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An Interview with Richard Sheen on a ‘Doxastic Venture’: or, Reason, Purpose, and a Leap of Faith, the Nature of Faith and Its Relation to Reason and Adventure (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/03/01


Richard Sheen is a young independent artist, philosopher, photographer and theologian based in New Zealand. He has studied at Tsinghua University of China and The University of Auckland in New Zealand, and holds degrees in Philosophy and Theological Studies. Originally raised atheist but later came to Christianity, Richard is dedicated to the efforts of human rights and equality, nature conservation, mental health, and to bridge the gap of understanding between the secular and the religious. Richard’s research efforts primarily focus on the epistemic and doxastic frameworks of theism and atheism, the foundations of rational theism and reasonable faith in God, the moral and practical implications of these frameworks of understanding, and the rebuttal of biased and irrational understandings and worship of God. He seeks to reconcile the apparent conflict between science and religion, and to find solutions to problems facing our environmental, societal and existential circumstances as human beings with love and integrity. Richard is also a proponent for healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyles, and was a frequent participant in competitive sports, fitness training, and strategy gaming. Richard holds publications and awards from Mensa New Zealand and The University of Auckland, and has pending publications for the United Sigma Intelligence Association and CATHOLIQ Society. He discusses: faith and reason; misapplications of faith and reason; faith, reason, and science in the 21st-century spiritual person; science and God; and uncertainty and faith.

Keywords: faith, God, metaphysics, philosophy, reason, religion, Richard Sheen, science, theism.

An Interview with Richard Sheen on a ‘Doxastic Venture’: or, Reason, Purpose, and a Leap of Faith, the Nature of Faith and Its Relation to Reason and Adventure (Part Four)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s transition into faith and reason. Some pose these as separate sides of a partition. Others seem them as inextricably linked in a hierarchy. That is to say, faith above reason as respect and acknowledgement of the infinite, the unknown, and the unknowable and reason as the only basis for marginal or limited knowledge about anything; or, reason above faith with reason as a means to derive deep truths about the world and faith in the margins where reason becomes insufficient to solve that which seem not as problems for solving but as mysteries to be considered, respected, and left alone. Still others, they seem them as playing equal parts in an interplay of conscious discrimination about that which can be left outside human possibilities, for faith, and that which can be contemplated inside human possibilities, for reason. All this sets aside empiricism and science for the moment. To begin, what is faith? What is reason?

Richard Sheen: This is a very good question, and one that deserves far more attention than it is typically given today. I suppose Isaiah 7:9 would serve as an underlying theme in this entire discussion, even though it refers to a very specific event in the Bible, this verse serves as an important guidance in understanding the entire nature of faith and its relation to reason – “Unless you believe, you will not understand”.

My position on faith and reason is very Thomistic, with the greatest of faith and most exceptional of reason being not only mutually compatible, but complementary. Like the sun and the moon as they cross the horizons of day and night, and the light and the shadows that playfully flirt with each other as we venture through our moments of life, faith and reason are “married and inseparable” with each other in spite of their apparent “conflicts”, no different from how an elderly couple who have bonded for an eternity may still engage in quarrel every now and then.

We can begin by giving an outline to faith in general. I understand faith as distinct from mere belief. Belief, in general, is usually propositional (e.g. “p believes that q”), it is a dyadic relation constituted of the believer and the object of belief, and is limited in that its moral and epistemic implications are usually restricted within particular contexts. Faith (or at least the type of faith that is generally considered “religious” in nature) on the other hand, pertains to a much broader scope of our mind and reality, it constitutes an “overall” framework of understanding for reality, and is deeply entrenched in every aspect of our life. Such faith cannot be represented merely by a simple, dyadic relation like that of a belief, as it is closely intertwined within the entire frameworks of our moral and epistemic reality. In short, faith in the religious sense covers a far greater(perhaps greatest) scope of our reality than mere belief, as it must constitute the highest overarching stance of our perception and understanding, hence is subsequently monadic in nature in the sense that it “immerses” us within an entire framework or tradition of values and beliefs, rather than merely “relating” us to a particular or set of values or beliefs from an “outside perspective” – faith in the religious sense is essentially “one with us”.

Reason and faith are inseparable, it is not possible to discuss one without relating to the other. However, we can more or less conceptually isolate the purely calculative aspects of human reason, which Kant refers to as “pure reason”, though to do this in practice is impossible. “Pure reason” is the part of us that makes deductions, inferences, and calculations, somewhat similar to a computer — albeit for us, the perspective and creativity gained through our self-consciousness and our temporal awareness allow us to see beyond the purely formal and deductive, hence we are able to “discover” new ideas rather than simply “follow” a pre-determined series of deductions or events.

Pure reason is always an “outsider” regarding the human existential circumstance, as one cannot rely on calculations and deductions alone to truly “live” life to its fullest extent and “experience” every moment of reality with our complete selves, less love each other faithfully through the lens of divine perfection and eternity. However, pure reason is a necessary path in which we must take in order to reach genuine faith, as pure faith alone without the guidance of reason can easily lead us into superstition – this is the importance of critical reasoning in faith.

