Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Yahweh In The Sky With Diamonds?

In its ongoing mission to try to discredit any religious belief as the deluded imaginings of a of people who cannot deal with reality, the scientific community has a new "theory" to promote. This Reuter's story cites:
Benny Shanon, a psychology professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, who [wrote] that the ancient Jews may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant when the prophet delivered the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai...
And what is the psychology professor's basis for this claim?
Shanon wrote that he was very familiar with the affects of the ayahuasca plant, having "partaken of the ... brew about 160 times in various locales and contexts."
In summary, we should not believe the Biblical texts because they may have been written by someone who simply used mind-altering drugs to induce psychedelic hallucinations. But we should accept this hypothesis, despite having exactly zero evidence to support it, because it is being promoted by an individual who readily admits that he has used the very drug to which he refers.

Very convincing.

This harkens back to a book I read several years ago, Faith of the Fatherless, in which Paul Vitz argues that "projection theory" cuts both ways. Freud criticized belief in God as being untrustworthy on this psychological basis. In his The Future of an Illusion, Freud argued that ...
... [all religious beliefs are] illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind ... As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection -- for protection through love -- which was provided by the father ... thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life.
Religious believers have "projected" onto their fear of nature the illusion that a divine Father will protect them from it. But, Vitz argues convincingly, this is an ad hominem attack that can also go the other way. He spends the rest of the book showing that many of the most prominent atheists in history have had missing, absent, or abusive fathers. This fact could just as readily explain why the empty regret of having no father-figure in their lives could offer a psychological explanation for disbelief in a father-figure like God.


Vitz's point, unlike those who dismiss religious belief for psychological reasons, is not to write off atheists as just being psychologically defective. What he shows is that arguing either way does not address the actual evidence, or lack of evidence, for God. Either argument is a way to avoid the evidence by simply attacking the person making the claim. Both ways may be interesting to those who agree with a particular point of view, but neither way proves anything about whether God actually exists or operates in the real world.

Which is why we have no reason to accept the drug induced theory offered by Dr. Shanon. When it comes to the reasonableness of believing in God, psychologists are not very reliable or productive in their contributions to the debate.

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