No, Christians, You Don’t Rationally Proportion Your Beliefs to Evidence

I define faith as the explicit or implicit volitional commitment to either believe, trust, hope, or be loyal to people, beliefs, or other things in ways that are not proportionate to the rational bases one has to believe, trust, hope, or be loyal to those people, beliefs, or other things. In other words it is willfully committing to people, beliefs, or other things without conscientiously deferring to standards of evidence and other rational warrant. It is being willing, whether consciously or without admitting it, to maintain one’s belief, loyalty, trust, or hope in the teeth of either present or future evidence, rather than abandon one’s commitments that prove unwarranted. For all the technical details of what my exact definition of faith is and my argument for why the word needs to be defined as I do and not as others do, see my post Why I Define Faith Philosophically As Inherently Irrational and Immoral.

In reply to this characterization of faith, some defenders of religious faith insist to me that they are not irrational. They claim that they believe, trust, hope, and loyally commit to their beliefs and their god, etc., all because of what they take to be rational reasons. As I said in my previous post, I have no doubt that there are religious believers who perceive themselves to be proportioning their beliefs to rational warrant. I just think it is misleading to call that “faith”. And I think that when theists or other believers in the supernatural insist to me that they are being as rational as anyone else who strictly proportions beliefs to evidence, logical consistency, and other philosophical, scientific, and everyday canons of reason, they are making a big claim that they cannot really back up.

Often what makes them perceive themselves to be rational is that they think there is more reason than not to believe in some philosophical conception of a god. On this, I take them to be wholly sincere in most cases. And I can even grant that if they define “god” narrowly and philosophically enough as something very abstract like “The Ground of All Being” then the idea of such a thing is at least one worth batting around philosophically. Further, some are seduced by wholly natural and understandable teleological prejudices in the mind to insist that the universe must have a rational designer. I can completely see why people who reject creationism but still hold on to the idea of rational designer feel very rationally justified in believing this. (Even though I also think they are completely wrong to do so, as I explain in depth in my post How Belief In “Theistic Evolution” Is Nearly As Much A Denial Of Science As Creationism and Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes.)

Where theists who believe in an interventionist god or “revealed Scriptures” or supernatural agencies start acting like outright faith believers (on my definition) rather than like rational scrupulous people who proportion believing, trusting, hoping, and being loyal to rational merits, is when they start making rationally intemperate leaps to thinking that the supposed rational designer ground of all being is the same figure they encounter in their religious traditions’ Scriptures, and when they start believing whole cloth all sorts of fantastic and evidence-free claims about supernatural realms and goings on that they read in their Scriptures.

For specifity’s sake, let me single out Christians (but analogous objections could be phrased to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or any other theistic believers in the supernatural). Even granting you for argument’s sake the existence of an eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, rational designing ground of all being, where is the rational basis to believe that the character of Yahwheh in the Old Testament is the same being as this and not just the product of the mythic superstitious imagination of ignorant, tribalistic, xenophobic ancient peoples? What are the rational reasons for this belief?

Even if you can strain to show some way that it is possible that the perfect God of metaphysical philosophers that you think you have rational reason to believe in is the same being as Yahweh, do you really think the preponderance of evidence points that way such that anyone who does not see this can be shown rationally that they are wrong? While there may be some incredible hermeneutical and metaphysical twisting you can do to make it minimally plausible that an omnibenevolent god commanded genocides or that he revealed himself as bodily even though he is immaterial or that he underwent changes of mind even though he is supposedly unchanging and atemporal, etc., is it the most likely explanation to say that the eternal ground of all being is identical with the interventionist god character of the Old Testament? Being strictly rational means not just finding some strained story that reconciles all the contradictions, it means making a case that the best account according to reason is one that says “the ground of all being” = “Yahweh”. Is that the best explanation and not just one you can rationalize if you are committed in advance to believing it no matter what? Do you have reasons for this claim that could not with comparable plausibility be used to claim any of the other countless gods from world history are the true manifestation of the Ground of all Being?

