Is the belief in a god something I must accept only on faith?

My reasoning rejects the idea of blind faith. If “God” cannot accept that I will not worship him on blind faith, he is not the god I was raised to worship and serve, for he does not understand me at all. And if the god who exists does not love and understand me, why should I waste my time in his/her service? Fear of punishment? I refuse.

There is an argument that God hides his existence because of free will. If it were obvious that God existed, there would be no choice but to follow him, so free will would not exist. The problem with that is humans are rebellious; I have personally disobeyed my parents, and I know they exist. I can choose to disobey the laws of the country, and it does not mean that I think the country is non-existent.

This is an extremely important point: knowing a being exists does not remove the decision of whether to obey that being. Indeed, for those like myself, being unable to conclude a deity exists is a much bigger obstacle. How can I follow the commandments of someone if I can’t be sure that someone even exists?

If there is no evidence, I will not serve God. I will serve those around me as best I am able or know how, but I will not worship. My goal in life, in general, is to treat everyone with true love, agape, to the best of my capability. I know I will fail sometimes, and when I do, I intend to ask forgiveness of those I’ve hurt. If I am sent to Hell simply for refusing to believe something that I could not justify to myself from the available evidence, I was never going to make it to Heaven anyway.

This doesn’t really answer the question asked, but I simply can’t find any evidence for a god. Unless I do, I can only think that a god doesn’t exist or doesn’t want me to believe. There is no third option.


12 thoughts on “Is the belief in a god something I must accept only on faith?

  1. This is a lot like how I feel. I just can’t believe a god who is all-loving and just would hide his existence if my salvation was predicated on accepting his existence and believing in him.

    It’s just…illogical and it isn’t indicative of an all-loving being.

    1. Exactly. There’s no way an all-loving being would make creatures incapable of faith, then make faith a requirement for escaping eternal torture. It’s contrary to every sort of reason and decency.

  2. Thank you for your post. A few comments:

    My reasoning rejects the idea of blind faith.

    Mine does to, and I would argue, so does the Bible. Blind faith means that we make a decision to believe in something without any evidence at all. In other words, we set our wills toward claiming something as real when there is an entirety of absence for the claim. That would personally drive me crazy. But the Bible says faith is “evidence in the unseen.” It also says that faith is a gift. That is: There is a part God must play in reaching out to us. We do exercise faith, but that is only in response to the evidence God first gives.

    Cheers

    1. If your only evidence is your faith, what is the difference between faith and blind faith? My point in this post is that I need more than just faith.

      You see, when I did believe, I thought that all of science and all of history supported Christianity. I didn’t believe on faith hardly at all; I believed because my understanding of the evidence left Christianity as the only reasonable conclusion.

      As I researched to defend my faith against outside argument, I found evidence that I had never seen before, evidence that was contrary to my beliefs or simply new ways of thinking about what I’d always known existed.

      In this process, I lost all ability to believe anything on faith alone. On November 14th, 2010, I woke up a believer and went to bed knowing I would need a great deal of evidence to ever believe again. The day may come when I wake up able to believe in a god, but for now, he either does not exist or is withholding from me the gift of faith.

  3. Thanks for your reply. All I can give you is my personal experience, at least as a starting point.

    I was raised in a rather nominal religious home, but at the age of 16 after reading the Bible on my own, I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that was life changing. And I have continued to have such encounters on my journey through life up to the present (including this evening).

    Now I do not offer this as evidence for God. Rather, to answer your first question, “what is the difference between faith and blind faith?” the answer is an active, living, breathing encounter with the God of the Bible, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith in this context is not just “blind faith.” That is, it is not a mere decision to believe without an encounter; it is the encounter and additionally a choice to live differently in response to that encounter. So it involves a decision (in truth, an ongoing sequence of decisions), but it begins with an encounter. This is the evidence of the unseen that is faith of which Scripture speaks.

    Now quickly to your thoughts regarding your crisis of faith: It sounds first of all that your obstacles to faith are intellectual. Secondly, it also sounds that your church upbringing did not prepare you for the wider world of ideas (unfortunately all too common), which had the unfortunate result of knocking you on your feet (if I may) the moment you encountered counter arguments and/or evidence against your faith. It also sounds as though your church upbringing raised you in a faith that was all “head knowledge”, in which case, when challenged with intellectual objections, you really had no other basis for your faith to fall back on.

