Sunday, December 16, 2012

Existence versus belief

The debate over the existence of a god is a question about the factual existence in reality of a specific entity. Since no objective, verifiable evidence has been presented by religious believers that establishes beyond a shadow of doubt that their particular god, or gods in generic form, exists in reality, we are left with inferences from and interpretations of natural events that suggest to some that their god exists. That no conclusive evidence can be presented assures us that the debate over those interpretations and inferences will continue forever, or until such evidence can be produced. The standards for evidence that would establish the existence of a god are quite high, for as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

The debate over the belief that gods exist addresses a reality we can all accept, whether through personal experience or the testimonies of others. The standard for evidence that people believe gods exist is much lower than the standard for the actual existence of a god. We can easily determine that people genuinely and sincerely believe their particular version of god exists. We shouldn't even question that people do in fact believe their god exists. 

The debate over religious beliefs challenges the particulars and specifics of those beliefs. The belief that god exists is a philosophical argument, not a scientific claim, and we know that philosophy is not a scientific field. Science asks, "Can you show that..." while philosophy asks, "Do you think that...". Even believers in a particular god question and challenge the beliefs of those who have faith in another god. That's the basis for the observation that we are all atheists, we all disbelieve in some gods even if we believe that our particular god is real. At least I have never heard of anyone who believes that all the gods ever worshiped by humans throughout history all exist in reality, a sort of ultimate pantheism. 

It's worthwhile to challenge and debate the belief in gods. That process is what led me beyond my own belief in god. If someone's beliefs cannot withstand scrutiny and skepticism then they are shallow beliefs that may not be the most firm types with which to guide a person's life. 

On the other hand it's generally pointless to debate the actual existence of gods. Not only does the hypothesis lack quantifiable evidence but no framework has been suggested by which the question could be objectively confirmed or discounted.