The limitations of (pure)reason can lead us toward the realm of faith as we attempt to pursue the deeper meanings of life and existence that lie beyond the scope of logic and evidence alone. As we assess the premises and foundations in which our rational instruments such as science and logic are established upon, we eventually “bump” into the limits of cognition, and hence necessarily require “a leap of faith” in order to continue our rational pursuits without the fear of inconsistency and illusion, or some sort of “grand trickery” (see Descartes, Hume, and Kant etc.).

Reason and faith must then “join forces” to make that “leap” across the boundaries of cognition and “rest within” the “completion” of truth and virtue that is attained only through a thorough assessment of our reality by our reason, combined with a genuine leap of faith towards what is ultimately beyond the limitations of logic and evidence. Hence, reason is more or less the “eye” of our mind and soul in which we perceive and discern our world, while faith is the “heart” that we use to “touch” and “feel” the love and beauty of our world as we immerse within the meaningful experience and purpose of the miracle of life.

Reason and faith together constitute our overall experience of life and reality as sentient, intelligent, and free agents/persons who are blessed with infinite possibilities, and imbued with the desire and purpose for love, peace, the highest good, and ultimately, for God.

2. Jacobsen: Following from the previous questions, what seems like a misapplication of faith? What seems like a misapplication of reason?  In practical or real-life terms, how can proper application or misapplication of faith lead to positive or negative consequences, respectively, in life, directly or indirectly? Similarly, how can proper application or misapplication of reason lead to positive or negative consequences, respectively, in life, directly or indirectly?

Sheen: I believe reason necessarily leads to faith, although this faith is often implicit or “hidden beneath” the frameworks of our perception and cognition, and may not always be “well-placed” nor would it always lead to religious belief. Unlike in the previous section, I will now refer to reason, or “holistic/good reason” here as a very comprehensive ability that underlines the very essence of humanity, rather than merely the calculative aspects of “pure” reason that can be fully imitated by a computer.

Not only does this more “holistic” reason include our ability to perform logical deductions and make causal or probabilistic inferences based on our calculations and intelligent observation of the world, it also constitutes the part of us that allows us to love in spite of fear and uncertainty for our future, to cherish and appreciate in spite of the harshness and suffering of reality, to pursue peace and harmony in spite of our conflict and despair in life, and to transcend our immediate desires in order to reach out for a higher purpose in spite of our own limitations and the axiological imperfections of our world. The latter ability of our reason — the possibility for our will to transcend our inner selfishness and love each other in spite of the suffering of life, is what ultimately bestows us the possibility have faith beyond what is immediately perceivable or accessible to our logic, senses, and desires.

In this way, faith and reason are not two separated and somewhat contrary aspects of our cognition as is so often portrayed in the media and pop science, as they both hold real influence and consequences for each other. Nowadays as I see it, bad faith is often the result of bad reason, as it is often reason that leads us to faith(not only in God, but many other things, some proper, others misplaced. This is not to say that is always the case, as one can certainly have a preconceived belief or faith that is misplaced, distorting their reason and resulting in a vicious circle of disconnection with reality.

Bad faith and/or bad reason often occurs when faith and reason are divorced from each other, usually with one being infinitely magnified over the other as it attempts to transgress it’s own realm of jurisdiction in seek of dominating the other.

Stephen Jay Gould famously argued that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”(NOMA), that is, science and religion each govern their own respective realms of facts and values. According to Gould, it is not reasonable to demand that science answer questions which pertain to values, nor is it reasonable to demand religion to explain the mechanisms of nature as derived through scientific observation and experimentation.

NOMA is an attempt to solve the apparent conflict between science and religion, and consequently, between reason and faith. While it has its virtues, NOMA does not provide us with the clear boundaries of science and religion(less reason and faith), as it is more or less merely a guidance framework in how we ought to treat these different domains of inquiry. Therefore in order to distinguish between what pertains to faith and what pertains to reason, we must approach God the Creator (the “premise” of facts and values in this context) and God’s creations (the natural world and our experience of reality) in a discerning way, and learn to distinguish not only between facts and values, but also between the mundane and natural, and the extraordinary and divine.

I will give some plain and simple examples of bad faith and bad reason, and how they ought to interact with each other on the basis of wisdom and discernment. I will start with two examples of bad faith:

1) James 2:24 tells us that “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” The first example of bad faith comes in the form of misplaced faith, which often replaces our action and removes from us any responsibility.

Consider if your car breaks down and that you notice a tyre is flat. What ought to be the best course of action for you? Do you stop, assess the situation, and decide what would be the best course of action to fix the simple issue at hand, or do you instead stop and pray hard in front of your car hoping that the tyre will somehow magically restore itself and be pumped full of air again? The latter is a classic example of misplaced faith, which is commonly seen in all forms of superstitious behaviour, particularly in strongly fundamentalist religious traditions and pagan superstitions of the past.