    I must point out here I am not criticizing you at all: It could very well be that the “new evidence” you have found could quite possibly be totally true, and God in fact does not exist at all, and I am the misguided one here. But I will tell you that in my case, when intellectual arguments against my faith for which I did not have answers beset me for the first time, the faith I have described above that I did possess drove me deeper and wider for answers. Two things came out of that. The first is that it took me into deeper experience with God that quite honestly, despite my lack of answers at that time, was nearly impossible to chalk up as not actual and not real. And secondly, it led me to answers. In seeking understanding, I realized that the case for God was not weak at all, that in fact the “undeniable evidence” against my faith which I had initially encountered was not undeniable, was inf act merely one side of a heated controversy, and ultimately not even closely as convincing as the counter arguments I found.

    I will leave you with two thoughts. First, purchase a copy of the book, “I Do Not Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Tureck. It may not change your mind, but you owe it to yourself to have at least a full picture of the question of God.

    Secondly and finally, I can tell you with all honesty: If in my pursuit of God, I had found nothing but “blind faith”, a mere attempt to convince myself, an exercise of make-believing in the face of total silence, I would have abandoned my faith long ago. I am simply much too analytical and intellectually honest for that.

    Cheers

    1. The problem is that what you’re writing about is an interpreted and entirely subjective personal experience. One that, I hasten to add, I’ve never experienced. I’ve read the Bible multiple times from a few different points of view (once or twice as a believer and a few times as an atheist). The only difference I can see is that I don’t have to rationalize the genocide and explain away the slavery now. I can accept it for what it is, and it isn’t pretty.

      So my question is this: how can you separate that encounter from an hallucination? If that’s your evidence–a highly subjective encounter that cannot be said to have happened at all except by your word–I have no reason to believe it did, especially because I prayed for guidance and proof when I realized I was losing my belief. Let me say this a different way: I need a different kind of evidence than you seem to need. If that’s not good enough for your conception of God, well, then I don’t have a chance.

      Let’s take this a step further. If God communicates to us to show us he exists, then salvation through faith is bullshit. It’s really salvation through certainty (albeit with non-communicable subjective evidence) and faith is not required. Isn’t that the definition of faith in a religious sense? Belief in something based on some sense of spirituality rather than proof or evidence? The question then arises: why don’t some people receive this vital evidence? Why have I not had this encounter? I was a believer for about half of my life, and even a while after that I was still open to it. That seems like it would have been a good time for that personal experience.

      “It sounds first of all that your obstacles to faith are intellectual.”

      This question is malformed and flawed, but I see what you’re getting at. What I can’t seem to understand is why intellectual concerns and knowledge would somehow be problematic for belief in a god if one existed. According to science, there is no need for the Christian god because we have a number of naturalistic explanations that work without one. According to logic, the Christian god is impossible and self-contradictory (which is why so much apologetics and logical proofs rely on presuppositionalism that either runs counter to established knowledge or asserts something in the gaps of our knowledge that we cannot say exists–in a recent debate with Sean Carroll, William Lane Craig tried to establish that the cause of the universe was transcendental by way of syllogism, and as Carroll pointed out in so many words, he was question-begging because nobody has proven transcendental causes exist).

      So we come to a point where you have to understand something. The author and myself require a certain kind of evidence that just isn’t being provided. I can’t see why providing the evidence we need for salvation wouldn’t be in the purview of an all-powerful, all-loving creator god, and I don’t accept the argument that it somehow violates free will to give us the evidence that our intelligence and perspectives require. This gets at the heart of it: I am not intellectually or emotionally satisfied with the kind of subjective “proof” you’ve relied on in your reply, partly because it isn’t accessible to me, but also because we live in a universe with so much beauty, all of it just begging to be explored, cataloged, and understood–why is that a hindrance to belief in god? Why is evolution stigmatized when it explains the diversity of life so well? One would think that if there was a god, and people were so sure he existed, that understanding the mechanisms by which life arose, spread, flourished, and adapted (abiogenesis and evolution) would be celebrated. One would think that reaching and understanding of how old the planet is and how old the universe is would be celebrated.

