Is Blind Faith “Pure” Faith?

I recently heard someone I respect a great deal state that faith that does not depend on reasons or evidence a more “pure” faith. Is this really the case?

Before I address this, let me state at the beginning here that I don’t think genuine faith is ever blind. I am sympathetic to what Alvin Plantinga calls “reformed epistemology” which is the idea that a person’s belief in the existence of God and the truth of Christianity are properly basic because of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This means they are rational in believing, even if they cannot articulate an argument for their truth. To be clear, this is not evidence it is true that is accessible to anyone else. As such, that person’s faith is not really blind.

So what reason might a Christian have for thinking faith without arguments and evidence is more pure than faith supported by reasons and evidence? In Luke 18:17, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Does this mean that since children don’t need evidence and argument, then we shouldn’t either? In the context of this short passage where children are brought to Jesus, the emphasis seems to be on humility, rather than credulity. As Darrell Bock points out, “What is commended in children is their inherent dependence, for they bring nothing but themselves to the feet of Jesus.”1  However, why would children come to Jesus? The text says they were brought to him. A child would come to Jesus because someone they trusted brought them to him. So it would seem that this passage (and its parallels in the other synoptics) do not support the idea that child-like reception of the kingdom is a faith without reason.

Another passage sometimes used to argue against arguments (can’t escape them can you?) is John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” In this passage, “doubting Thomas seems to be getting castigated for demanding evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. (Note the link. I deal with this incident there.) In the context, Thomas was making demands in spite of the testimony of people he knew were trustworthy. In fact, if you go to the next verse, it says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus did miracles because they gave evidence of his claims. He made claims about himself of things you could not see, and supported them with acts you could see. If this is unclear, read Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12 or Luke 5:18-26. Each of these tells the account of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four of his friends. Jesus declares the man’s sins forgiven, and heals him for the expressed purpose of proving his authority to do so.

Plantinga’s idea refers to Romans 8: 16 where Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” As such, a Christian can have assurance of his salvation even if he cannot articulate it. However, this assurance can be difficult to articulate to someone who has not experienced it. Moreover, how does the Christian respond to the Mormon who claims a “burning in the bossom” as evidence of the truth of Mormonism? Moreover, when faced with the challenges of skeptics, your children will need the support of reasons why their faith is well grounded.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” This is done by, as Peter tells us, “…in your hearts honor(ing) Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

Faith that is grounded in nothing more than the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is real faith. It is even rational faith. However, faith bolstered by arguments and evidence is faith that is more stable, and arguably, more Christ-like, and it is more obedient to God’s word.

 

1 Bock, Darrell L.; Bock, Darrell L. (2009-08-19). Luke: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (pp. 462-463). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Is Jesus a Nigerian Prince?

 Why You Need to be Able to Show that the Bible is No Email Scam

            If you haven’t gotten the email, you probably know someone who has:

“I am Mohammed Abacha,the son of the late Nigerian Head of State who died on             the 8th of June 1998… I have secretly deposited the sum of $30,000,000.00 …I am proposing a 20% share of the fund to you for your kind assistance…contact me at once via email with following details:…”

The email then asks for various pieces of information. It is a well-known scam. Everybody knows that responding to the email will not result in a 20% share in this fortune. So, what does this have to do with Jesus?

For many people in today’s culture, when we share the gospel with them, they see it as just another version of the Nigerian Prince scam. If they will only give Jesus their lives, they will receive their “share” of the “fortune.” (Eternal life.). To them, the offer has the same credibility.

“That’s ridiculous,” you may say, “the Gospel is not the same as the Nigerian scam.” I know that, and you know that. However, they don’t. In the culture in which many of us grew up (those of us 40 or over) it would have been enough to show that the Bible supports our claim. However, in the climate of skepticism in today’s culture, to appeal to the Bible is no different than appealing to the email. This is where apologetics comes in. You need to be able to show the reliability of the Bible. Issues we need to be able to address include:

  • Is the Bible we read the Bible that was written?
  • Is what the Bible says true?
  • Why should I live according to the Bible?

 

I address the first issue here.  Unlike Mr. Abacha, for whom we have no background information or witnesses to his character, we have multiple sources for the authors of the Gospel. Furthermore, we have a number of historical facts that only make sense if what they wrote was true.

With respect to the other two, if what the Bible says is true, it follows that we ought to live as such. This is another point in which the Bible is not the same as the scam email. There is no obligation to do what you are asked in the email, even if it was true.

