Economic Savior, Part 2: Predisposed to Belief

By Brad Edwards | Posted at 5:02 AM

Last week, Brad Edwards looked at the New Scientist’s claim that religious beliefs such as the rise of “New Calvinism,” is a mere survival reflex we are biologically disposed to. The potential problem he pointed out with the claim is that it assumes that a biological survival mechanism must be irrational. Christianity claims otherwise.

Here’s why Christianity (and specifically Calvinism) wins this cage match: Christians can absolutely affirm that humans are predisposed to supernatural belief. Those Calvinists that Time discussed point to the same scientific evidence (which is experimentally verifiable), yet drastically disagree with the New Scientist’s conclusion. If we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and intended to be in relationship with Him (Exodus 6:7), then of course we are physiologically predisposed to it!

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the New Scientist article: “Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain… Boyer points out that people expect their gods’ minds to work very much like human minds…” It is how and who we were created to be. Ironically, it would be far more damaging to religious belief if experiments showed that there was no physiological predisposition to belief.

In his #1 New York Times Bestseller, the Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Radical Skepticism, Tim Keller examines the anti-supernaturalist claims of philosophical naturalism. He likens it to a drunk who only looks for his key (a given natural or supernatural event) underneath a streetlight (science) because it simply “cannot” be in the dark outside the reach of the streetlight (where science cannot shed light or predict a supernatural event).

As vehemently as theism is claimed to be irrational, there is no more hard evidence supporting atheism or philosophical naturalism. It may come as a surprise to know that there are actually many theists in the scientific community who see the evidence pointing to a creator God, the most notable of which is the Director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins. In the Language of God, Collins explains that it was the sheer awe of the natural order that sparked faith in a God who has the capacity to create such a thing and the love to do so with so much beauty.

SOURCE: Library of Congress

But the premise of the New Scientist’s argument begs the question: if religious belief is invalid due to it’s function as a survival mechanism, then is our interpretation of the data not also inherently flawed because it is also a survival mechanism? If supernatural belief somehow protects us from predators by creating an increased sense of caution (a popular claim), then how is our very reason any different? If every truth claim is traced back to evolutionary design, then even that claim is unreliable by the same reasoning. Nietzsche was perennially frustrated with this paradox when he said that all truth claims are attempts to exert power over another… including the claim that “all truth claims are attempts to exert power over another.” C.S. Lewis basically agreed when he said that he who attempts to see through everything ends up seeing nothing, and is truly blind.

So where does this leave us? We are left with the reality that the future is perennially uncertain and humans will continue to search for meaning, purpose, and comfort in that reality. New Calvinism is anything but new, for “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10). Indeed, it is a truly orthodox, historical, and foundational understanding of Christianity that has resurged every time our false hopes have been proven insufficient. On 9/11 our false hopes of naïve safety collapsed with the World Trade Center. Last year, our false hopes of financial comfort plunged with the stock market. In America, we have any number of comforts available to medicate and placate us. Yet we will always be disappointed when we make good things into god things (i.e. home ownership). Only trusting in an unchanging, good, and loving God will bring us the kind of hope and comfort to sustain us through crises, economic and otherwise.

After all, we were made for it.

Brad Edwards is a husband, seminary student and lover of all things urban. His favorite topics of writing are the intersections of culture and theology.

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4 comments posted so far.

Re: Economic Savior, Part 2: Predisposed to Belief

To say there is “no more hard evidence supporting atheism” indicates unfamiliarity with logic and the rules of evidence. Atheism is a lack of a belief. For instance, I lack a belief that you are a rapist. It is not incumbent on me to prove your innocence; it is incumbent for the one making the claim to prove you are a rapist. Of course, there is no evidence supporting evidence. Just as there is no evidence you aren’t a rapist. The burden of proof lies with the one making a positive assertion and all that needs be done when that happens is disprove the evidence. Innocence is the default position because it is the negative position. For rational people the same is true of atheism. You only believe when evidence is presented. I would suspect you don’t believe in Santa, but can you present evidence he doesn’t exist?

I was once in seminary myself and they didn’t teach basic logic and the rules of evidence when I went either.

Posted by cls - Apr 02, 2009 | 8:10 AM

Re: Economic Savior, Part 2: Predisposed to Belief


Thanks for commenting. Let me interact a little bit with a few of your statements…

“The burden of proof lies with the one making a positive assertion and all that needs be done when that happens is disprove the evidence.”

Why? What reason or evidence do you have to believe that the default position should be doubt or skepticism until proven otherwise? Why not the other way around? We westerners need to understand how distinctly cultural that view is.

“For instance, I lack a belief that you are a rapist.”

Is there any difference between “not believing that you are a rapist” and “believing that you are not a rapist”? Both are synonymous statements reached through an evaluation of evidence and experience. This belief will influence how you behave toward the other person, thus requiring some degree of trust in that belief (in the same way that we trust the law of gravity to be true when we choose not to jump off a cliff). Atheists are not without belief, they simply believe that God does not exist. It’s practically impossible to have a conversation about theism if everyone isn’t on the same page on this (which is why I HATE when Christians refer to non-Christians as “unbelievers.” How incredibly arrogant and shortsighted…).

Posted by Brad Edwards - Apr 02, 2009 | 3:08 PM

Re: Economic Savior, Part 2: Predisposed to Belief

You missed his point entirely. That is about logic, not about personal evaluation of claims of atheists and theists.

I can say “I don’t have a car”. Assuming we agree on definitions have and house, that is negative statement and default - it would be preposterous to claim that because we don’t know whether a random person has a car that he does.

Now, if you discover documents for my car, or see me driving a car, or read in NYTimes that I got into car accident driving, or find my blog post bragging about my new car, you will have varying degree of certainty that I do have one. So you would say “You do have a car, because you are sitting in it and here’s your papers.” :) That’s a positive statement.

Atheism is not a “belief that there’s no god”. Atheist says - “there’s no god”. That’s a negative statement, same as “John doesn’t have a car” Now, if good evidence that there’s god (or that John has a car) surfaces, atheist will probably change his mind.

Now, whether there IS such evidence, is another question. I contend that there’s no evidence - the best “hard” evidence proposed by theist is indirect, and has better explanations that do not involve god (Occam razor).

Moreover, the best that theists have that indirectly alludes to god never points to any particular god - it might be pink unicorn, flying spaghetti monster or sentient teapot.

Posted by Sergey Shelukhin - Oct 07, 2009 | 8:56 AM

Re: Economic Savior, Part 2: Predisposed to Belief

sorry house->car in one place.

  • yet another “Moreover” to the end. Never does that evidence indicate that this force, whatever it is, that is indirectly pointed to by the alleged evidence, interacts with humans in any way, requires any kind of worship, prayer, community, morals, etc. Unless proven otherwise, sentient teapot might have as well created the universe in all its beauty, and gone away to create more universes while paying 0 attention to this one.
Posted by Sergey Shelukhin - Oct 07, 2009 | 9:00 AM