Blind faith

When you know deep down that God is real.

We are often told, explicitly, that faith in God necessitates the suspension of logic and reasoning.

When people ask pointedly for evidence for God’s existence, they receive answers such as:
  1. I have experienced the power of God directly and know that God is real.

  2. I have heard God speaking to me, or have felt God’s physical presence.

  3. I ‘just know’ that God is real.

  4. I can feel it in my heart. And it’s not merely knowledge stored in my mind, I can feel it coming from a deeper place.
Regardless of how convinced the speaker may be, these answers are not enough to turn the hearer into a true believer. We usually have to experience the presence of God for ourselves, before becoming convinced of His existence.

Examining each statement in turn:
I have experienced the power of God directly and know that God is real.
Human beings have the power of imagination to come up with abstract concepts and maintain them. We are at liberty to generate fairy tales, fictitious beings, and fantasies, and elaborate upon them in as much detail as we fancy.

Furthermore, we can choose to attribute external events to any one of the made-up entities that exist only within the realm of our imagination. We’re influenced by the culture in which we’re immersed, and as time goes by, we learn that it’s socially acceptable to attribute events to God or the devil, rather than to one’s favourite soft toy or to a disliked classmate.

Thus, attribution to God is a popular choice. As long as we maintain the concept of ‘God’ in our mind, any sensation or experience may be attributed to our idea of ‘God,’ if we so choose.

When people say that God has had a tangible effect on them, this is because, firstly, they start off with an image of God in their heads, and subsequently, they make an active decision to believe that this imagined entity, God, is responsible for their experiences and feelings.
I have heard God speaking to me, or have felt God’s physical presence.
As explained in 1), each of us is free to form mental associations between events in life and our chosen entities. Just because one believes that a particular entity causes something to happen does not mean that such a relationship exists in reality.

The opinions of those around us exert a strong influence on our perceptions- if we are frequently and seriously told that God is responsible for a particular event, then each time that event occurs, and we cast around for likely reasons, then some of the first that jump to mind are those to which we have been exposed.

Each recollection or reiteration of a claim serves to reinforce its prominence in our mind, sometimes to the exclusion of all others. When it comes to spiritual experiences, such as sightings of God, hearing voices, feeling tactile sensations or any such stimulus that arises from the external environment, our readiness to attribute the experience to God is relatively high, partly because we have been taught by other believers that such experiences originate from God.

Just because we feel a sensation, regardless of how real and physically embodied it was, this does not constitute evidence for the existence of God. Every sensation that we experience arises not only due to the presence of a stimulus in the external environment, but also because our bodies are equipped to detect the stimulus.

We perceive colour because our eyes are able to detect and differentiate between various wavelengths of light. We hear sounds within a certain frequency range because our ears have receptors that are tuned to these frequencies. We sense pressure, temperature, and movement on our skin because we have touch receptors that are responsible for detecting these components.

Furthermore, we're aware of these sensations and have a context in which to interpret them, because our brains are equipped to process incoming information and use it appropriately. We're unable to see UV light, detect sounds outside our hearing range, or sense the movement of individual air molecules against our skin, because our bodies do not have sensitive-enough equipment to measure these stimuli.

In summary, sensation that we perceive arises because our bodies have some means of measuring its effects, and our minds integrate them with prior knowledge.
Sensations are real
There are numerous examples of sensations that each individual experiences only rarely, and thus finds relatively difficult to interpret.

For example, when people suffer a stroke, they may feel a sensation (or lose sensation) in parts of their body that seem physically removed from their head or brain. This is because body parts that are physically distant from each other receive signals that are transmitted to the brain, and these signals may be processed by areas within the brain that are adjacent to each other. Thus, people may think that there is something wrong with their hand, when the problem lies not with their hand, but with the part of their brain that is responsible for interpreting signals from the hand.

People sometimes report a sensation of great pressure on their chest, which rouses them from sleep, and they attribute this to the devil, to God, or to an angel. The fact is that this sensation, although perceived and interpreted as being caused by something in the external environment, arises from an abnormality within our body.

Ordinarily, while we're asleep, our brain 'flips a switch' to prevent certain motor commands from being sent to our limbs. This allows us to lie in bed peacefully, instead of physically enacting our dreams. When we wake up, this inhibition is removed, and we're able to get up, move around, and so on.

