This post is part of a series.
In Part 1, I generalized that, since the impact of being wrong about God is high, it doesn’t matter how unlikely it is, it is still a high risk.
But that oversimplification is not entirely true. If it was, that would mean that all unconfirmable claims about the life to come, by any and all religions, would be equally binding, or just as important or risky.
If the Biblical God makes demands with consequences we can not confirm with empiricism, are they any different from the claims of Buddhism, Islam, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
What we really need is a better measure of how likely such claims are to be true. Can that be done without direct empirical evidence? YES. We must not ignore historical, ethical, and logical support for or against faith claims, and in so doing, fail to discriminate between pretenders and contenders.
Below, I address this objection, which can be stated:
The lack of empirical support for faith means ALL FAITHS ARE EQUALLY IMPROBABLE and on par with fairy tales.
This is the common atheist ruse, “believing in Jesus, the Easter Bunny, or the FSM are all equivalent because they are all equally impossible to validate with empirical science.”
The first problem with this approach is that anti-theists are only allowing ONE type of evidence or line of reasoning – that of empirical science.
But as Immanuel Kant, the great secular philosopher argued in his Critique of Pure Reason, reason itself (and by extension, empirical science) proves that reason has limits, and in being limited, can not make any claims EVEN TO THE POSSIBILITY or IMPOSSIBILITY of more reality than it can measure.
Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
There are other means of epistemology, even within science itself. Beyond the direct observation of empirical science lie indirect observation (such as our measurements of cosmic rays, invisible to our senses), historical evidence, the employment of logic, statistics, and reason to assess claims, and lastly, when it comes to assessing faith claims, one can observe the logical and practical outcomes and ‘judge them by their fruits,’ as it is said.
The hubris and mistake of atheism is in failing to recognize the other faculties at our disposal, content to live in the narrow and ‘safe’ world of empiricism, except when it comes to their own myths such as evolution or the absence of God.
Before I give some examples of these other types of evidence, let me discuss the second mistake atheists are making in assuming that all faiths are equally improbable. They assume, perhaps correctly, that no amount of evidence, empirical or otherwise, can definitively prove the existence of God, and therefore, it can prove nothing.
The error here is that, while it can not PROVE a faith true, it can ELIMINATE pretenders from contenders. That is, using the OTHER means of evidence at our disposal, some faith claims, such as the FSM, fairies, or the validity of Islam, for instance, will fall into the category of NOT the truth. We may end up with one or more contenders, perhaps Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism (in my book), and that process of elimination is very useful to the person employing reason rather than making blanket condemnations.
Let me give some examples of how these other methods are used in everyday real life and science (as opposed to atheist philosophy).
1. Indirect Measurement reveals previously invisible reality
Before the discovery of radiation in the late 1800’s, few people would have taken you seriously if you had said ‘there are invisible particles that are emitted from those rocks,’ and they’d be even more incredulous if you said ‘and there are invisible cosmic rays that shoot through us all the time, but we don’t see, hear, smell, taste, or feel them.’
But as it turns out, once we were able to measure them, we could confirm that they were real. Before the technology existed to see them, they were a fantasy. But there they were, in a realm invisible to the eye.
When atheists claim ‘it’s not real because we can’t measure it,’ they are not being truthful at all. Plenty of things were real before we could see them. This, of course, does not mean that all imaginary things should be considered equally plausible, but it establishes the idea that as noted atheist and scientist Carl Sagan remarked, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Perhaps they ought to remain open minded, and admit that SOME day, we may find a way to ‘measure’ God, or we may have some way to probe that reality that is more concrete and less subjective (we certainly will after death).
And let me add one more point about yet-to-be-discovered realities. Einstein opened up a whole new world of possibilities, as it were, an unseen world of physics. And even now. quantum physics is exposing us to a reality where MIND seems to influence matter – where observation alone changes outcomes. Is this the door to ‘measuring’ the spiritual world? Since God can be seen as ultimate Mind, it’s possible.
Such new realms of science might not entirely demystify or rationalize the spiritual world, but they are evidence that what science has revealed to this point is far from all of reality.
You know, perhaps when Jesus’ physical, resurrected body went ‘up’ to heaven, it didn’t go into space, but just ‘out of phase,’ as they like to say in Star Trek. Perhaps heaven is RIGHT THERE at 30,000 feet, but in another space/time dimension that we can’t see. That’s all I’m saying. It’s as realistic, or perhaps moreso, than infinite universes and string theory and dark matter. Don’t get me started.
2. Historic evidence can corroborate both historic AND miraculous claims
The difference between empirical and historic evidence is one that many atheists and evolutionists are slow to recognize – not for lack of intelligence, but often for the pure rejection of the claims that such an approach might let in the door.
Sure, they employ historic evidence, like the fossil record, in their own claims, but they try to elevate it to the status of empirical evidence by claiming that the assumptions they use to INTERPRET the historic data are unassailable and true. Hence, their conclusions on the matter are as sure as empirical science, or as they love to say, “as sure as gravity.”
This self-deception belies not only a lack of intellectual introspection and self-awareness, it is a bastardization of science.
