Understanding Disbelief

It is impossible for humans to prove the existence of God if they believe in an objective external reality because mathematical infinity is extant in this reality. God’s definition is that of a supreme being, and as Saint Anselm, describes it, “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” (Proslogium, Anselm).  If human beings cannot comprehend mathematical infinity, then in turn, they cannot comprehend an infinite being.  If one cannot comprehend something, how could it be proven by them?  The logical argument for the existence of God is irrelevant in the case for morality, and instead people should focus on trying to do the right thing in relation to objective truth.  Why should mankind then, impossibly aim at attempting to prove the intangible, when we have control over ourselves and the tangible world around us?
The teleological and ontological arguments rest in the finite structure of the human mind.  Pascal is right when disregarding Paley’s watchmaker analogy for relying upon logic that does not take into account the existence of mathematical infinity; if God is infinite, and humans cannot comprehend mathematical infinity, how can humans comprehend the existence of God?  Pascal summarizes this point by plainly stating, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us.  We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is” (Pensees 233, Blaise Pascal).  Thus, Pascal demonstrates that one cannot prove God’s existence, but why then, does he still argue for the claim that it is indeed rational to believe in God?  This is because Pascal compares the ultimate question on God’s existence to wagering a bet.  He claims that it is not worth hedging your bets against the existence of God, because if He does exist, then you will lose the bet, and you will not have anything to gain anyway if He does not exist.
The problem with Pascal’s gambling comparison is that it invokes an insincerity in belief.  W. K. Clifford recognizes this insincerity, and argues “…it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford) through the story of a neglectful shipowner who is responsible for the deaths of all his passengers through flawed logic.  Clifford concludes that the shipowner is liable because he only inferred the ship’s safety through logical and rational argument, instead of confirming his belief through truthful inquiry; or as Clifford states, “He (the shipowner) had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford). The question is, how does this story relate to the existence of God, for surely there is no negative, outward consequences to believing in God. The truth of the matter is that every person who as convinced themselves of only one belief may tend to disregard every other system of thought, or as W. K. Clifford wryly put:
“If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it–the life of that man is one long sin against mankind” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford).
Thus, believing in God through Pascal’s rationale is wrong according to Clifford because it forces the person to lie to oneself about reality.
It can be said then that the ontological proof for the existence of God is flawed because it depends on the restricted imagination of the human mind. The logical argument that a supreme being must exist because the idea of Him exists is the ontological argument, and this argument is disregarded by Pascal and others that claim you cannot prove the existence of something through mere logic. The teleological argument too, relies on logic assuming that if something is created then it must need a creator.  Yet none of this is proven in our objective reality because we have no idea what context we are living in on planet Earth.  We know so very little about the tangible universe, that we can only make assumptions about things we do not know, some would say that it is in our nature.  Belief in God is not justified if it relies on rational truth because there is no rational truth, and thus the individual must commit to irrational faith based upon no tangible proof.  If there is not a rational truth, we can take comfort in the fact that there is an objective external reality, and we humans can determine what is right and wrong because of that objectivity.  Religion and God, among many other things, enable a sort of psychosis that blinds people from external reality, whether the beliefs be good or bad, they do not reflect a tangible reality that exists around us.  Belief in God is irrelevant because it does not reflect reality that can be observed by us, but this belief can have an effect our actions.  W. K. Clifford concurred that a belief determines a persons’ actions, whether it is consciously or subconsciously.  Hence, in Clifford’s view it is irresponsible for people to believe in something that cannot be proven, because such a belief hampers our freedom to understand objective reality.

About Sean William Lynch
Sean William Lynch is a poet from New Jersey who was born in 1992. Lynch's first book of poems "the city of your mind" was published in 2013 by Whirlwind Press. Frank Sherlock, the poet laureate of Philadelphia, called Lynch's debut poetry book "visionary." CA Conrad claimed that the book was "marvelous!" S.W. Lynch's writing has been featured in numerous publications online and in print, including Milkfist, Poetry Quarterly, and Tincture Journal.

21 Responses to Understanding Disbelief

  1. cafemoi says:

    But, reality also cannot be fully understood. Can we observe the smallest particle? What does that particle cut in half look like? Why do we talk about our universe as a single entity. How can something as massive as eternity begin with a single big bang? What’s beyond this known universe? Doesn’t infinity mean not only anything is possible but everything is possible? This idea that a room full of monkies is randomly typing on typewriters the fat of humanity has to exist because in an infinite universe it has to, somewhere. If life is a mere collection of correctly arranged atoms, why can’t we discover what that arrangement is and create life?