This is what is meant when we say Christians need to able to argue for the Christian faith. It doesn’t mean getting in people’s faces and yelling. It means making your case and presenting your evidence, something that Mr. Apacha fails to do.

 

The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl: a Review

The Story of Reality hits the market on January 10th. I received an advanced copy.

Author

Greg Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, a ministry that “ …trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.” Koukl has master’s degrees in Christian Apologetics and Philosophy, and is the author of Tactics: a Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and co-author with Francis Beckwith of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

 

Synopsis

The Story of Reality is arranged in six parts, for a total of twenty-five chapters. Following an introductory section, the next five parts follow the broad outline of the Christian worldview according to Koukl: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection.

In the Introduction, Koukl argues that Christianity is more than a mere religion, but a full worldview, touching all areas of reality. If a worldview is like a jigsaw puzzle, you can only make sense of it if you use the pieces that belong, and only put them where they belong.

Koukl goes on to note that a coherent worldview tells a story. Like all good stories, the story of Reality tells you what the setting of all of reality is, how we got here, what went wrong, how it gets fixed, and how it all works out in the end, or as the subtitle say, “How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.”

Since the claim is that Christianity has the true story, then if this is true, if follows that competing stories are false. Koukl notes two common objections, the Problem of Evil and Christian exclusivism, but that evil is only a problem if the story is true, and likewise, if the story is true, so is the solution in the story.

In Part 1, Koukl tells us the story starts with God because it is about God and his kingdom. God made the world and all that is in it, therefore it is his to do with as he pleases, and is distinct from his creation. Part 1 also addresses the “Who made God?” and miracles objections, and refutes materialism and idealism.

Part 2 deals with Man as a body/soul unity made in God’s image, who then rebelled against God. The problem of evil comes up again in this context, and divine justice.

Part 3 explains how God became man in Jesus Christ, defends his historicity, his nature and his mission.

In Part 4, Koukl explains God’s rescue mission, culminating in The Trade. He then explains how we come to benefit from this.

Part 5 includes a brief, “minimal facts” defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and how this gives us hope that we too will be raised to life at the end. This is the hope that helps us deal with the long battle in between. Koukl also presents a defense of the doctrine of Hell as eternal conscious torment. In other words, perfect justice and perfect mercy.

In the Epilogue, Koukl recaps the whole story.

 

Analysis

As a long-time listener to Koukl’s STR broadcast, I was quite familiar with his views on these issues, and his gift for communicating them. This book is like a snapshot of the best of his show with respect to the basics of the Christian faith. Listening to Koukl speak sometimes feels like talking with a favorite uncle, or an old friend. His warmth comes through in this book as well. (Though I can imagine the audio book, which he reads himself, will be even more enjoyable in this respect.)

Koukl is also a very careful thinker, as one might expect from someone with an MA in Philosophy. I have benefitted greatly from his teaching over the last 20 years or so. However, this is what makes a small detail of the book more troubling. (Just an oversight, maybe?) On page 43, Koukl writes “…(the story) begins with a person.” I know Koukl is a strong believer and defender of Trinitarian theology. He later gives a good introductory level explanation of the Trinity. In light of this, it seems odd that he would put this here, leaving the story open to the charge that it is incoherent, believing God is one Person and three Persons. It would seem like a less confusing way to say it might be “…(the story) begins with a personal being.”

That such a small detail stands out so much is an indication of just how good this book is. The Story of Reality is engaging, and well suited to the task of helping people see the big picture of the Christian worldview. Believers can benefit from learning how all the elements of the story fit together. Non-believers can get a sense of the story they are invited to participate in. It is accessible for high school level readers, but robust enough for those with higher levels of education. I cannot recommend this book more strongly.

Get it, read it, and share it.

 

 

 

Bad Design-Of-The-Gaps?

In conversations between proponents and skeptics of Intelligent Design (ID,) there are two recurring themes. Skeptics will often accuse ID proponents of appealing to a “god-of-the-gaps” (GOTG) as an explanation for the phenomena in question. Likewise, examples of alleged bad design are offered as a rejoinder. While it may sometimes be the case that this is intellectually lazy hand-waving, it can also stem from unexamined presuppositions.

 

God-of-the-Gaps

The idea of GOTG is that “we don’t understand how this could be, so God must have done it.” If this was the case, it would be a fallacious argument from ignorance. It isn’t very helpful, and when a natural explanation is discovered, it is often touted as evidence that God does not exist. However, when an ID proponent points to a feature of nature that appears designed, he does so because the feature has properties that are unique to designed things. The icon of the ID movement is the bacterial flagellum. It is a molecular motor that is made of proteins, and probably could not have developed in step-wise fashion. Skeptics point to structures like the Type 3 Secretory System as a possible precursor and declare the design hypothesis “defeated.” However, the real disagreement does not start with these particulars. It begins with the presuppositions.

