Inerrancy and Worldview: Modern Challenges to Inerrancy (Part 31)

inerrancyThere’s no use in denying that when it comes to religious belief people tend to be especially gullible. Socrates pointed this out centuries ago, and routinely the Scriptures point out the absurd religious beliefs of people (Ps. 115:4-6; 1 Kings 18:16-29; Isa. 44:9-20). Often, however, modern psychology takes what is true in general and applies it specifically to Christian belief. So that, Christianity is often viewed purely as a psychological crutch for the weak-minded or the uncritical. In drawing this conclusion, however, modern psychology may prove too much. The mechanistic worldview of modern psychology distorts the true nature of the mind and of religious belief.

Starting places shape conclusions. That’s what I’ve been saying for months now in this series. The worldview of modern psychology is one of impersonalism. Human beings, and their minds, are the products of unguided evolutionary processes. The mind, then, is nothing more than a mechanism developed over time to prolong the human race. Religious belief, in particular, is a survival technique developed in order to provide coping mechanisms for some weaker, lesser-developed beings. Vern Poythress explains the views of modern psychology in more detail. He writes:

General intelligence, for example, helps human beings to get food, protect themselves from harm, and survive to the next generation. Religious belief, like shared beliefs of other kinds, can enhance the unity of a human social group, and that in turn may help the group to act cooperatively and so survive to the next generation. The materialist concludes that religious beliefs are not true, but arise merely because they have been pragmatically useful in the evolutionary struggle for survival. They are a kind of accidental by-product of structures in the brain that natural selection favored for other, unrelated reasons. (Inerrancy and Worldview, 220)

Religious beliefs, then, are nothing more than evolutionary survival impulses developed to prolong humanity.

Karl Marx saw it slightly different. He suggested that religious belief was a fiction imposed on the uncritical masses by those in authority in order to keep them in their oppressed state. He called religion the “opiate of the masses.” Religion was seen as a means of maintaining abusive power. For those with a more astute mind and the proper critical thinking skills, they could see clearly the fictitious nature of religious belief. For the most part, however, Marx understood the masses to be both happy in their oppression and lacking the intellectual rigor to overthrow religious belief. Though Marx saw things differently the conclusion he draws is the same as much of modern psychology in general. The conclusion is that beliefs “arise from some structures in the brain, structures that in the end are a product of a long process of evolution” (220). The conclusions are the same because both views start with the same impersonalist worldview.

In truth, however, much of modern psychology proves too much with this conclusion. What may be said of religious belief specifically can surely be said of all belief. All beliefs are derived from structures in the brain developed over a long process of evolution. That makes non-religious beliefs no more reliable and true than religious beliefs, this includes, of course, the belief in materialism. As Poythress writes:

If beliefs are the product merely of chance evolution, they exist because they are useful for survival, not because they are true. They are a product of our brain structures, not ultimately a product of weighty evidence in favor of their truth. When this principle is followed consistently, it leads to the conclusion that beliefs in general must be debunked. And that includes belief in materialism, belief in evolution, and belief in brain structures. The debunker ends up with no ground on which to stand to do this debunking. (220)

Modern psychology ends up disproving itself in its dismissal of religious belief. It ends up doing this because it does not properly understand the mind as a creation of God, nor does it understand genuine religious belief as a submission to a living God who interacts with the world. Modern psychology cannot, however, come to that conclusion because it has a flawed starting place, primarily bound up in its ultimate commitment.

People are gullible, that is certainly true. Next week we’ll explore the nature of gullibility, but my point in this post is that religion itself is not merely a product of uncritical thinking or a weak mind. If we draw that conclusion based on evolutionary, impersonalist, foundations we will end up proving too much. In short we will wind up with no foundation for any belief.

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