Is it rationally careful and proportional to think that Jesus could be both an eternal being (God) and a temporal being (human) at the same time. Is this the most likely account of Jesus? Does it even make sense to say a being can be both eternal and temporal? Can you explain at all how this makes sense? If you can’t and it’s something that does not make sense to you in any clear way, how is your belief in this rational? How is it “proportionate to rational warrant”? How is it careful and restrained? How is it unlike the kind of willful faith believing (a believing that contemptuously flouts standards of rational warrant when choosing to believe) that some of you get offended that I accuse you of engaging in?

And even if you could do the unlikely and make a clear, rational, logical, coherent, conceptually clear, consistent, historically sensitive, psychologically plausible, morally satisfying, evidence-based, compelling case for a greater than 50% likelihood that Yahweh was identical with the perfect eternal ground of all being or that there could be such a thing as a specific person that was both a temporal human and a non-temporal god, would you nonetheless have enough reason to believe in these things (or in, say, angels or expiation of sins through blood sacrifice or heaven or hell or the divine inspiration of the Bible, etc.) strongly enough that you can commit your whole life and self to these beliefs the way that your Christianity requires of you? In other words even if you could find ways to prove individually that each and every one of these fantastic implausible things you believe were not only minimally possible but as much as greater than 50% likely, can you justify a 100% commitment to them? Can you defend each and every one of these fantastic beliefs independently? Or do you just leap from “I think there’s more likely than not a ground of all being rational designer god” all the way to “I commit my whole life to my Christian beliefs and completely accept the existence of angels, Satan, Jesus who is both God and man, the Bible as to one degree or another the ultimate guide to truth”, etc.

Or if you’re a Catholic do your philosophical reasons to think there’s some sort of ultimate being translate into the kind of trust in the Church to tell you what to believe in any number of matters? Is each and every belief you adopt because of Church teaching one that you have greater than 50% reason to think is true? And the even the ones that you do have say just 60% reason to believe, do you affirm them only 60%? Do you think of them as only that likely and that much worth basing your life on? What’s your evidence that Jesus’s body turns into a wafer and his blood turns into wine during the Mass? How good are your reasons for believing in that specific claim? What’s the rational warrant here? Is it really a greater than 50% likelihood? On rational grounds? And if it’s more tentative than that do you believe it only tentatively?

I think it is pretty clear that in the case of one rationally unwarranted supernaturalistic belief after another Christians of all stripes not only believe more than thoroughgoing and scrupulous rational analyses would indicate they should, but also they believe with greater commitment of their lives than even a 51% confidence in the truth of Christianity would merit. And because of all sorts of religious conditioning to fear and loathe the prospect of leaving Christianity, you are at least implicitly and often explicitly hostile to the prospect of dialing down your degrees of belief or personal commitment to the levels actually warranted by reasoning and abandoning your religious beliefs altogether.

Just thinking that you have at least a 50/50 argument for a ground of all being or a rational designer does not mean that in many other Christian beliefs you have anything like over 50% warrant to believe or anything like a degree of warrant to believe that would merit a 100% commitment. So, in the end you are faith believers in the sense that I laid out in my previous post and briefly atop this one. You are people who willfully commit to believing, trusting, hoping, and being loyal to your religious beliefs, traditions, and communities to a far greater degree and with far greater personal investment than even the rational warrant you perceive to be there would allow.

For a follow up post in reply to a comment from a theist below, see Is God Just Too Great For Our Finite Minds To Understand?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    This is a great explanation of why jumping from arguments from natural theology (that themselves arguably don’t establish a good proportion of evdence) for a “god of the philosophers” doesn’t warrant belief in the specific deities of any given religion.

    There is one question I would like to throw at you that’s related to this, and that’s on how much we should consider religious belief “rational”. Your post seems predicated on evidentialism, but most apologists I’ve come across embrace a Plantinga style “Reformed Epistemology” that would try to bury their belief in god in a Epistemological hole. They would argue that belief in god is like belief in other minds, the past, or that the external world is real independently of observation – ie beliefs that can’t truly be settled in terms of evidence.

    There’s a lot to be said there, but I’d really like to hear your thoughts on it.

