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Faulty Reasoning When it Comes to God?

You’re probably familiar with some psychology terms—from college courses or leisure reading you’ve picked up along the way; therefore, you’ll recall that children do this thing called “teleo-functional reasoning.”  Never mind the term.  You probably wouldn’t remember that.  [At least I wouldn’t.]  But you may remember what it means: the belief that something exists for a preconceived purpose rather than just coming into being because of natural processes.

Let’s use an example to make it easier.  A Boston University researcher by the name of Deborah Kelemen studied seven- and eight-year-olds and showed how they erroneously attributed their own teleo-functional reasoning to natural entities, such as waterfalls, clouds, and rocks, regardless of how their parents described the same phenomena.  Kelemen and her colleagues asked the children why mountains existed, and most of the children responded with answers like “to give animals a place to climb”  or “because God made them” rather than a physical or natural process explanation (“because the earth pushed it up at some point”).  Needless to say, the child wouldn’t necessarily know the latter concept, but still, the child is saying something exists for something else.  [It’s around fourth and fifth grade that students start to switch over to the scientific explanations.]

This is along the same lines as Aristotle saying that it rains because plants and animals need rainwater to survive and grow.  He gives the rain a “purpose.”

Obviously, we know what Aristotle said isn’t true.  We can turn his saying on its head.  Plants grow because they have water.  Can you see the difference?

Okay, I just said Aristotle wasn’t right, but I could be mistaken.  For people use this sort of argument all the time for God.  They say that God created the world so that His beings could live in it.  That’s God’s purpose.  We could go even further and say that the water in the lakes and food in the fields are just for us.  [This seems to be a mighty egotistical argument to me.]

When it comes to religion, we often talk about being here for a purpose.  If you’re not religious, you may say you’re here “to love others” or “to be happy.”  We give ourselves a purpose for being here, rather than say we’re here because of natural processes.  It’s common in our society; everyone seems to do it.  But once you go down the route of this kind of teleo-functional thinking, you have to come up with a purpose for everything, including the tiniest of bugs, the tiniest piece of sand, every animal in the Serengeti.  You have to assign it a function, a purpose.

And we don’t see this as ridiculous at all.

When we talk about God, are we regressing back to teleo-functional thinking?  If not, what are we doing?

Just a small question to chew on today…I would never want to let you down in this regard.

[Post image: Idyllic 2 by costi on stock.xchng]

15 Comments


  1. Renae C
    Apr 30, 2011

    Do I detect a bit of Fowler spurred thinking here? Interesting questions. Existential questions. On a global level, can our psyches, our emotions, our spirits, dare I say our souls, survive without some sense of purpose or something bigger than ourselves? Teleology is tough.


    • Elissa
      Apr 30, 2011

      Yes, Fowler and a few more! And who do I have to thank for THAT? 🙂 Thank you…


  2. Angie Cox
    Apr 30, 2011

    …Just as the Greeks, Romans, and many other cultures invented their own “God” explanations for everything they didn’t understand. It fascinates me that “we” accept these explanations that have been handed down through the centuries without questioning them.


    • Elissa
      Apr 30, 2011

      Yes, I just read a quote the other day that stuck with me. If triangles were creating a god, it would have three sides, to be sure…


  3. f451
    Apr 30, 2011

    You know I can’t let a post like this get away. Besides I know you all have missed me.
    Let’s do this.

    From 2nd Timothy. I guess I can just go right into quoting verses.

    Chapter 2
    Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
    And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
    God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

    And here are the times we live in:

    Chapter 3
    But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will become lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good…

    …always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth.

    All Scripture is profitable for teaching , for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

    Let’s keep going kids.

    **** Chapter 4: 3-4 For the time is coming when people when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ****

    I’m going to be blunt because time is short. We can sit here and philosophize and play with conjectures like dung beetles rolling little balls of feces around, or we can believe what Jesus taught.

    It’s a simple choice. Yes, I believe that he was who he said he was, the Son of God, or…
    No, he was a liar or…
    The men who wrote the bible had an agenda so we can’t know if it’s true.

    An agenda to die? An agenda to become a martyr and die a horrible death? An agenda to give up everything they knew and live a life of misery and hardship to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? That is no agenda. There was no gain for them except for the hope in an eternal future.

