Knowing (RJS)

One of the aims of our conversation on this blog is to grapple with the issues of reasonable faith.  As a professor and a scientist, I  (RJS) find this a crucial and unavoidable discussion.  It is a fact of our modern (or postmodern) church that we must develop  a way to think about our faith that engages heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In the current conflict between science and faith the discussion often boils down to knowing; how do we “know” and understand? How do we learn? We have amassed an enormous body of knowledge in science and history, sociology, psychology, and linguistics. None of us can know everything in every subject. How many of us really understand particle physics, quantum mechanics, genetics, geophysics, or ANE culture and language? For that matter, how many of us read Greek and have real expertise in 1st century Roman and Jewish culture? We all trust intuition, common sense, and authorities.  In this post and in a follow-up post I want to consider two aspects of knowing in relation to science and faith.  Today – intuition, and in the next post authority.

Here is the key question for us todayHow do we know that our Christian faith is true – founded in reality?  Is this knowledge based on intuition or authority or both?

Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism claims that we all know that God exists. He concludes CH. 8 The Clues of God and sets up CH 9 The Knowledge of God saying:

In the next chapter I want to do something very personal.  I don’t want to argue why God may exist.  I want to demonstrate that you already know that God does exist. I’d like to convince the reader that, whatever you may profess intellectually, belief in God is an unavoidable, “basic” belief that we cannot prove but can’t not know.  We know God is there.  That is why even when we believe with all our minds that life is meaningless, we simplty can’t live that way.  We know better. (p. 142)

This intuitive belief in God is widely recognized and acknowledged, even among secular scholars. But is this intuition reliable?

An interesting essay was published awhile ago in Science Magazine [Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science, P. Bloom and D. S. Weisberg, Science 312, 9960-997 (2007)]. This short essay discusses resistance to ideas that conflict with common sense and intuition and are reinforced by trusted authorities. An important point is that intuition and common sense are not always right as intuition is based on limited experience. For example consider a ball exiting a curved tube. Which picture best illustrates the motion of the ball?

Ball2.JPG

Many college students will select A – based on an intuition that motion should continue as before. The correct answer, of course, is B – the ball will continue straight. Our intuition recognizes this as obvious if we simply change the illustration from a ball to water:

hose2.JPG

The point of this illustration is simply that intuition is not always right and must be questioned – something every teacher, every professor, especially every science professor, knows very well.  Quantum theory for example is not exactly intuitive or obvious.  Evolutionary biology is, perhaps, more intuitive – but still conflicts with “normal” expectation.

Bloom and Weisberg, the authors of this Science article, as well as Richard Dawkins and others, are defending the position that “scientific” naturalistic thinking is counter intuitive but correct, while religious thinking is intuitive and wrong.  Our innate belief that the universe has purpose, meaning, or plan is “unscientific” and in error.  Likewise, a belief that we are more than a fortuitous agglomeration of electrons, protons, and neutrons is a fairy tale.

While Dawkins and others would like us to believe that all intelligent, reasonable people will see things their way – this is hardly a universally accepted position.

Many scientists at all levels disagree with the pure naturalist view. Francis Collins (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief) accepts the observations of science (age of the universe, evolution as mechanism of God’s creation) but denies the assertion that our sense of right, wrong, meaning and purpose is an evolutionary accident. We have considered Collins’s book at length on this blog. So here I would like to look at another book.

Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science Emeritus at Harvard University has written an excellent small book, God’s Universe, in which he contests the idea that science and our understanding of the Universe eliminates purpose or design.  There is no “center” of the universe – but this does not mean no purpose and no plan.  Our understanding of astrophysics and astronomy does not lead inevitably to the view that the earth is insignificant and unexceptional. It is reasonable to consider the possibility or probability that God planned the emergence of intelligent creatures “in his image” and that this was programmed into the universe.

It was Galileo who wrote that the reality of the world was dually expressed in the Book of Scripture and in Nature, and these two great books could not contradict each other, because God was the author of both. So just as I believe that the Book of Scripture illumines the pathway to God, I also believe that the Book of Nature, in all its astonishing detail – the blade of grass, the missing mass five, or the incredible intricacy of DNA – suggests a God of purpose and a God of Design. And I think my belief makes me no less a scientist. (p. 79)

Accepting our intuition as correct, that there is a meaning and purpose in the world makes our Christian faith both reasonable and plausible. Gingerich reflects on this in the epilogue of his book.

If we regard God’s world as a site of purpose and intention and accept that we, as contemplative surveyors of the universe, are included in that intention, then the vision is incomplete without a role for divine communication, a place for God both as Creator-Sustainer and as Redeemer, a powerful transcendence that not only can be a something but can take on the mask of a someone; a which that can connect with us as a who, in a profound I-Thou relation.  Such communication will be best expressed through personal relationships, through wise voices and prophets in many times and places. (p. 120)

and

Within the framework of Christianity, Jesus is the supreme example of personal communication from God. When the apostle Philip requested “Show us the Father,” Jesus responded, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the father.” When Jesus, hanging on the cross and slowly suffocating, cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” the nature of God’s self-limited, dappled world became excruciatingly clear.  God acts within the world, but not always in the ways most obvious to our blinkered vision (p. 121)

So, back to Keller and our intuitive knowledge of God. I think that the most important point of conflict in the science/faith debate is located right here.  Collins, Gingerich, and I think that our intuition is reliable on this issue (and I could add many more names of scientists to this list).  Dawkins, Bloom, Weisberg, and many others believe that our intuition misleads us.

What do you think?

  • Kyle

    Our intuitions can obviously mislead us. I could be a brain in a vat, with electrodes running through my brain meat which is causing my experience of typing this comment. My experiences and intuitions could be completely wrong in many regards, and I don’t think anyone would argue that point.
    In this regard, I’ve always been rather convinced by Plantinga’s argument that our knowledge of the divine is a properly basic belief. Personally, reflection on the past when I not only “knew” God was there, but am fairly confident that I actually experienced his presence are actually my best “proofs” of God’s existence (personally). Anyone interested in this topic within Plantinga’s thought should begin by reading “God and Other Minds,” which helped revolutionize 20th century epistemology.

  • James Petticrew

    Sounds like CS Lewis rides again!

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com Joey

    The more I think about epistemology the more I am humbled in my opinion.

  • JKG

    RJS,
    Intuition is a very personal experience. It is difficult to express to others why we believe something according to our intuition. It is not rooted in independently observable facts and cannot be validated by tracing its development from source to conclusion.
    My own intuitions have seemed to spring from patterns and analogies that do not necessarily make sense to anyone else. They are born from my whole life’s experiences.
    As a whole, I find that my intuition is increasingly reliable to me, but increasingly difficult to share with others.
    Blessings,
    JKG

  • Rick

    “How do we know that our Christian faith is true – founded in reality? Is this knowledge based on intuition or authority or both?”
    Both, although intuition is normally (if not always) the starting point. Exploration of truth (or Truth) begins with a sense of possibility.
    Why do we even go in the direction of considering a higher being? Anselm’s argument for the existence of God comes to mind as one potential reason. We sense something greater than ourselves, which can be explained by the existence of something greater than ourselves (I know, that is a crude summary of his theory. It does not do Anselm or Platinga justice).

