Re: Re: YEC Destroying Faith

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Date: Sat Apr 24 2004 - 09:30:01 EDT

Dave (D.F. Siemens, Jr.) wrote:
I fear you take off into the stratospheric upper reaches of philosophy
and theology. Since God is ineffable, we'll have an impossible time
getting a literal description of him, his character and his works. My
approach is pedestrian, akin to Jesus' statement (John 10:38)."believe
the works." The documents attesting his works and those of his followers
turn out to be dependable histories in all we can check. Christ's
followers were so convinced of the truth of Jesus' claims that they were
willing to suffer any indignity, even to death, rather than deny him.
Additionally, what I know of the deity is primarily from his
self-revelation, and secondarily from the universe. But both have to
filter through my limited understanding. On the basis of my commitments,
this is dependent on faith and election.

As to "a way of testing the validity of beliefs about God which is
intersubjectively compelling," this is clearly hopeless. A person can
dismiss everything in the gospels with a Humean "I don't believe in
miracles." Hume wrote nonsense, but it is good a foundation as any for
invincible ignorance. You may as well work on a perpetual motion machine
as to seek arguments universally compelling.

I'll go along with Augustine's original rather than your version. There
are reasons advanced by various persons that are grounds for perplexity.
There's plenty I don't claim to understand. But I find that many problems
go away when there is a clear answer to the questions: What is being
tacitly assumed? Is it necessary and relevant? Note that even in that
most strict discipline, mathematics, a theorem only holds within a
specified set of axioms. It is silly to ask for the sum of the interior
angles of a triangle unless the specific geometry is given, explicitly or

Despite our preoccupation with knowledge, the apostolic greeting involves
grace, mercy and peace, gifts.

Today, more than ever, I think it is important for the Christian - and especially the Christian who, as many of our children will, finds himself in the midst of the profound scepticism of the academy - to be ready with an answer to the question, "How is it even *possible* for you to have any warrant whatsoever for your religious beliefs?" Many will encounter the argument that it is unethical to believe things without warrant. I agree with you that it is unrealistic to hope to be ready to *prove* the truth of Christian beliefs in a way that is compelling regardless of the presuppositions of the person to whom the proof is offered. I would say with Hans Kung, that faith is perfectly reasonable, although not proveable.

I would not want anyone to *base* their faith on the literal historical accuracy of every purported historical detail set forth in the New Testament, would not want anyone to think that such historical accuracy constitutes the warrant for their belief that search as they may, they will never find a more profound manifestation of God than the person of Jesus Christ. If the state of the evidence against even one such claim appears to become overwhelming to a person who sees the warrant for their belief in this fashion, they are liable to experience a crisis and perhaps loss of faith - and in my experience, even a temporary loss of faith and the direction and moral compass it provides can have a devastating impact on a person's life. Raymond Brown said a few years ago that sixty per cent of biblical scholars do not believe that Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, the text of which claims that the original letter included a section in Paul's own handwriting. Regardless of !
 the merits of the argument of that group of scholars - and I presume that if they did not include some arguments that would be pretty convincing to a non-specialist, let alone an undergraduate, they wouldn't have survived academic scrutiny - some students will find their argument persuasive. Need those students, for that reason, abandon their Christian faith?

I don't think that the argument from geometry, about presuppositions, is germane to my hesitancy to embrace a "historical accuracy" defense of the revelatory quality of the New Testament, because geometry is *strictly* a matter of deductions from presuppositions and it is nothing more - it never proves *anything* which is not already tacitly, though often obscurely, required to be true by its presuppositions. Christian faith is not *strictly* a matter of deductions from presuppositions or making explicit what is tacitly presupposed in definitions or axioms. Every Christian makes claims which, at the very least, need to be tested against the Biblical text to see whether or not they are supportable, and this text is far to complex to be usefully conceived as a set of axioms.

Let me say two things about David Hume.

First, viewed in hindsight, Hume's position on miracles zeroes in on precisely that aspect of scientific explanation which is incommensurate with - not contradictory to - the depiction of an event as miraculous. The scientific way of looking at an event is just not the "miracle-seeing" way of looking at an event. (Wittgenstein gives what seems to me to be a lucid account of this in a Lecture on Ethics which can be found here: . Like perspectives on a landscape, you can adopt either the science or the miracle stance at different times, even with regard to the same event, but you cannot adopt both stances at once. The claim that miracles occur, at least as it is commonly understood, asserts that x happened, and x violates a natural law (an invariant or probabilistically predicatable relation). Science will say, if these premises are true, then the premise which you characterize as a natural law was not reall!
 y a natural law, at the very least the tacit proviso "and there are no other factors not stated in this theory which affect this lawlike relation" was violated. As long as the scientific outlook is maintained, it simply is not possible to "see" that the laws of nature were violated. Of what use would a science be, which simply ignored anomalies by saying, "sometimes on very rare occasions the laws really just do not apply, and that's all we can say"? Every hypothesis in such a science would be unfalsifiable in principle. So I don't see anything inherently wrong with Hume's position on miracles, it just strikes me as incomplete to the extent that it suggests that the scientific way of viewing events is the only valid way of viewing them.

Second, with regard to Hume, I believe strongly that Christians ought not to fear or dismiss out of hand sceptical arguments, but they should insist that the sceptical arguments themselves be subjected to rigorous scrutiny. To me, trust that such a pursuit of truth, wherever it leads, will not lead away from God, is part of what "faith" means. Truth is one. Rigorous pursuit of it, which sometimes involves subjecting beliefs to deliberate, systematic doubt (as one would when preparing a controversial paper for publication, trying to take account in advance of objections that are liable to be made) , can be engaged in more rationally on the basis of radical, unconditional trust in God than it can on the basis of nihilism. [The question here is, 'Is theology different than science and philosophy in this respect, in such a way that doubt for doubt's sake is an evil rather than a good?' Calvin, with whom I agree on this point, would say yes, in the first instance, but once doubts!
  had been raised by others and made to trouble the minds of Christians, he would very rigorously answer those doubts, scrupulously *not* employing arguments which he determined to be superficially persuasive but capable of being undermined.] Hume's skepticism, for instance, applied to the enterprise of science - as Hume himself applied it - makes possible the insight that empirical knowledge can never explain why regularities which have obtained in the past should obtain in the future, or justify or warrant belief that they will do so. That insight, in turn, creates a space within which a Cornelius van Til can point out that the presuppositions of science are groundless without faith in God. Without Hume's insight into what empirical knowledge lacks, there is no occasion for van Til's insight.

What I am doing, to the extremely limited extent that I am able, is trying to formulate a contemporary expression of a solid foundation for faith which takes account of doubts that have actually troubled my faith, on the assumption that there are other people today who are liable to experience those doubts and might benefit from the thoughts which are the end results of struggles I have gone through in working them out to my own satisfaction.

I try to be careful to formulate what I say in such a way that I will not stimulate new doubts in the minds of people who do not already experience them, but will plant the seeds of an ability to respond to those doubts in faith, should they arise for them in the future.

Doug Barber
Crisfield, MD
Received on Sat Apr 24 09:32:00 2004

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