    God is alive and well. In fact the topic of this thread, creation, cries out proof of the existence of God. And Jesus made it possible for imperfect beings to stand in His perfect presence.

    Can’t wrap yopur head around it? See 2nd Timothy 4:3-4. Is every neuron in your brain firing objections telling you it’s too easy? Go back to 2nd Timothy 4:3-4.

    We all make a decision and then we pass on and out of this world like a vapor. This life will be but a crack in the pavement in the scope of eternity. A sidenote at best. An asterick. If that.

    For those that reject Jesus, you go to Hell. Forever.
    For those that don’t, you will be in the presence of God. Forever.
    Do you believe? It’s a yes or no question.


    • Elissa
      May 01, 2011

      F451,

      First, let me kindly suggest (and I’m completely sincere in this!) that you read sites that “fit” you a little more to a T. You might want to try these, perhaps:

      Pat Robertson’s 700 Club: http://www.cbn.com/ or
      James Dobson’s Focus on the Family: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/

      Secondly, this blog is not for you. Why? You already know everything. You know what you believe. You know the answers. This blog is for those wondering…and I’ve tried to create a SAFE place people can ask questions–something you and I were not allowed to do growing up. So, please understand this.

      Third, I admire your passion. But I’m afraid that your message is lost in your rhetoric. When you treat your audience like they’re small idiotic children (“Let’s keep going, kids”), they’ll tune you out faster than you can say “Go!” So. I know you believe strongly about what you’ve said. If you want to convince people, though, you’ll have to tone it down, talk in a congenial and loving way.

      Fourth, in order to engage with the question I posed above, you actually have imagine yourself at the very beginning of time–without the Scriptures in hand, without this Bible you say is perfect. It’s simply a matter of HOW we came up with God, HOW we designed this story. Are the origins without fault? Or did we create an anthropomorphic God to meet our needs?

      You said you were going to be blunt. So, I’ll meet you there, at the crossroads of blunt, so you know why I can’t even begin to respond to you.

      I’ll answer your questions, though. Do I believe in the divinity of Jesus? No. Does that mean I’m going to hell? You will say I am. I say there is no hell, at least not in the terms we grew up with. Am I convinced of this? No. It’s simply an opinion. Always an opinion. Because none of us knows. And because I’m continually learning.


  4. Allison
    May 01, 2011

    Very interesting thoughts, I am having a hard time stepping out of the “purpose” box because it’s been drilled into me for so long.

    I have two thoughts: it does fascinate me to think about everything, including the smallest of insects, having SOME sort of purpose (which I am fine not knowing). But on the flip side I don’t feel depressed in the slightest when I think about everything being the product of natural causes, in which God is interested.

    I suppose the God factor is so real to me because numerous times I have noticed something that clearly should not have naturally turned out that way (case in point: *barely* avoiding car accidents due to my distracted driving) and can’t help but acknowledge some kind of grace present in the world.

    Again, it could be all in my head and perspective, but just with statistics, the “whoa, that was close, TOO close” moments that I have perceived have been too many to just have happened by chance.


    • Elissa
      May 02, 2011

      You and me, sister. I was told from day one that we are here to glorify God. So, I know that it seems SO foreign to remove that notion–even for a minute!

      And I understand about the “whoa, too close” moments. Time slows down in those moments (or seems to), so we’re more aware of our surroundings. I’ll give another example that helped me think about it. If you’re pregnant, you strangely begin to notice how MANY pregnant women there are! In fact, you’re seeing them EVERYWHERE! But the numbers of pregnant women have not increased; you are simply sensitized to them. Likewise, in those moments of life-and-death, you are in a long drawn-out moment of heightened awareness, and this makes it seem surreal and unbelievable.

      Just as you’ve grown up thinking that God protected you during those times, you have to imagine, at least once (just to see how it feels) that God had nothing to do with it. It was simply your reflexes (God-given, if you want that thrown in there) that saved you.

