CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I have been reading an apologetics text book, Introducing Apologetics, Cultivating Christian Commitment, by James E. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor, who had been "a committed Christian" most of his life, writes about how in college he began experiencing intense doubts about his faith. Unlike many stories that start like this, he did not find his faith encouraged by the study of philosophy or Christian evidence. In fact, although he "spent must of [his] senior year trying to find arguments for God's existence," he could not find a sure foundation by his investigation.

Obviously, because Dr. Taylor ended up writing an apologetics textbook, he somehow found his faith strengthened. If it was not the study of apologetics, what was it? In his own words,

It was a spring break trip to Mexico with a few hundred fellow students to lead vacation Bible school programs and evangelistic meetings in various neighborhoods around Ensenada. What I found during that trip was that the experience of Christian service, evangelism, worship, and fellowship revived my faith in God. This revival happened because through these experiences I had a strong sense of God's presence and activity.

Because of his experiences, Dr. Taylor rejected evidentialism -- the idea that Christian belief is reasonable only if supported by sufficient proofs -- and embraced fideism. Fideism gives faith pride of place over reason. Dr. Taylor is careful to claim that he is a "responsible fideist" rather than one who rejects rationality altogether.

By "reasonable fideist" Dr. Taylor means that he will steer a middle path between "just having faith" and an overemphasis on reason. "Too much confidence in reason may lead to doubt or unbelief because no combination of arguments and evidence can prove conclusively that God exists or that Christianity is true" on one hand, but that "too much emphasis on faith to the exclusion of reason may also lead to doubt or unbelief because there are legitimate questions of an intellectual sort about Christianity ... that trouble sincere believers and seekers."

I accept Dr. Taylor's point that a Christian's faith is reasonable based on that person's experience of God. William L. Craig calls this the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In legal jargon, it is self-authenticating. Lest someone object that this is overly convenient, I would point out that it is consistent with the view that God desires relationship with mankind. If God desires a relationship with the poor and the rich, the educated and the ignorant, those with access to the latest scientific research and those consigned to live in illiterate, pre-industrial societies, then He is likely to establish a means of encouraging such relationship that is not dependent solely on the tools of education and reason. In other words, God's love is not limited to those who have the intelligence, time, resources, and education to pursue detailed philosophical arguments or embark on years of historical research.

Nevertheless, I may disagree to an extent with Dr. Taylor's contention that evidences and arguments cannot prove important elements of the Christian faith, such as the existence of God. For example, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge." Psalm 19:1-2. Rather, it seems to me that reasonable faith can rest on one's experience of God and that there are strong evidences and proofs supporting that faith.

I do believe that human reason has suffered from separation from God, but not to the point that rationality itself is suspect. Rather, it is the frailty of the heart, prejudices, and sin that clouds our ability to properly utilize it. Of course, my difference with Dr. Taylor may be one of slight degree. I have not read his analysis of several leading apologetic arguments, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. If I can make the time I will let you know what I find.

26 comments:

'In legal jargon, it is self-authenticating.'

So it doesn't have to be authenticated by the church?

Which church?

The church Jesus referred to in Matthew 16.

My own experience of God began with a rather dramatic conversion experience somewhat like Pascal's. I understand this is not universal, but I mention it in case it helps understand the point which follows.

In my own analysis I find faith/reason to be a false dichotomy at worst and an invalid polarity as best. Distinguishing between subjective and objective evidences allows reason and faith to operate in both the distinctly human and the generally material spheres of life.

Christian faith, by its nature, predicates both subjective and objective evidence, though I think it equally predicates that such evidence functions as an invitation rather than a deductive proof.

Making this rather self-evident distinction between kinds of evidence allows faith to be addressed in realistic complexity. I find I use the word in the following senses: (a) the content of one's beliefs, (b) the conviction of their validity, (c) their operation as a validating framework from which other views are considered, (d) the existential necessity of living as if certain things are true, even if certainty cannot be found, (e) the moral standards which beliefs entail (for example, the determination to be 'faithful' to logic, truth and reason is a moral commitment on which the right use of reason depends), (f) faithfulness or abstract loyalty ('keeping faith' in some cultural sense), and (g) personal trust.

