(This post is part 10 of the series entitled “Contesting Christianity.” Please see the index for the other posts in this series.)
Well, we have come to the end of my ten-part series. What a journey it’s been! I hope that it has been informative and has made you think about which arguments can or should be used to defend Christianity, and which should be left aside. But to wrap up this series, I’d like to share a few more thoughts about how to think about beliefs in general.
What about Faith?
Many Christians are not interested in defending their beliefs from logic and reason. They are not worried about constructing sound arguments to support Christianity. For many, it is all about faith. So what about faith? Why do we have to be so concerned with having reasons to believe? Why can’t we just believe?
I have a hard time answering this question. To me, it is so obvious that rationality is important. It has immense practical value, and we use it all the time (though not perfectly) in making decisions about life. We compare which food products to buy. We question the reasons why someone made the remark that they did. We use reason at work, at home, and at school. It pervades our lives. But yet, some wish to leave it at the door when they enter a church service, appealing to faith instead. And to be honest, I can’t give someone a reason to use rationality. After all, that would be using rationality to prove rationality. I can only appeal to the idea that it works in every other area of our lives—and when we use it we seem better off for it. Why not use it in that final domain of religion?
I define faith in this case, as you probably can tell, as belief with no regard to, or in spite of, reason and evidence. Some define it differently, as some sort of belief that jumps from evidence to a reasonable conclusion. I have no problem with that sort of faith. But that is rationality.1 Beyond that, however, one gets into strange territory. The knight of faith (to use the Kierkegaardian expression) becomes guided by his emotions and by the beliefs that were given to him at a young and impressionable age. Beyond the lands of reason and evidence, it seems like anything is acceptable so long as it feels right. If one is acting in spite of evidence, why not believe in unicorns? Why not believe in flying space monsters? Why not believe in Hinduism, or Judaism, or the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines? There don’t seem to be any criteria for establishing what one should or shouldn’t believe when reason and evidence have been thrown out the window. But since the knight of faith has been told from his boyhood that there is an invisible being outside of space and time who controls the world and wants him to be good, he believes it. It’s comforting. It’s reassuring. But out there in the surrealist lands of faith, the question of, “Is it true?” has no meaning. It no longer matters if God is actually out there when one is only relying on faith to guide oneself. And that is a strange land indeed, one in which I do not wish to travel. To those who want to venture out into these lands unknown, good luck. I have nothing to say to lure you back, but I will warn you to watch out for the flying monkeys.
The Essential Maxim
To the rest of us living back in the land of reason and evidence, I believe there to be one important maxim that we should follow to be in accordance with the local customs of this territory. The maxim is this: Only believe in something if there is sufficient evidence to support it. This, to me, is fundamental. Regardless of whether you think my ten-part series has been successful in convincing you that the evidence and arguments supporting Christianity are poor, I hope that you all can at least take away this maxim as something important. When we take a look at a statement, whether it is “God exists” or “It is raining outside” or “Unicorns exist” or “Canada is an excellent country,” these statements must be backed up with proper evidence. For more extraordinary claims, we should expect that more evidence be produced to support them. If I tell you that I just got a ride in a flying saucer from some particularly nice space aliens, I should expect you to ask me to prove it, and prove it with good evidence. For more mundane statements like “It is raining outside,” the evidence does not need to be so rigorous.2 But the point in all of this is that evidence is required.
Now, certainly people have offered evidence to support God’s existence. But evidence can often be interpreted in multiple ways. In addition, some evidence may contradict other evidence. With your eyes closed, you may take falling drops of water to be evidence of rain, but if I am aware that you are standing in the shower, the better explanation is that it is not actually rain. So what is even more important is that you offer a logically valid argument that properly interprets the evidence. This is the sort of thing that I have been dealing with in this series: arguments that present evidence for the truth of Christianity. In some cases, I have challenged the validity of the evidence itself. In other cases, I have offered additional evidence which counteracts the evidence already put forward. And in other cases, I have challenged the structure of the argument which puts the evidence in a logical framework. And if I have been successful at these, then the argument no longer stands. If I can kick out enough of the legs of the structure holding up Christianity, the entire structure may collapse. After all, to return to the maxim (or a variation of it), if there are not sufficient sound arguments to support the Christian faith, then one should not believe it.
Like I mentioned at the very beginning of this series, I don’t really expect to convince people that Christianity is all wrong because of what I’ve written. (Certainly I think they should be convinced of this, but my expectations are more realistic.) But I hope that I have at least been able to get Christians to think about the reasons why they believe what they do. I hope that I’ve been able to inform some people of the counter-arguments that non-Christians use when they conclude that Christianity is not true. I believe that truth is important, and so I have written this to try to correct what I believe to be the mistakes and bad arguments which Christians often use. This is done not with malicious intent, to see the faith of believers destroyed and crushed. I am just trying to do what I can to dismantle bad arguments and get people to use good arguments (if there are any) to support their beliefs. In this way, we all win. We are all a little less wrong and a little closer to truth, that goal which remains ever-elusive yet always on the horizon. My hope is that we as human beings can learn to let go of all that restrains us and follow the evidence wherever it leads. Then, and only then, will we be able to find what really unites us: the search for truth.
- Please note, of course, that there is a difference between saying one has that type of faith, and actually having that type of faith. My own suspicion is that many, if not most, people who claim that their faith is “rational” merely use it as a rationalization, where deeper investigation would reveal that their faith really rests on little more than feelings and wishful thinking. [↩]
- Realistically, I may not ask you for any evidence at all, and simply assume that you are capable enough of determining whether there is enough evidence that it is raining. If you are deaf and blind, however, and haven’t recently stepped outside to feel it raining, I might be a little more suspicious. [↩]