While some ID proponents are non-theists, many are theists. As such, they do not assume, contrary to most skeptics of ID, that the only minds that exist are associated with, if not identical to, physical brains. As such, for these skeptics, there is no such thing as an unevolved mind. Given that, it is not possible, even in principle, for design to be a valid inference for anything that preceded the emergence of a mind capable of designing. Therefore, living systems that preceded humanity could not have been designed. Moreover, skeptics of ID always look at the data with a “bottom up” approach. This stems from the same methodological naturalism that informs their work. However, for the ID proponent who happens to be a theist, he is working top-down, with a background knowledge of a host of arguments for the existence of God. ID is simply offered as an example of evidence of God’s existence, not as an explanatory hypothesis.

 

Bad Design

Skeptics will also point to what they see as bad designs. This is thought to be a defeater of ID because if an all-powerful, all-knowing God designed these things, he would have done a better job. Examples would include the inverted retina, the proximity of the esophagus to the trachea, and the panda’s thumb. Others have given this a detailed response, but again they are operating from an unexpressed, if not unexamined, presupposition. They are assuming the purpose of the thing in question is to give maximal survival benefit. However, how do they come to this? I think it goes back to the evolutionary paradigm where natural selection is the name of the game. However, they are critiquing a design without examining the purpose for which it was designed. It seems to me you can’t draw valid inferences about the efficacy of a design if you don’t know the purpose. If you look at a hammer, you will thing it is very poorly designed if you think its purpose is to remove dust from glass.

 

To critique a worldview, you must start by examining it on its own terms. Too often the question of God’s existence and involvement in the world is viewed as if the world were a brute reality and, according to theists, God shows up one day and takes over. Or, if God made the world, he made it to be a place where we should have everything we want and live forever. Since it is obvious this is not the case, theism is silly. However, if God made the world, then like any other maker, he had a purpose in mind. If you want to know if a design is a good one, you must know that purpose. Likewise, if you remain ignorant of the arguments for God’s existence, you will continue to think ID proponents appeal to ignorance. How’s that for irony?

 

Improbable Planet by Hugh Ross: a Review

Author

Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Toronto. He is also the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a science/faith think tank. In the ongoing conversation between people of faith and those who are not over the philosophy of science, the phrase “god-of-the-gaps” is often tossed around as an accusation against those who hold to some view of divine design or creation. It is claimed that the view is “we don’t know how this came about, so God must have done it.” This dismissal ignores the fact that design proponents who are theists (and not all are) have many lines of argumentation that show the rationality of belief in God. When apparent design is cited as evidence of God’s existence, it is not for the purpose of filling a gap in knowledge, but inferring from what is known. Ross does this very well in his books Creator and the Cosmos, Origins of Life (with Fazale Rana) and Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. In each of these books, Ross addresses how the initial conditions of the universe, the fine tuning of the solar system, and the origin of life are quite consistent with intentional purpose. In Improbable Planet, Ross brings these arguments together to show the whole picture. This is his best work yet.

Using the analogy of a huge construction project, Ross catalogs the steps that must be followed, from producing the materials, to preparing the ground, to laying the foundation, etc, to argue that the universe bears the hallmarks of design for advanced, high-tech civilization.

 

Synopsis

The thesis of the book is that the universe as a whole, and earth in particular, was created for the purpose of redemption: a home for the human race which God would use to defeat evil once and for all. The book is laid out in eighteen chapters. Chapter one lays out point of raising this question. Chapter two describes the results of what the next thirteen chapters would describe. In chapter three, Ross describes how the Big Bang, and subsequent star formation and supernovae produced the necessary building materials. Chapter four shows how rare of a neighborhood a rare planet needs. (Location, location, location.) Chapter five describes the early development of the solar system and the earth-moon system, as well as how these particular conditions make earth a suitable home. Chapter six explains how the interaction of solar system bodies brought about bombardments of the earth that was vital for the life that would later occupy it.

