Is The Question of God Intellectually Undecidable?
It seems that Pascal thought the question of God undecidable on the basis of evidence: The evidence just isn’t there one way or the other – that God exists or that God does not exist -, and we have no reason to presume one or the other. William James, too, seems to have thought something similar, and is famous for his claim that the question whether God exists “cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds.”
The fact that some very intelligent people have held to this position should give us pause and cause us to ask: Is this right? Is there truly insufficient evidence to support the belief that God exists and insufficient evidence to support the belief that God does not exist?
An interesting and important question. And a difficult one. A very, very difficult one — too difficult for the space or the energy (or the ability) I have available. I will, however, mention my suspicion on the matter: it is true for some people that they haven’t sufficient evidence one way or the other — a suspicion likely to be unpopular with apologists on all sides of the fence). I would like to briefly consider a more modest question:
Suppose it is true that the question of God is undecidable on the basis of evidence (or it is for some people; or it is undecidable on the basis of evidence immediately-accessible-without-a-certain-sort-of-inquiry, or some other qualified thesis). What would this mean?
Obviously, lots. But here’s three implicatory questions that come immediately to mind. The first is for the enterprise of apologetics. Apologists conduct their business on the basis of reasons. Almost always these reasons constitute evidence – and publicly available evidence at that. A Christian apologist, for instance, attempts to give an audience evidence which will lead them to believe such-and-such about God — and this evidence is not supposed to be evidence that only the apologist has access to; the evidence is intended to move the audience. The goal is to persuade, and the appeal to evidence invisible to someone is never very persuasive.
Now if the question of God is undecidable, the Christian apologist – at least when it comes to this question – will not have evidential reasons to appeal to. Now what? There are a few options: (1) The apologist quits his job. (2) The apologist quits appealing to evidence and starts attempting to manipulate the audience. (3) The apologist appeals to reasons which are not evidential (if such reasons exist). Which option to choose?
A second implicatory question: If the question of God is undecidable on the basis of evidence, does this commit us all to agnosticism? Is the agnostic the only rational one?
A third and final implicatory question: If the question of God is undecidable on the basis of evidence, does this fact itself constitute evidence against the claim that God exists, since God – if he is there and if he is like most theists suppose he is – would provide us with evidence?
I have a multitude of thoughts on all three of these “suppose-it’s-true” questions, but I am interested in hearing the thoughts of others. So…thoughts?