Why faith fails to prove the existence of God

Carl Sagan MemeBesides the philosophical arguments and their attempts to prove God’s existence, many retreat to the concept of faith to justify belief in God. To some, having the deep and spiritual feeling that God exists is proof enough of His existence and nothing can disprove this intuition despite all evidence to the contrary. William Lane Craig, a leading Christian philosopher and apologist, for example, seems to adhere to this belief because nothing can disprove “the witness of the Holy Spirit” in his heart. This is true, to some extent, as one cannot disprove a spiritual intuition strongly held by an individual, but this doesn’t mean that their beliefs are justified. Faith, by definition, is belief without logical proof or evidence; with faith in play, almost anything is justifiable as long one has a strong belief and emotional investment in something. Faith is used throughout the domain of religion, and trying to justify the existence of one God by faith alone does not suffice as evidence of any kind.

For example, the average Christian sitting in their home in America, through prayer, may come to know that God exists because of the feeling of the Holy Spirit in their heart. This feeling of awe and rapture that they feel as a result reassures them that they’ve placed their trust in the right interpretation of God, in the right Savior (i.e. Jesus Christ), and in the right holy book (i.e. the Bible). Somewhere in the Middle East, a Muslim is doing their obligatory prayer facing Mecca, fulfilling one of the Five Pillars of Islam for their faith in Allah. The Muslim too must have some feelings of awe and rapture, reassuring them that they’ve placed their trust in the right interpretation of God, in the right prophet (i.e. the Prophet Mohammad), and in the right holy book (i.e. the Koran). In both cases, as with any juxtaposition of faiths, we see that both can have faith and attempt to justify their beliefs, but both can’t be right. Islam and Christianity make their own exclusive claims, some of which contradict each other (e.g. Jesus is not the Son of God in Islam, but is in Christianity), which puts them on different footing when it comes to determining which one is true. This raises problems since both believers cannot be correct in their beliefs: either the Christian is right about God or the Muslim is right about God. The same applies whether we contrast the faith of a Buddhist and a Mormon, a monotheist and a polytheist, an old religion with a new religion.The warm, fuzzy feeling in one’s heart, though it feels compelling and spiritually invigorating, is not justifiable evidence for God and cannot alone prove that God exists, nor can it be used as solid justification for such a belief.

That being said, some atheists and non-theists have come under attack as having the same “faith” when it comes to scientific ideas and principles; it’s argued that atheists have “faith” in scientific theories like evolution or the Big Bang. It becomes tiresome and extremely difficult to deal with these accusations, but this is a serious and persistent problem that needs to be dealt with. The problem with accusing atheists of having faith in scientific principles and theories is a terrible misconception of what it means to accept certain propositions as true; it’s a false analogy to assert that the faith theists have in their God is the same “faith” atheists have in scientific theories. People who understand science don’t accept it merely because they have faith, but do so based on the merits of evidence and data presented by the scientific community. Science is a rigorous self-correcting process with new information constantly coming in, ready to add to the knowledge base of science. Knowledge doesn’t remain static or dogmatic in the scientific community as a result, and people are in fact encouraged to put ideas to the test and purge anything that might be wishful thinking or false. Thus, when one says they believe in evolution or the Big Bang theory, they are saying that they accept the evidence in favor of the propositions being put forward by the theory. This is how we come to justify beliefs, not by hopes or emotional investment, but by empiricism and inquiry.

It’s time that we put aside our feelings in favor of facts. Reality is the way it is, whether we like it or not. Faith cannot be a substitute for fact, and that goes for any other domain of knowledge. We must have good reasons for believing things and we must have the desire to believe as many true things as possible. Like the great astrophysicist and science communicator Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, and in the domain of knowledge about the world we live in, only facts can prevail.

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About Jonathan Morales

I'm currently a second-year history and philosophy undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Southern California in a community of Mexican-Americans, I've been an atheist since age 16 and have been on the search for answers to life's biggest questions from a secular perspective. My historical interests primarily deal with US international relations in the 20th and 21st century, while my philosophical interests primarily deal with meta-ethics and normative ethics. I am also an Officer Candidate in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class, heading to Officer Candidates School this summer.
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