People Believe and Defend That Which They Prefer to Be True

I take it that the title to this post is uncontestable and undeniably true from what we know about human beings. The ONLY responses I have gotten from believers are these two: 1) The Ad Hominem Tu Quoque Fallacy which does nothing to address the point (see link); and 2) "No this does not apply to me when I assess the truth claims of Christianity because I am the exception to the rule." [How can all of them be the exception to the rule if this is the rule?]

What a load of bunk, oh but wait, what's the title to my Blog again? Ahhhhh, yes.


nascent said...

If by "ONLY responses" you mean replies in general, and not just those TCD related, then a small correction. It was a believer who said:

"John, if your concern is for truth - rather than recognition - and believe yourself to speak on the side of truth, then you haven't 'wasted' your time."

I'm fairly certain this doesn't commit the Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacy, nor would "this does not apply to me..." apply. It may just qualify as encouragement ;)

Victor Reppert said...

Are there any exceptions? Or not?

Victor Reppert said...

If everyone believes and defends what they prefer to be true, and if what we prefer to be true is as likely to be false as it is to be true, then every statement, the statement that everyone believes and defends what they believe to be true would be no more likely to be true than false.

Your thesis is a philosophical nuclear bomb. Mutual Assured Destruction.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

People Believe and Defend That Which They Prefer to Be True

Like you guys on this blog, you mean? :-)

And these "people", they can't by any chance switch convictions, if different POVs are more attractive or interesting or convincing or persuading, right? They remain frozen like Lot's wife, right, forever lustfully beholding their much desired ideological Sodom, right?

When I was a kid, I thought salt was sugar that stayed for too long in the ground, and became salty or bitter because of the minerals that are found there under the earth. -- Do you think I still believe that? I also thought that stars were like faucets: they turned, and rain poured. But now I don't anymore. (I also held to the stork-theory of childbirth).

ahswan said...

If your proposition is true, it's also true for you.

Anonymous said...

Vic, I did not say we ONLY believe and defend what we prefer to be true, nor did I say we ALWAYS believe and defend that which we prefer to be true.

The evidence has a way of correcting what we believe against what we prefer to be true. The problem with your faith is that whatever evidence I have shown you against what you prefer to be true has been discounted due to the omniscience escape clause, and claims of "Bayesian priors." Well, here are your Bayesian priors. How about going through them one at a time for us. Let's see what you've got left.

Dan DeMura said...

What justifies Christian belief, or any religious belief, is always a special knowledge that can't be arrived at by using reason alone... that's why they call it faith.
Christians feel the truth of God's existence just as surely as they know they exist.
But religious people all over the world have this same kind of conviction but with very different, and often contradicting theology.
In the end a Christian knows what they know and that is that...
"If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people." - House

GearHedEd said...

Remember Plantinga's absurd statistics in his EAAN?

I was thinking about his claim of "1000 beliefs", and it occurred to me that the vast majority of those "beliefs are rendered trivial, e.g., "I believe that girl is wearing a red dress".

Plantinga would overanalyze this, and extract no less than THREE beliefs from that statement: Girl, Dress, and Red.

The reason they're trivial is that there is direct evidence of all three beliefs. If we disregard all of this type of belief, then what's left is personal value judgements about things like religion, politics, aesthetics, etc., all intangibles. How many "fundamental" beliefs are left? I would guess probably no more than a dozen or two at most.

But we can still evaluate these "fundamental" beliefs for utility, no?

So it's not really a 50/50 toss up.

Victor Reppert said...

Then what do you say? So, the thesis doesn't apply universally, so does it apply 80% of the time? 90% maybe?

Bayesian priors can and must be adjusted to the evidence. They aren't unchangeable. It's just that it isn't possible to just drop them and move to a neutral position. Descartes tried that, and most people think the project didn't work. And if it did, well, his Catholicism remained intact, didn't it? No matter what your priors, enough evidence will swing you out of them.