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    It’s been said before and will be said again: If we have no correct intuitions, then we truly know nothing. At some point we have to have reliable a priori principles.
    That doesn’t mean we actually have any, but if we don’t, we might as well quit the whole enterprise, and I’m sure Dawkins et al don’t want to do that.
    That some intuitions are wrong is no more significant than that some measurements are wrong. The question is what makes them think certain intuitions are wrong — and we know which ones they’re talking about. When they say our intuitions are wrong regarding the supernatural, design, or purpose, they speak without scientific data; it is their prejudices we are learning about.
    (Statements like theirs are part of the drama in the evolution/creation debate. If they would stick to making scientific statements, we could have a reasonable debate. Instead they insist on making metaphysical statements that they try to pass off as scientific, and this can be presented in schools as scientific, which gets parents upset.)
    So can we trust intuition? Can any intuitions be empirically verified? If any can, and have been, then we cannot say that all are irrelevant. Those, then, that cannot be verified empirically are left to philosophy or we just have to live with them.

  • Diane

    I find that both science and Christianity are counter-intuitive and that both are based on unprovable intuitions: How do we know that a = a or that God exists? Yet when we ACT as if they do, great things happen. So — and I will be blasted for this — our faith in both topics become experiential. As an aside, I simply can’t take Dawkins book seriously.

  • Dan H.

    Even if we can trust our intuition about the existence of God, how does that lead to the conclusion that God is the Christian God?
    I’ve never been convinced that there is any conclusive way to demonstrate the truth of what we believe.
    I grew up in a Christian home, I came to believe the things that I was taught in a Christian societal setting, and no one has ever provided me with convincing evidence that the fundamentals of my Christian beliefs are false.
    Similarly, I grew up in a scientific education system (and home), I came to believe the things that I was taught by a scientific society, and no one has ever provided me with convincing evidence that the fundamentals of my scientific beliefs are false.
    It was institutions, not intuitions, that led me to believe the things that I believe. Had I grown up in a different setting with different authorities then it’s likely that I would believe other things.

  • Zathras

    Underlying much of science today is the unifying idea of symmetry. The primacy of symmetry is especially important in physics and chemistry (time-reversal, CPT conservation, chirality) but it underlies a lot of what is done in science. That experiments are reproducible is another type of symmetry (doing the same thing produces the same results).
    A lot of the mistakes of secular scientists can be seen as an overapplication of symmetry principles. Dawkins’ quote above is a good example. Intuition is a bad guide in science, so it must be a bad guide for knowledge in general. The belief that astronomy diminishes us is another example. The Copernican principle that we are not in the center of the solar system or universe gets extrapolated into the symmetry principle that we are not special (collection of atoms = collection of atoms).
    The problem with this line of reasoning as applied to God is that there is no way to objectively verify it. There is evidence, and then there is objectively verifiable evidence (and they are not the same thing). Consciousness is a great example of the difference. I have evidence every second that I am awake that I am conscious; however, I cannot prove to anyone that I have consciousness, nor can I prove that anyone else has consciousness. And in this environment where I have evidence but I have no objectively verifiable evidence, it is intuition that show me the way. And my intuition discounts this overapplication of symmetry principles.

  • RJS

    Zathras,
    Have you read Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith?
    I found it a fascinating, well written book – although not one I would recommend to those without some technical science background. Barr is a professor at Delaware – a particle theorist – and symmetry plays a large role in his thinking and reasoning.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS, I think you hit the nail on the head here — the debate between theists and atheists has to do with the value of intuition and other non-empirical ways of knowing; and I’d add that many of the current internal debate within Christianity have to do with knowing as well, though those have to do with belief vs. certainty.
    Ok — to the main question — I’m not at all convinced by the positivist critique of intuition, particularly as it is grounded in bias theory from cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology says our intuitions often are wrong because of selection and confirmation bias — we see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe.
    I have no doubt those biases are real factors to contend with. However, why don’t they apply equally to the claims of the cognitive psychologists, and of Dawkins et al., that their beliefs are correct? In fact, why don’t selection and confirmation bias distort our beliefs about selection and confirmation bias themselves?
    At the end of the day, if these cognitive biases are as strongly operative as Dawkins and other positivists suggest, we can know NOTHING about anything, including whether we can actually know anything. Indeed, some materialists (though, curiously, not Dawkins) are strict determinists who claim human beings have know real “will” or “consciousness” — that everything we think we know is the illusory product of a brain state. But again, the same reduction seems to apply: if all knowledge is nothing but a brain state, then my knowledge about brain states is illusory and untrustworthy as well, isn’t it?
    So, I might go so far as to say that the epistemic reliability of intuitive knowledge at some level is necessary for any claim to have knowledge of anything at all.

  • Zathras

    Hmm…it looks like Beliefnet ate my comment.
    RJS, I have read some parts of Barr’s book. I found it very interesting and insightful, although not really close to my own approach to God, although I also view God very much through the lens of modern science. Rather than symmetry, my first steps come from looking at modern science as destroying any possibility of both dualism and a materialist monism.

  • RJS

    Zathras – Your second comment appeared, I was going to make a comment and then it disappeared – so I stopped. Nothing big – but I did find Barr’s book interesting. Anyone who knows what time-reversal, CPT conservation, chirality are would probably find it interesting.
    His isn’t my approach either – but I found it thought provoking.

  • Rdy

    Let me try a slightly different angle on this question.
    I like the last line of Doperdeck’s post regarding what we can know.
    I found that much of my understanding of Christianity and what I believed changed when I moved, over a number of years, from what I saw as a Greek, deductive approach to what I could believe, to a Hebrew “inductive” approach to what scripture says. Another way to characterize this is a move to “narrative” reading of scripture.
    One can take this as a different “way of knowing,” or not. It certainly helped me move from a universalist total knowledge perspective to one of profession. For me this grew out of my graduate work in history, where one has to constantly deal with competing claims and accounts.
    I welcome anyone to comment on how Greek, Hebrew or whatever they see my categories and understanding as.
    Peace,
    Randy

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Maybe I have lived too long in the scientific field, but I have a hard time just “accepting” something on intuition. Intuition is often influenced by confirmation bias. For example people often point to answered prayers being a sign of God’s work, but few remember or talk about the many prayers that seem to go unanswered. When studies on the effect of prayers are done, the data shows that prayers don’t help. Intuition is also extremely subjective since it is not based on evidence, but someone’s “feelings” at the moment. If things are just based on intuition, what’s to say my beliefs are right and yours are wrong?
    RJS, being in science how do you in one area of your life do things based on evidence and data, and in the other area of your life base things on faith? I have a hard time believing in something supernatural, especially since everything I know is natural.

  • Derek

    RJS, are you familiar with Dr. Nancey Murphy at Fuller Seminary? If not she might be a scholar of interest to you. Her book “Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning” covers some of the same ground as several of your posts.

  • Zathras

    RJS, thanks for pointing me back in the direction of Barr’s book :)
    Mark, intuition can indeed be an unsteady guide. I was an atheist myself for several years, and I regarded intuition then as something absolutely untrustworthy.
    What brought me to theism was not intuition per se, but instead a realization of how strange consciousness is. I know I have consciousness and free will (in fact, I am more immediately aware of this than anything else). I also think these aspects of the self are intrinsically unexplainable in scientific terms.
    Explaining something in scientific terms means creating a sequence of dyads, a chain of causes and effects. In short, a scientific explanation requires objectivization. In contrast, consciousness and free will are in a certain sense uncaused causes. In constrast to anything studied in science, no one has come close to a definition of what consciousness is; in fact, paradoxically, this undefinability is a defining characteristic of consciousness. Defining something is to objectivize it; in contrast, consciousness is pure Subject.
    One thing that subsequently brought me to Christianity was the idea that man is made in the image of God. Applying this specifically to consciousness and free will (sorry for the serial compound noun–I find it hard to really divide the two) gives that our consciousness and free will are collectively the image of God as the Prime Mover.
    My two cents.

