At least I think he does. Of course, I take Mike's existence on faith, in the Christian sense (the sense I am going to explain yet again, below), as I take most things that are real on faith.
Faith is the subject of True Reason. The main questions it attempts to answer are, what do Christians mean by the word "faith?" Is Christian faith reasonable? Is it even meant to be reasonable?
I've explained my views on these questions often and as clearly as I could, for all the good it seems to have done. I wrote a chapter on the subject already in Jesus and the Religions of Man (2000), another in The Truth Behind the New Atheism (2007), quite a few blog posts, a long anthology of what great Christian thinkers have said about faith and reason for the past two thousand years at christthetao.com, and then the chapter in True Reason that Mike is trying to refute. (Or, so we don't get the cart before the horse, trying to read. Or allegedly trying to read. As we will see, it is difficult to believe he is trying very hard.)
By "faith," I argue Christians have almost always meant something rational, and usually something supported by strong evidence. I deliniate four species of faith: in the mind, senses, other people, and God. I argue that faith in the Christian sense (sense four) is just a special case of, and in continuum with, the first three forms of rational faith. And therefore not only can't one find God without faith, one also can't walk down the sidewalk, say "Good morning" to a friend, jump in a swimming hole on a hot summer day, or learn about fossils in pre-Cambrian shales. One can almost never do science without faith, in the Christian sense.
In his book The New Atheism, Victor Stenger quoted my chapter on faith in The Truth Behind the New Atheism ten times, and garbled it badly.
Of course I'm not the only one explaining this to atheists. It's become a cottage industry. Alister McGrath, Oxford professor of theology, wrote a book large parts of which were dedicated to drilling the actual Christian concept into Richard Dawkins' thick skull, were it at all possible. McGrath is Dawkins' colleague, and his expertise lies in historical Christian theology, so he ought to (and does) know what it teaches. As I show in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, he might as well have saved his breath -- in one of Dawkin's ears, out the other.
Pope John Paul wrote a whole book explaining the Christian idea of faith. Some skeptics responded by essentially asking, "So what could the pope possibly know about Christianity?"
Finally, a dozen or so of us got together to try to explain this once more to atheists. The result was True Reason.
My tentative hypothesis is that The Borg has planted a chip in the brains of Gnus that forces them to grasp for dear life with skinny cybernetic fingers a straw man version of Christian faith -- believing "not only without evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence" -- yes, in the teeth of almost all of the real historical evidence. (Usually quoting random dollops of Kierkegard, Luther, or Tertullian that one has found on the Web, somewhere, as "proof texts.")
I'm sure all this communicable obtuseness has nothing whatsoever to do with arrogance.
Which brings us to a-Unicornist.
Brief Soliloquy on the Name Whether this be whimsy or logic, let me begin by asking the obvious question. Is it intellectually humble, or wise, to define oneself as denying the existence of unicorns? If you are a Christian, how can you know God didn't create any unicorns, and put them in one of the worlds C. S. Lewis locates at the bottom of pools in the Wood Between the Worlds in his children's book The Magician's Nephew? (A Christian multiverse already, in 1955!) And if you are an atheist, the Anthropic Principle probably requires you to posit an infinite number of worlds, or so enormously large a number of worlds that the word "astronomical" is rendered quaint. Then on what grounds, having visiting almost none of those worlds (I am not talking to New Agers), that there are no unicorns on a single one of them?
One would think there must be.
And let that serve to bias the reader's mind against Mike's critique of my chapter -- bias, in the sense of recognize that wherever Mike is standing, it is probably not on solid epistemological ground. The question is what Christians, not atheists, mean by "faith." And for two thousand years, up to and including all the authors of True Reason, we have patiently explained that we mean something very different from what the ignorant Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger, and yes even John Loftus (he knows better, but pretends he doesn't), claim we mean. Anyway, someone who issues edicts about what animals do not exist in a universe with a minimum of 10^19th stars, is not in a good position to add to our understanding of how we "know what we know."
