Belief in God: It’s Just Wishful Thinking

“You only believe in God because you want someone to be there. You want your life to have meaning and purpose, you want the comfort of knowing someone is in control of it all. In short, your faith is simply a psychological crutch.”

Have you come across some form of this argument? This common objection against faith in God seeks to argue that many people only believe because they want to believe. That is, they do not believe on grounds of good reason. Belief in God, the argument goes, typically occurs as a result of experiencing pain, or worry, or heartache – something negative – to which the person responds by choosing to believe in God to make things better.

This person is described as projecting a view of God, in much the same way, perhaps, that a child believes that good fairies are protecting them whilst they sleep from all the nasty goblins and things under the bed. It is a belief that one believes to be true in order to feel better.

The God Argument by A. C. Grayling
The God Argument by A. C. Grayling

I was at a recent talk in Oxford listening to A. C. Grayling, the celebrated philosopher and one of the so-called New Atheists, whose recent book The God Argument seeks to counter faith in religion with an optimistic view of humanism.

One of the more heavily pushed arguments from Grayling that evening was this one of ‘wish fulfilment’. Grayling actually likened the argument for the existence of God as akin to an argument for fairies at the end of the garden (a topic Sarah Abbey deals with well here).

What Does This Argument Really Prove?

Grayling was offering this argument in support of the idea that there is no God. But wait just a minute. What is the argument actually saying? It may be laid out like this:

  • Many people believe in God for psychological reasons
  • These psychological reasons aren’t reasonable
  • Without good reasons for God it’s unreasonable to say that God exists
  • Therefore God doesn’t exist

However there is a huge jump from premise two to premise three! Since when did how anyone believe in anything amount to any sort of evidence for/against that very thing?!

Let me liken it to this: I might believe that airplanes are carried magically across the sky by hoards of tiny invisible bats, contrary to all the laws of lift and thrust etc. I would be completely unreasonable in my belief structure but that doesn’t mean that airplanes don’t exist!

It’s entirely possible to do the sums wrong and end up with the right answer.

For and Against

Additionally, this same argument may be used against the non-believer. Could we not say that non-belief in God could just be wish-fulfilment also? That is, that you don’t want someone to be there, someone to say what is right and what is wrong, someone that might interfere with you life? You don’t want there to be a higher power so you believe and live in such a way that say there isn’t?

The fact of the matter is that how someone believes in God does not speak to the reasonableness of the existence of God. There are many reasonable cases to be made for God, including the evidence for the Resurrection, the detailed eyewitness accounts of Jesus, the argument from morality, and the historical case for Jesus to name but a few that we have covered.

Dismissing the existence of God because of how some choose to believe in God does not make for a compelling case, and further more scuttles itself by the very fact that this argument is not reasonable.

What about you? Have you come across this sort of argument? If so, do you find that there is merit to it or not? What has your response been to those who employ this argument? Leave us a comment below.

The Demolition Squad is heading to The Gathering! Check out our seminar on Saturday afternoon and come and say Hi. We’d love to meet you!