  • dopderbeck

    Mark (#15) — why aren’t studies on confirmation bias themselves subject to confirmation bias?

  • Dana Ames

    RJS, have you read Polanyi? I haven’t (yet), but I keep seeing quotes of his, or discussions like this that remind me of him. Too many books, so little time…
    NT Wright gave a talk some months ago called “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”,
    http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/resources/NTWright.mp3
    wherein he discusses that knowing is related to love; not “love” the romantic emotion, but love as reflective of the communion of the Godhead.
    I think pitting intuition against observation is a mistake. I think there is a subjective facet to all knowledge, because each person as a know-er is unique. Splitting them apart might be useful in limited ways in order to be able to talk about some things, but keeping them apart is a denial of being created in God’s image as subjective know-ers in relationship. My relationship with my teakettle is not the same as my relationship with my child; there is a distinction. But we each bring our subjective selves to the process of knowing.
    Dana

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Mark,
    A those “studies” on prayer proved only that God is not a genie. I’ve never read of one that tests the Christian notion of prayer, just the American civil/popular religious notion — people who may or may not be believers praying for people they don’t really care about for the purpose of answering a scientific question as opposed to Christians praying fervently in Jesus’ name for the glory of God and benefit of His people.
    As for “faith,” I think you might have the wrong idea about Christian faith but more importantly, perhaps you need to consider how many scientific facts you take on faith. You haven’t conducted every experiment yourself; you trust the word of a lot of people.
    Reminds me of a guy I used to work with who said he didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t see. We worked with radiation every single day!

  • RJS

    Derek (#16),
    I have not read Nancey Murphy yet – but perhaps I should.
    Dana (#19),
    I listen to everything of Wright’s I can find – and like that talk quite a lot. He gave it as the Faraday lecture May 2007 (your link) – then again December 2007 as a James Gregory public lecture on Science and religion: http://www.jamesgregory.org/tom_wright.php . The second version also has a fascinating after dinner conversation to download and listen to.
    I have not yet read Michael Polanyi – but I’ll get to him someday.

  • H.S.

    RJS, read Polanyi. Or read the Cliff Notes version for starters, “Everyman Revived – The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi” by Drusilla Scott

  • R Hampton

    A scientist’s intuition is just the first step of the Scientific Method: proposing a hypothesis. A scientist would then conduct experiments to ascertain the validity of their hypothesis — eventually collecting and analyzing the data in paper submitted for publication (and peer-review). This method tests the validity of the scientist’s findings by the community at large who may duplicate the experiment (multiple times by multiple groups worldwide) to see if the results match.
    Intuition for faith does not require rigorous analysis, and ultimately relies upon supernatural explanations which can not be measured or detected by any natural method. That is to say, anyone can believe anything when it comes to the supernatural for lack of proof (and intuition is not proof).

  • BeckyR

    This sounds to me like intuition is pitted against head knowing. Rather than say we can trust intuition I would say there’s a whole to knowing and all the parts are involved in knowing. Intuition being one of those parts. Haven’t read other comments, don’t know if this has already been said.

  • R Hampton

    Zathras,
    Contrary to your claim “consciousness is pure Subject,” much is known about consciousness to safely conclude it is a natural (not supernatural) phenomena. One positive side to degenerative brain disorders and diseases if that science can clinically observe the loss of various aspects of the persona in relation to damage to specific regions of the brain. The interplay of all the brain’s regions, and the amount and types of (natural and artificial) chemicals in situ is what collectively comprises consciousness.
    Furthermore, the U.S. has a uniform standard of “Brain Death” that is legally binding and affirms the findings of science.

  • Brian

    Much that is true is not intuitive, else it would have become known much earlier. For intuition to work well it often needs to be trained, and it can also be trained to follow incorrect paths. For this reason I am not one to quickly trust raw intuition.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Zathras,
    Consciousness and free will are aspect of the physical mind and therefore are completely subject to scientific inquiry. Check out some of the neurological studies of free will, self imagery, out of body experiences, etc. and the picture is that aspects of the mind have natural mechanism. Sure we have certain aspects of free will, such as I have the free will to left my hand anytime I want. But I don’t have the free will to be a Nobel Prize winner; I am bound by my body and mind. You also hint that only humans have a consciousness and free will, but what about the animals who also express these characteristics?
    Dopderbeck,
    Confirmation bias can be observed by scientific means. If you want to say scientific means are biased, go ahead, but I science works and our modern world relies on science. Sure science makes some basic assumptions, but throwing out those assumptions make for an unworkable world.
    ChrisB,
    The prayer example was just an example. But you make a point, that if those studies ever show it to be negative, we Christians always have a way out: they weren’t believers, they didn’t pray fervently enough, that wasn’t God’s will, God would not let Himself be tested, etc. But at the end of the day we still say God answers prayers.
    I do take a lot of things on faith. But I think you would agree there is a big difference in taking scientific evidence on faith and having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If the first turns out to be wrong, big deal, most theories come out in the wash. But if your faith in Jesus is up in the air (like mine), it makes a HUGE difference, your world is literally turned upside down.
    Dana and RJS,
    Thanks for the NT Wright links.

  • Zathras

    R Hampton and Mark, I have looked quite a bit at “neurological” studies. These studies are either very theoretical–looking at constructs such as neural nets which have no biological basis, or experimental studies with only the most tangential connection to consciousness and free will.
    Again, I point to the definitional problem. There is not a single definition of consciousness that is not closely self-referential. It is in fact undefinable.

  • RJS

    R Hampton,
    Clearly we are embodied creatures – and there are limits to what we can and cannot do. Strokes have been known for many decades to have specific personality effects based on location in the brain. For that matter aging and eventual bodily death as embodied processes with influence on personality and cognitive ability have been known for millenia. It isn’t new. Brain death is important only because we can artificially keep bodies alive.
    But this doesn’t provide a purely natural explanation for consciousness and being.
    And none of this convinces me that the natural world and our embodied being is the be all and end all of reality.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Zathras,
    The view of most researchers is that many human behaviors can be explained in terms of humans’ brains, genes, and evolutionary histories. In my opinion, this doesn’t completely take away free will, but limits free will. Wikipedia also has some nice references to the experiments regarding consciousness and free will (i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will#Neuroscience).
    I’m not sure what you mean by consciousness being undefinable. Wikipedia defines consciousness as “a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other. Consciousness may involve thoughts, sensations, perceptions, moods, emotions, dreams, and self-awareness.” There are great animal experiments showing that humans are not alone with regards to consciousness. One recent example is the magpie (a bird) and self recognition: http://network.nature.com/groups/bpcc/forum/topics/2943. Maybe we shouldn’t use the expression “bird brain” anymore :)

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    RJS,
    What convinces you that the natural world and our embodied being is NOT the be all and end all of reality?

