Archive for the ‘atheism’ Category

Faith versus Reason

Posted: September 9, 2009 in atheism, Christian, evolution, faith, science

 

After reading W.K. Clifford’s essay “The Ethics of Belief” and William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” I have been given the task of answering the following questions: 1) Is it always wrong to believe something for which one lacks sufficient evidence? And 2) Is “faith” inconsistent with critical thinking?

The first problem that arises out of these inquiries is the question of what is “sufficient” or what determines “sufficient evidence”? I would have to assert that determination of sufficiency is autonomous upon the person holding the belief and independent of an objective standard. Although it may be that only when a question or issue is resolved by careful examination of the evidence at hand, that a reasonable person should establish a belief about that issue. But establishing a belief on the evidence and determining the sufficiency of that evidence are both autonomous upon the believer. What is sufficient for one person, may not be sufficient for another. So to say that it is wrong to believe something based on insufficient evidence is to beg-the-question for the determination of sufficiency must be established to determine lack and where must the line be drawn? Therefore, I suggest that a reasonable person may hold a belief established with moral certainty based on the evidence that an alternative is not possible. The highest standard of proof for any belief must be that established beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, is it wrong to believe something when any doubt exists?

This brings me to address the second question regarding belief and logic. If faith is defined as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” according to Webster’s Dictionary, then the answer would be that, yes, faith is inconsistent with critical thinking. I would argue, however, that absence of proof is not necessary to require faith. One can follow the evidence to where it leads beyond a reasonable doubt and a conclusion would still require a willingness to believe due to the nature of man’s incomplete knowledge. One hundred percent conclusive proof may not be available, but a belief may be drawn beyond a reasonable doubt based on the forensic evidence provided at the time. Science relies upon the allowance and acceptance of this type of faith.

Take the debate between evolution verses intelligent design for example. The evolutionist believes that the evidence shows conclusively that changes in organic design are controlled by random mutations and contingent selection. In other words, evolution is a fact such that all that exists is the natural. The intelligent design proponent insists that evolutionary theory lacks sufficient evidence to support such belief and is better explained by an intelligent cause. Who is right? Are both standing upon faith? Does reason to doubt evolutionary theory exist? For one, a fact does not change, while theory does. Science suggests that evolution is both a theory and a fact. ID proponents recognize the fact of evolution within species which they have dubbed micro-evolution, but argue the theory of evolution’s ability to explain the mechanism of evolution is insufficient since reasonable alternatives are available. One side insists that reasonable doubt exists the other does not. Can it be determined if one is wrong and the other right? The possibility must exist or the pursuit of truth of evolutionary theory would be futile.

If ID proponents refuse to believe evolutionary theory with moral certainty that an alternative is possible, are they wrong? If one believes that the origin of life and of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, rather than a random undirected process, do they hold this belief in spite of the proof or because of it? How can a being limited by the physical existence know with absolute certainty that nothing exists outside of the natural? Whether one believes evolution theory to be true or false, it is certain that one believes or disbelieves with an element of faith. The study of science exists because human knowledge is incomplete. And, as the human race moves from false beliefs to true, the mechanism of faith as a moral certainty of a belief is a necessary element of the critical thinking process.

 

“What happens to someone who professes Christ, goes to church for 30 years, serves in the church and does all sorts of good in the church and then decides they don’t believe anymore? Are they still saved?”

 

Short answer: No, scripture tells us that they were never saved to begin with and that their leaving was to show us that.

 

Long answer:

 

First, I think we need to be reminded that only the Holy Spirit can testify to the authentic faith of another believer. While we may judge the fruit of a professed believer, and correct them in love, we do not condemn unbelievers for they are condemned already as we once were.  If someone professes Christ, however, they should be held accountable to the truth as a brother or sister in the faith. If they choose to reject the Holy Spirit, then we are to treat them as an unbeliever, not condemning them, but leading them to the truth with gentleness and respect.

 

1 Tim. 3:2 “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

 

Secondly, the apostle John addressed this very issue within the church in his first letter. At that time people who were in the fold had left the church in the face of persecution and to follow other teachings. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” 1 John 2:19

 

Jesus explained how this happens in his parable of the seeds recorded in Luke.
“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. Luke 8:13-15 Jesus assured us that a true believer will hold fast to the end, bearing fruit with perseverance.

 

Christ, in speaking about salvation, says no one can snatch such a believer out of His hand. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” John 10:27-29

 

We know that someone who has been saved by grace through faith is eternally sealed with the Holy Spirit. And according to John, they have assurance that Christ will keep them till the resurrection. True believers recognize and obey the voice of the Savior, seek the Wisdom of the Father and their lives testify to the Truth that they claim. As we see in 1 John, people can “play Christian” and “do church” appearing to be one of us, but never really know the Savior and later deny Him. John tells us that their leaving is an indicator to us that they were never truly one of us. In addition, many may confess Christ with their lips, but deny Him with their lives. While the heart of others may be hidden from us, the heart is never hidden from God the Father.

 

Now you might be asking, “How do I know that I’m not just “doing church” and just don’t know it?” Hmmm, sounds like a topic for next time…

 

Just curious what you Atheists think when you watch this.

This is why I tolerate the insults.

In response to Walton-

You have raised a question that I had wrestled with for many years.

 

“If God exists, then He must be Omni-benevolent. But an Omni-benevolent God would not condemn innocent people to hell.”  So how do Christians reconcile this? I did not find a satisfactory answer until I attended seminary, in spite of grilling every pastor and Sunday school teacher I ever had.

 

I don’t do this with unbelievers, but since you profess Christianity, I will respond with scripture.

 

It appears from your comment that you agree that God is Omni-benevolent, so I will begin with the question of how an all-good God can condemn innocent people.

 

One error is in the assumption that innocent people exist. Reading Romans 3 we learn that no one is righteous, not even one. We all fall short of the glory of God. This means that everyone is guilty of sin, of missing God’s perfect standard. We are all guilty. No one is innocent. Not the suburban housewife, not the pygmy in the tree, no one.

 

Now, since you claim to be a Christian, I am also going to assume that you claim Christ as your Lord and Savior bringing me to the next point. With the certainty of eternal damnation, eternal salvation is necessary. The wages of sin is death. But how can someone who has never heard of Christ be held accountable for what has not been revealed to him? The answer is: we are each held accountable to the revelation we have received.

 

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Romans 1:18-25

 

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.g 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” John 3:16-21

 

This still leaves the suburban housewife and the pygmy in the tree held to a standard they cannot keep, and owing a debt they cannot pay. We are all given general revelation concerning God’s existence Rom. 1:20, and concerning our moral condition Rom. 1:18, John 3:19. So what is the solution? The Omni-benevolent God we serve provides special revelation, if we seek him through general revelation.

 

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matt. 7:7-11

 

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Rev. 3:20

 

Finally, our salvation relies upon the sovereignty of all good and all loving God. If God is all powerful and sovereign, then He will save all those who seek and trust Him. Because He is all loving, He does not force anyone into His presence against their will.

 

It is appointed to every man, once to die and then judgment. Heb. 9:27