From The Archives: Four Questions

Someone on Yahoo! Answers asked the following questions:

1. Why do you believe in God?
2. What’s the difference between Naive’ and Blind trust and Faith?
3. Is it possible that religion is just a way for people to deal with life
and non of it’s really even true?
4. Is there really any such thing as pure and whole truth?

I decided they seemed like interesting and sincere questions, so I answered them. Here’s what I wrote back in 2007:

1. I believe in God because that term, as used by the mystics of most traditions, refers to transcendant reality. Because I am persuaded that the hints of transcendence that we perceive – beauty, meaning, interconnectedness – correspond to something real about the universe, that is what it means to be persuaded that God exists.

2. Blind faith is another way of saying gullibility. The Letter to the Hebrews says that faith is the evidence of that which is unseen. It does not say that it is evidence that the things we do see don’t really exist! Faith may be willing to stake its life on there being more to a person than a chemical analysis can ascertain, more to life than the humdrum and mundane, but that is about there being more than what is seen. If your ‘faith’ contradicts what is seen (archaeological evidence, for instance), then it is problematic.

3. Religion is indeed a way that people deal with life. Dostoevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor (from The Brothers Karamazov) puts it well – and remember, he was a Christian. But many Christians don’t want the responsibility that comes with freedom and choose instead to hand over their freedom to a church, a pastor, a creed, or something else. And that’s where organized religion comes in.

4. There is indeed pure truth. The problem is when people in a small corner of history in one solar system in one galaxy in one corner of the universe claim that they know the pure and whole truth. Such claims are not merely lacking humility (which would be bad enough). They are ultimately claims to divinity, and incompatible with the Christian faith (and most others).

I’d be interested to hear comments on my answers, or the answers others would give to these questions.

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  • benjdm

    "The Letter to the Hebrews says that faith is the evidence of that which is unseen."I'm no expert on translations and such, but the New Internation version has this:"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."The King James is more in line with your reading…is the KJV a better translation on this one?The NIV passage, to me, reads completely contradictory to what you're saying. It's a straightforward definition of faith as having high confidence in beliefs based on hope and without evidence.Also based on this, lacking humility (per 4) would be perfectly consistent with faith.

  • Bill

    “…beauty, meaning, interconnectedness – correspond to something real about the universe, …” OK, but it seems like you’re still a long way from YHWH.

  • James F. McGrath

    benjdm, my point was that faith might be justifiably understood as confidence about things that are not seen. But it should not be taken as justification for claiming that we see doesn't exist. So I'm not sure whether we disagree or not on the meaning of Hebrew – my point was simply to emphasize that it may make room for Christians to affirm an afterlife, for instance, but it doesn't justify denying evolution, to give another example, since in the latter case one has to deny the factuality of evidence that we actually have (a great deal of it, in fact).Does that clarify things at all?

  • benjdm

    "benjdm, my point was that faith might be justifiably understood as confidence about things that are not seen. But it should not be taken as justification for claiming that we see doesn't exist."I don't see a meaningful distinction there. If you're going to base your conclusion only on the weight of what you DO see, then you're not utilizing faith, right?You're saying it's OK to base a conclusion on what you hope for and seeing nothing that would bear on it. As soon as you do see something that bears on it you have to base your conclusion on what you do see regardless of what you hope for? Where there is something to be seen that would bear on the belief, faith cannot be utilized?Your example also seems contrary to what you're arguing. We have learned quite a bit about how life happens, how our mental processes occur, etc., that would tend to make an afterlife as contradictory to our understandings of life as creationism is contradictory to evolution.

  • Edward T. Babinski

    I want to believe, help mine unbelief. One early hurdle for me is the transcendant God idea: An infinite perfect Being created everything, and created it directly and solely out of that Being's perfect wisdom, perfect power, perfect goodness, and out of nothing else. How can you get anything LESS out of such a combination than perfection and godliness? You start with perfect wisdom, perfect power, perfect goodness, and you wind up with evil, sin, suffering, death, and bacon, tasty tasty bacon that of course helps kills you.

  • James F. McGrath

    I don't have time to enter the debate about whether bacon is stronger evidence for or against the existence of God. :)As for faith, I think there is a distinction between going beyond what can be proven and going against what can be proven. I'm not sure that I can base my decision to esteem human beings as intrinsically valuable on anything scientifically proven. But I don't think it is incompatible with it.Your point about the afterlife as an example is well taken. One reason my own views on that subject have shifted is precisely because of the difficulty in maintaining any sort of continuity in any meaningful sense over eons, as well as the strong evidence that what was traditionally attributed to the "soul" is in fact an emergent phenomenon rather than a separable substance that also serves as a detachable lifeboat. But that's a debate about what's compatible with the evidence, which is precisely my point. :)

  • benjdm

    "As for faith, I think there is a distinction between going beyond what can be proven and going against what can be proven."Hmmmm…"Now faith is believing in what we hope for and do not otherwise have reason to dis-believe." That's workable, I guess, but doesn't seem much different from plain old hope or guesswork.I agree that I can't base my valuing of humans on scientific knowledge – but I can't base any of my values on that. Given a value, science can sometimes tell us ways to maximize it, but that's all. Ethics is a separate discussion, where I think we have quite a bit of agreement.

  • Madeleine

    Your definition of God as something transcendent seems to not really address what people generally mean when they ask such questions. Suppose an atheist believes in a platonist view of mathematics, on this view numbers and mathematical entities do not exist in space and time and so are transcendent. Would simply being a mathematical platonist make you a believer in God? Someone better tell the atheists…As for blind faith, those who believe in reason do so in blind faith – they trust reason yet their trust cannot be based on any reasons or it would be circular.Question 3 is rather silly. All sorts of things are possible. If you have good reasons for thinking religion is not true then you should not believe in it. Religions make truth claims that people take seriously. There is no point in believing a delusion because it makes you feel good. The same question can be asked of secular viewpoints, are they really true or are they useful, false, comforts for coping with life? I see no reason why one set of beliefs should be immune to this kind of skepticism and not another.What is pure and whole truth? To deny that truth exists is a contradiction. Is it true that there is no truth? How do I know it is true that someone even asked the question if there is no truth?