  • Kyle

    Zathras,
    You make a good point when you say, “There is not a single definition of consciousness that is not closely self-referential. It is in fact undefinable.”
    R Hampton,
    Science is nowhere near figuring out consciousness. Sure, people have ideas and people have done research to test their hypotheses, but so far little headway has been made.
    Steven Pinker, a very vocal atheist and neuropsychologist at Harvard, wrote an article about consciousness for TIME a year or so ago where he said we are may be within 100 years of figuring out the “easy” problem of consciousness, which he says is only “easy” as finding a cure for Cancer is “easy.” He suggests that we may never answer the “hard” problem (including questions such as why are there qualia, why aren’t we philosophical zombies, etc.), which has led some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennet to simply ignore the issue altogether and claim that its not a real problem. Pinker believes its a real problem, but that science currently has no idea what an answer to it would even look like.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Kyle,
    Good points about figuring out what consciousness is being a long way off. But that is true about a lot of science: dark energy, Higgs boson, origin of life, etc., but we shouldn’t make consciousness into a God of the gaps argument. Sure it may take 100 years to figure out, but what happens then to ones “evidence” of God?

  • Kyle

    Mark,
    Sorry to confuse, but I’m not meaning to argue that its evidence of God in and of itself, I’m simply suggesting that Hampton’s comment above was unwarranted.
    I too am opposed to “god of the gaps” arguments. I’m not interested in a god that can only be found in such obscure places. Furthermore, there’s a pretty good track record of these gods getting crushed inside those gaps as they are closed by research. These are not gods worthy of worship in my opinion.
    With that said, I do get somewhat annoyed with the requirements of those wanting proof for God. Strict naturalists often say any non-philosophical argument is a priori a “god of the gaps” argument, because some day science will answer every question we have. Of course, John Lennox as well as many other scientists have argued that there are many questions which science cannot answer, but that’s beside the point. Anyways, many strict naturalists begin with the premise that all philosophical arguments are off limits because only empirical knowledge is real, therefore God must be proven empirically in a testable manner. The problem is that if any argument of natural theology even remotely touches on the physical then the argument is immediately tossed aside as a “god of the gaps” argument. Ultimately, their basis comes down to an a priori philosophical assumption that all empirical evidence must have a naturalistic explanations. This argument is purely philosophical whether those demanding the empirical evidence realize it or not.
    Furthermore, they seem to be assuming that the progress of science will eventually fill all gaps. As I said above, science has a good track record on answering questions and filling gaps, so they have a pretty strong foundation for the assumption, but ultimately it’s still an inductive assumption without current knowledge.
    Anyways, I’m 100% with you that “god of the gaps” arguments are a bad place to rest our case because when those gaps are closed that false god disappears. On a side note, who all have you read about the relationship between science and faith? I’m not a scientist by any means, but the topic interests me. I’d suggest you at least look at the discussions of the intersection of faith and science by Keith Ward, John Polkinghorne and John Lennox just to name a few (there are plenty more as well if you’re interested).

  • RJS

    Mark (#31)
    The short answer. In my own wrestling and thinking: are plan, purpose, and morality simply evolutionary tools to further the species (or even tag-alongs of features which serve to perpetuate life via natural reproduction) or are purpose and morality realities which exist outside of our material being?
    Now I know many atheists and agnostics who are good, moral, ethical, hardworking people. So I am not saying religious = good, naturalist = bad.
    But at a deeper level – why?
    To tag on Scot’s post today – is bribery wrong; or is it only wrong if one gets caught? Why should an individual care about the greater good if it is to individual disadvantage? Why should my students think it wrong to cheat even if they can get away with it?

  • RJS

    By the way – Dana linked to a talk by NT Wright available from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. There are many other lectures available from the Faraday Institute as well. I have only listened to a random few – so I am making no claim of quality, but many are by fairly well know thinkers and scholars.
    http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Multimedia.php

  • Zathras

    Mark and Kyle,
    Regarding consciousness as a “God in the gaps” arguments, 3 points:
    1) Just because an argument fails in some aspects does not mean it fails in others. This can be another over-application of symmetry, to use the phrase I used above.
    2) Any argument about the existence of God which uses evidence is necessarily a “God in the gaps” argument. If you use evidence to argue for the existence of God, then you are saying there is no alternative explanation for that evidence. This “gap” created by the argument is subject to counter-argument that science could potential explain it.
    3) Consider the big picture if science were truly to explain completely consciousness and free will. Any such explanation would be deterministic, thereby destroying the key aspect of free will. I would go far as to say that the only possible scientific explanation of free will would be to disprove while explaining why it appears to be there. If consciousness is put on a deterministic footing, and free will is in effect destroyed, I will freely admit that there is no point to arguing that God exists, at least a God that is in any way relevant to us.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog David Opderbeck

    R Hampton and Mark,
    I think you’re vastly oversimplifying the literature on the relation between brain and consciousness. I think you’re also vastly oversimplfying the debate even within the physicalist perspective (the mind really is entirely an emergent property of brain states) concerning whether this implies determinism or not. There is, of course, a significant school of non-reductive physicalism that says the emergent property of mind exercises downward supervening causation, such that people really do exercise agency.
    On the theological side, Nancey Murphy’s work on nonreductive physicalism is interesting. On the philosophical side, the new book “Naturalism” by Charles Taliefero presents a robust argument in favor of classical dualism — by no means is the monism (physicalist) vs. dualist (is there a “spiritual” property to human nature) closed.

  • Jason

    I didn’t read all of the comments so sorry if the contents of this comment have already been discussed. I continue a strong intuition in the existence of a God and even in a personal God, what I am having a very hard time doing in keeping my belief in an inerrant Bible. I used to be completly convinced the Bible was inerrant, accepted totally on faith, and even realized I had no solid proof of this and I didn’t care. But I thought the proof did exist, I thought archeology was confirming OT events over and over and that modern science was turning away from that “Theory in Crisis” that very moment. Though I knew my faith in the Bible was unevidenced, I thought that was only because I had imperfect information and/or hadn’t explored it myself yet.
    Boy have things changed.
    Now I fully accept common descent and even the most popular mechanisms for evolution (though I don’t see why any of that would rule out God’s plan). At first I did so while trying to keep a literal Adam but that soon faded and eventually so did Noah. But there are plenty of evolutionary creationists, I have been surfing their blogs for several years and trying to be one myself. No reason to abandon inerrancy on this alone. But as I read apologists on the instant creation side, something became very clear to me. Their acceptance of instant creation had nothing to do with the evidence, it was a purely unevidenced and even unapologetic claim that Genesis is literal in this regard. Only after the fact, will they try to find evidence that fits this claim. I’m sure they will find something that sounds convincing, as long as they don’t actually study evolution to much.
    Why do I bring this up. Because my other struggles with inerrancy follow the same pattern. All the actual evidence seems to line up on one side, and defense of it is on a foundation of pure unevidenced faith. For instance, I have been convinced that at least the conclusion that there were multiple documents underlining the Pentateuch is very well confirmed by the evidence (even if I am less sure about the motives and timing hypothesized for each). Some of these conclusions suggest that at least part of these stories are legendary. And then confirming this trend archaeological evidence suggests the same thing. So now I might conclude that a great deal of the OT is not historical, and for the most part removing myself from the innerrancy crowd, but I don’t want to, purely on emotional reasons. I don’t want to ever think that stories of God “talking” to people about specific events and laws are made up, it just pushes me to far down the path and concluding that my whole religion is bogus. So I don’t want to, but what do I have to fall back? What happens when I seek out books that try to deny JEPD, or archaeological evidence, or inconsistencies in the Bible. I find what I found in creation science. I find that the fundamentalist basis of the defense is simple unevidenced faith that it is true, followed by a very unconvincing patchwork of supposed evidence to defend it. Since I come from the fundamentalist side, all of my piers simply don’t understand why I would question it at all, it just is true, you supposed to just know that.
    How do we know things? Is intuition the best we got? Does our intuition tell us that the Exodus really unfolded just as described? It used to for me, very strongly. But is this our defense against all the evidence that suggests otherwise? Because the more I learned, the more my intuition flipped.
    I only skimmed through Keller, but I got to the quote you mentioned. But this is what frustrates about that kind of book. He is right, I do have a intuition about God’s existence. But he makes the leep right there all the way to a conservative stance on Biblical authority (as it relates to innerrancy), where not only is my intuition not as good or flagging but where all the physical evidence says otherwise.