    Thanks

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      First of all, belief in other minds can be solved with evidence as well as anything else can be solved with evidence. Definitions of knowledge which require total certainty are ludicrous, all we need is to form beliefs using reliable belief forming mechanisms and have those beliefs be externally true and our chain from belief to the mechanism that formed it not be tainted by any Gettier style defeaters. 100% certainty is not necessary.

      I think the strong contention of Reformed Epistemologists that I have not yet dealt with but intend to is the redefinition of faith as sort of one’s lived world. One is always assuming an entire world and paradigms in which any particular thinking can occur and that fundamental “worldview” cannot be itself assessed from any neutral standpoint. To an extent, as a coherentist and a perspectivist myself, I can understand this but ultimately there are tests of internal coherency and there are still standards of basic rational inference, historical inference, and scientific inference that can contradict a starting presumption like Yahweh exists due to fundamental incoherences and self-contradictions. The idea that naturalism is just as much a leap of faith as selecting because of arbitrary historical accident one ancient superstitiously believed deity like Yahweh and placing him at the center of all thought is completely uncompelling equivocation.

      That’s a short answer that jumps around putting down a few preliminary lines of attack. Some day, I’ll finally write directly on this topic as much as it deserves, given the Reformed epistemologists are becoming dominant and they’re, frankly, the most smugly overconfident of anyone.

    • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, I have a few questions.

      I was initially persuaded on the idea of “properly basic beliefs” or that there are things that can’t really be decided well on the basis of evidence (like existence of the past, etc) in the way we can decide on what the force of a ball hitting a wall could be decided. Could you provide a good reference for me to look up information on the idea of the existence of other minds being as able to be settled on the basis of evidence?

      I do agree completely that Reformed Epistemeologists are becoming more and more common as normal evidentialism fails theists, so I’m trying to learn more to try and provide a counter argument. I’d love to know what you think of this line of attack.

      One way I had considered objecting to the properly basic belief in god idea is to build on the idea that it’s pluralistic and equally supports any contradictory set of gods. The idea here is that there’s no principled reason to consider belief in god’s to be properly basic, where as I can come up with a principled reason to account for the typical cases where something is properly basic (other minds, the past, external world, etc): In those cases, the differing view points have no practical difference. You may not be able to demonstrate to a solipsist that other minds exist, but you can demonstrate that even if these other entities are just figments of their mind, the solipsist can not control what they do, and that these figments can causes the solipsist to have experiences they do not want – so the solipsist must treat these entities as if they were real, even if he doesn’t believe they exist.

    • Richard_Wein

      Hi Counter,

      I would reject the idea of a properly basic belief. It’s based on a rather traditional view of epistemology, in which justificatory arguments are needed for rational belief. Since our justifications have to end somewhere, they must end in foundational or “properly basic” beliefs.

      I reject this traditional sort of epistemology in favour of a more naturalised one. I say that beliefs can be rational without being supported by an argument. We are constantly forming rational beliefs without arguments. For example, while I’m driving I may form a belief–based on the evidence of my senses–that another car is crossing my path, and I react accordingly. I typically do this without making any argument to myself. But my belief was rational nevertheless–it was in accordance with the evidence, and resulted from truth-conducive non-conscious cognitive processes operating on that evidence. Animals manage without any arguments at all. Since arguments are not necessary for rational belief, we needn’t worry too much about the problems of infinite regress and induction, i.e. the fact that we cannot justify our beliefs “all the way down”. This is certainly not to deny that conscious cognitive processes (including the making of arguments) are valuable too. My point is that they’re not essential for rational belief.

      My use of the word “rational” may seem controversial to some, as the word seems often to be used in a sense that connotes conscious reflective thought. Obviously that’s not the sense in which I’m using it. To avoid confusion, it might help to substitute the word “warranted” in place of “rational”. Whatever you call such beliefs, these are the sorts of beliefs we should be aiming for. What more can I aim for than that my beliefs be formed by the most truth-conducive processes available to me?

