Believing without Proof

Respectful Atheist has a thought-provoking post entitled Do Atheists Need Faith?  I have some rambling thoughts.

The definition of “faith” that Respectful Atheist is assuming in his post is essentially believing in something without proof.  As he notes, many Christians consider that to be a virtue.  I myself have heard Christians treat it as such.  “God does not prove his existence to us because, if he did, our belief wouldn’t be faith”, they have said to me.  But what’s so great about believing in something without proof?  I’m with Respectful Atheist on this.  I don’t get it.

Respectful Atheist does not believe that it’s good to believe in things without proof.  But Respectful Atheist does acknowledge that there are things that he believes without absolute certitude.  He states:

“My current belief is that it’s perfectly alright to have varying degrees of certainty about pretty well anything and everything.  For example, I feel around 99% certain that I will wake up tomorrow morning.  I am a relatively young man, without any significant health problems (that I am aware of), and it is pretty rare for people like me to die suddenly in the middle of the night.  I am about 75% sure that I won’t have to replace either one of my aging cars within the next year.  I feel roundabout 60% sure that it will rain tomorrow.”

But do those things constitute believing in something without proof?  My hunch is that Respectful Atheist would say “no”, for, although there is not absolute proof for any of these things, they do have some basis in reality.  He looks at reality, and young men without significant health problems usually wake up the next morning, and so he concludes that there is a decent chance that he, too, will wake up the next morning.  For him, that’s different from a belief in God or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy because it is based on observable reality.

But what about those who believe that they’ve experienced God or the supernatural, in some way?  Many atheists dismiss that as anecdotal evidence, or they say that those experiences can be interpreted in a non-supernatural fashion, or they say that they should not have to believe in God on the basis of experiences that they themselves did not have, but that others allegedly had.  I sympathize with the last one.  At the same time, I don’t think that those who believe in God on the basis of what they believe to be experiences with the supernatural are believing without any proof or basis at all.

Yet, I do get tired of Christians getting in my face with their Christianity, telling me and the rest of the world that we should do this and not that, when there doesn’t appear to be any proof for their worldview.  Sure, people can experience the supernatural, and that can even occur within the context of Christianity, but does that prove that conservative Christianity in its entirety is true?

Yet, would God leave us in the dark without giving us a revelation, such as the Bible?  But do we have to accept all of the Bible to be recipients of that revelation?  Even conservative Christians downplay or explain away parts of the Bible that contradict our notion of justice.  Moreover, there are many who do not believe that the Bible is fully consistent and clear, and the existence of many denominations and forced interpretations of the Bible shows (in my mind) that there’s something to that view, so why would the Bible be the revelation that we receive?

Some then say that God reveals himself through other things, such as life and nature.  I’m not sure, though, if life and nature communicate unequivocal messages.  Does nature teach us to be kind?  What about animals not being kind to each other?  I think that those who claim to be receiving God’s revelation through life and nature are projecting their own views onto those things, as do I.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Believing without Proof

  1. Tafacory says:

    I think some people would rather believe in something without proof than try to forcefully construct arguments and evidence to support said arguments. In our times, it’s easier to stay out of the God Debate and have a personal faith than to engage in countless disputes, having to justify your beliefs to yourself and others. So in one sense, these people are merely saving themselves from rude comments, intense quarrels, and faith crises. They simply believe and that is fine for them. And I sympathize with this view because they are consistent. Whenever I debate most Theists and present them with strong evidence that runs counter to their claims, they refuse to change their views by falling back to this fideist position even though they are actually trying to rationalize their faith. That’s being intellectually dishonest though.

    But on the other side, fideism implies that there are other ways to knowledge than mere reason. There are other ways such as through emotion or religious experience. Yet Fideists aren’t well-respected by either the Atheist or the Theist community. For the Atheist, the Fideist refuses to be drawn into the controversy and be used as a whipping post. For the Theist, the Fideist gives the Atheist ammunition for bad argumentation such as Dawkins’ claim that equivocates faith with blind following. This is a very peculiar position to be in.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I think that, say, a William Lane Craig type would agree with the fideist that there are other ways to knowledge than mere reason. He’d just probably realize that bringing that up in a debate with the atheist would not accomplish much, but only an appeal to reason could do that.


  3. Tafacory says:

    Oh I definitely think WLC would endorse such a statement/approach to apologetics, the problem is that the fideist would never agree to help his case or hurt the atheist’s. The fideist would want his hands to be completely clean from the entire enterprise.


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