It is only in this last sense, I think, that anything can be known "by faith": An expert, God, or your spouse thinks X and you trust them. Thus you accept X by personal trust, which is to say by faith , which is to say on the conviction of a person's faithfulness.

Atheists have 'faith' in many of these senses, but the word simply redirects to trust, belief, presuppositions, conviction, resolution and so on in those cases. The term 'faith' simply does not possess the same range of meaning in their system of thought. Sometimes it has no meaning for them other than in reference to a fideist epistemology.

I can't say how generally this is true of theists, but I have never found it necessary to use the word in that sense at all and consider it a quaint medievalism. Some general agreement on its proper range of meaning would be helpful all round.

Kal: {{The term 'faith' simply does not possess the same range of meaning in their system of thought.}}

Only insofar as, by tautology, an atheist doesn't believe a God exists to have personal trust in. (And even a theist, technically, might think it a non sequitur to 'trust' God in that fashion. Many pantheisms would go that route, for example.)

Otherwise atheists have exactly the same range of meaning in their system of thought, insofar as they have room for real personal interaction in their system of thought (which all of them do as a practical fact, even if some of them would deny human rationality in theory.)

Excellent comment otherwise, though. {g}


Chris: my main problem with even 'reasonable' fideism, is that it still involves reasoning. Which itself is far from a problem for me; except when the fideist tries to claim that that part of his belief isn't based on reasoning. "The internal witness of the Holy Spirit" is itself data to infer with, and that's exactly what WLC and Dr. Taylor did.

But the data could, in principle, be misunderstood or mis-inferred. It isn't "self-authenticating" in the sense that WLC seems to be wanting. (Which is why WLC rightly doesn't accept Mormon or Muslim 'internal testimony' to be similarly "self-authenticating", even for only those believers themselves. But sauce for their gooses is sauce for his gander, too. Which in turn is why Steven has something of a good point himself, btw.)

JRP

"I accept Dr. Taylor's point that a Christian's faith is reasonable based on that person's experience of God. William L. Craig calls this the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In legal jargon, it is self-authenticating. Lest someone object that this is overly convenient, I would point out that it is consistent with the view that God desires relationship with mankind."

What about the atheist's experience? Is that not also "self authenticating?" If I have desired and sought a relationship with God and found nothing, what does that do to the view that a God who desires a relationship with me exists?

Herm,

It means atheists are just as reasonable in their beliefs, on that ground, as theists, and vice versa. Or if one is supposed to not be reasonable in their belief, on that ground, then the other must not either where appealing in an inference to that class of data.


"Self-authentication" is worth talking about mainly in that it is a denial of non-reasonable belief on a topic, even when the evidence might be regarded by another person as weak or mistaken. WLC (and Plantinga, whom he's largely following here I think) use it properly when defending the property of non-specialist reasoning in beliefs as still being rational. Beyond that, it isn't of much use; but it's highly important up to that point. But: the principle has to apply in favor of ideological opponents, too, or else it's only being selectively used as a mere rhetorical tactic.

That means WLC (for example) has to be prepared to admit and allow that atheists or alt-theists might be entirely reasonable and responsible in believing what they do, even if their reasons are relatively weak or even outright wrong.

Similarly, atheistic apologists have to be prepared to admit and allow that theists might be entirely reasonable and responsible in believing what they do, even if their reasons are relatively weak or even outright wrong.

JRP

I would rather burn in hell for all eternity than spend a nanosecond worshipping your god! Deal with it!

1 Kings 22:23 '"Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you."'

How can something be self-authenticating if it comes from a being that admits it puts lying spirits into people?

'What I found during that trip was that the experience of Christian service, evangelism, worship, and fellowship revived my faith in God. This revival happened because through these experiences I had a strong sense of God's presence and activity.'

And if he had gone to a Moonie camp for a month or two, he would have walked out a Moonie...

Goliath,

You have chosen to be harsh in your response, so I do likewise: Just keep thinking that way and you just may get exactly what you ask for.

Steven Carr,

The church is there to help determine the truthfulness of the Spirits by corporate examination of claims. But self-authentication is what your own heart experiences about God.

