How far do psychological theories of religion undermine its truth claims?
The psychological study of religion does not treat God as an objective reality but rather it argues that under certain conditions the brain can develop a religious outlook. The psychological theories are not saying God cannot exist they are trying to explain religious belief and practice without reference to God as an objective reality. Truth Claim is a proposition or statement that a particular person or belief system holds to be true.
On one hand, I do agree that the psychological theories of religion do undermine its truth claims. This is mainly because of the contribution of Freud he was influenced by Darwin where he found out how human beings had originally lived in small hordes and groups. Alpha male is killed and Freud claims guilty feelings are associated with ambivalence and they could have been repressed and could resurface by the mechanism of the mind. This can be also seen as a form of reductive scientific naturalism where objects and events are part of nature however they are reduced to absolute absurdity this corresponds with Freud’s ideas of the truth claims of religion. Freud saw religion as a symptom of collective neurosis and a form of neurotic illness from the ambivalence of the id ego and superego that all human had to work with. Freud saw religion as a human phenomenon and said we are ready to outgrow religion and that religion was an illusion from the deceptive trick of the mind and not delusional which is something necessarily false he mainly based illusion on wish fulfillment which is how our minds will create beliefs to satisfy desires and needs. Freud said this helped us overcome inner psychological conflict which is a conflict between our natures and civilization from fear of natural forces. Freud concluded Religion was infantile which clung to our illusory hopes.
Atheism can also reduce the truth claims of religion. Atheists are people who believe that god or gods or other supernatural beings are man-made constructs, myths, and legends or who believe that these concepts are not meaningful. The theologian Alister McGrath gives three reasons why science was influential in the rise of atheism. These are Science can be seen as something that frees us from bondage to a superstitious and oppressive past which in this case is religion and scientific theories such as big bang and theory of evolution support this. Science can be seen as rational for people whereas religion can be seen as irrational and full of mystery. Also, Darwinian Theory of evolution seemingly made belief in God unnecessary. Arguments of antitheists such as Dawkins Grayling are that of religion being infertile nonthinking oppressive and impediment to scientific progress. However, religion and science can be complimentary this derives from Einstein’s quote “science without religion is crippled and religion without science is blind. The message he was trying to get across was religion provides morality and science provides testable facts. As well as this Galileo said Bible is a book to heaven not how the heavens go what he meant by this is to be spiritual in order to get to heaven.
One the other hand I don’t agree that the psychological theories of religion undermine its truth claims this is from the criticism of Freud’s argument is it cannot be falsified or verified. For example Freud’s theory about the primal horde and totems makes some argue that it is a weak attempt to explain the origins of the Christian doctrine of atonement. It is weak because Darwin’s theory about hordes has been challenged by those who think that there was a much greater variety of structure within the earliest group and tribes. Also, there is no evidence that the primal horde crime ever occurred or that guilt can be transmitted in the way that Freud advocates. Also the historical and anthropological evidence regarding primal horde as it was based on Darwin’s speculations and not accepted that people were grouped exclusively in hordes and not all societies had totem objects whom they worshipped and no evidence for the ambivalent attitude towards the totems which was demonstrated by the totem meals. The idea was that guilt was passed down generations had been discredited damaging Freud’s claim that religion is guilt based as it removes a major source of guilt. The primal crime never happened and could not transmit guilt even if it did. It weakens the Oedipus complex theory as the primal crime fundamentally illustrated its effect on society.
In addition there is psychological evidence for the Oedipus complex Malinowski is a major critic to this Oedipus complex and Freud needed the complex to be the cause of all religion and needed it to be caused by our natures for it to precede religion and be the cause of it.Malinowski pointed to the trobriand race where the role of the father was insignificant and in the race there is was no evidence of the complex. Their religion must have then originated somewhere else. He found nothing inherent in the nature of animals that could cause such a complex. The role of both father and mother is one of support. Malinowski argued that complex was caused by strict rules of religion rather than being cause of them.
Also there is a narrow selection of evidence so Freud’s theories relied on the importance of a father figure developed by the mind into the male God of classical theism. They therefore failed to take into the account the religions based on female deities and failed to take into account societies. Freud can therefore be criticized for constructing a theory to explain the societies and religions with which he was familiar. In addition winnicott argued that religion is an essential buffer between the mind and external reality and religion helps humans adapt to their environment by providing a source of comfort and familiarity.
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