Monday, July 28, 2008

Religion - Based on Uncertainty?

"I want to know how belief can be justified, because I can't see it. For example, people may be having a bad time, so they pray. And if things turn around, it was the power of prayer. But if not, then it was because it wasn't God's will. They're self fulfilling prophecies; faith is strengthened either way. How? Where's the cause and effect? People who don't pray and aren't religious - the same stuff could happen to them. Things just happen and I don't see where it's grounded.

I don't see how you could get from here to belief w/o taking a big leap, so how do you convince yourself to take the leap?

And the way I look at it, all we know is uncertainty. No one knows what happens after life for sure. We just live and that's it. That's all we know for sure. So as far as we KNOW, life is all we have. Therefore going to church and singing, etc, praying and all of that.

If we're wrong, then it's kind of a waste of life, which is all we have. There's just no way of knowing that it's doing something."


Daniel Kim said...

I would like to get other people's ideas on this, so that this forum is not just 1-on-1 Q&A. Please comment.

Anonymous said...

I think the notion of "taking a leap" is an interesting issue. Sure, it is a huge leap to go from not knowing to living a life for God. But what about the other option? Isn't making the leap from not knowing to living a life without God equally tough? To say that "we are alive, and that's it" is also a leap of faith. Yes, we are alive. But how do we know for sure "that's it?"

You have a point that there is uncertainty in the world and in our thoughts. That simply reveals our human imperfections. Since we are not omniscient, we don't have the luxury to make a stance with absolute certainty. However, we do have the ability to make conclusions based on what seems to be reasonable and likely. Such conclusions, therefore, are based on evidence that we do know. The only way to avoid uncertainty is to not care and not question. But ignorance is not what we are striving for because the question has been asked. Because we cannot avoid uncertainty, in a way, we have to believe what we are given (our senses, reasoning, etc) do not deceive us. Ultimately, when we examine the evidence around us, we can make a conclusion on whether or not there is a God. This does not necessarily "justify" a belief (as perhaps belief itself cannot be justified without introducing knowledge) but it certainly gives reasons to the belief--instead of just blind faith. For example, having observed the world, you have a reason to believe that if you touch a boiling pot, it will burn you. But to a young kid, the concept is probably absurd and baseless, until he experiences it. A similar argument can be made for science as well. I think most scientists will admit that science can't prove anything, it can only prove what is not. That is because they can't make conclusions with absolute certainty. But they can deduce a conclusion based on what they observe. This is how we should approach God as well.

Personally, I can say that I believe in God because the universe begs the question of its existence, and our human qualities beg the question of "what we ought to do" or morality. For me, both those questions, although does not prove, point to an infinite, timeless creator. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable in these areas can expand the discussion.

Daniel Kim said...

Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Kevin. I think it's interesting that you talk about the "leap of faith" of atheism. I think we can note that people generally need to be "educated into atheism" - in other words, people are instinctively theistic (just look at any culture - and people are found worshiping some deity), and then they need to go through an atheistic education program in order to become atheistic. Not that the theistic instinct proves theism or anything, but at least it seems to suggest that there is some kind of a leap necessary to become atheistic, because the conclusions of atheism is not natural to the human mind.

One aspect of the original question that I would like to throw out there for us to think about.. According to the question (or at least from the main example given), what is the primary reason why someone would become convinced of a particular religious belief? And do you agree with that assessment?

Anonymous said...

I think to be convinced of a religious belief, like any belief, there are at least two criteria: the belief has to be relevant and reasonable. For example, I can believe that pink is a better color than blue. That's great, but it doesn't matter. I can also believe that I can defy gravity and fly. Well, my unreasonable belief has its own consequences.

If we can realize our own faults and realize that we need a savior because we are helpless against our own imperfections, then the possibility of a God suddenly becomes relevant. It remains to be answered: is there salvation for me? Or do I simply accept life for what it is, with me as the final authority? How we approach God ultimately, then, determines how we live ourselves. That's pretty relevant.

The next step is look at the principles of a belief. How do we know which religion, if any, captures the truth? It's one thing to view doctrine and survey the reasoning behind it. Yet, it is equally important to see how it has impacted the lives of those that do believe. Does it make sense for an all-powerful God to save us out of mere love? Moreover, if Christians preach this message of love, do they live like it? The combination of investigation for the truth and willingness to accept the truth (humility) play a major factor in becoming convinced of a particular religious belief.

On another note, I like the term "educated in atheism." I agree that all humans seem to have this calling for the Creator. Yet, it saddens me to see how current society (at least in the US) has done so much to cover up this eternal outcry. From the day that a person is born, he is exposed to the persistent preaching--if you will--of individualism and materialism. "Be yourself. You are in control of your life." Sex, money, pleasure-these type of messages consistently bombard people and provide the "atheistic education." It is only when we take time to pause (or if life comes to a screeching halt because of suffering) and reflect on life do we realize, there must be more to this.

