Challenge: Believe Something for Which There is Absolutely No Evidence
by Jason Wisdom
In recent years, I have heard many atheists say that faith means believing something for which there is no evidence. Some have even suggested that faith means persisting in belief despite good evidence to the contrary. Even more alarming to me is the fact that I have recently interacted with a number of Christians who agree that faith is (at least primarily) about choosing to believe when there is no evidence.
A lot has been said in recent months/years by Christian defender’s of the faith on this matter, so I will not go into great philosophical depth here. If you want to hear a good exchange on the topic, I suggest listening to a recent debate between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew that you can find on the “Unbelievable” podcast. In this space, I simply want to offer a challenge and a few thoughts. Here is the challenge:
I challenge you to choose to believe something for which there is literally NO evidence.
You can come up with your own example, but suppose I challenged you to believe that there was a pink elephant in your bedroom. Could you do it?
I don’t think you could. In fact, I don’t think we choose what we believe at all. I think we believe things that we find compelling, and we don’t find things compelling without some reason or evidence. There are a lot of underlying factors involved in shaping what we find compelling, some of which may not even be within our control. Nevertheless, we are unlikely to be compelled to believe something for which we find absolutely no evidence.
Beyond the initial question of belief, there is the question of human will. If we do in fact find evidence for a particular belief compelling, but that belief has certain life-altering consequences, we then have to choose whether or not we will accept or reject the ramifications of such a belief. Suppose I said you have to believe me that you can jump off the top of the Empire State building and live. You would want some good evidence in order to believe that statement. But even if I provide that evidence (show you the giant inflatable bag that will catch you, attach you to a cord that ensures you don’t drift away from the building, and even give you a small parachute), you are still going to have to decide whether or not you accept the ramifications associated with stepping off the ledge.
But going back to the challenge. Let’s suppose you want to try. In attempt to rise to this challenge, you will likely do one of three things. First, you might ask me, “Is there a pink elephant in my bedroom? Did you pull some elaborate prank?” If I said “yes,” and you generally consider me to be trustworthy, and I am known for doing huge pranks involving painted circus animals, then you might be able to believe it. But then you would have the evidence of my trustworthy testimony. Second, you might try to come up with reasons that, though it doesn’t seem true, it actually is. But if any of these becomes compelling to you, it will be because you were able to construct a trail of evidence where you previously did not see one. Maybe there is a dent in the floorboard near the bedroom door, or you heard a strange thumping sound, or the house shook in a strange way. Maybe then you could believe it (though I seriously doubt it). But again, that wouldn’t be believing with NO evidence…
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