Is there a God?
After five months, let’s face it: religious epistemology is the ground under our teepees here. And in the spirit of trying to make ourselves make sense, at least to ourselves, let’s say what it is and is not and why to care. Fear not, friends!
Epistemology is the study of how we know anything. Religious epistemology is how we know God. Specifically, two questions: Is belief in God rational? If not, is it at least reasonable? Rational means compatible with rules of logic and coherence. Reasonable means acceptable by some sane criteria, which may or may not be rational.
So knock-knock: God? Common argument: Belief in God is not rational because (1) there is no evidence to support it, and/or (2) there is evidence to the contrary. The “Problem of Evil” (Why do assholes get rich and nice guys get lupus, “God”?) is the most common chorus for (2). We can’t solve that one here. Argument (1) is probably the single most common justification for atheism since David Hume. It’s what Bertrand Russell supposedly said on his death bed: “Not enough evidence, God.”
Note that (1) does not prove there is no God, the same way debunking every UFO sighting does not prove there are no ETs. It just says: Belief is not rational right now.
Okay, so what kinds of “evidence” are acceptable for believing in God? To strict rationalists, only two: Self-evident, meaning obvious once understood. (Anselm’s ontological proof goes here.) Or Clearly evident to the senses, which needs no expl.
Even believers might agree God is neither self-evident nor evident to the senses. So belief is irrational – right?
Hold button. Breathe. Press play. Believers respond in two ways. First, they can claim there is evidence for God. Intelligent Design types are here, who say the universe is too finely-tuned or life way too complex to deny God. Problem is, the march of time seems to fill in a lot of “gaps” where God used to be.
Second, they can say the test itself is flawed. In fact, before Hume and Kant, for long millenia, nobody’s faith hinged on any evidential test. Anselm would hardly have hung up his cassock if shown his “proof” was all wet. Even now, there can’t be a McDonald’s booth-full of believers who got faith from scientific evidence. Feels like the rules of boxing imposed on mixed martial arts, huh? Something’s off.
Force a modern gal, she’ll tell you her beliefs are based on premises derived from evidence. Push her, she’ll admit some of this evidence doesn’t come from her senses but from other people she’s got no reason to doubt, like actors, I mean, doctors. (This used to be called deferring to authority, but we don’t do that.)
We think our beliefs come from evidence that, if clearly seen by any sane person, would be shared. Right? But if post-modernists and magicians taught us anything, it’s that our minds are absurdly subjective and our senses second-rate. Example: Psychologists have shown that people routinely overestimate how important they are to the world to a laughable degree, yet in the immortal words of Journey, we don’t stop believing.
This story continues. The teepee stands another night. Whew.