The power of wishful thinking

13806-I-Wish-I-Was-A-BirdIt’s the beginning of 2016 and in the United States, we are in the heat of the presidential primaries. There has been a lot of consternation about Donald Trump as the republican nominee.

At one point during the process, a number of the candidates were asked, “If Trump is the eventual nominee, will you support him?” “He’s not going to be the nominee!” was the response 9 times out of 10. Fairly late into the campaigns, the remaining candidates were asked such questions and responded with, “I’m going to be the nominee!”

In a similar vein, Christians often discuss the “atheistic worldview.” Many times the discussion goes something like this, “Well if atheists are right and God doesn’t exist, then there’s no ultimate meaning!” The atheists typically respond with, “Well we make our own meaning. We don’t have our meaning dictated to us.” or “If your God is real, I wouldn’t worship him anyway because of his genocides and misogyny.” And the Christians respond, “Without a moral lawgiver, who are you to define morality? We are just molecules in motion according to your worldview.”

But many times I think these arguments miss the point entirely. On both sides we are arguing from a position of wishful thinking without regard to finding the truth of the propositions.

In the case of politics, the truthful answer would be something like, “Although I hope Trump doesn’t win and I think his chances are long given his incendiary remarks, there is a some percentage chance he could win. But boy I sure hope not!”

And in the atheist vs theist debates, the real scientific question is, “Is the proposition true? Do any of the gods proposed in the holy books have evidence supporting the claims?”

I like to turn the question around and ask, “What if science is right and we are in an uncaring universe?” Or on the other side, “What if Yahweh is God and he’s going to burn non-believers for eternity.”

But the outcome of these answers doesn’t dictate the truth one way or the other. What we wish to be true has absolutely no bearing on what is actually true.

Sometimes I think these philosophical debates about who’s better and who has a better moral measuring stick distract us from the real question being asked and that is, “Are any of the claims on either side measurable and testable?” And if so, let’s measure and test and get as close to the truth as we can (knowing we are fallible). And if not, we have no choice but to live with the consequences and if we can do it, do it with the best morality and bravery we can muster knowing that in the end, we have to live with each other.


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