6

My question is this: How can someone living in such a world and age possibly believe in God?

To elaborate, I think I understand where religion and the belief in supernatural stems from. It was our way of explaining things, and perhaps controlling humans. We didn't know how the Sun rises and sets, or what causes the tides, or where rain comes from, etc. So we attached a supernatural to them and did all sorts of crazy things.

Fast forward to 2015 and still so many believe in God. As a scientist, I would like to think humans will eventually switch to a belief purely based on empirical evidence one day. Even religious people must see how there is zero evidence that supports God existing and how science dominates our lives.

Are there philosophers who have attempted to explain how belief can possibly still persist even in the face of the advance of modern science?

  • 4
    I would guess that the root arises with your belief that you "understand where religion and the belief in supernatural stems from" ... That religion is a God-in-the-gaps solution for ignorance is a hypothesis about religion. To claim it's an explanation is to believe your own sort of myth... (A good text to look at would be Hegel's Natural Law specifically its treatment of the myths behind social contract theories) – virmaior Feb 27 '15 at 7:08
  • If you ask my or any other random person's opinion (which is why this question has to be closed in the first place for it is too opinion-based), the belief in God comes from realizing the "lights" of the highest active source behind all phenomena and all mediating causations; an invaluable gift a few are "blessed" with until the coming of the "Messiah" whence all humanity will find enlightenment! – infatuated Feb 27 '15 at 8:32
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    It occurs to me this question might be saved as a valid SE question if you rewrote it more along the lines of "what philosophers try to reconcile faith with modern science, and how?" I'll try to craft an answer along those lines. – Chris Sunami Feb 27 '15 at 14:34
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    The question should be (at least in my opinion) 'How Does Modern Science 'know' that there isn't a God?' As there is no direct evidence that there is a God, there is no direct evidence supporting the theory that there isn't a God. How does modern science DISPROVE God (at least the concept of an all-powerful being who created the universe)? – JDSweetBeat Feb 27 '15 at 16:52
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    @DustinJackson That might be a good question, but it doesn't bear much relationship to the question the OP actually asked. – Chris Sunami Feb 27 '15 at 17:01

17 Answers 17

14

After having spent a year as a volunteer in a ecumenical community welcoming many young people every week, I've seen and talked about many different reasons to believe or not believe. Also, I've seen some people change their position.

I found that the main reason people believe in some supernatural power is because they experience its presence. This is also directly an answer to your question what the difference with fantasy is. Nobody experiences fantasy, so there's no reason to believe in it. This experiences may manifest itself in different ways; one of the most common ones is perhaps the contact with others. Seeing something intrinsically good in another, may give someone the belief that there is something supernatural in that person.

Fast forward to 2015 and still so many believe in God.

You seem to have the Hegelian idea that everything in history works towards some sort of goal, where your goal is that all men believe merely in empirical evidence. This is a nice idea, but do note that what we can say with empirical evidence is very, very little. For example, as Hume points out, causality can't be proven with empirical evidence. You, too, have faith (assuming you believe in causality). You don't have a sound argument for causality, and yet you believe in it.

Also, history doesn't seem to work toward this goal of yours. For instance, after many (natural) disasters, people tend to go to the holy places of their religion more often, and also many people are converted.

What I'm trying to bring to your attention is that it would be very nice(?) if humans are merely rational, but it just simply isn't that way. Even atheists, who sometimes claim their worldview is purer because it relies on fewer dogmas, believe in things as causality.

Lastly, if you're genuinely interested in reasons why people believe, you should ask them! Find some people you know well who either are believers or know them, and just start the conversation. This site is unfortunately not suitable for that.

