The say with complete conviction that a belief

The discussion about whether or not belief
in God(s) is irrational has lingered in the minds of people for centuries and
has been subject to copious amounts of controversy with no one theory trumping
all the others and solving it once and for all. There are many opinions and
theories from many different people on the matter ranging from those who
believe strongly in evidentialism such as William Clifford who believed that it
is entirely wrong to believe in anything with scant evidence and thus did not
believe in God as he thought that there was not enough evidence to justify his
existence. On the other side of the spectrum, pragmatists such as William James
would argue that belief in God (and religious belief in general) can be
rational despite a lack of overwhelming evidence. In my opinion, you can never
say with complete conviction that a belief in something is irrational as the
only truly irrational claim is that something is certain.


An evidentialist would believe that in
order for a religion to be properly and rationally accepted, it must be
possible to prove that the belief system is true. They would argue that you
must only believe in something is you have sufficient evidence to do so.

William Clifford was a strong believer in evidentialism and believed that you
should never stifle a doubt. He took this idea so seriously that he went as far
as to say that if you put aside a doubt, you are offending the whole human race
as you are not thinking rationally. Clifford effectively adopted a policy of
radical doubt, which meant that he thought that you should doubt everything you
can and continue doubting further. In Clifford’s eyes, there was not enough
evidence to suggest that a God exists which of course meant that he did not believe
in one. Clifford also suggested that if you begin to stop doubting, bad things
will happen. In order to express this view, he used an analogy of a ship that
had been out to see many times before and was now battered and unfit for
sailing. The owner of this ship, however, put aside his doubts and convinced
himself that the ship would be fine on its next voyage as it had successfully
completed so many before. The ship sank in the middle of the Ocean, killing
everyone aboard. This analogy illustrates his point perfectly: that if you
begin 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 either
certain that he exists, or certain that he does not. This would send us in a
loop 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 both
rational to believe in God, and also not to believe in God.


I can see a few faults in Clifford’s argument
that leads me to believe that belief in God is not irrational. Firstly, his
analogy does not work completely well with religious belief. On the one hand,
it does target the subjects of terrorism and the suppression of intellectual
debate. On the other hand, however, the analogy of the ship does not convey
religious belief well. I would say that suppressing doubts in God will not
always lead to bad things. Additionally, I would argue that Clifford’s policy
of radical doubt is impractical as if we doubt our own sensory perception, we
cannot possibly believe in anything and thus all belief, including belief in
science, would become irrational. Clifford also said that he does not believe
in God as there is no sufficient evidence. However, many people believe that
the only truly evidentialist position is one of agnosticism in that you cannot
be certain God exists, nor can you be certain that he does not exist. Plantinga
refutes the beliefs of evidentialists by stating that evidentialism is
self-referentially inconsistent for there is no evidence for evidentialism. By
this, Plantinga is saying that Evidentialism is fundamentally flawed and thus
you cannot be certain that God exists and vice-versa, thus meaning that belief
in God is rational.


Postmodernists adopt a different approach to
the matter. Postmodernists reject the idea that there is only one truth system
e.g. Reason leads to faith. Their rejection of the “meta-narrative” means that
they embrace the plurality of truth systems. By this, they mean that they do
not believe that there is only one truth, but that there are multiple truths. This
means that they believe that the belief in a God or Gods is just as rational as
the belief in science and experimentation and they believe that both can lead
to ‘truths.’ As such, if we adopt the postmodernist mind-set, we can see that
belief in God can be just as rational as the belief in science and thus I would
argue that belief in God is not irrational.


I personally believe that belief in God can
be rational. One example is the fact that there are times when two perfectly
rational and reasonable people can disagree on something. Just because there is
a disagreement between these two people does not mean that either of them is
irrational or necessarily ‘wrong.’ If this logic is applied to the debate about
whether or not belief in God is rational, we can deduce that it is in fact
rational as belief in the existence of God is justifiable as it is not
internally inconsistent nor does it produce or result from a contradiction.

Additionally, I would argue that the only irrational standpoint is one of
claiming something as a certainty when you have no proof over this claim. Although
there seems to be a lack of proof for God’s existence, this does not mean that
he does not exist. The most rational dress the situation would be to take a
step back and say that based on current information deduced from scientific
inquiry, it would seem unlikely that God exists. However, we lack definitive
evidence to disprove God’s existence and thus we cannot claim it as a
certainty. 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 acceptable
position. He argues that if we cannot come to a decision based solely on
intellectual 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 our
point, 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 fact
that William James appears to be justifying a blind leap of faith which, by
definition, is irrational as we are allowing ourselves to come to conclusions
with scant evidence. This is a big problem as it would suggest that belief in
God can be irrational and is an even bigger problem as our emotions can often
overpower reason. This causes us to slip into fideism (belief without reason.)
However, despite these glaring flaws in his argument, I believe that Pascal’s
wager 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 me
infinitely in the afterlife if it turns out he does exist. If I believe in him
and he does not exist, I will still have lived a fulfilling life and will lose
very little in death. However, if I choose not to believe in God, I may feel
more free in this life, but the drawbacks to my decision could be infinite in
the afterlife.” He is basically arguing that you cannot prove nor disprove God’s
existence, and thus you are making a bet on which is true. Statistically
speaking, you benefit more from choosing to believe in God as the rewards could
be infinite, and thus it could be argued that belief in God is not only
rational, but that choosing not to believe in God is irrational.


To conclude, I would say that belief in God
is rational as there is no way of proving that he does, or does not exist. I
believe that you can adopt a policy of accepting that there are many truths in
the universe and you can believe in each and every one of them rationally. I also
believe that taking an extreme position such as the one taken up by William
Clifford is irrational as ultimately there is no way of proving whether or not
God exists and doubting everything, including our own sensory perception, is an
extremely impractical logic to adopt. As of now, there is no way of proving or
disproving the existence of God(s) and thus it is still rational to believe in
God. However, I believe that as science progresses and discovers more about
life 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 ever
receding pocket of scientific ignorance that gets smaller and smaller as time
goes on.”