Misplaced faith happens when one leads one’s faith beyond the jurisdiction of its own divine realm (which pertains to the underlying purposive, teleological, and ultimately the divine, spiritual reality of our life), and consequently trivialises one’s faith in the divine, transcendent reality(God), “downgrading” it into a form of naïve and wishful thinking of trivial desires from the common aspects of life(which one believes could substitute for one’s own actions and responsibility). Misplaced faith is hence also a form of “theological blasphemy”, as it takes the glory and purpose of God and corrupts it with trivial, worldly functions.

Let us return to James 2:14-17. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

While faith is very important in our lives (often without some of us realising that it is there at all!), we ought to discipline our actions in accordance with our faith, but not replace our actions entirely with faith alone, particularly when it is directly contrary to the demonstrable laws of nature(if we do have genuine faith in God, we ought to have faith in nature as an extension of faith in God’s creations).

In this case, it is evident that we ought to either fix, or replace the flat tyre, whether by ourselves or through the aid of others (which also leads us to put faith in, and trust the good will of others as an extension from our faith in God); as even if it is not in principle impossible for supernatural miracles to happen as a result of divine intervention, we would have no good reasons to expect God to perform such an unimpressive miracle regarding a problem as mundane as a flat tyre, which on top of trivialising God’s transcendent divinity, would also consequentially jeopardise the integrity of the entire natural, physical world (as God’s creation) through the injection of an external, supernatural non-causal force within a set of natural, causal relations that are otherwise consistent with the rest of God’s creations. It would a completely unnecessary and contradictory action from God if He did actually fix your type in a flash of light(following Occam’s Razor), which could only logically undermine God’s infinite wisdom, and twist God into some caricature of a wish-granting lamp genie that bends to the ever trivial desires of mankind.

(The relation between prayer and the subsequent answers of prayers are another huge topic that deserves its own discussion, as it is heavily involved with the theological discussions of the nature of God and God’s relation to time and eternity. One view proposes that before anyone prays, God has already known about the prayers and determined the outcome of it even before the creation of the world, and hence has already “planned” the occurrence and outcome of the prayer via the complex chain of interactions of the laws of nature that He has already embedded within the creation of time and the universe. This means that all prayers and all answers to prayers are simply pre-determined events that God has masterfully crafted to play out within our experience of time. This of course brings in conceptual difficulties for free will and other issues, which deserves its own topic)

2) A second example of bad faith comes in the form of “transactional faith”, which often include superstitious “exchanges” or false, selfish acts of devotion. “Exchanges” are attempts by individuals to bargain for some sort of “favour” from a divine entity or supernatural force by performing certain rituals or presenting certain items as an “offering” to gain this supernatural entity’s favour.

While such patterns of behaviour are generally associated with primitive tribes and cultures, we can still observe such patterns of superstitious behaviour in many Asian cultures today, particularly within Chinese Buddhism/Taosim as I have often witnessed. (This is by no means an attack on genuine Buddhist and Taoist philosophy however)

In Taiwan, lucrative industries are established around the superstition of “karma gathering” through the “releasing” of all sorts of animals. Large amounts of caged pigeons are sold to believers intent on gaining “good karma” by “releasing” them into the wild in hopes that the deities of their choice would grant them good luck for their business to prosper, their health to retain, or even for them to win the lottery or be born into a wealthy family in their next life so they wouldn’t have to work again. The pigeons are often released in fixed locations so that the merchants could quickly recapture them for resale purposes. Fish would be sold beside a small pond, released by karma purchasers, and subsequently caught just a few meters away, sometimes within plain sight of the customers.

Such examples of bizarre superstition are not uncommon in our world even today, and are by no means unique to Buddhism or Taosim, but can be found in every religion, and even in secular cultures between limited agents(such as worship of money, status, attention, e.g. “Instagram influencers” etc.).

In Luke 6:46, Jesus says: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and don’t do what I say?”, it is very clear to us, even written so obviously in the Bible that genuine faith must be followed by consistent change and action for the purpose of the good (Will of God). One who only announces their faith in God in words cannot possibly be truly faithful if their actions are not consistent with their words and do not bear the fruits of love.

The idea of a promise of eternal life after death as long as one “follows” Jesus Christ – even if not accompanied by genuine action — in some fundamentalist Christian sects also gives rise to similar forms of superstitious “exchanges”, as this overly-simplistic interpretation of Christian faith may lead opportunistic individuals to adopt a form of “playacting” in Sunday church to “repent for their sins” so that they could gain a “free ticket to heaven” all the while disregarding all sorts of evil that they condone, or even endorse and commit during the rest of the 6 days of the week. Such individuals essentially follow the same mentality as the karma purchasers, hoping that their acted “obedience and repentance” in front of God and other believers would somehow gain them favour from God, regardless of how inconsistent their actions and behaviour are compared to their proclaimed beliefs in love and forgiveness outside of church.