  • 1
    What do they experience though? It seems fallacious to blame 'intrinsic good in someone' on supernatural. How is Occam's Razor not considered and reasoned that they are good because of the Golden Rule or something along those lines. Yes I know people go to holy places after natural disasters. Which just is the silliest concept to me. If God caused the natural disaster (or at least has the power to stop it) why worship Him?! So obviously this is out of fear. I just can't understand how such beliefs rule our world. It is frustrating and somewhat depressing. Such beliefs seem so primitive. – sci-guy Feb 28 '15 at 3:32
  • @renegade05 I already mentioned that people are irrational. Maybe this can help you understand. Fallacies and Ockham's razor don't really apply in an irrational setting. – Keelan Feb 28 '15 at 7:57
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    I never said I believe in causality. Not to get too scientific but after studying quantum physics for so many years - I just know there is a lot we don't understand yet, even the notion of causality. Although, I am not about to turn to supernatural to explain it. Further, I suppose I have asked them - but am incredulous at the beliefs. To be honest - it makes me view them as less intelligent or as Richard Dawkings says: delusional. That is me just being honest. When I say empirical evidence I mean falsifiable evidence. I guess the question now becomes "Why are people irrational". – sci-guy Mar 2 '15 at 6:48
  • @renegade05 the only thing I'm saying is that strictly speaking we don't know anything, and if you want to be sure of anything, you'll have to turn to belief. Even with quantum physics. The question why people are irrational is a different question and should be asked in a separate question, if it should be asked at all. – Keelan Mar 2 '15 at 12:29
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    @renegade05 "Further, I suppose I have asked them - but am incredulous at the beliefs. To be honest - it makes me view them as less intelligent or as Richard Dawkings says: delusional." Might I suggest asking people for evidence for their beliefs on reasonable faith? That topic fits that board better, and the user-base is philosophically inclined. Dawkins may be a good scientist, but he's a terrible philosopher. I found it amusing that he adopted such a condescending tone in his book when his "central argument" was so weak. – Twilight Sparkle Mar 2 '15 at 22:57
8

As a scientist, I would like to think humans will eventually switch to a belief purely based on empirical evidence one day.

This is not something I think you want to happen. If we did only accept what we know to be empirically true, and nothing else, then we would have to abandon mathematics, logic, ethics, and a whole host of other non-empirical areas of knowledge. Simply put, there are more things that we can know than there are things that we can know empirically.

Are there philosophers who have attempted to explain how belief can possibly still persist even in the face of the advance of modern science?

I don't know of any philosophers in particular who address this question. But here's a possible answer: belief in God exists because people have good reason to believe in God. There are many sophisticated arguments for the existence of God, and some people may find them compelling enough to be convinced. That would explain how people still believe in God.

  • Please provide some of these compelling arguments. I am yet to hear one - every argument that is provided can be knocked down with science. – sci-guy Mar 2 '15 at 6:37
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    That's an interesting statement, I'd like to hear how science could knock down the modal ontological argument, for instance? Not that I necessarily endorse said argument, but you have made quite a powerful claim. – Five σ Mar 2 '15 at 11:50
  • Here are two general overview articles for two different kinds of arguments: plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/http://…. And here's a paper by a well-known advocate of the ontological argument: mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html – possibleWorld Mar 2 '15 at 14:38
7

Taking your question specifically as "how does the philosophical tradition reconcile faith and science"?

  • Socrates: Socrates studied science in his youth --he found that it was great at answering questions of "how," but not great at answering questions of "why." This is still true. Science has made great strides in the last several thousand years in explaining the mechanics of the world, but the big questions about "why?" remain as unsolved as ever.
  • Plato: Plato's key claim is that it's more difficult to explain the good in the world than the evil. The evil in the world is just things not working. The good in the world demands some deeper source than just the superficial mechanics of the world grinding around.
  • Descartes: Descartes' insight was that we can form or receive plausible, consistent, sensible explanations for what we perceive in the world (i.e. science), but we cannot prove those actually represent a valid external reality. We essentially have to accept on faith the proposition that the world is largely as it appears to be. (This argument is actually stronger now than it was when it was first crafted because of the increasing plausibility of virtual reality.)
  • Pascal: Beyond the specifics of Pascal's wager, Pascal basically determined that there are a wealth of potential advantages and no real downside to being open to the reality of faith, even as a person of science.
  • Kierkegaard: Kierkegaard's observation is that the world is essentially absurd and paradoxical, particularly as experienced from a human perspective. The orderly scientific perspective has its advantages, but it is not particularly representative of the majority of the human experience.
  • CS Lewis: Among the theological ideas Lewis explores in his Narnia series, one is that having a naturalistic explanation for a given phenomenon does not also preclude having a divine explanation for the same thing. In a mystery book, is the gun left in the parlor because the murderer dropped it, or because the writer put it there? Both answers are true according to different perspectives.

In summary, the tension you experience between faith and science is not unique to modern times. As such, it has been addressed extensively in the philosophical tradition. You may not find any of these above viewpoints compelling, but hopefully you can see how people can be familiar with a scientific viewpoint and still find faith a necessity.

