Evidence, & Rational Belief in God
I believe that evidence is a good ground for why a person can rationally believe in the existence of a god. Note that when I say evidence, I am not saying that it must be a proof. Many times, when an Atheist asks me for the evidence for the existence of God, what they are asking me for is not in fact evidence, but rather, what they are demanding is that I show them proof that God exists. I do not claim to have a proof of God’s existence, in the sense that it would be impossible to refute. I claim to have evidence for the existence of God, which another person may or may not contend and try to explain the evidence away through some other means.
If there is sufficient evidence pointing to the existence of a god, then it is rational for a person to believe in that god, even if that particular god doesn’t happen to exist. (more on the second half of this claim later) This may seem counter-intuitive, but stay with me for a moment.
If I place a $100 dollar bill in my dresser drawer before I leave to go to class, and when I come home several hours later, I check that same dresser drawer and now instead of the one $100 dollar bill, there are four $100 dollar bills in there, neatly stacked together in the exact spot I left them, then it would be perfectly rational for me to believe that someone had entered my room and placed three more $100 dollar bills in the same drawer along with the one I had already placed there. Even if there were no forensic evidence that another person had been there, and even if I never come to understand why some person (or possibly persons) did this, and even if I never meet this person, I am still perfectly rational in my belief that a person had gone into my room and placed the three extra $100 dollar bills there. I am justified in believing that another person did this, even if they never reveal to me why they did so. I may also never be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt to anyone else that a person went into my room and did this, but even so, I am still rational to hold to this belief based on my understanding of how the world works, and because I know money does not reproduce itself. The same is true for belief in a god. If when I look out into the world, when I examine the evidence for a gods existence utilizing science, reason, logic, and everything I know about the world, I come to the conclusion that there must be a god, I am perfectly rational for believing that someone or something outside of the universe created it, based on what I know about science, about cause and effect, and the apparent fine-tuning of the initial conditions for the possibility that life could exist in this universe. Based on everything else I know about the physical world, I am perfectly rational for my belief in a god, even though others can look at the same evidence(s) and come to different conclusions, and despite the fact that we could argue ad nauseum (or even ad infinitum) about the validity of these different conclusions.
Now, about the second half of the previous statement, a person can still be rational for believing that a god exists, based on the evidence he sees in science and the natural world, even if the particular god he believes in does not, in fact, exist. What is meant by this is that a person can have a rational belief that a god exists, and could take this belief further than the evidence warrants, into believing in a particular god. That person would be taking the belief that the specific, particular god on faith (or possibly on different evidence than the evidence that lead him to believe that a god exists in the first place. This parenthetical is added to note that I do not think that such arguments as the Kalam Cosmological argument, the Fine-tuning or Anthropic principle argument, the moral argument etc. etc. necessarily point to any one specific god, but they can be and are useful in understanding and comprehending some of the necessary qualities of God.).
Just because a person takes a step of faith into believing that a particular god exists (Say YHWH, or Allah, or Zeus) doesn’t mean that that person is irrational for believing that a god exists. It just means that he or she attempted to extrapolate more from the previously examined (usually scientific and/or philosophical) evidence for the existence of a god than was warranted by that evidence. This does not negate the validity or rationality of that person’s belief in a god, it just means they would need other, different reasons (or evidence) for justifying their belief that a particular god exists.
To go back to the previous analogy, if I were to believe (as was shown to be rationally justified previously) that a person went into my room and added three extra $100 dollar bills, I could take some time, think about it, and come to the conclusion that my wife Sarah had done this. I may or may not be justified in believing that Sarah did this, but even if she didn’t place the money there, I am still rational for believing that some person had done this. Let us further suppose that I ask Sarah and she (truthfully) tells me that she did not place the money there. I could continue to believe that she had (possibly thinking she was lying or had forgot or something), even in the face of evidence (her honest statement that she hadn’t) to the contrary. Am I justified or rational for believing that she placed the extra money there, even in the face of substantive evidence that she did not, (or possibly in the face of evidence that she could not) have done so? No, I am not rational for believing that Sarah placed the money there in the face of evidence to the contrary. This, however, does not negate the rational nature of my belief that some person did it! I would still be justified for believing that a person placed the extra money there, even if the particular person whom I believe did it is not in fact the person who did it.
If we take this even further, is a person justified for believing in the existence of a god, based on the sufficient evidence that some god exists, even if NO god exists? Surprisingly, the answer is still yes. As we look back on the analogy, it is reasonable for me to believe that a person came into my room and added three extra $100 dollar bills to my dresser drawer precisely because of my knowledge of the world and of science etc. I know that that money does not reproduce itself (nor does any other inanimate, nonliving object), and I know that money does not normally (if ever) just pop into existence, un-caused, out of nothing (nor anything else for that matter). Because of my knowledge of science and the physical world, I have every right to believe that there had to have been some sort of cause that opened up my dresser drawer, placed three extra $100 dollar bills along with the one I myself had put there, and closed the dresser drawer again.
It is possible that an astronomically unlikely series of coincidental events led to the three extra $100 dollar bills being neatly placed with the one I had already placed there without leaving any evidence what so ever of the events that caused this to happen. Even though this is possible (though astronomically unlikely) I am still justified and rational for believing that a person did it, because that is the most likely explanation, and because there is an utter lack of any evidence what so ever that would lead me to believe it was not a person who did it.
Even if these three $100 dollar bills actually came into existence in the drawer alongside the $100 dollar bill that I placed there because of some sort of weird quantum flux thingy, or some other crazy, outlandish reason that is utterly counter-intuitive to anything we know about science, cause and effect, and the world, I would still be rationally justified for believing what the evidence seems to clearly be telling me, namely that a person came into my room and placed the three extra bills there.
This holds true even if some super brilliant genius of science can conceive of a way to theorize that this could happen, (even though the odds against it ever happening are so astronomical as to be so incomprehensibly large [as in 1 in ten to the 40,000th power] that even if you wrote a zero on every single particle of the known universe, there would not be enough particles to write all of the zeros of this number!). Even then, if someone claims (rightly, though how would they actually know this, unless they were actually there?) that this is the cause of the three extra $100 dollar bills being there alongside the one I placed there, I am still rationally justified in believing that a person placed the money there. I may be wrong, but I am still rational and justified in my belief that a person placed the extra money there. Obviously this and the other aspects of the analogy that I have painstakingly pointed out can be transferred to a person’s belief in the existence of a god. If the evidence very convincingly points to the existence of a god, then I am perfectly justified in and rational for believing that a god exists.