Faith Alone…er… and Evidence!

Fellow Infidels!  Navigate your interwebs to our facebook page, and publicly declare your affection for it!  The following is an excerpt from a little comment exchange I had earlier on the blog.

I am a Christian and an apologist, thought not professional. I was raised Roman Catholic and then became atheist (from 13-17). I phased through agnostic, deist, new age, and then Christian. For me it was the evidence and arguments that convinced me to believe. I didn’t want to.

And

Also, you stated that the only difference between skeptics and Christians is belief in the existence of God, almost as if to say that the only reason God would condemn you to an eternal hell is because of lack of evidence or unbelief. That is only partially true… which is really not true. The only reason that God condemns anyone, according to the Christian worldview (which you are arguing against specifically) is because of sin. This is not to say that Christians are not sinners, but that their sins have been atoned for. Repentance involves not just intellectual belief or acknowledgement that it is all true, though that is part of it, but it also involves surrendering to Jesus as Lord of your life, agreeing with Him that you are a sinner, and trusting His sacrifice for your salvation.

Here’s my response:

Thanks for your thoughts, C. I should clarify that by “evidence” I mean objectively verifiable points of data. I do not consider subjective feelings of revelation, personal conviction, or bronze age scribblings to constitute evidence for claims about heaven, hell, or god.

You’re right, I also should have specified that a skeptic in hell would also be justified in surrendering to jesus. Suppose a non-dead christian surrenders to jesus for fear of eternal damnation, i.e., to avoid eternal damnation. Assuming she meets whatever your criteria are for “surrendering to jesus”, is this sufficient for her to be saved? Suppose a skeptic goes to hell and then has the similar desire to avoid eternal damnation, and “surrenders to jesus” by whatever your criteria are. What’s the relevant moral difference?

Consider: you claim that your belief is due to evidence. So, your belief is not merely a matter of faith. You claim to have sufficient evidence for your standards, and given this evidence, you believe there is a hell and seek to avoid it. What is wrong with a skeptic having a higher standard of evidence, and upon having it met, surrendering to jesus? The requirement that this happen prior to death cannot be justified by appealing to some intrinsic value of faith, because you claim to have been swayed by evidence, not merely faith. If it is faith alone that saves, then whatever alleged evidence there may be is irrelevant, because that is not how to form a soul-saving belief (again, if faith alone saves.) So, if you think that there is something intrinsically valuable and soul-saving about surrendering to jesus due to faith alone, and your conversion was the result of convincing evidence, then I guess I’ll see you in hell? :)

Your Huckleberry

 

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7 thoughts on “Faith Alone…er… and Evidence!

  1. I’d argue that a skeptic’s standard of evidence and a Christian’s standard of evidence are really not as different as you might think. The standard of evidence sufficient for most Christians is easily met by many other religions as well. It’s more, in my opinion, a failure to apply the same standard to one’s religion of choice versus other religions.

    If you’re arguing that we can trust that the Bible is correct because we have so many copies of it dating to so close in time chronologically to when the events took place, well, then you could argue the same thing for Islam or Mormonism. If you are arguing that you have seen miracles and the only explanation is your god, well, there are many people all over the world who are claiming to do miracles (in the names of your god and in the names of many, many other gods), too.

    If you are seriously arguing that you have good evidence that your religion is true, I recommend the book “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God” by Guy P. Harrison. He goes through 50 of the most common reasons people give and explains how, not only are they pretty weak overall, but they are definitely not exclusive to any one religion, so you can hardly use them as a strong support that any one religion is true. I will be writing a review of the book on this blog soon.

    - Dave

  2. I’d be interested to hear why C became an atheist, and faith-related aspects of that phase of hir life. Also, it sounds like sin and hell might have played some role in C’s return to Christianity. Why does C believe in hell, or that humans are (by nature?) sinful? That might be of more interest than C’s evidence for God. Might also try out my definition of faith on hem :)

    - Dan

  3. I’d also point out that it looks like C’s version of faith has more to do with trust in God as a ‘person’ than with some kind of epistemic justification for hir beliefs about God. “You believe? Very well, you believe. Demons also believe – believe and tremble!” Very few Christians would agree that salvation requires only mere belief, I would think.

  4. Seth, you raise a good point. A discussion that has taken place numerous times at my school in fact. If I had faith merely in the evidence, then I would indeed be lost. I should clarify that it was the evidence that led me to have faith in Christ. My point is that God doesn’t require blind faith (at least according to the Christian worldview).

