Imagine that the average human psyche is full of emotions and desires that scream for satisfying answers. Imagine the human psyche is often willing to ignore the weaknesses and incoherencies of the answers as long as those answers, to some degree, address the needs of the human psyche. Imagining such is not very difficult. We all recognize our own inappropriate willingness to ignore problematic answers as long as those answers make life more tolerable or enjoyable. It takes real effort to raise ourselves above our emotions and desires, and to commit to believing only those proposed answers that meet proper standards of honest inquiry. One of the most difficult things to admit in the context of ignorance is that we don’t know. We feel that having no answer for perplexing questions about life is intolerable, and that we must default to some answer, usually the most emotionally accommodating answer regardless of its lack of validation.
Is this intellectually honest? Should not the honest seeker, in spite of the allure of the emotionally satisfying answers most religions offer, refrain from believing anything beyond the degree to which the degree of the evidence warrants? Isn’t defaulting to belief in a God intrinsically dishonest, a dishonesty strongly encouraged by the force of our human emotions?
Let’s imagine there is no objective purpose and meaning in life. For many, a world without objective purpose and meaning is emotionally intolerable. Many assume that the intensity of their deep desire for objective meaning and purpose is indicative that such meaning and purpose must exist for life to be worth living.
Yet we all recognize that this is a flawed perspective. Deep down, we understand that the truth of a proposed answer is in no way dependent upon our emotional satisfaction with that answer.
Let’s imagine we have no answer for the existence of suffering in the world. Saying we don’t know is quite emotionally unsatisfying. Many humans would rather have an invented answer to the question of suffering than to honestly admit they don’t know. The concept of the Christian God provides an satisfying answer to nearly every perplexing or frightful thought we might have. And belief in the Christian God avoids the emotional torment of not having the answers to these nagging questions.
Yet we clearly recognize that such a disposition is an intrinsically dishonest approach to finding truth. Truth is not dependent upon the degree of emotional satisfaction it offers. The honest seeker is willing to follow the evidence or lack of evidence into accepting the most emotionally unpalatable answers or absence of answers.
(See also #24.)
Wherever humans believe truth is best verified by the degree of emotional satisfaction it promises, there the most creative (though dishonest) humans can simply fabricate a religion with answers that maximized emotional satisfaction, and can easily herd humans into belief in that religion. Christians can easily think of other religions that have done this. Has not also Christianity?
(See also #20 on mapping our degree of belief to the degree of the evidence, and “Supplementary E” on the fallacy of using “inference to the best explanation” as an epistemological foundation.)