The number one reason I remain so vocal about the problems within faith-based thinking is because I am deeply concerned about intellectual honesty. It pains me to see people being closed off to total transparency. It is by far the worst way to represent what is true.

Is it unfair to call faith a lack of total transparency? I want my readers to be the judge. Though one may be completely honest about the fact that they have a high amount of confidence in faith-based claims the other side of this coin is where I would like to focus.

The other side of faith-based thinking is the fact that it is an inherently ignorant position. I am not hurling this as an insult, I am saying that inherent within a faith-based point of view is the fact that believers don’t know what actually happened in the past.

Muslims don’t know whether their prophet Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse and Christians have no idea whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. How this builds up people in their faith, I’m not sure.

That’s one big “if” and it doesn’t stop there. As far as I can humanly discern, and many believers would back me up, people are inherently ignorant as to whether a God actually exists. What this means is that faith involves leaning into what we don’t know. There is a very real possibility that a God is not behind the scenes.

People must see this and admit this in light of what they don’t know. There isn’t seventy-five percent certainty or ninety-five percent certainty, we either know that a God exists or we don’t. The rest is intuition. Now, just envision the world we live in. Envision the billions of people who don’t intuit the same religious beliefs you have, ask yourself, really ask yourself what gives you the better edge on what is true?

Is it the eloquence of your own teachers and philosophers? Is this how belief without knowledge gets justified? This is calling faith to the carpet and I am fairly and legitimately asking my audience to try to pinpoint for themselves what makes intuition without proper knowledge of miracles and invisible beings reliable?

Within your own system of thinking and forming beliefs what is it exactly that makes faith a reliable avenue to discern between true and false miracles or true and false God beliefs?

I’d like to provide a list of how this species of ignorance is affecting people of faith everywhere.

Faith worships what it doesn’t know

Faith prays to who or what it doesn’t know

Faith obeys and loves what it doesn’t know

Faith assumes that miracle claims are reliable

Faith claims to know the mind of God, if there even is one?

Faith claims to have the correct revelation without a built in mechanism to demonstrate the falsehood of competing religious claims

Faith, as a form of intuition, often claims that it stands as evidence for God all by itself. In other words, faith claims to be getting a read from God all the while not actually knowing it

Faith often sees itself as immune from the kind of mistakes that other religions clearly make

Faith, as a set of beliefs is often highly resistant to being revised or discarded in light of opposing evidence

Faith is viewed as a virtue without being able to produce evidence of its object

 

At the end of the day we need to ask ourselves this question, “does ignorance merit belief?” There’s a price to pay for this intellectually and it looks like this.

Earlier I purposely brought up the Islamic miracle of Muhammad flying to heaven on a winged horse and the Christian miracle of Jesus rising from the dead. I set these two miracle claims side by side.

I did this because somehow it is okay for people within either religion to believe in their specific miracle claims without even knowing whether they actually took place. Then, on top of that it is somehow justified to make a call on which miracles from other religions are mythical and didn’t take place.  

People argue for the resurrection by saying, “with God all things are possible.” Well, then what reason has the Christian to negate the possibility that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse to receive instruction from Allah? From an outsider looking in it would appear that the only mechanism being used to determine the truthfulness of one claim and the falsehood of the other is which religion one is more predisposed to believe in.

Faith is unable to separate supposedly true claims from supposedly false claims and this is why it is an unreliable avenue from which to determine what is true.

9 thoughts on “Faith And Not Knowing, A Call To The Carpet

  1. Hello Hero, long time no write 🙂

    I like you, and I’ve greatly enjoyed our discussions in the past. You seem like a decent and honest fellow without an ounce of guile — worthy, IMO, of your moniker.

    I’d like, therefore, to go out on a limb a bit and share something closer to the chest than a mere argument, because I trust you will take my words at face-value and not just view my “soft” points as an opening for ridicule and disdain and many do who discuss this topic (from either side). I’d like to begin my comment with a parallel:

    Do you consider courage to be a good thing? Courage, as I’ve heard it defined, is action in the face of fear — not the lack of fear, but in spite of it. Courage, in fact, cannot exist without fear.

    Now, the man who overcomes his fear (especially if the fear is legitimate) and acts anyway — does he know beyond doubt the outcome of his action? No, he does not — and yet, he deems the action worth the inherent risks. Most societies revere and honor men of courage — even though, when you think about it, they are actually acting against what they know (i.e. the danger).

