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In the previous post, I presented and explained an argument for the design of the universe to make possible life on earth. The universe certainly appears designed, but could our intuitions

about this be wrong? Some think so, and have offered alternate explanations.

The Multiverse

The evidence and appearance of design is overwhelming. It seems an insurmountable challenge to explain how all the cosmological constants are so precisely calibrated to support life on earth without inferring design. Without design, the only other mechanism is chance, and as mentioned previously, the odds of all the constants falling in these “sweet spots” are practically, if not mathematically, impossible. The multiverse is an attempt to work around this problem.

In brief, the multiverse theory states that there is an ensemble of universes parallel to our own. There could be any number of other universes out there, each with different settings on their cosmological constant values. So, one may be quite different from ours, having life-crushingly heavy gravity, and another may be quite similar to our own, but perhaps having an Earth with high carbon dioxide and a runaway greenhouse effect. This multiplicity of universes are generated by some mechanism, a “machine” which produces these universes with such high quantity that eventually, one like ours would eventually pop out, develop, and evolve life.

A Multiplicity of Problems

 

So does the multiverse explanation offer an equal or superior alternative to a designing Agent? If so, it’s going to have to address a couple of problems.

The offering of a multiverse is an attempt at bypassing the implications of an Agent, whose properties begin to look like a personal Designer, one which we might call God. The problem here is that this explanation is, by definition as outside our universe, a metaphysical one, just as much as a belief in a God is; how can this sit well with materialists? Being outside our universe, there is no way, even in principle, to have any observation of, interaction with, or evidence for such a mechanism. To assert the existence of a multiverse ensemble or a multiverse generator is an act of blind faith exceeding the most fundamentalist theistic believer.

But even if we concede the existence of such a machine, it would also require some explanation of its origin, as noted before, an infinite regress of days (or other time units) is impossible to traverse. We must also have some explanation of its cause, and of its design, being necessarily a highly complex mechanism to be able to produce complex universes of various configurations. It seems to me that, at best, the multiverse pushes back the problem a level, but offers no solution for it.

The multiverse is an attempt to explain the appearance of design of the universe we live in. However, since it ends up not answering the question, but postponing it, and requires a lot of blind faith in an explanation without any evidence, even in principle, I find myself without any reason whatsoever to believe in such a thing.

But perhaps I’ve overlooked something. If you think so, leave me a note through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Continuing in the study of arguments for God’s existence, let’s today turn our attention to the Teleological argument for God’s existence, otherwise known as the Design argument. It works likeskywriting this: a design requires a designer, and as the universe gives good evidence of design, we are well-justified in believing in a grand Designer. Here’s the formal argument:

  1. Every design had a designer.
  2. The universe has a highly complex design.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

1. Every design had a designer

This is an intuitively known fact that can be shown true without a whole lot of introspection, but since this notion comes under attack, let’s consider a couple of scenarios to flesh it out.

Paley’s Watchmaker

William Paley, a natural philosopher of the 18th century, underscored our intuition of design by imagining that within a forest a person discovers to the side of the path a pocket watch. Now, a pocket watch is a complex mechanism, with carefully calibrated and assembled gears, springs, and other precise components, working together to perform a function: accurate timekeeping. If one were to find such a device, even if they had never before seen or knew about watches, it seems clear that no one would conclude or even for very long consider the possibility that it assembled through natural processes over time. No, the immediate inference would be that of an intelligent agent having designed the pocket watch.

Skywriting

We’ve probably all seen it at some point – fuzzy white letters in a blue sky saying “Marry Me” or “Eat at Joe’s” or “How Do I Land?” What are our intuitions when we look up and see these words? Coincidence of clouds and water vapors and wind? No, not even a simple “I ♡ U” would be mistaken as the product of natural forces and random chance. Information is conveyed, and our uniform and repeated experience is that information originates from a mind.

