Skeptic: Inevitably skepticism leads to asking the God question. You call yourself a fideist.I beg to differ. Whether you like beer or not is actually a matter of fact. What goes on in your brain - liking or disliking beer - is empirically testable, at least in principle. Sure, you have a right to make a leap of faith, but it will have nothing to do with truth or fact, and that is what being s skeptic is all about. Even as Gardner explains himself, I find his whole succumbing to emotional forces weak and unenligntning.
Gardner: I call myself a philosophical theist, or sometimes a fideist, who believes something on the basis of emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons.
Skeptic: This will surely strike readers as something of a paradox for a man who is so skeptical about so many things.
Gardner: People think that if you don’t believe Uri Geller can bend spoons then you must be an atheist. But I think these are two different things. I call myself a philosophical theist in the tradition of Kant, Charles Peirce, William James, and especially Miguel Unamuno, one of my favorite philosophers. As a fideist I don’t think there are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. Even more than that, I agree with Unamuno that the atheists have the better arguments. So it is a case of quixotic emotional belief that is really against the evidence and against the odds. The classic essay in defense of fideism is William James’ The Will to Believe. James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.
It makes the atheists furious when you take this position because they can no more argue with you than they can argue over whether you like the taste of beer or not. To me it is entirely an emotional thing. [Emphasis added.]
"[T]here are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul", so there is no reason to embrace belief in it, either. Gardner's fear of death is just that, and has nothing to do with the existence of life after death.
Skeptic: Couldn’t someone make this same argument for belief in New Age hokum? Couldn’t they quote you in support of their beliefs?The place Gardner got his idea of an afterlife and an immortal soul is Christianity, and for that religion there is as much evidence to refute as there is for New Age hokum.
Gardner: They could use that argument, except New Agers also have a whole series of beliefs that can be empirically refuted. Like reincarnation — the evidence against that is overwhelming. Most New Agers also accept most of the beliefs of the parapsychologists. They believe in ESP and PK and channeling. We have very strong empirical evidence against these beliefs. So I think there is a big difference between belief in God and belief in the paranormal.
William James made this clear in The Will to Believe. In the first place, it has to be a leap of faith about something that has overwhelming importance to an individual. Second, it has to be something for which there isn’t any strong empirical evidence or logical argument against it. So there is something radically different about belief in a mind behind the universe and the whole cluster of beliefs that the New Age movement presents.
Skeptic: So in your earlier statement that the atheists’ arguments are better than the theists’ arguments, you must mean only slightly better.Ironically, I don't think this is a problem for theism at all. The Bible is fallacious on so many accounts (check out “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!”), so why not about God being omnipotent? The human writers of the Bible probably did not think of their God as someone who could do literally anything, but rather someone who could do all that they needed to get done, like defeating their enemies and providing a plenty harvest, etc. But even if we take it to mean that God can make a stick that is longer than itself, and is generally superb at breaking the rules of logic, then admitting that he is not all good should be easy. just take a look at the freakin' Old Testament! (E.g. the plagues.)
Gardner: Well, they are better in the sense that the theist has a tremendous problem of explaining the existence of evil, and to me that is the strongest argument against God. If there is a God and he is all powerful and all good, why does he allow evil into the world? Evil exists, so is God all good but not all powerful? Or is he all powerful but not all good? That is a very powerful argument and I don’t know of any good way to answer it.