      I’ll go further, just so you can mull this over (in reference to your comment that it couldn’t have happened by chance). Believe me, this has taken me months to get used to. It’s a process, and a valuable one. We grieve over the sicknesses or deaths of loved ones. We struggle to understand why God sends tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, when in reality, it’s the way the world was designed. If there is a God, he or she or whatever, by definition, cannot cause evil. But if he designed the world to work in natural cycles (and this includes storms and what-not), then we’re under the same laws and principles as animals and plants, and just as animals and plants die (and experience natural disasters), so do we. It’s just more emotional for us. I don’t think, if there is a God, that he decides to punish or reward people by sending natural disasters. [That’s my opinion.] If that were the case, then we’re assuming that the people in AL (struck by recent tornadoes) were horrible people. And that just doesn’t make sense.

      Did you get more than you bargained for? 🙂


      • Allison
        May 02, 2011

        I like it! I totally agree with your logic on natural disasters, I struggled for a long time wondering the reasoning behind them if God was so “micro-involved” but now do see them as just a product of the world, they just happen.

        If I may even go one teensy step further off topic… (ha)
        This brings me to my current belief that there is a good chance God is hardly involved at all in our lives in general. I do believe he’s still there and cares (crutch?) but that life is made up of choices and their consequences. I’ve been questioning prayer and “God’s will” a lot lately–not sure how it all fits in, or if it even has to. Believing that my life is truly my responsibility (not something I can shirk off on an all controlling chess playing god) has changed my life dramatically for the better. I feel more confident when making decisions and in using the brain/temperament given me, by God or natural causes, and ironically I don’t feel any less purposeful or “important” in life.

        Big shift from being raised to believe God is the only answer to every question.

        But what about providence, where does faith fit in, what is the point of corporate worship…


        • Elissa
          May 02, 2011

          OK, I think you’re asking about how to believe (or pray) to a God who might be hands-off. Why pray, in other words? And how does going to church help any of that?

          You might be interested in Frank Viola’s and George Barna’s book Pagan Christianity. I did a post on it here: http://www.elissaelliott.com/pagan-christianity/

          That will get you started. Church will give you a sense of community, of ritual, of comfort, but you have to understand it’s all man-made (the rules, the rituals, the order of service, the tithing, etc.). You can just as well “have God” without all that…but it will feel weird at first. It puts you in that quiet place of figuring out how to know a Being or whatever it is, without name, without form, without any of the labels or constructions we’ve put on him or her or whatever. And how does one do that, when everything you’ve ever known has come from other people or your reading?

          About prayer. It might surprise you to know that I’m not sure I know how to pray anymore. I don’t know who I’m talking to, and I most certainly don’t want to be talking for the benefit of others. [I’m sure you’ve been there, in a church setting where the pastor is going on and on, not for the benefit of God, who he’s supposedly praying to, but for the benefit of the people in the audience. “Lord, You’ve said You’d be there for us. Well, now we’re asking that You do what You promised. We’re calling on you, Lord…” Etc. I’m in limbo on this one, because I’ve lost the connection I had with prayer. If you believe in God, you might be an open theist, which is what I was when I wrote Eve, which simply means that you believe that God can change his mind, and that he might not know everything in the future (the decisions left up to you), because that’s where free will comes in. If you’re an open theist, then it would make sense to pray, because you CAN CHANGE GOD’S MIND. You’d be having an actual conversation! Does that make sense?

          Do you see how big these questions are? And that they can change the direction of your life forever? Which isn’t a bad thing.


  5. terry
    May 02, 2011

    This feels a little like the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” discussion, and I never came up to an answer for that question, either. 🙂 Existential questions are not something that I excel at!

    I agree with Renae: if we’re asking these teleological questions, don’t we want to know we count for something? What is our purpose? If it wasn’t God-created (forget about which God we’re talking about here), what was it for? Are we here to help each other? Really great questions, especially if there is no God in the background. For me, both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were depressing. I need to look up Fowler, I suppose?

    If God’s in the background, do we try to live rightly to decrease or end suffering, according to Buddha? Do we try to increase our karma for the next life according to Hinduism? Or do we glorify Allah?

