Faith and Reason

 Posted by on 22 September 2002 at 7:23 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 222002

Arthur Silber has been good enough to plug my lecture Why Be An Atheist? in some of his recent comments on religion, faith, and Objectivism. In that lecture, I examine the various arguments for theism, agnosticism, and atheism for the purpose of showing that atheism is the only rational position on God. In response, John Venlet wrote me a nice note explaining that he is someone who believes in God on faith alone. As he says in a recent blog entry:

Why do we need proof? Do we want proof God exists to prove one side or the other incorrect or simply because it’s an age old question? Do we want proof God doesn’t exist so we can silence the various religions espousing God? I’m not sure. Faith, the “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” does not require proof of God’s existence and I accept my faith that God exists as not needing proof. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t accept proof of God’s existence or of his non-existence, it just means I have faith and do not require proof. Even if it means I’m living in a “deuces wild” universe.

I appreciate the honesty of John’s position, as far too many arguments for God’s existence are at root nothing more than glossy rationalizations for a desire to believe. Nevertheless, belief on faith alone is hardly unproblematic.

We need proof of the existence of God for the exact same reasons we would need proof of mermaids, atoms, bacteria, evil spirits, and any other being. Belief in these beings, like belief in God, have consequences upon our thoughts and our actions. A person who believes on faith that mermaids exist might waste time and money, not to mention risk death, searching for them. False beliefs about the four humors led centuries of doctors to bloodlet, a practice which killed countless numbers of people. The germ theory of disease, on the other hand, has had the delightfully beneficial effect of saving millions of lives through improved sanitation.

In short, beliefs have effects upon a person’s life. Belief in God is no exception. It can result in undervaluing the living, as theists often expect to see loved ones after death. It can result in an indifference towards evil, as God will judge everyone in the end according to His Plan. It can result in the fatalism that Voltaire attacked in Candide due to a “best of all possible worlds” Leibnizianism. It can encourage superficial and magical thinking where contradictions, inconsistencies, paradoxes, puzzles, and other mysteries are too-quickly attributed to God rather than investigated rationally. It can result in the use of faith or feeling as a claim to knowledge in other areas of life. It can result in attempting to find life’s meaning through God rather than in one’s own choices and values. Such are just a few of the risks of belief in God on faith alone.

Those who believe in God on faith alone may object that their belief in God has no such effects on their life. In the unlikely event that such is true, then what is the point of belief at all? What is the point of belief if it does not comfort when loved ones die, if it does not give a sense of purpose to the universe, and so on?

So, in sum, we need proof for God’s existence because belief in beings that don’t exist can be bad for our life and happiness. Although Deism may not be nearly as dangerous and destructive as Christianity or Islam, it is not without pernicious effects.

In any case, I’m always happy to have good Modernists (i.e. advocates of Enlightenment culture) like John Venlet nearby, as fellow-travellers with Objectivism.

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