Religious Humility & Tolerance

I take a somewhat different – i.e., not necessarily anti-religious – approach in encouraging theists to become more rational. Despite my personally being a proud atheist and naturalist, rather than portray a strong atheism or naturalism as the only alternative to theism, my work places great emphasis on alternative God-models that may also fit the evidence. But first, I work to convince the believer about the exceedingly poor case for God, by educating them on the type of evidence that exists, and how the best arguments for God’s existence utterly fail.

The first type of evidence to consider is direct scientific or empirical evidence. Needless to say, we don’t have such evidence available. If we did, there would be no disputing God’s existence. We would all believe it, just as we all believe that the Sun exists. For some mysterious reason, God ‘no longer’ graces us with direct empirical evidence, like he ‘used to’. Luckily (?) for the believer, God’s appearances happened to cease before the invention of video cameras, iPhones, and YouTube.

The next type of evidence to consider is historical, which also fails. History is a probabilistic study, and miracles, by definition, are incredibly improbable. Coupled with poor evidence for any particular miraculous claim, and it is easy to see why non-committed historians so easily dismiss such claims. That constrains the reasonable debate over God’s existence to the realm of philosophy, the arguments thereof being purely conceptual, or make use of indirect scientific evidence.

These arguments also fail. Contingency arguments merely assume that the world is contingent and God is necessary, while cosmological arguments tend to assume that the universe began to exist. The Big Bang is proof of an expansion, not of an absolute beginning for all things. Fine-tuning arguments tend to display ignorance of probability theory, irrationally dismiss purely deterministic scenarios, and also overlook the fact that fine-tuning works better in arguments against God’s existence. After all, without God, we must observe fine-tuning, but with God, it would be blaspheming God’s powers to assume that he couldn’t sustain our lives without fine-tuning. Remember Jonah in the belly of the whale?

Even if such arguments succeeded, and there are several more, they only point to some sort of God, if that. It might not be the God of theism, but a deistic or pantheistic God. It may also point to the truth of some sort of polytheism. Educated theists have not truly dealt with this issue. I find that all this information, including the existence of various religions and God-models, opens believers’ eyes to the various possibilities, and humbles them. It is my hope that this leads to decreased exclusivism (i.e., ‘my religion is true and all others are false’), increased tolerance, and eventually, less superstition.

As a final note, there are other implications for the believer in realizing that she believes not because of good evidence, but because of her faith. This approach easily leads to idolatry, as faith may lead the believer merely to the God he prefers, rather than the God that actually exists. Extraordinary claims really do require extraordinary evidence – and not just for the skeptic! —Raphael Lataster