(I apologize for giving such a sketchy gloss on each philosopher's position, but your question was too broad to go into any great detail on any given response.)

5

There have been many answers to this question, and I suppose at this point, mine will be just another body on the pile, but I think there is something fundamental that hasn't been addressed (unless I missed it).

That is: Who is this God you're talking about?

Is he an old white man with a long beard who looks suspiciously like the archetypal authoritarian father we all have learned to love and fear?

Or is it just the notion that there was a being who could be considered the first cause?

Is it really just the notion that some people accept a literal notion of the bible (who I suspect are actually fewer than we've been led to believe)?

Is it the traditional notion of God as the judge - he who controls our fate and promises to decide are afterlife after death?

I'm neither religious nor positional about this issue. There are so many things that we can't fathom that it seems just as silly to argue that the absolute truth is empirically graspable (and only so) as it does to argue the alternative. Even our own thoughts are something we are helplessly unfamiliar with - I'm reminded of a Woody Allen quote:

I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.

Yet this strays from my point. I've found that when people find fault with the beliefs of another, in the words of James Carse:

[what they] are attacking is not religion, but a hasty caricature of it ...

and further:

Characteristically, attacks on religion tend to overlook the vast and uneven detail in this tapestry, reducing it to a cartoon drawn only as a fitting target for ridicule. Because of this, depictions of the religion under attack by even its most sophisticated and passionate unbelievers are never recognized by its believers as an image of their own.

In other words, the God you think people shouldn't believe in; and the religions that lead to belief in said God are not populated by a homogeneous crowd of simpletons, but rather a vast immeasurably detailed network of diverse individuals with reasons and ideas as varied as there are stars in the sky.

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    +1 for who is this God? – Rusi Jul 9 at 1:52
3

To elaborate, I think I understand where religion and the belief in supernatural stems from. It was our way of explaining things, and perhaps controlling humans. We didn't know how the Sun rises and sets, or what causes the tides, or where rain comes from, etc. So we attached a supernatural to them and did all sorts of crazy things.

This is not at all clearly true. See what Keith Ward has to say in The Case for Religion:

One immediate result of such an inquiry [figuring out how modern religious adherents would describe 'religion'] would surely be to suggest that people are not primarily interested in trying to explain why events happen, and their practice is not primarily intended to make things happen as they wish. The contemporary Christian does not go to church to find out how televisions or transistors work, or to make sure that she gets a good job. Appeal to God is so far from explaining anything that it is more often a puzzle than a clarification. The query, 'Why does God allow suffering?' never explains it; it intensifies the problem. So it seems very odd to suggest that the motivation for belief in God is a desire for explanation. Similarly, Christians are usually castigated by preachers for trying to use religion as a means to worldly success. Abandonment to the divine will is more often recommended than attempts to get God to do what one wants. Of course, in prayer people often do ask God to do what they would like to see. But it again seems very odd to suggest that this is the primary reason for their practice, when it is so frequently and vehemently criticized by most Christian teachers as mislocating the primary importance of the adoration of God as being of supreme value. (46)

Furthermore, the idea that religion is merely a linear combination of { explanation, control } is not clearly supported by the evidence. For example, is the following 'control':

There turned out to be enormous ethical implications to this proto-individuation. It is very clearly expressed in the dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan recounted in the twelfth chapter of the Second Book of Samuel. David had caused the murder of Bathsheba's husband in order to incorporate her in his harem—a perfectly acceptable expression of royal prerogative in terms of oriental conceptions of kingship. After Nathan cleverly leads David to condemn a man who shows no pity in destroying what another man loves, the prophet tells David that he is just such a man—"You are the man." This sentence sovereignly ignores all the communal legitimations of kingship in the ancient Near East. Indeed, it ignores all the social constructions of the self as understood at that time. It passes normative judgment on David the man—a naked man, a man divested of all the trappings of a community, a man alone. I believe that this view of the relation between God and man, and therefore among men, continues to be normative for a Christian understanding of the human condition. (A Far Glory, 99–100)

? I suggest consulting the evidence for what 'religion'† is.

† Note that 'religion' isn't necessarily even a natural kind; see William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.