Every belief system has to accomodate difficulties and contrary evidence. If theists can appeal to omniscience, and say that God works in mysterious ways, and that there are some things we don't understand, then so also can the atheist look at various pieces of evidence and say that, while we don't have an atheistic explanation, science will eventually come through and dispel the mystery. In theory, you can escape a theistic conclusion regardless of the evidence, even if the stars in the sky were to spell out the words "TURN OR BURN: JOHN W. LOFTUS THIS MEANS YOU."

My sense that Christianity is likely to be true, as I have pointed out earlier, could be affected by a good, believable naturalistic story about how Christianity came to be founded. You can complain that I shouldn't put the burden of proof on the skeptic to provide such an explanation, and I will readily agree that one could be a rational skeptic without having such an explanation. What you have instead, I think, is a field littered with the corpses of theories that sounded good at first, but turned out not to comport with the evidence when examined in detail. Charles Freeman's "Caiaphas" theory, which I found out about from Babinski, is another bad theory that, in my mind, has bit the dust.

If I were to come to assess the skeptic's case more favorably than I now do would mean, at least, that I would feel less assured that my beliefs are true than I did before.

Having looked at your "what must be true if Christianity is true," I found some of the theses were not universally held by Christians, and others were tendentiously described.

Anonymous said...

Vic it's very difficult to quantify how much we believe and defend that which we prefer to be true. You know that.

But I see it everywhere in a mother who believes her child truly is special, in a bad Karaoke singer who really thinks he can sing despite what others say, in a union man who hated Ronald Reagan for breaking the airline strike in his day, in the poor who think nearly all rich people are out to steal them blind, in nearly all countries that have dealings with the US who hate us because we're rich, in the mother who believes in the innocence of her boy in a court of law despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, in the links I provided about a non-accredited Jim West railing against accreditation, in that theater owner who justified why 3D movies are bad for our eyes because he doesn't have 3D technology, in some reality beauty shows where the contestants all think they are the most beautiful person in the contest, in the sophomore in college who thinks he knows most everything that's important to know, in a community leader who thinks the town revolves around him, in an author of a bestseller who thinks the reason it's a best seller is not because of any luck but to his brilliant writing, and so forth and so on.

In the religious area this stuff is compounded due to the emphasis on faith which can lead someone like Pat Robertson to claim it was because of his prayers that a hurricane did not do any damage, or in a person who feels called to ministry who doesn't have the people skills to be one, or someone who thinks he is a big enough giver when he throws $20 into the plate, or someone who thinks he's "God's gift to women" lol, and so on.

Now when it comes to the Christian story of a God who loved me/us so much that he sacrificed his son for us that resonates with people and is surely the main reason they believe. What a wonderful story. There is none other like it. The story grabs your attention. You want it to be true. It means a great deal if true. And equally motivating is the threat of hell. Your faith offers the best carrot and the best stick that could ever grace the mind of a man who needs some outside help is this dreary world. And the fear of hell keeps you from thinking of the alternative or to doubt your faith. You long to see the dearly departed too. You can't bring yourself to embrace the fact that when you die you go to the grave along with every evolved creature on earth since the beginning of time. You life and the life of your dog will both be extinguished when you both die. Sound depressing? Of course it does. Want to maintain faith. Then believe because of a hope, but not because of the facts. Who in their right mind would choose atheism over a faith like that? Me? Why? Because I want to know the truth. The evidence convinced me against my preferences.

Did you read Jason Long's chapter which articulates this quite well? Have you read either of my books? You say you've read Bertrand Russell. Fine. But he did not understand your faith as well as I do. Do you doubt that? While he was an excellent philosopher and his critiques of your faith are excellent, you will not be touched by a philosophical argument because you are a philosopher. You need to take a serious look at the Bible from a biblical scholar's perspective.

That's enough.

Victor Reppert said...

With all due respect, John, I have studied Bible scholarship. You may disagree with him, of course, but my NT professor was a real Bible scholar, and you are not.

I understand the emotional appeal of Christianity. I also understand what isn't so emotionally appealing about it, such as the claim that I am a sinner whose actions offend the creator of the universe. If I were to invent a religion that appealed to me emotionally, I wouldn't pick Christianity.

Anonymous said...

What makes for a scholar Vic? In any case I was not referring to me but that I share the perspectives of biblical scholars, and I have biblical scholars who write chapters for me (for which I'm humbled and grateful).