      Now, I should add before I end this comment that “I Do Not Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” is a highly flawed book with a lot of strawmans and other logical fallacies or misapplications of probability theory (often mistaking probability as a kind of evidence in and of itself, often omitting some vital context). It uses erroneous definitions of words that, yeah, actually need to be properly defined to have a discussion about this. I do not consider it to be anything other than another attempt at bad apologetics, and I would only suggest a person read it if they have the knowledge required to consume it critically, and to know where it makes its fatal flaws (in science, math, and logic).

    2. In general, Josh has spoken as I would have in this discussion, so I’ll simply point to what he said. I have but one addition and one objection to his comments.

      I have ordered the book you suggested, with plans to use it for my upcoming Rebecca Reads section (which might be its own blog, but I haven’t decided yet whether to do that or simply have it as part of this blog), wherein I read and offer my commentary on or review of books. I sincerely doubt this book will have any new or convincing content, for not only have I read many apologetics books before, but the very title is assuming the wrong question. Faith, by any definition, simply isn’t a requirement to lack belief. Atheism is the null hypothesis that none of the god claims put forth over the millennia have any merit. To even utter the words “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” is to fundamentally misunderstand what atheism even is.

      One very slight point: many of the discussions that led to my loss of faith were either with other Christians or with someone who did not offer any arguments of his own but simply showed me logical flaws in my own arguments. The main reason I left Christianity is because I simply can’t see a intellectually satisfying way to rectify evolution with the Garden of Eden and Crucifixion events in the Bible. Indeed, it is my contention that any Christian who accepts evolution misunderstands science or theology. I have yet to be shown wrong on this, but I am always open to new arguments.

      The objection I have to what Josh said is that I am perfectly willing to allow you to define faith, because you are using it as a Christian term. For convenience, I’ll copy what you have said below:

      “Faith is not choosing to believe something without any evidence whatsoever. Faith is a logical response to evidence revealed, in the unseen, to the human heart. The fact that it is unseen does not make it unreal (unless you have a prior commitment to believe so). It simply means our basis for belief in God does not rely on what we see on the outside and our own private reasoning and conclusions based on what we see, but on what God has revealed. Faith in this sense is not only adequate but in a great sense superior to sight.”

      However, even with this definition, even accepting that such faith is superior to sight (which I don’t, for the record), my objection remains. No god has revealed himself to me despite my years of searching, and no god anywhere has revealed himself in a way that would be accepted as evidence in any lab or court of law. Given this complete lack of evidence, I can only conclude that god doesn’t want me to believe or doesn’t exist.

      As Josh said:

      “You have been given a kind of evidence that hasn’t been given to me. If the Christian god actually is revealing himself to certain people who meet some unknowable preconditions and not to others who might be asking for it I can’t see that this god actually wants everyone to be saved. Do you know why salvation through faith is inherently immoral? Because you’re not really operating on the kind of faith that would be required of me–believing something without sufficient proof. You’re operating on a kind of weak faith that is informed by an experience. This is an inherently unfair situation, and one that naturally predisposes me to damnation.

      It’s not just.”

      1. Thanks, warebec. Regarding the book recommendation, it was made not for its explicit argument, or that implied by the title, but just because of good content in general. I think it would make for good book review material whatever your ultimate assessment of its content.

        By the way, I believe this statement overshoots by a few yards:

        To even utter the words “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” is to fundamentally misunderstand what atheism even is.

        True, your definition of atheism as provided would not fit the argument reflected by this statement. However, atheism has traditionally been understood to mean “one who believes that there is no deity,” not “one who has an absence of believe in any popular deity over the last few millenia.” And it is this traditional definition referred to in the title. I don’t think we should construe a difference of opinion over definition as a fundamental lack of misunderstanding on the part of one party or the other, let alone a misunderstanding of “the question.” Each person, and work, may have aim at its own question to answer, and certainly this in itself does not prove a violation of knowledge or reason.