      Of course, if we want our beliefs to be as accurate as possible it’s a good idea to subject our existing beliefs to as much skeptical scrutiny as we reasonably can. So when I talk about truth-conducive belief formation, I include not just the process by which we first come to a belief, but also subsequent efforts to scrutinise that belief. To skeptically scrutinise a belief I have to try to adopt a standpoint outside the belief, and ask myself, “Would it be rational to adopt this belief if I didn’t already have it?”. But we can’t stand outside all our beliefs at the same time. Typically we scrutinise our more controversial beliefs from the standpoint of less controversial beliefs.

      I would say that there are some beliefs (or cognitive tendencies) which are so essentially part of our rational thinking that we cannot sensibly subject them to skeptical scrutiny, or at least that when we try to so we realise we cannot give reasons for or against them. Our tendency to think inductively is one of those. As Hume pointed out, we cannot justify induction without using induction, making such argument circular. But conversely, any attempt to argue against induction must also use induction, and so be self-defeating. The inability to justify induction seems like a problem on the traditional view of epistemology. But on my naturalised view I can just say that I’ve done my best to subject induction to skeptical scrutiny, and found that it makes no sense to argue for or against it. So I have no reason to stop using it. I think the same goes for belief in the past, and probably for belief in the external world (though I’m not clear what it would mean to stop believing in the external world). Needless to say, I don’t think that belief in God falls into this category. As for belief in other minds, I think we can argue inductively: since other people seem to have much the same properties of physical composition and behaviour that I have, they are most likely also similar in having a mind (in whatever sense I have a mind). But more importantly, we have no good reason to reject our instinctive belief in other minds.

      Note that I am rejecting any universal claim that we should not believe something without good reason for doing so. In the rare cases where there are no reasons either way, then you simply have no reason to change your current state of belief. But we shouldn’t be too quick to assume there are no reasons either way.

    • JLB82

      I am eagerly looking forward to your articles on presuppositionalism. How seriously is presuppositionalism taken in the philosophical community as a whole?

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      How seriously is presuppositionalism taken in the philosophical community as a whole?

      I never hear philosophers talk about it. It has no bearing on epistemology at all.

      But arguments about property basic beliefs, non-inferential awareness of truth do seem to be issues philosophers will talk about. I am not well read enough in epistemology to know if these are issues outside of philosophy of religion concerns though. But in discussing the epistemology of belief in God, people regularly talk about Plantinga or Alston, etc.

    • JLB82

      What do you and other philosophers think of van Til and Bahnsen? Also, are Plantinga’s ideas about belief in God being properly basic seen as good and/or difficult to refute?

  • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

    I don’t fall under a lot of the descriptions here, so I will just offer a few thoughts rather than try to rebut you on the whole, because there are lots of people whose ideas I think you are appropriately rebutting.

    I know you have defined faith a particular way, but Tillich, who is responsible for the concept of God as “ground of all being,” define faith otherwise as “ultimate concern,” which I find to be a very compelling definition. In Habakkuk, the phrase “the righteous person will live by faith” is a call to seek justice and goodness in spite of the chaos which was taking place with the Babylonians on their doorstep.

    Even if the Hebrew concept of justice at that time was confused amid violent cultural tendencies, misogyny, and other issues, this is a definition I can buy wholeheartedly. I will be writing a post on this, but these values which Habakkuk chalks up to “righteousness” are, I believe, self-evident, flowing strictly out of what it means to be a subject.

    A few other small concerns:

    1) Christianity does not need to be >50% probable. If a bunch of tiny possibilities range between 1-5%, whereas Christianity is 40% probable, siding with Christianity is still quite reasonable.

    2) Regarding Jesus, his status as a potential historical figure takes higher importance than does our ability to decipher the metaphysical implications of a God-man, though I think God as ground of being decidedly places God in a temporal space, and the concept of eternality may be a mistake.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Ultimate concern is an interesting concept worth talking about in its own right. But to say that it tracks the usage of the word “faith” in matters of epistemology or trust or institutional commitment is just false.

      I don’t understand the argument in 1) about probability of Christianity adding up from small likelihoods of a number of improbable claims it makes. Why are they all additive?

