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Posts Tagged ‘i know what you’re thinking’

I Know What You’re Thinking

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 27, 2010

I’ve been in therapy for many years. Among other things, I’ve been taught to identify distorted thinking patterns in myself which support negative thinking. The relevance of this will become clear below. Today I read Why Religious Believers Are So Desperate for the Atheist Seal of Approval.

I’ll highlight what I think are poor arguments:

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs.

…they want atheists to agree.

They really, really want atheists to agree. They want atheists to say, “No, of course, your beliefs aren’t like all those others — those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.”

mind reader

Now the conclusions may actually be true. But why did I say this is poor argument? Because the author assumes they can know what other peoples’ motives are.

I commented on the site:

Four pages speculating about peoples’ motives and giving little argument apart from “my experience on atheist sites”? When will people realise that no-one can know others’ motives unless they tell us? I’ll go further and say that the psychology of belief is completely irrelevant to the question of whether something is true. I can make an argument that atheism is a Freudian desire to rebel against a father figure, but like this article, it would be speculation and fairly pointless.

Because people tend to make ad hominum arguments I’ll record that I’m agnostic (not that it matters). My argument is that we cannot know others’ motives. Putting it a little more snarkily, suggesting we can know others’ motives is in the same league as interpreting a designer from something apparently designed.

Somebody replied:

“Motive can be derived from words and action.”

I disagree, and said:

No, I’m sorry, motive can only be discovered if someone tells us their motives. No matter what someone does (or says), we cannot know what their motives are. If we could, we would be performing some kind of magic or intuition to know what is going on inside their brains.

What is Kim Jong-Il’s motive in firing on South Korea at the moment? We can guess, but it might simply be that he had a bad night’s sleep and felt grumpy.

Speculating about motive is pointless in these kinds of arguments. The only thing that should concern us is the truth, based on evidence. Imho. 🙂

In therapy I learned that guessing what other people are thinking is pointless. We will almost certainly be wrong. Are you worried that your partner is angry with you because she’s silent and withdrawn? Possibly she is. But she might just have a headache or be thinking about work.

Perhaps I’m missing something. What about the Police seeking a motive for murder? Can we know something about other peoples’ motives, and does it help in these kinds of questions?


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