A while ago, I read two books high on Amazon’s psychology reading list: The Ego Trick by Dr. Julian Baggini and The Belief Instinct by Dr. Jesse Bering. After reading them, I sent letters to both authors, hoping to engage them further on various topics. I got only a brief response from Dr. Baggini and never heard back from Dr. Bering. Each book was well-researched and thought-provoking; they provided excellent insights and points of discussion about how our brains function, specifically around the ideas of the “self” and “theory of mind.” Both were written by self-professed atheists and both possessed a fatal flaw: In the authors’ zest to promote psychological theory, their books became attempts to offer proof against the existence of God and our immaterial souls. This was a disappointing end to a set of hypotheses that held significant promise for our understanding of humanity.
I work in a field where many professionals share these authors’ atheistic, or at least agnostic, beliefs. Their views are expressed in various ways. But the more I’ve read about and understood the perspective of atheists, I’ve found three themes that repeatedly underlie almost all explanations of nonbelief. Simply put, atheists think that belief in God is not 1) logical or understandable, 2) scientifically verifiable or 3) emotionally reasonable. Over and over, those who deny the existence of the Divine come back to these three "arguments."
When a spiritual matter fails to meet one of these criteria, the atheist assumes that God cannot exist. This supposes, of course, that God must be explainable — a view in direct opposition to the views of Christianity and other religions, which hold that many mysteries — the Trinity, for example — exist beyond our understanding. But in our current culture, where narcissism runs rampant, it seems that the idea of a “mystery” is unacceptable and, therefore, implausible. Some atheists say, for example, that the suffering of innocents proves that there is no God. The error is understandable, especially considering the suffering of young children who are living in inhumane conditions.
Others claim that the scientific discovery of a neuronal mechanism for faith-like experiences attests that God is a figment of our imagination. The new scientific findings are intriguing, but when questions become assumptions, and the assumptions become accepted modes of atheists’ reasoning, we have to ask if egos are getting in the way.
Psychology does have something to say about these three suppositions of atheism. With regard to the idea that God is neither logical nor understandable, we can cite the well-known principle called the Illusion of Control. We all like to believe that our surroundings are predictable and controllable. But in actuality, this is often not true, especially when realities are too complex and too vast to understand. When atheists attempt to shrink a divine existence into concrete, logical terms, it supports the illusion that our logic is in control.
As to the scientific "invalidation" of God, we again find that our own psychological realities come into play. The Confirmation Bias convinces us that our opinions are the result of years of polished research and observation. In reality, mountains of psychological research find otherwise. Our opinions are often the result of paying attention to what we believe, and ignoring information that challenges what we do not. When scientific ideas such as evolution or theory of mind are used as a proof against God, it seems to be done in the spirit of confirming a bias in what we “know” and “believe,” not in creating a greater openness toward what we may not be able to prove scientifically.