  • RJS

    Jason,
    I can’t tell from your comment if you’ve been reading on this blog for awhile or not. If not you might look at some of our earlier posts and conversations (many can be found by entering RJS in the “search this blog” on the sidebar). The post “A Conspiracy of Silence” Nov. 18 and Scot’s post “Hard Questions for the Bible” Dec. 3 are a start.
    You hit on many important questions and issues though. Keller leans a bit to much on Biblical authority I think, although I do think that the Bible is reliable – which is a much looser term than inerrant. For one thing, it requires thinking through “reliable for what?” Scripture is preserved for a purpose – what is that purpose?
    Have you read Peter Enns “Inspiration and Incarnation” or Kenton Sparks “God’s Word in Human Words?”

  • Jason

    RJS,
    Thank you for responding. I have previously read through the comment sections of “A Conspiracy of Silence” and “Hard Questions for the Bible”. As for the first, I actually booked marked it so I wouldn’t lose it. It spoked volumes to see so many agreeing that there were indeed many issues with the texts on many levels. Also I do believe in that thread you mentioned it was clear the Pentateuch wasn’t univocal (was that the term you used) As for the latter, while I do find those portions of genocide repulsive, I wasn’t really drawn in by the resulting comments since I am more apt at this point to think these weren’t historical issues in the first place. My struggle would not so much be “How could God command this” as “what does it mean to my faith in Jesus that this story of God commanded something is historical fiction”. The sad part is, if I did regain my confidence in the historical reliability of these early chapters, THEN I WOULD HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE GENOCIDE!
    I am familiar with the reasoning the scripture is reliable to make us wise for salvation, as Timothy actually explicitly says. I am keeping that line for now.
    I have read Peter Enns (even corresponded with him a bit). I was very hopeful about his views though when I read it I didn’t think he went far enough. I want him to come out and admit that Genesis 1-11 is historical myth (you know, and maybe a few more books to boot) and that the “tensions” were what they are, real inconsistencies. I guess even he reserved stance cost him his job. Still, if I can recover my faith it will most likely be the the umbrella of this kind of belief regarding the Bible. I have read some of Enns blog and look forward to more of his work (hopefully his future work can be disconnected from his financial well being).
    I guess I would sum it up like this. I belong to a conservative Church community, whether it be my local Church (with clear statements of innerrancy), my own family, and especially my extended family. Regardless what I conclude, I must always keep it a secret from my in-laws less they retroactively cancel my 9 years of marriage to my precious wife. My own family is less knee-jerk but I don’t want them believing I am headed to hell (nor do I wish to go there:) But my local church is to involved to sit in the back pew and slowly contemplate these matters. Everyone is pushed towards more “maturity” and into leadership roles as we try to grow and evangelize the whole city. I have made my doubts known to the leadership and stepped back from the leadership position I was in. And I’m not sure what to do next. I am trying to investigate as best I can my position on innerrancy, because it matters to them and eventually I will questioned again. And that is why I ask whether the only reason we might believe in such is simply because we make that our axiomatic statement of faith, regardless if all of the available and conceivable evidence that can be seen, touched, measured, or reasoned suggests otherwise.
    I can narrow my focus on that particular issue now, innerrancy. But lets be honest, my doubts are becoming far reaching. I’m starting to wonder if I put the same critical look at some of the NT or God working in history today that I might find the same axiomatic unevidenced faith is the only basis for such beliefs. Out of fear I have decided not to look.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    I think it was Francis Schaeffer who told about a philosopher who believed in a totally random universe…all was chaos. This same philosopher also enjoyed wild mushrooms. However, he did not apply his philosophy to his enjoyment of mushrooms. He did NOT just randomly pick mushrooms because he knew some could kill him. Which epistemology allows us to live the most freely within it?

