January 2007

I’d just like to address a fairly minor point (at least in comparison with most of the concepts related to religious faith!) that you’ve made in reply to the person who accused you of making up other people’s minds for them.

The point that I’d like to address is pretty much contained in this quote from you:

“The “you are now an atheist” concept is a joke, largely at the expense of those who believe that an intelligent person can just choose what to believe.”

Specifically, the idea that an intelligent person can just choose what to believe. Now, I’m slightly playing devil’s advocate here, but my own perspective on that issue is that an intelligent person actually can choose what to believe, as well as choose how to behave and feel in any given situation. However, I am not stating that they may *just* choose, but that byt their own choice they may modify their own beliefs however they please.

Now, I am by no means suggesting that this process is easy in all, or even the majority of cases. For example, it would be very easy to change a weakly held belief that the only word worth saying is banana, but it would be very difficult indeed to sincerely adopt a belief that a human can live without breathing oxygen.

The reason I say I’m playing devil’s advocate a little is that in the case of belief about the necessity of breathing oxygen, it would be so difficult to change that belief that it would be nigh on impossible. The devil’s advocate in me is saying that this does not mean that its impossible. The exact nature of the belief here doesn’t really matter, since we can easily imagine beliefs that would be nigh on impossible, if the breathing oxygen example is not sufficiently difficult.

I haven’t actually argued my case here, merely presented my opinion on the matter, but essentially my case is that this is precisely what one can learn from a psychological therapy technique known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My trust that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can change how one feels, behaves and believes about things is born out of personal experience, which obviously I can’t simply transmit to you. So really, I am unable to argue my position, except to point to empirical evidence that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works, which must be interpreted as you see fit, obviously.

Also, I’d just like to say that I find your correspondence very interesting, and think that it’s a very good thing that you receive and respond to comments other than the shouting and abuse demonstrated by some. It’s good to see some genuine debate on the matter, rather than the dogma which appears so often on both sides of religion/atheism debates, particularly online.

If I have misinterpreted your position on the matter I’ve just commented on at far too much length, then I apologise, but at least I’ve given you something to chew on. Also, I’ve never formally studied philosophy, so if there are good arguments against my position that you think are worth mentioning please let me know. I’m always interested in any arguments against any position I take, cos how else am I supposed to develop my thinking on the question?

Cheers, and sorry for the length. Succinctness is not often one of my strengths…

If I understand correctly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a means by which one can use inner dialogue to modify bad mental habits or change negative feelings. I suppose that one could use this technique to gain a belief in something one initially knew wasn’t true, but this, it seems to me, would essentially be self brainwashing.

Even if I am incorrect on this point, though, I think that it has no impact on my statement.

If a religious person comes up to me and says that I should not worry about rational arguments and “just believe” that God exists and Jesus died for my sins, I cannot, as a rational and sane individual, simply instantly gain that belief by choice. It may be possible that through a process such as that you describe I could build up a belief in the supernatural. However, before doing that I would have to make a conscious decision to undergo a process that I knew would mess with my thoughts and emotions, and I would need to be convinced that this was a worthwhile course of action before doing so. Which brings us pretty much right back where we started — to the necessity of convincing me that God exists through rational argument.

I should also point out that, in my opinion, using a process such as you describe to create belief in something I currently believe to be untrue and that I am not convinced reflect reality is not rational. Forcing myself to believe in God just because it would make me happy makes just as much sense as forcing myself to believe that I’m the long-lost King of Prussia for the same reasons.

Posted on January 31, 2007 at 11:51 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Discussion

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