New Scientist recently published the results of a study which shows that people’s ideas about God’s values tend to match their own, and researchers are using this to conclude that religious people impose their own beliefs on God, thereby creating their very own perfect being, and validating their own views. The article can be found here.
There’s just one problem I have with the analysis of the results: correlation doesn’t imply causation. Let’s see what else we may be able to find with this kind of scientific “research.” Perhaps we can prove that driving a smart car makes people environmentally conscious, or that people choose political parties based on which one they voted for in the last election. Maybe atheists don’t believe in God because they don’t go to church. While all of these claims could – to however miniscule a degree – be argued on the basis of possibilities and correlations, most of us would agree that they are definitely not representative of reality in most cases.
For the same reasons, you cannot conclude that a person is casting their own values upon someone else, just because there is a match. Isn’t it possible – in fact, quite likely – that once people have an idea of what constitutes the values of the Almighty, they attempt to align themselves along the same straight and narrow?
Before I was a Christian I had one set of moral views. Upon the intervention of an authentic experience with God, I faced a dramatic shift in my priorities and attitudes, and a radical re-calibration of my moral compass. I’m confident that this story is not unique – that it is the story of a majority of my fellow “believers.” Thus, it happens so that my value-system attempts to reflect the values of God, or at least the way I see Him. “Ah, but,…” you say, “the way you see Him is determined by how you want to see Him.” Well, determining what I “want” isn’t exactly provable. If you use that argument we’re back to the traditional atheist claim that we believe because we want to. If that reasoning is acceptable, I suppose it is equally acceptable for me to deduce that you don’t believe because you don’t want to – a claim which is unlikely to garner consensus.
Religion, at least as my Christian experience has shown, is about outward learning and internal conviction. I mean that we seek knowledge and understanding of all things, which we can do through traditional scientific methods, but we also must account for that thing that is intangible and untestable; that voice that is crystal clear, yet inaudible. This is where faith becomes incredibly personal, and it is one aspect of Christianity that has been placed under the heaviest scrutiny. It is impossible to quantify or qualify personal thought or feeling. We can analyze the biological events, but we cannot explain their cause or meaning, other than to reason that there is some evolutionary need. Yet, how is such an explanation different from saying that God builds us for certain purposes and needs?
This mixture of outward learning and internal conviction does not always produce the same conclusions in all people, which leads to different doctrines and personal beliefs. Unfortunately, you never hear preachers say that this is okay – that one person, one church or one denomination cannot have everything figured out, and that each of us has an inherent freedom to search for the truths of God independently. It’s bad P.R. to tell people to listen to you, then say they don’t have to listen to you. But it’s true.
What is revealed by the fact that people’s values are matched to their idea of God’s values? Only that religious people want to be better people. Where I’m from we consider that a worthwhile aspiration. And now that it has been backed by research perhaps it will convince the secularists that religion is actually good for society.
The researchers involved in this study have made significantly tainted assumptions, based not on an objective position, but by the influence of the secularist motive. This study isn’t science – it is an attempt to reduce religion to mere superstition; the meaningless byproduct of desperate but inadequate minds. I would hope that the champions of diversity and tolerance would agree to disagree on this, but I am afraid that the scope of diversity has certain impenetrable boundaries, and my Christian beliefs place me in the least favorable position.