Quick Thoughts: Reasonable Faith

There is so much debate about this topic that I didn’t see the point in doing a long blog post on it because, let’s face it, most of what can be said has been said at some point by someone. That said, I wanted to write a little bit about it and, especially, my own position (which is the only aspect that I am more qualified to talk about than anyone else!). The central issue is, essentially, this: is religion rational?

Naturally, I take issue with people such as Richard Dawkins who argue that faith can never be rational, indeed, I’ve seen a Youtube clip in which this point is utterly shot down in a debate with John Lennox (I know it’s not the whole thing, but it made me smile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NzFr4lM-lc&feature=related). Faith, for me, is having the confidence to believe in something that cannot be proven. When I say something that cannot be proven, I do not mean something that is false, I mean something like, for example, the car that you’re driving will not suddenly lose all power on a motorway. This cannot be proven beyond any doubt, however, if you have understanding about the workings of the car and you know the car’s history, you can have reasonable faith in its reliability.

I apply this principle to my faith in God, or, more specifically, the Christian God. I accept that I cannot prove to someone beyond any doubt that the Christian God exists, however, I personally have enough evidence to give me reasonable faith that he does. I won’t go into the evidence in detail, again, other authors have done that adequately already, though I will mention a few points in brief, to help give you an idea of my ‘reasonable faith’. The most convincing evidence is, for me, the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and his resurrection, the lack of a convincing, evidence based explanation for the start of the universe and life on Earth that is better than the so called ‘God hypothesis’ and my own personal experiences, including things I’ve felt and things I’ve seen. Though anyone could argue that none of these prove the existence of the Christian God for whatever reason, they are enough for me to have reasonable faith in that God.

To conclude, anyone who says that faith has to be irrational needs to do some further reading. That sounds blunt, but there is no way to make that claim, indeed, such a claim is not backed up by science and is, therefore, faith without any evidence whatsoever. I have faith because I feel there is enough evidence for the Christian God to convince me that he is real – faith allows me to accept this as true. Just a final point, I’m not saying that whatever you have faith is true is true in an objective sense; I do believe in absolute, objective truth, but that’s a subject for another post.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. De Brevitate Vitae says:

    Hi Teenage Christian,

    I hope you understand that ‘faith’ has two meanings; one being belief without evidence and the other meaning something similar to trust based on knowledge. When Dawkins, and most atheists like myself, say faith is irrational are usually referring to the first. The type of faith you suggest you have is the latter; trust that your beliefs are true based on evidence you believe is accurate.

    I am new to your blog so I’m not sure if you have described your personal experiences before, but I do have a question for you. True story: A friend of mine converted to Mormonism because of warm feelings and a ‘light’ that spread throughout his body as he prayed on the validity of Mormonism. He claimed that those feelings stayed with him for days and were reoccurring.

    What I’d like to know is, how you would think anyone could differentiate between his feelings (which if you’re not a Mormon are ‘false’ in the sense they are not signs from god) and anyone else’s individual feelings they believe are signs showing their particular beliefs are true; such as your own?

    I’m not going to try to de-convert you with any argument, because as you say, all of those arguments have already been said and can be found online. If you do have any questions for an atheist however, feel free to let me know.

    Thanks!

    1. bengarry says:

      Thanks for that, I’ll try to reply as best I can!

      Having studied psychology, I will not deny that people can trick themselves, as it were, into believing in something. The placebo effect is well documented and I will not deny that it exists. I will also not deny that many Christians, perhaps myself included, have fallen into the placebo trap from time to time. Does this mean that God doesn’t exist? No. It means that we can’t base our beliefs solely on an emotional experience. I would say that the way to differentiate between the feelings is to look at the other evidence for the beliefs and not to rely solely on the personal experience. For me, the personal experiences have been useful in strengthening my belief, but I think that they are only worth anything if taken together with everything else. No offense to your friend, but I don’t think Mormonism has the evidential backing necessary to make it viable.

      I appreciate the definitions of faith and I’ll accept that point. I suppose that what frustrates me is when atheists like Dawkins assume that the first definition applies to all religious people. Needless to say, this is not the case. I think it’s dangerous to make generalisations about a large group of people of whom you actually know very few.

      Thanks for the comment, have a good Christmas!

  2. What historical evidence? Yes, some guy called Jesus probably existed. But if, in 2.000 years, someone claimed that Steve Jobs was the son of god, does the fact, that Steve Jobs existed, change anything? Not really. And evidence for his resurrection? I hope you don’t intent to tell me, that the writings of the people who already believed (and these people had no idea about the world, much less about the universe) count as “evidence”, when no neutral writer of that time even mentioned it… And sorry to say so, but the whole “how the universe and life started” is just a god of the gaps thing. 1000 years ago, nobody knew how birds fly – so it was god. Today it’s much difficult to find gaps, but of course they still are. That doesn’t mean that these gaps won’t vanish – and even if they remain, ignorance is no proof for anything.
    We have obviously different definitions for “reasonable”. I think these reasons are not good enough even to just believe in some form of divine being, but you think it’s good enough for believing in a set of contradicting stories that describe a very, very evil god…

    1. bengarry says:

      Thanks for expressing your views on this matter, Atomic Mutant.