2

Why philosophers? Why not world famous scientists who thought religion was necessary? I would suggest that you read a Kindle book named Quantum Physics and Ultimate Reality: Mystical Writings of Great Physicists by Michael Green. It has their thoughts on God, religion, and science and religion. Included are Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Pauli, Eddington, Bohm, and others.

Planck is quoted as saying:

Religion belongs to that realm that is inviolable before the law of causation and, therefore, closed to science. The scientist as such must recognize the value of religion as such, no matter what may be its forms, so long as it does not make the mistake of opposing its own dogmas to the fundamental law upon which scientific research is based, namely, the sequence of cause and effect in all external phenomena. In conjunction with the question of the relations between religion and science, I might also say that those forms of religion which have a nihilist attitude to life are out of harmony with the scientific outlook and contradictory to its principles. All denial of life's value for itself and for its own sake is a denial of the world of human thought and, therefore, in the last analysis, a denial of the true foundation not only of science but also religion. I think that most scientists would raise their hands against religious nihilism as destructive of science itself.

There can never be any real opposition between religion and science. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And, indeed, it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were also deeply religious souls, even though they made no public show of their religious feelings. It is from the cooperation of the understanding with the will that the finest fruit of philosophy has arisen, namely, the ethical fruit. Science enhances the moral values of life because it furthers a love of truth and reverence--love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.

Science and religion do not exclude each other; rather they are complementary and mutually interacting. man needs science as a tool of perception; he needs religion as a guide to action.

It is no wonder that the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion,...eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge and in a presumed unity with it, expands in an ever faster pace its disintegrating actions on all nations of the earth and on all social levels. I do not need to explain in any more detail that after its victory not only all of the precious treasures of our culture would vanish, but--which is even worse--also any prospects at a better future.

2

Some of what I have to say has already been stated. Nonetheless, I think I can be helpful, so I will list some reasons for the persistence of religious belief as I see them:

  1. There are still good reasons for religious belief.

I think that the assumption that "science" (I put it in quotes because I think you are referring to an empirically justified body of truths, while I generally use the word to refer to a method) has refuted belief in God (or god, or other forms of religion and mysticism) is simply false. As was pointed out in other answers, there are a number of convincing arguments for the existence of a deity that rely on no appeal at all to empirical verification (modal ontological arguments, for instance - even cosmological arguments or certain pragmatic arguments rely minimally on observations about the world). The short of it is this: intellectually honest people can be religious.

  1. People's beliefs are not always entirely informed by rationality.

Despite the good reasons that exist for religious belief, some people believe in their chosen religions without reference to any such reasons at all. As a matter of fact, the charge does not apply exclusively to the religious: I have known a great number of people who have placed the utmost confidence in the scientific method without even knowing what it is. I suggest that, if you are looking for the reason behind a certain person's beliefs, occasionally, you will be looking in vain. Intellectually dishonest (or unconcerned) people can also be religious.

  1. God draws people to himself.

I doubt that you will find this reason convincing, but I include it in the interest of fairness. If we do not make the assumption from the outset that all religion is simply wrong, the response that many religious people would give - "my religion still has followers because it is true" - gains some plausibility. Perhaps you could at least consider it.

I am sure some philosophers have dealt with the reasons for the persistence of religious belief (I can only think of Nietzsche off the top of my head, but I am sure he is not alone), but I think, if you want to look further into that question, you might actually find more fertile ground in sociology.

2

There are several reasons why belief in God persists.

The first problem is that you say belief in god is inconsistent with science, which is true but rather more subtle than most atheists think. The standard criticism of theism is that science has proved theism false. This is not true. God could have made the world 6000 years ago, or two seconds ago and there would be no way to tell the difference because he could make the world exactly as it would be if it had existed for billions of years. The real reason not to adopt god is that his existence contradicts the explanations given by science. God's existence would contradict the only existing account of how complexity can arise: evolution. And it would replace the existing account with nothing since there is no explanation of how god can even be consistent.

The second problem is moral. Secular moral philosophy is mostly so bad that it is impossible to enact it. Secular moral philosophers tend to present a particular menu of ideas like utilitarianism or virtue ethics or whatever without coming to any conclusions. Most of these ideas have severe flaws and even the least bad ones are vague oversimplifications of any viable position. And some philosophers are moral relativists. So many people still go to religious figures for moral guidance because secular moral philosophy mostly has nothing useful to say about solving real moral problems that arise in people's lives.

