Archive for July, 2016


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.

In my last post, I described the influencers that contribute to the beliefs that people hold, categorizing them as sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical, and showing that go-away-1544609members of the first three categories were insufficient of themselves to provide adequate basis of belief. Only when we begin with a properly functioning mind can we correctly appraise truth claims presented by the society, psychology, and religion.

It is also worth noting three categories of reasons why people will “SHUN” or reject a truth claim, according to J. Warner Wallace [1]:

A. RaSHUNal – Rational reasons are a request for more evidence to justify a truth claim. It is in this aspect which Christian case-making may be most useful.

B. EmoSHUNal – A truth claim may be resisted due to emotional hurts in the past or present related to the claim. As concerns Christianity, the resistant person may have been hurt by a pastor, another Christian, or (seemingly) God Himself. Helping this person will require patient love and friendship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is generally not the situation for a formal argument, although sometimes rational objections may be offered as a smokescreen to hide the true hurt.

C. VoliSHUNal – Volitional objections to a truth claim amount to a declaration that “I don’t care if it can be shown to be true, I’m not changing my life for your claim.” As relating to Christian claims, again, making a good case will not make much headway, as their will is set against it. Although they will often present rational objections as well, the smokescreen nature of their objections become apparent if a couple of exploratory questions are asked: “If I were able to answer your objections to [God’s existence, reliability of the Bible, historicity of Christ’s miracles, etc.], would you become a Christian?” or “What is your standard of proof? What evidence would you require to convince you of the truth of Christianity?” The answers to these questions frequently reveal the volitional nature of their resistance to Christianity. In this situation, the softening of their hearts by the Holy Spirit is required, and your steady and virtuous friendship with them may provide you an opportunity to answer honest questions about God that may be forthcoming.

In almost all cases, it is my belief that the normal use of apologetics by the Christian will be done in the context of a relationship with the other person. Theodore Roosevelt is attributed with the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and I agree. You aren’t making friends simply as an emotional wedge to proselytize; I’m talking about genuine and caring friendships in which the other person then becomes open to finding out more about that which is important to you and the reasons you hold for your beliefs.

1 Peter 3:15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

Form friendships, and be ready!

Next post will be concerning how truth is known. I hope you’ll join me!

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

[1] J. Warner Wallace, “Why Some People Simply Will Not Be Convinced,” Cold Case Christianity, August 16, 2013, accessed October 8, 2013, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/why-some-people-simply-will-not-be-convinced/.

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” – Blaise Pascal

As part of my recent series of posts concerning truth and knowledge, I’d like to turn today towards the question of what sort of influences on people form beliefs and consider the adequacy of these influencers to deliver truth on their own.

Why Do People Believe What They Believe?

In the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (1), the authors describe a seminar in which the attendees were asked for reasons why people believe the things they do. Many answers were given, and the speaker wrote them onto a whiteboard. Some of these answers included things like parents, friends, society, and culture. Others offered reasons of comfort, peace of mind, meaning, purpose, hope, and identity. Others still proposed that beliefs were often formed from teachings of Scriptures or holy books, pastors, priests, gurus, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders, and their respective church organizations. Finally the speaker himself added a few of his own to the end. These reasons were then organized into categories and labelled on the whiteboard, something like this:

Sociological Psychological Religious Philosophical
Parents

Friends

Society

Culture

Comfort

Peace of Mind

Meaning

Purpose

Hope

Identity

Scripture/holy book

Pastor/Priest

Guru

Rabbi

Imam

Church

Consistency

Coherence

Completeness

Starting, then, from left to right, the speaker asked, Is each individual category and its contents was adequate by itself to provide enough justification on its own for belief? Read through the categories and items again yourself and think about your own answer. It seems to me that each of the categories, except the last one, is insufficient to the task. Greg Koukl summarizes the situation this way in his excellent book Tactics:

The Bible is first in terms of authority, but…we cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s word unless we use our minds properly.  Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error. (2)

So what exactly is meant by these items in the category of “Philosophical Reasons?” Logical consistency means that the beliefs one holds do not contradict one another. Internal coherence describes a harmonious relationship between the other beliefs in which each are carefully considered and fit together in a reasonable or natural way. Completeness refers to the ability of one’s set of beliefs to best explain the collection of data and evidence about the particular issue being considered. These three tests for truth have the best hope of delivering truth when applied to the claims made by the other three categories. Working in tandem with good philosophy, we may approach truth in the offerings of society, psychology, and religion.

Evaluating Ideas

Ravi Zacharias outlines three levels of philosophy for evaluating ideas (3), and I think they are correct:

  1. Formal Philosophy – This involves the use of logic and critical thinking in analysis of arguments and evidence presented for a point of view.
  2. Culture and the Arts – Truths discovered through philosophy can often be well illustrated through movies, music, and metaphor.
  3. Prescription – Laws and parental household rules are examples of prescription. This is the application of these ideas for oneself and legislation for others.

As an example, you may be familiar with the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, which is often used to make the intended point that each expression of religion is really a discovery or worship of the same god, and that man’s finite nature and abilities lead us to believe we are serving different gods, when in reality each religion is merely a facet of the one god. Those who present this to persuade others of this view, usually offer it as a full argument (omitting step 1), but it is only an illustration (step 2) of an absent argument. They then move to step 3 and try to make the application that no one can know the truth about what or who god is, and so we should not claim that we are right and others are wrong (this could be used about truth in general as well, not just religious truth). Now, they may be right about these applications (I don’t think they are), but I hope you can see that without an actual argumentation, all we have is a possible explanation, but not necessarily a reasonable one.

By the way, here’s a great response to the Blind Men parable by Alan Shlemon of Stand To Reason.

In my next post, I will be talking about reasons people resist belief. I hope you will join me!

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

 

1 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 51-54.

2 Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 32.

3 Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, eds., Is Your Church Ready (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 33.