        Lastly, want to thank you and Josh for your time. I honestly enjoy discussing these things with those with whom I share the same humanity.

  4. Thanks Josh for your comprehensive response. I will do my best below to respond to as many points as time will allow, beginning with the first comment you posted.

    I just can’t believe a god who is all-loving and just would hide his existence if my salvation was predicated on accepting his existence and believing in him. It’s just…illogical and it isn’t indicative of an all-loving being.

    Enough has perhaps been discussed on this point, except that I would add: Either God is as you say, or he is as I have described. That is, either he is found by those who seek him, or he is not. I am less inclined to argue this point, not so much because I don’t necessarily care, but because each person has to conclude that for himself.

    The problem is that what you’re writing about is an interpreted and entirely subjective personal experience.

    I do not see this as a problem. That is, I do not have to violate logic, reason or my intellect to validate that what I experience as a human being matters.

    So my question is this: how can you separate that encounter from an hallucination?

    I cannot. Nor can I separate anything I encounter as a hallucination. But I would like to say that I have no family history of mental illness, that I my experience is independent of drug use, and if it is all hallucination, then it is a hallucination that is both recurring and that improves my life consistently at a profound level, one embued with unfathomable peace and love and a sense moral purity that exceeds my own experience. I am willing to take the chance that it is hallucination.

    I would also like to point out that if this is an objection for you (“personal experience cannot be trusted”), then this is entirely different from your first objection that god is utterly absent and silent. The objection would have to be “god is utterly absent and silent in the manner I expect/require him to be.” I am not say this is your objection; I am just making an observation if it is.

    I prayed for guidance and proof when I realized I was losing my belief.

    Who is to say our current dialogue is not an answer to that prayer? I am okay if you think I am a quack. But if no, then it would seem to be so.

    Let me say this a different way: I need a different kind of evidence than you seem to need. If that’s not good enough for your conception of God, well, then I don’t have a chance.

    This may be so, but based on what you have shared, you need the same kind of evidence. Unless you are rejecting God revealing himself to you on a personal level, then you need that personal experience. I would suggest that even if every one of your other objections were answered perfectly, you would still need that experience. Otherwise your belief is just a set of plausible arguments instead of a personal certainty.

    I did hear you say you do not have that experience. That is a bummer. I personally however feel God does not pick favorites. I would also say you have not had that experience yet. It is not my business, but the question that pops into my head next is: How willing are you to open yourself up to experiencing God? This is rhetorical.

    If God communicates to us to show us he exists, then salvation through faith is bullsh**.

    The above is only true if you are interpreting “salvation through faith” as “salvation through blind faith”, as this post has defined it (which ironically is the very thing we all are objecting to here). Faith is not choosing to believe something without any evidence whatsoever. Faith is a logical response to evidence revealed, in the unseen, to the human heart. The fact that it is unseen does not make it unreal (unless you have a prior commitment to believe so). It simply means our basis for belief in God does not rely on what we see on the outside and our own private reasoning and conclusions based on what we see, but on what God has revealed. Faith in this sense is not only adequate but in a great sense superior to sight.

    Cheers

    1. “Enough has perhaps been discussed on this point, except that I would add: Either God is as you say, or he is as I have described. That is, either he is found by those who seek him, or he is not. I am less inclined to argue this point, not so much because I don’t necessarily care, but because each person has to conclude that for himself.”

      You’re essentially saying nothing here, and I am tempted to take it as an admission that you don’t understand the nature of god you claim to believe. Otherwise, I don’t know why you would be so wishy-washy on this particular topic. Furthermore, you offer no response to what the author and I have said before: we have tried to seek him, and he did not answer. The only rational response would be for you to reply that our efforts were not sincere (and our response to that would be that you can’t possibly know that, and this is only a rationalization to protect you from the obvious implications) or to reply that either god doesn’t exist, or he doesn’t communicate to everyone (why not, and if not, he’s not all-loving and all-good since I am a sentient being who understands mortality and has experienced suffering and am genetically and physically and mentally human).

      “I do not see this as a problem. That is, I do not have to violate logic, reason or my intellect to validate that what I experience as a human being matters.”