  • Kyle

    Jason,
    Thanks for your story. This is my second time to type out this comment because it was eaten by the beast that is Beliefnet. When will I learn to start saving my comments before posting them!?
    Anyways, I think you get at the heart of your doubts toward the end of your second comment when you admit that they are far reaching. I would suggest that after reading your comments its clear that your doubts go even deeper. Ultimately, it seems that you are afraid and that fear is controlling your current beliefs.
    As for the OT issue, I encourage you to keep reading and researching. Answers aren’t easy when we’re talking about such complex subjects. I’ve been where you are in these issues, and know the confusion you are feeling. In OT literature, I’ve read extreme minimalists (meaning that they take most of the OT as fabrication) such as Davies, Thomson and Lemche. I’ve read archaeologists who lean minimalist such as Finkelstein, and those that lean maximalist such as Dever. I’ve read those who are more moderately conservative such as Enns, Longman, Provan, etc. and I’ve read the extreme maximalists like Kitchen and Anson Rainey. In the end, I probably fall somewhere in the Dever, Enns area, but it only came after much reading and research.
    As far as looking critically at the NT, which you fear doing, realize that this blog’s owner Scot McKnight has done such and is respected by those doing NT studies whether they are Christians or not. Yet in the end, he affirms the reliability of the NT, the resurrection of Jesus, and his current Lordship. Thousands upon thousands of scholars have looked at these books with a discerning, critical eye and still have their faith intact, many have a stronger faith now than they did before. So have no fear in looking honestly at the evidence, always realizing that others have gone before in these pursuits and come out okay! I’d suggest you read some OT theologies as well as simply historical books. Two recent volumes that are good are the theologies by Waltke and Goldingay. If you have to buy one, buy Goldingay.
    As I said at the top, I think your real issue is fear. You are afraid of what your family will think, and especially your wife. You are afraid that if you pursue the truth you will lose your faith altogether. You are afraid to continue doing research because you might not be comfortable with the answers. I’ve been there. I truly have. I think of one particular time when in my heart I was truly an atheist. I remember thinking through how I was going to quit my job and tell my family. I was afraid. I remember telling my wife about my doubts and almost being in tears. My life had been based on a lie…or so I thought. It took some time, but I had to really think through my doubts and why I was having them. Was it a lack of evidence? Were my doubts historical in nature? Had I studied these topics enough to actually have an opinion? Was it the arguments “for” atheism that persuaded me? I realized that it was none of these.
    Ultimately, my doubts had emotional causes. I had a 30 year old friend dying of cancer and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Therefore, I let one doubt lead to another and I wanted to give up on faith altogether. As I’ve talked to others, I’ve found that more often than not doubts are emotional in nature and arise from a life crisis and only manifest themselves as intellectual. If this is the center of your doubts, then you need to deal with the emotional aspects first or you won’t be able to look at the evidence honestly. When we are emotionally doubting we automatically value the arguments which challenge our current beliefs over the arguments that support them.
    Another issue I had was that I had my beliefs all out of whack. To be honest, at the center of my faith was a Bible, and not what the Bible revealed about Jesus. I had to doubt to find faith. I had to take my doubts about the Bible to the extreme and say, “What if my doubts about inerrancy and inspiration are completely true and the Bible is just a book like any other…then what?” After researching the issue I came to the conclusion that even if the NT were nothing more than a collection of uninspired texts that told the story of Jesus, then I would still have to deal with the story of Jesus because that is what is ultimately making the claim on how we interpret history. If I was able to look at the NT through completely critical eyes, and still come to a belief that Jesus was who he said he was and that he rose from the dead…then I might have to rethink my doubts about inspiration. Over the years I’ve done research in this regard (nowhere near the research of a professional scholar like Scot), but I’ve done plenty of it and come to the conclusion that even using radically critical arguments I still believe that Jesus was who he says he is and that he is Lord over all. So instead of having the Bible, or some other doctrine at the center, I’ve put Jesus at the center and let every other doctrine flow out from there. Do I believe in the inspiration and reliability of the Bible again? Yep, but it took rejecting it to believe in it again.
    After you separate out your emotional doubts from your actual intellectual questions, then I’d suggest you read some OT theologies like those mentioned above, and also I’d suggest you look at some rigorous NT research. Read “all” of N.T. Wright’s three volume Christian Origin series (each is like 800 pages so it takes some time). Some people have just read his volume on Resurrection, but I think this is to their detriment as they don’t understand his full argument and how he looks at the evidence as a whole. Read some of Scot’s academic work, read Craig Evans or Ben Witherington III. There are plenty of scholars who look at the text with a critical eye and still have faith. Looking at the text critically should in no way should challenge our faith in Christ. I’d also suggest that you take a look at a book or two on inspiration to see whether or not your struggles with inerrancy are actually struggles with an American, simplified concept of inspiration and not with the historic doctrine of inspiration itself. I’d suggest I. Howard Marshall’s book on the topic, as well as A.T.B. McGowan’s recent book.
    If you’d ever like to discuss things over e-mail, Skype or whatever I’d love to assist you in your questions. I’m sure that the board admins could give you my e-mail if you were interested.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Jason,
    Your words hit me hard. I was in a similar questioning stage. Like Kyle, I would urge you to not “bury” the issue, because the doubt will come back stronger, as it did for me.
    Two things I try to keep in my mind while I work through these things:
    1) How big the universe is (look up Hubble Deep field images). If there is a God that made this, how awesome He must be.
    2) If He did make all this. Could He even give us a glimpse of who He is without us being crushed by His magnitude and power? There has to be a delicate balance of being hidden from view and showing us His grace in order to build a relationship with us. I see this theme a lot in the OT.
    I’m still dealing with a heavy burden of doubt, but giving up or burying the issues for me is not an option. Doubt can be a long dark scary road, and I have met many who have in their opinion lost their faith. It is scary to see preachers who have tossed in the towel and now call themselves atheists. But having lingering doubt can eat you up in from the inside.
    I would be cautious of making situations worse. At this time I would hesitate to discuss these issues with unsympathetic family and friends. Your energy is better spent addressing the issues then being dragged into family matters.
    One last point, you are not alone in these struggles.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Kyle,
    You make good points in #34. Thank you for acknowledging that “science has a good track record on answering questions and filling gaps, so they have a pretty strong foundation for the assumption. . .” I think this is why the scientific field has said the burden of proof is on those who what to say something is the result of some supernatural force. Science has a long track record of explanatory power. It is therefore not unreasonable to think that it will explain other natural things too.
    Also thanks for your #43. I’m having an agnostic feeling day, and you gave me some more to chew on and more books to add to my ever growing stack of “must reads”.
    RJS,
    The moral argument has never held much power for me. Just a quick glance of many other social species and one can see altruistic behaviors that would put ours to shame. I think it is very possible that morality arose from evolution. Whether God planed that or not is another discussion. But to say our morality points to the existence of a god, is an argument that is similar to ID, which I think is also flawed. Another point is that evolution doesn’t work on the individual but the group, unless maybe if your asexual.
    Zathras,
    I agree with #1. I somewhat agree with #2, however Christianity is unique in that it claims that God broke into creation (nature), through His involvement with the Jews, through miracles, Jesus Christ, etc. So Christianity should be able to be examined by science (I’ll include here history as a field of science).
    #3 I agree that if science were to completely explain consciousness and free will such explanations would be deterministic. But in a sense isn’t that what our view of God is. He knows everything, and knows what I’m going to do before I do it. Does that make it deterministic, or do I still feel like I have free will? Too philosophical for me. The point I initially put out was that for me consciousness and free will does not provide evidence or proof of an existence of a god. It is part of nature and science is continually learning more and more about it. Whether science will ever completely figure it out is just guessing, but forever is a long time.
    David,
    Forgive me, I didn’t want to imply that aspects of the brain are simple. Far from it. It is so complex, and the latest break throughs only scratch the surface. Most of these studies are also very reductionistic and don’t even touch the highly complex networks and redundancy in the brain. But to go from this ignorance and to leap toward a belief in a supernatural aspect of the mind, is for me a dangerous and unsupportive jump.

  • RJS

    Mark,
    There are many aspects to the problem – and our moral sense and our sense of purpose could be nothing more than evolutionary artifacts. In fact I said that. Certainly evolution works on a population.
    But evolutionary development or explanation is beside the point.
    I don’t think of moral law as a proof for the existence of God.
    But – if the natural world is all there is, our moral sense and sense of purpose are ultimately futile artifacts, because in the predictable future this planet will cease to exist, all life will cease to exist, and all product of life will vanish. End of meaningless story.
    And this gets to the topic of intuitive knowing that framed this post. It seems to me that real meaning and purpose requires that reality extend beyond the purely natural.
    But – no proof.

  • RJS

    Jason,
    I agree with much of what Kyle has said, although sometimes doubts are significantly intellectual and were for me. Perhaps because the academic environment brings these questions to the forefront time and time again. There was no emotional crisis – but a deep intellectual crisis.
    But – on books. Kyle lists a number of OT book and emphasized reading all sides. I did the same in the NT. I read the skeptical scholars and the more moderate scholars. On the moderate scholars … NT Wright’s big three are great books: “New Testament and the people of God” (a hard slog – the next two were easier to read); “The Victory of Jesus”; and “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. Larry Hurtado’s “Lord Jesus Christ” and Scot’s “Jesus and His Death” were also very useful. All of these books (and more) demonstrated to me that the foundation and development of the faith does not depend on the initial assumption of inerrancy.

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    RJS,
    It sounds like we’re on the same page. The problem I see in my searching is that there is this gut reaction to put some meaning and purpose behind this universe and our lives, because the other alternative (meaningless life) is depressing. However, most people, whether they are an Atheist, Agnostic, or a Christian find meaning and purpose in their lives. For instance, I find purpose in my life in taking care of foster kids. Do I need to look beyond nature for meaning and purpose because life will eventually all fade away? Do I really care what will happen billions of years from now?
    I’m not looking for proof, I’m just hoping, thirsting, desiring, crying out for a meaningful hint, a glimmer, something to hold onto in order to step forward in faith.
    Well I better get back to the books. . .

