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Is it reasonable to believe in a god?

Cygnus's affirmative construction

In this piece, I aim to show why belief in a god is not a reasonable position to hold. To accomplish this, I will show that belief in a god is based on nothing but personal feelings and subjective evidence rather than on anything tangible that can be passed on from person to person. I hope that by the end of this piece that I will have shown that the most reasonable position on this subject is skepticism.

Belief in a god or a higher power is nearly as old as the first human formations of societies. Studies in anthropology have found belief in gods dating back tens of thousands of years and on every continent. The reasoning behind these earliest beliefs were most often based on the need to explain things that humans didn't or couldn't understand. For example, early humans did not understand what made the sun rise day after day and so they explained this by positing the existence of a god who controlled the sun. Tribes all over the world have explained the eruptions or grumblings of their local volcanoes as an angry god of the mountain. Examples like this abound.

Similar reasoning holds true to a large extent to this day. What happens to human consciousness after death is unknown to us at this time. A god who will take care of the good and dispose of the bad is posited by some as the answer.

Is this a reasonable position to hold in this modern day? Would it not be more honest to simply admit that we are unsure of the things that we cannot explain and leave it at that? Does an appeal to the supernatural bring forth any sort of consolation or conclusion or does it raise even more questions? We have answered the question on what makes the sun rise and so left our sun gods behind. Is it not reasonable to believe that when and/or if the answer to the questions still unknown to us at this time are answered that we will leave our current gods behind? I believe that it is. Does this make belief in any sort of supernatural being as the answer to the unknown unreasonable? Coupled with what I will present below, I believe that it does.

Moving on, I would like to address what are sufficient reasons to believe in any thing. In order to do this, I would like to first define the word belief. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines belief as:

belief \Be*lief"\, n. [OE. bileafe, bileve; cf. AS. gele['a]fa.] 1. Assent to a proposition or affirmation, or the acceptance of a fact, opinion, or assertion as real or true, without immediate personal knowledge; reliance upon word or testimony; partial or full assurance without positive knowledge or absolute certainty; persuasion; conviction; confidence; as, belief of a witness; the belief of our senses.

As can be seen from the definition above, belief is something that is very different from knowledge. Belief is something that we are not certain about but take as likely true based on a variety of reasons.

Now let's determine what sufficient reasons exist for the belief in any thing. For a thing to be believed, it is submitted for evaluation. This is done on a personal level, obviously, which explains why we all believe different things. What would a standardized evaluation test look like, though?

James W. Lett, Ph.D. has devised a very simple system for his course in critical thinking at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Florida. His system is known as FiLCHeRS and has come to be widely accepted as an excellent system for determining the truth of any thing. FiLCHeRS is an acronym which stands for: Falsifiability, Logic, Comprehensiveness, Honesty, Replicability, and Sufficiency. The following explains how these guidelines are applied:

Falsifiability. It must be possible to prove a thing false before it can be accepted as true. An example of a true claim being falsifiable is given by Lett: the true claim that the life span of human beings is less than 200 years is falsifiable; it would be falsified if a single human being were to live to be 200 years old.

If we take the belief in god and put it to the falsifiability test, we can see that the claim that "a god exists" is not falsifiable. It is simply impossible for a human to prove that a god doesn't exist due to the varying definitions of god, the vastness of space needed to be explored, etc. A counter-claim can be made, but such a claim would also fail the falsifiability test.

(Please note that I am not attempting in this debate to prove that a god doesn't exist. My purpose is to show that it is unreasonable to believe in a god. Failing the falsifiability test would indeed hurt my case were I trying to prove that a god doesn't exist.)

Logic. A valid argument will naturally follow from its premises. An example of an invalid argument is given by Lett: All dogs have fleas; Xavier has fleas; therefore Xavier is a dog. This is an invalid argument as soon as a feline named Xavier who has fleas is found.

It would be very difficult to determine whether the god question would pass muster in this area without knowing what the premises for the converse are. As such, I pass over this point while reserving the right to address it later should the need arise.

