The discussion about whether or not beliefin God(s) is irrational has lingered in the minds of people for centuries andhas been subject to copious amounts of controversy with no one theory trumpingall the others and solving it once and for all.
There are many opinions andtheories from many different people on the matter ranging from those whobelieve strongly in evidentialism such as William Clifford who believed that itis entirely wrong to believe in anything with scant evidence and thus did notbelieve in God as he thought that there was not enough evidence to justify hisexistence. On the other side of the spectrum, pragmatists such as William Jameswould argue that belief in God (and religious belief in general) can berational despite a lack of overwhelming evidence. In my opinion, you can neversay with complete conviction that a belief in something is irrational as theonly truly irrational claim is that something is certain.
An evidentialist would believe that inorder for a religion to be properly and rationally accepted, it must bepossible to prove that the belief system is true. They would argue that youmust only believe in something is you have sufficient evidence to do so.William Clifford was a strong believer in evidentialism and believed that youshould never stifle a doubt.
He took this idea so seriously that he went as faras to say that if you put aside a doubt, you are offending the whole human raceas you are not thinking rationally. Clifford effectively adopted a policy ofradical doubt, which meant that he thought that you should doubt everything youcan and continue doubting further. In Clifford’s eyes, there was not enoughevidence to suggest that a God exists which of course meant that he did not believein one. Clifford also suggested that if you begin to stop doubting, bad thingswill happen. In order to express this view, he used an analogy of a ship thathad been out to see many times before and was now battered and unfit forsailing. The owner of this ship, however, put aside his doubts and convincedhimself that the ship would be fine on its next voyage as it had successfullycompleted so many before. The ship sank in the middle of the Ocean, killingeveryone aboard.
This analogy illustrates his point perfectly: that if youbegin to stifle your doubts, bad things will happen. If we adopted Clifford’s mind-set,we would have to continue doubting the existence of God until we are eithercertain that he exists, or certain that he does not. This would send us in aloop as we do not currently have the means to prove either thesis to be true,thus meaning that Clifford’s logic is flawed which means that it is bothrational to believe in God, and also not to believe in God. I can see a few faults in Clifford’s argumentthat leads me to believe that belief in God is not irrational. Firstly, hisanalogy does not work completely well with religious belief. On the one hand,it does target the subjects of terrorism and the suppression of intellectualdebate. On the other hand, however, the analogy of the ship does not conveyreligious belief well.
I would say that suppressing doubts in God will notalways lead to bad things. Additionally, I would argue that Clifford’s policyof radical doubt is impractical as if we doubt our own sensory perception, wecannot possibly believe in anything and thus all belief, including belief inscience, would become irrational. Clifford also said that he does not believein God as there is no sufficient evidence. However, many people believe thatthe only truly evidentialist position is one of agnosticism in that you cannotbe certain God exists, nor can you be certain that he does not exist. Plantingarefutes the beliefs of evidentialists by stating that evidentialism isself-referentially inconsistent for there is no evidence for evidentialism. Bythis, Plantinga is saying that Evidentialism is fundamentally flawed and thusyou cannot be certain that God exists and vice-versa, thus meaning that beliefin God is rational. Postmodernists adopt a different approach tothe matter. Postmodernists reject the idea that there is only one truth systeme.
g. Reason leads to faith. Their rejection of the “meta-narrative” means thatthey embrace the plurality of truth systems. By this, they mean that they donot believe that there is only one truth, but that there are multiple truths.
Thismeans that they believe that the belief in a God or Gods is just as rational asthe belief in science and experimentation and they believe that both can leadto ‘truths.’ As such, if we adopt the postmodernist mind-set, we can see thatbelief in God can be just as rational as the belief in science and thus I wouldargue that belief in God is not irrational. I personally believe that belief in God canbe rational. One example is the fact that there are times when two perfectlyrational and reasonable people can disagree on something.
Just because there isa disagreement between these two people does not mean that either of them isirrational or necessarily ‘wrong.’ If this logic is applied to the debate aboutwhether or not belief in God is rational, we can deduce that it is in factrational as belief in the existence of God is justifiable as it is notinternally inconsistent nor does it produce or result from a contradiction.Additionally, I would argue that the only irrational standpoint is one ofclaiming something as a certainty when you have no proof over this claim.
Althoughthere seems to be a lack of proof for God’s existence, this does not mean thathe does not exist. The most rational dress the situation would be to take astep back and say that based on current information deduced from scientificinquiry, it would seem unlikely that God exists. However, we lack definitiveevidence to disprove God’s existence and thus we cannot claim it as acertainty. This means that belief in God can still be rational. William James argues that religious belief,in spite of the lack of overwhelming evidence, can be a rational and acceptableposition. He argues that if we cannot come to a decision based solely onintellectual grounds, we can rely on our ‘passional nature’ to help us decide.
By this, James argues that if we do not have sufficient evidence to prove ourpoint, we can rely on what is effectively ‘gut feeling’ to come to conclusions.This presents a multitude of problems, the most obvious of which is the factthat William James appears to be justifying a blind leap of faith which, bydefinition, is irrational as we are allowing ourselves to come to conclusionswith scant evidence. This is a big problem as it would suggest that belief inGod can be irrational and is an even bigger problem as our emotions can oftenoverpower reason. This causes us to slip into fideism (belief without reason.)However, despite these glaring flaws in his argument, I believe that Pascal’swager can be used to flip it on its head and make it appear somewhat rational.Pascal was a French philosopher and decided to take a bet with himself.
He said”If I believe in God, it will cost me little in this life, but could reward meinfinitely in the afterlife if it turns out he does exist. If I believe in himand he does not exist, I will still have lived a fulfilling life and will losevery little in death. However, if I choose not to believe in God, I may feelmore free in this life, but the drawbacks to my decision could be infinite inthe afterlife.” He is basically arguing that you cannot prove nor disprove God’sexistence, and thus you are making a bet on which is true. Statisticallyspeaking, you benefit more from choosing to believe in God as the rewards couldbe infinite, and thus it could be argued that belief in God is not onlyrational, but that choosing not to believe in God is irrational. To conclude, I would say that belief in Godis rational as there is no way of proving that he does, or does not exist.
Ibelieve that you can adopt a policy of accepting that there are many truths inthe universe and you can believe in each and every one of them rationally. I alsobelieve that taking an extreme position such as the one taken up by WilliamClifford is irrational as ultimately there is no way of proving whether or notGod exists and doubting everything, including our own sensory perception, is anextremely impractical logic to adopt. As of now, there is no way of proving ordisproving the existence of God(s) and thus it is still rational to believe inGod. However, I believe that as science progresses and discovers more aboutlife and the origin of the universe, God(s) will become more and more obsolete.A quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson sums up this point nicely, “God is an everreceding pocket of scientific ignorance that gets smaller and smaller as timegoes on.”