Considering the Truth about Faith

imagesEaster week tends to increase the opportunity to discuss matters of faith. Though my many secular friends and acquaintances have no use for matters “religious” and certainly not organized religion, they have had enough exposure over the years to know it’s an important week for believers.  Often, this leads to a comment or a brief conversation. But these encounters over the past few days have left me a bit saddened, as so many skeptics, it seems, view Christianity as a form of superstition. A long-lived tradition, of course, with wonderful rituals, but superstition nonetheless.  Modern “science-minded” people reject superstitions, and so “religious” beliefs hold no interest for them.

Brief conversations about Easter don’t really lend themselves to a full explanation of the Faith, and even if they did, the prevailing apathy would prevent the conversation from going deep enough to change anyone’s mind. That’s too bad, in my view, because historic Christianity has nothing to do with superstition. Sure, some who claim to be Christian may indeed be superstitious; the faith itself, however, is built not upon fanciful thinking but upon the bedrock of truth.

And truth matters.  When it comes to things “spiritual,” modern sensibilities hold that what really matters is sincerity, not truth. As long as someone is “true” to his or her beliefs, and sincere about them, then all will be fine in the end.  We’re all good people, after all, and who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to say that my “truth” is actual truth? Truth that applies to everyone; now, in the past and for all time to come? That belief systems have ramifications? Saying such things is intolerant, isn’t it?

That depends, I suppose, on what is under consideration. For matters of preference or opinion, speaking of actual “truth” is nonsensical. But for many other things – including I believe ultimate “spiritual” things  – “getting it right” is actually what matters. Finding and following the truth is essential.

Consider the following analogy: imagine a person who is suffering from a medical disorder. One day he is fine and the next the disease begins the process of eventually killing him. Initially, he does not know he is afflicted. He “feels” fine. He continues to go about his business, concerned with the problems of everyday life and not suspecting that anything may be different, let alone dreadfully wrong. Eventually, symptoms begin to appear, but they are not particularly troubling to him. After friends insist that he have them checked out, he agrees to see a doctor.  This is a big step for him, for he does not “believe” in doctors. He thinks that doctors are often wrong and that they rely too much on pills and not enough on just “living right.” He knows that others really believe in doctors, but he is “sincere” in his belief that doctors do more harm than good, especially when one doesn’t “feel” that anything is wrong. After running a battery of tests, however, the doctor identifies the illness and tells the patient what is wrong.

In addition to understanding the affliction, the doctor also has the means to provide the solution. The patient resists, however, insisting that he feels fine and that he doesn’t need any help. He views the surgery and medicines the doctor offers as “butchery” and “potions.” He sincerely believes that the doctor is practicing voodoo. Ultimately, the patient dies, blissfully unaware of his true condition, content in his belief that he was fine, and proud of his refusal to resort to talismanic remedies to fix something he did not believe was wrong.

As this analogy demonstrates, how the patient feels about his situation is not particularly relevant. Nor is the sincerity of his belief. He may feel fine, physically and emotionally, but the issue would be his actual condition, i.e. the truth about his disease. Christianity needs to be assessed on these terms. Either the Biblical claims are true – we are in a world of trouble, brought on by our rebellion, and only Jesus can save us – or they’re not. If they are true, how we feel about them is of little consequence. And ignoring and rejecting them will, in the end, not succeed.

Now some may object that doctors practice science, and so the analogy is misplaced. The patient was wrong not to rely on science. But science is simply one way of testing and developing knowledge. It is not the only way. While science can tell us about our physical bodies, it cannot tell us whether we possess souls and what happens to our souls when our bodies reach that point that even science cannot overcome. It cannot tell us if our souls are in need of salvation.  Neither can science tell us whether improbable past events from the past – such as the Resurrection we are celebrating this day – actually occurred. The only way we can make that assessment is by considering the evidence upon which Christianity is based and becoming familiar with the philosophy that supports its claims.

But we must do so with an open and inquiring mind… for the consequences of ignoring our spiritual illness can be as devastating as the disease was for the unsuspecting patient.

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. Robert J. Boser says:

    The essay did not discuss what the title implied. Saying that science cannot prove the Resurrection, or that we have souls in need of salvation, says nothing germane to “…the Truth about Faith.”

    Faith amounts to the acceptance of an idea without reason. The “proof” for such claims as the actuality of the Resurrection, the existence of eternal souls, or the need for “salvation,” boils down to nothing more than the fact that someone else claims such ideas to be “true.”

    To have “faith,” means to abandon one’s own rational mind, and replace that uniquely human capacity with blind acceptance of what someone else declares to be the “truth.”