You really have not read my books have you? Pity. Scared? Naw, you're too busy rearranging chairs on the Titanic and listening to chumps offer stupid objections to The Christian Delusion.

That you are a scholar in Christian philosophy makes no difference to me than if I was discussing Scientology with a scholar of Scientology, or Mormonism with a Mormon scholar.

Anonymous said...

"If I were to invent a religion that appealed to me emotionally, I wouldn't pick Christianity."

This is absolutely ridiculous bunk. I'm going to make a post of this.

Sheesh. Do you really believe this crap? Where did you first hear this? I remember hearing it preached when I was a teenager so don't tell me you came up with this yourself. You have never thought through it.

Victor Reppert said...

I see the usual stuff about atheism being so horribly depressing that no one could possibly believe it that wasn't pursuing the truth disinterestly. That's been, well, debunked more times than I can count. Again, read my latest post on C. S. Lewis to get the classic rebuttal. Atheism is very appealing to pride, a passion so powerful that it heads the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. You get to feel smarter than most of the human race, who still believes, and you there is no being greater than yourself, so far as you know. There is no such thing as sin, no God to offend if you have done something that others might not approve of. There are none of those terribly annoying restrictions on sex behavior to cramp your style. And you can't go to hell either.

Ah, but people are so motivated by that "horror of nonentity" that they will accept anything rather than admit that they will die and rot. Only the elect, those rational enough to leave the fold, can escape this universal passion and see the truth. And you know this how? Lewis said he had no "horror of nonentity" until he became a Christian.

I would like to believe that there is an independent external world, and I have good reason to believe there is one. I want to believe that my wife loves me, and I have good reason to believe that as well. I want to believe that the Suns swept the Spurs in the playoffs a couple of months ago, and they did. I want to believe that Obama is President, and he is. I want to believe that the Democrats control both houses of Congress, and they do. I want to believe that SB1070 was struck down in court, and it was. Intellectual masochism as a way of forming beliefs is no better than wish-fulfillment.

If you talk to sports fans, you will always find the eternal optimist who thinks their team is sure to win the championship every year, but you also find people who are pleasantly surprised when their team finally makes it to the top.

Anonymous said...

Vic, Dan Barker put it best in Godless. If a Christian wants to say people like Dan and I leave the faith because we just didn't want to believe, then she needs to read Barker's story. Dan tells us that this process "was like tearing my whole frame of reality to pieces, ripping to shreds the fabric of meaning and hope, betraying the values of existence...It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege." Right that.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Vic, sometimes what we hope is true, is true. Okay. There's agreement between us.

Look at it this way. There is little worse to cloud our thinking than hoping something is true. We will be wrong more often when we investigate into a claim if we have a preconceived notion of how things will turn out. This is not being objective with the facts, can cloud our judgment and lead us to discount the available evidence.

GearHedEd said...

Victor said,

"...My sense that Christianity is likely to be true, as I have pointed out earlier, could be affected by a good, believable naturalistic story about how Christianity came to be founded."

I present this as a possible alternative, a "good, believable naturalistic story about how Christianity came to be founded."

Welcome to Enlightenment

Dismissed out of hand, or a viable possibility? You choose.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, and you can read Lewis's description of himself as the most reluctant convert. These arguments cut in all directions and cancel each other out.

Changing world-views is a painful and difficult process no matter which way you go.

Victor Reppert said...

GHE: Your might try convincing highly skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman. Or John, for that matter, who agrees with BE on this issue.

Victor Reppert said...

Hoping that something is true may cloud your thinking, or it may prompt you to major in philosophy so as to be able to hear all the best counter-arguments sooner rather than later. Resentment toward a Christian community that might have let you down is another motivating factor.

These motivational and sociological arguments aren't going to do much for people if they think that they have evaluated the evidence and that is comes out in favor of Christianity.

If someone began believing something, and wanting to believe it, and then changed their minds, whether it's C. S. Lewis or Dan Barker, all that shows is that, on whatever side the error lies, the error cannot be fully and completely explained in terms of wishful thinking. Each world-view has psychological upsides and downsides, and people who are "at home" in one world-view find it uncomfortable, at first, to move to the other, just as moving from Phoenix to Tokyo would cause some initial discomfort.