    If believing is invalid because abscence of proof, then non-believing is as well. When you boil down all your fancy words and ideas, you are only left with one, single, plausible reason for believing in whatever it is you believe in: faith. The most staunch atheist or believer, in the end, after all arguments are debunked, relies on faith that his or her opinion is correct.

    • Sean Lynch says:

      This is not a defense of atheism if that’s what you’re thinking. The original title of the essay was the irrelevance of God’s existence, however the argument for that became convoluted. Instead I decided to focus on the development of disbelief in philosophy.

      • cafemoi says:

        I think there’s a simple point in here: all belief is based at least partially on faith. I don’t defend either side.

        • Sean Lynch says:

          The problem here was that people thought I was championing atheism just because I was pointing out flaws in logical arguments for faith. I also wrote a paper called Materialism and Ignorance where I did the same for the opposite side of the spectrum.

      • nathansnyder says:

        Absolutists will always see the false dichotomy between arguing a thesis and taking stock in it. Unfortunate, really.

    • seapunk2 says:

      I do not rely on any type of faith to substantiate my position as a respectful agnostic.

  2. milk & mind says:

    Key point of the argument you left out was on Anselm’s point that God as being a greater being then could ever be imagined by humans so the thought must be put there by God or something greater then us or we COULDN’T imagine it.

    • Sean Lynch says:

      Again, read the title before you read the essay, understanding disbelief, not defending disbelief… I wouldn’t recommend instigating a debate about philosophy without proper grammar either.

    • seapunk2 says:

      circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works…..

  3. Peruzzi says:

    The intrinsic nature of faith negates doubt. Belief = right, disbelief = wrong.

  4. dizzy says:

    Reblogged this on Dizzy yet? and commented:
    Thought this rather succinct and worth sharing.

  5. Neither the athiest nor thiest can prove the existence or nonexistence of God. The agnostic says the truth is unknowable, and maybe I agree with him. If anyone could prove either way there would no longer be a debate about it. Is it necessary to prove somehing to believe in it? Is it possible? Besides “cogito ergo sum” I can think of almost nothing you or I can prove, including whether or not physical reality exists or is the mind’s fabrication. In that sense there is little we can know. The job of the individual is not to prove what is correct–he should try–but he can only draw together all the information given and choose what makes the most sense. The truth is objective, but the process of finding it is a subjective one.

    Clifford’s point about holding yourself examining other beliefs is a matter of attitude, not belief in and of itself. The person investigating truth wants to question and be questioned. If he finds he’s right he gains credence, if he’s wrong he eliminates what was false from his perspective. Developing an honest belief about reality is a constant process of building a framework and destroying it. There are close-minded people of every kind. It does not follow that to hold an opinion about the nature of reality, like the existence or nonexistence of God, “forces the person to lie to oneself about reality.” There may be a probem with institutionalized religion; there’s sure as hell a problem with the herd mentality. But there is nothing crippling about well-thought-out belief in God.

    To clarify: there is a rational truth. Truth isn’t irrational. The question is whether or not it is possible to arrive at truth by means of reason. Perhaps I can never know whether my reason leads to truth, but it might. In actuality, to think abstaining from a belief in something intangible is the rational thing to do is to make the assumption that what we directly experience is all there is. If anyone takes Clifford seriously about the irresponsibility of beliving in something that can’t be proven, she is ignorant of her own ignorance. Everyone believes things they cannot prove.

  6. Sean Lynch says:

    You make a worthwhile argument, and I am beyond happy that you shared your opinion here. Although I disagree with your thoughts on Clifford, and I believe there may be a bit of a misunderstanding. He wasn’t bashing a well-thought out belief in God in general, he was just pointing out theists who justify their position on belief, with them thinking that they might as well have faith for if there isn’t any deity than they have nothing to worry about concerning the afterlife. The point he makes is that belief should not be like gambling, i.e. assessing risks in deciding how you will determine your essence. Clifford argues that this would make for an insincerity of belief, not that all belief is insincere. I appreciate your well-thought out response and I’m looking forward to the next time you make one.

    • Agreed. Pascal’s wager is a load of the bullocks. To believe based on what is the most advantageous to you is to bullshit your way out of sincerely investigating. It’s like a philosophically intellectual game of cards and not a burning existential question.

  7. dizzy says:

    “The interest I have to believe a thing is no proof that such a thing exists.”
    ~ Voltaire

    Yes. To believe anything at this point would be the sheer height of arrogance and implicitly insincere on my part. I’ve investigated. I have no proof of anything beyond the apparent universe. I can only speculate on the unproven…, the myriad ‘truths’.

    It’s all very interesting. Great blog! ❤ it!

  8. Pingback: Circular Arguments about Religion and Such « Pilgrim Outskirts

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