    Why are courageous men set above others, even though their actions (as seen from a particular perspective) are actually contrary to knowledge? I like to think it is because we know, intuitively, that inaction without risk is ultimately worse than action with some risk. We call the latter “cowards”, and it is one of the worst insults.

    I say all this to preface this point: I think you are being unfair (and inaccurate) in your assessment of faith. The way I see faith, it is much like the intellectual equivalent of courage: The courageous man, in light of fear, still embraces action — and the man of faith, in light of uncertainty, still embraces belief. Now, it is true that a man may embrace belief for which there is no good evidence — much like a man might act rashly in the face of great danger. As we wouldn’t necessarily call the latter man courageous (we would more likely call him foolish), neither would I call the former a man of faith — I would rather call him a fool, embracing a counterfeit “blind faith”.

    However, you seem not to make room for this distinction in your discourse here — to you, all faith (which, as I gather, is belief in anything without 100% certainty) is equally damnable, contemptuous, and foolish. To me, that’s the same that any soldier who braves the field of battle in order to protect his comrades in arms is no more worthy of honor than the man who jumps from a plane without a parachute.

    I began by saying that I believed you to be a good, decent, honest man — do I know this to be true? No. Am I, therefore, foolish to make such a judgment? Well, according to your writing here, I think I am made to believe that I am — for, again, it seems that only 100% certainty is enough to form a reasonable basis for action or belief. The way I see it, though, if that be the case, then no one can really claim to know anything. And, if everyone followed that to the extent to which you seem to preach, we would all be intellectual cowards, never deigning to make inferences and judgments that overstep the base facts, regardless of the level of education behind them. And that, to me, is not an acceptable existence — nor, I might point out, is it at all reflective of the human reality of knowledge and belief.

    Thanks for sharing, mate 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your well thought out response, Scott, I appreciate your points. That being said,
      I would differentiate between calculating the reality of risk and religious faith. The courage that is acted upon when facing danger understands that there are only so many ways that reality itself will play out. One of those ways being the possible loss of life or facing severe injury.

      Faith is unable to discern between reality and myth. It cannot make such a call. It is a disadvantaged position from which to make a judgement. This is more removed than calculating risk in the presence of real events that anyone can anticipate to unfold in the near future. Faith doesn’t know that Jesus was divine. It doesn’t know that he rose from the dead. It doesn’t even know if there will be a second coming.

      Faith is taught to lean into uncertainty and act as if it is reliable. As if it is good enough. My critique of your argument is that you haven’t shown that faith is equally as valid as anticipating a few different outcomes that we know will inevitably unfold in the midst of not knowing just exactly how it will happen. Do you see the difference?

      Since faith cannot properly identify the variables that make it reliable, it is removed from what we can recognize as valid virtue. It could just as well be inherently wrong and unreliable both as a mindset and as a way of determining what is true.

      Faith is a form of courage that just as well may have no object. I see this as problematic especially as it pertains to identifying what is true and reliable in the here and now. This is belief without knowledge.

      As far as your points on certainty go what I am ultimately driving at is the inability of faith to market itself as a reliable avenue from which to discern what is true. It provides no guarantee and what’s more, if we are being asked to rely on past miracle claims and divine revelation, as a matter of discernment it is very justified to remain skeptical. Harkening once again to my earlier point where I said,

      “Envision the billions of people who don’t intuit the same religious beliefs you have, ask yourself, really ask yourself what gives you the better edge on what is true?” The diversity of religious claims all over the world, claims which require differing religions to intuit very different things about the basic nature of God or gods and whatever else is thought to exist beyond our senses, is more than enough reason for pause and employing skepticism.

      At the end of the day I agree that nothing is 100% certain but when it comes to a mindset of faith it would seem that there are very clear problems to simply get certainty off of the ground once we acknowledge the vantage point from which we are being asked to discern between fact and myth.

      That would be my final clarification, I’m not even sure that a faith-based mindset merits certainty due to the issues I highlighted above. Thanks again for considering my points and let me know, if you prefer to keep it brief, how well I did in my response? Take care!

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      1. Thank you Hero — my faith in your character seems well-placed 🙂

        My persisting difficulty centers neatly around one of the phrases you employed in your response: “a mindset of faith.” What does this mean? You seem to believe that people of faith have a different mindset than (what I infer you to mean) “rational” people. In a way, yes we do — but I don’t think the mindset is so different than you seem to think. In fact, I think so long as you hold onto this idea that faith-thinking is inherently different than evidence-based thinking, you shall be in danger of completely misunderstanding the whole of Christianity and those who believe in it.