Regarding the 1 Kings passage, one needs to be a bit more careful in understanding the language used than you tend to be. It requires an analysis of many themes of the Bible which I don't have time for in a comment. But I will simply say this: While it doesn't directly say so in 1 Kings, God does not allow lying spirits to come to those who recognize Him and worship Him in spirit and in truth. In other words, those referenced in 1 Kings had been given sufficient evidence of God's lordship over the universe, but chose to follow others. Hence, God permitted lying spirits to speak through them.

Regarding the moonie camp: you don't know that. God has made his true self known to people in many different places.

How can I know that you are not possessed by a lying spirit when you say your alleged god does not allow lying spirits to come to those who worship him in truth?

And I like the claim that the church has to examine self-authenticated experiences.....

"And I like the claim that the church has to examine self-authenticated experiences....."

Just like the scientific community has likes to verify the results of any given scientist, even though they used the scientific method to do their experiment?

We all know that the truth needs to be verified in some sort or another by the community, no matter how crazy it may seem at first. Some items pan our in the end, some are just craziness. Nobody is immune to this.

I see. SO a self-authenticating experience is that has to be verified by the community, or perhaps by the Bible.

I guess it depends on where you want to go with this one.

If I fire up a blog tomorrow and declare that I've used the scientific method and proven that there was a created universe, would you simply agree with me since I used the scientific method, or would you want to examine all my hard work and thinking process to make sure I wasn't a quack at the time I wrote it down?

Similarly, if you walked in tomorrow and said that you were personally visited by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a dream and you now know that the origin of the universe is one through cosmic marinara, I'd want to know more about your process and how the FSM does revelation to see if it lines up.

I take issue with the idea that if something can't be externally verified to 100%, then it isn't true. I do believe that people are smart enough to figure things out on their own, or have a "revelation" of some event, but I don't believe that just because you experienced it makes in itself.

There is a balance to be struck with these things, especially if they are dealing with things at an important level.

I don't think Steven is disputing that, Dill. He's satirically digging at how that process is supposed to be linked to a "self-authentication" of the sort that some people seem to be talking about.

JRP

Why are so many who profess faith apparently so keen to find proofs and evidences for their faith?

Is not the very essence of faith to believe without evidence, or apart from the things seen? So would not finding proofs and evidence reduce faith in God and the Bible to something like "faith" in gravity, which is not really a "faith" at all?

So wouldn't proofs and evidences only undermine their faith?

Did not Jesus himself say that those who believed without evidence would be more blessed than Judas. Judas and the disciples did not need to have faith in the resurrection.

It seems to me that many people who profess faith are really wanting to chuck out their faith by finding a Jesus they can as good as touch.

Battery,

To the extent you suggest that faith is belief without any reason for that belief, I disagree. The resurrection itself is God's means of providing proof of Jesus' claims, after all. Why leave the tomb empty? Why appear in bodily form at all? To provide evidence for the resurrection.

And I think you mean Thomas, not Judas. But Jesus did not say those who believed without evidence were more blessed, but those who believed without "seeing." Not the same thing. In fact, I think this may capture the core of faith. Jesus had already proved himself to his disciples by three years of ministry with them. He had foretold his resurrection, though their preconceptions may have prevented them from comprehending. But upon reports of an empty tomb and of others seeing Jesus (which are reasons), Thomas still did not believe. He was not cursed for his caution, but others who will believe without such evidence will be even more blessed.

Are you saying that "others who will believe without . . . evidence will be even more blessed?" If so, then why look for evidence if it will only mean a lesser blessing?

Layman, you misrepresent what I said. I did not say faith is belief without a reason for the belief. I said it is belief without proof or evidence. Completely different. If I have proof or evidence for something I don't need faith.

Are you saying that if I see something like a person returned from the dead standing in front of me that I have no "evidence" for that person being resurrected? I can only see him and that is not evidence?

If Jesus had "proved" himself and was seen by his disciples after his resurrection then surely they had no need for any faith in Jesus. No-one needs faith for anything that they can see and know is proved.

Battery,

Try and be a little charitable. You will have more productive discussions. I was careful in how I phrased my statement because it was not exactly clear to me how you were using some of your phrases.

