In the first installment of this series I mentioned that one of my favorite Beatles songs is “Eleanor Rigby.” It’s a reflective tune 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?
Former Beatle Paul McCartney said that he wrote the song after meeting so many lonely people when the Beatles toured the world during the mid-1960s.
A recent news article in Live Science entitled “Loneliness Breeds Belief in Supernatural” implies that those lonely people that McCartney wrote about would likely believe in God. The article claims that, “People who feel lonely are more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether that is God, angels or miracles, a new study finds.”
Many atheists over the past couple centuries have sought to explain belief in God as an illusion that arises from purely psychological factors. Last Tuesday, I explained that such attempts commit the genetic fallacy and ignore the fact that there are many rational arguments to support belief in God.
In this article I will explore two more criticisms of the “Loneliness Breeds Belief in God” theory.
Loneliness May Reveal an Actual Need for God
Christian philosophers Augustine (354-430 AD) and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) both argued that human beings have a god-shaped vacuum within them. While humans were created by God they have nevertheless fallen away from God into sinful rebellion. Therefore, they long for God and desperately need to be reconciled back to him.
Augustine wrote these words in his classic work the Confessions as a prayer to God:
“Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”
In a similar vein Pascal mentions the following in his apologetics work the Pensées :
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? …This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
The upshot of these quotes is that it is possible that loneliness breeds belief in God because that is the way God designed it to work in the human heart.
If human beings were created in the image of God as the Bible reveals (Genesis 1:26-27), then it seems reasonable to conclude that people will feel a deep-seated loneliness if they are alienated from God (for example, through sin). If loneliness does in fact lead to belief in God then that may serve as a type of evidence that the biblical description of man is indeed true. In that case, the Bible’s anthropology (doctrine of human nature) would possess authentic psychological explanatory power.
Man’s Loneliness May Point to God’s Real Existence
Christian apologist C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) argued in his book Mere Christianity that human beings have internal needs that are satisfied by external realities. For example, hunger and thirst are satisfied in food and drink. Lewis further argued that humans have an internal need for transcendence (worship, immortality, spirituality) that nothing in this world can satisfy. He therefore concluded that there is likely a transcendent external reality (God) to fulfill this powerful internal need. Here Lewis is using a form of reasoning called abductive logic or inference to the best explanation.
(For more on abductive reasoning, see chapter 4 of my new book A World of Difference.)
If people come to believe in God out of need (psychological, existential, spiritual), then that may be a sign that God is a reality.
While some atheists ridicule believers for needing a “crutch” to make it through life, it may just be that believers are responding to an authentic intuition of need—like using crutches when one’s leg is broken.
The four points explored in this series illustrate that studies that tie belief in God to psychological needs do not in any way serve to disprove God.
For more on God’s existence and the truth of the Christian worldview, see my two books Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
|Part 1 | Part 2|