndrome, which means I experience emotions much more intensely. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but I've been experiencing extreme depression and anxiety for the past 7-8 years on and off. More recently it has come back with a vengeance, the worst I've ever experienced in my entire life. So, understandably, my ability to counter such emotionalism with the facts has been seriously hampered. It's taken me several weeks to reach a point where I'm somewhat comfortable and stable. To give you an example of how stupid and annoying this is, I'll describe the first such emotional doubt I ever had.

When I was a child, I saw a documentary about cosmology narrated by Sam Neill (of Jurassic Park fame) and was discussing hypothetical situations. One episode they discussed what it would be like if a black hole approached earth. After watching it, I was scared of earth being annihilated by a black hole... even though the nearest black hole is millions, if not billions of light years away. All emotional doubts are similarly irrational, although they sometimes masquerade as intellectual doubts. Of course, being familiar with emotional doubt, it allows me to spot it in others. A lot of the reasons people give for either not believing in God or believing in Christianity fall into the category of emotional doubt. The most obvious of these is the so-called problem of evil. Even though there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of God and the occurrence of evil, pain, suffering, etc. this has not stopped people from trying to argue that evil, pain, and suffering are somehow inconsistent with the existence of God. The first problem is that in order to argue that evil exists in the world, you have to assume that there exists objective moral values and duties in order to distinguish between good and evil. However, if you assume that there are objective moral values and duties, you have to postulate an adequate ontological source for objective moral values and duties. In order to objective, it cannot depend upon subjective things, such as our personal or collective beliefs. One problem for naturalists is that there is no way of grounding moral facts in nature. This has been dubbed the 'is/ought' problem after David Hume's discussion on the subject in his work 'A Treatise of Human Nature'.

Essentially, facts about the natural world are 'is' statements, whereas moral facts are 'ought' statements. The essence of the problem is that there is no obvious connection between facts about the natural world and moral facts. This has also been expressed in terms of the naturalistic fallacy, a term coined by philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 work Principia Ethica. Whilst Moore held to the belief that 'goodness' must be non-natural, there is simply no basis for such a belief. Moore himself held to a form of moral intuitionism, where he held that our moral intuitions, which can be described as properly basic beliefs, could provide us with moral knowledge. However, this does not solve the problem of moral ontology, and Moore himself made no argument for why the basis of moral facts must be natural. Of course, one could dispense with naturalism and still remain an atheist by appealing to Platonism, and hold that abstract objects are the basis of moral facts. There are numerous problems with this view: first, it makes no sense to suggest that abstractions can exist apart from particular objects; second, if moral facts are ontologically grounded in abstract objects, then there is no obvious connection between our moral intuitions and the abstract realm. The only remaining option is to ontologically ground moral facts in a mind. However, we cannot ground moral facts in the minds of finite creatures such as human beings, since that would result in moral subjectivism. The only possible source of moral facts is a maximally great being, i.e. God. Otherwise, we would have to assume that there are no moral facts, which would totally undercut the problem of evil. The existence of evil in this world actually supports the existence of God.

There are other problems with the 'problem' of evil too. For instance, it ignores the fact that evil is only perpetrated by moral agents, i.e. people, and human beings have free will. However, the biggest problem is that such a response simply assumes the motives of God. It begs the question by assuming that God has no possible reason for allowing evil to occur. Another area where people experience emotional doubt is the Old Testament. Certain atheists complain that the Old Testament is full of moral atrocities, either ordered, carried out, or ordained by God. The problem with such complaints is that they rest entirely on knee-jerk emotional reactions to the text without bothering to place them in their proper context. Consider the purpose of the 613 laws of the Old Testament. There are some very general points to make about it that render all accusations against them completely meaningless. First, it was meant specifically and solely for the Ancient Israelites. In other words, they aren't meant for all peoples for all times. Jesus explicitly stated that His coming had fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant, and to institute a New Covenant that superseded the OT laws. As a side note, you will actually get mountebanks who will try and argue that Jesus said that the OT laws are still in effect, but this relies on wilfully twisting the meaning of what Jesus actually said. Secondly, the OT laws were not meant to be perfect. Again, they were tailored for a specific period and for a specific culture. Those who suppose that such laws are inconsistent with the character of God commit the same fallacy employed in the 'problem' of evil argument; it fallaciously assumes the motives of God. Namely, it assumes that God would have no valid reason for permitting such an imperfect legal code.

This leads me to another point, whilst obviously not as advanced as more modern legal codes, the 613 OT laws were more advanced than other legal codes of the same era. The Bible portrayal of God is of a being who seeks to gradually reform humanity over time and also communicates via means that those He communicates with can understand. Aside from these general points about the nature of the laws, another thing to note is how these laws are formally notated. Some gripe about the frequent mandate of the death penalty, but this does not take into account that in such ancient legal codes, such penalties were not exhaustive or mandated for every instance of the crime they are linked with. Ancient legal codes were far more interpretative. The death penalty was reserved only for extreme cases, i.e. those who refused correction. That might not make sense to us, but that is because we aren't used to that system or culture. In ancient cultures such as the 2nd millennium BC Near East, that was simply how ancient legal codes were. So, whilst it might say that the penalty for x was stoning, it was not necessarily the case that every instance of x merited the death penalty according to the law. Regarding the laws themselves, there are some that seem unusual or strange, but they all revolve around the survival of the Israelites as a corporate whole, and it took a lot more to survive in ancient times than today. Social cohesion and protection of the whole was paramount. Aside from these considerations, there two other things to take note of.

Atheists kick up a fuss over the fact that the OT laws regulate 'slavery'. The problem here, however, is that the 'slavery' described in the OT laws is not what we would consider slavery. The model of slavery described in the Old Testament is what we would call 'indentured servitude'. People could voluntarily enter into to pay off debts, or if they were simply too poor. It was also a means to integrate POWs into society. Such a model was employed as recently as the 19th century where settlers moving to America would enter into such service in order to cover the costs for their travel expenses. It was a world apart from the kind of brutal slavery employed against Africans in the Atlantic slave trade. It also worth noting that this model of indentured servitude was also worlds apart from the slavery of surrounding nations who would engage in practices closer to modern slavery (although it varied between nations). Some criticise the New Testament for not explicitly condemning slavery, but it did implicitly lay the path down for abolition as it argued that slaves and slave owners were of equal footing and equal standing and so slaves should be treated as brothers. Indeed, the NT and the Christian ideal led to the breaking down of gender, class, and racial barriers. Atheists also like to claim that the OT records instances of genocide and the murder of noncombatants explicitly ordered by God. The problem here, of course, is that the OT is using hyperbolic language. Such language was a common feature of ancient cultures. Indeed, Jesus often used hyperbole in his teachings to make things more memorable. The short answer is that God did not order genocide or the murder of noncombatants.

Such arguments are preferred by two kinds of people: emotional people who don't care much for facts or logic, and the wilfully dishonest seeking to dupe the uninformed. If you've been taken in by such emotionalism or appeals to emotion, then don't be embarrassed. Just make sure to educate yourself and learn how to think rationally and logically. Of course, as discussed in a previous blogpost, some people don't want to be corrected. They'd much rather prefer to keep holding onto their myths because they don't want to be wrong, or don't want the 'other side' to be right, or a combination of both. This usually happens when people become invested in a certain position. Whilst a lot of religious people do this, there are lots of atheists who are simply dyed-in-the-wool naturalists who refuse to accept all evidence that goes against their belief. The moral of the story is that emotions are transient and thus an insufficient basis for reasoning. This should be one of the first things one learns as an adult, but, sadly, a lot of adults don't appear to have learned this lesson.

No comments:

Post a Comment