Next up in our ongoing survey of bad arguments against Christianity we have Jonathyn42 who offers the following:
“An in-law of mine described to me the ‘real’ reason she now rejects Christianity: when tripping on acid, she perceived herself to be wholly insignificant, and thus God doesn’t exist. (She said this knowing that I’m going into the philosophy of religion.) For me, this takes the cake.”
Reconstructing the Argument
Jonathyn42’s in-law seems to have left us with an enthymeme (an argument with at least one unstated premise). Somehow we’ve moved from “I am wholly insignificant” to “Therefore, God does not exist.” Perhaps, the complete argument looks like this:
(1) If God exists then human beings are significant.
(2) Human beings are insignificant.
(3) Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
The first problem is that “wholly insignificant” is an ambiguous predicate. And on some readings it is wholly consistent with Christianity. After all, existential ruminations on human insignificance are a well established part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As the psalmist observed, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:4 KJV). And then there is Puritan Anne Bradstreet’s memorable description of the human span of life, “O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?”
In that case, (1) should be rejected since God’s existence is consistent with human insignificance.
Charity requires us to find another interpretation of the predicate, one that is indeed inconsistent with (Christian) theism. On a second reading, the predicate could be alluding to the lack of objective meaning in life. In the immortal words of Freddie Mercury: “Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters to me.”
(1′) If God exists then human lives have meaning.
(2′) Human lives have no meaning.
(3) Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
It could be that something like our second argument gets at the root of the in-law’s reasoning. It is also possible, however, that we are presently engaged in an exercise in confabulation, the process of unintentionally filling in gaps in reasoning with fabricated lines of reasoning after the fact. Confabulation is easy and oh so tempting. In a moment you can form a belief, and in the minutes, hours, and days that follow you can justify that belief with elaborate lines of reasoning as if those lines of reasoning were present from the first.
So did Jonathyn42’s in-law make a valid deductive inference from an enthymeme with plausible premises? Count me skeptical. I’ve never taken any hallucinogenic drugs (although I once took an unexpectedly large hit of wasabi with my sushi which created a brief state of altered consciousness). But I suspect what in fact happened here is that the in-law underwent a personal subjective experience which make the proposition “God doesn’t exist” seem true.
Here’s the obvious problem. While Timothy Leary and his followers believed in the power of LSD and other halluciogens to open the mind, I am aware of no evidence that these psychoactive agents do, in fact, have that power. LSD may lead you to perceive a pink dragon in your living room, but once you learn of the tendency of LSD to produce such perceptual anomalies, you have an undercutting defeater for the belief that you did indeed see a pink dragon. Mutatis mutandis for the alleged insight that human beings are insignificant.