Is it reasonable to believe in a god?
Bede's question to Cygnus
Cygnus, you have told us that there is not enough evidence for it to be reasonable to believe in a god. What evidence would it take for you to accept that it was? I am not asking what would convince you but rather what you would feel brought a deity into the bounds of a reasonable possibility.
This is an excellent question and one that I have considered for the last several years. What is evidence for a god? What is sufficient evidence that makes belief in a god reasonable?
I suppose that there are several things that would lead me to this conclusion. Among these are some sort of evidence that could be examined and evaluated scientifically, a logical argument that could withstand all refutations, and/or an objective experience. I will examine these briefly below.
Evidence which can be evaluated. This evidence wouldn't necessarily need to be conclusive but be enough to lead one in the direction of belief. This could be anything of a supernatural nature that could be evaluated in a laboratory setting. Obviously, there is nothing of this nature at this time and it is, in my opinion, doubtful that there will ever be anything to examine.
A logical argument that can withstand refutation. There are currently many arguments that are used as reasons for people to believe in a god. Not one of these arguments can withstand refutation. Many such arguments and their refutations can be seen on a page that I created at http://www.cygnus-study.com/arguments.shtml I would like to see an argument that was sound enough to not be so easily refuted. This would lead me to conclude that a belief in a god was at least reasonable.
Objective experience. One of the main reasons given by believers in a god is that of experience. While it is possible that these experiences are valid, there are many alternative explanations that are of a natural nature as opposed to a supernatural nature. We know that the brain can often play tricks on the senses and this could go a long way to explaining many of these subjective experiences. An objective experience, on the other hand, would be witnessed by a multitude of people at the same time. This experience could be discussed and it could be determined that the event happened with greater certainty.
There are probably other types of things that would lead me to believe that belief in a god was reasonable but I believe that I have answered the spirit of the question in that I was able to provide some sort of evidence that I would find acceptable.
Cygnus's question to Bede
Do you believe that a subjective experience that most believers hold as their reason for believing in a god is sufficient to be considered reasonable or do you believe that there should be something more to it than that?
The difference between subjective and objection is one that has exercised philosophers for centuries so it is way beyond my ability to answer even if I had 50,000 words. The trouble is that we just cannot agree on what belongs in each category. For instance, I treat the big bang being the origin of space-time as an objective fact whereas Cygnus rejects this saying that instead the big bang is an event that happened to something pre-existing. This causes a problem because the fine tuning argument is, as far as I am concerned, based on objective facts that can be checked by calculation or experiment. The hypothesis of a deity which I take from these facts is thus objectively reasonable. I am intellectually convinced of the need for a creator of the universe to explain what I know. My subjective experience has nothing to do with that fact. The great non-Christian scientist EO Wilson comes to a similar conclusion when he claims to lean towards deism.
My subjective experience (or what I label subjective) only enters the equation when I ask about the properties of this deity. Then I have very little to go on apart from my experience of Him and that of others. My faith is not that a god exists but that God is the loving person who I want to be seen worshipping.
Ultimately our experience is all we have to go on - whether that is of God's love or atheists arguing that he does not exist. These are both factors that we consider when deciding what it is that we believe - the assumptions, if you like, that we will take with us when we decide on our actions and thoughts each day.
I think that Cygnus would like to have something that he can examine, prod and experiment on. He might define a subjective experience is perhaps one that cannot be shared. The trouble is that to the believer this makes experience of a deity completely objective because on Sunday we gather together and share in the most literal way an experience which we all interpret in pretty much the same way. A thinker such as Wittgenstein (no Christian himself) has insisted that the shared dialogue among Christians means that their beliefs must be real. There is simply no god's eye view to appeal to in order to determine things any other way. I would disagree and insist that there is an objective reality but, together with most philosophers, I would say we have no way of finding out exactly what it is. Science is supposed to be about trying to strip out all the subjective distractions to get to the objective truth. The one certain thing I have learnt in my studies of the history of science, that I hope one day to take to PhD level, is just how badly it has failed to do that.
© James Hannam 2001.