I recently signed up for a trail marathon, so lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time running. Many of these runs last several hours, so I’ve been really grateful to have discovered the free “DebateGod” podcast on iTunes – dozens of lengthy debates on religion, featuring the likes of Craig, McGrath, D’Souza, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.
Running can be boring, and I like to tell people that there’s not nearly enough going on in this head of mine to keep myself entertained for more than about twenty minutes.
Of course, running can also be painful, and listening to arguments from Sam Harris isn’t exactly a soothing remedy.
Anyhow, one of these debates in particular really struck a chord with me. Or to be more specific, Alister McGrath’s statements in response to Susan Blackmore (Bristol University, 2007, on the motion: “belief in God is a dangerous delusion”) struck the chord. I’ve recently had a number of conversations with people over the nature of “evidence”, “belief”, and “proof”…and how all of these ideas relate to an individual’s religious faith (or lack thereof).
Among those who reject Christianity, there is often a desire to “claim the side of science” – to demand irrefutable empirical evidence as the only rational grounds for belief. In other words, “prove it, and I’ll believe it.” If you’ve followed this blog at all over the last few weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed my preoccupation with this issue (cough…cough…cough…cough).
Although I don’t always agree with everything McGrath says, his statements in this debate really cut to the heart of the “demand for proof” issue:
“I believe it absolutely clear that one cannot prove God as one can prove that two and two make four. I also need [to raise the issue] that there are many things that each of us here tonight believes to be important…yet when the chips are down, we know we simply cannot prove them with the certainty that two and two make four.
I believe passionately that democracy is better than fascism. If you were to say to me, “Can you prove that empirically? Can you prove that logically?” I would have to say, “I don’t believe I can.” But nevertheless I have every right to believe this as something that seems to me to be the best-justified approach, and therefore it makes a huge difference to me.
And I think all of you here tonight will be able to identify beliefs – moral, political, ethical – which you know to be vitally important, and yet you also are aware that you really can’t prove them. And that is just the way things are.
…In most areas of life, beliefs that really matter [cannot] be proved in that strict logical sense. They are justified – in a sense we may give reasons for them, GOOD reasons for them – but very often we know we can’t prove them.”