Monday, September 26, 2022

What if you can't decide about God?


What if you think about theism and atheism, and just can't decide which one is true based on the evidence? You can
a) Not decide. But then if you have to make decisions which are based on whether or not you believe in God, what do you do? Sleep in on Sunday, or go to church? (Or maybe you try a synagogue, mosque, or church on even weeks, and stay away on odd ones).
b) Disbelieve. Believe only what you can prove. (Can I prove that I am not a brain in a vat being given my experiences by aliens?)
c) Believe. Theism has higher payoffs, so if you can't decide, bet on God. (This is Pascal's solution.)


John B. Moore said...

It won't work to just "bet on God" because God doesn't want your lukewarm half-heartedness. God demands worship! That means total commitment.

If you can't decide about God, just admit it: You're an atheist. That's what atheism is, after all. It's being non-committal about God.

One Brow said...

John B. Moore,

Atheism is a lack of belief in God. You can believe in God but not commit to worshiping Him.

Regarding the original post, every agnostic probably deals with this in their own way.

Starhopper said...

The real question is not whether we "believe" in God, but whether we have encountered Him.

More later, but right now I'm off to get my (third) COVID booster.

Martin said...


Good luck! Currently feeling like complete crap after getting an updated booster and flu shot, LOL

Martin said...

This post is relevant to me personally. I have no idea what to do. I moved from Catholic, to extreme atheist in college, and now back to Agnostic slightly leaning towards theism (you can thank an interest in philosophy for that; Francis Bacon was somewhat correct). But where I go from here...I have no idea.

Starhopper said...

I am a cradle Catholic who, other than a brief (less than one year) flirtation with Protestantism during college, never left the Church. I never, ever thought atheism worthy of belief - not for a moment, despite seriously examining the proposition. I am simply and honestly incapable of believing that contingent reality is self-existent, and such a belief is required to be an (honest) atheist.

But that does not mean my beliefs haven't changed and matured over the years. Right around the millennium, I took a deep dive into other faiths, to see what they had to offer and to make sure I wasn't missing out on something. What I discovered was that even (or maybe especially) for a deeply committed Catholic, there was more to learn from them than you can imagine. I have tremendous respect for Judaism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, (and Protestantism), and I have incorporated many aspects of those faiths into my own. I found nothing uniquely valuable to Islam - all that is good about that religion (and there is quite a lot), mirrors what can be found in Christianity and Judaism. Same thing for Mormonism.

Martin said...

> I am simply and honestly incapable of believing that contingent reality is self-existent, and such a belief is required to be an (honest) atheist.

Agreed, and if I had known about the contingency argument during my atheism conversion, it likely would have held me back. I guess I was kinda a dumb atheist.

Chris said...

Martin ,

I've been a lurker here from time to time . You seem to have been a pretty staunch theist during your "Rocket Philosophy " days ? I also remember you over at Stan's blog - is he still around ?

Martin said...

Hi Chris,

A lot of that blog was just my notes as I read various arguments. It wasn't really an endorsement (OR a rebuttal). I've since moved all my philosophy notes to private Google docs to avoid such confusion.

In reality, I guess I'm a 3 on Dawkins' belief scale (Hey, even terrible philosophers like Dawkins can offer something useful from time to time).: Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."

For whatever reason I'm highly attracted to Neoplatonism, which kinda keeps me a bit at arms length from Christianity. But I remain mostly sympathetic to the theist team and would likely gather on their side in a classroom. Unless they were evangelicals. Evangelicals turn me back into a slavering atheist.

Starhopper said...

Well, I am about the furthest thing from a fundamentalist, but I do find much in their outlook that is worthy of at least thinking about. Earlier, I brought up the idea of encountering God. Now, I prefer to go to the scriptures to understand God, rather than to "theology". And I find in the Bible story after story of God taking the initiative in His dealings with human beings. We have no idea what Abraham was doing prior to his call from Yahweh to leave his home and head off for a land he's never seen and knows nothing about. Jacob literally wrestles with God overnight in the desert. Moses was minding his own business tending sheep when he sees a burning bush and I AM tells him to go to Egypt and free the slaves. God calls to Samuel in his sleep. When Jonah gets "the call", he does everything in his power to (unsuccessfully) run away. I love how Amos writes, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'" And once Job meets the Lord in the whirlwind, after he's apparently given up any hope of making sense of his undeserved suffering, he says "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee." He's satisfied with the encounter.

And then finally, the incarnate God appears in the person of Jesus, and speaks to each of us one on one, face to face. When I read the Gospels (which I do every day), I get the feeling that God is talking to me personally. I know of no other writings where it is so easy for me to picture myself there, seeing what is going on and hearing what is being said.

David Brightly said...

There is a presupposition here that belief is a matter of decision or choice, that it is under the control of the will, as it were. I don't think this is so. For example, Victor asks, What if you...just can't decide which one is true? If it were purely a matter of the will what could possibly prevent you from making a decision? Nothing at all. You could even toss a coin. Being unable to decide in this context means being unable to form a belief either way, and forming a belief is not something we can will to do. Victor's three options are not really available to us. We can't choose to believe, or choose not to believe. We can't even choose not to decide. If belief is going to come it will come, and if not, not. What we can do is to choose to behave as if we believed. We can read the scriptures, attend church, engage with believers, and maybe belief will come. Pascal also advocates this course of action, I think.

bmiller said...

David has a good point I think.

Isn't faith a gift? Who knows when a particular person is offered the gift?

Starhopper said...

Perhaps "gift" is another aspect of "encounter"?

David Brightly said...

Victor is making a second-order argument for belief. Not one based in scripture, theology, or personal experience, as one might expect, but on a cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of belief or otherwise.

(a) Victor implies there is a cost to agnosticism. You will be in a dilemma when a decision must be made based on whether or not you believe. But we are often faced with deciding from a position of limited knowledge. And I doubt that agnostics agonise over their Sundays.

(b) The suggestion here is that the disbeliever sets too high a bar for belief in general. Only the certainty of proof suffices for him, and this is a costly stance. But it gets the psychology of belief wrong, I think. I am certain I'm not being fed experiences by aliens even though I can't prove it. And even if I were the God question would still remain. It lies at a deeper epistemic level.

So even if we allow that belief can be chosen---which I reject---the downsides of 'choosing' agnosticism and atheism are not as clear as Victor suggests.

bmiller said...

Pascal's Wager from Wikipedia:

Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (an eternity in Hell).[2]

Do progressive Christians even believe in the downside to losing the bet? Don't most believe there is no "eternity in Hell"?

If most of the Christians one meets don't believe in an eternity of punishment for non-believers and everyone ends up in pretty much the same place, then it seems bringing up Pascal's Wager will have the opposite effect of what was intended.

To discuss it said...

Being an atheist means believing there is no God. If you believe he exists but don’t want to serve/worship him, you’re not an atheist cause you still believe he exists, wether or not you choose to serve him.