You seem to use "proof" as incontrovertible evidence of something. Okay, fine. But we apparently have different understandings of the terms "evidence" and "faith." If I have reason to believe something that means, to me, that I have some evidence supporting that belief. You seem to think you can have reason to believe something without any evidence whatsoever.

And you misquote me through selective parsing. How ironic. I did not say "without evidence." I said without "such evidence," meaning without the seeing. I specifically pointed to other evidence that those who got more blessing -- presumably -- base their belief on.

Faith is not belief without reason or belief without evidence. It is trust. In the disciples case, they had Jesus' miracles, his teaching and life, and reports of an empty tomb. That is evidence. Evidence provided by God to promote faith.

You seem to think that being only "blessed" instead of "more blessed" is a worse fate than having no faith. I think God will be happy to bless people that need more convincing than others rather than see them suffer separation from Him. I'd rather be blessed then not blessed, even if some are more blessed than I. And if I can help some of waivering faith be blessed rather than lose all blessing, that too is preferable.

Of course, I do not accept the distinction you draw in the first place. There is evidence and I'm happy to share it with others. Indeed, I believe that is one of God's purposes for my life and is a Biblical calling.

Batt,

Incidentally, the text doesn't read that those who have believed without seeing are more blessed. (Christians sometimes forget this, too. {s})

There was more than one Doubting Thomas in that story; and Thomas wasn't operating in an evidential vacuum, any more than any of the rest of them were. He demanded even more evidence than the others required, though really only a few of the disciples believed Jesus had risen before actually seeing Him (the Beloved Disciple is the only one who comes to mind--does anyone know of anyone else who did??) Thomas went a bit further than they had required; and makes the fullest statement of belief recorded of any of the disciples afterward.

So the situation isn't as cut-n-dried as it has often been portrayed, either by sceptics or sometimes by Christians, too.


If you're interested, I've written several lengthy entries about reason and belief (including religous belief), earlier in the ongoing HSIBAS series, here at the Cadre Journal. These particular entries start here, and Thomas is discussed in some detail along the way, in one of the entries.(There are six entries that bear directly on the topic you raised. The overall series is much longer than that, of course. A table of contents for the posted entries for the series as a whole so far can be found here.)


As Kalessin pointed out pretty well, earlier in this thread, there are numerous levels and meanings of 'faith', all of which are applicable to religious faith, the most important of which is personal trust. (You might recall, if you read the comments, that I averred that this is true for atheists and alt-theists, too, somtimes in principle but always in practical practice.) Personal trust is far from unrelated to evidentiary matters, but neither admittedly is it exactly the same as assent-to-belief.

I illustrate this a couple of times in a secular fashion, in a pivotal chapter about halfway through my novel Cry of Justice. (Use the Search Inside The Book feature, and look for page 212; that's where the chapter begins.) It's a question of romantic trust, too, in the novel, but it's a practical question between persons in any case; which is why it's as much of a challenge (and applicable) for someone who doesn't even think much of God, as it is for someone who believes God exists and tries to serve Him.

I hope this will be of some help. Have a good Sunday.

JRP

I will not take patronizing charity lessons from a professing Christian who twists my words. I did not twist your words -- I asked you for clarification. And I replied with a conditional statement "If you are saying" in the meantime. Enough of your condescending moral lecturing.

People have many reasons for faith, such as inner convictions, persuasions, being moved, insights.

Simply, we know what faith means without rambling convoluted arguments. The bible even says it is itself the evidence of things not seen.

As far as I can read, the original apostles did not have any faith in the resurrection of Jesus and had no need for any faith in his death and resurrection. There is no need for faith in something you have seen with your own eyes. Yet they expected, it seems, others to have faith only in their word for it.

Batt,

As I know the first paragraph wasn't addressed to me, I'll ignore it and move along.

{{People have many reasons for faith, such as inner convictions, persuasions, being moved, insights.}}

All of which are, as you rightly pointed out, reasons for faith. Those are not the extent of reasons for faith, however; some of us prefer to go deeper and get more technical about it, in various ways, as an exercise in thinking more clearly and precisely about the topic, and to detect and correct mistakes of ours (or head them off at the pass). It's a normal procedure, really.


