My last post was about a number of reasons why arguing for the existence of God may be futile. At the same time, I feel like measuring the validity of arguing for God’s existence may be too narrowly defined by its success in making converts. Allow me to explain.
By and large, we live in a society where the view of Richard Dawkins is seen as far more rational than that of Jerry Falwell. I give these two examples because, while many people would disagree with the conclusions of both of these men, more people would say that Dawkins is the more intellectually respectable of the two. This is because today’s society trains us to believe that faith is irrational. I believe this is because universities have long been teaching that faith and God have absolutely no bearing upon any topic of genuine knowledge whatsoever. As Dallas Willard is fond of saying, we are now in a situation where knowledge of God is not considered to be required for virtually any field of inquiry. This was not the case in the past. Why is it now?
The answer to that question is long and difficult, and answering it will be part of the graduating thesis I will be writing next year. I will spare you the details here and just say that arguing for the existence of God plays a role in changing the assumption that faith is irrational. If we can leave aside making converts for a moment, we can see that convincing, rational arguments for the existence of God may be just the thing needed to change the perception that Christianity is irrational.
This is not to say that a leap of faith is not required. On the contrary, it is required to some degree in all beliefs. As I have blogged before, atheism is a faith just as much as Christianity is. I also believe that Christianity can be shown to be just as rational—and indeed, more rational—than atheism or any other worldview. Part of this demonstration is found in arguments for God’s existence. The rest is to be found in the community that is living like their faith is true: loving one another and their enemies, and carrying their knowledge of God lovingly into every field imaginable.
There are plenty of other good reasons to argue for the existence of God, but I hesitate to go too far beyond this because it can too easily turn into an us/them dichotomy. I’m not interested in winning arguments with “unbelievers.” Rather, I’m interested in letting our light shine before culture, and to show that the Christian’s mind is very much alive and well in loving God and others.
6 responses to “Arguing for God’s Existence II”
Thanks for these thoughts. One of the things of interest, I believe, is a description of “rational”. I agree that the Christian faith is more rational than atheism and that we can go some ways in arguing that, but rational still begs for clarification. Good point about arguments being necessary but limited, and that demonstration, and might we think persuasion, are essential.
Greg: thanks for the insightful comment. You’re absolutely right that my use of rationality was begging the question as to what how rationality may be defined.
Part of the problem here is the tendency for both atheists and Christians (not to mention anyone committed to a certain worldview) to define rationality in such a way that their own conclusions are foregone.
That being said, I still don’t have a definition of rationality before me that I am happy with, so I won’t offer one yet.
Thanks, especially for the point about forgone conclusions. I was just wondering about rationality being more holistic – a comprehensive term that could incorporate several aspects of being human beings created as God’s images.
I offer a different perspective. I argue that non belief in god is more rational that belief. Why? For one thing, there is no objective attribute of god detectable by any of the 5 senses. Can you name one ? Not having any objective properties, god is a subjective concept, dependent on the internal emotional state of the individual. But, as we know, subjective states vary wildly from individual to individual. Some “feel” there is a god. Others have no such feeling. Among those who do, their concept varies wildly also. They vary with culture and the accident of birth that put them in that culture. You are a Christian because you were born into a Christian culture. If you were born in Pakistan, the odds are overwhelming you would be a Muslim. Various tribes have completely different gods and theologies, and are frequently at war with each other. If god really existed, don’t you think he would make his presence and form more universally recognized? Regardless of what god you believe in, their is no external observable that gives positive evidence for god. Don’t confuse belief with knowledge. Normally, in the absence of positive evidence for something, the default position is that it does not exist. At least until some positive evidence occurs. There is no purely logical reason that purple unicorns can’t exist. But since evidence is non existent for such an animal, we make the default provisional assumption that they don’t exist. There are infinitely many propositions one could make that are conceivably true, but for which there is no evidence. It avoids a huge amount of intellectual clutter to consider them non existent until positive evidence occurs. That is how we normally reason about extraordinary claims in the absence of evidence. But you say, what about the Bible? Well, is that evidence? The Bible is a book written by men, written a millenia ago, full of ancient tribal superstitions and dogma. Is that a reliable way to reach an understanding of reality? The supernaturalism of the Bible may be accompanied by some historical fact. But that doesn’t validate the supernatural content of the bible anymore than any historic truth in the Odyssey and Iliad validates their supernatural content.
John: You should really consider paragraphs. But, otherwise, thank you for making intelligent comments.
Three points in a response:
1) Your arguments rely on some fundamental, unprovable assumptions which could just as readily be labeled “faith.” For instance, you assume that empirical proofs are actually applicable in the case of the existence of god, and you assume that “objective” and “subjective” are accurate descriptions of the way things are, rather than an historically conditioned thought-framework largely instigated by Descartes and holding (largely unquestioned) sway in modernity. Both are faith-based positions.
2) It is also a fundamental creed of modernity that those nasty, subjective emotions of human beings are to be deeply mistrusted, and that reason—the faculty opposite to emotion—is the path to knowledge, while emotion is the path to deception. I am not interested in rehashing the errors of 19th century Romanticism, but I do not believe that reason has the hegemony over knowledge that its proponents so often affirm.
3) As both of the above instances affirm, I would suggest that a certain type of faith is always operating in any instance of critique or doubt. As Heidegger long ago pointed out, we understand things within a sphere (or horizon, as Gadamer put it) of pre-understanding which is itself not subject to critique. This does not mean that these pre-understandings cannot be critiqued, but even that critique will take place on the basis of other unexamined beliefs. Arriving at some type of Cartesian, indubitable foundation is a dream that I have long since given up on. Therefore, we always make our way in the world on the basis of faith.
Thanks for your response. I want to respond to a few items, which I will enclose with *** marks.
For instance, you assume that empirical proofs are actually applicable in the case of the existence of god, …….
I claim no empirical proof of god’s existence (or non existence) is possible. Yes, an empirical proof is inapplicable, in the vacuous sense, since no such proof is possible. But that doesn’t strengthen the case for the existence of god does it?. Rather, it is an avenue (and a rather big one) which fails to affirm the existence of god.
..and you assume that “objective” and “subjective” are accurate descriptions of the way things are….
The world does seem divided into the “subjective and “objective”. So, it seems fair to say that is “the way things are”. If not those categories, what then? While one can quibble where the boundary lies in some cases, this dichotomy seems like a fairly accurate division of our mental relation to reality. If I claimed a brick will fall to earth when released, that is externally observable and has a high degree of consensus. If I claim my internal experience of the color blue is the same as yours, that would be impossible verify, since our internal subjective states are ultimately not accessible to each other. Your experience of god falls into this category more than the previous category. Your subjective experience of god convinces you he exists. That may be vivid an convincing to you. But remember, it is still an internal subjective state, which is inaccessible to me. For that reason, the god concept has a weaker epistemological status than commonly agreed upon phenomena which are externally observable.