A Final Response From David
There were many interesting points raised here, and I’ll address the ones that stood out to me:
- What does it mean to have “enough” evidence?
- Can someone reasonably disbelieve in God?
- Would a loving God make Himself known to everyone?
- Can a belief still be true if there is valid evidence against it?
1) Having Enough Evidence
What I mean by “enough” is the bare minimum that it takes someone to hold a belief in a certain thing. Different people require different amounts and types of evidence to come to believe something. For example, in a court case with 12 jurors, all 12 go in assuming the defendant is innocent. When the prosecutor shows a video of someone who resembles the defendant committing the crime, 3 of them may be swayed by that, but 9 of them decide it is not clear enough evidence. Then, the prosecutor brings in eye witness testimony that testifies to the defendant committing the crime. As a result, 3 more people believe he is guilty. As the evidence mounts, more and more of the people will be swayed.
When it comes to believing in God, some people are like the first 3 jurors. They just need one, small piece of evidence, and they commit to full belief (ex. “I feel God’s love when I read the Bible” or “I prayed for my child and they were healed”, etc.). Other people are like the next 3 jurors; they aren’t swayed by the basic stuff, so they wait and dig a little deeper. But when they find good evidence, they commit to belief (ex. the extra-Biblical evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Kalam cosmological argument, etc.). Other people demand more and more evidence. They try to hear out both sides, read a variety of information, and constantly critique their own and other’s arguments. It may take them a longer time to believe.
2) Can Someone Reasonably Disbelieve In God?
To extend my analogy further, imagine all the evidence was shown by the prosecutor, and 11 of the 12 jurors agreed the defendant was guilty, but one absolutely refused. He questioned and criticized every argument, no matter how sure it was, and when any evidence was presented to him, he was instantly skeptical and only looked for ways to disprove it.
To me, there are two kinds of atheists: ones that are waiting for more evidence, and those who refuse to accept any evidence. Malcolm Gladwell was an atheist who was waiting for more evidence. Once he received it, he accepted it (even though he was in his late 40s by this time). But there are some atheists who, even if God appeared to them in person, would still find a way to say that He doesn’t exist. Dogmatic atheism is unreasonable. These people have not only committed a fallacy in hardening their minds, but they’ve also hardened their hearts.
If someone is willing to believe in God, contingent on whether there is sufficient evidence to do so, then they are being honest, and they are simply reasonably disbelieving. Atheist academics may have assessed a lot of intellectual evidence, but intellectual evidence is only one small way that God reveals Himself. They also could receive a strong enticement from the Holy Spirit, or face a challenge in their life and learn to apply faith to help them through it, meet a religious person who inspires them, or a huge number of other ways. There are so many ways that God can show Himself to people, and if they are truly truth seekers, they may simply need to pursue truth as best they can, and wait.
3) Would A Loving God Make Himself Known To Everyone?
Andrew presents an argument where the conclusion is: if a loving God exists, He would not allow honest people to not believe in Him.
This problem is a massive one for Protestant Christians, due to the belief that earthly death is simultaneous with final judgement. What if Malcolm Gladwell, while waiting for sufficient evidence to believe in God, was hit by a car and died? Then does he go to hell, simply because he had not yet received the evidence he needed?
What about people like Bertrand Russell, who go their entire lives without receiving what they feel is sufficient evidence? Does he go to hell, simply because he was not aware?
Andrew brought up the point of people who lived before Jesus came, or who were never reached with the gospel message, or who lived before there were all the fancy arguments for God’s existence and, well, even philosophy itself. Some people in ancient history would’ve basically just lived their lives, not really thought about or had any conception of Christianity, and would’ve just died. Is that fair for them to be judged based on that?
That is why, in the Mormon church, we understand that death is not simultaneous with final judgement. You still can receive full knowledge of God in the afterlife and choose to accept Jesus into your life at that time. People like Bertrand Russell or others who were honestly waiting for sufficient evidence will get it. God will not cast anyone out due to ignorance. However, if an individual chooses to harden their heart and mind completely against God, He will allow them to be separated from Him in a lesser kingdom, or even outer darkness (full separation from God).
So yes, I believe that a loving God would, and does, make Himself known to everyone.
4) Can A Belief Still Be True If There Is Valid Evidence Against It?
I would say, yes, but it does lose a lot of certainty. Let’s say that, in a trial, there were 5 eye witnesses called to the stand. 4 of them said they saw him do it, but 1 of them said he didn’t do it. Having 5 out of 5 eye witnesses would make one more certain that he did it, but with 4 out of 5, you’re still likely to assume he is guilty. But what if half the witnesses said he did it, and the other half said he didn’t do it? Well, in that case, it is uncertain, and more evidence will be needed to render a verdict.
But then let’s say you saw the 1 out of 5 witnesses getting paid by the lawyer outside of the courtroom. Well, then the witness is no longer valid, and the evidence shifts to 4 out of 4. There are many cases where that occurs. For example, an atheist argument might be “God can’t exist, because there is suffering in the world”. At first you might say, “hmmm…seems like a valid argument.” But then as you study the topic more, you realize that the presence of suffering in the world contains no relevant contradiction to the kind of God you believe in, so you dismiss it as invalid.
This is to say, every belief can have criticism against it. This certainly does not instantly render the belief untrue. It merely invites thoughtful skepticism. That thought may result in realizing the criticism is not valid. But in the event that the criticism remains valid, one would be wise to continue considering it, and not make themselves too certain of their view. If there becomes a sufficient amount of valid criticisms, and no viable responses to them, then the belief should no longer be held.
It’s great to be able to collaborate on a project together! I hope I get to do it more in the future.
There are lots of different views out there, and it’s good to think through them and hopefully get a bit closer to truth. If you haven’t already, scroll through some of Andrew’s articles on his “Faith and Philosophy” blog. He is pretty much a professional philosopher and has some good content on there.
I think the main points Andrew and I agree on here are that: God desires to have a relationship with you, you should be open to his revelation of knowledge to you, and that you should try to think deeper about what you believe and why you believe it.