Faith Is Instinct?

May 12, 2011

Check out this article. Oxford University professor Roger Trigg has published a study showing that our religious beliefs are the result of natural instincts.

Now, for all the atheists who cry foul when Christians critique homosexuality what do you do with this? Here we have competing natural instincts. I am instinctually made to believe in God. God gives us a sexual ethic that clashes with some people’s natural sexual instincts. Which instinct is good and which is bad? And why?

This tells us that we cannot appeal to instincts to get our morals. We cannot point to nature to determine what is good and what is bad. We need something that transcends nature.

What transcends nature?

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4 Responses to “Faith Is Instinct?”

  1. Adam Says:

    Okay I’ll try and help.

    “atheists … what do you do with this?”

    It fits neatly into a naturalistic world-view. Both belief in God(s) (anthropomorphisation) and homosexuality are evolved mental behaviour. Both are psychological phenomena that evolution saw fit to introduce to the animal kingdom; it seems they serve to create more copies of and variations in, DNA.

    “God gives us a sexual ethic that clashes with some people’s natural sexual instincts.”

    Here’s your mistake: not all people who instinctively believe in God also believe homosexuality is wrong. In fact I imagine few people who believe in God purely from instinct also believe homosexuality to be unethical. It’s just the prescription of God that specific religions give that includes anti-homosexuality.

    “Which instinct is good and which is bad? And why?”

    Neither is good and neither is bad as far as secularism is concerned. Of course many of us think that believing in some ultimate arbiter of authority such as God is going to lead to bigotry and conflict between humans, so belief in God is bad in our eyes for that reason.

    “This tells us that we cannot appeal to instincts to get our morals. We cannot point to nature to determine what is good and what is bad”

    I’m not familiar with any secular ethicists that think this.

    “We need something that transcends nature.”

    No we don’t. Secular ethics mostly relies on the emotions that we find evolution has landed us with to base ethics upon. Empathy is the central one.

    Are you still a creationist? I could probably clear up any problems you see with the theory of evolution being true if you want.

    Adam

  2. WVS Says:

    Hi Adam,

    //It fits neatly into a naturalistic world-view. Both belief in God(s) (anthropomorphisation) and homosexuality are evolved mental behaviour.//

    Well that is the premise of the study, of course. I am not saying I agree that either are innate but it was the premise for my question.

    //Here’s your mistake: not all people who instinctively believe in God also believe homosexuality is wrong.//

    But some do. Which brought us to the main point of the post: how are you judging which innate characteristics are good and which are bad? You answer by saying:

    //Neither is good and neither is bad as far as secularism is concerned. Of course many of us think that believing in some ultimate arbiter of authority such as God is going to lead to bigotry and conflict between humans, so belief in God is bad in our eyes for that reason.//

    What? How did you decide which side is the bigots? If both are “born that way” wouldn’t your belief “that God is bad” be every bit as hateful as the Christian ethic that says homosexual acts are bad? How are you distinguishing between innate characteristics?

    //I’m not familiar with any secular ethicists that think this.//

    You are not familiar with appeals to justify homosexuality based on it being an innate characteristic?

    “We need something that transcends nature.”

    //No we don’t. Secular ethics mostly relies on the emotions that we find evolution has landed us with to base ethics upon. Empathy is the central one.//

    What made you choose empathy? Why not hatred? That is every bit as innate as empathy.

    //Are you still a creationist? I could probably clear up any problems you see with the theory of evolution being true if you want.//

    I do believe that God created the heavens and earth, yes. I would be happy to discuss this if you like but what I have found in discussing evolution/creation with atheists is that you have to start with a discussion of whether or not there is a God. If there is no God, of course Creationism can’t even be a possibility. And so, evolution becomes the only plausible explanation for what we see around us. If there is a God, creationism is at least a possibility to consider. I would rather talk to you (and any other atheist) about the first question (is there a God) before moving on to the second (what are the origins of the species we see today).

    • Adam Says:

      “If both are “born that way””

      If some theists are born that way, and if some homosexuals are both that way*

      “wouldn’t your belief “that God is bad” be every bit as hateful as the Christian ethic that says homosexual acts are bad?”

      Belief in God is not always bad, but it usually is, especially in Western society. Long story short, this is because believers in God are likely to subscribe to social conservatism, or if not that, to believe that they have all the answers which everyone else to conform to. Basically theists are less inclined towards social tolerance, since they tend to invent wacky rules as to how to live your life which often involve causing suffering just for the sake of it (e.g: sacrifice).
      And of course the reason I believe social tolerance to be the best option here is because I’m utilitarian: I believe it leads to a generally happier society.

      ““This tells us that we cannot appeal to instincts to get our morals. We cannot point to nature to determine what is good and what is bad”

      I’m not familiar with any secular ethicists that think this.

      You are not familiar with appeals to justify homosexuality based on it being an innate characteristic?”

      Oh, well, yes I’m familiar with that, but most secular ethicists tend to veer away from nature on other points: economics, vegetarianism etc.

      “What made you choose empathy? Why not hatred? That is every bit as innate as empathy.”

      Because empathy feels good, in the same way that sharing and giving feel good. Hatred on the other hand does not feel good. Utilitarianism is based on maximising desirable mind-states and minimising the undesirable ones.

      Regarding evolution: well that could work, or you could simply look at the evidence and conclude that biblical creationism is incorrect, even if it still means believing God exists and played a part in bringing about life on Earth.

      • WVS Says:

        //Belief in God is not always bad, but it usually is, especially in Western society. Long story short, this is because believers in God are likely to subscribe to social conservatism, or if not that, to believe that they have all the answers which everyone else to conform to. Basically theists are less inclined towards social tolerance, since they tend to invent wacky rules as to how to live your life which often involve causing suffering just for the sake of it (e.g: sacrifice).//

        But if I was born with a tendency toward “wacky rules” who are you to judge. You are being a bigot against the way I was born. I am so offended. How did you get so hateful.

        I am being facesious of course (I am never offended) but my point is that if you use the “born this way” defense for homosexuality you can’t then ignore it for theism.

        //And of course the reason I believe social tolerance to be the best option here is because I’m utilitarian: I believe it leads to a generally happier society.//

        What data do you have to say that your approach would lead to a happier society? I have seen studies that show that married church goers are the happiest. Shouldn’t your utilitarianism inspire you to become an Christian evangelist and a marriage counselor? That is the problem with using utilitarianism as a moral guide….it is almost always impossible to actually judge what the outcomes of actions will be.

        //Because empathy feels good, in the same way that sharing and giving feel good. Hatred on the other hand does not feel good.//

        Well, this is quite a debatable claim. If hatred makes people feel bad why do so many people do it. I have had plenty of times when I “loved to hate” people and groups. Empathy sometimes is no fun. I have had times when I didn’t want to empathize.

        //Utilitarianism is based on maximising desirable mind-states and minimising the undesirable ones.//

        Sure. Which is pretty worthless because no one can tell the future. Will adultery make me feel better or worse? Will stealing make me feel better or worse? Will lying make me feel better or worse. Well, it depends on the situation right? It depends on whether or not you get caught. Judging the actual happiness result is impossible. Utilitarianism is useless as a restraint on bad behavior. A person can always justify actions by saying that it “made me happy”.

        //Regarding evolution: well that could work, or you could simply look at the evidence and conclude that biblical creationism is incorrect, even if it still means believing God exists and played a part in bringing about life on Earth.//

        Sure. But until we both agree there is a God it is a one way debate. You try to convince me I am wrong and it remains impossible that you are wrong. If we both believe in God, the debate can go both ways.


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