Something struck me: aren’t the atheists just as much condemned to relying on faith for the view as the God fearing people they often criticise? Let me expand and explain.
1. The existence of God is unverifiable so you can never prove or know for sure whether He really exists (a typical atheist claim).
2. But similarly, you can not prove his non-existence either, for the same reason.
3. Therefore, in order for atheist to believe that God DOES NOT exist, he must rely on an article of faith, just as much as the theist requires an article of faith for his belief that God does exist!!
This is kind of interesting because the main ground on which the atheist attacks the theist is usually on the basis that faith is not a legitimate ground for believing in anything!!! Kind of hypocritical, don’t you think?
It seems that the only escape from being committed to faith is to be an agnostic: the claim that the question of God’s existence can not be/should not be answered….. In other words, they just pass over the question without any kind of commitment either way. Almost like they are running away from the question because they have no way of answering it…. not the most exciting position, don’t you think?
But one does not get off so lightly. To hold the atheist or agnostic positions comes with more of an intellectual cost than one might think!! Here are 3 possible problems:
1. The prime mover argument. Theoretical physicists are used to dealing in cause and effect. If we consider the start of the universe, there will always be a point at which we may ask “but what caused that event to occur?” Eventually, science just gets stuck because while the universe quite obviously exists, it seems illogical that something could at one point have come from nothing….. If we posit a temporally infinite God, this is a big thing to ask someone to believe. But at least it solves the prime mover problem.
2. Without a God, there is a problem with our ethical views and values generally. Why should anything really ULTIMATELY mater if there is no God who cares whether what we do, and no God who will reward or punish us for our deeds in the afterlife? In fact, life could arguably seem devoid of any ultimate meaning generally…. (It is for this reason that I think many people become theists in the first place). It seems that the only alternative is to languish in the kind of nihilism that Nietzsche spoke of…. or maybe the pursuit of a pure hedonistic life without really caring about anything or anyone…. both seem unsatisfactory.
3. Third, an argument to suggest that belief in God is actually rational, known as Pascal’s Wager. If God does not exist and we spend our lives believing in Him (and going to church etc.), then we surely lose very little – perhaps just our Sunday mornings….. But, if God does exist and we choose not to believe in Him, then we risk going to roasting away for an eternity in the depths of hell!!!! So surely, it is worth our while to believe than not believe based upon what will be lost if he doesn’t exist (relatively very little) and what will be gained if he does – avoiding hell (an incalculably large amount).
There are problems with Pascal’s Wager though. Arguably, we can not just believe something based upon what would be the most convenient position for ourselves…. whether or not we hold a position to be true rests rather on whether there are good reasons to believe the position itself. If we just performed the actions of belief without believing (because we were just scared of going to hell), then you will have sidestepped the whole debate anyway…. besides which, in most of the religions I know of, God requires actual belief, not just mere actions.
Speaking personally as the agnostic that I am, I often look at the theist with envy because they seem totally at peace with themselves and the world. They do not fear death because they believe in an afterlife, they know why their good deeds “count” for something, and they seem to have a general purpose in their lives. I am just not able to overlook the blatant irrationality of believing in God…. and I seem unable to develop the faith required.
I hear that the Buddhists are the only atheist religion in the world!!! Maybe I should go off and do that!!!!!!!!!
[Note from Erich: Jake, 25, is a contributing author residing in London. One of his cyberspace homes is http://www.myspace.com/thoughtsonthewire]