This question never goes away, nor will it and, why should it. A lot of people ask this question even if they do so quietly to themselves. It is one of the universal topics students and scholars of religion and philosophy struggle with in intellectual endeavors. Keep in mind that the following discussion is a simple academic essay on one topic in contemporary philosophical issues. As the author of this piece, I want to qualify this article as being an introduction to the arguments and not all inclusive of ALL arguments for and against belief in a God.
The basis of the content below is strictly derived from the source text: Philosophy and Contemporary Issues by Burr and Goldinger; a staple text book in many university philosophy courses. In the future, I have a personal goal to write and publish a series of in-depth articles covering a vast number of logic arguments, to include relative scientific issues that have been used to both support and reject evidence of a God. I look forward to presenting those in the future.
I realize that some readers will have difficulty with this next statement. It is not the job of science or math to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science and math are not entities; not persons; they are disciplines. For those that firmly believe that evidence is present to substantiate the existence of God, this paper represents a contradiction to their perceived facts or assumptions. For some people, however, any argument to the contrary of their beliefs is mute.
Any philosophic argument must begin with an analysis to determine the relative questions. We must begin from the position that there is no evidence, insufficient evidence or debatable evidence to support a belief in God. The questions then are:
- Does a superior being such as what we usually refer to as “God," an all-good, knowing and all powerful entity actually exist?
- What do we base our acceptance of the concept of God?
- Why do so many believe in a God (or Gods)?
- How do we prove this existence, and if the belief in God is based on flimsy, false, or inaccurate evidence?
- What is the risk or impact on the individual and society?
Should we believe without evidence question? When we discuss evidence we usually refer to “scientific evidence," empirical or physical proof of a type that would support a logical and rational conclusion; this, of course, disregards belief or acceptance of a belief based on faith alone. Trusting in Webster’s Dictionary to start with, “should” is defined as probable, expected, or a condition of something. Therefore, we are not asking if this is an absolute condition or affirmation of irrefutable fact. “Belief” is defined as an “acceptance as true, genuine, or a real firm conviction; holding the opinion of; consider true or honest evidence of something. The term “evidence” is defined as; something that serves to indicate inference that if “this” is true, then, we can prove or infer “that” is also true. To further set up the discussion on the issue, a few viewpoints are presented in the following paragraphs.
Impact of Proof
A. Cressy Morrison presents his “seven reasons why scientist believe in God,” as proof of existence, primarily based on the “Argument of Design." For Morrison, the mathematical probability of all the exact conditions being in the right combination to make life exist is evidence of a God; the resourcefulness of life, animal wisdom, man’s power of reason, genetics, economy of nature, and “the fact that man can conceive the idea of Gods in itself a unique proof” (121-124).
Clarence Darrow provides an argument against the idea that there was or is a purpose or design for mankind. If mankind and the world were designed, a much better design could have been accomplished. If the solar system was designed, “for what purpose are the other planets and the immenseness of the universe” (126)?
Bertrand Russell, also, provides a counter argument for the “Argument from Design.” If everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, could it not have been done much better?" (150) According to Russell, we adapted to the world; not the world adapts to us (151). Everything living evolves to adapt if it is to survive in this world or any world. This world is going through a perpetual process of change that has continued over millions of years of its existence. At a point in our past, at “a stage in the decay of the solar system: at a certain stage of decay, you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable for protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system” (151).
D. E. Trueblood’s, “Evidential value of Religious Experience," test of veracity, asks as a determinate to validating a religious experience, how many already claim the experience, and the difference it makes (140). If it makes men do or say "good" for no apparent gain then it must be true (141). Because the concept of Good and Bad exists, and Man, is generally driven by something (man inherently knows what right behavior is) man will generally try to do right based on current norms. Trueblood feels that we will never prove the existence of this being, mind consciousness except by what we feel inside because this entity exists outside of what it created (146).
Russell brings out a key issue as to why people desire to believe in God. A major reason for this belief is tied to the issue of “justice”. In the “Argument for the Remedying of Injustice,” it’s proposed that the “existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world (152).” Heaven and Hell must exist for there to be justice -- therefore God must exist to redress the balance (152). Yet, as we know, injustice does exist (152). People are not motivated to believe in God by intellectual argument; most believe in God because they were taught early in life to do so (153). Just as in blind belief, the eight-year-old child believes in Santa Claus. The second reason is the “wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after us (153).”
“No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe (Clifford, 174).”
In W. K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief, if we have doubts in our belief but, set them aside to take an easier route -- we are wrong even if no ill effects occur (171). We have no right, as Clifford puts it, to a belief when evidence is presented contrary to the belief. We are obligated to question that belief until we satisfy the contradiction or disprove the belief (171).
People may tend to knowingly and willingly work themselves into a frame of mind that supports the original belief despite contrary evidence (171). We feel a “sense of power” coinciding with a “sense of knowledge” making us prefer to continue a belief as opposed to doubting it (174). Some of us continue to “believe” in order to, justify an act that we already desired (173). However, the belief is tied to the action as if inseparable. To deny the belief is to deny the action (173).
