Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Without God (I)

Among the indictments of religious believers recently registered 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, as if God's existence were the conclusion of a deductive syllogism, 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 for God and that theistic belief is thus irrational is, ironically, the reverse of the truth. It is actually, in my view, more rational to believe that a personal transcendent creator of the universe exists than to disbelieve it. Moreover, if what I will argue in this series of posts over the next week or two is correct, the logical consequences of atheism turn out to be psychically and politically 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 more comfortably 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 when viewed in the light of theism than it does on the assumption of atheism.

Put differently, the conclusion that theism is true 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 existence of God - there are, of course. The existence of evil is the most troubling example. Nor do I mean to suggest that atheism can offer no account at all of the facts of human existence that I discuss in what follows. 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.

The first of these facts, then, is our intuitive conviction that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself. The universe is contingent, or seems to be. It's therefore prima facie reasonable to think that the universe's existence depends upon something beyond itself, something which transcends space and time. It's possible, perhaps, that the universe somehow created itself, but that seems both counter-intuitive and ad hoc.

Many atheists tell us that the existence of the universe is just a brute fact and that nothing is gained by positing a Creator since the Creator itself requires an explanation. As Del Ratzsch points out, however, this sort of reply, as common as it is, is not very compelling. He invites us to consider an analogy to the discovery on Mars of a perfect ten-meter cube of pure titanium. Most people would think that the cube was produced by aliens and would regard the cube as virtual proof that aliens existed. Suppose, though, that there are those who deny either the existence or relevance of aliens, claiming that the cube is just there - a brute fact of nature. Suppose, too, that when pressed for some further explanation, their reply was to point out that the advocates of the alien theory had no clue as to where the aliens came from or how they had manufactured the cube and that until they can offer some account of the aliens the skeptic is under no obligation to believe they exist. Most reasonable people would think that the inability to say anything much about the aliens doesn't count at all against the theory that intelligent agents were responsible for the cube nor does it mean that the alien theory is on philosophical par with the brute fact theory. The existence of an intelligent alien manufacturer of the cube would be a reasonable inference and would seem to be the most plausible explanation even if it could not be proven.

Likewise, given the contingency of the universe, the existence of a transcendent cause responsible for the universe is a reasonable inference. The alternatives, that the universe is eternal or that the universe brought itself into being, are possible but scientifically and philosophically no more compelling, and perhaps much less so, than the view that the universe had a transcendent cause.

More tomorrow.


Ghost Writer

Jack Cashill at The American Thinker does a literary analysis of Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father and draws two interesting conclusions: Obama didn't write it and Bill Ayers probably did. If Cashill's correct, and he seems to have done some homework, the finding is significant. First, Senator Obama's reputation for intellectual brilliance is predicated largely on the grace and style of Dreams, and, secondly, it gives the lie to the senator's claim that he didn't have a very close relationship with Ayers.

The circumstantial evidence that Cashill amasses is, by his own admission, not dispositive, but it's much more than merely suggestive. Read his case for yourself and make your own judgment.