    Because I struggled with questions like the ones you posed, I did turn to religion. I found myself pointing fingers at others and their lack of morality through these “religious beliefs” that I turned to, though, which I hated. It’s so easy for me to judge others. As a result, I found Christianity, or rather, it found me in the grip of grace. It was my morality that was my downfall; and by downfall, I mean that it was really easy for me, an educated white-collar person with a great upbringing, to easily judge others. I found myself in the personality of the “Pharisees” in the New Testament that F451 quotes. I didn’t want to be one of them, but I was. And I still am. The more I read in that crazy book they call a Bible, the more it made sense. And that includes my purpose in life. I must glorify God first and foremost, in good times, and in bad. Do I think people use Christianity to point fingers at others? Heck, yeah. And I point fingers, too.

    I think what I am trying to say is that I appreciate you are asking the questions, but because I start from the foundation that you used to have but now discard, it’s hard to answer them! As far as nature and purpose go, though, I’m grateful for God’s creation – tornadoes and all – and I’m grateful that my purpose is only to glorify Him. And, I know I should read Pat Robertson just to know what he’s saying, but I don’t do it very often. 🙂


    • Elissa
      May 02, 2011

      All good questions, Terry. You won’t get any judgment here, no matter where you come down on an issue (unless you’re abusive in some way…which you aren’t…I’m just sayin’). Gotta draw the line somewhere. 🙂

      You’ve found what you’ve been looking for. I haven’t. It’s really as simple as that. BUT you’ll never find me judging someone for where THEY’RE at, only because that’s their journey, not mine. I was telling someone earlier that it also helps if you’ve been terribly hurt in your lifetime. For some reason, that alone makes you more accepting of others. I’m not exactly sure how it works. The broken, wounded pieces of me want to help others (and me) live this life we have.

      I completely understand you’ve found comfort and grace in God. I’m glad you have. I’m not there anymore, at least in the way you’re talking about it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. I’ll have to explain that one later. In the meantime, I’ll try to address your other questions. And keep in mind, these are simply my opinions, not things you have to believe.

      I don’t believe that you have to have God to be moral. Certainly, that’s been the argument–that God puts it in our hearts. And certainly we all wonder why it is that we can (somewhat) agree on what that moral law is. I believe it’s in our hearts (we’ve been taught it; we’ve learned from history), but not necessarily that we wouldn’t have it without God. To say so would be to assume that atheists can’t be moral, and i don’t believe that for a moment.

      I’m not ready to say, as atheists might, that we don’t have any purpose here at all (without God, let’s assume). I can make up a purpose if I choose. It doesn’t mean I’m weak-minded. I can say I want to love others. I can say I want to ease the suffering of others. That was part of what I was getting at in the post. I never want to throw the baby out with the bath water!

      You say, in the end, that it’s hard to ask the questions, since you already “believe.” I’m paraphrasing. 🙂 That’s why I ask them. If you can simply close your eyes, and imagine just for a second (blasphemy!) that God doesn’t exist, what does your world look like? How does that change your daily life? Note I didn’t say there is no God. I simply said you have to act (and behave) like the question is important in order to address it. Then you can open your eyes and return to your previous beliefs. See? No harm done. It’s the easiest way to play devil’s advocate for yourself. And there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s how you learn.

      The last thing I want to imply is that you have to change your mind. Oh no. What I’m saying is that it’s healthy to think of “the other side,” so you don’t get complacent on “your side.” It’s like being on a teeter totter, going up and down. It keeps you awake and aware.


      • terry
        May 02, 2011

        I definitely didn’t think you were implying that I had to change my mind; I like to ask questions and find out how people get to their viewpoint. It’s kind of fascinating to me that we started at each other’s opposite end of the spectrum, and landed that way as well. I wasn’t trying to change yours, either. Hopefully sharing our separate journeys might help us both! I will tell you that I’m in this AL tornado wasteland, and it’s both tragic and joyful at the same time. Miracles and despair abound. I don’t know what I’d think right now if I didn’t believe there wasn’t a purpose to this, and I don’t mean that in a denigrating way at all, you know?


        • Elissa
          May 02, 2011

          Oh, I had no idea you were in AL. Wow. You guys have really been through it the past week or so. And you’re right. It’s difficult to make sense of such tragedies during a time like this…

          You’re in my heart.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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