Sometimes, however, the system malfunctions- although we regain consciousness and our minds are awake and active, we haven't regained control over our body and are unable to move. This phenomenon is called sleep paralysis, and is often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations, tactile sensations, and feelings of panic.

Similarly, during regular waking moments, people may report seeing things that seem incongruous with reality, or hearing sounds that they perceive as arising from outside their body.

Ever risen from a seated to a standing position too quickly, or received a blow to the head? Do you remember 'seeing stars,' with dancing pinpoints of light twirling around in your visual field, although you knew that no such light sources were actually present in the external environment?

Well, they were the result of physical changes in brain activity, triggered by unusual circumstances (rising too quickly or being hit by something) that affected our visual system. These unexpected changes 'hijacked' neurons that are usually responsible for processing visual input, overstimulated them, and produced the internal sensation that you were seeing dots of light. Similar processes may occur in any domain of sensory perception- in vision, audition, touch, smell, and taste.

Such sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes are not ‘imaginary,’ in the sense that the individual truly does perceive them. However, while the perception is real, these lights, sounds, and whatever else do not, in fact, come from the observer’s external surroundings, but are generated by processes within the body which are erroneously interpreted as coming from without.
Perception depends on the brain, not just the external environment
Certain parts of our brain are responsible for processing light, sound, and touch stimuli, from other parts of the body. We now know, however, that we do not necessarily have to receive stimulation from the external environment to perceive these sensations.

Researchers who study the brain have found that by simply applying electrical stimulation to a specific region of the brain, one can make the recipient of this stimulation perceive the sensation of physical stimulation at the corresponding body part, even though all stimulation was administered to the brain, and not to the body part itself.

For example, electrical stimulation of the brain area that is responsible for processing stimuli from one’s hand may cause one to feel a prickle, or a light touch, or a burst of pain, or a sensation of hot or cold, upon the hand, even though nothing of the sort came into physical contact with the hand.

Thus, when we perceive such events as being external to our bodies and believe that they are caused by God, the truth is that these sensations arise from events within, not outside, our bodies, and our brains incorrectly interpret them as coming from outside rather than inside.

In addition, we may attribute these seemingly external events to God, when our understanding of human biology is incomplete and we do not yet have an alternative, adequate explanation for them.
I just know that God is real.
Again, ‘knowing’ that God is real is all a matter of one’s perspective and beliefs. If one chooses to believe that God is real, then to the individual, God is real. That does not make God real to anyone else. One’s internal, subjective perception does not necessarily reflect physical reality.

Some believers might argue that their faith in God did not stem from their making an active ‘choice’ to do so- it simply arose from a deep-felt, natural instinct to believe in God. This dispute is a matter of semantics- it boils down to a slight difference in the way people define ‘choice.’

Whether someone decides to commit to a belief in God after weeks of pondering and agonising, or quickly takes to the idea of God’s existence with little resistance or contemplation, the act of leading one’s life accompanied by devotion to faith is a kind of choice. People with an objection to this definition of the word ‘choice’ can substitute it with other words, such as ‘path’ or ‘way of thinking.’
I can feel it in my heart. And it’s not just knowledge stored in my mind, I can feel it coming from a deeper place.
Before scientists realised that our sensations and thought arise from the brain, people believed that the heart was the organ that gave rise to consciousness.

Now, we know that one can install an artificial heart, made of machined chambers and valves, without sacrificing one’s personality, feelings, or thoughts, because the heart is replaceable.

We can remove or replace any body part (within the limits of medicine and technology) while more or less preserving our mental processes, as long as one’s brain remains intact. The expression ‘I feel it in my heart’ is a vestige of our linguistic heritage, and though it does not make sense when taken literally, it persists and is used metaphorically.

Similarly, although sensations are triggered by stimulation of areas of the body other than the brain, we need our brain to interpret these stimuli and generate feelings. Our perceptions do not stem from a ‘deeper’ place than the brain- when it comes to production of subjective sensations, the brain is THE only place, and that is as deep as it gets. Signals from all other organs are sent to the brain, and perceptions are subsequently generated within the brain.

Without a brain, one could suffer injury to the gut, the heart, or any other place, to any degree of severity, and yet remain unable to experience the sensation of pain.

What makes us willing to accept these replies (I just know that God is real, I’ve experienced God for myself, I can feel God in my heart) and take the leap of faith?

For more on how and why we believe, refer to the section on Credulity.
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