        Let me address a few points that I feel are misconceptions about faith, from what I perceive to be your point of view:

        1) I would not consider my faith to be evidence, but rather the result of evidence.

        2) I disagree that the resurrection of Christ is an event that must be taken solely on faith (i.e. in a vacuum of evidence). I believe, if it occurred, that it was an historical event, and as such we can expect it to hold up to historical evidence like any other historical event. (The same approach should apply to determining the veracity of Muhammad’s alleged flight into the heavens.)

        3) When one believes something by faith, the discussion does not end there. The evidence and the reasoning that brings one to accept the uncertain should certainly come into play. In fact, many of us of the faith would welcome it.

        I don’t really think there is such thing as a “mindset of faith” — or, at least, if there is, then it’s not the kind of faith worth talking about. If that’s your prejudicial outlook on all people of faith, then I would encourage you to read more materials written by folks like John Lennox, Gary Habermas, C. S. Lewis, Rene Descartes, and Thomas Aquinas — to name a few. You can disagree with their arguments — however, one cannot reasonably deny that their approach to their faith seems to begin with evidence, rather than being the other way around. Mine certainly didn’t — I began my journey as an atheist with no interest in religious faith, actually very much preferring the Gospel to be untrue.

        So, contrary to your comments, I would very much liken religious faith to your idea of courage — i.e. a weighing of known possibilities. That’s actually quite a brilliant way to put it, I think. Let us circle around to the resurrection of Christ: Regarding it as an event in history, there are a number of explanations that seek to make sense of the hard evidence. Some of the more popular explanations are: the disciplines fabricated the story; the disciplines who claimed to see the risen Christ were mistaken, and were deceived either through mass hallucination or an impostor; Jesus never really died on the cross in the first place; and, of course, Jesus really did rise from the dead. Among these (and the myriad other) possibilities, the one that I believe best accounts for the evidence is the Christian claim that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead as recorded in the Gospels. Am I certain? No. However, two points: a) I certainly don’t believe that account because I like it the best, or because that’s the account I want to believe, and b) even if I am not 100% certain of the Christian account, I am quite certain that, among all alternative accounts I’ve ever heard, it is the most likely to be true, because it alone accounts for all the evidence in a feasible way — provided, of course, one is not a priori close-minded to the possibility of the Divine.

        So, really, there are a finite number of possibilities when it comes to religious believe — two main ones, really: Either there is a God, or there is not. I happen to believe that the evidence supports the former more than the latter — and so I choose to center my life around that belief. If you would fault me for that, then you must equally fault the one who believes there is no God — even the one who claims not to have made a decision on the matter, and yet still lives as though He did not exist. That takes just as much faith (according to my definition of the term) as my choice.

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      2. With regard to my points on a mindset of faith I would submit that there are components within that thinking that potentially conflict with developing an ideal Epistemology. A foundation that can clearly cite how it builds certainty from reliable forms of evidence.

        Faith can tap into our emotional sense of guilt over wrongdoing and thereby give credence to the doctrine of sin and righteousness. While we are all keenly aware of our moral failures this still does not tell us whether sin and righteousness exist as metaphysical notions to accept.

        Since miracle claims are non repeatable and carry the earmarks of high improbability and high potential falsehood, this too brings into question how a reliable epistemology is formed by accepting such claims without further means to validate them and set them apart from clearly false claims that exist in that category. If truth is hard to distinguish from myth, this poses a problem.

        My overall case here about faith is that it is all too willing to put the cart before the horse. It is all too willing to grant God a seat at the table without even knowing whether that seat exists. From the onset this makes faith more vulnerable to error and having a built in inability to identify what is true.

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      3. Yes, to be fair to your perspective I understand that you believe the resurrection story can be put forth as evidence. I deem this as a problematic starting point.

        If a resurrection actually occurred it was a one time non repeatable instance. It is no stretch to understand such a claim as highly extraordinary and epistemically quite highly improbable. When I say epistemically I mean based on what can be known.

        With regard to developing an argument for the likelihood of such a miracle, it seems reasonable to employ skepticism. With regard to what degree either of us can know both the likelihood and reliability of this claim, withholding belief can be understood as both modest and in the best interest of protecting fact-based information.

        Better to say, “I don’t know” than to move forward and submit the resurrection claim as a fact of history.

        2) It is also not helpful to the claim of the resurrection that it exists in a category (Miracles) that warrants a high amount of criticism and disbelief. (i.e. Muhammad flying to heaven on a winged horse, or even as C.S. Lewis viewed it as appropriate to not believe the story of Jonah and the Great Fish literally.)