If you want people to ditch religion you have to present clear criticisms and a clear viable alternative. Secular thinkers have mostly failed at both of those tasks.

  • +1 for secular moral philosophy is a disaster – Rusi Jul 9 at 1:58
1

To elaborate, I think I understand where religion and the belief in supernatural stems from. It was our way of explaining things, and perhaps controlling humans. We didn't know how the Sun rises and sets, or what causes the tides, or where rain comes from, etc. So we attached a supernatural to them and did all sorts of crazy things.

So basically God-of-the-gaps. A thoroughly out dated concept.

Fast forward to 2015 and still so many believe in God. As a scientist, I would like to think humans will eventually switch to a belief purely based on empirical evidence one day.

If this where true then entire disciplines would disappear of the face of the earth. Do you think philosophy or history does not have its own basis of believe that may still warrant there study?

Are there philosophers who have attempted to explain how belief can possibly still persist even in the face of the advance of modern science?

You seam to be under the common misunderstanding of what faith means. There is a whole lot of poison the well tactics that go on when this gets debated so I cannot blame you though.

This idea that faith is without reason and it is not a thing that the rational scientist does. Faith is not the unwarranted belief in that which has no evidence but rather the belief of an account on the authority outside my own person. Instead of that which can be demonstrated to me to be true.

Humans unfortunately don't live for two thousand years so for data on this person called Jesus I have to go to outside sources. The most credible and early accounts of this person (to me at least) where those that where comprised of in the New Testament.

That is what the Gospel is. The joyus message that we do not die in vain and our sins can be forgiven. Something the Christian religion ask you to take on as a matter of faith seeing as it cannot be demonstrated to you. That does not make faith irrational to me.

  • Neil, i like to compare belief in the God-of-the-gaps to belief in the Multiverse-of-the-gaps theory. some may not admit it, but everyone has a faith in something or 'nother. – robert bristow-johnson Apr 27 '15 at 23:24
1

As a Moslem, my logic for believing in God goes as follows:

It is intuitive to propose three logical explanations only for the existence of the universe:

  1. The universe is eternal, it existed for ever (in this state or a different state).
  2. The universe came from nothing or created itself.
  3. Something that is not like the universe’s properties and structure created or began it.

Our evidence starts by proving that the first two are wrong. As to the first, all the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning (see http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html by Stephen Hawking, a very famous atheist physicist). Moreover, no one came with a logically accepted theory for how the universe components (particles, waves, … etc) could have existed forever.

And as to the second, no one came with a logically accepted theory for how the universe could have came from nothing without the need for any external intervention from something different than the universe. Thus, we believe that the third is the only acceptable explanation for the universe within our domain of knowledge and logic.

In addition to the above, universe is uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and—in this universe, anyway—life as we know it would not exist (see this article). Thus we believe that the thing that began the universe has will and ability to arrange the matter of the creation, it is not a random meaningless process.

The mistake done from theists side is usually in overloading the definition of God with attributes that they can’t prove. Talking from Islamic perspective, God has the following attributes:

  1. Nothing in the universe is like him (be it particles, waves, space dimensions, .. etc)
  2. He is the First, there was nothing but God.
  3. He has will. He created and began the universe, and arranged the matter of his creation.
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    From an Islamic perspective, Al Ghazali refuted the arguments you presented in his book "Tahafut Al Falasifa". He then arrived at the conclusion that no logical proof of God is possible, and attempts to do so would lead to either heresy or atheism. Belief / Faith was a separate category from science and the laws of reason could not be applied to to it. Western philosophers arrived at the same conclusion several centuries later. ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Alexander S King Apr 22 '15 at 18:33
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    @AlexanderSKing I think it's accurate to say "some western philosophers arrived at the same conclusion..." Other western philosophers (most prominently Descartes) continued to hold that otherwise. – James Kingsbery Apr 22 '15 at 21:26
  • @JamesKingsbery Descartes is too early. I was thinking of later developments. Kant, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, among many others, were religious individuals who admitted that God's existence cannot be proved. Of course even today, you will still find books and essays arguing for God's existence based on logic and science, but those are considered to fall in the same category as "The dinosaurs died in the flood" type literature. – Alexander S King Apr 22 '15 at 21:39
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    Well, you might not agree with the position, but your comparison with "dinosaur flood" literature is simply not accurate... the position can be found for example in the (Cathecism of the Catholic Church)[vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c1.htm] "Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God." In other words, today, serious theological philosophers hold the view that God is knowable by reason alone. – James Kingsbery Apr 22 '15 at 21:44
  • @AlexanderSKing where did you get this conclusion from the book!? The book refutes logical arguments of some philosophers, it does not refute using one's intellect to contemplate the world and how it started. – Osama AbdelKarim Apr 23 '15 at 13:42
1