2. The universe has a highly complex design.

The “Anthropic Principle” is the term used to categorize the ever-increasing evidence that the universe was designed to permit and support life on earth. This is quite a claim, isn’t it? But it is the best explanation of the evidence of the cosmological constants, seemingly tweaked to make life on earth possible. Here are just a few of those:

  1. Earth’s oxygen level – 21%; 25% would cause spontaneous combustion; 15% would cause human suffocation
  2. Earth’s atmospheric transparency – blocks right amount of solar radiation
  3. Moon-Earth gravitation interaction – greater interaction would mean tidal effects on oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. Less interaction would cause climactic instabilities.
  4. Carbon Dioxide levels – more would cause uninhabitable greenhouse effect; less would prevent photosynthesis and cause suffocation.
  5. Gravity effects – if any different by an infinitesimal amount, stars and planets would never have formed.

There are over one hundred of these constants, precisely and mind-bogglingly set so that man can thrive. Put all together, the odds are truly staggering that such a universe could have arrived by chance. For a more in-depth look at the anthropic principle, additional cosmological constants, and more numbers on the vanishingly small odds of these constants lining up randomly, please see this excellent article on the anthropic principle here. The author describes a very lucky Powerball winner, and then makes this great observation: “If someone won even two such lotteries consecutively, we would all assume the results were rigged. And yet, when it comes to life existing in our universe, the odds are far more remote than winning a hundred Powerball lotteries consecutively.” Our universe certainly seems to have been rigged.

3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

As with the cosmological argument, I want to remain modest about the results of this argument. It doesn’t prove the Judeo-Christian God. It does, however, demonstrate that a super-intellect and super-power “set the dials” of the constants and designed the arrangement of the universe to be the way it we see it.

As with the Kalam argument, Reasonable Faith has made a great animated short film summarizing and explaining this argument. Check it out:

 

Next time, I’ll spend a little time on design objections. Please join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

In my last post I explained the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, but perhaps some questions were raised in your mind which I did not answer. Today, I would like to try to radiotelescope-1412892-1279x849briefly address a few.

Objections

Firstly, some modern physicists attempt to get around the uncomfortable implications of the universe’s beginning out of nothing by redefining “nothing.” When we say that the universe came from nothing, it is a literal nothing that we are talking about: not a quantum vacuum, not a blank slate that an imperfection can arise on its own, not a quantum vacuum; no-thing. Anything in existence prior to this starting point would have to be explained in terms of causation itself, and this argument concerns that ultimate origin.

A second point sometimes raised concerns the confusing notion of infinities. Why can’t the universe be infinitely old? Aside from the observational data referenced in the Kalam argument post which indicates a beginning, a bit of careful thinking will reveal that actual infinites are impossible. Only mathematical infinites are useful; when one tries to imagine an actual infinite, absurdities begin to multiply. The main issue, specifically applied to an infinitely old universe, is that it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite number of points in time (days, minutes, seconds, etc.) to get to the present moment. If we move back in time ten years, we should have a smaller amount of time prior to today, right? Well no, it’s still infinite. What if we move back halfway in time? Is it a smaller amount? No, still infinite. What if we remove an infinite number of years from the past timeline? Infinity remains. I hope this clears it up a bit, but for more information, a further, more thorough explanation of this concept can be found by William Lane Craig at his website here.

Thirdly, what about the multiverse hypothesis? I am actually going to defer this to a later date, when I discuss Intelligent Design. For now, suffice it to say that any multiverse generator still must be explained in terms of first causes.

Which leads to the fourth issue sometimes raised, that is put forth something like this: “If everything must have a cause, what caused God?” The idea is that we as Christians are trapped in the same infinite regress absurdity that we identify as a weakness of naturalistic explanations in the second point above. But the answer to this is really quite simple – we do not believe in a created God, but one who is the uncaused cause of everything else. Does this sound like a sidestep, some sort of religious special pleading? The point is that every explanation is going to have to have some first cause without a prior explanation. God, I submit, an intelligent, purposeful, willful mind, is the best explanation of a first cause.

