William Kingdon Clifford was a philosopher who lived in England more than 150 years ago. He was not very well known because his life was cut short at age 33. His recently discovered essay entitled “The Ethics of Belief” is now receiving a great deal of interest. In this essay, written in 1877, Clifford says that it is a moral obligation to believe responsibly. We must base our beliefs on sufficient evidence that we have diligently investigated. He believed this to be of such great importance because beliefs influence one’s actions. They are foundational to life.
Dr. Dallas Willard, former professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, found that many of the students and scholars who considered themselves to be agnostic or atheist that he encountered on campus and in the world were guilty of what he called “irresponsible disbelief.” These bright men and women would often choose to disbelieve in something without any significant commitment to an investigation of that disbelief by way of sound reasoning and careful examination of the evidence. This is one of the great flaws in our human character. We stubbornly hold on to our beliefs because they generally reflect how we want life to be rather than how life actually is. For this reason, the evidence does not seem to matter.
Before he became a Christian, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health USA and Director of the momentous ENCODE project was in this category until he was challenged by one of his patients, She was dying but because she was a Christan had no fear of death. She asked Francis about what he believed.
“Dr. Collins, you’ve been so kind as to listen to me and care for me and listen to me share with you about my faith. Tell me about your faith. Tell me what you believe.”
Collins reaction: “Nobody had ever asked me that question before, not like that, not in such a simple, sincere way. I realized I didn’t know the answer. I felt uneasy. I could feel my face flushing. I wanted to get out of there. The ice was cracking under my feet. All of a sudden, by this simple question, everything was a muddle.”
Collins had previously believed that Jesus and the stories of the Bible were nothing more than mere myths. As he studied the historical evidence, he was stunned at how well documented and how historically accurate the Bible is. He also saw a surprising fidelity of the transmission of the manuscripts that were passed down over the centuries. And, over time, Francis Collins, based on the accumulation of the evidence that he observed, concluded that God exists and that Jesus is the Son of God. He also concluded that most of the religious skeptics that he knew and that he meets today are just like he was. That is to say, they didn’t want to think about these things and never looked at any evidence, never drawing conclusions from the real evidence that was available.
If your an agnostic or atheist are you guilty of irresponsible disbelief?
Much of the above information was extracted from the excellent book Reflections on the Existence of God by Richard E Simmons 111