        The resurrection carries the earmarks of many similar miracle claims in history that warrant skepticism or any hint of serious consideration. As a belief forming miracle claim the resurrection dances on a line worthy of questioning and pause. The nature of the claim itself carries a high potential of being erroneous and just plain wrong. This should not be easily overlooked. It is what I would consider intellectual modesty.

        Certainly the nature of the resurrection claim is worlds apart from accepting the historical veracity of say Julius Caesar’s army crossing the Rubicon. An event of that nature is quite conceivable within the real world. Nothing strange or supernatural about it.

        The resurrection on the other hand is thought to be a supernatural intervention that Christians want to put forth as historical. What could redeem the resurrection claim from its inherent likelihood of being something other than a dead body spontaneously coming back to life after being brutally disfigured and killed?

        I understand that inserting God into this equation is thought to wipe away these improbabilities but what can we cite within the world right now as reason to start with God rather than what can be known and best discerned right now? Why should we start with God rather than work from what we can know in the world right now?

        Would there appear to be some merit to the idea of granting belief as it accords to the evidence we can best gather now? Otherwise, there is a good chance of error when reversing the process of investigation. God may not be the best explanation. God well may not even exist. Again, for all you and I know.

        With regard to the Apologists and Philosphers you’ve mentioned, are these thinkers beginning with reliable evidence? That is the real question. Also, can it be known to be reliable evidence? This would seem key when forming a belief around something that we can deem with a high amount of certainty as being true.

        I am most familiar with John Lennox, Gary Habermas, and C.S. Lewis. I’m not saying that their thoughts aren’t to be appreciated, but in the end we are each making a choice on what the best way forward is in the quest for intellectual consistency. In a way it’s all about how we get shaken up and let the dust settle.

        I advocate a mindset of skepticism because I still see it as most warranted in light what some of the best apologists have brought to the table. It’s not that I don’t respect their efforts, but as the dust settles within their minds they have somehow come away with faith in the presence of uncertainty. I liken it to being wooed by a romantic interest.

        Rather than withholding judgement about something like the resurrection a believer gets taken in by the story. An aspect of developing belief that I agree does go beyond reason. It involves emotion. I think there is undoubtedly an emotional component. It involves looking to Jesus as the most authentic person. One feels as if they’ve met the greatest friend of all. It can be a difficult component to override in the presence of uncertainty. Suddenly that aspect doesn’t seem to matter as much.

        Over a period of ten years of testing the God hypothesis through prayer, worship, learning Theology, and trusting, I realized how much uncertainty would come to matter once again. In essence it recalibrated how I came to build certainty about faith-based claims and at this point in time I view myself as appropriately uncertain as it relates to what I can know epistemologically about Christianity.

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      4. I would encourage you to see skepticism of the resurrection story as open but cautious, specifically as it relates to modesty of thought and granting belief. It’s not that I am closed off to a God existing but I’m cautious about how I arrive at belief.

        I want my belief to accord with sufficient data. There certainly is a dispute between believers and skeptics about how to classify and categorize sufficient evidence. I classify the resurrection as a miracle claim that I am inherently ignorant of as it pertains to whether it actually happened.

        It starts there, I am…

        Inherently ignorant, as in I lack sufficient knowledge as to whether the resurrection occurred

        I have reason to suspect that most if not all miracle claims are unreliable

        As it pertains to maintaining modesty and consistency I see it as problematic to first assume God and then work outward. Instead, I am most certain that I don’t know whether a God exists and I allow the evidence to build my certainty from there, that is, if it is sufficient to do so.

        Presently, I lack certainty that a God exists and I therefore don’t believe it. I lack certainty and I actively doubt that a God exists. What feeds my doubt specifically is the fact that I can’t find the kind of evidence that can move me into Epistemological certainty. If I can’t know that a God exists, what’s the point of believing it?

        If I come to believe in God without sufficient evidence then I have lost consistency in being able to identify reliable truth claims. As far as I can see it, belief in God doesn’t come with the guarantee that we have identified discernable and reliable truth. If I can’t equate belief in God with that then it seems best to remain skeptical until I can come to clearly identify the existence of God as a discernable truth in my life.

        As you can see, Seth, I am coming at these claims from another angle. My angle isn’t asking whether people can be convinced of a resurrection, it is asking whether we can gain reliable certainty from the nature of such a claim?

        It would seem that you deem the resurrection as most likely true because you aren’t convinced by the potential counter-explanations that could rule it out. They seem perhaps inferior because it doesn’t fit say how the disciples lives appeared to be transformed for years after.