On not having read your book, there are lots of people's books I haven't read, many by Christians and many by atheists, so don't feel singled out. I happen to be working my way through Chris Hallquist's UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God at the moment.

By the way, you have made the claim that the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology doesn't address the credibility of Christianity, but only theism. That's not quite true, since Timothy and Lydia McGrew's essay on the Argument from Miracles is an argument in defense of the Resurrection.

GearHedEd said...

@ VR:

You didn't read the website. I haven't finished it and I've been picking at it in my spare time for several days. If you look, I said it could be a naturalistic alternative. For you, since you asked. I'm not talking about Ehrman or Loftus here. Let them attend to their own thoughts.

What do YOU think?

The site seems (at least on the surface) to be well-referenced, but I haven't been able to devote more time to the sources yet.

Whether you agree with the source material is up to you, but if you don't look, you won't see.

GearHedEd said...

While I'm waiting for the youtube to load from VR's link, let me say as well that even with the title of the website I linked (, I'm OK with the thought that there probably was an itinerant rabbi named Jesus wandering around in Judea. But was he the miracle worker described in the New Testament?


I think it more likely that if such a man existed, his life story and activities were probably co-opted by fanatics to promote their cult after he died. It's as good a story as any other, and has the added benefit of being perfectly reasonable without needing "magic" to defend it.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting Vic, that you have never read my books and yet you take personal pot shots at me like the Triabloggers and you think they have answered me, even equating me to "Does God Hate Amputees." You have no clue. Hallquist's book is good on one specific topic but does it have the recommendations my WIBA does?:

Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry April/ May 2010: "Doubting Christians beginning to doubt will find this book a juggernaut....If you seek an encyclopedic compendium of arguments against almost any imaginable defense of the Christian faith, this is your book....[T]he reader seeking a comprehensive disproof of Christianity as contemporary evangelicals defend it can do little better than to consult this volume."


Edward Tabash, Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Council for Secular Humanism: “This is a wonderful book! After a couple years of reflection and comparison with other books, and based on the number of copies of your book that I give out, I am now willing to say that if any sincere Christian approaches me with an honest intent to examine the faith, yours is the first book that I either give them or recommend. I believe that there is no ex-theist who has done a better job of profoundly refuting the claims of religion. You are one of the most precious intellectual treasures an otherwise benighted society can have.”

And surely you've read your friend Keith Parson's blurb about TCD.

And yet...

GearHedEd said...

I gotta get a copy of that, when I can afford to spend money on books again...

Anonymous said...

Vic, philosophy is being used to defend so many ridiculous ideas it's amazing you think it's helping us get at the truth. When Swinburne can argue that given the existence of God it's 97% probable Christianity is true is a testament to the failure of philosophy to solve the problems we seek to solve.

Philosophy is useful for clarification and logic, yes. But one man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens, as you know. And fallacies? Come on now, philosophers commit them all of the time in defense of indefensible ideas.

Philosophy is all to often used to serve other interests. It's a biased discipline. Keithe Parsons once wrote me that if the first thing Plantinga ever wrote was on Reformed Epistemology he would have been ignored, the argument is just that bad. Ask him. Go ahead.

Philosophers start with an assumption and then with that assumption try to work out what follows from it given the rules of logic. It's useful when we see philosophers rigorously applying logic to an assumption to see what they get out of it. Hume was brilliant at this starting from the assumption of empiricism.

But here's the rub. You start with conclusions gained by conservative scholars and seek to confirm what they say. That's why I said if the Bible didn't exist you wouldn't know what to believe, because biblical scholarship, REAL biblical scholarship tells us the Bible as the authoritative word of God does not exist. Did you read Paul Tobin's defense of his chapter? Well, his chapter is better than his defense.

You start with ignorant Bible thumping assumptions. And then surprise, you defend them with philosophy. I am simply not impressed. Your Christian philosophy is not much more than fundamentalism on stilts, and in that sense you are ignorant.

Victor Reppert said...

I think there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Atheists and theists can reasonably agree on this fact.

