Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fifteen Reasons

One of the frequent indictments skeptics level at theists is that their belief is irrational. It's all faith and no evidence, the believer is told. If the believer tries to pin down his antagonist and ask him what, exactly, he means by evidence it often turns out that the word is being being employed as a synonym for "proof."

Well, of course there's no proof that there is a personal God, but that is hardly a reason not to believe that one exists. We have proof for very little of what we believe about the world, but we don't hold our beliefs less firmly for that.

The skeptic's claim that theistic belief is irrational founders for a number of reasons, but in this post we'll consider just one argument for maintaining that not only is it perfectly rational to believe, but that it's far more rational to believe than to disbelieve. Indeed, though it may come as a surprise to some readers, almost all the evidence that counts on one side or the other of the question of belief in God rests on the side of belief.

This is because almost every relevant fact about the world makes more sense, and is more easily explained, on the hypothesis of theism than on the hypothesis of atheism. In other words, the conclusion of theism is what philosophers call an inference to the best explanation. I don't mean to suggest that atheism cannot explain these facts at all. I only argue that on the assumption of atheism they are more difficult to explain, in some cases exceedingly so, than they are on the assumption of theism. That being the case, it is more reasonable to believe that the explanation for them is the existence of a personal God.

So what are those facts which are more easily explained on the assumption that there is a God? Here I list fifteen examples:

1. The exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmic parameters, forces and constants.

2. The existence in the biosphere of specified complexity (i.e. biological information).

3. The fact of human consciousness.

4. Our sense that we are obligated to act morally.

5. Our belief in human dignity.

6. Our belief in human worth.

7. Our belief in human rights.

8. Our desire for justice for others.

9. Our need for meaning and purpose in life.

10. Our longing for life beyond death.

11. Our sense that we have an enduring self.

12. Our sense that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is not determined.

13. Our sense that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself.

14. Our sense of guilt.

15. Our sense that reason is trustworthy.

In past posts on Viewpoint we've discussed most of the above and explained why they are very difficult to explain if there is no God. We won't go through that again here. Rather we'll simply note that the existence of a being such as God is far more likely given these fifteen facts about life and the world than is its non-existence. In modal terms the probability of God's existence, given the evidence adduced, is high, much higher than the probability of God's non-existence given that same evidence.

Note that this argument doesn't constitute a proof in the deductive sense, but it is, in my opinion, a powerful probablistic argument for the existence of something behind the universe which is intelligent, powerful, and personal. That something may not be the God of the Bible, but it's very close.

Getting to belief in God is in some ways like a roller coaster. Just as the hard part of getting the car to the end of the ride is raising it at the very outset from a dead stop to the highest point of the structure, the hard part of getting to theism, philosophically and psychologically, is getting oneself from a state of unbelief to belief in a transcendent, powerful, intelligent, personal, creator. Once the car has been raised to the summit all the hard intellectual work has been done, and although there are many loops, thrills, twists and turns before the car arrives at its terminus, it's a relatively effortless descent. Likewise, the logical distance from belief in a transcendent, powerful, intelligent, personal, creator to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may seem a long trek, but both pyschologically and philosophically, it's pretty much all downhill from belief in a creator.

Of course, someone will wish to point out that this analysis ignores evidence, such as the fact of human suffering, which must count against the existence of a benevolent and compassionate God. This is an important point and one that will be addressed in another post.


Rebutting Miller

One of the most well-known critics of Intelligent Design has been Brown University biologist and theistic evolutionist Ken Miller. In the words of Anika Smith:

For as long as Darwinian biologist and Brown University professor Kenneth R. Miller has attacked intelligent design (ID), design proponents have refuted him. While there are occasions where Miller has wisely dropped his refuted objections, more often he will keep trotting out the same stale arguments. His tendency to hold onto his misconceptions means design theorists have to continually point out how he misrepresents their arguments. Several of these responses to Miller are worth revisiting, and because we've recently had some new rebuttals to Miller, we've now put together a list of links to some of the best.

Those interested in reading some of these rebuttals can find the links to them here.