    Regarding the timing, that isn’t up to me. For whatever reason, we all have until death to choose. I have wondered and considered that issue myself. It is one that troubles many a Christian and theologian (i.e. Rob Bell’s new book, though he is not a theologian). But the scriptures seem to indicate the opposite of what you suggest. By the time death comes, those who wind up in torments (technically no one is in hell, the lake of fire, until the final judgment described in Rev. 20) do NOT want to repent. Essentially they would be angry with God for not giving them enough evidence, or whatever. They would blame Him in some way or another, hate Him for His justice, etc.

    There is a deeper theological discussion related to this. It may or may not be appropriate to delve into it here, especially given that you are not a Christian… but what the heck. It has to do with soteriology. According to the Bible, all humans are literally so affected by the fall of Adam and Eve that our thoughts and deeds are 100% evil all of the time. But God, through the Holy Spirit, works on the hearts of every human being to prevent us from being completely wicked and evil. It is also the Holy Spirit who enables us to recognize that God exists and have faith in Christ. This is separate from our conscience by the way, which is the law of God written on everyone’s heart. According to the Bible, without the Holy Spirit, no one would come to faith in Christ. He works on the hearts of everyone enabling them to be able to have faith. However, the Bible also teaches that people can reach a point in their lives when after they have had those moments of clarity (if you will) and still rejected God, that the Holy Spirit stops working on them. Some say this is an act of mercy because it would make them miserable. But once they have reached this point there is no return from it. So essentially when people wind up in hell, there is no possible way that they would return. I should add that there is no indication as to how long or how often this moment of clarity comes or lasts… it may be different for each individual. I don’t know.

  5. Dan, why did I become an atheist? Interesting question…

    As I said, I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school a few times (when I got in trouble at public school). And I learned about evolution there, believe it or not. The Pope, in the early 80’s I believe, had said that it didn’t conflict with the Bible. I’m not sure what he was reading…

    Anyway, when I was 11, I started really doubting it all. I came to the conclusion that we were just higher animals, and that to consider sex a sin simply because two people hadn’t gone through some ceremony in front of other people ridiculous. In fact, it sounded like some rule invented by rigid old men who wanted to keep boys like me away from their daughters…

    I remember theorizing that there may be multiple, and even infinite parallel universes, though I had no knowledge of Stephen Hawking or Quantum Mechanics yet. From there, the more I learned about church history – the dark ages, putting people to death for reading the Bible, the inquisitions, the whole Galileo fiasco… I just came to the conclusion that it was all bogus. I thought it was all invented for power and control. A bunch of men wanted everyone’s money, and wanted to tell everyone what they thought was right and wrong. I even believed that Jesus didn’t exist. I thought He was invented by the church because I didn’t think anyone was as good as they claimed He was. I never considered other religions because to me, all the other Christian religions were merely offshoots of someone thinking they could do it better. Hinduism seemed too out there. Buddhism wasn’t really a religion as a way of life. And so on…

    I went through the classes required for confirmation in the 8th grade, and when I finished, I “came out” to my parents that I was an atheist. I remained that way until I was about 17 and then leaned more towards agnosticism.

    I felt liberated. I was in control of the outcome of my life, not God. And there were no feelings of guilt over doing whatever I want and living a promiscuous lifestyle. But I became so focused on having fun that I barely finished high school, and then I went from one frustrating part time job to another. I had a sudden desire to learn so that I could change my life. I first turned to science looking for answers. There I was, the kid who never picked up a book in high school reading Einstein’s book on relativity.

    One evening I was reading a physics book and I began thinking about the horrors of war, hatred, hunger, and death. And I wondered if there was a way to explain why those things happen without recognizing the existence of evil. And then I wondered if Newton’s law applied. If evil really exists, then there must be an opposite force for good. After all, where was I getting the standard by which I considered something to be evil? This was when I first became open to the possibility that there might be a god and I started considering myself an agnostic, because I still doubted “religion.”

    Soon after, I was reading one of Stephen Hawking’s books about the Big Bang and I learned that according to the first law of thermodynamics the universe could not have had a natural beginning because energy is not created or destroyed, only changed; and according to the second law, the universe had to have a beginning, otherwise the universe would have run out of energy a long time ago. That is why the big bang is called a singularity event, because all the laws of physics break down. It was this reasoning that led me to believe in a creator God.

