Belief is Unavoidable, But Proof is Unlikely

July 15, 2012

This post is a response to Sean Lynch’s “Understanding Disbelief”. I decided to write a full post that my writing and his can be seen by a reader of either blog. I don’t know if we’ll continue debating back and forth but his post is worth reading and discussing more than a post reply can cover. You can read his post at http://lynchs.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/understanding-disbelief/

There’s a difference between comprehending an infinite being and knowing of its existence. But the word “infinite” is vague. People use it to describe God often but don’t consider in what aspects He may or may not be infinite. If He was infinite in every way He would be physically infinite, which clearly isn’t true. It might depend how you approach the argument of God; I don’t necessarily believe God is infinite in the way others think He is. Either way, it isn’t self-defeating to believe in something and believe it’s infinite. I believe in the infinity of numbers, yet I don’t think this unreasonable.

More important than His infinity is whether or not God exists. And the question of God is indispensable to morality. At the same time, neither the athiest nor thiest can prove the existence or nonexistence of God. The agnostic says the truth is unknowable, and maybe I agree with him. If anyone could prove either way there would no longer be a debate about it. Is it necessary to prove something to believe in it? Is it possible? Besides “cogito ergo sum”* I can think of almost nothing you or I can prove, including whether or not physical reality exists or is the mind’s fabrication. Considering how little I know, it’s foolish think any of my opinions can’t be disproved with information unknown to me or to mankind. The job of the individual is not to prove what is correct–he should try–but he can only draw together all the information given and choose what makes the most sense. The truth is objective, but the process of finding it is a subjective one.

Clifford’s point about holding yourself from examining other beliefs is a matter of attitude, not belief in and of itself. The person investigating truth wants to question and be questioned. If he finds he’s right he gains credence; if he’s wrong he eliminates what was false from his perspective. Developing an honest belief about reality is a constant process of building a framework and destroying it. Still, there are close-minded people of every kind. It does not follow that to hold an opinion about the nature of reality, like the existence or nonexistence of God, “forces the person to lie to oneself about reality.” There may be a probem with institutionalized religion; there’s sure as hell a problem with the herd mentality. But there is nothing crippling about well-thought-out belief in God.

To clarify: there is a rational truth. Truth isn’t irrational. The question is whether or not it is possible to arrive at truth by means of reason. Perhaps I can never know whether my reason leads to truth, but it might. In actuality, to think abstaining from a belief in something intangible is the rational thing to do is to make the assumption that what humans directly experience is all there is. If anyone takes Clifford seriously about the irresponsibility of beliving in something that can’t be proven, she is ignorant of her own ignorance. Many people believe things they can defend but cannot prove.

*Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) isn’t provable either. Someone challenged me to the possibility that thoughts could exist without thinkers; the idea of a thinker requires thoughts because a thinker is a thing that thinks, but perhaps thoughts could exist on their own as phenomena manifesting themselves in such a way as to flow consecutively as if there were a thinker. When I think hard on this, I am unable to conceive of a thought existing without a thinker or of myself not existing. Cogito ergo sum isn’t logically infallible, but it serves to give me enough surety that it is most likely true, and convinces me I could not conceive of it being otherwise. Similarly, but less dubiously, Hume makes the point that we never perceive cause and effect happen in the real world. We see one action happen and then another, but we can’t prove both events have a causal relationship, only that they happened simultaneously. Again, I don’t lose sleep over this one if I can’t prove one way or another.

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3 Responses to “Belief is Unavoidable, But Proof is Unlikely”

  1. Sean Lynch Says:

    I love this post, but perhaps God could physically be infinite, but not in terms of matter. What about dark matter or dark energy? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this.


    • I’ve been avoiding answering this ever since you posted it this past December because I haven’t processed by thoughts on God to the point of understanding to make claims concerning what the concept of God. I’ve been becoming gradually hesitant towards the view of God as a being and confused as to whether the notion of infinity is even relevant. Gradually I have been identifying God with the very structure of the universe, with the physical universe and its patterns being a manifestation of laws dictating the way things are and must be. It’s only been vaguely if not dubiously intuited notion though. This brings up an interesting question: with such a radically different concept of God from my post-Christian pseudo-Diest idea of God from a year or so back, what is shared between the two beyond the name “God”? And if you and I postulate different ideas of God, in what sense are the potentially incongruous ideas ideas of the same thing, God? A question for all history. Maybe the commonality among all concepts of God is the attempt for a transcendent explanation.

      Currently I’m attending a lecture on Heidegger’s Being and Time and being tutored in Christian theology from Anselm backwards, inasmuch as studying the different ways God is conceived of and what explanation he fulfills for different frames of thought. Hopefully this will trigger a regular mental process of dissecting such questions. I will write about it or message you.

  2. charltonestatetrust Says:

    wow, quite a comprehensive blog!


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