    The author rejects one relying upon how he “feels,” when it comes to analyzing the health status of his body, yet that seems to be exactly what the author urges upon us all, when analyzing the alleged existence of our souls and the alleged need for salvation (my interpretation of his shop-worn argument that we need “an open and inquiring mind,” when it comes to religious concepts).

    Man’s ability to Reason, is his only valid tool of cognition. The claim that we can gain valid knowledge thru “faith,” is bogus to the core. Believing what others tell us is the truth, without any tangible evidence to support such claims, amounts to nothing more than acceptance of an idea because it makes us “feel” good. It is an appeal to abandon that which is rational, for that which is irrational.

    • Jordan says:

      J. Warner Wallace gives an excellent article about the relationship of reason and faith elsewhere on the website. Here’s the link: http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/is-reason-really-an-enemy-of-faith/
      Some is targeted more toward Christians, but I think there is at least a nugget or two for atheists/agnostics. According to Wallace, everything we believe to be true is the sum of both reason and faith; faith being defined here as trust that something is true without perfect proof. For instance, I believe that Abraham Lincoln gave a Gettysburg Address similar to what I read in history books. This is evidenced by documents claiming he did so, as well as the fact that I’ve read testimonies of eyewitnesses. In believing that those documents and eyewitnesses, I have faith that the documents and testimonies were true and accurate in the first place, as well as in the historians that have collected those documents, and in all those responsible for handing those from one generation to the next. Belief lacking evidence is superstitious foolishness as you and Al both mentioned; Belief lacking faith never happens as perfect evidence exists nowhere.
      Both you and I have faith, Robert. You (supposing you to be atheist) have faith that a universe ultimately came from nothing, DNA and life created themselves without intelligence, the law of gravity came without a lawgiver, etc. I find a belief in God and the truth of the Bible to be a belief with enough reason that the faith gap is minimal. It would take me way too much faith to be an atheist.

  2. Al says:

    You have an interesting way to define things. So, if I have “faith” that my spouse is loyal to me, have I “abandoned my rational mind?” I can’t form such a conclusion, despite my knowledge of her character or my intutive sense? Only “science” can tell me something of value? But on what basis do I conclude that science itself is trustworthy? Unless you have personally investigated every claim that science makes, you too are relying on what others have said.
    I’m not arguing that I “feel” like I have a soul. I’m acknowledging that there is much more to human life than flesh and bone. I suspect you probably agree. Take any of the great moral issues of our day – is your position on any such topic dictated by science? Was Martin Luther King right to lead the Civil Rights movement? What scientific test proves this?
    No, in the end, what is irrational is to insist that one can only know that which is subject to scientific testing. Christianity may indeed be false, but one seeking to establish this should make his case; summarily rejecting “faith” as irrational is itself not supportable through the use of reason.

    • @Al: “So, if I have “faith” that my spouse is loyal to me, have I “abandoned my rational mind?”

      No. The problem you have here is that you are engaging in the age-old Christian tactic of obfuscating/fogging the meaning of word concepts. I call that “Christian Newspeak.”

      The Faith Epistemology tends to obfuscate and confuse ideas, meanings, and conclusions, while the Epistemology of Reason tends to clarify, make specific and banish equivocation.

      Thus, you make no distinction between your faith in the existence of things Supernatural, and your TRUST in the integrity of your spouse. You fail to see that your experience with your spouse is entirely thru your body’s sensory organs. THAT is what Science uses too, to discern all aspects of Reality. “Faith” in the existence of things Supernatural, however, is just the opposite. It amounts to the acceptance of an idea WITHOUT any measurable sensory experience, thus “faith” is BELIEF, not true Cognition.

      Your TRUST in your spouse, IS a form of scientific conclusion, based upon an initial premises which you apparently have supported with actual, sensory experience that you have used to measure that integrity.

      As do most Christians, you seem to equate your faith beliefs with actual cognition. There is a vast gulf between the two, because only the latter can be supported with measurements via your sense perceptions. If you BELIEVE in the existence of a supernatural being, such as a Devil, for instance, it can only be because someone else told you such a being exists. It cannot be because you have measured the attributes of such an alleged creature, with any of your sense perceptions.

      • Al says:

        Robert, you’re using “faith” to mean belief in something despite the absence of evidence. That’s not what “faith” means. It means placing trust in something that cannot be fully proven. If something is susceptible to complete proof, there would be no room for faith. Using science to make measurements is one way to arrive at truth; it is not the only way. If you tell me about an event from your past, I cannot actually measure what you are telling me. I can have faith that the event occurred – or conversely I can believe it did not – based on such things as the plausibility of what you are saying and the knowledge I have of your general veracity. It is ironic that you feel I am confusing ideas when that is what you are doing when you treat knowledge as consisting only of things that can be measured.

