Last night I had a dream. In this dream I had reason to believe that a room in my house was inhabited by a poltergeist. I couldn’t actually see the entity but I had good reason to believe it was there because inanimate objects were constantly being moved from where I had left them. Of course I also could have been mistaken as to where I had put them. So I conducted an experiment. I left a pair of shoes in the middle of the floor and out loud, informed the poltergeist that “I have left a pair of shoes in the middle of the room and I am now going to leave the room, close the door, and return in 10 minutes. If you want me to believe in your existence I want you to move the shoes to somewhere else in the room”. Then I left. On returning, sure enough, the shoes were neatly placed on the table. In my dream I repeated the procedure several times and each time the shoes ended up on the table.
I imagine I have dreams like this because as a young teen I discovered science fiction and avidly read the entire contents of my high school library. Stalwarts such as John Wyndham, Lester Del Rey and later, the ‘new wave’ of science fiction authors such as Bradbury, Ballard and Ellison became my sustenance. From there it was an easy step into the decidely dodgy world of ESP, ley lines, the mathematical profundity of the pyramids, Erich von Daniken and Lobsang Rampa. You name it, I’ve probably read it.
Looking back on this period, now armed with a PhD in cognitive psychology, I wonder whether reading these books acted as a type of partial wish fulfillment. We all wish the world were different to how it actually is. In my case this was characterised by such thoughts as wouldn’t it be great if telepathy were real? Imagine being able to privately communicate with someone at a great distance without having to worry about dialing codes or whether the battery has enough charge. Excellent! Talking to dead relatives and close friends? Cool! Visitors from outer space in saucer shaped craft? Fantastic! Being able to move objects at a distance? Wow! Curing any emotional ill simply by talking through your feelings, guided by a simple, universal template of human psychological structure? Awesome!
An omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent entity that created the universe (and us, to look just like him!) and responds to all your needs…….
But let’s be honest here. There is no such thing as ESP, telekinesis, reliably effective Freudian analysis, flying saucers etc. How do we know this? Well we’ve observed and experimented, and crunched the numbers. And observed and experimented and crunched the numbers again. And again. And not only formally, in laboratories, but informally, in the field, in our everday observations and thoughts. And as for that omnsicient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent being, or even an omniscient entity of any sort, well again, the numbers, whether from philosphical or empirical investigation, simply don’t add up.
So, in the best tradition of personality psychology in categorising human beings, I observe a psychological continuum between those who perceive the world in terms of wish-fulfillment (believers) and those who perceive the world in terms of evidence (rationalists). Or, in other words, a continuum based on an individual’s existential honesty.
Using my dream as analogy, whether the shoes had moved or not, the rationalist would simply accept the state of things as found and the scientific world-view would be amended accordingly in that the poltergeist hypothesis would gain some support. If the shoes had not moved, however, the poltergeist believer would have their world-view threatened and likely be trying to convince us that the shoes really had moved. Substitute god for poltergeist, and the shoes would have moved in the spiritual dimension, or actually would have moved, if god was willing, or their remains the possibility that the shoes will move, if only we had more faith….
That is why I am an atheist. I simply aspire to perceive the universe in as true a way as possible; which entails being honest about my psychological makeup, i.e., my own wants and wishes, no matter what the data is telling me. It’s not that I don’t believe in god. I simply have yet to see any convincing data (or philosophical argument, for that matter) that the hypothesis is true. Belief just doesn’t come into it.
Hill creates an analogy. Theism is like…. Since Hill is a psychologist, his analogy is to a psychological theory which he has arrived at by analyzing himself. He engaged in “partial wish fulfillment” which was provided by science fiction in his youth. He thinks that the “omnibenevolent” part of the God theory is also analogous to Partial Wish Fulfillment.
The analogy: Theism is like science fiction...
IF theism is like science fiction, THEN theism is false.But there’s a problem. Omnibenevolence is not a part of either Judaism nor Christianity. If it were, then the work ethic would not exist because we could just pray up some food, clothes, a mansion, and perpetual football. Omnibenevolence in parenting produces spoiled, entitled, parasitic brats who remain that way as adults; omnibenevolence is not a positive attribute. It is not mentioned in the Bible even once, for example, as an attribute of YHWH or for any other reason; presumably it is derived secondarily from the “ask and you shall receive” and “good gifts” statements referring to spiritual gifts? Regardless, Hill thinks that Christians use God in the same way that he used science fiction; that is his only frame of reference.
Theism is like science fiction;
THERFORE, theism is false.
Actually Christianity is advertised as the hard, narrow road, one beset with trials. So it is possible that Hill is referring to the salvation aspect as Partial Wish Fulfillment. And that is possibly true. However, there is no evidence that this belief is false. Hill presumes that it must be false because it resembles his own false belief in science fiction. So Hill’s presumption is that placing hope in science fiction (which is an obvious act of irrationality - it is obviously fiction), proves that theism is false by association. The conclusion is not based on either direct analysis or on evidence; it is deduced purely by association. And the association is false.
And he goes one further. After listing things which he knows are not true, he then presents another thing which he associates with those things:
”And as for that omnsicient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent being, or even an omniscient entity of any sort, well again, the numbers, whether from philosphical or empirical investigation, simply don’t add up.”
In one swoop he has associated (1) a purported knowledge of falseness of certain things, (2) Scientism as sole knowledge source, (3) and the blanket refutation of all philosophical and empirical investigation without accompanying evidence, with theism. This assertion has universal reach, and is made with complete self-assurance. Yet it is a baseless association and nothing more, certainly not supported with evidence.
And yet there is more. He makes a scientific claim based on his observation of a continuum ranging from wish-fulfillers to rationalists. He observes that it is:
” a continuum based on an individual’s existential honesty.”
Perhaps he is unaware that rationalism is not the same as empiricism, and that the two are at odds? Nonetheless, unless one is a “rationalist”, then one is existentially dishonest, according to Hill.
At this point one is tempted to assert Quantum Mechanics, or to refer to the lack of empirical refutation or falsification for non-material claims. But that’s not necessary to refute Hill’s assertion, because the claim of dishonesty is a judgment, not an empirical fact supported by hard data. And we are justified in asking about the experimental design, the implementation, the methods of statistical analysis and the subject sampling techniques he used to generate his continuum theory. These are necessary attributes of empiricism which are in place to assure objectiivty.
Or lacking all these trappings of science, maybe Hill's hypothesis is merely "wish-fulfilling? After all, he admits a psychological propensity for that failing. Is his hypothesis less than objective? We are left to wonder.
He wraps up with this:
” It’s not that I don’t believe in god. I simply have yet to see any convincing data (or philosophical argument, for that matter) that the hypothesis is true. Belief just doesn’t come into it.”He believes the data, philosophical argument, are not true, but it does not involve belief? Certainly he believes something regarding God, and it is not that God exists. Were he present here and now, he could be pressed on that point, which is an apparent intellectual dishonesty of his own. I’d also like to ask him, what data is it to which you are referring? What numbers are there that don’t add up? Is theism like science fiction in ALL ways, such that it is tautologous? If so, where is the data on that? Is philosophy like science fiction in ALL ways, such that it is tautologous? If so, where is the data on that? What about ethics, and data on that? Those would be an interesting answers for sure.