Reasons to Believe

All the Lonely Believers Part 1

Growing up in the 1960s, I was definitely a Beatles fan. I was introduced to them through The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, when they first visited America. Like many others, I was intrigued by the fact that when singing they sounded like Americans yet they spoke with heavy Liverpudlian accents. When the press asked them about this oddity John Lennon quipped, “The records sell better that way.”

“Eleanor Rigby” still ranks as one of my all-time favorite Lennon and McCartney songs. I admire it for the poignant composition about the lives of melancholy, isolated people.

“All the lonely people/ Where do they all come from?/ All the lonely people/ Where do they all belong?”

A recent article in Live Science carried the title “Loneliness Breeds Belief in Supernatural.” It discusses a study published in the February issue of Psychological Science, opening with:

“People who feel lonely are more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether that is God, angels or miracles, a new study finds.”

I noticed that this news article was posted on famous atheist Richard Dawkins’s official website. Dawkins has called belief in God a “mental virus.” While some skeptics appeal to studies like this to dismiss or explain away belief in God as something irrational, I will present two of four critical points to consider when examining psychological explanations for belief in God and religion in general.

The Genetic Fallacy

When skeptics suggest that belief in God isn’t objectively true because such beliefs arise from feelings of loneliness, they unwittingly commit the genetic fallacy. This informal logical fallacy occurs when an idea or belief is evaluated in terms of its origin while other relevant factors are ignored.

To suggest that belief in God arises from purely psychological factors confuses the supposed origin of the belief with its epistemological warrant (justifying reasons). In other words, the crucial question is not how the belief originated, but rather whether the belief is true or has a rational basis. Critiques of religion based upon purely naturalistic grounds are frequently susceptible to the genetic fallacy.

For more on the genetic fallacy, see chapter 4 of my new book A World of Difference.

Arguments for God’s Existence

Even if belief in God were to arise through feelings of loneliness, there are still plenty of arguments that provide a rational basis for such religious beliefs. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli list some 20 distinct arguments for God’s existence. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has also catalogued even more arguments for God’s existence in his writings.

Some of these arguments appeal to science, others to mathematics, others to logic and philosophy, and some even to matters of history. They can also be formulated in terms of a cumulative case in support of the existence of God.

The points discussed here serve to illustrate the fallacious nature of dismissing belief in God based upon its alleged psychological origin. Part two of this series will explore two more objections to the so-called “loneliness theory.”

For more on the rational basis for believing in God, see chapters 1-2 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.

Part 1 | Part 2

Subjects: General Apologetics , Philosophy of Science

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.