  • Kyle

    Mark,
    Your honesty is refreshing, and I hope you’ve found that many of us who post at Jesus Creed are in a similar boat. You mention how it is scary to see pastors who have thrown in the towel. This is not only scary, but its sad and says a lot about our current methods of theological education. I’ve read some of their memoirs and their current arguments for atheism and I’m often left wondering why they stopped being skeptical once they embraced atheism. I’ve read many posts at Debunking Christianity and similar sites. Many seem blind to the fact that their current arguments for atheism might be as weak as the ones that they now believe these arguments refute. The great theists and atheist philosophers as well as scientists who are in this discussion respect each other because they understand the others arguments and understand the fragility of their own faiths. They still have confidence that they are in the right, but neither are certain. It’s fundamentalists who claim certainty, and unfortunately that’s the bulk of the junk found online. That’s one of the reasons why I’m thankful for sites like Jesus Creed. I’m fairly confident of my faith, as are many of the contributers here, but it’s a mix of research, experience and even doubt that have brought the confidence.
    I’ve read historical arguments for and against Christianity, and philosophical arguments for and against theism. I’m confident that no matter where I was on the spectrum that I would have doubts and be skeptical of my own beliefs. In some regards I hate this because my Western mind demands certainty, but in some regards it’s a blessing. Some of the greatest arguments I’ve ever read for atheism come from Christians. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (in the Brothers Karamazov) is far and away the greatest description of the problem of evil ever penned. Dostoevsky also penned, “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” That appeals to me because I find it to be true of myself at times. I know that if I were atheist, because of my disposition, I would be in the same boat. There are good arguments for theism and Christianity, and people far more intelligent than I will ever be have been persuaded by them. I’m thankful for my skepticism though, because it has also allowed me to see reality through the eyes of those who did throw in the towel, and has actually strengthened my faith (as odd as that sounds).
    Some have thrown in the towel because this wasn’t the path they expected. They expected faith to be easy and expected certainty in their faith. Anne Lamont expresses it well when she says, “The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and the discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.”

  • http://christiandoubt.com Mark Lefers

    Kyle,
    I have found the posts and comments here to be a great help. People are very polite and knowledgeable, and some have even walked through deep doubt before. This site is definitely in my top 3. Thanks Kyle for your very insightful words. You have given me much to ponder today. Thanks.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Jason, I have recently gone through the same waters you’re treading now. People have thrown a bunch of books on the pile for you, but can I recommend one more: Donald Bloesch’s “Essentials of Evangelical Theology,” and particularly chapter XI, “Towards a Recovery of Biblical Faith,” in which Bloesch provides a very nuanced position on inerrancy.
    I think something like Bloesch’s view allows us to affirm what “inerrancy” really out to mean: that “[w]hat is infallible and inerrant is the Word within the words, the divine meaning given in and through the human testimony.” (p. 273) Bloesch continues: “Our ultimate norm is not simply what the human author intends but what God intends through the witness of the author, though there always is a certain congruity between the latter and the former.”
    You might also appreciate Fuller Seminary’s Statement of Faith and in particular its statment concerning scripture (Here and . Many of Fuller’s faculty (someone mentioned John Goldingay, who teaches at Fuller) are exemplary in trying to deal with historical and text-critical questions in an evangelical framework.
    If you’re comfortable with approaches like Bloesch and Fuller Seminary’s, that might be a point of contact for you with your local church and family context. Hopefully they can then see that you’re wrestling to understand what we mean by terms such as “inspiration” and “inerrancy” in a way that is faithful to the evangelical tradition, and hopefully they will accept whatever extent to which your position is nuanced away from theirs. If not, perhaps that’s a clearer sign that a different local church context would be more healthy. Of course, you can’t change your family, but even there, you can, without getting into fights, point to some real substantive stuff that demonstrates your fidelity and sincerity.

  • Jason

    Thank you all for responding. There is a lot to address here and I apologize in advance if I miscredit a quote from one author to another. I will adress Kyle first.

    Ultimately, it seems that you are afraid and that fear is controlling your current beliefs.

    I will use this quote as a place marker for your central theme that my doubts are emotional and not intellectual. I have to disagree with you on this, my doubts surely began as intellectual, indeed they began when I resolved to fully explore evolution with as little preconceived bias as I could (impossible in practice) but lo and behold I was firmly convinced of the historical reality of common descent. From those early beginnings I have read quite a bit of literature on evolutionary biology and am now quite familiar with it, indeed it replaced physics as my favorite science subject and since science is my top hobby that pretty much insures that for the time being it gets the most attention of any of my intellectual pursuits. Regardless of where I land on trust in Jesus, Biblical history, or innerrancy, I’m not going to revise this position unless I was strongly convinced otherwise by empirical data which at this point would mean there would have had to be the largest, most advanced, most perfectly orchestrated conspiracy the world has ever seen. But as I said before, accepting our historical origins was not a huge detraction from my faith, many believers had done it before me (hey, if it is good enough for CS Lewis), obviously RJS is on board and if I remember correctly Scott McKnight himself has recently made positive affirmations on the subject (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). At first I kept to a literal Adam and Eve but that soon became untenable as did Noah or any idea that modern animals were reduced to a single pair a mere 4k years ago at a central location on earth (or any of the other 1E48 different reasons that entire story is obviously not historical) and since the tower of Babel story came next I just through it in as well, I mean come on, that always sounded like a fable to me to explain language diversification (which of course happens quite naturally). And yet, none of this itself would imply the Bible wasn’t innerrant or God’s word. I tentatively logged it as metaphorical or allegorical and yet the common YEC party line of “well then how do you know what IS historical” is a valid question and when I went out to figure out exactly when the line of history began in the Bible, well that is when things started turning south. Source criticism, archeology, true internal inconsistencies, relationships to other ANE texts, laws, and world views; all the things quickly became to much to hold to my definition of innerrancy I held in my youth.
    At this point I need to pause to clarify that two things are at stake. On the one hand, it is my view of Biblical innerrancy, which at some point in time will have to be resolved regarding my relationship with my church. The second is my faith in Jesus to forgive me of my sins via his substitutionary atonement via his death on the cross and ressurection. . . . otherwise known as my faith in general. These aren’t of course, entirely separate, but it is possible I will come out of this with more confidence in and dependence in the Risen Son of God and yet not return to my earlier conclusions regarding the OT. Indeed, many many Chrisstians have down this before, for several hundred years, it is just that I was a fundamentalist so I never included them as “real” Christians:)
    Now did I get emotional about this? You better believe it! Even before I began doubting my actual faith, just dealing with evolution and then biblical history was often emotional because of the community I run in. It’s just not acceptable to come out and say these things. You emphaze my family though that is not a big concern, I probably over emphasized it in my original post. Both sides of my family live very far away, and little if anything would change (or indeed, has changed since it has been several years now) regarding evolution or even Biblical innerrancy. At this point, it is just easier to keep my mouth shut about the issue. My wife knows my views on evolution and Genesis, though I must admit I haven’t been truly honest with her regarding my doubts with the rest of the OT. She is likewise having her own struggles as she studies through a lot of the OT from the usual sticking points that are frequently commented on in other threads on this blog, namely the genocide, slavery, women, etc issues. My church is another matter altogether. “Growing” in my church is at its core, and in its definition that would imply MORE assurance in the Bible as God’s innerrant written perfect word. I think the leadership finds me a strange duck since I came from a position in absolute confidence in the Bible and have been moving the other direction. Still, like I said, I might with confidence affirm the foundational tenants of our faith and yet take a more liberal position on the Bible, I’m just not sure what that would imply for my continued fellowship with this church.
    Ah, so many things to discuss, so many things to make clear. Before I forget, I agree that my definition of innerrancy is a recent western one, and that there might be a large umbrella to land in regarding my confidence that it is inspired by God while at the same time being written by people. But there is no point trying to determine a good definition of innerrancy, the important thing is that I know exactly what my church means and that I am honest with them, and their definition is very much the recent western church conception.
    If I don’t get to the point here, this thing is going to become a essay. Regarding archeology, I haven’t read a great deal. I read a good amount of Finkelstein, but that didn’t persuade me one way or another. It is important to me to actually understand what exactly the evidence is for such and such assertions, and Finkelstein just sums up all the results, with out defending it. This is not to his discredit mind you, that is probably impossible and outside the scope of his book, but while I remain ignorant on the actual field of archeology I won’t accept Finkelstien conclusions purely on authority. What I am learning though is that modern archeology in the mainstream is in no way supporting the early Biblical narrative. They very well might be wrong, I can choose to believe that regardless of the fact that I am not qualified to decide one way or another. But as to the affirmation I heard all through out my youth, that archeology time and time again keeps confirming the Bible, at least as a majority consensus I think this is utterly false. I’m sure there are some Christian archaeologist who think they have conclusively confirmed it, I do hope their evidence and methods is better then that of creation scientists. The one area of archeology I do find troubling would be that based around the Exodus. Before we even enter that picture though, I must admit it is astounding difficult to take at face value that roughly 2 or 3 (or more) MILLION people where in that camp. How exactly you can organize that group to move at all (not to mention livestock!) in one direction boggles the mind. Add to this the specifics of EVERYONE gathering around the tent (for how many miles in each direction), and the fact that the army seems larger then all the armies of the ANE summed together (and yet Isreal was the least in Canaan and likewise feared the Egyptians). Now add to this the archeology statement I have continuously heard they they seemed to manage this feet without leaving any evidence of their forty year occupation of the desert. Add even to this that the description of these events appears to be the conglomeration of several sources that disagree on some details that would at least imply that one of those details was in error…when you sum it all up it seems the more obvious conclusion is that this event is largely fictional. Perhaps there was an exodus, perhaps it was much smaller, and perhaps the general stories regarding the kings beginning with Saul are generally correct and perhaps that even extends back in Judges, but just my conclusion that the amount of people in exodus is vastly overstated puts me outside the camp of innerrancy as is at stake here. And returning to the reason I originally posted, I wonder if any attempt to return to a view of innerrancy here would be because the evidence was indeed pointing that way or only on the basis of an axiomatic assertion that it is true regardless of what we find in the text or in the soil.
    I’m not going to delve into why much of my research has strained my faith in general in this comment lest I take over the entire site with my words. Perhaps I will try to explain that (as briefly as I can:) in another comment. But I’m pretty sure my doubt is grounded firmly in my intellectual struggles, producing emotional stress, not being produced by it. I am 30 (which I guess is the time many question everything) but I don’t know anyone dying of cancer or dying of anything for that matter who is close to me. Furthermore, I get what your saying about faith in Jesus versus faith in the Bible. Of course, when I was firmly confident in the bible I would have asserted my faith was solely in Jesus but obvious since the Bible is the only place we can learn the truth about him (which us non-charismatics Calvinists are usually very clear about) then they are heavily related. And for sure, I could still continue that faith in Jesus as both a historical Risen figure and as my God and Savior, even if I think Biblical authors not only wrote the about the incorrect science of their day but the incorrect history they were exposed to as well. It is not so much that the Bible might not be perfect, instead it is what I find in what it does say. For instance, are their really any meaningful prophecies in the OT? How is Isaiah NOT talking about the child born one chapter later who seems to fulfill the prophecy he just spoke of in the time of the King who the sign was supposed to be for in the first place regarding two armies who existence 500 years in the future would be a moot point. Almost all of the truly miraculous events of the OT take place in regions are highly suspect are fiction, so what supernatural things did happen in history? Etc Etc. I really need to save this for another post.
    Quickly regarding the NT, thank you for the pointers. I hope your right that an honest evaluation will lead to a high likelihood of reliability. If I began to question the overall history of the gospel narratives, then I pretty much wouldn’t be a Christian anyway. I must admit I have stopped trying to harmonize all the details of the synoptics, it seems okay to me to accept one of the two authors if not both don’t’ have the details exact, it never seems to be a huge detail either way. I guess regarding my struggles with the OT, this is a minor problem.
    Sorry this was so terribly long.

