Responding to the “Faith Vs Facts” Article in the New York Times

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in the New York times called “Faith vs Facts”

I was discussing it with a friend and I have decided to write a small response to it. If you click on it, it says the following:

“Second, these scholars have remarked that when people consider the truth of a religious belief, what the belief does for their lives matters more than, well, the facts. We evaluate factual beliefs often with perceptual evidence. If I believe that the dog is in the study but I find her in the kitchen, I change my belief. We evaluate religious beliefs more with our sense of destiny, purpose and the way we think the world should be. One study found that over 70 percent of people who left a religious cult did so because of a conflict of values. They did not complain that the leader’s views were mistaken. They believed that he was a bad person.”

Response:  By all means, utilize perpetual evidence. Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Paul does not say that natural persons cannot perceive truth about God, but that they do not receive (Gk. dekomai, “welcome”) it.

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

Using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue. To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

An example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

Notice the author says “Second, these scholars have remarked that when people consider the truth of a religious belief, what the belief does for their lives matters more than, well, the facts.”

Response: This is what concerns me the most. I have written a post called “Do College Students Care About Truth?” The comments here in the article deal with a similar theme. It is called  pragmatism! So if Mormonism, Islam, or other religions produce fruitful results, that makes it true? At best, pragmatism can be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for truth. Our culture is built on pragmatism.  If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results.  If you go to college you have to get a degree that ‘works’ and makes you money.  Nancy Pearcey notes on her article called “How Darwinism Dumbs Us Down: Evolution and Postmodernism,” William James was raised in a household with an intense interest in religion. In the Second Great Awakening his father converted to Christianity, then later converted to Swedenborgianism. As a result, James applied his philosophy of pragmatism to religion: We decide whether or not God exists depending whether that belief has positive consequences in our experience. “An idea is ‘true’ so long as to believe it is profitable to our lives,” James wrote in What Pragmatism Means. Thus “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true.”

We need to stick with the classical view of truth which is that truth is what corresponds to reality. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are.

So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. If I was to stick with the pragmatic view of truth, sadly, when it seems Christianity doesn’t work, people tend to leave the faith and pick another spirituality. Trust me, it happens all the time. And in the Church, pragmatism dumbs us down. It doesn’t force us to think critically about our beliefs and leads to lazy thinking.

The author also says:

“Finally, scholars have determined that people don’t use rational, instrumental reasoning when they deal with religious beliefs. The anthropologist Scott Atran and his colleagues have shown that sacred values are immune to the normal cost-benefit trade-offs that govern other dimensions of our lives. Sacred values are insensitive to quantity (one cartoon can be a profound insult). They don’t respond to material incentives (if you offer people money to give up something that represents their sacred value, and they often become more intractable in their refusal). Sacred values may even have different neural signatures in the brain.”

Response: Yes, sadly, many people don’t use reasoning when dealing with religious beliefs. But as a Jesus follower, I don’t see how any Christian can avoid being an evidentialist of some sorts.

The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one. [1]

Let’s look at some of the claims of the major faiths of the world:

Orthodox  Christianity/Messianic Judaism: Jesus is  both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as  foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts  of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the  Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1;Col.1:15-19; Phil.2: 5-11).

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and  man. Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold  in the Tanakh. Jesus may be simply  regarded as a prophet or teacher but not divine. In the case of Islam, Islam’s founder is Muhammad who was forty   years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are  called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore,  never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament.

Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to  have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions,(the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being. For further reading, see Why Mormonism is not Christianity– the Issue of Christology

The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: In the Bible, Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John  1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11). This is rejected by Jehovah Witnesses.

Buddhism/Hinduism: are not theistic faiths. Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches  that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a  good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal, supreme being. In Hinduism, polytheism and pantheism go hand-in-hand with one impersonal Brahman and 330 million-plus personal manifestations of the one impersonal ultimate  For further reading, see Why Jesus Instead of the Buddha?

After examining the differences in each of these faiths, John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:

“No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be  such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real  contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it.”

Why All Christians Do Utilize Reasoning

It could not be more obvious that in order to evaulate each faith Christians have to appeal to evidence. Hence, I generally ask three questions:

1. What is the claim of each religion? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it?

Remember, historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask when and where God has broken through in human history.

When we do this we will see that while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God.  However,  they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.

As a Christian, I don’t think God wants the world to be confused. If God wants the world to know Him, it seems to me that he would give a clear revelation to humanity.

So I  fully agree with Hitchens that there are contradictory revelatory claims. For example, to assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor. 15: 3-8 is dated only 3-5 years after the death of Jesus. The Quran is dated much later and says Jesus did not die and rise from the dead. I tend to stick with the  historians on this one. They want the record that is closest to the original event.  Furthermore, as we see above,  what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s? Mormonism (which has very little if any external evidence) and the Watchtower Society) both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim.  If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.

In the end, we need to dispense with the complaint that there is just no possible way to look at various religious claims and find the truth. For those that are willing to have an open mind and do the homework, it can be a rewarding experience. When I took this approach to Christianity and other religions, I arrived at the following conclusion:

1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms a messenger from God.

2. Jesus offered a cumulative case that confirms He is the incarnation of the God of Israel—His fulfillment of prophecy, His sinless life, His messianic actions/messianic miracles, His speaking authority, and His miraculous resurrection.

3. Therefore, Jesus offered several lines of evidence that  confirm that He is the incarnation of the God of Israel

Sources:

  1. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.
  2. John C. Newport, Life’s Most Important Questions: A  Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989),  452-453
Advertisements

One thought on “Responding to the “Faith Vs Facts” Article in the New York Times

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s