John: You do have other sources besides your books for your views.

Anonymous said...

Vic if I appear antagonistic to you lately it's because you have sunk into the mire with the Triabloggers by taking personal pot shots at me, continually criticizing me when you have no clue about my books or why so many scholars are willing to write chapters for me, dissing me as a non-scholar when others think I am.

I'm just tired of it. Put up or shut up. If you do not wish to read my books then fine, idiot.

Victor Reppert said...

Fundamentalism? Oh dear, the long F word.

I'm not much of an inerrantist, neither was C. S. Lewis, and neither was Art Wainwright, my Bible professor. There are numerous moderate biblical scholars who aren't strict inerrantists, but who accept such doctrines as the miraculous character of Jesus' career and his resurrection from the dead. I heard a very impressive paper by Marilyn McCord Adams on the miracle stories in Acts in which she argued that the attempt to deny the miraculous skewed the interpretation of those miracle stories, and given the failure of Humean (and Bultmannian) arguments against miracles, scholars should consider accepting those miracle claims. Adams is a universalist, and far from being a fundamentalist. People like Jeremias, Cullmann, Vincent Taylor, Bauckmann, Thistleton, Luke Timothy Johnson, etc., are not fundamentalists.

I remember the days when Bob Prokop, Joe Sheffer, and spent hours in Hobo Joe's coffee houses tearing apart what we called "fundamentalism."

GearHedEd said...

"I heard a very impressive paper by Marilyn McCord Adams on the miracle stories in Acts in which she argued that the attempt to deny the miraculous skewed the interpretation of those miracle stories, and given the failure of Humean (and Bultmannian) arguments against miracles, scholars should consider accepting those miracle claims."

A Christian scholar? Bringing forth an argument supporting Biblicl claims of miracles?


Victor Reppert said...

Well, hostile or not, let's get back to the central point at issue. I have been arguing that arguments from motive, or claims that people tend to believe what they prefer to believe, are bound to be tangential to the central discussion of the question of belief in Christianity. Motivation on these matters is too complex, and cuts in too many directions, for these considerations to be anywhere near decisive. If skeptics want an explanation as to why Christian belief is so plentiful in spite of a bad evidential situation, perhaps they can help themselves to this sort of thing, but it's really not an argument against belief in Christianity. Whether we want to believe it or not, we can look at evidence and evaluate it. I don't make it a practice to psychoanalyze people who hold positions that I not only think are false, but think are crazy. I just say that being rational is kind of difficult, and leave it at that.

There are what seem to be to be good arguments against psychological arguments in general, which have to be met before you can start making heavy weather out of statements like "People Believe an Defend That Which They Prefer to Be True." You criticized me for committing the tu quoque fallacy, but isn't your argument a classic example of the ad hominem circumstantial?

I simply pointed out that you are not a credentialed scholar in biblical studies, and neither am I. However, we can aspire to be well-informed laypeople, which is fine. I'm not denying that your book is scholarly. The only thing I wanted to point out was that there are certainly better scholars than either you or I who take moderately conservative views on biblical studies, and that your idea that REAL biblical scholarship leads to a denial of any authority to Scripture seems hard to credit in my mind. There's something no-true-Scotsmanish about that kind of claim.

If I make an argument you think is bad on DI, you have every right to criticize it on its terms, independently of what I might have said elsewhere. And I think I have the same right to criticize what I think is a mistaken argument on DC.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know if the last one got through or not.

I didn't say your works weren't scholarly. I said you were not a credentialed biblical scholar. I'm not either. We can, of course, aspire to be well informed laypeople, which is fine. But I thought that bombastic claims that real biblical scholars don't accept any claim that Scripture is special revelation seems a little no-true-Scotsmanish to me. Clearly there are non-inerrantist scholars who do think, for instance, that Jesus rose from the dead. Inerrantists may fail to be mainstream, but inerrancy isn't essential to Christianity.

Second, I think I take an argument that you present here on its merits and point out what is wrong with it without knowing about your work as a whole. In particular, I think arguments from motive, such as the Wishful Thinking objection to Christianity, have what I consider to be classic rebuttals, and in fact the entire class of Arguments from Motive is considered in logic books to be guilty of the fallacy of ad hominem circumstantial.