Since God is all-knowing, is it even remotely possible for God to be fooled by the deceptive acting of such individuals? Would God not see through the true intentions of such individuals from the inconsistency between what they proclaim to believe in, and the selfish and disdainful conducts that they secretly engage in when they are outside of church? Would God, in all His omniscience, trust someone who has no genuine desire to follow the teachings of Christ and discipline one’s life around the essence and wisdom of love and forgiveness by serving others in the pursuit of the good, but only engage in hypocritical acting of devout faith and public displays of virtue that only result in their own personal gain…? It is no surprise that even the brightest of us can be fooled by the acts a skilled charlatan, but it makes no sense for God, who is infinitely wise, to be fooled by them.

In Romans 16:18, Paul talks about the beliefs and teachings of insincere believers: “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” By “appetites”, Paul refers to the selfish, personal desires of power and worldly riches rather than a genuine love for God and the good. The nature of such false faith and obedience are no different from the type of empty conformism in ethics that I have mentioned in previous discussions where one simply “abides by” the laws of ethics for personal gain and benefits (or simply out of fear, in which one may still commit evil secretly when one perceives it to have no negative consequences on oneself), rather than truly believing in, and taking genuine action out of the pursuit of the good. Albeit, in this case, one is trying to appease God rather than merely evading the backlash from society.

In their deceptive pursuit of God, those who resort to such deception are only corrupting the true essence of genuine faith in the divine. They have secretly replaced God with the shameless pursuit and idolisation of their own selfish desires for worldly pleasures. In reality, those who subscribe to these forms of transactional faith are merely idolisers of themselves. It would take very flawed logical and moral reasoning for someone to delude themselves into such infantile deception against that which ultimately lies beyond their limited capabilities, if it is indeed the case that their flawed reasoning somehow convinced them of God’s existence in the first place.

Bad reason on the other hand is less explicit, but nonetheless extremely common in modern technological society. I will once again give two examples:

1) The first example of bad reason would be scientism, often championed by various non-scientists and a relatively small number of eminent scientists alike. Scientism resembles a more “extreme” expression of logical positivism, a historical movement that ended in complete and utter failure. Scientism is the belief, or more precisely, faith (since it is religious in nature and manifestation) in which science, as the object of worship, is the sole, objective gauge for every possible truth, fact, and value that there is to know in the world, and that science is the only valid form of inquiry regarding every aspect of reality.

Essentially a form of misplaced faith, scientism is a classic example of the transgression of pure reason, in which limited orders of logical and empirical frameworks are applied beyond their explanatory limitations and are forced onto the realm of faith and value. Such transgressions of pure reason often manifest from a completely reductionist view of faith/values, emergent qualities (where “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”) and complex relationships that pertain to the “human factor” (as depicted by sociologists and philosophers alike) while ignoring the irreducible complexity of many aspects of reality and the limitations and incompleteness of our cognitive frameworks.

The result of scientism is a delusion of methodological superiority and cognitive grandeur where either science, as the object of worship, is taken as the sole gauge of truth, or where every question that science cannot answer are judged as meaningless. We can readily observe such delusions manifest in the claims of some scientists and philosophers alike, such as in the beliefs of Steven Weinberg, Peter Atkins, and Mario Bunge, or even pop-culture authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, in more or less the “omnipotence” of science or the supreme value of adopting a purely naturalistic world view (in the sense that refers only to the physical and material) where reality is confined within the narrow perspective through a tiny hole that consists of only the counting of atoms and the motion of objects.

Since reason and faith cannot be truly separated, the cure for scientism would be no different from the solution for bad faith, which is the proper application of reason and discernment in order to identify the correct categories of knowledge and their corresponding domains of inquiry – to “put reason and faith in their own respective thrones”. It is important however that one embrace humility and come to the acceptance of the real possibility that other perspectives and world views may be equally valid and worthwhile, and come to one’s senses regarding the doxastic foundations of the scientific method and accept them as involving a leap of faith rather than as something to take for granted – such as the existence of the external physical reality, of matter, of the consistency of causality etc..

Under the guidance of good reasoning and discernment, a good practitioner of science ought then to acknowledge the profound mysteries of existence, and be able to appreciate the beauty, poetry, significance, and the warmth of love and the faith in the divine without viewing them merely as objects of domination under the scalpels of scientific dissection, but as real possibilities of our living experience. One ought then discard the delusions of scientism as one becomes cognizant of the richness of life and existence and become truly involved in pursuing them on their journey.

2) A second example of bad reason, albeit relatively short, would be what I refer to as “calculated faith”. Pascal’s Wager is perhaps the hallmark example of calculated faith, as in Pascal’s reasoning, the belief in God is merely a result of calculative assessment where the limited stakes of believing in God returns the possibility of infinite reward, hence, it is logical that one always chooses to believe in God.

To put it simply, Pascal thought that if God did not exist, then whether or not you believed in Him is irrelevant, as the expectations of infinite reward after death is false; but if God did exist, one would reap infinite reward in life after death as a consequence of one’s belief in God(or infinite punishment if one didn’t believe in God, although I am sceptical), hence, it is always reasonable and beneficial for anyone considering whether or not to believe in God to always choose to believe in God.

Would any genuine believer rest their faith upon the mechanical calculations for self-interest of such a nature? Would God, in any way, be “moved” by the “devotion” of such a “believer”? I will quote William James, in his 1987 paper “The Will to Believe” as a humourous and straightforward response:

“You probably feel that when religious faith expresses itself thus, in the language of the gaming table, it is put to its last trumps.

