In my quest to read and critique the books written by the four Atheistic Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris), I have recently finished reading Hitchens’ book “God is not Great.” Hitchens is a marvelous writer and a decent observer and illustrator of humanity’s events, but he has a serious problem (and may I say unadulterated anger issue) with religion. It seems to consume his writing and lays waste with the aid of his sarcastic and flammable tongue (or, at least it did, until his death in 2011). And while I aim to mine deeper in my analysis of all four books (“God is not great,” “The end of faith,” “The god delusion” and “Breaking the spell”), I did want to take a quick blog moment and address the issue that Hitchens brings up consistently throughout his book (and, may I add, completely without explanation or logical backing).
A few years ago, my daughter had been going to college a few years and had evidently crossed the path of someone well-versed in Hitchens’ book. Luckily, she has no problems bringing up objections to Christianity or doubts to me (and I am extremely grateful for that fact). Well, one day she texted me, asking if religion or Christianity (I can’t remember the exact question and I have since changed phones several times) was the same as solipsism. Now, I have to confess that I had no idea what solipsism was as I’ve never heard of the term, but I dutifully Google-searched it and came up with the following definition:
“The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.”
Now, by itself, this definition can be traced back to Kant, who tried to narrow down what could be known. In the end, he proclaimed “I think, therefore I am,” basically summarizing that he knew he himself existed due to the fact that he could internalize his own being. But, he wasn’t so sure that he could rationalize the existence of anything else, especially if his own senses could be fooled. After all, he could be hallucinating his interactions with the world or he could be simply a brain in a vat, which was being computer-fed his environment, background and any other particulars.
However, this definition is a little too simplistic and doesn’t really lead us to rationally compare solipsism with religion or the existence of God. But, when we delve a bit deeper to determine that solipsism depends rather heavily and only on the personal experiences and disregards the experiences of others, we soon see where Hitchens is heading with his analogy. If only the experiences of the individual matter, then what evidence could anyone else possibly provide to allow the experiences of others? Well, if the experiences of others are automatically discounted, then there are no external proofs that could be provided. If a person truly believed that their experiences with the world were the only ones that counted as proof then there’s no way anyone else could prove them right or wrong as the experiences of others could never be used as proof. Similarly, if I experience events associated with my religion that forever affect my life and outlook, then my faith is based on internal suppositions that no external proofs can hope to discount. In effect, there are no logical proofs that can give my faith validity and no proof that can hope to take my faith away. It’s a little like saying that I know that there are a race of unicorns hiding on one of the moons that orbit Saturn because I had a dream there were.
There are a couple things that Hitchens (and others) are saying about religion when they compare having faith to solipsism. First, they are saying that faith is entirely subjective. Having faith in God is a little like having a favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s really just your opinion. Included in that charge of religion being completely subjective is the assumption that faith in God is not relevant on facts, but opinions. So, whether you believe in Buddha, Mohammed or Christ, it’s still a personal preference, just like your taste in ice cream.
Now, if this were true, that one religion is pretty much the same as another, then it doesn’t matter which religion you choose because they’re all equally without proof and validation. And that’s kind of a curious declaration. First, the world’s religions don’t all proclaim the same message, possess the same moral claims and commandments or provide the same direction (See what I did there…an old Baptist trick). The other funky difference to comparing all faiths to liking a type of ice cream is that when you proclaim Butter Brickle to be the best (a very spurious claim indeed), you’re not making a truth claim about the world: you are declaring your opinion, but you are not stating that your opinion is the only correct opinion or that your opinion corresponds directly to reality. You’re not stating that Butter Brickle is the best ice cream for every person on earth and at every time during the history of earth.
Faith in God is, however, making the direct correlation with reality. When I say that there is a God that created the world and wrote His revelation to all humans through the Old and New testaments of the Bible, I am saying that the God that I have faith in is not just the God that I believe in, but that the truth I believe correctly corresponds with reality. I’m saying that God is not just the God of me, but the God of everyone on planet earth and at all times in earth’s history. I’m not professing an opinion: I’m proclaiming a fact that corresponds with reality.
Now, if I’m proclaiming a fact that corresponds with reality, then I must have external proofs that lead me to believe such a fact. Otherwise, why would I believe that my beliefs correspond to reality? And, of course, I do believe I possess many excellent reasons for believing in the existence of God and that the Bible is God’s direct revelation to all humans, as opposed to the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita or any other (presumed) holy book. So, I’m not simply basing my faith in God and trust in the Bible on an opinion, personal experience or passed-down tradition.
I’m not going to go into a lot of depth into why I believe the Bible is the actual, direct word of God or why I believe in the existence of God as that information can be found elsewhere. Suffice to say that I base my faith in God’s existence on many logical arguments, many of which are backed up by current scientific thought and I consider the Bible to be God’s word due to its historical accuracy (backed up by archaeological discoveries as well as extra-biblical evidence), its unique nature of being prophetic as well as its extremely unique viewpoint on human nature and the solution to the fundamental divide between God and humans. Plus, it’s really not the point of this article to provide those proofs. Rather, the point of this article is to demonstrate that faith is not the same as solipsism.
In fact, there’s an underlying assumption in comparing faith to solipsism that assumes science and the scientific method are the only ways of determining truth in the world. And, that assumption is, in itself, kind of interesting, in that science itself believes the truth of many facts which cannot be directly observed. However, science, like my faith in Christianity, relies upon abduction or the Inference to the Best Explanation to presuppose that unobservables such as quarks, gluons and even gravity correspond to reality.