'How can you possibly believe X?' is a silly question. What do you imagine limits what I or anyone else believes? As someone early (Aristotle?) noted, men do not go through their lives looking forward, most of them go through life looking down. Psychology knows well that what satisfies physical or social needs is far more important to anyone's beliefs than facts or logic.

Our society has attempted to make attention to facts and logic into something satisfying, making science and common experience into a responsive authority figure, and trying to find a common basis that harmonizes the various cultures it combines, in science. But to even attempt that, it took the pressure of endless successes of reason over belief, through the whole span of time from Thales to the Enlightenment.

The answer seems so obvious that asking the question seems intentionally offensive.

1

I felt the same way you did.

I believed in science mainly and considered religion fairy tales.

Then one day I encountered what I came to understand is absolute reality.

According to Karen Armstrong's History of God the way the ancients referred to the absolute reality was God.

I was reluctant to see any connection as an atheist but the numerous accounts collectively referred to as the perennial philosophy seem to be to clear (to me) to be genuine and not a fluke or trick or coincidence or conspiracy.

1

While it might seem quite obvious that deity is incoherent, imponderable, nonsense which does not exist and is nowhere to be found except in language, these rational considerations and reasoned inquiries matter not one iota to the conditions of satisfaction posited by faith. Certainly it would be difficult to make it through a single day without any faith at all, no? (But what is certainty except a mood?) Whether faith that today will resemble yesterday, or faith that things which you do not directly observe will continue upon their pattern of trajectory or along their inertial paths... Note that I don't mean faith in deity, but faith in general as a psychological tool. And faith is a very powerful psychological tool. So powerful in fact that placebo's demonstrably are effective even if the placebo itself is completely inert.

Is it such a terribly large gap to jump across from "taking things on faith" or "presuming good faith" to creating a narrative or an explanation, or a framework for psychological benefit which can be deified?

Coming from a scientific position, consider the simple difficulty of removing bias and Wittgenstein's observation that "Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself" (from his book of aphorisms, "Culture and Value" pg. 34). But even if one is not deceiving oneself (or deceived at all) not everything is a matter of evidence supporting an argument, hypothesis or proof. Much in life depends upon opinion, sentiment, agreement - irrespective of empirically verifiable and falsifiable fact; just as often brutish and not even aspiring to poetry. The world certainly owes us no easy explanation, but I suppose it may simply be so very easy to imagine one, no?

Your question reminds me of a quote by Bertrand Russell from the introduction to his book, "The History of Western Philosophy and its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day":

Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable ; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge so I should contend belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so convincing as they did in former centuries. (pg. 10) ...

... There is also, however, a more personal answer. Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it. (pg. 11)

There may be no epistemic merit to faith and merely ontological acknowledgement that a particular belief has been stated and the faithful agree with it (or don't), but consider also the words of these thoughtful fellows:

"Religious fiction is a useful emotional outlet, however, educated people need not consider it true"
-Xun Zi
312 - 230 BC

"The intellectual basis of my thinking is Stoic philosophy, the heritage of the classical world. I worship the old gods of the Roman pantheon, because they are symbols of the virtues we admire, not because they really exist."
-Marcus P. Cato
234 - 149 BC

"The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful."
-Edward Gibbon
1737-1794
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Chapter II: The Internal Prosperity In The Age Of The Antonines.
Part I, Second Paragraph

  • +1 for faith that today will be like yesterday things will continue in their pattern... good faith... God faith... – Rusi Jul 9 at 2:20
1

Science has indeed advanced a lot, as well as philosophy, but most people have no access to them, and no concern in learning them. We can even say there are too many people who cannot even read (they may read a line or two, but to read a full page and get all the meaning is too much). Of course some social classes benefits a lot from all this ignorance (see the postmodernist attack on modern science), and that's why things will be the way they are now for a long, long time.