Surely Pascal’s own personal belief in masses and holy water had far other springs; and this celebrated page of his is but an argument for others, a last desperate snatch at a weapon against the hardness of the unbelieving heart.

We feel that a faith in masses and holy water adopted willfully after such a mechanical calculation would lack the inner soul of faith’s reality; and if we were ourselves in the place of the Deity, we should probably take particular pleasure in cutting off believers of this pattern from their infinite reward.

It is evident that unless there be some pre-existing tendency to believe in masses and holy water, the option offered to the will by Pascal is not a living option. Certainly no Turk ever took to masses and holy water on its account; and even to us Protestants these means of salvation seem such foregone impossibilities that Pascal’s logic, invoked for them specifically, leaves us unmoved. As well might the Mahdi write to us, saying, “I am the Expected One whom God has created in his effulgence. You shall be infinitely happy if you confess me; otherwise you shall be cut off from the light of the sun. Weigh, then, your infinite gain if I am genuine against your finite sacrifice if I am not! ” His logic would be that of Pascal; but he would vainly use it on us, for the hypothesis he offers us is dead. No tendency to act on it exists in us to any degree.”

In conclusion, bad reason and/or faith leads us to the misplacement of faith and confusion between the natural world of facts and the world of values. It can heavily undermine our pursuit of truth and practical solutions to life, and lead us astray in the pursuit of God, love, responsibility and moral goodness. It leads us into superstition and moral corruption and devoids genuine faith of its divine holiness. It can also lead to delusional ideals of the superiority of instrumental reasoning and a false sense of completion of knowledge based on the very same confusion between facts and values.

Finally, it leads to arrogance and delusions of epistemic grandeur, and in many ways ultimately results in the loss of one’s humanity through the exclusion of the “human factor” as a part of our living experience of reality by resorting to rational calculation for every aspect of our life.

The proper application of faith and reason ought to remove such problems, and lead us to live life to its fullest potential through the acceptance of a diverse range of perspectives, integrated seamlessly through a holistic world view that is carefully crafted through our pursuit of knowledge regarding our natural, physical reality, and our understanding and appreciation of love, beauty, meaning, and purpose… and ultimately, a love and reverence for the divine, for God, as we experience and celebrate the mysteries of existence.

3. Jacobsen: When it comes to science, and the previous responses about the need for humility and acknowledgement of human limitations in some ultimate, ubiquitous knowledge base about life, the universe, meaning, and everything, how can faith, reason, and science play an orchestrated role in the life of a 21st-century religious or spiritual person?

Sheen: Science is the best tool we have ever devised for understanding the natural universe, there is nothing that can replace science in this respect. But science is still a tool, nothing more, nothing less, it does not offer us anything further than practical understandings of the mechanisms of reality. In this sense, science is a means to an end, but not the end itself.

The most important aspect of science in relation to religion and faith is that science is very good at telling us what not to believe in, or more precisely, it helps us identify what isn’t worthy of worship (a wooden carving, for example). But science offers zero guidance in what we ought to believe in, although it does sometimes indirectly inspires within us a sense of the divine and leads us towards faith as a result.

We cannot rely on a tool to define our reason or purpose for using it, as our purpose must be defined both logically and practically prior to the invention and utilisation of the tool: as cavemen we didn’t hunt in order to invent the bow and arrow, we invented the bow and arrow in order to hunt more efficiently – hunting is the purpose, the bow and arrow are merely a tool we invented for this purpose. This is where “holistic” reason, as I see it, our “soul” or “fullest image of God”, reveals its importance in guiding our faith and values, as holistic reason is concerned not merely with the means and the immediate, but yearns for the transcendent purpose that takes refuge across the horizons of eternity.

This guidance of purpose from reason and our knowledge provided by science for us to differentiate between the mundane/natural and the divine/transcendent is what helps us navigate safely through the minefields of madness and superstition in search for that which is truly worthy of worship.

Faith concerns the ultimate, it pertains to a supreme reality or ultimate destination that not only accounts for our own existence and purpose, but also encompasses the ultimate answer to why there is something rather than nothing – it must be, in some sense, omniprevalent in our life. The truly faithful hence sees God as “necessarily permeating throughout the entirety of reality”, with His magnificence endlessly reverberating within, and beyond, all that is, was, and will be.

As Paul Tillich beautifully put it, “Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life.” Notice how he used the term “being grasped by”, rather than “grasping”, I see this as not a coincidence, as in Christianity we believe that it is God who “reached down” for us, rather than us “earning our way” up to Him.

I suppose, as John Calvin would say, the “sensus divinitatis”(sense of God) is naturally instilled within every single one of us, perhaps through our curiosity or yearning for the unconditional (following Kant), as long as we fully embrace and actualize our holistic reason (or as Plantinga would put it, controversially, as having a “fully developed” sensus divinitatis that is devoid of sin).

