OK, this is, I suppose, the culmination of a variety of threads I have posted or contributed in of late. We’ve discussed whether God’s existence can be empirically proven. We’ve discused whether it’s likely that any one concept of God is likely to be the correct one. We’ve discussed the validity of Pascal’s famous wager. We’ve discussed whether it’s even possible to determine that one religion is “the most correct”.
I guess what it all boils down to (for me, at least) is the question of whether there are any valid reasons for believing in God.
I would say that there are at least five possible reasons for believing in God that have been offered at one time or another:
[li]Some people believe in God because that is what they were raised to believe (either because of family or society). [/li]
I think we can all agree that this is not a particularly valid reason to believe, although it is probably the most common reason.
[li]Some people believe because they have come to the conclusion that God’s existence is required to explain certain aspects of the Universe. In other words, while perhaps highly unlikely, God’s existence is still the only logical explanation. This is what I often hear from scientists who feel that God is needed to explain the “deep” questions that science cannot answer, including, but not limited to, “what happened before the Big Bang?” and the whole “intelligent design” argument.[/li]
While I might disagree with the conclusion reached, I have to give credit to those who believe for this reason since it is at least nominally based on logic and empiricism. Of course, this is not the type of argument that a fundamentalist who believes the entire Bible is the inerrant word of God would offer, but I think it is possibly a valid reason for believing in the sort of amorphous, invisible, non-interacting God that is so popular with certain otherwise skeptical people.
[li]Some people believe because they have heard stories of miraculous events that could seemingly only be explained by the existence of God.[/li]
Again, I don’t know if anybody here would credit this as a valid reason for belief, as it is solely based on potentially unreliable and unprovable testimomny. Sure, Christ’s death and resurrection (not to mention all the miracles he performed) would be proof of God’s existence, but that’s only if the stories of Christ’s deeds are accurate.
One could, I suppose, argue that the sheer number of testimonials over time is pretty convincing proof that some sort of God exists, even if people disagree on the details. To which I would argue that the discrepencies between the various testimonies are so great as to render them meaningless, especially when coupled with the vast majority of the world’s poupulation who haven’t reported any miraculous sightings or other dealings with God.
[li]Some people believe because they have personally experienced something that they feel can only be explained by the existence of God.[/li]
This has the advantage of relying on first-hand experience rather than second-hand testimony. It ignores, however, the possibility that the “real” explanation is simply unknown, and also requires needlessly multiplying entities in contradiction of Occam’s famous “razor.” What’s expeially interesting is when somebody has based their belief in God on such an experience, but at the same time would never believe in UFOs or ghosts even if they saw a light in the sky behaving in a way they could not explain or a misty outline moving through a graveyard. In those cases, they would automatically assume that there must be some “rational” explanation for what they experienced.
[li]Some people believe because they have felt strongly deep within themselves that think can only have come from God[/li]
This one is perhaps the most “valid” reason of all, simply because it is deeply personal and is not subject to any method of falsification. I still think, however, that it involves a strong degree of willful ignorance. Before man’s knowledge of psychology, body/brain chemistry and psychopharmacology began being established, I think God was the only “rational” explanation for these sorts of internal experiences. Now, however, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there are other probable causes for such feelings.[/ol]
One common thread in all these possible reasons for believing in God is simply that such a belief gives the person a sense of comfort and well-being, whether it’s because the belief allows them to feel a connection to family or society, or whether it allows them to feel a sense of meaning and purpose in life, or what have you. And maybe, when you come right down to it, that’s the most valid reason for believing in God of all. If a belief in God helps you deal with life in a positive way, if it brings you comfort in tiems of sorrow, if it leads you to treat your fellow man with respect, etc., does it really matter if God “really” exists or not? Perhaps not.
The problem arises, however, when people use their belief in God to justify all manners of atrocity, whether it be killing infidels, harassing people because of their sexual preferences, or beating one’s spouse.
I realize that’s a lot to digest in one post, but I’d love to hear what people think.