Imagine that Leonardo, ever the devout believer,
receives a message from Splinter, who says that God wants Leonardo
to do something incomprehensible. You must take your youngest mutant Michelangelo to the top of the Empire State Building and sacrifice him. Utterly devastated, but equally unwilling
to believe the messages are a hoax, Leonardo takes the happy-go-lucky Michelangelo
to the Empire State Building. Fortunately for him, at the last moment, Leonardo’s hand is stayed when an alternate sacrifice suddenly appears. He does not have to sacrifice his beloved
Michelangelo. Leonardo was relieved that his devotion was rewarded, while Michelangelo
can’t understand how Leonardo could buy into such nonsense. Splinter’s message couldn’t
possibly be from God, and if there is a God, he would never ask Leonardo
to do something so horrific, right? For American Philosopher William James, the question of belief in God is one of the most important questions we will ever consider. Lot’s of people already believe,
and lots don’t, so depending on who you talk to, believing is considered like “Well of course he’s real” or like “Please, what sort of idiot believes this crap?” When pressed on their reasoning for the matter
of their belief, the believer and non believer can come up with equally compelling arguments. For James, a belief’s value resides in how it cashes out. Not in whether it’s true in some objective sense. In other words, how useful believing is.
Rationality and empirical evidence are no help with deciding our belief, because, as one philosopher said, you can’t poke God with a stick. Consequently, James thinks it’s acceptable to believe in something despite its lack of scientific rigor. In other words, our emotional nature
comes into play on certain beliefs. Belief in God, then, is a matter not
of logical science, but of volition, of will. But it’s not a mere matter of believing because it makes you feel good. It’s a matter of taking the option seriously. For example, you can entertain the fact that fairies
exist but there is no risk attached to it. James would call this a dead hypothesis. Not so with deciding whether or not you believe in God. The choice you make is a big deal.
It impacts your life in profound ways. In a time in which we worship
reason and scientific method, it’s easy to dismiss anything that doesn’t
completely rely on evidence and rationality. But to James, our will to believe is a legitimate option
that should not and cannot be dismissed. So dear viewer, the pragmatic question is:
Are you better off believing or not? Thanks for watching, beloved viewer.