Updated: Aug 5, 2020
It’s curious that in most areas of life we are told that we should follow the evidence to know what we should do or what we should believe. Will this vaccine work to stop the virus? Wait for the scientific evidence, we are told. Who should I vote for in the election? Wait until you hear both sides of the debate, so you can make a fully informed decision, it is suggested. Should I trust that this helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is safe? Have a look at the helicopter maintenance records and the tour company’s safety record, seems the reasonable answer. In fact, on nearly every issue under the sun, we are told to make decisions based on what is the most reasonable to believe or to do.
Why is this? It’s simple, really. If what you believe about the world is inaccurate, very bad things could happen to you. If you believe that leaky canoes are safe, your canoe might sink. If you believe that trains are actually made of Jello and that people who stand on the tracks in front of incoming trains experience a wondrous cool-ooze flow around their whole bodies, then your life (and your odd views) will end very quickly. We want our beliefs to be true, because true beliefs are those that accord with reality. And we want our decisions to be good and reasonable, because what is good and reasonable is what is best for human beings.
Except in the area of religion, we are sometimes told. In religion we aren’t supposed to ask questions, we should suppress our doubts, we should just have faith rather than raise all kinds of objections. Really? Well, why is that? Why is religion excepted from the general rules of believing what is reasonable to think is true and from acting on what is good for human beings?
Why is religion excepted from the general rules of believing what is reasonable to think is true and from acting on what is good for human beings?
Well, we get two kinds of answers to that question. In the first case it is suggested that religious truth is beyond us, too high and lifted up for human minds to grasp. How is a mere finite mind supposed to grasp an infinite thing, after all? In the second case it is suggested that there is something wrong with us, that our minds or our natures are faulty, fallen, sinful, deranged, or otherwise affected in such a way that we cannot get religious truths right.
So, let’s begin by examining these two answers, and yes, we will be using our allegedly faulty minds. Why? Well, what other choice have we got? In fact, if you cannot trust your mind, why would you trust someone’s telling you that it is faulty? Doesn’t he, too, have a mind? Aren’t his beliefs about your faulty mind just as likely to be affected by his faulty mind? And that suggests a solution to the second question, doesn’t it? If we cannot use our minds to reasonably access the world, then that applies to everything—including the religious scheme of the fellow telling you that reason is fallen! His views fall under the same skeptical umbrella. So, it’s all or nothing, either we can use our minds to study gerbils, navigation, weaving, angels, and God, or we cannot use them to study anything.
Either we can use the mind to study gerbils, navigation, weaving, angels, and God, or else we cannot use it to study anything.
On to the first question, then: if our minds have to be trusted in general, then maybe there is something special about the religious topic, such that since God is infinite, we cannot possibly use finite reason to investigate his nature and existence. But why would we think that that is true, since we already use our minds to investigate infinities and near-infinities. For example, do you know the difference between an even number and an odd number? Yet the set of even numbers is infinite, just as the set of odd numbers is infinite. Still, you understand the difference. True, you may not be able to wrap your mind around the whole set of even numbers all at once, but this doesn’t mean you don’t know anything about it! Here’s another example, this time of a near-infinite: do you know the difference between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans? Of course you do, and you probably know a lot about the differences in their properties. Yet, you cannot wrap your mind around all that is true of the Atlantic or the Pacific, can you? No. But that doesn’t mean you don’t know some things about them. You don’t need to know everything in order to know anything.
You don't need to know everything in order to know anything.
The same principle applies to religious objects like angels (that are finite, actually) and the infinite God. We can prove that since God is infinite, there are an infinite number of things that we do not know about him. But it does not follow from that that we cannot know anything about him. On the contrary, even to talk about whether God exists implies that we have a definition of who we are talking about! We know what we mean by “all-loving” or “all-powerful,” so that we don’t confuse our search for God with the search for a chipmunk! Thus, even the question of whether God is too high for our allegedly little minds implies that our minds are just fine for knowing enough about God to ask the question!
If the human mind is good enough for God to copy from his own image, you'd think it should be good enough for us to use in searching God out.
What does all this mean? It means that you’re just going to have to go out and look. You won’t know whether God exists or, if he does, how he operates, unless you look for yourself and consider the arguments on your own. There’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, that’s just using the human nature that the theists tell us God made in his own image! If it’s good enough for God to copy from his own image, you’d think it should be good enough for us to use in searching God out.