Age of the Universe?

Another quite important issue that I want to make some very brief comments about is that of my beliefs about the age of the universe. The second premise in Kalam cosmological argument, namely that the universe began to exist, is largely supported by modern scientific observation and evidence of the Big Bang, the single point in time and space which expanded eons ago into the universe we have now. Now we will revisit some of this in the Intelligent Design section, but the main point to think of here is that, as Greg Koukl puts it, “the Big Bang needs a Big Banger;” that is, we have to account for causes. The Big Bang explanation doesn’t remove the need for God; in my view, it underscores it! Furthermore, even though there is some disagreement among Christians, I believe that an ancient universe is at the very least compatible with the Bible, and indeed the best explanation.

However (and this is important), this is not a crucial issue of orthodoxy, nor is it one I feel such strong convictions over that I spend a lot of time trying to convince anyone. My reasons for adopting an old-universe view are several. For one, I believe that natural revelation points to an old universe, and since the biblical accounts may be vague in their interpretations on this point, I believe that we are justified in applying the more clear evidence from science about this question. For another reason, I don’t stand alone in this view. There are many dedicated, well-credentialed Christian scientists and theologians that have adopted an old-universe view. Finally, pragmatically, this view is convenient in interacting with unbelievers with apologetics. An ancient universe view can be held in common with most non-Christians and built on as a starting point.

That is all I really want to say about the issue of young-earth vs. old-earth creationism except for the good advice from St. Augustine,

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Christian friends, the age of the universe is not one of the essentials.

Finally, if you want to see some of the arguments that have persuaded me, the best one has to do with starlight over at Stand To Reason here. Another site which has done a lot of work to demonstrate from the scriptures and from science the old-earth view is Reasons to Believe, and some of their resources on this topic can be found here.

Next, I plan to discuss another argument for God’s existence from design. Please join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Many different arguments can be used to demonstrate that God does actually exist. Individually, these arguments are compelling, and I believe when brought together, they make a very strong case, indeed. I want to go through a few of them with you. These are, of course, not original with me, and much more has been said about each of them, but I hope to explain in an easy-to-understand way the intuitive and powerful nature of these arguments.

Causes and Beginnings

Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

To start with, let’s look at an argument about the beginning of the universe, called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Reasonable Faith has put together several great videos presenting these arguments, and so I want to start with one of them. Have a look:

The Kalam Cosmological argument goes like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is a deductive argument, and it is in a valid form, so the task is to examine the premises to see if they are true, and so show the conclusion as also being true.

The first premise, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause,” matches our uniform and repeated experience in everything in life and science. To deny this is to say that some things could spontaneously come into existence with no cause and no reason; there is a rather large burden of proof on the one who would want to assert this counter-intuitive claim. An overthrow, or even an exception to the foundational principle of causation would create a massive undermining of the process and understanding of the scientific endeavor. I simply have not seen any convincing arguments or alternative explanations for the tried-and-true principle of causation that we adopt as the first premise.

Secondly, “the universe began to exist” matches the evidence of modern scientific observation, and is the best explanation of the evidence. But let’s consider some alternative theories that have been suggested.

  1. The steady state theory says that the universe has existed in stasis for eternity past. Cosmological observations and discoveries have rendered this theory obsolete, as there is data that shows the universe is expanding outwards from a central point.
  2. Another theory attempts to modify and salvage the steady state theory by postulating a continuous expansion, in which the universe is and has eternally been expanding, and that as it does so, new matter comes into existence from that central point. But this theory seems rather implausible as well, as (referring back to the first premise) our uniform and repeated observation and experience tells us that nothing begins to exist without a cause. Some sort of reasonable mechanism would need to be proposed and explained to redeem this theory, and none exist.
  3. Another model, the oscillating universe theory, suggests that our universe eternally, past and future, oscillates between cycles of expansion and contraction in which the gravitational forces in the universe cause the universe to collapse back in upon itself, after which it will expand back out. In this proposal, we are observing the universe presently in one of the expansion cycles. The problem here is that the force of gravity is not strong enough to pull all the universe back together; a collapse is not possible through this means. It appears we have a one-way expanding universe.