Scientists are frequently announcing the discovery of extrasolar planets. Those who think life must exist elsewhere are looking for planets that could have liquid water on them. They recognize that this is a necessary, though not sufficient condition for life. In chapter seven, Ross notes eight “habitable zones” that must overlap for advanced life to be possible, as well as other conditions. Chapter eight discusses the early origin of life and how it lead to the development of land masses. Here begins the series of life forms that would appear in just the right kinds, and amounts that would prepare the planet for future life forms. Chapter nine through twelve examine how these life forms affected and were affected by the climate, and how they compensated for a changing luminosity of the sun. Chapter thirteen catalogs how the geological and biological history of earth bestowed abundant resources which would be needed for a high-tech civilization. Chapter fourteen walks us through the history of mass speciation and extinction events in earth’s history. Chapter fifteen explains how the ice age cycle has prepared the earth to be able to sustain a population of billions. Chapter sixteen brings us back to the big picture, the why question, and offers an explanation from the Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

As I stated above, I think this is Ross’ best work yet. It lays out his best arguments for design in the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and the planet. His big picture-to-close up approach, using the construction analogy, is a comprehensive summary of why so many who study these things find confidence in their faith. This book also avoids a lot of unnecessary theological speculation. It can be a little technical for the average lay person, but I think it is worth the effort. I cannot recommend this book more enthusiastically. What readers who may be skeptical need to keep in mind, is that this is a “top down” approach to the question of design. If your starting point is that matter is all there is, you will come away unconvinced. I invite you to read this with an open mind.

 

Critics Wanted. Inquire Within

That’s right, I want you to rip me apart. Just do it thoroughly and clearly. Below are links to my attempt at a podcast. Before I go forward to publish them, I need feedback.

 

Troll away!

Episode 1

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Episode 2

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told By Bradley R. E. Wright. A Review

Author

Bradley R. E. Wright has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. Wright specializes in research on American Christianity.

 

Purpose/Thesis

In the author’s own words, “The thesis of this book is that Christians are exposed to many inaccurate statistics about our faith. To understand why this happens, we should look at how these statistics are produced and how they spread through the public.” (18) In light of recent headlines and popular books claiming a crisis of image for the American evangelical church, Wright explores the research behind the headlines, and notes a serious disconnect between the facts and the hype. But just in case you really need hype to motivate you, Wright provides it: “You should read this book because ‘there is a deeply disturbing trend of bad statistics that is sabotaging American Christianity and destroying the American way of life, and if you ignore it your entire body will soon be covered with boils. The good news, however, is that if you buy this book and read it carefully, you will avoid this calamity; plus you’ll live longer, have fresh breath, and your kitchen knives will always stay sharp.’”(24) You gotta love a sociologist with a sense of humor.

 

Synopsis

The book is arranged in nine chapters, each exploring an issue that often appears in the popular literature. Chapter one looks at the “if it bleeds, it leads” aspect of the issue. Chapter two tests the rumors of the demise of the American church. Chapter three looks at the alleged exodus of young people from the church. Chapter four analyses popular stereotypes of Christians. Chapter five examines the consistency of Christians’ beliefs and actions. Chapter six focuses on alleged bad behavior of professing Christians.  Chapter seven explores the level of love shown by the church. Chapter eight takes a closer look at how those outside the church see the church. Finally, chapter nine boils it all down to a report card. Several appendixes are included to explain methodology.

 

Analysis

As an apologist, especially one who has attempted campus ministry, I have heard all the claims of “75-80% of young people abandon their faith when they graduate high school.” I have worked with a major campus ministry that repeats (and I assume, genuinely believes) this figure. If Wright is not Wrong (rather than a slam on his name, I am actually trying to mimic Wright’s wonderful style of humor) the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. That being said, one Christian abandoning his faith because he doesn’t have good answers to the challenges he encounters is too many.

Some of the numbers cited make me wish more data was available to better support the inferences drawn. For example, Wright looks at the occurrence of certain sinful behaviors among Christians and non-Christians. It would really be helpful if data was available to show the change in frequency of these behaviors over time. If discipleship was genuine, we would expect the frequency to decrease with time. Questions like “Have you _____ at least once in the last year?” are of limited help. Maybe the respondent would answer yes, but the previous year they did so more often. Likewise, some actions, once done, cannot be undone. Divorce and abortion are examples explored. Wright points out in the case of divorce, it is not known if they happened before or after conversion. Even if it happened after, people grow in their faith and given a chance to do it over again would not.

Finally, Wright notes with disappointment how evangelicals feel about various people whom we are called to love. This is a fair point, but is it necessarily the case that this indicates a deficiency? Could it not be the case that someone would honestly report a less than warm feeling for some group, but be determined to let the love of God drive their behavior toward them rather than their feelings?

 

Recommendation

This book is accessible for anyone with a high school education, but is more suited to those in leadership roles, or interested in such. Wright displays a unique ability to make statistical analysis interesting and even entertaining.