The "Argument" And with the well thus nicely poisoned, let us proceed to critique Mike's post itself. We needed a long preface, because frankly, there's not a lot to critique, as you'll see. So I'll quote almost the whole thing, including Mike's own quotes:
I'll be honest... this has gotten to be a bit of a slog. The best arguments this book has had to offer are ones that I've thought through, and found lacking, many times in the past. The worst arguments are responses to straw men – distortions or misunderstandings of the atheist point of view.
The question is how fairly or incisively Mike has thought through what he claims are the book's better arguments, or if he knows enough for his opinion to be worth reading.
Let his attempt to "think through" my argument be a test of that. If he fails to accurately grasp the argument I make in this chapter, let's assume that he flubbed the other chapters, as well, until proven otherwise.
David Marshall, whose previous chapter left me unimpressed . . .
Since I know quite a bit about the subjects of that previous chapter, world religions and the history of Christianity, and Mike evidently does not (read my response in the comments section), let's just say, that his "thumbs down" critique does not entirely break my heart.
. . . is back for the tenth chapter which, similarly to the previous few chapters, tries to link Christianity and rationality to the degree that not only does the former follow from the latter, but the latter requires the former. And, it's pretty terrible. But I'll save the explanation for the post to follow.
If Gnus were really open to learning something gnu, shouldn't the fact that Christians keep denying the definition of faith New Atheism projects on us Christians, tell them something right there?
But here's Blatant Flub I: I never say, or imply, that rationality "requires" Christianity. Not in this chapter, not anywhere.
Marshall begins with the old canard that faith is just another way of knowing:
Already, something doesn't smell right.Faith is not some peculiar, mystical path to belief in things probably unreal. In fact, faith is simply one of two faculties (along with its close cousin, reason) by which we know all that we know.
Indeed it doesn't! Here's Blatant Flub II: Mike quaffs his first quote! (And what he calls an "old canard," at that!)
He glosses me as saying "faith is just another way of knowing." But then what he quotes me as actually saying, is rather that faith (as Christians understand it) is the ONLY way of knowing anything!
Those are very different claims. If I say, "She's the ONLY girl for me," does Mike think this means, "She's JUST ANOTHER girl?" A startlingly in-your-face misreading.
Also, the sub-text, Mike is admitting that he has often heard Christians say faith is reasonable. This he calls an "old canard," because he has heard it so often. Why, then (third and most important error so far) doesn't he allow Christians to explain what we believe for ourselves?
If Christian after Christian says, "Faith is, by our understanding of the word, a function of reason," shouldn't our understanding of the word be normative for how we use it? The question is, after all, what Christians think about faith, not what gnus or unicorns or hippogriffs think.
And why does he read that "old canard" into what I say, rather than listening to what I actually do say -- which is no "canard" at all, or Mike might have repeated it accurately? If I whistle Dixie, and you say, "Great! One of my oldest and most favorite tunes! Beethoven's Fifth!" The presumption is you haven't really heard the melody that came out of my lips.
MY claim is not the "canard" Mike hears ("just another way of knowing") but something startlingly different: without faith, in the proper Christian sense, one cannot know anything!
But Mike has his ultimate weapon standing by: he's going to quote two Gnu scientists to debunk my chapter:
In case you missed my post on it the other day, Sean Carroll penned a great piece on the problem of faith as a means to knowledge, and had this to say:
Even if your faith is extremely strong in some particular proposition, e.g. that God loves you, it’s important to recognize that there’s a chance you are mistaken. That should be an important part of any respectable road to knowledge. So you are faced with (at least) two alternative ideas: first, that God exists and really does love you and has put that belief into your mind via the road of faith, and second, that God doesn’t exist and that you have just made a mistake.
