Are there any valid reasons for believing in God?

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.



I think thats a separate valid reason in and of itself. It offers hope when reality becomes too harsh for the fragile mind to comphrehend. It trancends the sensory world because it is an individuals faith in something. A hope for a better future, a means to survive brutal realities, the goal with which to keep on going when nothing else matters.

Good and evil exists because man exists. It is the choices by which man must base his life on. The lack of a god does not stop evil men from doing evil. We cannot equate the validity of the existance of God based on the way evil men twist their faith to get what they want.

None of your examples have anything to do with validity. Just because there are “reasons” why people believe what they believe, doesn’t make those reasons “valid.” Belief in God is based on faith, not validity. If you want validity, be an atheist like me.

I agree that you are the final authority on what is valid for you. I vehemently disagree that you presume to be the final authority on what is valid for me.

I’m a #4 kind of person.

So you have the proof there is no God. I would love to hear it. Even if you did, By definition an all powerful being could create irrefutable evidnece of his non-existence as a ‘test of faith’ So technically it is logically imposible to prove the non-existence of god. Athiesm is a belief-based system too.

I never said I have proof that there is no God. Nor do I have proof that there are no polka-dotted unicorns somewhere in the Crab Nebula. And I consider either belief to be equally invalid. The onus is on the person claiming the existence of something, which in this case is you.

And by the way, atheism is not a “system.” It simply means that someone doesn’t believe in a supreme being. It doesn’t describe what that person **does **believe.

Personally, #2 (i.e. “who started the Big Bang?”) is the only reason that I consider myself an agnostic, instead of an athiest.

I once read some crazy possible way for the big bang to have happened without the need for God.

Mind you, this is for entertainment purposes only:

In a vaccuum, there is such a thing as virtual particles. These particles do not exist in any real sense; the layman can think of them as residing below the threshold of the uncertainty principle. But they occasionally collide with each other, which creates actual energy out of seeming nothingness. (When I first read this, I believe they said it was experimentally verified, but it may have only been a thought experiment.) As the size of the vaccuum increases, the energy created by these virtual particle collisions increases. It is conceivable (so sayeth whoever first wrote the book) that an arbitrarily large vaccuum would produce a virtual particle collision with energy on the order of the big bang. So there you go, given enough “time” and “empty space”, a “big bang” type of event is inevitable.

Problem: “Time” and “Space” are supposed to have been created in the big bang, whatever that means.

Still, it’s a neat theory that (for this atheist) makes as much sense as a supremely powerful conscious entity who resides outside of space and time.

As for the term “valid”, did you really mean “verifiable”?

Of course, if you decide to believe that God started the Big Bang, then who (or what) started God? If God can exist uncaused, then what prevents the Universe from being equally uncaused?

That tale seems to be making its rounds among atheists. Sadly, it based on a serious misunderstanding of what the quantum vacuum is.

The quantum vacuum is NOT “nothing.” (Indeed, if it were, then it could not have the quantum fluctuations needed to produce virtual particles.) In fact, it is a sea of continually forming and dissolving particles, awash with energy. It is nothing like nothingness!

So while atheists often appeal to virtual particles as an explanation for how the universe came into existence, such an argument is without merit.

Everything that begins to exist requires a cause, and the universe began to exist at the Big Bang. If God did not begin to exist, but had always existed, then there is no need to postulate a cause for God.

This is a key component of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which is discussed in several articles at Dr. William Lane Craig’s virtual office.

Sorry, but every time I see this chestnut I feel compelled to point out that it is patently false. Can’t remember who said this first, but saying atheism is a system of belief is tantamount to saying that baldness is a hair color.


It means exactly what it says. There is no “before” the big bang; it was literally the beginning of time. Time and space are properties of the universe; they do not transcend it. As for the virtual particle theory, I’m not a physicist, but IIRC the theory is that the universe could have been “spawned” in this way, but there would be a complete disconnect between events in our universe after the big bang and any events outside our universe. So this supposed virtual particle collision would not be part of our time/space continuum. So I don’t think it’s a contradiction. If we’re lucky, one of our resident physicists will stop in and tell us what the current thinking is.

From what I know of our current understanding of the universe, a cause is not necessary. I know it’s not what you were saying, Ellis, but even if we did assume there had to be a cause, it doesn’t follow that it either has to be God or virtual particles; there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned “I don’t know”, either.

I don’t buy it. Not that I hold the virtual big bang concept as gospel truth, but the refutation appears weak:

This cite seems suspiciously biased, but I’ll debate anyway.

I would counter that since energy cannot be created, the energy in the big bang would be borrowed from an arbitrarily large quantum vaccuum, which was the state of reality prior to the big bang. I would further argue that this “arbitrarily large quantum vaccuum” resembles the eventual heat-death of the universe, which would be a nice way to allow for universal rebirth without requiring the recently disproven “big crunch.”

The refutation comes from two well-published physicists, explaining what the quantum vacuum is in their text The Cosmological Anthropic Prnicple.

By saying that “energy cannot be created,” you are using a circular argument. Energy cannot be created from nothing by natural means, but this does not preclude GOD from creating energy.

Besides, your “argument” does nothing to refute Barrow and Tipler’s explanation of what the quantum vacuum truly is. It seems to me that it’s your alleged rebuttal which is weak, rather than the explanation provided by these two physicists.

I doubt that it is so simply misunderstood, given that it is based on the work of physicists like Victor Sternger and others.

Craig is a philosopher and theologian, not a physicist, though he is well enough versed in them for the purposes of his evangelism. We don’t have to get into a discussion of his arguments and those of people who disagree with him, but presenting him as if he were the one and only final authority on the philosophical implications of various physics theories is downright silly. He’s just one voice in an entire field of debate on these issues.

Free wine and Christ Chex on Sundays.

I already explained why the virtual particle theory doesn’t hold water. This phenomena does not describe matter or energy arising out of nothing, since the quantum vacuum is far from nothing.

That doesn’t mean that the universe is uncaused though, as this would merely preclude prior and temporally bound causes. It does not preclude a cause which resides outside of space-time, or simultaneous causation.

This old saw again…

If it can happen, then it’s “natural” and our perception that it cannot be done by things within our universe is simply our special case in our particular limited scenario. Since you very likely are not prepared to explain what “means” by which God creates energy, I’d say the point is moot: you have no more explanation than anyone else.

Note that the relevant quote did NOT come from Craig, though. Rather, as I already explained, it came from The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, two of the world’s leading cosmologists. I daresay that they are QUITE qualified to comment on what the quantum vacuum is, and to decry the pervasive misunderstanding that it refers to mere nothingness!

No, that’s not accurate. We only say the universe “began” at the Big Bang in the sense that it is a singularity for which time is undefined. You are confusing the meaning of “beginning” as a terminus with the other meaning of “beginning” as an origin. If you think of time as a dimension of the universe, we say the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe in the same sense that zero is the beginning of the units of measurement on a ruler. What comes before zero on a ruler? The question is nonsensical. So it is with the universe. If you think about it, cause and effect can only exist in relation to time (without time, which is the cause and which is the effect?) Since time is not defined outside of the universe (remember that time stops at the Big Bang), we cannot speak of cause and effect in our universe with regard to the origin of that same universe. A creator for the universe is neither * required* nor excluded. If God can be eternal, there is no reason the universe cannot be eternal.