Doubt, uncertainty and openness about God’s existence marks an honest approach, a philosopher writes.
Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all — if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind. Nathaniel Hawthorne said of Herman Melville, “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.
There is no easy answer. Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable. Still, there are potentially unpleasant consequences that can arise from decisions or conclusions, and one must take responsibility for them.
Anyone who does not occasionally worry that he may be a fraud almost certainly is. Nor does the worry absolve one from the charge; one may still be a fraud, just one who rightly worries about it on occasion. Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.
People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.
Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if it turned out there was one and he met him at judgment. Russell’s reply: “You gave us insufficient evidence.” Even believers can appreciate Russell’s response. God does not make it easy. God, if he exists, is “deus absconditus,” the hidden God. He does not show himself unambiguously to all people, and people disagree about his existence. We should all feel and express humility in the face of the question even if we think the odds are tilted heavily in favor of a particular answer. Indeed, the open-minded search for truth can unite believers and nonbelievers.