      2, Jesus as a historical figure is much less interesting a question. The qualitative leap from human to godhuman is the whole problem. EVEN IF Jesus not only existed but raised from the dead, the unintelligible proposition that he was a simultaneously eternal AND temporal being would still be nonsense. Even the resurrection were it to actually be plausible or even outright proven would tell us nothing about how a godman was even possible.

    • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

      I will have to read more of Tillich’s book (“Dynamics of Faith” if you’re interested), so I really can’t defend faith as ultimate concern to any significant degree right now; however, I think he is suggesting that “faith” as it is used in Scripture is less about trust and more about a value judgment. It would be interesting to explore the topic…

      Anyhow, I think you misunderstand my point in (1). I mean to suggest that, given a variety of religious or non-religious alternatives, each of them having very small likelihoods, were Christianity to stand out from the rest as having 30% or 40% likelihood, belief in Christianity would still be rational.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      It would be the most rational but still only worth tentatively and provisionally affirming at best.

    • baltabek

      All the different options would need to sum to 100%. If Christianity were 40% likely, then all the other explanations for the given question would have a combined probability of 60%. In other words, Christianity would still likely be false. If you bought 40 of 100 lottery tickets, and 60 other people each bought one ticket, then you would be more likely than any of the other people to win. However, it would not follow that you are likely to win. It would be most likely that one of the 60 other people will win. You would not be justified in believing “I will win the lottery.” You would be justified in believing that you have a 40% chance of winning the lottery, and a 60% chance of losing.

  • Jesus Smith

    Faith is the false representation of unverified propositions as truth.
    In normal usage “truth” is fact that has been verified and “fact” is verifiable information about reality or actuality.

    This is a paraphrase of what I was taught about faith as a Christian, based on Romans 8:24 and Hebrews 11:1.

  • Beth Clarkson

    I think that many things human beings do together requires belief without sufficient evidence whether it’s deciding to commit to a child, a lover, or a cause. That’s what I call faith.

    Who has sufficient evidence to rationally justify marrying another human being? Or becoming a parent? Or working for a cause like curbing greenhouse gases, combating vaccinations or anti-vaccinationists, or even evangelizing atheism?

    If one looks at the evidence, considers the various costs weighed against the expected benefits and the probability of the different possible outcomes, it’s quite easy to conclude that we cannot rationally justify a choice to love and care for another human being or to work for a cause or start a business.

    Relationships, both with other people and with our ideals, are hard and frequently painful and disappointing. Even good relationships require lots of attention and hard work.The only way to justify such commitments is via our values, which are inherently subjective and cannot be rationally justified to others.

    • 3lemenope

      IIRC, William James used the example of not being able to know with any degree of certainty whether your spouse is faithful to you to defend the proposition that sometimes it is OK to believe in something (in this case, spousal fidelity) without any evidence that that something is true.

  • ctcss

    Dan, here are three things that you said in your cited blog entry about why faith is bad.

    “What I want to say is that there are different ways we can trust, hope, be loyal, or hold uncertain beliefs. Some of them are rational. When they are rational they are intellectually scrupulous and morally conscientious. Other, irrational and negligent, ways of hoping, trusting, being loyal and believing despite uncertainty involve intellectual and/or moral carelessness.”

    “Faith is willfully committing (whether explicitly or implicitly) to a relationship (or relationships) of trust, loyalty, hope, and/or belief (a) beyond perceived rational warrant, (b) against perceived predominance of counter evidence of untrustworthiness, and/or (c) against all possible future counter-evidence that may undermine currently perceived evidence of trustworthiness.”

    “I’m not saying there can’t be rationalist and evidentialist theists or other religious people who just have a different perception of what reason indicates. But they are not believing by faith specifically. They are just convinced of different things according
    to their reason than I am to respect and obey reason.”

    All you seem to be doing here is to make the word “faith” into a boogeyman that you seek to demean or despise. Why not just use a modifier with faith instead? You seem to be talking about “blind faith” or something approximating blind faith when you use the term “faith”. Personally, I prefer to use the term “reasoned faith” to indicate what I mean by the word “faith” alone.