    Though I did not immediately ascribe to the God of the Bible. As Dave stated, the evidence, to me, just pointed to the existence of God, not necessarily the Christian God, or any other for that matter.
    Instead I began reading a lot of philosophy at first. And then I got into meditation, and through that, I developed my own new age ideas, essentially that mankind was God, and that we would someday evolve to the ultimate form. This allowed me to still live my life the way I wanted without any conviction. This belief led me to see value in all religious writings, thinking that they all had a similar message (if you twisted them enough by allegorizing the meaning). I read several new age books, then the Qur’an, the sayings of Buddha, Confucius, some of the Hindu Vedas, and even the book of Mormon. Eventually, I started reading the Bible too.

    I noticed that the message of the Bible stands apart from other religions because they all describe what man must do in order to get to God, while the Bible was telling me that there was nothing I could do. God had to do it for me. Still, there were many passages that I thought agreed with what I was thinking, if I ignored those parts. I figured those were the parts that were in error due to man’s corruption.

    I shared some of my questions about the Bible with a close friend and coworker because he was a strong Christian. And in our conversations he would often make statements like, “The Bible is the Word of God.” But I would always ask him, “How do you know?” To which, he would respond that the Bible says so. That wasn’t enough for me—it sounded like a circular argument.

    After a discussion about evolution, he gave me a tape from a Creation Scientist who pointed out several of the scientific problems with the theory of evolution. His arguments baffled me, so I listened to it again and wrote down everything he said to research it further. But I was unable to refute any of it, at least not satisfactorily in order to completely dismiss it.

    I was suddenly confronted with the idea that the Bible may actually be true and that much of my lifestyle did not measure up to God’s standard. So I started pouring all my effort into refuting it. But instead I kept finding good answers to all of my doubts and questions.

    For example, I saw that there have been no archeological finds that refute any part of the Bible; that there were numerous ancient manuscripts, many of which dated close to the original so we weren’t simply reading translations of translations like I thought. I saw that the Bible contained scientific principles that were way ahead of its time, like where the prophet Isaiah said that the world is round, 700 years before Jesus was born. So I finally concluded that it was all true, heaven, hell, Jesus, the Bible. Though I still had doubts about the entirety of the Bible, and some of the beliefs. But for the most part, I was convinced.

    You make a good point about my faith being in God as a person. I held the conclusion that it was true for 2 years before I was “born again.” Since I still held some doubts, and constantly read, but I didn’t read the Bible as much. It was still kind of boring to me. But I went to church regularly, started trying to live by the standards I thought the Bible taught. But something was still missing. The preacher kept referring to salvation really being a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But I had no idea what that meant. I finally realized that it had to do with trusting the work of Christ – His death on the cross serving as the atonement for my sins, and surrendering to Him as my Lord. From that moment on, my life changed radically. For example, I was no longer embarrassed to pray in public, talk about Jesus, or to be a Christian for that matter.

    Why do I believe humans have a sinful nature and the existence of hell? At this point it is because Scripture says so, and since I believe it is true. Prior to being a Christian, but when I believed in God, I thought that all humans were inherently good and that in the end, everyone ended up in the same place. Though I had a hard time reconciling people as wicked as Hitler to my satisfactory…

  6. @Christian: You said, “If I had faith merely in the evidence, then I would indeed be lost. I should clarify that it was the evidence that led me to have faith in Christ. My point is that God doesn’t require blind faith (at least according to the Christian worldview).”

    As a former Christian, I’ve often heard that faith need not be blind. And what is the opposite of blind? Sighted? Whatever we call it, it’s clearly the idea that faith be “based” on evidence, observation… some empirical standard. So it becomes a question of how high one’s standard of proof is, doesn’t it? Where should the tipping point be, where one has just enough evidence that they should finally submit themselves to faith in the idea? More importantly, if skeptics are merely more reliant on evidence than the average person (rather than deluded or resistant to a god they know to be true- lol)– that is, it is not a question of whether they want to believe, but that, like you, they have sufficient evidence to take the plunge, then is the onus really on the skeptic to believe? Why has god made certain individuals either more predisposed to belief via a lower standard of evidence, or more exposed to evidence that would tip their faith? How can one blame an atheist who earnestly seeks the truth for not believing in god?

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