It is an axiom of marketing, that people make decisions based largely on their emotional connection to the product, service, or idea on offer, then find logical and reasonable arguments to justify that decision.
I’ve seen it described as an iceberg. The person is aware of the fragment above the water; the conscious, rational, decision-making process. The person believes they’ll reach a decision by ticking their way through a series of criteria to reach a sensible conclusion. Meanwhile, most of the action is hidden under the surface, as the sub-conscious mind does its own sorting and rejecting routine, based on how the various options make the person feel.
Think about some people you know who have made a decision you thought was odd, and justified it vigorously. Then, when you’ve finished applying this idea to other people, remember that it also applies to you – and, of course, to me.
Of course, the rational reasons may well be true. Maybe it does make sense for you to have a 2 litre vehicle to take you 3 kilometres to the railway station, since three times a year you need to pull a trailer. Or maybe there were other ways to fill the trailer need, and the 2 litre car fitted your image of yourself, or seemed safer to you, or was a model you’ve always wanted.
The point for marketers is that we make sales by hitting people’s emotional buttons along with (and – for some products – instead of) their rational ones.
I was thinking about this phenomenon in relation to how people make faith decisions. I think I have rational reasons for my faith. Others think they have rational reasons for their non-faith. Given the iceberg, there is no reason why we can’t all be right; because what we believe comes down to what we choose to believe.
A recent article by Darwin Catholic has a comment I think very much to the point (it’s in the second half of the article). In it, he talks about how people who reject God often claim that religion is totally irrational. He points out several other widely accepted ideas for which there is only indirect, ambivalent, or theoretical evidence, and goes on to say:
This brings us to the other thing that I think often goes un-acknowledged in these kind of conversations: In any given situation, there is often more than one conclusion which explains all of one’s experiences with logical consistency, and at such a point, one must make a decision what to believe. This decision is not merely arbitrary. Usually you will make it because you are convinced by one of the experiences or observations which make up the “evidence” that you are weighing.
In a classic example, it is logically consistent with one’s observations of the world to conclude either that there is an outside world populated by other thinking, acting entities or to conclude that one’s entire experience of the world is the result of a demented imagination, and there is in fact no reality but one’s self. Both explain all of one’s experiences and are logically consistent. However, since solipsism is profoundly un-useful, few people choose to believe it.
Similarly, well before monotheism became dominant in the West, some pagan philosophers had worked around to the idea that since no thing exists without a cause, and since an infinite regression of causes doesn’t make any sense, that there must be a single, eternal, uncreated thing which existed by its nature and was in turn the cause of all other things. The “unmoved mover” proof of God’s existence thus goes back further than Christianity does. However, modern non-believers generally laugh it off with a “If you can believe God exists without a creator, why not believe the universe exists without a creator?”
The answer is, of course, that one can. The force in the “unmoved mover” argument is that our experience generally tells us that normal physical things always have causes, and thus the universe as a whole must have a cause… However, if one is ready to instead believe that just this one time the physical universe behaved in a way wholly different from how we’ve ever experienced it to behave, that belief is also fully self consistent. One must, in the end, make a decision which metaphysics to believe. The evidence cannot make that decision for you. There is no one conclusion which is so overwhelmingly clear as to be unavoidable. Rather, if one is willing to accept the implications of either, one may then adopt that belief with full logical rigor.
At the end of the day, belief in God, or belief in a spouse’s love, or belief that all men are created equal, or any such belief, may be supported by an incredible amount of evidence, but the belief itself is a choice. The evidence will take you so far. Belief does not have to be some sort of “blind leap”. But it is a crossroads, and one must decide which way to go.