  • Kyle

    Jason,
    Essays for comments are okay. I’m an expert at them myself, haha. You obviously have a lot of issues that you are dealing with right now and it seems like a lot of them are church issues as well which makes it harder. Sorry for overestimating the importance of emotion in your journey, it just seemed that fear kept coming up in your previous comments.
    Once again, your questions seem to be ones that I’ve struggled with in the past, and have heard others talk about here, at my seminary, church, etc. so know that others have gone before and there are solid answers that won’t cause you to lose your faith in Christ. Keep researching and praying. Find out why your church claims to have this stance on inerrancy, and talk to the pastors and see if that’s even “really” their view.
    Stay passionate about seeking the truth, knowing that God desires you to be faithful to Him and doesn’t want false faith. If you want to talk through the issues more in depth, we can e-mail, Skype, etc. or keep discussing in other comment threads as issues come up.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    Jason,
    I cannot give you any substantial, documented advise, but I do find that our experiences overlap in some crucial areas.
    I too came from a background of a fundamentalist. Actually, its more complicated than that as my sect predates the fundamentalist movement by almost two centuries and we are Arminian to boot — but I digress.
    Needless to say, I can remember the mantra from my childhood “People who believe in Evolution want to be atheists and desire to live in sin.”
    Let me hasten to add that I do not _hate_ or feel superior in any way to the people who introduced me to Faith and Hope. I just disagree with them. God truly blessed me in these relationships.
    The course of this adventure began at the age of 10 or 11. (I was taking notes on sermons at the age of 7 or 8 and became a member of the sect at the age of 8). I had the audacity at 12 to begin assembling my “case against Evolution.”
    This, of course, was a despairing situation for a pre-teen. By the time I was 16 I had dedicated myself to learn Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry. Actually, I was a depressed, driven 16 year old.
    My youthful energy drove me into college getting degrees in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics. All the while still contending that –someday– I’d have perfect answers to all my questions. I should note that my family and congregations knew my questioning habit. Fortunately, my family was supportive of me but the congregations labeled me as a “risk” and I was “monitored” in any class I attended or was allowed to teach.
    This continued until graduate school at which point after a year I had what I now see as a nervous breakdown. I dropped out of school and completely abandoned my scientific perspectives and goals.
    Of course, 5 years of advanced training in Physics (with 3 co-authored papers by my 3rd year) doesn’t just leave your mind or the way you think.
    I decided to dedicate myself to ministry and go live as a missionary in the third world.
    Again, in retrospect, I see I was running from my fears. Of course, many of those fears are like yours, it was community and familial rejection.
    Over the last ten years, as I found myself isolated from my faith community and building my own family, I have found myself more willing to address my questions.
    Really, the ability to do this without a panic attack came from a set of epiphanies I had.
    1. Never change your mind in anger.
    2. Never abandon hope no matter where truth takes you.
    3. Always pick the path that leads to self-sacrifice and “loving your neighbor”
    4. Be grateful for the life you have been given.
    5. Remember, all this will end.
    I have said it before here — I do not know what one would call me now. Perhaps I’m “liberal” or “emergent” or even “existential” or “fatalistic.”
    I appreciate the discussions here with the people running the blog as they are attempting to maintain an “orthodox” viewpoint. This keeps me honest in the same way that discussions with atheists / agnostics do.
    I guess, despite my rambling above, I’m just trying to say “Keep your head clear” and “always believe in hope.” I know that this does not handle the emotions of the other people in your life, but as somebody quoted above from Dostoevsky about faith coming from the furnace of doubt. I find this to be true.


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