Comprehensiveness. All possible evidence to support any claim must be considered. In other words, all evidence must be evaluated and not only that evidence which supports the theory being posited.

Is a god the only possible explanation for how we have arrived at this point? No. Are there other possibilities that can be true? Yes. Almost every day, some new scientific discovery is found to explain a little bit more of the puzzle of our existence. More data remains to be collected and evaluated before a reasonable conclusion is made as to how and why we are here and what will become of us after we depart. The belief in a god fails the comprehensiveness test due to the incompleteness of the evidence.

Honesty. All evidence must be evaluated without self-deception. It is important to examine all evidence honestly and at the risk of having our views changed by it.

It is my opinion that a lack of objective evidence would force one to conclude that the reasonability of a belief in a god fails the honesty test. We will discuss the lack of evidence in more detail below.

Replicability. This states simply that any experiment be replicable. The god issue is not affected by this, however, as a singular being or a singular group of beings would not necessarily need to be replicable.

Sufficiency. All evidence available must be sufficient to support the truth of a claim. There are stipulations to this, which include the burden of proof resting with the claimant and extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, and evidence based upon authority and/or testimony is always inadequate for any paranormal claim.

I think that it is fairly safe to state that the belief in a god (as well as the claim that it is reasonable to do so) is an extraordinary thing. Can there be a more important or impacting claim? I believe not. As such, I believe that extraordinary evidence would be necessary to support this claim. As of yet, no extraordinary evidence exists and the evidence that has been offered throughout history has either been shown to be false or is waning in the face of scientific discovery.

While belief in a god is not considered to be paranormal, there are definitely similarities in belief in the paranormal and belief in the supernatural - to which the belief in a god belongs. That many people feel that it is reasonable to believe in a god because of what they feel is reliable testimony is without question. It is my position that belief in the supernatural based on testimony is insufficient.

In conclusion to this section, I would like it to be noted that the claim of a god existing has failed many of the FiLCHeRS categories as has been shown above. Would it be reasonable, then, to believe in a god in light of this?

Finally, I would like to address the issue of evidence. It is my firm belief that there simply is no objective evidence for the belief in a god making such a belief completely unreasonable. There is nothing for us to test. There is nothing for us to subject to examination. There is nothing for us to weigh. There is nothing for us to put to the FiLCHeRS test as outlined above. All that we have are claims made by admittedly fallible individuals about experiences and changed lives.

Are these experiences only explained by a god? Is there no other possibility? Can these people have not changed their lives on their own? The answers are a resounding 'no.'.

Is it possible that these people lied? Is it possible that these people have been deluded? Is it possible that the desire for such a being existing has led them to believe something that is not true? Is it possible that the desire for answers to their unanswered questions has led them to believe an easy answer? Is it possible that these people were simply wrong and that that wrongness has spread to others? Are there not endless supplies of other possibilities that make more sense? Could any combination of all of these reasons be a more sufficient explanation for why the belief in a god has persisted to this day? The answers are a resounding 'yes'.

Closing on the topic of evidence, I offer the following comparison between belief in extraterrestrial visitors and belief in a god:

There have been many people in the last century who have claimed that they have witnessed or even been abducted by visitors from other planets. Many of these stories have been corroborated by others who have made similar claims. As of yet, however, there is no tangible evidence that there have been visitors to this planet from beyond and, as a result, belief in extraterrestrial visitors is considered unreasonable. As the tangible evidence for the existence of a god is equal to the tangible evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial visitors, it follows that holding such a belief would be equally unreasonable.

In summation, I would like to point out the highlights of my argument:

  • Historically, humans have believed in a god or gods as a result of not being able to answer all of the universes questions. As alternative, natural answers have appeared, gods have disappeared.
  • FiLCHeRS is an accepted tool used to determine the truth of any thing. The reasonability of a belief in a god has failed the FiLCHeRS examination at key points.
  • There is an overwhelming lack of evidence for the existence of a god. Other beliefs with equal corroboration and a similar amount of evidence are considered unreasonable.

I want to thank my opponent in advance as well as the moderators for taking time out of their busy schedules.

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Last revised: 08 December, 2009 .