    Again, quoting from the same blog entry

    “…in everyday language faith may be a simple synonym for trust and so religious people will say that religious faith is no different than ordinary forms of trust that everyone rightly engages in. Or faith is sometimes used as a synonym for “holding a belief that is not known with certainty to be true.” We all inevitably have to believe and act on some propositions without having absolute certainty they are true. So they want to say religious faith is just another instance of that common, rational, essential, and unavoidable form of believing and behaving. Sometimes faith is a synonym for loyalty or hope and, again, who can be against loyalty or hope?”

    I see no reason not to consider this as a standard for the way I personally feel that I am using when considering the term “faith”. And when doing so, I am trying to be rational. However, since I am using “faith” with regard to God, I am not necessarily going to be trying to combine God (who is non-material) along with a distinctly material frame of reference. The two simply don’t go together IMO. Rationality (using reasoning) is going to be based on some sort of premise. If I take matter as the basis of all that truly exists, then faith in God makes no rational sense since matter (not being God) would preclude God’s existence. Thus faith in something non-existent (i.e. God) would make no sense to engage in. But if God is the basis of all that truly exists, then even if I don’t understand everything there is to know about God and God’s reality (God’s kingdom), and further, am currently mis-perceiving God’s reality to boot (and thus don’t have a way to absolutely guarantee that I can discern what is true or not true using my current ignorant frame of reference), then I believe it makes sense for me to exercise faith (trust, hope, loyalty, value) regarding God (whom I consider to be entirely good and and loving and trustworthy, otherwise why bother at all with the concept of God, or of trusting in God) in order to continue making the attempt to learn more about God’s view of reality.

    To me, it is a lot like going to school. When starting out, one may know a few things, some of which may be true, while others may be false. However, one is trusting in the teacher’s educational grounding, good will, and sincerity towards their students, along with one’s valuing the concept of education in order to help one to learn more about the true things and to discern and discard the false things. But learning is not always easy. Sometimes a great many questions exist in the student’s mind that cannot be answered until a lot more knowledge and understanding have been put in place. And the student also needs to apply what has been learned so far in order to gain a practical mastery of the subject before they can proceed on to the more advanced subjects. So the student learns patience and needs to be willing to accept the fact that there are answers, but a proper foundation needs to be built up in order to get to them. The student needs to value the worth of the journey in order to continue with it. In the meantime, there is a need to put effort into learning and mastering what is currently being taught. One needs to learn how to do simple math problems before one moves on to things like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, etc.

    To me, faith is a lot like that. I take what little knowledge and understanding that I think I have regarding God and God’s kingdom, combine it with what I think I have learned and experienced so far regarding God and God’s kingdom, and decide that the journey, however long it may take, and whatever it is that I still need to learn and to master, is worth the effort.

    And the idea that one can only approach faith in God in a provisional way (based only on the percentage of “truth” one thinks they have encountered so far regarding God) strikes me as being not very productive. I can only assume you are not married. I can’t imagine trying to propose marriage to someone in a provisional way, or for them to accept such a lame form of a marriage proposal. The faith (or value) that one has regarding the concept or ideal of marriage combined with the concept or ideal of friendship, combined with the harmonious qualities of thought embodied by each person as individuals needs to be rather solid. Each partner needs to approach those concepts or ideals with everything they’ve got. They’ve got to totally value them and embody them. (How can one perceive someone as a friend and a marriage partner if they do not already value and embody those concepts?) There are no guarantees. It takes effort and patience and selflessness and humor and persistence and love. It takes faith that the concept or ideal is somehow so valuable as to be worth committing everything to it. It is shaping something (the tangible aspects and outcome of one’s combined life and friendship) out of something immaterial (that concept or ideal termed marriage) and persisting even when things get tough, discouraging, and scary. You go ahead because you can’t conceive of a reason to go backwards. The reason one went into it in the first place is because one highly valued the concepts being expressed and embodied. Marriage is not long-term dating or an extra intense infatuation about someone. It is a totally different concept.

