Finding Hope in James Muyskens' The Sufficiency of Hope
Most people hope the world is the way they believe it is. That is, most people hope that their view of the world is right. They usually do not hope for the truth about things to be much better than what they suppose it is. Sometimes the hope is a factor in causing the belief; sometimes the hope stems from the desire to be right about one's belief; and in some cases the hope may follow the belief, i.e., one becomes accustomed even to an austere view of the world and finally comes to prefer it. It seems that most people, especially most philosophers, would rather be right than have the world turn out to be even a better place than their theory allows. They might not admit this outright, but one sees in their writings no signs that they hope they are wrong and the world is better than they have supposed; one never sees them say: ``This is a somewhat grim view I have proposed, and I hope very much that I am wrong, but I am driven to this view by solid considerations''. The late A. J. Ayer is reported to have said shortly before his death that he certainly hoped that death would be the end of him, in spite of having had a ``near death experience'' which had ``slightly'' shaken his disbelief in survival. It is hard to know why anyone would hope for annihilation.
But what about the people who do hope the world is a better place than their theory permits? One is curious to know how many atheists, for example, are regretful of the conclusion to which they believe the evidence points and hope the world is a better place than they suppose. Likewise we would like to know how many agnostics are regretful that the existence of God is not well supported by evidence, as they suppose, and how many permit themselves to hope for his existence and to what degree they do this. Also, if the truth were known, there may be a number of people who believe in God who are more or less sorry that he exists. Certainly many people believe in him who are sure that their manner of life puts them in danger of his wrath.
There have always been many people who believe that there is inadequate evidence for supernature, whether God or the afterlife. Supposing there is indeed little evidence for God, this raises the intriguing question, would there be anything epistemologically sinful in permitting oneself, not to believe in God's existence, but to hope for his existence? James Muyskens, in his book, The Sufficiency of Hope, makes a curious argument to the effect that such hope is not only epistemologically permissible, but also an agnostic may actually be a full-fledged Christian based upon this hope. According to Muyskens, an agnostic who honestly does not know what to think on the subject of God, who does not believe there is enough evidence to make a judgment either way, is entitled to do two things: first, he can hope Christianity is true; and second, if he does hope that Christianity is true, he can be a...