Is God Just a Human Invention? - Video Interview and Book Excerpt with Sean McDowell
- Wednesday, October 20, 2010
First, it begs the question against God. Freud's argument is, essentially, since we know that God doesn't exist, what are psychological explanations of this belief? His argument assumes from the outset that no object of belief exists. This is the presumption of atheism that we discussed above. The New Atheists commonly approach the God question in the same way: "Since God doesn't exist—and we know this, along with every other sane person in the world—why do so many people still believe?"
We have evidence for God's existence (e.g., arguments from origins, design, morality, etc.) and know that God is far from dead in the academy (see chapter 1). In fact, many world-class philosophers and scientists are Christians and are publishing at the highest levels. Yet, as one looks through the bibliographies of the New Atheists, it quickly becomes obvious that they are not interacting with the most sophisticated defenders of Christianity. 4
Second, another assumption made by those who employ Freud's projection theory is that having beliefs that bring us comfort means that those beliefs are false. But this does not follow logically. Philosophers of religion Paul Copan and Paul Moser observe that "a belief that brings comfort and solace should not be considered necessarily false. We find comfort in human relationships, and this is perfectly normal, reasonable, and healthy, at least in routine cases. It would be implausible to presume that our finding comfort in something is automatically cognitively defective or otherwise wrong."5
Third, part of the rhetorical force of Freud's projection theory cited by Hitchens is the perceived connection between God being an illusion and Freud's rigorous psychoanalysis. Actually, this connection is what's illusory. Emeritus professor of psychology at New York University and former atheist Paul Vitz writes, "Nowhere did Freud publish a psychoanalysis of the belief in God based on clinical evidence provided by a believing patient," and further that "Freud's general projection theory is an interpretation of religion that stands on its own, unsupported by psychoanalytic theory of clinical evidence."* In other words, there is no psychological basis for his conclusions because he never performed psychoanalysis on people who actually believed in God.
* Paul C. Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (Dallas: Spence, 1999), 9. McGrath further states that "while it is a historical truism that Freud was a confirmed atheist long before he became a psychoanalyst, it is important to note that he became a psychoanalyst precisely because he was an atheist. His indefatigable harrying of religion reflects his fundamental belief that religion is dangerous." Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 70.
Fourth, the projection theory cuts both ways. If it can be argued that humans created God out of a need for security or a father figure, then it can just as easily be argued that atheism is a response to the human desire for the freedom to do whatever one wants without moral constraints or obligations. Perhaps atheists don't want a God to exist because they would then be morally accountable to a deity. Or maybe atheists had particularly tragic relationships with their own fathers growing up, projected that on God, and then spent most of their adult lives trying to kill a "Divine Father Figure."6 Consider the heartbreaking childhood of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), perhaps the leading English atheist of the twentieth century. His mother died when he was two and his father when he was four. An extremely stern Presbyterian woman raised Russell. A loner with no real childhood friends, he would grow attached to nannies and then become inconsolable when they left. We don't mention this to make light of it—it's sad and tragic. We mention it because it's possible that not all of Russell's reasons for rejecting Christianity and God were purely rational or intellectual. Belief is a complex thing.
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