Does the science of belief undermine Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As we return to our look at The Christian Delusion edited by John What’s-his-name, we look at chapter 2. In this chapter, Valerie Tarico is looking at Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science. You all remember Tarico don’t you? She’s the brilliant mind who is saying more and more scholars are questioning the existence of Jesus.
She says that in the United States, religious belief is the best indicator of political party affiliation. Believers think belief has the power to save us all. Doubters fear the opposite. I wonder if she does not see the irony here. I find it amusing that when I meet people who say they are freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.
This also includes in the area of politics. Most atheists I encounter seem to have many of the exact same views on politics. There are noted exceptions. Robert Price, for example, is actually someone who publicly stated before the election in 2016 that he is on the Trump Train. Thankfully also, more and more secularists are becoming pro-life.
But to get back to Tarico, she seems to think there’s this idealization of belief. The word translated as belief so many times in the New Testament, pistis, would more mean not just mere intellectual assent but would refer to faithfulness and trust. It is a living out of what one believes.
Tarico also lists some findings from science that she wants us to note. Humans are not rational about anything let alone religion. Certainty is a feeling and can fail to show up when evidence is enormous. Our minds are set up to be religious in their thinking. Finally, the born again experience is a natural phenomenon.
It’s worth pointing out that nowhere in this does she define religion, which is my problem with David Eller’s essay in this book. When we say religious thinking, what do we mean? Are we putting the reasoning of Augustine and Aquinas in the same boat as the little boy in Sunday School? Without defining this term, one will be puzzled by Tarico’s writing.
Tarico says that for Christians belief is central. If you believe, that is what matters. Belief is important, but James warns us that the demons believe and tremble. Belief needs to show up in action. Sure, we have creeds. Creeds give a statement of the things we do believe for all time. We are to live out the ramifications of those beliefs. If we do not live what we believe, we can ask if we really believe it.
Much of what Tarico says could be interesting and I have no need to comment on it as it doesn’t affect Christian truth claims. She does say we can’t really claim to know anything with certainty. (Is she certain about that.) She then says those of us who are not religious could do with a little humility. Wonderful suggestion, but it’s hard to think you live it out when you write a chapter for a book telling a disagreeing party they have a delusion. You seem pretty certain of it.
She does talk in the same way as Eller about Christianity copying. Of course, she goes for chestnuts like the descent of Inanna, ignoring that Christianity takes place in a specific time and place with a resurrection to this life again and without all the intrigue going on in the Inanna myth. Yep. Real good on the humility there.
There’s a section on the born-again experience. This would be relevant for those of us who place a lot of emphasis on such an experience. For those of us who don’t, it doesn’t matter. One might feel great things when they give their lives to Christ. If that becomes how you know Christianity is true, that is a problem. If not, then you are good.
It’s amazing to read this whole essay and realize that when people write about the problems of how we think and such, they always seem to think they are the exception. Everyone else has fallen for this, but not I. I know what is going on. I conclude in the end that Tarico doesn’t. She might have given us grounds to examine what we believe and why, but what Christian should be opposed to that?