Daniel Kim said...

One of the things that I notice about the original question is that there seems to be a particular assumption about how/why someone would come to a religious belief.

This question assumes that a person comes to a religious belief because of what a religious belief "does" in the physical world - exemplified by the prayer example. This is a pretty common understanding of religion - that it's like superstition or Shamanism, where someone bows down before a bowl of water and prays for a successful business, and then the business succeeds (or it doesn't). If a person's view of religions is primarily that kind of functional superstition, then the objection voiced in the original question makes perfect sense.. How can you come to believe that, when really, simple statistics seem to explain everything?

But my contention is that not all religions are like that. In fact, I would say that the major world religions (except the evolved forms of Buddhism that is prevalent in East Asian countries) are not primarily based on efficacy of prayer or some kind of an "effect" that the religion has on the physical world. We've seen such religious practices in many Asian countries that Gracepoint Fellowship has gone to for missions, and any Christian observer would feel that they are very different - not just in practice, but in their fundamental orientation regarding what their religion is supposed to do. Chrisitan religion (and Jewish and Muslim) is geared toward conforming the follower to the worldview of God, whereas the superstitious religions arise from magic - driven by a desire to manipulate nature to do our bidding. Of course, these superstitious religions exist. However, the main question is: do you think it's fair to characterize all world religions as superstitious magical forms of religion? Muslims, Jews and Christians would all alike say that their religious convictions are not primarily about the efficacy of prayer. So I think it's too simplistic to see all religions through the lens of superstitious magic forms.

By the way, though, I would also want to ask the questioner how he/she knows that there is no difference that prayer makes. Of course, there are times when prayers are not answered... but if he's claiming that "the same stuff could happen" to anyone, I would wonder if he/she has seen any statistical studies that have been done. I just did a search, and here's one that I found, published by Southern Medical Journal

Not sure about this the validity of this study, and I'm not saying that I know this study's accuracy, but if someone's going to be making statistical claims about the inefficacy of prayer, they can't be just making those claims by dismissing the power of prayer.

Also, I don't quite agree that if a prayer is not answered, somehow that "strengthens" a believer's faith. The question makes that claim, thus portraying religious faith as an unfalsifiable belief, but I don't think that's true. Lack of answer to prayer is at best neutral to a believer's faith (and can often cause the believer to ask "why") - but I don't see how that bolsters someone's faith.. So this picture painted of a believer as a dogmatic, unreasonable person, I believe, is unfair.

Sorry about being too straight-forward. I say all this because no one actually asked me this question directly. If someone were to ask me directly, I would be much nicer - but I would pretty much say the same thing in terms of content. :)

Charles Chu said...

Whenever we are speaking of a belief, we can categorize different kinds of evidence which justify the particular belief. There are several ways in which one can evaluate the truth of a belief. We can have empirical evidence(I believe that there are in fact subatomic particles because of our data). We can have logical/argumentative evidence(I believe that I cannot both exist and not exist at the same time because it would be contradictory to believe so). Although, there can be many more types, I believe these two are the most pertinent in arriving at truth.

Belief can be justified using the two aforementioned criterion. With respect to Christianity, God by definition cannot be testable (since He is beyond our space time). However, through the figure of Jesus who was bound by our space and time, and by testing accuracy of the bible and its content, we can have empirical evidence.
We have logical evidence based on our teleological, ontological, and cosmological arguments for God. And among others as well.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to weigh the evidence and conclude what is the most reasonable belief. Given that we are not omniscient and we don't know the real truth, we must decide ourselves. I think Belief can be reduced to probabilistic means. The worldly evidence is such that neither atheism nor theism is proved 100% ( This doesn't mean one of them isn't true, just that we do not know for certain at this point). The evidence tells us what is likely, for example suppose the evidence gives us that atheism is true to a 70% probability. Or a more reasonable qualitative answer (as it is hard to discover the exact percentages) would be atheism is more likely. I believe this is what is meant by taking a "leap of faith". Although, it may be the case that the evidence points to atheism , there is still some justification in believing in theism due to the remaining 30% likelihood (leap of faith in the 30%).
I believe claiming uncertainty avoids the question. I am uncertain if I will still be alive when I awake tomorrow morning. Yet, I have good reason to believe I will. I can still have belief and be uncertain if it is 100% true.

Beyond, empirical evidence and logical evidence, we often appeal to evidence from religious experience. This I believe is often evidence (I believe God has saved me from my sins) but mentioning this to someone who doesn't believe would in a sense beg the question.