        I would like to submit to you that there is also room for agnosticism specifically as it pertains to what the actual variables were that led to early Christianity taking off so quickly. I’m willing to say that we don’t know all of the variables that went into it.

        Since we don’t, this too may be an area that best merits a suspension of judgement. It isn’t to have no openness to the possibility of a resurrection miracle but it is to acknowledge that building a strong sense of certainty from such an account may not be warranted by the facts.

        At the end of the day we all must decide what we can know in the here and now about the inherent probability and reliability of miracle claims? Is this an area that does or does not justify skepticism even as it relates to well formulated apologetic arguments in its favor?

        It isn’t about whether we can appreciate apologetic efforts, it’s about how we can build the most reliable Epistemology from the facts. We need sufficient grounds from which to gain certainty and I’ll let you decide whether Christianity truly provides that. Take care!

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  2. Thanks for the discussion, mate.

    I thought about it just now, and I realized that I’ve been having religious discussions like this off-and-on for probably about 15 years now. The number of people I’ve convinced to be a Christian from argumentation is exactly zero. You’d think I’d have given up by now, wouldn’t you?

    Well, in a way I have — many times. (It’s been a bit of a sporadic effort.) But I keep coming back because my purpose is not to save people — I know it’s not going to happen in a forum like this. When I go through a spurt of writing on the subject, it’s because I desire one thing: to increase my understanding of opposing viewpoints.

    See, I’ve never been content with my beliefs about anything — I always seek to challenge them against both the most current data, along with opposing interpretations of those data. See, I inherently distrust my own perception, and my default position is usually one of skepticism — whenever I feel I have enough information to to make the leap from the raw data to inductive extrapolations based on that data, I know the process is an imperfect one. My various discussions these past 15 years (not to mention the books and articles I’ve read along the way that have been referred to me) has been my insurance policy against the possibility that I might be totally wrong in my beliefs.

    But the key, to me, is always in understanding the other side. Without a good, fair understanding of opposing viewpoints, then I can never hope to really accomplish my goal of challenging my perspective.

    I say this because easily 90% of your statements that characterize your understanding of the Christian perspective are inaccurate — at least as pertains to my beliefs and those of folks whose faith I admire. I don’t say this as a slight at all against you, for there was a time when I was probably 98% ignorant of the best arguments for atheism. I say it merely as an observation — and because, if I were in your place, I would want to know if 90% of my understanding of my chief rival viewpoint was erroneous.

    So, as much as I would love to discuss epistemology with you (for there is much to be said), I’m reluctant to go down that road because I sense that you and I are not on the same page with our approach; you are not listening to me, and are instead persisting in combating a straw-man understanding of my faith. And that would be just a waste of both our time.

    So, thank you for sharing your viewpoint — I really do appreciate it! Perhaps we will speak again 🙂 Cheers.

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    1. I think it’s fair to say I spoke a little hastily about some of the problems I see some of the time in the way that faith appears to operate in some people. For that I apologize if you feel you have been mischaracterized.

      I’m more than open to hear your specific take, am I a professional counter-Apologist? No, I am not. I’d be curious to see how you personally define faith and how it leads you to a reliable position? As you’ve seen I see arguing for a miracle as the best explanation as quite problematic. I see it as problematic to argue for historically as well as in the process of building a sound Epistemology.

      Again, I am neither a professional counter-Apologist or a professional Philosopher. I’m a guy with a lot of previous exposure to the Bible and I take the time to voice problems that I see in trying to intellectually reconcile faith-based claims with the world and how we can come to know truth. Take care, Seth!

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      1. Thank you sir 🙂 You’ve been on my blog before, and have left good comments — that’s the best place to find my perspective if you truly are interested. My latest (likely my last) post is pretty comprehensive, so maybe that’s a good place to start? I don’t know, man, wherever the wind takes you!

        Though, to be honest, you would probably do better rather to read the writings of folks who are smarter and more educated than I am. John Lennox is my favorite Christian thinker these days; recently read “God’s Undertaker” and it’s excellent. Gary Habermas is great if you’re interested in the historicity of the Gospels — and, perhaps surprisingly, I recommend reading Bart Ehrman as well, to get the skeptical perspective on the same topic and keep Habermas honest. J. Warner Wallace’s “Cold-Case Christianity” is a nice, approachable read — not the meatiest book on the shelf, but a worthy read if you’re interested in the epistemological implications of Christianity.

        Anyway, best wishes to you, my friend! And Merry Christmas.

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