    Likewise, faith in God is not an endeavor framed within a limited, material outlook. It’s not like playing the percentages at a casino where you try to figure out the odds of how to make your small pile into a bigger pile. It’s far more like leaving the pile (of whatever size) on the table and leaving the casino because you have found something far more valuable waiting for you elsewhere. One does it because they have switched from one perspective, one framework, to an entirely different one.

    Faith, at least as I understand the concept, is far more different and far more valuable than what you seem to think of it as. And it is rational. It’s just not rationality based on matter. Because one’s faith isn’t based on matter, it’s based on God. So if one chooses matter or trusts in it, it is likely that faith in God would not seem useful or appealing at all. But if one chooses God because they have found that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” to be an apt description of their experience regarding God, then faith in God (as a reasoned form of trust) makes a great deal of sense.

    • Ixbalum

      Maybe the problem is really simple at one level: there isn’t any material evidence that God even exists. There just isn’t. I cold take every single argument for the existence of the Bible’s god and apply it to any religion and get the same answer. For us sciencey types that makes god a pretty useless hypothesis.

      When I got married though, I could pretty confidently say that my wife existed. All the bumps I run into being married I talk to my wife and fix those. Last I checked God doesn’t have a phone number. Marriage is a give and take over time. Yes there are no guarantees but there’s nothing magic about it either. You could say that the assumption of the other person’s good faith negotiating and all that is taken on faith, but unlike God it’s bloody well earned. God never does anything to earn my faith the way my wife has.

      (Yeah, we could all be in the Matrix and formally speaking there is no way to prove we aren’t. But there’s even less evidence for God).

  • Lane

    Why should God who is, as you granted in the article, “an eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, rational designing ground of all being” have to be completely understood by you a finite material person limited in: power, knowledge, and goodness? The fact that you can’t wrap your mind around all the aspects of God isn’t suprising, and should be expected.

    “Can you defend each and every one of these fantastic beliefs independently?” Really, independently? Can anyone do this for any and all of their beliefs? They build on top of one another. At the bottom there are presuppositions that just can’t be explained, and are just taken on, well: faith.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Why should God who is, as you granted in the article, “an eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, rational designing ground of all being” have to be completely understood by you a finite material person limited in: power, knowledge, and goodness? The fact that you can’t wrap your mind around all the aspects of God isn’t suprising, and should be expected.

      And yet the Bible is chock full of presumptuous statements taken as necessarily truths by Christians. And promulgated with little to no rational restraint. That’s not proportioning belief to evidence. And instead of recognizing actual contradictions, not just “things which are more complicated than our literal grasp” but things which are literally impossible and abandoning those beliefs, you just insist on them anyway, rather than revising your beliefs or remaining silent on such mysteries. Rather than responding to evidence and saying, “There is no intelligible way to talk about an omnibenevolent god who commands genocides or a being that is simultaneously god and man, so we’ll stop affirming these things”, purely out of religious prejudice you go on affirming them.

      That’s NOT proportioning belief to warrant. It is believing well beyond warrant and in the teeth of counter arguments. JUST as I accused. So stop saying you’re just doing the same things everyone else does when in a whole host of other areas people actually stop saying incoherent and factually or logically contradicted things.

      “Can you defend each and every one of these fantastic beliefs independently?” Really, independently? Can anyone do this for any and all of their beliefs? They build on top of one another. At the bottom there are presuppositions that just can’t be explained, and are just taken on, well: faith.

      Other beliefs are NOT just willy nilly believed because that’s what the people one grew up with taught you to think. Yes, beliefs don’t exist in isolation. But they each do work to mutually justify each other. That’s how rationality works. A belief with NO independent supports can’t be just asserted. Leaping from “God could do anything” to “God could write a book” to unjustifiably assuming “God wrote this book” to “Let’s uncritically accept every single fantastic completely unverified and ludicrous thing in it with no independent justifications” is not standard, garden variety holistic, coherentist believing. Calling THAT faith and every day webs of interrelated beliefs faith is equivocating. The former is arbitrary and disregards canons of rational warrant. The latter can be done in a rationally proportionate way.

