Wish-fulfillment, or "wishful thinking", is a danger to reasonable religion.
“Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality or reality.
Studies have consistently shown that holding all else equal, subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes.”
This relates to the common, human optimism bias, and the logical fallacies of false relevance known as the appeal to emotion and the appeal to consequences.
The problem could be summed up as being: “filling gaps in your knowledge with emotionally satisfying answers rather than necessarily true ones”.
As one person said on a podcast that I heard recently, “Science, if it does anything well, is very good at throwing cold water on human self-importance.”
Here are some questions to consider:
Q: Do you feel that not knowing something is a problem?
Q: Would you feel uncomfortable with a worldview that doesn’t provide “all the answers”? Or, rephrased, do you think that if a worldview can’t provide “all the answers” that this is a black mark against it?
For example, some Big Questions(TM) might be:
“Why is there something rather than nothing?”
“What happens after we die?”
“What is ‘The Meaning Of Life’?” (notice the capitals)
If we just don’t know how the universe was formed (or anything "prior" to the Big Bang)... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know if an afterlife exists or not... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know how to determine any one absolute Meaning to life... is that a problem?
If the facts available to humanity simply does not allow absolute confidence in any of these questions, if indeed any answers at all, is uncertainty really so terrible?
To provide more examples, there are some other ways in which one might appeal to the argument from emotion or use wishful thinking in religion:
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Justice to get payback against evil that prospers in this life.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Comfort because life can be very difficult.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Love because sometimes we feel unloved.
This is not to say that any of these things are untrue, but what it means is that they are not going to be true purely based on your desire for them to be the case. The world does not conform itself to our desires, after all. Wishful thinking says absolutely nothing about the truth or falsity of the issue at hand, it only reveals something about the person doing it. It is irrational to believe something based on nothing (or you could believe anything and everything, arbitrarily) and I think that you owe it to yourself to make your foundations more secure than that.
One perspective is that, by relying on wish fulfillment, you tear down your own self-esteem and place it in the hands of an otherwise unexamined belief set. That’s a risky gambit and it doesn’t guarantee that you will end up holding beliefs that mirror reality.
Ask yourself: If you hold a particular belief, what have you done and how have you investigated it to ensure that your belief is actually true?
For those who are interested in the philosophy of Wishful Thinking and want to be able to spot it, it goes like this:
P1) X is nice/comforting/satisfying.
P2) Belief A doesn’t provide X.
P3) Belief B does provide X.
C) Therefore, on no other basis than P1-3, one ought to believe B.
After careful, honest reflection, do you think that any of your beliefs might be at least partly grounded in wishful thinking?