      As you have rightly pointed out, Jesus probably existed, this is confirmed by the writings of secular authors such as Tacitus. I could recommend several books which can explain the evidence for the resurrection better than I, but I would like to make a few points. First, you are rather hasty in disregarding the testimonies of the witnesses of the time; these men preached something that flew in the face of the teachings of the Jewish leaders of the time. All save one of the apostles were martyred for their faith, which makes me wonder why. If they knew that the resurrection hadn’t happened, why would they allow themselves to be killed for this? Furthermore, the gospel accounts themselves are actually very good evidence. I have heard it said that Luke would be considered one of the greatest historians ever if he had not written about religious material. All for gospels were written before the normal time for myths to develop (about 300 years) and all of them make reference to real historical places and times. Furthermore, Paul makes references to groups of people who would still have been alive to support the witness testimonies. Why would he do this if they had not seen what he claimed they had? I would also like to say, as respectfully as possible, that in claiming that these people were ignorant is an example of gross cultural arrogance. The Greek/Roman society in which the New Testament was written was actually very advanced and the majority of their ideas can still be found in Western society today. I recommend reading books like ‘The Case for Christ’ and ‘Who Rolled the Stone?’ for further information.

      And to address the second point, my argument is not the God of the Gaps theory, my argument is the God hypothesis, that God is the most reasonable explanation for phenomena such as the origin of the universe and life. I will not go into this in detail, but let me give you two things, one cosmological, the other biological. First, the Kalaam argument: what ever begins to exist must have a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause. And second (though this isn’t directly relevant to the origins of life), you need both vessels and blood to have a circulatory system. The blood needs at the very least plasma and red blood cells to be blood. To think that these things mutated simultaneously is silly.

      Anyway, I hope you appreciate that I am not an expert on the subject and I don’t claim to be. You may not think that my evidence is reasonable, but then again, you haven’t lived my life, so I don’t really see how you can say that. This was just a short post so naturally I didn’t go into great depth. Finally, if you think the Bible is a set of contradicting stories that describe a very, very evil God, please read it.

  3. Just to make this short: Your argument is not “what ever begins to exist must have a cause”, but “what ever begins to exist must have a cause, except god, because I wish to make an exception here.”. This isn’t an argument at all. You could simply remove “god” here and claim “what ever begins to exist must have a cause, except the universe, because I wish to make an exception here”. The god theory does not explain anything here, it just adds another layer, calls it god and hopes that people will not notice the fact that the question now is just on a higher level: “What was the cause of god?”

    And I was catholic. Helped in church. Read the bible more than once. Evil. Very evil.

    1. bengarry says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way about the Bible, but I have also read it all the way through and do not see it as evil, so can it really be that clear cut? And the argument does work because I am not claiming that God had a beginning. Christians and atheists alike can agree that an infinite amount of past events just doesn’t work, therefore there has to be something that isn’t caused. Notice that I’m saying that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe began to exist. If God didn’t begin to exist, he wouldn’t need a cause. The Christian God is outside of time as we understand it, he has no beginning or end. No cause needed. It’s just logic.

  4. So you don’t think that mass-murdering, betrayal, punishing the son for the “sins” of the father, torturing unbelievers for all eternity, sending all your people into slavery for a few centuries, telling slaves to stay slaves, condemning whole cities to death, leaving your children, etc.etc. is not evil, than you must be a very happy person, as for you obviously there is no evil in the world.

    The bible is full of atrocities, either committed by god himself or told people to do by god (and yes, that includes Jesus).

    1. bengarry says:

      I believe that there is evil in the world, of course I do. The issues you mentioned require a whole book to cover, let alone a reply on here! You may sneer at this, but I am willing to trust God and admit that I don’t understand all the reasons for why things happen. I may not like the thought of people going to Hell, but I accept it because I believe that it is real. If it is real, then I accept that. I can no more change reality than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. I also know that it may be easy to misinterpret what I’m saying here; please don’t take me as a mindless, cold follower of an archaic religion. Please acknowledge that I have reasons for believing what I do, as you have reasons for your own beliefs. To save this post becoming ridiculously long, this will be my last comment. Thank you for the conversation.

      1. “Accepting god’s reasons” is effectively giving up. You accept that black is white, evil is good and up is down. You understand that it is evil, but you convince yourself that this evil is good. The other obvious solution would simply accept the fact that the bible was written by humans. This solution explains everything nicely without having to start working on your doublethink skills.

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