The Role of Our Emotions

Hey Geoff,

First, I totally accept and understand your agenda as an expression of love. Penn’s words are poignant and make a lot of sense. If I believed what you do, I hope I’d be as driven to save other people, too. So in that sense, I’m grateful that you feel as passionately as you do about this. However, I also hope that the truth-seeking goal doesn’t take too much of a backseat to the conversion goal. I do think there’s a risk of closed-mindedness if you’re so focused on an end goal that relies on a specific worldview. You still have to be open to the possibility of dropping that goal if the worldview itself turns out to be incorrect. As pointed out in the quote I used from Keller in my previous blog post, we all should be “open to critique and willing to admit flaws and problems in [our] way of looking at things.”

There’s a great deal in that Huxley quote that I disagree with, but I’m sure we’ll be discussing the philosophy of meaning at some point, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole now. To the more salient point, though, I completely agree that emotions are powerful motivators and they play a large part in influencing our beliefs. The human brain is expert at justifying and rationalising falsehoods for emotional reasons to the point that we barely notice we’re doing it. It’s genuinely fascinating that we both agree on this, yet we also both believe that it’s the other that has succumbed to this phenomenon when it comes to his worldview. As much as you suggest that atheists don’t want to change their minds because of the emotional satisfaction of having so much freedom, I think Christians also have a level of emotional satisfaction preventing them from truly considering opposing arguments. For instance, it must feel safe to know that everything happens for a reason and God is in control. Not to mention, the promise of eternal life would be a crushing thing to have to let go of.

I think, though, that our concepts of how to deal with this phenomenon may be quite different. You (and Keller?) seem to be suggesting that there’s no real way to fully counteract our emotional biases so we should just learn to value them along with our intellect. That just seems like a contradiction to me. How can we value our emotions in that way when we know they can wrongly influence our perceptions of reality? And how can we value our intellect if we don’t do everything we can to prevent it from receiving outside influence from our emotions? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding this, though, so this is definitely something I’d like to hear more about, and I suspect Keller will address it soon enough. My view, however, is that, even though it might be difficult, attempting to think without emotion is precisely what we need to do if we ever hope to break free of its influence. And I believe there are indeed steps we can take to combat our cognitive biases. While I certainly agree it’s unlikely we’ll ever achieve total objectivity and we may never be rid of our biases entirely, I do think it’s possible to reduce and minimise the effects of those biases, and acknowledging that they exist is a huge first step towards doing that. By stepping back from our knee-jerk responses and dispassionately analysing our own beliefs, we can then begin the journey of genuinely evaluating opposing arguments for what they are and not how they will affect our current worldview.

As I thought, it does appear that the role of our emotions is going to be a subject we return to often as we continue reading Keller’s book, so I’m looking forward to getting into Chapter 1.

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