Therefore God?

It seems that we cannot escape the conclusion that the universe has a cause. How does this help our case for God’s existence? As I said in the last post, we are taking baby steps here. I won’t assert that this proves Christian theism, but I do think it provides some good evidence that is hard to ignore. Some of the properties of the causal agent of the universe would include these:

  • Uncaused – the “first cause” must be uncaused or else it would not be the first cause; something beyond would have caused it, into an infinite regress of absurdity.
  • Exceedingly Powerful – even omnipotent, to cause the universe to exist from literally nothing
  • Personal – only a personal agent with will, intent, and consciousness can explain the beginning of the universe with no prior causes.

I believe there are more attributes we could infer from this argument, but again, I want to be modest and not stretch out beyond our reach. These three attributes are certainly God-like as described in the Bible, and as we go on, we’ll see that the other arguments will bring us even closer to the God of Christian theism.

In the next post, I will briefly discuss some objections that may be raised to the cosmological argument and address my views on the age of the universe, another implication of this argument.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

2 Cor 10:5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christworking-1229720-1279x977

Previously, I took a great deal of time to show that not only does objective truths exist, but that we can reasonably approach and assess truth in many important areas of philosophy, theology, history, and science. Confidence in our knowledge in these areas can be gained and increased by careful reasoning and critical thinking through argumentation. Having laid the philosophical foundations to justify the use of these tools, I now want to apply them towards our knowledge of God.

Can Truths About God Be Known?

Rom. 1:20“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [unbelievers] are without excuse.”

But first, perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few words addressing the question, can truths about God be known? Is God too “other” for finite humans to comprehend or in any way grasp His properties? One agnostic trend makes the claim that this is impossible. Paul, in Romans 1 indicates that some amount of knowledge about God is indeed possible through observation and reflection. I think the agnostic claim itself fails philosophically as an absolute claim, as it claims to have knowledge of God, namely that knowledge about God is unattainable. So what is gained by the destruction of this claim? Well, we can escape the prison of ignorance concerning God; it seems that it is not logically impossible to know something about God (if He exists). This, of course, doesn’t take us very far towards positive knowledge claims about God, but it does make forward progress possible, at least in principle.

Baby Steps

In the posts that follow, I want to move, with slow and careful steps, through some arguments that have installed in me confidence that God exists and is accurately reflected in Christian theism as laid out in the Bible. Slow and careful, I say, because these are not philosophical word games, some smoke-and-mirrors rhetorical trick. I’m not going to try to take you all the way from skepticism to true believer all in one argument, as that seems an awful lot to ask from one argument [1]. Instead, I want to build a cumulative case for you that grows in stages from previous groups of arguments, as laid out in my earlier post about the goals of Christian case making. As a reminder, here is the model I’m following in this method.

                      | Has God spoken? |

                |        Has God acted?         |

     |                     Does God exist?                 |

|    Does Truth exist? Is Truth knowable?         |

We have completed step one, concerning Truth, and are now moving up to the next step, “Does God exist?” The arguments will not, as I said, make the full case in one step, but will move us forward, bit by bit, with evidence for God’s existence, His attributes, and how Christian theism seems to fit best with reality and history among other religions. I think this careful case-building strategy can be persuasive, as the Holy Spirit softens the heart and removes hostility towards God. Overthrowing one’s worldview in favor of one very different is no small matter, and one which I would expect not to happen quickly.

Please join me next time as we begin with arguments for God’s existence, and I hope that you will have your confidence and trust strengthened in the truth of the Bible as we see how reality truly is reflected, described, and prescribed. I certainly found it convincing, and I pray you will too.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Although not impossible – the Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection strikes me as very persuasive, and implies much of content of Christian theism.

