People who believe in God and those who don’t often find each other incomprehensible. Even worse, they tend to think the worst of each other. The believers fear for the salvation of the unbelievers, while the non-believers often secretly – or not so secretly – suspect believers of superstition, insecurity, and fear.
There is no possible final irrefutable proof either that there is, or isn’t, a God. How, then, do we reach the conclusions which so many of us hold with such convictions? This post is an attempt to look at a rational justification for either conclusion.
A Believer’s Argument
Many people who believe in God do so because we are here. However far back one pushes the chain of events, there is always the question: What or who caused that first event to happen? How did the universe come into existence in the first place? Even if you say “the big bang caused it,” one still is faced with the question “what caused the big bang?” or “where did that infintessimal dot of energy that exploded into our universe come from?”
David Hume argued that events have causes. Carried to its logical end point, this position leads many people to the conclusion that there must be a First Cause. For believers, that First Cause is God.
This doesn’t seem to me to be a wildly fanatic or illogical, neurotic, fear-induced conclusion. In fact, it seems quite rational. If it is, why then are there so many equally rational people who do not believe in God?
A Non-believer’s Argument
Many non-believers think that answering questions to which we don’t yet have an answer with “it must be God” does not have an historically very good record. All sort of events and phenomenon which have been inexplicable in the past and so held up as proof of God’s existence are well understood now as natural occurences that do not require the direct intervention by God. Volcanoes and tsunamis, the rising and setting sun, the complexity of the human eye, a win on the lottery, or a lucky escape from an accident or illness have for centuries been alternately blamed on God or been a reason to offer prayers of gratitude. But for many these events seem perfectly natural, often based on coincidence or chance, but not on God.
What, though, about that First Cause? What started it all in the first place? Non-believers don’t answer this question with a being they call God. God, for the believer, is eternal, infinite, beyond complete human understanding. Why not, asks the non-believer, simply say it is the universe which is eternal, potentially infinite, beyond complete human understanding?
As far as the rational arguments go, it seems to me we can’t sling the epithet of irrational at either position. Certainty, for those who possess it, seems to come from a different source.