Assumptions themselves can be evaluated for their reasonableness, and challenged with data. Since, by definition, assumptions are unprovable, if we differ at that level, we may need to agree to disagree and leave it at that.
If a faith system makes claims about history, science, or logic, these things can be evaluated. If the faith system is found significantly felicitous, this lends credence to its more miraculous claims, though it does not prove them. If not, such as in the case of the Book of Mormon’s historic fallacies, we can perhaps reject it as a contender.
SIDEBAR: The historicity of the Bible
Regarding historicity, the Bible is certainly trustworthy, and is in many ways the most reliable historic document we have. As both archaeology and manuscript studies indicate, for example, that the Christian scriptures are contenders:
There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.
~ William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), p. 176.
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.
~ William F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, Rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican Books, 1960), pp. 127-128
Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gaps, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of Biblical backgrounds.
~ Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), p. 15
And the list of this type of confirmation, or disconfirmation, of various claims by holy books or faith systems, can go on extensively
But not only can historical and archaeological studies confirm the natural claims of a faith, they can lend credence to or take away from the MIRACULOUS claims of a faith – not just by their own validation, but by observing how people responded in history to the supposed miracles that occurred.
For a quick example, looking at the historical sources of the Jews, we can see that they too recorded that Jesus was supposed to have done miracles. We can also see how the disciples, who fled and hid after Jesus’ death, had some later experience (seeing him resurrected) that transformed them, to a man, into men who believed so strongly that they were all willing to die for their faith – either because they had a strong delusion, or because they had a reason to believe.
3. Logic, statistics, and reason
One of the most basic examinations we can do of any holy or secular text is to subject it to tests of internal and external logic, looking for gross inconsistencies, as well as elegant consistency. We can also employ simple comparisons to our own experience and observation of people, societies, and cause and effect we see in our own world. This can be done heuristically and personally, or systematically and empirically. Either way some spiritual claims and stories will have the air of authority and reality, while others will be obviously fanciful and illogical.
Naturally, there will be a middle ground, especially when it comes to reporting miracles. However, if you discard them out of hand as fanciful a priori , then you may end up with a much more limited set of faith claims, if any at all.
However, some stories, like the native American myth that the Sky Goddess put the earth on the back of a giant turtle can be clearly eliminated. However, for example, the Biblical claim that God first created light (let there be light), followed LATER by the stars and the sun, aligns perfectly with the current astronomical cosmology that says that the Universe came into being in a great blast of energy, i.e. the Big Bang.
4. Their fruits
Judging a belief system by the results it produces in the lives of individuals and society is a bit of a tricky business. In part, because every ideological system can and has been abused by human beings, and secondly, because ‘history is written by the victors.’
This last point is no more true than in the case of Christianity. Books by such authors as Rodney Stark and Dinesh D’Souza reveal that much of what we hear about, for example, the historical war between science and faith, is not only untrue when one goes back to original documents rather than trusting anti-theist and anti-Catholic authors, it is just the opposite of what happened. For a great read, check out Chapter 10 of D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity, entitled An Atheist Fable: Reopening the Galileo Case.
When we evaluate the performance of a faith in history and present day, we need to consider the frailties and biases of mankind. However, that does not have to stop us from recognizing historic trends, logical outcomes of various beliefs, and the present day expression of various ideologies. For example, you might observe and conclude:
- the teachings of the religion’s founder seem noble, believable, and good, or NOT
- historically, nations that practiced the ideology produced health, freedom, and prosperity, or NOT
- persons I meet from this ideology are kind, loving, virtuous, or NOT
So, we might view Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and atheism and even the FSM from these three vantage points, and at least eliminate a few.
5. Personal Experience
While experience is subjective, all of us use it to help us determine what is true. We try different ideologies and see what they produce in the lab of our own lives. But many people only approach the question of faith from a distance with their intellects, keeping their hearts far from it. There are many reasons for this, but G.K. Chesterton’s is one of the most interesting:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
I tried agnosticism and skepticism. I toyed with drugs and open mindedness. I tried Christianity. I left it and tried Buddhism and yoga. I ended up returning to a more mature Christianity, but I did test things out. As scripture invites, we ought to test out faith:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:8)
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
The whole point of this exercise was to show that, contrary to dumbed down anti-religious, narrow materialist dogma, there are ways to at least eliminate religious pretenders, and narrow the field to just a few believable contenders.
With that in mind, when we return to Pascal’s wager in the risk formula I created, we can see that the LIKELIHOOD of all faiths being infinitessimally low or zero, as atheists gamble, is probably a poor decision. Remember the forumla?
Likelihood x impact = risk.
If the impactof not believing in Jesus, Zeus or the FSM is high, but the likelihood of those being true, as measured by the methods above, is not the same, we may conclude that some faith claims are more reasonable and likely, and ignoring them could be inviting dire and real personal risk.
And this is what Pascal was getting at. The historic, moral, and personal impact of the life and teachings of Jesus are not only impressive, they outshine other systems when compared. In addition, if this places them into the realm of plausibility, even probability, the atheist is a fool to gamble on the notion that his limited ability to measure reality with empiricism is good enough ground to live in defiance of the existence of the Biblical God.