      I never said that what you experience as a human being doesn’t matter. I am saying that your subjective experiences, by their nature, are not communicable to other people. Therefore, I have no reason to believe the event you claim to have experienced happened as you experienced it. In plainer language, it isn’t good evidence, and I’m not going to accept it as definitive proof of anything. If you want to argue a god exists and convince me or the author, you’re going to have to do better than this.

      “I cannot. Nor can I separate anything I encounter as a hallucination. But I would like to say that I have no family history of mental illness, that I my experience is independent of drug use, and if it is all hallucination, then it is a hallucination that is both recurring and that improves my life consistently at a profound level, one embued with unfathomable peace and love and a sense moral purity that exceeds my own experience. I am willing to take the chance that it is hallucination.”

      I find this highly questionable. I’m not willing take take your word for it, then, that what you’re experiencing is divine. It should be noted, however, that I do not have the same kind of repeating experience you are describing here and I would not say my life is miserable. While it is true that I my sense of morals is consequential and context-dependent, always leading me to question my moral philosophies, I do not see this as a failing, or as an inconvenience. In fact, I like it that way because it makes me adjust my views and always seek more knowledge–constantly improving myself and my perspective. If this means that I do not have this sense of “unfathomable peace” (whatever that means, it’s not clear it has a meaning since it is so unfathomable) then I’m willing to make that sacrifice (tongue-in-cheek).

      “I would also like to point out that if this is an objection for you (‘personal experience cannot be trusted’), then this is entirely different from your first objection that god is utterly absent and silent. The objection would have to be “god is utterly absent and silent in the manner I expect/require him to be.” I am not say this is your objection; I am just making an observation if it is.”

      I think you’re fundamentally misunderstanding something. I never claimed that personal experience cannot be trusted. Even scientific naturalism (methodological naturalism) and the epistemology of empiricism rely on personal experience. What I am arguing is that subjective experiences which cannot be communicated to any other person are not good evidence. Sure, they’re a type of evidence, but nothing that is accessible to anyone but yourself. It seems obvious why this would cause a problem: if I have not experienced you have, even after seeking it, and you yourself cannot distinguish it from an hallucination, I am justified in being both highly skeptical of the evidence and dismissive of it.

      Since I do not believe any gods exist, then I do not claim that he is silent or absent. I claim he is nonexistent. It’s a pretty good explanation for my own experience. I asked for evidence of miracles once, and every single one of them were indistinguishable from coincidence. I ask for evidence of god, and every single piece is either fatally flawed or a subjective anecdote.

      “Who is to say our current dialogue is not an answer to that prayer? I am okay if you think I am a quack. But if no, then it would seem to be so.”

      I’m sorry, but this question is hilarious. Again, if the answer to a prayer is finding someone on a blog who is doing a horrible job of defending his beliefs and communicating them to someone who is skeptical, that’s some pretty weak sauce. I’d like to think an all-loving and just creator god would find a better representative if he knew how high the bar would be. The important point here is not that I’m actively rejecting anything, but that there just isn’t any rationally justifiable reason to believe in any of it. If that’s too much for a god like the Christian god, well, he’s not as powerful as you think he is. I would change my mind in a heartbeat if I could be given the kind of evidence my intellect and natural skepticism requires. I am, thus far, still waiting on that evidence.

      “This may be so, but based on what you have shared, you need the same kind of evidence. Unless you are rejecting God revealing himself to you on a personal level, then you need that personal experience. I would suggest that even if every one of your other objections were answered perfectly, you would still need that experience. Otherwise your belief is just a set of plausible arguments instead of a personal certainty.

      I did hear you say you do not have that experience. That is a bummer. I personally however feel God does not pick favorites. I would also say you have not had that experience yet. It is not my business, but the question that pops into my head next is: How willing are you to open yourself up to experiencing God? This is rhetorical.”

