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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Faith Without Reason?

A few years ago, I stumbled onto a blog criticizing faith.  It inspired a response, which inspired no further response.  I had saved it and ran across it looking for something else on my computer and thought I'd post it here.  The link, while still posted, is no longer valid as they have removed the post, most probably for space.

Faith Without Reason?

By David Mitchell
Guest Columnist
Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The question in our current debate on homosexuality is purely one of which premises you choose to accept. Once your premises are chosen, your opinions flow from them. Mr. Spangler chooses to accept the premise that the Christian Bible is the infallible word of God. It is precisely this premise that I wish to investigate. My goal is in not to argue whether his premise is correct or incorrect, but merely to highlight the ultimate uncertainty in this determination, and this uncertainty’s implications for morality claims.

Mr. Spangler makes a wide range of claims based on his premise that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. What he fails to establish is why this premise is true. There have been many attempts to rationally establish the validity of the Bible with proof. Books I have personally read include “The Case for Christ” and “More Than a Carpenter”. Both of these pieces present coherent, logic-based arguments for belief in the Bible. However, there are also very robust arguments to counter these. In my experience with Christians (and I believe this to generally be the case with Christianity), emphasis is ultimately put on faith. It is difficult to nail down a definition of faith, but in the face of opposition, Christians typically indicate to me that faith involves believing something without proof, and often without the necessity of applying rational argument. There are a number of inconsistencies with this concept.

First, I ask the question, how is it that someone comes to know their faith? Surely it requires some level of rationality and acceptance of the validity of sensory experience merely to be able to physically read the Bible and have conversations with those who held individuals come to know their faith. It requires a basic acceptance of logic to perform the act of contemplating the possibility of faith, to understand sentences in the Bible, and to make inferences based on these sentences. To reject the role of rationality altogether in faith is simply nonsense. As such, I propose that rationality is necessarily the basis for acquiring any faith. Faith cannot be divorced from reason. It is precisely reason that endows us as intelligent beings capable of understanding any faith, and consequently choosing to accept or reject it.

Secondly, I ask, what is one's basis for accepting the Bible as the ultimate truth? To argue that the Bible offers infallible truth because it says it does so in the Bible is clearly not a valid position. The circularity of logic here could apply to any text or speaker who declares that he/she/it contains the real truth of existence and morality. More often, Christians answer this question by saying that they know it to be the ultimate truth by faith alone, without proof. This is sometimes described as a gut feeling or intuition (“I just know it in my heart”), or more specifically as the result of some personal revelation. The problem with this answer is that fervent believers of other religions have equal claims. If someone were to try and convince me that the Bible is the ultimate source of all truth because they know it on faith, then I ask, how is their faith is any different than that of a devout Muslim who proclaims the truth of the Koran, or the faith of a devout Hindu proclaiming the truth of the Vedas or Upanishads? In other words, if it really is all about faith alone, then what is the tie-breaker? How would I know who to believe? There can be no answer based on faith alone. Without reason, there is no argument for the primacy of one religion over another. Without reason, there can be no persuasion one way or another. Without a rational foundation for faith, a belief in the Christian God is no more valid than my devout belief in Richard Dawkins’ “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.

Third, I’d like to probe further into the question of a person's basis for accepting the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Generally-speaking, the Christian tradition affirms belief in the existence of both God (good) and Satan (evil). Satan is described as deceitful and tempting, always trying to craftily draw followers away from God and toward himself. The question I ask, is how do Christians come to know God is good? In other words, how did they determine in the first place that it was appropriate to follow this God? With no prior basis for determining what should and should not be done, we could not determine with any certainty that subscribing to God’s brand of rules for morality (as opposed to Satan’s) was the correct decision. If someone has no pre-existing notion of what is good and what is bad, then choosing God over Satan would be merely an arbitrary decision. There would be no way of knowing that it was not God doing the deceiving and Satan offering the truth.

No, what I propose is that we each have an innate sense of what is good (right), although the specifics of this are certainly not equivalent among people. It is this sense that directs some toward belief in the Christian God and rejection of Satan, some toward belief in Allah, some toward Yahweh, some toward other deities or spiritualities, and some toward nothing at all.

What I am trying to do here is not to discredit the Bible or Christianity. I find Christianity to be primarily a beautiful religion that teaches people first and foremost to treat one another with respect, compassion, and love. It would be difficult to find fault with this aim. My point is only that the validity of any particular religious tradition cannot be proven. Even the most fervent Christians I have ever known have expressed periods of doubt in their faith at times in their lives. Given this uncertainty, it is simply inappropriate to impose the particular moral obligations of a religious text that cannot, itself, be validated, when these moral obligations are not compatible with our basic notion of decency and equality.  Christians generally no longer stand by the Bible’s support of human slavery, because it offends their notions of what is good and decent (a guiding force in choosing the faith initially). In like manner, passages that allegedly condemn homosexuality (although it is disputed that they actually do so) should be subjected to the same test of goodness, decency, and reason before becoming measurements of morality. Let us err on the side of respect, love, and compassion for all.


Mr. Mitchell,

You say you are not trying to discredit the Bible by your dissertation.  Conversely, I am not trying to purport the Bible with my answer.  One can do no better than to follow after that which one has established as truth.

It is my belief that the basis for the determination as to the right or wrong of anything is not man’s right to decide.  If one is not in alignment with the teachings of the Bible, then most certainly, he is free to live as he decides.  As long as one is willing to accept the consequences of one’s actions, then that one is truly free, as suppression is a condition of the mind and heart. 