The role of reason and science, in this complex picture, is then to help us narrow down and refine our system of beliefs, which ultimately leads us to faith through extending and ascending our understanding of knowledge, values, and reality. One can, of course, end up somewhere completely different (which as I see it, involves a lot of contingency), such as mammonism (the worship of money), or scientism, all of which I see are the result of not utilising one’s reason to its fullest extent.

For example, the worship of money is often the result of selfishness and incomplete abstraction of freedom and possibility, where money (an abstraction of material wealth) is confused with freedom and individual power. Scientism on the other hand is usually the result of “optimistic hubris” combined with an incomplete understanding of reason, which leads one to confuse the means with the end itself. It takes a certain degree of arrogance for one to arbitrarily disqualify all other forms of inquiry in which one is incapable of grasping.

These are of course more sophisticated forms of misplaced faith/superstition, there are endless examples of where one fails to utilise reason and scientific knowledge (whether due to cognitive limitations or practical accessibility) and ends up in other less sophisticated forms of superstition, such as the examples of karma purchasing and transactional faith I have outlined earlier.

4. Jacobsen: What can science tell us and not tell us about God? What arguments make most sense against God? What arguments make most sense for God?

Sheen: This is a very broad question, with each of the three parts deserving of its own dedicated discussion. For the first part regarding what science can and cannot tell us about God, I believe my answer to the previous question may provide a good reference on my position: science is very good at telling us about “what isn’t God”, or “what God isn’t”, but science tells us absolutely nothing decisive about who or what God is, though science can more or less inspire us towards a sense of awe in regards to the beauty and perfection of the natural world. In fact our ubiquitous reference to the “existence” of God already poses logical and linguistic difficulties, as this generally presumes that existence is a property or state in which God possesses, or shares in, and frames God as a “thing of some sort”.

There are many different arguments for the existence of God given by philosophers and theologians alike throughout history, some overly sophisticated, others concise and eloquent. A simple Google search will reveal various classic arguments for God’s existence, they come in a variety of flavours, of which the most common forms include the Cosmological, the Ontological, and the Teleological arguments. I personally consider most, if not all of them to be somewhat useful, but I do not see any individual argument as decisive to establishing the existence of God as the history of theology is simply too rich and sophisticated for any simple description to fully capture, and as I will explain later, no amount of evidence or argumentation will convince an adamant atheist who is not ready to let go of their preconceived prejudice to start believing in God. I will not go further into detail as I am not about to write an entire encyclopedia of arguments for God.

On the other hand, I think the strongest argument against God’s existence (or at least an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God’s existence) is the problem of evil. In theology, we refer to a solution for the problem of evil as a “theodicy”. Generally speaking, it is not difficult to resolve the problem of evil through a teleological perspective which argues that all evil serves an ultimate purpose that is beyond our limited understanding, as unlike God we cannot perceive and understand the entirety of the chain of causal relations in its complete temporal framework of our universe.

As long as evil serves some sort of higher purpose, one can always wiggle out of the problem of evil. The stronger version of the argument from evil is hence the existence of meaningless suffering. The problem however is that “meaningless” is context-dependent. Suppose that our world is all there is, there exists no after-life, then most suffering in the world would probably be largely meaningless (at least for the suffering individual, if it does not lead to some sort of worldly salvation). However, if one’s preconceived notion is that there is an after-life, and that an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God is responsible for arranging the perfect moral judgement and compensation after one’s worldly demise, then all suffering would be ultimately bestowed with a greater meaning that extends beyond their own limited, worldly significance.

As I see it, all genuine arguments that are intellectually relevant regarding God would not only rely on any form of finite evidence such as found in the natural world, for the simple reason that finite evidence can never suffice to definitively prove or disprove a proposition which involves the infinite and transcendent. I refer to this phenomenon as “evidential insufficiency” – where the decisive truth or falsity of the proposition is not completely sensitive to evidential support. I will further explain this through an example:

Imagine yourself as an observer between two buildings in a thought experiment, as this “observer” you possess the full capabilities of reason, but no prior experience to the world as we know it – you are a “blank slate”, albeit sensible and intelligent, possessing all capacities of holistic reason. As you watch segments of a train pass before you through the gap between these two buildings, you notice the train does not seem to end. Some time down the process you may be tempted to conclude that either 1) the train is finitely long, albeit very long, of which you may not be bothered to observe in full; or 2) that the train is infinitely long. Suppose that 2) is true, that the train is infinitely long, at what point do you jump to either one of the conclusions? And what reasons do you have to definitively prove that your conclusion is correct? Suppose that you have an infinite attention span and infinite lifespan, do you remain unconvinced of either conclusion after a very extended period of observation? Or do you observe the train for eternity, hoping that it will end somewhere?

