This defense of faith is inadequate, however, because religious faith is not merely about what satisfies human wants and needs, but also about what is true. Faith makes claims of a special kind. The soul is immortal and lives after death. There is a God in heaven who seeks to be eternally united with us. Heaven awaits those who trust in God, while those who reject Him are headed for the other place. And so on. These claims are impossible to verify, and hence they are radically different from claims about Papua New Guinea or Waterloo. I could validate my faith by going to Papua New Guinea or by combing through the historical records pertaining to the Battle of Waterloo. But I have no way to know whether my soul will outlive my body, or whether there is actually a supreme judge in heaven. These things are outside the bounds of experience, and therefore they are outside the power of human beings to check out. As Kant showed, they are beyond the reach of reason itself.

But Kant did not conclude from this that religious faith was unreasonable. On the contrary, he argued that beyond the precincts of reason, it is in no way unreasonable to make decisions based on faith. The important point here is that in the phenomenal or empirical world, we are in a position to formulate opinions based on experience and testing and verification and reason. In that world it is superstitious to make claims on faith that cannot be supported by evidence and reason. Outside the phenomenal world, however, these criteria do not apply, just as the laws of physics apply only to our universe and not to any other universe.Thus when Christopher Hitchens routinely dismisses religious claims on the grounds that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence,” he is making what philosophers like to call a category mistake. He is using empirical criteria to judge things that lie outside the empirical realm. He wants evidence from a domain where the normal rules of evidence do not apply. Beyond the reach of reason and experience, the absence of evidence cannot be used as evidence of absence.

Remarkably, there are many people today who wish to conduct their lives on the presumption that there is no God, no afterlife, and no reality beyond the world of experience. These are not only the self-proclaimed atheists but also the agnostics, whose professed ignorance translates into a practical atheism. Often with a self-satisfied smile, they say, “I cannot believe because I simply don’t know” This attitude is peculiar for two reasons. First, it is entirely incurious about the most important questions of life: Why are we here? Is this life all there is? What happens when we die? These great mysteries press themselves on all humans who ponder their situation, and yet there are people who refuse even to consider those mysteries. They continue to demand evidence of a kind that is simply not available here. Their attitude is also bizarre because it shows no hint of an awareness of the limits of reason. Empirical evidence is unavailable because the senses cannot penetrate a realm beyond experience.