The problem is that you haven’t given yourself any way to legitimately decide between these two alternatives. Once you say that you have faith, and that it comes directly from God, there is no self-correction mechanism. You can justify essentially any belief at all by claiming that God gave it to you directly, despite any logical or evidence-based arguments to the contrary. This isn’t just nit-picking; it’s precisely what you see in many religious believers. An evidence-based person might reason, “I am becoming skeptical that there exists an all-powerful and all-loving deity, given how much random suffering exists in the world.” But a faith-based person can always think, “I have faith that God exists, so when I see suffering, I need to think of a reason why God would let it happen.”
|Philosophy 101: Don't |
bring a scientist to an
Who says faith is not backed up by evidence? Who says Christians can't admit there is any chance they are wrong? I've done that many times. Carroll is just begging the question, and begging it wrongly. Worse, he's just ignoring every Christian response to these genuinely old canards.
Christians have been CLAIMING for two thousand years that there are good reasons to believe in Jesus -- that's the point of True Reason, and ten thousand other books. (Including five of mine.) Maybe we're right, and maybe we're wrong. But it's just ridiculous to claim that Christians don't offer evidence for our faith.
Not even Alvin Plantinga's "reformed epistemology" can be reduced to this. Plantinga claims it would be rational to believe even without positive evidence, but that in fact, there is much such evidence. And of course that's the whole point of my chapter, and of the whole book.
But Mike's most fundamental(ist) and aggregious error is yet to come -- are we on Blatant Flub VIII or XI, yet? Anyway, this flub is so blatant and so fundamental, that it prevents Mike (or anyone who commits it) from reading Chapter 10 of True Reason at all, let alone getting anything out of it:
I think Sean hits the nail on the head. But Marshall thinks that Christian faith and reason are inseparable. How does he plan to demonstrate this?
I intend, in this chapter, to describe how the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings about the “marriage of faith and reason.”Yeah. He's gonna quote the Bible.
Snark should be smarter than that.
The insinuation is that quoting the Bible is somehow the wrong way to support the point of the chapter. And what is that point? That there is life on the moon? That the Earth is 6,000 years old? That it is immoral to play strip poker?
Well, let's see. Just before the paragraph Mike quotes above, I refer to "faith, in the Christian sense," then again "the Christian view of faith." So the goal of the chapter, clearly, is to explain what Christians -- not atheists, not Hindus, not the Sendero Luminoso or the Shokagakai sect -- mean by faith.
Is it really so transparently obvious that reading the Bible is a bad way of figuring out what Christians mean by faith?
"How is she going to prove her team is better than their opponents. Yeah, she's going to quote the scoreboard."
"How is he going to prove there's life under the Antarctic ice cap? Yeah, he's going to show pictures of the seabed under the icecap."
Of course. If you want to show what Christians think faith means, quoting the Bible is exactly the right procedure, you numbskull.
Read my books, or my blog posts, and you'll find that I almost never quote the Bible to prove points to skeptics that cannot in fact be demonstrated by quoting the Bible. This is especially important because skeptics often quote the Bible to defend the "blind faith" meme, as does Richard Dawkins, for example. So you can cut the cheap, thick-witted sarcasm.
But he does a little better than that.
No, I don't. That's the whole purpose the chapter: to show that the NT links faith and reason. Appealing to the raw data of the NT is the ultimate, best possible, evidence that can be offered to support that point. (Originally I was going to supplement that with dozens of citations from leading Christian thinkers down through the ages, but the editor, apparently recognizing that the NT data was most important, chose not to include that additional chapter.)
He starts out by claiming that reason requires faith:
Faith must be tested by reason. But reason relies on four levels of faith for all the facts that it holds dear: faith in the mind, senses, other people, and (the question at issue between theists and atheists) in God.Sigh. No. Marshall is confusing assumptions, which are necessary in any epistemological framework, with 'faith'. It's at best a misunderstanding, and at worst it's outright equivocation. Assumptions are, by definition, provisional. They can be tested or amended.
When I cross a bridge, I assume it will not fall down. If it does fall down, my assumption will have proven to be in error. But the act of crossing the bridge is an act of faith, in the sense I am using the word, as is the act of praying to God.
Of course in theory, my assumption that the Theory of Gravity exists, may some day be proven false. But I do not expect that. So confidence need not be unscientific, either -- not that "being scientific" is the end-all of proper reasoning.