In previous posts, I’ve attempted to show that argumentation (as distinguished from bickering or fighting) is a good thing – the process in which we take observations and evidence and draw the-great-detective-1425530-1920x1440conclusions about the world around us. We saw the first principles of logic that form the foundation of reason, and that true, biblical faith is based on reason, rather than being opposed to it, as some misunderstand. Building on this, let’s now look at the most common types of arguments: deductive, inductive, or abductive.

Argument Types

In a deductive argument, the premises lead to a conclusion which, if the premises are shown to be true, follows irresistibly. So, for a famous example:

  1. All men are mortal. (premise 1)
  2. Socrates is a man. (premise 2)
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion)

Intuitively, this should make sense. The conclusion follows from the premises, if they are accepted as true. This is the strongest form of argument.

Inductive arguments contain a conclusion that is established by the strength of their premises, and so rather than the conclusion irresistibly following the premises, it is only probable, not certain. Take this example:

  1. It has rained every day for the last thirty days in Birmingham. (premise)
  2. Therefore, it will probably rain today in Birmingham. (conclusion)

Is the conclusion certain? By no means, but probability seems to be in favor of its being true.

Abductive arguments, sometimes known as inference to the best explanation, draws a conclusion taking into account multiple pieces of data and attempts to most comprehensively explain them all. This is the form of argument frequently used by criminal detectives (such as Sherlock Holmes). Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am in a room with no windows in the interior of a building.

  1. Someone walks in the room with wet shoes and a dripping umbrella. (data 1)
  2. I’ve been hearing some ominous booming and rain-on-roof sounds. (data 2)
  3. The weather app on my phone says there are thunderstorms in my area. (data 3)
  4. A reasonable conclusion would be that it is raining outside currently. (conclusion)

An interpretation of the data occurs which lead to possible explanations which are compared with one another. The chosen conclusion is not certain, but it seems more likely than alternate explanations that may be offered.

Argumentation Gives Knowledge

So to sum up, concerning arguments, two or more premises (including hidden premises) are put together to lead to a conclusion.  The premises must each be evaluated for probability of truth in order to determine the strength of the conclusion.  Since in most cases the premises are assigned probability less than 100% certainty, it usually leads to conclusions which are themselves less than 100% certain.  However, this is simply the way we operate in life.  In many instances, we consider ourselves to have knowledge on topics for which we have varying degrees of certainty.  Different subjects require differing levels of certainty to claim knowledge, yet we navigate reality, personally and corporately making important decisions on what we consider to be (un)acceptable levels of certainty.  For example, criminals are executed through a decision of guilt rendered beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all doubt.  If we are justified at this level of moral certitude to impose a death penalty on another, surely, then, absolute certainty is not required to claim knowledge.  Through diligence and clear thinking, we work to make livable decisions for life, morality, and religion. Through proper exercise of deduction and induction, we are able to approach truth.

Having established (I hope!) the existence and knowability of objective truth, and the value of good argumentation to apprehend truths, I will hereafter shift gears from the mechanisms of knowing truth to the arguments themselves that have been particularly convincing in my mind, as well as many others, for the truth of Christian theism and worldview. I hope you’ll join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Logic’s First Principles

What we believe has ethical implications to ourselves and others as we use or misuse our knowledge.  Therefore, it is vitally important for us to have true beliefs and understand the basis of our statueknowledge claims. This involves the philosophical field of epistemology, or the method of our acquisition of knowledge. The foundations of good argumentation as an epistemological method are called First Principles of logic which are self-evident and are applied then to our observations and prior reasoning to build conclusions.