  3. zilch says:

    Al- I hope you don’t mind my horning in here again. Again, I agree with almost everything you say. But there’s “faith” and there’s “faith”: it’s not yes or no, but a continuum. I don’t need much faith to believe that two plus two equals four, because it follows from the definitions and the application of the rules in a system of formal logic. I do need faith of sorts to believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow, because I can’t prove it will by logic: I can only assume that the world will continue more or less as it has. I need somewhat more faith to believe that my wife is faithful, or that MLK did the right thing, but these are still well within what I consider justified and reasonable faith.

    But to have faith in the existence of God is way out at the other end of the scale: all the previous sorts of faith are based on experience of real things in the real world (two apples plus two apples equals four apples, the Sun does continue to come up, etc), but faith in God is faith with no referents in the real world as far as I can see.

    And as far as establishing that Christianity is false goes: I don’t see why anyone should have to. The burden of proof rests on those making the claim that something exists, not those who don’t believe in it. Besides, as I’ve said, I don’t really care if people believe in God or whatever else, as long as they behave nicely.

    cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

  4. Al says:

    Hi Zilch,
    Good to hear from you again. I don’t have “faith” in the existence of God. That I conclude from reason – such a being must necessarily exist. We’ve discussed the dozen or so proofs before and I don’t i will convince you given your previous responses. I do have faith in Jesus because I think the the evidence that he lived, died and rose again is substantial and worthy of belief. You are right about how bears the burden of proof; my point was simply to say that labeling all “faith” positions as unreasonable is itself lacking rational support.

    • Jordan says:

      I’m going to disagree only slightly and that only in semantics with what you say here Al in response to Zilch. I don’t think we can show or even conclude with reason alone to the exclusion of any faith whatsoever that God exists. However, I do believe it is possible to be “fully persuaded” of the existence of the God of the Bible with a similar certainty to, as you say Zilch, the sun coming up again tomorrow. The faith gap left by the evidence God gives of His existence is very minimal, and is a faith in fact with much “referents in the real world” =). (poking fun; feel free to do the same Zilch. My misspellings and grammar errors as many)

      Seriously though, I find that a very substantial tho often circumstantial case can be made for God, and specifically the God of the Bible. Origins study points to something eternally existent while simultaneously denying that the physical universe can be eternal. Order and Law point to an Orderer and Lawgiver. The accurate and intricate detail of Bible narrative points to history being told rather than fairy-tale. Fulfilled prophecy points to Divine authorship. On and on we could go. My goal is never to “prove” God to anyone, but simply to further others understanding of the difference in “faith gaps” between the naturalist and the theist. Truly, the God debate is simply one of “I see my faith gap as smaller, let me show you why” from both the theist’s and the naturalist’s perspectives.
      Let me also slightly disagree with you Al and Zilch concerning the burden of proof. If someone came up to you, telling you that a lunatic was running through your building, stabbing everyone with a knife and that you needed to leave, would you refuse to believe until the dagger had punctured a vital organ? No, more than likely, you’d leave until you could confirm it is safe to assume no danger. I’m here to warn of danger I see in your future Zilch. The logical response isn’t to ignore the danger assuming it to be false until proven true, but rather to take steps to examine the reality of perceived safety before continuing in the assumed safety. Let me commend you here Zilch on your effort thus far to examine your perceived safety and thank you for the “Iron sharpening iron” effect I’ve received from our discussions.

  5. zilch says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies, Al and Jordan.

    Al- yes, I don’t think you will convince me, nor I you. That doesn’t matter, as long as we’re having a good time and are being forced to think.

    Jordan- don’t you mean “many referents” and not “much referents”? And I’ll have to agree with Al and disagree with you about the burden of truth: your analogy of the lunatic with a knife is not really the same as an invisible immaterial Being, both because there do demonstrably exist lunatics with knives, and because I can leave the building and ascertain later that you were kidding with no harm done- but if I end up spending my life worshiping a God that doesn’t exist, then I have missed out on the truth. It’s okay if you and others want to believe in God, as long as it makes you happy and you behave nicely.

    The burden of proof, it must be kept in mind, is not a logical law or principle, but simply a matter of practicality: it’s much harder to demonstrate that something doesn’t exist if it doesn’t, than to demonstrate that it does exist if it does. If I claim there’s an invisible pink unicorn right behind me who runs away silently when you approach to touch it, but which will gore you if you don’t believe in it, I would say that the burden of proof is on me to prove its existence, not on you to prove it doesn’t exist. God is an invisible pink unicorn until demonstrated otherwise.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  6. al says:

    I have no good reason to believe that pink unicorns exist. I do have reasons to believe in a Creator-being and to believe Jesus is who he said he was. It has, in fact, been demonstrated that God is not an invisible pink unicorn…. which of course is the thing we continue to disagree on.

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