Another point: your question is focused in Western thinking ("one" god). Most people in the world have mythologies, they use many gods to explain things, and they don't seem to have the same "belief" kind of thinking that monotheists do. So, their mythologies may be adjusted to modern science more than monotheists beliefs usually are. So you may be entirely missing the point. I suggest you try to understand how other civilizations think (and please, don't go for it and stop at Buddhism, like most Westerners do).

  • I think it was Joseph Campbell who pointed out that Christianity is a mythology that died in Judea 2 millennia ago. And that is why people who need a mythology that is living eg Mormons, need to invent a localized contextualized mythology. – Rusi Jul 10 at 4:29
  • @Rusi I don't think I can agree with him. Why did Christianity die? It's alive today, and it's the same mythology as it was before. Not admitting it doesn't cause it to stop being a mythology to me... – Rodrigo Jul 10 at 22:05
  • Sorry... Maybe I misquoted. Maybe it was not "died" but stopped moving. ie the people moved out from Judea 2000 years ago. Then again the europeans went to America. Yet their (christian) mythology remains in the Middle East 2000 years ago. Will try find out the exact quote. – Rusi Jul 11 at 1:49
1

It’s worth recalling that many religious people reject ‘modern science’ not because they reject the science per se, but because they reject the materislist metaphysics immanent within ‘modern science’.

This often is not made explicit. If you decide to train as a scientist, no-one tells you that you will be joining a club of hardline, materialist and atheistic fanatics. If they did, perhaps you might think twice about jettisoning your traditions and your culture.

In many ways, this is wrong, especially when one considers that the many contributions of religiously inclined scientists towards the project that we now call science, but once was called natural philosophy. Newton, Maxwell, Darwin & Einstein would all be astonished and more than a little alarmed at the kind of ethical & materialist metaphysics that now goes under the rubric of science and that really ought to give more thoughtful people pause to reflect.

This materialist philosophy has deep roots. One it-source of this, though not generally acknowledged as such, is Lucretious On the Nature of Things which was a proto-scientific text, and written over 2 millennia ago and in which he elaborates a materialist philosophy, and which helped seed the modern science, along with many other things; you'll notice he invokes both Mars and Venus, as well as the 'godhead' who is far from the strife of this world; and I think he means it, rather than it being a simple act of invocation; particularly around the 'godhead' judging by the language used; whereas he sees Mars and Venus through the lens of Empedocles theory of forces.

So its possible to believe in materialism, God and the supernatural; it's only today, without being harsh about it, that there's a form of atheism that denies real value in older traditions; and I think unfortunately.

It's a useful reminder, that when people point out that religion is a kind of 'comfort blanket' for the less well-educated, or less literate that Lucretious makes exactly the same argument for his version of materialism - he offers it as an antidote to superstition and religion.

But I think in the sense which it is also put in the Qu'ran warning people not to 'make too much of religion'.

  • "it is also put in the Qu'ran warning people not to 'make too much of religion'." Which Sura, and which aya? – Alexander S King Apr 22 '15 at 23:32
  • @king: it's from the translation by Haleem; unfortunately I can't remember which sura/aya. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 24 '15 at 15:12
  • +1 for 2nd para. Atheism / rationalism etc used to be interesting topics when I was in school/college. But today the Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris types have a dogmatic bigoted hateful rhetoric that (I find) new. Of course there are people like John Gray who counter this fanaticism on its own terms. But they are little heard. – Rusi Jul 10 at 4:17
0

We once thought general relativity was the fundamental laws of the universe because it did a really great job of predicting observations but it probably turns out that the fundamental laws are quantum gravity which just simulates general relativity. Maybe it's also possible that you think the current accepted theory of the universe is true because you learned it and it's consistent with observations but in reality, our universe is just a computer game simulation that was created in another universe that could simulate a brain. If so, we could decide to define the creator of that game to be the God of our universe.

It's also possible that the creator of that game is hacking that game to change people's brains to form an intuition of statements the creator wants to send as a message. Some people form the intuition that distance in $\mathbb{R}^2$ satisfies the following properties.