In many ways, the “evidence” for God are similar in nature, as limited observers within a finite world, we are incapable of grasping absolute infinity, eternity and transcendent perfection through our flawed lens of perception and our incomplete capacities of understanding, based on finite pieces of evidence that we are able to gather. As such, unless one is somehow capable of remaining completely adamant on one’s neutral position and live as a pure agnostic for one’s entire life, somewhere down the finite experience of life one would be forced to make a doxastic leap towards either the faith that God exists, or that God does not exist, if one is indeed led to carefully contemplate upon the context of the transcendent. As William James put it, this is a “forced” option, one that is unavoidable, and one that I see is necessarily “evidentially insufficient”, hence always involves a “doxastic venture beyond the evidence”, as my professor John Bishop would describe.

In real life, one would be repeatedly faced with such occasions that require us to make decisions for a “leap of faith” either towards or away from God, based on our contingent experience of reality and our ever-changing emotions in response to our reality. This process accompanies us throughout our life and in many ways forms the genuine interaction and relationship between us and God — whether we are trying to embrace Him, or trying very hard to push Him away. This is the journey of life that none of us can ever evade(unless one is severely cognitively impaired, hence lacking holistic reason).

One can of course argue that this entire thought experiment is unrealistic, and already excludes the importance of actual, real-world evidence and presupposes some sort of “real” infinity(“God”). This argument is extremely weak, for the very same empirical arguments that, as Dawkins would put it, “adds up probabilistically to the non-existence of God”, can be equally perceived as good evidence that “adds up probabilistically to the existence of God”. These very same empirical evidence are no different in nature from the limited exposure of the observer’s perception to a train that may be infinitely long, as they are all limited experience from the perspective of a finite observer that seeks to unravel the possibility of an infinite object of experience.

Perhaps the mathematical analogy that you cannot prove/disprove a superset from a subset would be a simpler way to put it, although the question remains: “is this superset actually infinite?” – and that is precisely where true faith lies, not in certainty, but within the seeming uncertainty that is hidden beneath an element of ultimate incomprehensibility and repeated struggle for truth that lies beyond our grasp.

In any case, perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence for the existence of God is the existence of our universe, that “something exists rather than nothing”. But those who are adamant against the idea of an ultimate reality beyond this limited universe would assert that the very existence of our universe provides every single reason to abandon the belief in a creator that is above it.

While Bertrand Russell is an extremely poor philosopher in almost every area outside of his expertise of logic and mathematics(of which he has contributed tremendously, mostly before 1911), his pop-literature article “Why I Am Not A Christian” explicates many common examples of these crude versions of atheism in relatively short and simple paragraphs. I myself do not find any of Russell’s arguments convincing, as I have went through the same thought process myself throughout my childhood all the way to high school, since I was raised in atheist indoctrination and later found my way out of it without any religious influence.

While it may be controversial, this means that any personal, subjective experience of God are also insufficient to prove, objectively, the existence of God, less convince a non-believer of it, as they are all ultimately merely segments of an entire reality observed from a particular perspective. They cannot account for another person’s reality nor can anyone justifiably proclaim a full understanding of our reality (apart from God of course) by simply extrapolating from such limited information.

As such, to an adamant unbeliever, it is never possible to convince them of God’s existence through any form of argumentation or evidence, as the way I often put it, “even if God appeared right in front of an adamant atheist and performed a miracle, they would still refuse to believe in the existence of God, and would more likely question their sanity instead of their dogmatic atheism, probably accompanied with an emergency appointment with a psychologist.”

I suppose, once again quoting Isaiah 7:9 “Unless you believe, you will not understand” — doxastic ventures beyond the evidence apply to both ways, not only regarding to faith in God, but also for atheism (or at least the doxastic foundations of an atheistic worldview, if one insists to push Antony Flew’s earlier atheistic rhetoric further and define atheism as “simply lacking the belief in God”, no different from how my chair or shoe equally “lacks belief in God”). Such leaps of faith of the individual is what ultimately defines the viability of any argument in these evidentially ambiguous(as a result of evidential insufficiency) circumstances.

My answer to your question on what arguments make most sense for God hence (I suppose you are referring to which arguments are the strongest), is that there are no arguments that “make sense” unless a person is ready to make that doxastic venture beyond the finite evidence in order to embrace a reality that will forever encompass an element of incomprehensibility for our finite rationality. This is also why as I see it, genuine faith combined with good reason is the only way for us to fully experience the entirety of life, and in some ways, the only transformation that will make us “fully human”, even though it is not accompanied by ultimate, full understanding of our reality.

While we may not necessarily place such strong faith in everything, it is not possible for one to live without faith at least in oneself, less without the faith in the love and trustworthiness of others in our lives(unless one is a complete psychopath, which would slot one into the cognitively impaired category where complete reason is ultimately inaccessible). The love, The trust, and the relationships that bond around their warmth and brilliance, is the most intimate “trace” or “presence” of God that we experience as finite beings as we journey through this ephemeral experience we call life.

The keen reader would have by now understood that the strength of an argument (either for or against God’s existence) is subjective to the individual and necessarily depends on one’s preconceived notions of God and the type of faith, or general inclination one holds towards the transcendent. As such, I would dare to say that the strongest arguments for or against God, is not an argument at all, but rather, one’s disposition towards God, and ultimately, one’s faith towards God’s existence or non-existence.