Clifford does not condemn the actions or results of a belief, only the origin or basis of the belief. Right and wrong is an issue of the origin of belief and “not the matter of it” (172). It does not matter whether this belief is true or false only whether we have the right to the belief based on the evidence before us.
If we accept a belief based on insufficient evidence, we do mankind “a great wrong” (175). Clifford expresses the danger to society as, that it would become credulous regarding beliefs and it may cease to question and test before committing to them. As he further puts it, society could “sink back into savagery” (175). He takes a strong stand in that, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence (175).” If we continually hold those beliefs taught to us as children without question, and, push away anything that attempts to contradict those beliefs, or calls them into question, our lives are a “long sin against mankind” (176).
William James, in his paper, The Will to Believe, presents his thesis: “Our passional nature not only lawfully may but, must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, ‘Do not decide, but leave the question open,’ is itself a passional decision, - just like deciding yes or no, -- and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth . . . (178).”
The position presented by James, is one based on risk of outcome of belief or option. If the option between losing or gaining truth is not momentous, we can void the situation, less accepting the possibility of believing a falsehood (178). However, as James postulates it, skepticism is not avoiding an opinion, but rather, is a kind of opinion or option.
“Better risk loss of truth than chance of error, - that is your faith - vetoer’s exact position. He is actively playing his stakes as much as the believer is . . . (James, 182).”
We have scientific methods for verifying evidence in an objective manner. Yet, if we only accept as proven, evidence that has past the scientific test, do we disregard all others until they meet the test? James fears that this is the case and we do so at our own peril. “The truth of truths might come in merely affirmative form,” and we might decline to touch it for not passing that scientific test (179).
James places “feelings of the heart” and the concern for risk at the forefront of decision making, as it relates to religious belief. If we wait to choose, as James states it, “we do so at our peril as much as if we believed . . . we act, taking our life in our hands (183).” When questions of morality present themselves, we “cannot wait for sensible proof” (179).
In the case of proof and disproof arguments, the “God and Religion" concern will become very personal to most people. The impact of the questions, arguments and any indisputable results can become a very emotional issue to even the casual reader, and mores so for the person approaching and attempting to solve the arguments. Imagine if you are a hard-core believer, and in the course of looking for proof or trying to validate your believe through science and logic, you disprove your belief in God. The spiritual and emotional crush will be far greater to the person whose God belief has been shattered than to the non-believer who finds absolute irrefutable proof of God’s existence. We base our beliefs and interpretations on what we were taught as children, what we WANT to believe, what we THINK we know or understand today or what we can reason out through sound logic, science and math.
The real issue as to belief without evidence is - what does this mean to you and society and what does this belief do for you and society? Does it make us behave in a way that makes us better or worse as people? Does it provide us peace of mind, hope, or cause fear? If I don’t believe in a God yet I still make efforts to improve myself as an individual morally, ethically, honestly and act to the benefit of society, then does a God-belief really matter? Evidence for or against the existence of a God becomes irrelevant in this matter. If you truly believe in a God even in the face of insurmountable scientific evidence to the contrary, and you behave just as ethically, morally upright, strive for self-improvement and a positive member of society, your continued belief in a God is also irrelevant. Belief in God becomes a psychological matter, a comfort and security matter.
What is not addressed very well in the text is in regards to the reasons for belief based on fear of death, need for a super-father/parent, or desire for a positive after-life. Additionally, if a person believes that acceptance of the existence of God is necessary, that tends to infer that a belief in an opposing condition or entity exists: a devil, demon, evil god (the names can be anything such as Mara (evil one/tempter in Buddhism, the point remains the same). These arguments I will address in future discussions of the belief in God and need for religion articles.
Why do we think we need scientific evidence? We tend to make interpretation of evidence or circumstantial evidence in the absence of physical conclusive evidence. We do this because we want to believe. We don’t want to be caught short if God is real and immortality is real. This belief has value to us. It fulfills a need in us. And, we as a society can use this belief to mold, shape, and build society to our will. The belief in God provides us the answers to question we could not answer given our present level of comprehension and knowledge. Because, we believe everything has to have a cause, a beginning, and an end. We use this causation theory to prove God’s existence and prove God’s nonexistence. We seem to find difficulty in accepting that something “just is.” It’s not that belief in God is based on empirical physical evidence; it’s what values, morals, and ethics we attach to that belief. I personally don’t see any evidence that concludes that believing in a God makes a person “good” and someone who does not believe in a God is a bad person.
I’ll close with a summing-up of the original question of “belief without evidence” by restating the general views of Clifford and James. Based on Clifford, our belief in God must be based on some validity of evidence; if not or if doubt exists, we must pursue that avenue to find evidence that either refutes or confirms our belief. James’ opinions on matters of religion and God state, the issue must be assessed based on “the heart” and the risk of being. As he explains it, we have less to loose by believing than denying the belief. For Clifford, the gain is rational conviction of belief. For James, it’s security in belief.
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