Continuing from my last post, I’m exploring the question, “Is it reasonable to believe in God?” Of course, behind this question is another: “Is faith and reason reconcilable?” I maintain that the answer to both questions is, quite simply, yes. My main goal with these posts is to show that it is not unreasonable to believe in God and that reason and faith can cohere.
I have shown in the last post that the universe had a beginning (or, at the very least, that it is reasonable to think it did). And if the universe did indeed have a beginning, then what caused the beginning? What caused the universe to jump into being? It is reasonable to suggest that events, such as beginnings, do indeed have causes (as philosophers like W. Craig say). In fact, I’m not sure that it is satisfying to say otherwise. After all, the claim that “The universe began to exist—i.e., came into being—from nothingness all without a cause” is really a leap of faith in its own right. Is it not, after all, the case that effects have causes?
It is true that the noted skeptic David Hume taught us that our beliefs about cause and effect are not as as air-tight as we might think. Thus, the proposition, “The universe had a cause,” is not inherent to the proposition,“The universe had a beginning,” such that if you have the latter, you must a priori affirm the former. It’s not like taking the proposition, “Sam is a bachelor” and then concluding a second proposition, namely, “Sam is unmarried.” That second proposition is true based upon the first proposition, for to be a “bachelor” is to be “unmarried.” In other words, the truth of the second proposition is inherent to the first.
But that’s not how propositions about causation work, at least according to Hume. I’m no Hume scholar, but he essentially taught that a person believes in cause and effect based upon past experiences of how objects (such as billiard balls) interact when they come into contact with one another. That is, a person knows that when a ball rolls into another ball of less or equal weight, there will be an effect—namely, the effect that the second ball will be pushed forward. But this belief about cause and effect is not itself based upon a priori reason; it is, rather, based upon past experiences of how a person has seen objects interact. Thus, one might say that even the idea of cause and effect, too, is a leap of faith.
But which “leap of faith” is more reasonable? Hume, despite his own skepticism, admitted that it would be “absurd” to do away with causal propositions. The question, therefore, still remains: Is it more reasonable to claim that an event, say, the beginning of the universe, had a cause for its beginning or to claim that it sprang from nothing without cause? Heeding Hume’s remark about absurdity, I think the answer would have to be in favor of causation. To me, it seems that the burden of proof is not upon those of us who claim the universe, as an event, must have had a cause, but rather upon those who would deny it. After all, it seems more reasonable to affirm the idea of causation.
But nevermind which is more reasonable. As a committed theist, I am saying something a bit less robust. In fact, all I want to do (keeping in the spirit of these posts) is to say, quite simply, that it is not unreasonable to believe the beginning of the universe did, indeed, have a cause. That is, there is absolutely nothing logically contradictory about that proposition at all. In fact, it seems quite reasonable to say such a thing, not least when we take in past experiences about cause and effect. That is, to say the universe had a cause is an instance of logical thinking (taking “logical” in the broad sense: that it is not unreasonable to trust my senses).
Is belief in God, therefore, irrational or otherwise unreasonable? No, not in the least. Theists (at least those within the traditional camps, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all believe the universe had a beginning, and this beginning was caused. Therefore, up to this point, I have shown how, by thinking logically about the universe, traditional beliefs inherent to theism are quite reasonable. Faith and reason, at least up until this point, are not at odds.
But there still remains one more hurdle to my entire argument. Could it be the case that the universe never needed a Divine cause for its existence? Could it be that the universe caused itself to come into existence?
We will tackle that in the next post.