| Some people claim to have no beliefs at all. They declare independence from faith and presumption. They stand on the platform of “no beliefs,” immune to religious bias, seeing no need for a higher authority. They look at religious folk and say, “You have faith, and we have facts. You have religion, and we have science.”
They subscribe to the philosophy of naturalism: the view that nature is all that exists. They suppose that we live in a mechanistic cosmos of brute facts and that all true knowledge is based on empirical evidence.
They use David Hume’s fork as a test to validate ideas. Hume described the test this way; pick up any book, a book of theology or philosophy for example, and two simple questions will determine whether it is meaningful:
“let us ask Does it contain any abstract reasoning
concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain
any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact
and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for
it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” *
Philosophy professor Sandra LaFave shows how Hume’s fork works, using the statement “God exists.” Is this statement analytic? No. Can it be verified empirically? No. In conclusion, “If no impressions verify or falsify the claim ‘God exists,’ then the claim falls into the nonsense category. This upsets some people.”*
Yes, it does, but Ravi Zacharias isn’t worried. He tells religious people not to be afraid of Hume’s fork, because “the test itself does not pass the test. David Hume's grand statement is neither scientific nor mathematical.”* The test must be assumed apart from facts and logic, so it is self-refuting. We can throw it to the flames.
This is true for any test. A standard such as logic can be used to test and validate ideas, but the standard itself must be assumed. We must discern which ideas are supported empirically (by sense experiences) and which are assumed. Otherwise we will think we are proving empirically what we are assuming from the start.
To illustrate, let’s use an analogy somewhat similar to Plato’s cave. Two men have lived their whole lives inside a cave; they have never seen anything outside. Someone tells them about a beautiful meadow outside with sunshine and flowers and butterflies and chirping birds. One of the men believes that this meadow exists, but the other does not. The skeptical one wants to prove that there is no meadow, so he points to rocks and water and things inside the cave. He finally develops a theory that pertains to everything inside the cave. Has he proved that there is no meadow?
Both prisoners are relying on faith. That is, both appeal to some point of reference beyond what they physically observe in order to conclude:
1- that there is a meadow.
2- that there is no meadow.
Everyone is religious in this sense. Everyone holds to a standard of truth beyond what we physically observe. Theists appeal to God as ultimate while secular humanists point to the material world as ultimate, but neither group proves its view empirically.
Materialists claim that their viewpoint is different from religious faith. After all, they can see the cosmos with their physical eyes while Christians cannot see God. Yes, we see the cosmos physically, but do we see an unguided self-existent cosmos with our physical eyes? I don’t. That takes faith. Trusting in a self-existent cosmos produces a different kind of religion, but it’s still a system of faith.
If we assume that beliefs are irrational, we are bound to stumble into this idea of no beliefs. As soon as we involve logic and evidence, we will think that we have rid ourselves of belief.
|* David Hume, On Human Nature and the Understanding, Anthony Flew, ed.
* Sandra LaFave, Notes on Hume, West Valley College.
* Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods. Nashville, Tennessee. Tommy Nelson, 2000.