First Principles of Logic

  1. The Law of Identity states that if a proposition is true, then it is true. Put another way, a thing is identical to itself. Stated in symbolic logical form: A=A. This one seems so obvious that it is difficult at first to see why it is even useful to formally recognize, but it is the most basic logical law, and is the basis of the other two. It also comes into play when we are answering certain difficult questions, such as, Are Yahweh and Allah the same God? Is the mind the same as the brain?
  2. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that no proposition can be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. Symbolically: A != !A. For examples: Can God exist and not exist at the same time? Can God be personal (as in monotheism) and impersonal (as in monistic religions) at the same time?
  3. The Law of Excluded Middle says that every proposition must either be true or false, and there is no middle ground, no third alternative. Symbolically: A or !A. For instance, “God exists” is either true or false, there is no other possible answer.

As a clarification concerning contradictions, there are three categories that are often lumped together and called “contradiction.” The first is contradiction proper, as defined in the second First Principle above. The second category is mystery, in which there is a logical answer, but we just don’t know it yet. Think about investigating a murder or other crime as an example. The third category is paradoxes, which seem contradictory, but usually involve terms used equivocally but not actually contradictory, such as “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” “the beginning of the end,” or “I’m nobody.”

God and Logic

Finally, I think it is critical to note that God is not “above” logic, such that logic does not apply to Him, or that the laws of logic are arbitrary and could have been other than they are if God decreed them to be so. I understand when people want to say that He is, they are attempting to keep Him properly elevated in an appropriate position of superiority, but if the laws of logic do not apply to God, then you end up with absurdities such as having to affirm that perhaps God exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. Neither is God subject to the laws of logic, thus enslaved in some way. Instead, logic is part of who God is, in the same way as the moral laws; these are not arbitrary, but flow from his nature.

In the next post, I will talk more about arguments, demonstrating and defining the different types and uses to gain knowledge.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Faith and Reason, Part 2

In my last post, I hopefully clarified the difference between biblical faith and the contemporary understanding of that word. Often, it seems to be put in opposition to reason, and it was my goal handshaketo show they are complimentary, not opposites.

What is Reason?

First, I want to make some important distinctions. We will be talking about argumentation here in our discussion of reason, and this word often has some bad associations because of the way we use it. When my kids are in the back seat of the van being nasty to one another with their words, I might finally yell back to them, “Stop with the arguing already!” But I want to use the concept of arguing in a different way here. So here’s what I don’t mean: arguing and reason is not quarreling, bickering, squabbling, or contradiction. It is also not judgmental, narrow-minded arrogance.

When we have a verbal interaction with someone, it usually takes on one of these four forms: [1]

  1. Discussion – A discussion is where people are sharing information and opinions with one another.
  2. Disagreement – Disagreements happen when people have conflicting opinions, but are not trying to change the other’s mind about it.
  3. Argument – People with differing opinions are now giving reasons to support their beliefs in order to persuade the other.
  4. Fight – Name-calling, insulting, and other nastiness happens in a fight; it is abusing the other person and not giving reasons at this point.

I love this classic Monty Python skit to illustrate:

Reason is a tool by which we evaluate observations to form conclusions about reality; it is working out what follows from what and evaluating the relationship between real and possible objects and other real and possible objects. This often involves others, challenging ideas and being challenged; this is argument, part of loving the Lord with all your mind (Mark 12:30). Arguing well is a good thing, as it helps us distinguish truth from error.

Is Faith Opposed to Reason?

If you say yes, then your view of the relationship between faith and reason looks something like this:

FvR2 FvR1

As one grows, the other shrinks: the more evidence and reason one has, the less need for faith, until it is eventually all squeezed out. Conversely, one with “perfect faith” then has no doubts and no need for logic and reason.

But, as I pointed out in my last post on faith, this isn’t a picture of biblical faith at all. Instead, it is more accurately illustrated this way:

F&R

In reality, the more evidence and reasons we have concerning the trustworthiness of a thing or proposition, the more trust or faith we place in it. This is biblical faith and the true model of the relationship between faith and reason.