But I'm late to the party, because Sean Carroll already hit on that point, too:
Sometimes you will hear that “science requires faith,” for example faith that our sense data are reliable or that nature really obeys laws. That’s an abuse of language; science requires assumptions, just like anything else, but those assumptions are subject to testing and updating if necessary. If we built theories on the basis of our sense data, and those theories kept making predictions that turned out to be wrong, we would examine and possibly discard that assumption. If the universe exhibited a chaotic jumble of non-lawlike behavior, rather than falling into beautiful patterns, we would abandon that assumption as well. That’s the most compelling thing about science: it always stands ready to improve by casting out an old idea when the evidence demands it.Carroll, being a Gnu scientist, worships science, by way of worshipping himself, and therefore fails to properly understand it.
In reality, if the universe really were a "chaotic jumble of non-lawlike behavior," Carroll would have no sure way of understanding it. Understanding, or at least confidence in understanding, would simply be impossible.
How can Christians be "abusing" language for using the word "faith" consistently as we have used that word for thousands of years, and its ancestors, before the modern English language even evolved into being? And isn't the issue, what Christians mean by "faith?" Here is how so many Gnus retain the unsullied purity of their ignorance: this simple and arrogant refusal to really listen.
Faith, however, is not provisional. It has no self-correcting mechanism. It's the polar opposite of rationality or reason, and it should never be confused with provisional assumptions.
The purpose of True Reason was to explain the reality to Gnus like Mike and Sean, but being arrogant, "believing not only without reason, but in the teeth of the evidence," they retain their delusions. It is a marvel to behold.
Once again, the issue is what Christians think about "faith." Since that is the issue, isn't the proper procedure for finding out, to ask them? Beginning, of course, with the first Christians?
So now, Marshall turns to the Bible.
In fact, the New Testament emphatically ties faith to reason in at least seven ways: historical investigation, rational argument, critical accounts of Jesus’ life, miraculous “signs” (which are not just psychosomatic— an anachronistic concept, anyway), prophecy, convincing depictions of Jesus’ character, and the resurrection.I'm going to come right out and say that there's already a huge problem for Marshall, not the least of which is the fact that he's obviously gearing this toward Christians. Quoting the Bible is not generally a great way to persuade atheists about anything, because you're presuming that the Bible is actually, y'know, true.
I hate to be insulting, but this is incredibly, indefatigably dense. Mike doesn't appear to be as dumb as he is acting here, so I'm tempted to simply respond, "Wise up!"
The goal of this chapter is explicitly to explore and describe what Christians mean by "faith," in reference to our Scriptures. I've tackled the same question from other angles, in other writings. But skeptics often claim that the Bible itself teaches the "blind faith meme." I am refuting their arguments! In fact I cite their arguments at the beginning of the chapter, to make it as clear as possible that that is what I am doing:
Biologist Sheldon Gottlieb wrote, 'In the world of the supernatural, anything goes, and the only limitation is the extent of one's imagination. No evidence is required to substantiate any claims' . . . Similarly, in her history of American freethinkers, Susan Jacoby remarked, 'The scientific method itself, with its demand to 'Prove it,' discourages the leaps of faith in the unverifiable that are the essence of any religion . . .
The works of atheist 'rock stars' as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, along with up-and-coming wannabes, is often explicitly founded on what we might call the 'blind faith meme,' the assumption that Christians view faith as the virtue of believing, as Dawkins put it, 'not only in the absense of evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence . . . '
I also cite my atheist friend "Dr. H" as referring to the "actual, biblical kind of faith where you get rebuked for asking for proof other than circular logic . . . AND you get rewarded for checking your brain at the door (Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.)"
Now how can one possibly respond to a challenge about "what the Bible teaches," and what Christians believe, except by citing the Bible?
The sheer inanity of Mike's response is depressing. Can any Gnu even learn anything on this subject? Are all they all simply too brain-washed to see the most obvious facts, and deal with the evidence in an honest and straightforward manner without such silly sophistry? At times like these, I begin to lose hope.
