Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reasons For Unbelief (Pt. I)

Some atheists, like Sam Harris, insist that the reason for their unbelief is that there's just not enough evidence to persuade them that there is a God, but how much evidence would be enough? Would any amount of evidence ever suffice to persuade those who don't wish to believe? Blaise Pascal once said that the fact of the matter is that there's enough evidence to convince anyone who's not already dead set against it. Whether this is true or not, one has the suspicion that the alleged lack of evidence often serves as a rationalization for skepticism about a God that the skeptic doesn't want to believe in anyway.

Be that as it may, there are, of course, other reasons people offer as justifications for disbelief. Three of these are:

  1. The problem posed by human suffering
  2. Christian exclusivism
  3. Bad experiences with Christians and/or churches

Setting aside the question of whether any of these is an understandable explanation for why a person may wish to have nothing to do with Christians or the Christian church, it should be mentioned that, except perhaps for the first, these are not good reasons not to believe in God. The matter of God's existence is an issue entirely independent of the question of the truth of any sectarian religious doctrine.

Even so, let's consider them in reverse order. Some who hold no belief in the existence of God argue that Christians have too often shown themselves to be no better than anyone else, and of course there's much truth to this. Christians are sinners just as others are. All of us are weak, we stumble, we fail - often. How does it follow from this, though, that there is no God?

The poor behavior of some Christians is irrelevant to the question of whether there is a good and just Creator. It is instead simply an indication that some Christians, like most people, have a hard time synchronizing their behavior with their beliefs.

Likewise, the murderous behavior of Muslim extremists who claim to be acting on behalf of God does not in any way make it less likely that God exists. At most, it only makes it much less likely that their conception of God is accurate.

One moral advantage, however, that Christian theists have over skeptics is that they have an objective ideal (Christ) of what they should be like toward which to strive and a powerful motive (gratitude) for doing so. The non-theist has neither of these. He has no moral reason to behave other than in ways which conform to his feelings. If the Christian theist feels like doing something hurtful to another he might do it, but he knows it's wrong, and he feels guilt. The non-theist has no reason to think it's wrong and no reason to feel guilty.

The person who rejects God because of disillusionment with Christians is making an irrational choice. The rational course would be to ask God to connect her with people who take their faith seriously and who strive, however imperfectly, to live their lives in conformity to the ideal set for us in Jesus Christ. There are, after all, multitudes of them out there.

More on this topic later.