In the next post, I will talk more logic and putting together your toolbox for clear and critical thinking.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] As seen in The Fallacy Detective

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.

the-matrix-red-pill-blue-pill

Can Truth Be Known?

How do you know what you think you know? Can you have 100% certainty about anything in life? Are you sure that the world around you exists as you perceive it?

Skepticism and The Matrix

These are all questions that come to mind as a result of watching the 1999 film The Matrix. If you are one of the three people left who hasn’t watched this by now, let me sum up for you the plot relevant to this post. A young man who goes by the online pseudonym “Neo” begins to see clues that the life he lives and the things he sees and experiences may not be what he thinks: that there is a world beneath the world. A group who seeks out those with this dawning perception contacts him and offers him a way out into the “real” reality. Neo discovers that he and the majority of humanity has been enslaved by machine overlords and plugged into the power grid to keep the robots charged up. In order to keep humanity docile, the machines plug into the brains of the human batteries and feed a “virtual reality” scenario in their consciousness in which they think they are living their lives in turn-of-the-millennium earth. Adventure and hijinks ensue.

This concept, brought engagingly to the screen in 1999, is credited to René Descartes in the 17th century. He conceived it as a thought experiment to probe the depths of skepticism, to figure out just what sort of things one could be certain about. In Descartes’ model, it is not robots and a sophisticated virtual reality program, but an evil genie casting a spell of deception on the skeptic, producing for the subject an experience of false reality. Descartes realized that there was no way to know for sure that this wasn’t the case. This led to a regress of skepticism in which he landed on the one thing he could be certain about: “Cogito ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, I may not have certainty that I am not being deceived in what I perceive, but I can be sure of one thing – that there is a “me” that may be deceived. “I doubt, therefore I know there is at least a doubter.” 

Living Life

So what do we do with this skepticism? It doesn’t seem to leave us much room to maneuver with confidence, does it? It turns out that this angst, while interesting to recognize and a good exercise for ordering one’s beliefs and epistemology, isn’t as crippling as it may seem on first understanding. Granted that we don’t have complete certainty about everything we think we know in life, we still make life-altering decisions on a regular basis. How can we responsibly do this without 100% certainty about the particular issue? Well, because of Descartes’ skepticism exercise, we understand that there is only one thing we can be sure about, that “I” exist. Yet we are forced in life to make decisions, and so we do so with confidence by presuming our sense impressions are more or less reliable. This presumption is justified in the absence of a valid defeater. In other words, unless I have good reason to doubt my sense impressions, I am rational in believing the evidence of my senses and drawing conclusions with reason and philosophy. So we gather data, process potential defeaters, and assign probabilities (not necessarily explicitly) to truth claims relating to our decisions (“Biblical Christianity properly reflects reality,” or “Nissans are generally more reliable that Fords,” or “I should eat at Moe’s today instead of Krystal,” etc.), and act on those decisions. Does objective truth exist? Yes! [1] Can we be completely certain that we know truth in these or any decisions? No, but we can know it well enough to live life with confidence.

That’s Just Your Opinion!

So we all have to make our own decisions, appraising the situations and associated truth claims. Does that mean anything goes? After all, at the end of the day, isn’t it just your opinion? Who can say that you have knowledge of the truth in the matter? As we saw in an earlier post, knowledge requires belief. Belief requires opinions, but not all opinions are equal. “Who can say” is the one with the best reasoning for their opinions. (There is a great deal more that should be said about the effects of sin on mankind’s ability to reason and form knowledge, but as I am laying a foundation of justification for reason and argumentation for the Christian case-maker, I’m going to move right on by this point.)

“But wait,” you may say. “What’s the role of faith, then, and its interaction with reason? Aren’t they opposed to one another?” I’ll take that up in my next post!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] If you doubt the existence of objective truth, consider that the negation “Objective truths do not exist,” is itself a statement purporting to declare an objective truth, and so refutes itself. Thus, objective truths do exist.