In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:
We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”. Here is an alternative way of answering this question:
1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.
Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview. In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:
…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.
Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.
(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:
While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.
(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)
So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party. (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews. In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions. The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents. Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents. It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents. In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”. Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews. This takes time. This takes years of education. A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn. We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe? One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch. Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad). First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics. If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents. Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics. Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree. Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school. Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school. So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct. In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs. We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs. If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview. So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning. If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another. If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.