GearHedEd said...

If I may:

VR: "But I thought that bombastic claims that real biblical scholars don't accept any claim that Scripture is special revelation seems a little no-true-Scotsmanish to me."

Maybe John meant to qualify that?

Was he saying that "...real biblical scholars [that aren't already (biased) committed Christians] don't accept any claim that Scripture is special revelation..."?

Am I close?

GearHedEd said...


If I can deduce the conclusions in a scholarly tome by reading the "About the Author" blurb in the jacket flaps ("Christian Scholar, PhD, was educated at XYZ Bible Academy, etc., blah blah blah...), I'm not going to waste my time reading his convoluted apologetics.

He was biased before he walked in the door.

GearHedEd said...

OK, lost my train of thought. That wasn't a question after all...

Papalinton said...

Hi John

"But I see it everywhere in a mother who believes her child truly is special, in a bad Karaoke singer who really thinks he can sing despite what others say, in a union man who hated Ronald Reagan for breaking the airline strike in his day, in the poor who think nearly all rich people are out to steal them blind, in nearly all countries that have dealings with the US who hate us because we're rich, in the mother who believes in the innocence of her boy in a court of law despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt ...."......

or the proud father watching his boy graduate from West Point at the marching out parade, and wildly exclaiming, "Look! There's my boy! The only one in step."


Victor Reppert said...

I think there is a plausible argument to be made here, and that has been made, namely, that certain seminaries and colleges require faculty to sign on to inerrancy in order to teach where they teach, so you have to question their objectivity if, surprise surprise, they say we have good reason to believe Scripture to be inerrant. Talbot Seminary requires this, and I think Trinity Evangelical does as well, and these are both places where William Lane Craig has worked. However, he may be at those places because he was persuaded originally to hold those beliefs, so I don't think you can ignore his arguments because of something like this.

But there are plenty of scholars who, like Lewis and myself, are supernaturalists but are also not inerrantists. (Well, a broad enough definition of inerrancy might include me, but, for example, I couldn't care less whether Ruth is fictional or historical, I don't think the Pentateuch was a finished product coming directly from Moses, and even if some aspects of the Gospels are products of the early Church, I would hardly consider the foundations to have been shaken). So, if John is arguing that my faith is false because inerrancy is false, he's going to have to take that up with the Triabloggers instead of me.

Charles R Marquette said...

Most (not all) believers grew up believing what their parents believe,and they rarely question what they were taught; for if they
did, they would find that the arguments traditionally given to support and justify their belief,
have some serious flaws. But no rationalization is too far fetched if someone wish to hold on to the believe that those ancient superstitions are true. And they have virtually no problem ignoring
overwhelming evidences against it.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say Vic that I have usually enjoyed our discussions, so thanks for that.

Victor Reppert said...

Just put in a request to my library's interlibrary loan for The Christian Delusion. Will let you know what I think.

jeremyemilio said...

Late to the discussion, but it interests me, so I'll add my two cents. I don't disagree with your statement as a general rule, but think it misses a small but significant nuance related to the not so uncommon state of self awareness. Simply put, if I defend and believe what I prefer to be true (which I most certainly do) and I am aware of this contingency, then I am also consciously choosing what I believe. This, is the human condition. Evidence itself is always and everywhere subjected to our own choice (conscious or unconscious) concerning what we are willing and unwilling to believe. Do we choose to believe the presenter of the evidence? Do we choose to believe the tools used to measure or document the evidence? Do we choose to believe our own senses? These are all choices that all people make when choosing what to believe. So yes, as a Christian, I choose to believe because, yes, I prefer the Christian world view. You, as an atheist, choose not to believe because, likewise, you prefer the atheist world view. The only difference, if there is one, may be that my choice is a conscious one while yours may not be conscious (but I don't like to jump to conclusions). You may dismiss this analysis as an example of the ad hominem tu quoque fallacy but I assure you, it is not, in that I have no interest whatsoever in debunking your thesis; to the contrary, my purpose is simply to point out that your thesis may actually be more accurate than you think.