The logic behind believing or not believing

I have friend who is constantly saying that a logical, intelligent critical thinker could not possibly believe in God. That is my debate question. The question does not relate to the actual existence of a God it is simply about the logic behind believing the way we choose to believe. I see no problem with the actual way people choose to believe but it does bother me some when I sense an animosity between the two belief systems. On one end of the spectrum we might have a primitive native who has never experienced civilization and on the other side we have a scientist who has a sound and credible background. Both of these people believe in a higher power of some kind, even in the broadest sense.
Could these people not be considered intelligent, logical, critical thinkers, both based on what they know and don’t know about the universe.

Depends on how you define “god”. According to some definitions (most of them, frankly), you would be a fool to believe in god. According to others, you’d be a fool not to.

Sometimes it is rational to not delve into things you don’t have time for. If life is so hard for you that you don’t have time for philosophical reflection then I can see you still believing. I can also see how people might, even after reflection, believe that some sort of God probably does exist, while firmly rejecting all examples of any God put forward thus far by the various religions, none of which that I am aware of are logically and factually consistent.

It also depends on how much you redefine “belief system” just to make atheism fit.

The NY Times recently ran a column by a professor of anthropology at Stanford that bears closely on this topic. Take it for what it’s worth; I thought the following paragraph summarized his point pretty well:

To the OP: Does your friend resort to the “no true Scotsman” argument if you point out people with advanced degrees from elite universities who believe in various mainstream religions?

To CJJ*: I think that the anthropologist who wrote the article stated pretty much the opposite of your quote in her closing sentences.

I was left feeling unsure of what she was trying to say.

This possibly brings up an additional aspect to the debate. Would the more spiritual types have been more successful breeders creating a type more prone to accepting spiritual solutions.

Your friend demonstrates cognitive dissonance in action. He starts with his belief: that a logical, intelligent critical thinker could not possibly believe in God. Then, no matter how many examples he encounters that contradict his belief, he ignores them and holds on to his belief.

You could send him links to the large number of studies that have found a positive correlation between educational success and religiosity. His cognitive dissonance would probably ensure that he’d ignore that result as well, but he might at least produce some amusing excuses for doing so.

Natural selection (even if it were still working in humans) doesn’t produce meaningful changes in populations over the short timescale we’ve had religion for.

I think by that time our breeding had become more selective than what could be reffered to as natural selection. This can change things fairly rapidly.

That column, which I read, is typical of this kind of defense of religion. Notice there is no attempt to defend the idea of the existence of God, just that of belief and the social utility of churches. Those who attack new Atheism books in reviews in respectable publications do likewise. Nowhere do they say that Dawkins etc. are incorrect because there is a good argument for the existence of god, more that they are incorrect in supposedly considering all believers fundamentalists (which they don’t). So it seems that many smart believers don’t even try to claim that belief is rational or logical.

It may be true that those in churches live longer. That is no more a reason to join a church than it would be to become a Trekkie if it were discovered that Star Trek fans live longer.

So you should easily be able to give us logical reasons for believing in God. And if believing in your god is logical, are all those smart people who believe in Krishna illogical?

Now, now-As that old lady said on the Larry King radio show one night many years ago, “…they(different religions) all worship Jesus in their own way.” :smiley:

Something that is seldom addressed here is how powerful the chemical reaction is to some of the religious practices, and customs. The Catholic Church uses a lot more prayer and meditiaon than say an evangelical church which might use more motivational and high spritited music and prayers. These both generate powerful but slightly different chemicals in us.
One could say well it stands to reason that Christians are under the infuence of a powerful drug so are incapable of making a rational decision. Or one could say it is simply miraculous how god created our bodies to recieve this chemical gift otherwise known as the holy ghost. I believe the chemicals make it possible for us to have faith in something that we lack complete information on. Maybe not such a bad thing.

It isn’t? It’s certainly debatable. A lot of people think that living longer, living healthier, or living happier is more important than being right.

That’s not what the OP or ITR said.

To disprove the claim that “a logical, intelligent critical thinker could not possibly believe in God” all we have to do is produce an intelligent, critical thinker who does believe in God. Just as, if you claimed that “a logical, intelligent critical thinker could not possibly like mushrooms on pizza,” all we would have to do is produce a logical, intelligent critical thinker who does like mushrooms on pizza. We wouldn’t have to give logical reasons for liking mushrooms on pizza; and we wouldn’t be claiming that people who prefer olives on pizza are illogical.

I know (personally or by reputation) enough logical, intelligent critical thinkers who do believe in God, and enough who do not, to be convinced that both beliefs are perfectly compatible with being a logical, intelligent, critical thinker.

Let us instead examine whether these people have brought logical and rational thinking to bear upon the question of the existence of God and the results of that process. Just because someone is logical and rational in one aspect of their life does not mean that they apply the same standards to other areas.


The people I’m thinking of, and very likely the people that Thudlow Boink is thinking of, have done that, and retain their belief. To my way of thinking, their procedures are inadequate, as they arrive at an incorrect conclusion, but that’s largely because I take certain postulates as given which they do not.

Critical thinking simply doesn’t do the job. This is religion. There isn’t any scientific approach. There’s no objective evidence we can examine. The foundational assumptions are beyond analytical assessment. At the end of the day, you either believe or you don’t. I don’t – but others definitely do, and I won’t take the fatal step of declaring all of them to be deficient in reasoning.

(Some, hell yeah. But the same is true for some subset of any given group of people sharing in a body of thought. Hell, there are some really stupid Quantum or Relativistic Physicists!)

A critical thinker using logic (i.e., a scientist) is not likely to accept a concept of God which embraces personal interaction via miraculous events (capricious violation of natural law).

It is possible such an individual might choose to set aside (socially compartmentalize) scientific objections to a personal God who intervenes in the affairs of the universe in order to partake in the secondary gains of what is loosely termed “religion” or “belief.”

The idea that everyone “believes” in something, and that that something can be categorized as a “higher power” when you sketch out their belief paradigm, is a common theme among those advancing religions. “You believe in Science; I believe in God; we all believe in some kind of Authority beyond ourselves…we are all accepting that there is a Higher Power.”

I find that sort of statement is simply using words to create an artificially similar feel for two very different paradigms of truth.

Isn’t that kinda the point of religion? Christianity doesn’t ask that you critically think god exists, it asks that you believe it.

You can critically think about a whole lot of other things, but per my understanding, if you are critically thinking about the existence of god you’re doing it wrong. You’re just supposed to believe.

So sure, intelligent people with great capacity for critical thinking can believe in god. Because they don’t and shouldn’t apply that skill to their belief.