    • Lane

      My beliefs are hardly “willy nilly”. Arguments from natural theology point to the existence of a god. The historic explosion of Christianity which feature people who would rather be martyred then to deny their beliefs of Jesus points to both Jesus’ resurrection and incarnation. I believe the NT Bible because it’s a reliable collection of writings from people in a position to have known Jesus and His teachings. I believe the OT because Jesus did. If you deny both the arguments for a god, and the history of Christianity, it’s not surprising that you reject my evidence. But let’s not pretend that these arguments are so uncompelling that I’m irrational for belief in God or Christianity.

      I modify my beliefs when I come across good reason to do so, presumably in a most unsatisfactory way in your view. Most of the time this modification takes the form of reinterpreting aspects of the Bible. For example, I’m not a young Earth creationist. I don’t think the Bible says anything explicit about the mechanism of creation other than that God did it with a purpose. Science, for example, tells us how things seem to work, but the Bible tells us why.

      I will also affirm competing truths in tension and appeal to mystery (for example, human responsibility and God’s sovereignty). This is similar to affirming that light acts both like a particle and a wave, but can’t be both, yet we still affirm both.

      The most that is at stake with your genocide example is Biblical inerrancy. However, there are theological explanations, including but not limited to the fact that people were given an opportunity to flee so only the hardest of heart remained. Regardless, beliefs about God’s character lead me to look at these type of situations differently. For example, instead of saying God doesn’t exist because of gratuitous evil exists, I would say gratuitous evil doesn’t exist; there must be a reason it was allowed.

      However, you ask me to wrench my entire understanding of world every time I may come across something I don’t fully understand. My current worldview provides a very satisfactory framework for understanding nearly all my external and internal experiences. It has a lot of inertia. So it will take quite a bit to both counter and replace.

    • Mark Martin

      I do not believe that Dan is asking you cast off your beliefs, simply to admit that your beliefs are founded upon faith and not facts/evidence…

      Also, the people who wrote the NT did not know Jesus, the NT was written over 100 years after the alleged events. Even your fellow Christian Theologians will admit this…

    • Lane

      Paul’s Epistles were written mid 1st century to churches who had a lot of knowledge of Jesus’ life and teachings. The historical accounts of the Gospels were compiled late 1st century.

      As for Dan’s motives, maybe he wasn’t asking that much today. I may have gotten onto a roll and claimed too much.

    • Mark Martin

      Understood, thanks for being rational. I’ve been debating people on “world news daily” for fun lately and too many people there are nuts and I sometimes forget where I am.

      I’m glad you understand that about the NT, many Christians in my circles here in the south truly believe that the Apostles wrote the books of the Gospels and my conscience does not allow such a demonstrably false belief to stand.

    • Lane

      Sorry for letting you down, but I believe that the NT books, with the exception of Mark and Luke (who also wrote Acts), are written by Apostles. Both Mark and his mother were taught directly from Jesus (according to Acts). Luke was a disciple of Paul (and some of the other Apostles), but was not actually taught directly by Jesus himself. The epistles were written within a few decades following Jesus’ life; the Gospels within one generation. Feel free to also consider me nuts. I don’t want you think even positive things about me for the wrong reasons.

    • 3lemenope

      What is the evidence that supports these beliefs you hold about the chronology and authorship of the NT books?

    • Lane

      I rely on the scholarship of biblical historians. What I stated seems to be the majority view. Of course there is some debate.

    • 3lemenope

      The majority view among biblical historians is most certainly not that the gospels were by-and-large written by the apostles. Most place Mark as the gospel written first, and not by an eye-witness, and the other synoptics as a re-reading of Mark alongside another document (“Q”) which has not survived. John was then written much, much later.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      As for Dan’s motives, maybe he wasn’t asking that much today.

      Right. Not today. :)

  • Mark Martin

    Dan, is there a way I can e-mail you? I really enjoy your blog and would like to ask you about an issue I just recently discovered, something I think a lot of Atheists and Theists alike do not understand.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Sure. Thanks. The e-mail is camelswithhammers at gmail dot com


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