This is a typical conversation between a theist and an atheist, and in fact something very much like it occurred over a lengthy series of back-and-forth comments on this blog last week. Please excuse this paraphrase; I want to boil the conversation down to its most important features, and I hope I’ve portrayed the theist accurately.
Theist: “God must exist. Unless there is a god, many features of the universe are unexplainable.”
Atheist: “What’s your explanation for God?”
Theist: “Don’t be ridiculous! We can’t explain God. He is outside of time and space, and cannot be understood by mere human minds.”
Atheist: “But then how do you know that a god exists? Do you have evidence?”
Theist: “Of course I do! The universe is evidence for God.”
Atheist: “The universe definitely exists, but that’s got nothing to do with providing positive evidence for god. Your argument about having ‘no other explanation’ is just special pleading, granting yourself the authority to invent something that is also unexplained. Not only does it not solve the problem, it invents new ones. So again: Do you have evidence that there is any such thing as a god?”
Theist: “Don’t be absurd! Since God is beyond our understanding, we must rely on faith.”
Atheist: “That seems like a really bad strategy for actually finding out what is true.”
Theist: “Nonsense! Just think about all the other things that scientists accept without complete evidence.”
The theist then proceeds to list some of the usual suspects, starting with abstract concepts like “Love” and “Beauty,” and then including some of the vaguer outliers of speculative scientific theories such as aspects of quantum mechanics and string theory.
Let me set aside for a moment the issue of how some things are more or less firmly accepted within the scientific realm based on how good the evidence is; how there are “hard” sciences and “soft” sciences; and how the ideas that individual scientists hold to be true personally is often separate from what they claim as scientific knowledge. I just want to ask some stuff about applying faith to claim knowledge.
Is faith sufficient? If you hold a belief in something without evidence deeply, sincerely, and completely, then does it follow that it is true? Or do you require faith and some component of evidence in order to accept something as true? In what ratios do they apply?
If the answer is “Faith alone is sufficient to establish truth” then let me ask this. Suppose that a Muslim comes up to you and says the following:“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet. Allah has no son and there is no other god accompanying Him. All that we know of Him is revealed in the Qur’an. Believers in Christ are heretics and infidels who tell lies about the one true God. The reward for faith in Allah, Muhammad, and the Most Holy Qur’an is Jannah, an eternity of pleasure and sexual delights.”
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this fellow is sincere and earnest in his belief, and holds his faith every bit as strongly as you hold yours.
My question is: What is it that would compel an outside observer to accept your faith as correct and his as wrong?