Sunday, September 9, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation Pt. I

Among the indictments of religious believers recently handed down by skeptics such as the coterie of anti-theists lead by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al. is that belief in God is at best irrational and at worst pernicious. Theism is all faith and no evidence, the believer is condescendingly assured, but should a theist try to pin down his antagonist and ask him exactly what he means by evidence, it often turns out that the word is being employed as a synonym for "proof."

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

The skeptic's claim that there's no evidence that God exists and that theistic belief is thus irrational is, ironically, the reverse of the truth. It's actually more rational to believe that a personal transcendent creator of the universe exists than to disbelieve. Moreover, as I hope becomes evident in what follows, the logical consequences of atheism turn out to be psychically toxic.

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 the believer. This is because almost every relevant fact about the world, and every existential characteristic of the human condition, makes more sense in light of the hypothesis of theism.

Put differently, the conclusion of theism is what philosophers call an inference to the best explanation. I don't mean to suggest that there are no facts about the world that militate against the God of Christian theism - there are, of course. Nor do I mean to suggest that atheism can offer no account of the facts of human existence. Perhaps it can. I only argue that on the assumption of atheism the facts are more difficult to explain, in some cases exceedingly so, than they are on the assumption of theism. If that is the case, it follows that it's more reasonable to believe that the explanation for them is the existence of a personal God.

In Part II tomorrow we'll consider seven or eight particulars about the world and our existential condition within the world which harmonize more easily or readily with the belief that there exists a transcendent personal Creator than with the belief that the universe is all that there is. The series will conclude with Part III in which we'll review an additional eight or nine such facts.