  1. ∀x∈R ∀y∈R ∀z∈R ∀w∈R d((x, y), (x + z, y + w))=d((0, 0), (z, w))
  2. ∀x∈R ∀y∈R ∀z∈R ∀w∈R d((x, y), (z, w)) is nonnegative
  3. ∀ nonnegative x∈R d((0, 0), (x, 0)) = x
  4. ∀x∈R ∀y∈R d((0, 0), (x, −y)) = d((0, 0), (x, y))
  5. ∀x∈R ∀y∈R ∀z∈R ∀w∈R d((0, 0), (xz − yw, xw + yz)) = d((0, 0), (x, y))d((0, 0), (z, w))
  6. The area of any square is the square of the length of its edges
  7. ∀x∈R d((0, 0), (cos(x), sin(x))) = 1

It turns out that without any assumptions about what properties distance follows, you cannot prove that distance in R^2 satisfies those properties. Maybe we can say that the distance formula is d((x, y), (z, w)) = sqrt((z - x)^2 + (w - y)^2) for no other reason than the creator of the game decided to define distance that way. Maybe after that, the creator then figured out a mathematical proof that that function actually does satisfy those properties in a similar way to the way I did in this answer. Then the creator only spread to us the message that their definition of distance satisfies those properties but not the message of what they defined the distance formula to be and left us to figure it out on our own.

I find that theory highly unlikely. I believe what really happened was people formed the intuition that distance satisfies those properties because it felt so intuitive and they never reevaluated their assumption that distance satisfies those properties because no contradictions can be derived from those assumptions.

The reason I linked my own answer is not because it's my own. Rather, I think that each person has different abilities and the type of person who is able to think of a certain type of useful answer is much more likely to also be the type of person who's able to think of a the type of answer that's good because it links that answer.

-1

Before discussing such a question, it's better if we clearly define about what sort of god we are talking.

The god of deism, i.e. a "clockmaker" who created the universe but never interferes with it afterwards, would be more or less compatible with science. But that's not the kind of god most people are interested in. I assume this question is about a concept of god that resembles the christian god: A god who interferes, who answers prayers, who performs miracles.

Such a god is clearly at odds with science, because the mission statement of science is to explain the world without any supernatural interference.

People might try to find some sort of compromise between the bible and a strictly scientific point of view. For example, one could claim the supernatural events in the new testament did happen exactly like that, but not the ones in the old testament; or only the resurrection of Jesus did really happen, but not his other miracles.

However, to me that seems like an attempt to "hush up" the conflict between religion and science. That might allow a more or less comfortable armistice, but cannot provide an intellectually satisfying solution.

So what if one got rid of all supernatural events in the bible and interpreted the resurrection of Jesus only as something symbolic?

Even then the problems remains, if and how god interfered in his creation by revealing himself and communicating with humans. Maybe god does not communicate by means of angels or miracles, but by enabling you to discover his truth in your own soul when you open your mind to him? But if that method to get information about god would be reliable, would you not expect that everyone discovered in his soul more or less identical or at least not contradictory information? Whereas looking at the real world it is hard to deny that most persons' religious views are very much determined by education and cultural environment, and that different cultures have very different religions.

We could try to gain knowledge about god by sticking to strictly intellectual arguments. But I guess then we would have implicitly given up everything that distinguishes religion from philosophy, and the god we construct looks probably a lot more like the god of deism than the one of christianity.

To summarise, unlike some of the other answers, I agree that if people took science seriously there would be a lot less - or a lot different - belief in god.

As to your actual question, why (traditional) religious faith still persists today, I can only speculate, but I don't think it's hard to see a lot of reasons:

  • People are attracted by the promise of a life after death.

  • Religious communities offer a sense of belonging and pleasant social activities.

  • Praying can have positive psychological effects.

  • Religious education encourages people not to question tradition and authority.

  • If faith in god is presented as a value in itself, like Martin Luther did, the implicit message is that doubt and skeptical thinking are dangerous and should be avoided. If god judges your thoughts, not your actions, you are effectively directed towards self-censorship.

  • And what I consider to be the most basic reason: There seems to be a irresistible temptation for human nature to assume that invisible entities interfere in our fate and can fulfill some of our wishes (if we communicate our wishes with the right rituals) or can punish us if we break certain rules or taboos. That psychological mechanism is visible not only in sophisticated religions, but also in the most basic superstitions: For example, when people interpret random chance in terms of "luck" and think that luck occurs in "streaks" and that those streaks can be foretold and/or enlongated.

  • Science has to assume miracles have not occurred, but can't actually prove that they haven't. – curiousdannii Jul 9 at 0:44

protected by Keelan Dec 27 '15 at 19:39

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