Conversely, once a person establishes the Bible as a basis for their life, or professes himself as a believer, he must define good and evil according to the pre-established doctrines, as the Bible defines good and evil for that man and the true believer aligns himself with that criterion.  If he professes another directive, opposed to biblical teachings, unless or until he realigns himself with the directives previously established, he should not lay claim to the Bible as defining his religion.  The Bible clearly delineates what is right and what is wrong to those who profess to hold to its teachings.  This is important to understand in the establishment of faith as faith is inextricably linked into obedience of a particular way, for Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.

Mr. Mitchell, you mentioned that the definition for faith is not clear to you.  Let me assist you with that.  The Bible clearly defines faith.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, it is the under girding of your hope, the structure under it, like the structure that holds a bridge in place and establishes the hope that it is safe to cross. 

It is the evidence of that which is not seen.  We have several evidences of that which we do not see.  Gravity and air are not ethereal.  We have evidence of air or gravity.  Prior to the establishment of proof, we still knew they existed.  We had the evidence of their existence by the proofs of their existence.  Faith is not ethereal.  It is not a wishing on a star and believing that positive thoughts overriding negative feelings will make it come true.  It is a belief based on the reliability of past experiences. 

When you sit in a chair, you believe, based on past experience that the chair will support your weight.  You accept, on faith, without getting down on your hands and knees to verify, that it is safe to sit in the chair.  Clearly, at some point in your life, you have seen a chair not hold a person sitting in it, but based on probabilities of dependability, your faith in that chair is confident.  The under girding of that belief is based on the fact that you sit in chairs all the time and rarely, or perhaps never, are you tossed out on your backside.  The evidence not seen is that despite the fact that you have not examined the chairs reliability, you feel there is enough evidence by chairs of the past to verify it will hold you.  You have FAITH in that chair.  You’re not sitting in thin air, hoping that a chair materializes; you’re sitting on a chair that you assume will support your weight. 

Now, put that established chair on a place where falling out of it will result in certain death, and the level of faith is probably going to be drastically reduced.  Whereas you have sat down on the chair without a second thought on your kitchen floor, if that chair is balanced on 2 beams stretched out over the Grand Canyon, your faith in it will waiver or perhaps break down, entirely.  Over a course of time, given the opportunity to establish that the beams are secure and that the chair will not act any differently on the beams than on your kitchen floor, you may build the faith to be able to sit in that chair.

That’s what Faith is.  It is a belief based on past performance and a hope of future performance.  It is established in the reality of God’s word.  IF a person is not willing to test God’s word, by putting himself under the authority of His Law, and under the conditions of God’s Word, then one may not establish a claim that there is no proof of the reality of God’s word, anymore than one can say a chair is not reliable to sit in based on the fact that they are not willing to sit in it. 

Many professed Christians give irrational explanations of what faith is because they are unwilling to put themselves under the authority of God’s word or law or risk relying on what they, quite frankly, do not know. 

One establishes that faith by incorporating the word of God into their lives according to the way established by God.  In other words, you begin to obey it.  You begin keeping the laws of God, to try to follow His words as He has laid them out, even in the face of adversity and you begin to see that God is taking care of you.  Things begin to work out so that you can obey.  The further you test it, the more it establishes your faith… because you run into impossible situations that work out in the most incredible ways.  And so you start to incorporate more of God’s word into your life. 

You establish the reliability of the Word of the God of the Bible exactly the same way you establish that a chair is safe to sit in—perhaps even to the point of being comfortable even if the chair is perched on a precipice.  Even though you see others around you fall out of other chairs (like drunks or babies who cannot sit up or children using the chair incorrectly) or you’ve seen it collapse (under too much weight or abuse or neglect), you learn the rules, or follow the Word and you see that the chair is reliable, if the sitter is faithful to the conditions of the chair.

One learns the reliability of the Bible through use, making clear that there is a difference in “the way that seems right to a man,” over they way that is righteous.  You learn to walk by faith in the way that God has established over the way of sight because you come to realize that it is God that establishes reality and what you see with your eyes is not as reliable as the way God has established, because reality is established by God.  And to the degree you have confidence in that way, it defines the level of your faith.  Do you have faith in a chair on a solid floor?  You have a little faith.  Do you have faith in a chair positioned on a sheer drop?  You either have great faith or you lack faith.  It is confidence in previously established behaviors and promises.  Abraham had great faith because God gave him a child when his wife was too old to have one and promised him that child would grow into a great nation.  He had the child, every day of his life, right there in front of him, as the under girding of his faith-for the very existence of the child was an impossibility.   He had a further promise from God that in Isaac, He would establish the seed of Abraham, and the faith of the past of Isaac’s impossible birth, gave way to the establishment that God would not allow his word to “come back to him void” giving Abraham the confidence to believe. 

This is how faith grows… the past experience, the establishment that God’s word is wholly reliable, leads you to be able to go forward in the face of uncertainty or even in the face of certain ruin, knowing God holds reality in the palm of his hand.  Simply put, faith is knowing.

I cannot tell you how you could establish the Bible as the ONE book above all other books as I do not know you or what you hold as valuable, but I can tell you what established it’s preeminence over every other religion I’ve taken part in or studied.  It answers every question I’ve ever had regarding the meaning and purpose of life.  That was a solid beginning for me and then the building of faith over the course of a lifetime, of seeing my own waters pouring from a rock and my own storms stilled with a word, literally, I am a faithful believer that the God of the Bible is as real as anything I base reality upon. 

It’s not about living a moral life, based on what we imagine to be honorable.  We do not decide for ourselves good and evil.  That has already been established.  One may ignore it… or disparage it.  One may live contrary to it or force others to conform to another way, but that will not disestablish its authority over mankind.  There is a way that seems right to mankind, but the end of that way is death.  If one seeks life, then there is only one way to attain it—no matter what anyone’s opinion might be.