I'm a bit torn about how to deal with the rest of this chapter, then. I dealt with a lot of the reasons why I think the New Testament is a work of fiction in my review of the movie The Case for Christ, and I've touched on various issues over the years throughout the blog. Since I was hoping this book would present something I hadn't considered before, I'm not just going to repeat myself when there's a perfectly functional search bar on the right side of the page.
There is no sign that Mike has come within a thousand miles of the actual argument in what I thought, while writing it, was a pretty simple chapter.
Marshall quotes the Bible as though we should simply take it all at face value, even repeating the dubious claim by Paul that many living Christians had actually met the resurrected Jesus, which I talked about in the previous post (see the subsection "Reason and the Resurrection"). But unless you actually do take the Bible at face value, which you most definitely should not (again, see the movie review linked above), you're not going to be persuaded by his arguments.
Again, Mike is completely missing the point of this chapter. It is not to prove that the Bible is accurate -- I wrote two books arguing that the gospels are essentially historical, but those arguments are completely irrelevent to what I am saying here.
And that's pretty much the chapter. He does manage to throw in one especially asinine piece of equivocation though:
Scientists, too, are blessed because “they have not seen, and yet believe.” Scientists incessantly appeal to human testimony: read Dawkins or Darwin and underline their citations of scientific work other people have done. Without faith in other people, it is impossible to do and advanced science. And even to reach and maintain conclusions from one’s own dabblings, one trusts one’s own memory, which is also human and therefore fallible.I almost feel like it should go without saying that there are vital differences between scientific research – performed by people with years of training in their respective fields – which is open to peer review and replication (or the attempt thereof), and the kind of religious faith that David Marshall is talking about. Science rests on provisional assumptions (not 'faith' in one's senses) and is open to review and revision; faith is, by definition, not amenable to evidence.
Amazing! Mike still hasn't gotten it into his thick skull that I am challenging that definition.
Talk about blind faith.
To quote William Lane Craig:
...even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit's witness.Mike is forgetting that Craig regularly clobbers atheists in debates about the evidence for Christianity, persuading even uncommitted audiences that the evidence for Christianity is strong. He is also forgetting that for Craig, the witness of God's spirit IS evidence, of a "properly basic" kind, as Plantinga puts it. He may be wrong, but he is certainly not advocating faith without reason to believe.
Of course, when the arrows point in different directions, one has to choose which piece of evidence we should lend the most weight. I may agree with Mike that Craig's choice here is open to question. I've heard too much about "burning in the bossom" from Mormons, Moonies and Hindu cultists to like it when I hear the same sort of argument from Christians. But direct experience of God, or experience thought to be of God, is obviously a world away from believing without reason. And both Craig and Plantinga maintain that there is a whole lot of evidence for faith, and do so convincingly. (Though that, again let me stress, is an entirely different argument from the subject at hand.)
Contrast that with what Sean Carroll said above, as well as this excerpt by Richard Dawkins, from The God Delusion:
Another philosophically-illiterate Gnu scientist. Lord preserve us.
Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not an end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence, not the book, that must be thrown out. By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence. It really is a very different matter. Books about evolution are believed not because they are holy. They are believed because they present overwhelming quantities of mutually buttressed evidence. In principle, any reader can go and check that evidence. When a science book is wrong, someone eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books. That conspicuously doesn't happen with holy books. [p.319]
This is, of course, a perfect description of the Gnu position. Note that Mike has read an entire book by many informed Christians who carefully explain that for us, faith does NOT mean what Dawkins thinks it does -- and he has blown that evidence off. He reads the present chapter on what the NT means by faith, fails to really interact with a word of it, and makes the absurd argument: "But why should atheists believe the Bible?" As if that had anything to do with the point.
When a Gnu is wrong, and his or her errors are corrected in books (as Dawkins' error here was corrected by Alister McGrath, in a book Dawkins read and IGNORED) -- in fact they never seem to learn, because they have dug a deep hole, jumped in, and piled dirt over their own silly heads.
"The sun has perished!"
Indeed, for some people, it does indeed seem to have been extinguished, at least temporarily.