Like I have said earlier, an adamant atheist will never be convinced of God’s existence, and would rather sacrifice their own sanity rather than to give in to a supreme reality that is beyond their finite cognition. Likewise, a devoutly faithful believer will be incapable of seeing anything without recognising a trace of God’s transcendent perfection within, which necessarily flows among some sort of underlying pattern that serves a grand order. I call this order the “Grand Teleology of Design”, which I describe as a sense of complete perfection that is derived from every moment and aspect of reality — from the rustling of leaves and the flowing of waters, the brilliant sunrise and the blinking stars, I see God anywhere, and everywhere.

To an adamant atheist, I would be perceived as a mentally-ill individual whose hopes of salvation is based on nothing but laughable delusions, and likewise to me, I would see the adamant atheist in the same way. R.M Hare’s response to Antony Flew’s “Theology and Falsification” is a very good example of how faith, or as Hare puts it, “bliks”, define our overarching frameworks of reality, rather than the other way round like how people tend to believe in regards to more mundane and trivial matters.

Another thing people often talk about is the falsifiability of faith. This is a heavily misguided understanding of the philosophy of science and epistemology in general, as in this argument the falsifiability principle itself overarches as a principle framework above one’s standards of truth. The falsifiability principle does not allow its own verification within its own framework and offers no insight for anything beyond its finite horizon, hence its justification for itself as a higher order framework of truth above everything else is nonexistent.

The falsifiability demand is often made in conjunction to naive scientism, but the principle usually is only effective when applied to evidentially-sensitive propositions within the framework of science (finite evidence regarding finite objects of inquiry, which leads to decisive conclusions within a finite framework of truths).

To do science one must first accept or presume the validity and consistency of its principles and the natural principles that are the object of its inquiry. In case some principles or constants of known science are breached, one would not end up falsifying the entire framework of science, but rather only the particular conclusions derived from the inconsistency or a particular aspect of the framework (which then gives birth to better, more effective scientific methods, even if after bears no resemblance to the original after a certain amount of time such as the evolution from alchemy to chemistry).

In this sense the falsifiability principle acts merely as a failsafe mechanism for the scientific method, particularly the more experimentally-based branches of science. To applying it beyond the framework of science (and other evidentially-sensitive propositions in general) is a misapplication of a limited instrumental reasoning that is not designed to venture any further than its own playground.

Others such as Weinberg, who resist applying the falsifiability principle universally but nonetheless adheres to extreme scientism, often appeal to the consistency of falsifiable predictions of previous theories and the extended reliability of their predictions on unfalsifiable predictions, as many areas of particle physics and theoretical physics in general do not include much falsifiable experimentation. It would be a no-brainer for anyone with a bit of logical sense to realise that such an “extension” of consistency is nothing more than a “conditioned habit”, as there are zero purely rational reasons to trust any empirical pattern in absolute certainty (Hume vs Kant). Therefore, this position is still no more than a doxastic venture of faith, albeit placed within a far inferior object of worship that is the tool of science(or even worse, particular scientific theories). Though I should add this is still far better than worshipping a wooden carving or purchasing karma, as it does sometimes indirectly lead to important contributions as a result of chance.

(I should add that the types of God that scientists often proclaim to have “falsified” are nothing more than mere superstitions that are usually the product of infinitely magnified natural patterns or humanly characteristics (Hume has covered this in good detail). A “god” that “sits above a cloud” and literally looks and behaves like a grumpy old man is even less believable than Santa Claus, and certainly induces no sense of holiness nor even the slightest feeling of awe in us.)

5. Jacobsen: Does belief in God require uncertainty and, therefore, ultimately faith (with or without bolstering from formal reasoning and advanced modern science)?

Sheen: As I have mentioned earlier, true faith necessarily exists within a seeming uncertainty that is hidden beneath an element of ultimate incomprehensibility — at least true, meaningful faith in the religious and spiritual sense would always include some degree of uncertainty, otherwise it risks becoming little more than superficial indoctrination where the comfort of certainty replaces any and all effort in love, understanding and perseverance for God.

The same would apply to genuine faith in virtually everything, as without the element of unpredictability and the risk of being let down, one would not be required to take any “leaps” and need only be content within the certainty of one’s estimation, rendering faith indistinguishable from any form of common knowledge that our instrumental reasoning is capable of conceiving.

So my answer is yes, there is always an element of uncertainty in one’s journey with God. Anyone who proclaims faith in God but absolutely denies any such uncertainty probably isn’t too well-versed in the underlying philosophy and theology of faith, and are probably just “following the rules” rather than “actively adventuring with God”. On the other hand, an adamant atheist who denies any sort of uncertainty about their atheism probably wouldn’t be too open-minded about their bias, particularly when it is infused with rhetorical arguments from pop culture scientism.

(It is also important to understand that when a faithful believer describes their faith in an “absolute” sense, such as “I am sure God will lead you out of this”, they are usually professing a belief, not a proposition of facts, although it might sometimes be confused as a proposition of facts like “UY Scuti is the largest star currently known to us in the observable universe” in murkier contexts.)

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020: Image Credit: Richard Sheen.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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