      Again, I’m not rejecting anything. The problem with the whole God revealing himself on a personal level is that I have studied enough psychology and neuroscience to know the kinds of cognitive errors that can lead to such an experience. It’s still not a dependable kind of evidence, partly because it isn’t external. It’s still subjective. If I couldn’t prove to myself that it actually happened except that I had an experience, I would question my interpretation of the experience itself. If there are naturalistic mechanisms that can explain why I had the experience that don’t rely on it being an actual personal encounter with a god, then we run into the same firewall. It is either indistinguishable from coincidence or hallucination. Again, I would argue that an all-powerful creator god could do better.

      You’re not listening to me when you ask how willing I would be to open myself up to god. I tried very hard once. It didn’t happen. Since I no longer believe any gods exist, I would say that it isn’t a matter of willingness, it’s a matter of existence. I am willing to follow wherever the evidence goes. I am willing to open myself up to new ways of thinking and new ideas. I am not willing to lower the standards of evidence and reason that I apply to everything else in the universe just so I can have “an experience with a god” who, if this god existed, doesn’t seem to care enough about me to meet my standards. Again, for an all-powerful all-loving creator god, I should think that would be trivial.

      This is not about rejecting anything. This is about having consistent evidential and logical standards in everything. I wouldn’t take a medication if it didn’t have a wealth of evidence about its effects. I wouldn’t accept a moral standard if it wasn’t backed by a logically rigorous foundation. The same applies to any god claim.

      “The above is only true if you are interpreting ‘salvation through faith’ as ‘salvation through blind faith’, as this post has defined it (which ironically is the very thing we all are objecting to here). Faith is not choosing to believe something without any evidence whatsoever. Faith is a logical response to evidence revealed, in the unseen, to the human heart. The fact that it is unseen does not make it unreal (unless you have a prior commitment to believe so). It simply means our basis for belief in God does not rely on what we see on the outside and our own private reasoning and conclusions based on what we see, but on what God has revealed. Faith in this sense is not only adequate but in a great sense superior to sight.”

      Your definition of faith is faulty. I’ll supply several here:

      confidence or trust in a person or thing
      belief that is not based on proof
      belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion
      belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.
      a system of religious belief

      Definition one is based on a colloquial use that is separate, obviously, from religious belief. This can be explained by qualifying how we use faith. Weak faith would be the kind of faith that, say, you have when you sit in a chair and trust it won’t collapse under you. Strong faith is more akin to the kind you’re talking about, when you have only a subjective experience you can’t differentiate from an hallucination. The thing about weak faith is that it is still based on physical evidence of some kind when applied to an object, or when applied to a person, a pattern of behavior or, at least, a reputation. Definition four is more of a metaphor or a colloquial weak faith.

      Definition two is much more relevant, as is definition three and five. The claim that faith is logical depends on what the word is applied to and the reasons you have. Faith that a chair won’t collapsed based on its physical properties and its purpose is probably logical. Faith that a god exists because you had an experience you admit you can’t differentiate from an hallucination is not logical. That is strong faith, and it’s reliant upon presupposition after presupposition. The first is that what you experienced was some kind of communication. The second is that what is communicating with you is the Christian god, and not something else. The third is that what you experienced was reliable. My question to you is this: if you were born into a culture where Hinduism was predominant, and you were raised as a Hindu, do you think you would interpret that experience as Vishnu?

      But I have to take exception to your assertion that faith is superior to sight. It simply isn’t, and nowhere have you actually offered anything that could support the claim. Again, if we accept that your subjective experience was a kind of evidence, it’s not faith without proof. You have been given a kind of evidence that hasn’t been given to me. If the Christian god actually is revealing himself to certain people who meet some unknowable preconditions and not to others who might be asking for it I can’t see that this god actually wants everyone to be saved. Do you know why salvation through faith is inherently immoral? Because you’re not really operating on the kind of faith that would be required of me–believing something without sufficient proof. You’re operating on a kind of weak faith that is informed by an experience. This is an inherently unfair situation, and one that naturally predisposes me to damnation.

      It’s not just.

  5. Hi Josh:

    Thanks for your response. I am afraid you have mistaken my role here. I am not the convincer, and certainly not the critic of your beliefs (known or unknown). I am at best a witness.

    As for your statements concerning the merit of my arguments, I am content to let others draw their own conclusions from our dialogue.

    Thanks again for the opportunity.

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