{{Simply, we know what faith means without rambling convoluted arguments.}}

Actually, the list you gave involved reasons for faith; they were not descriptions of faith or what faith means. Kal's list of various meanings for 'faith' is pretty good, and reflects careful study on the topic.

{{The bible even says it is itself the evidence of things not seen.}}

If you mean Heb 11:1, you should first be aware that this is coupled with a verse that doesn't at all have a clear meaning (even in relation to verse 1); second, the verse actually reads, "Now faith is an assumption of what is being expected, a conviction concerning matters which are not being observed" (not evidence of things not being observed); and third, the word is used hundreds of times in the NT alone (not counting the OT), so one prooftext (which itself is hardly a definition provided for purposes of systematic metaphysics) doesn't necessarily cover all the cases. As it happens, each of Kal's examples of meaning can be found throughout the Bible--though as I mentioned this is far from being some kind of special Biblical advantage. Atheists and alt-theists have all those types of faith, too.

In any case, the kind of 'faith' being talked about in Heb 11:1 is what Lewis called obstinacy of belief: the resolution to continue believing what one has understood to be true in the absence of immediately re-confirming experience. As an example, I have faith (in this sense) that if I open my window blinds, which are currently shut, that I'll see my office's parking lot. I have plenty of reasons to believe that the parking lot will be there, and no reasons to believe it won't, nor any temptations to believe that it won't--and that last place is where the virtue of faith starts coming into play.

But people need and regularly apply that kind of faith constantly, both as an operation as well as considering it a virtue. In the scriptures (OT and NT both) it has to do with covenant promises between God and man, but the application is principally wider than that. Once again, atheists and alt-theists regularly make use of it, too.


{{As far as I can read, the original apostles did not have any faith in the resurrection of Jesus and had no need for any faith in his death and resurrection.}}

Oh--so you think appearances couldn't be deceiving, then? {g} You'd be the first sceptic I ever met who thought so! {lol!}

It's one thing to hold to a belief in the presence of a person when the person is evidently present. (That still requires quite a bit of faith, as epistemologists routinely recognize!) But it's quite another thing to keep believing in that person when you're about to be crucified upside down or boiled alive in oil or flayed alive or whatever due to your belief in him.

That refusal to recant under extreme pressure is itself one reason (though not necessarily a clinching one for every person) to at least trust that the person isn't lying about what he says he believes to be true. How a person behaves, especially back in that day and time, makes a big difference in how reliable other people would consider him or her to be.

That's aside from the fact that stories indicate early witnesses doing miracles as evidence for inferring that what they were saying is true. Not necessarily much help nowadays, but neither would it count as being 'only their word for it' for the original witnesses--even if the miracles were fakes or mistakes. (And as the stories indicate, people back then did understand that someone could fake miracles or falsely claim them for evidentiary purposes. They weren't universally credulous, though not universally incredulous either. The mix was probably much the same as it always is and has been. {shrug}{s})


In the Middle East, though, as has been regularly true throughout most of world history, a man's "word for it" counts a lot more to the people around him than it often does for us nowadays. That's one reason why we aren't supposed to get in the habit of swearing vain oaths that we don't mean; our word would eventually be recognized as untrustworthy, because we would be recognized as personally untrustworthy. In many pre-modern societies, there were severe penalties for an oathbreaker, too. Human social culture depends on each of us keeping his word as much as possible.

So the distaste for 'somebody's word for it' is largely a modern Western habit. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself (especially if one recognizes the effects of something equivalent to original sin {g}); but the positive aspects of personal trustworthiness, in most times and places, are worth keeping in mind for evaluating why people would believe the disciples. (Or, in some cases, not.)

JRP

People have many reasons for faith, such as inner convictions, persuasions, being moved, insights.

Okay. But you deny that any of this is evidence?

Addressed to Layman,

Of course.

Do you mean that to suggest that an "inner conviction" is evidence one can have have complete faith in? I don't believe any sane person accepts that, so this is posed as a question.

Please don't come the heavy with your moralizing about "twisting words" with me. Just answer the question.

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