Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Faith and Reason

I have recently read an article on people who leave Christianity in which the author proclaimed something like, "if your faith is true, then it should withstand arguments to the contrary."  Is this true? I don't see why it should be. In fact, something may in fact be true that we have no way of knowing for sure. Something may be true in spite of evidence to the contrary (we see this in everyday life; in situations in which we have plenty of reason to declare ourselves rational in asserting a proposition, it turns out the opposite was true).

Further, we may question what is meant by "withstand." Based on the fact it is one's own faith that is supposed to do the withstanding, we can reasonably infer that if one loses his faith, then it did not withstand. Hence, perversely, if one loses his faith it was not true. But this claim depends on a number of assumptions, one or all of which may be false.

First, it assumes one understands his faith in the relevant and appropriate ways.

A common criticism of Christians, from other Christians and non-believers alike, is that, as an entire group, we are too ignorant--even of our own beliefs. Well we cannot have it both ways. If one is incorrect about the rationale for his faith, then its failure to stand up to rational inquiry is not an indictment of the actual ontology of the faith, but rather of the epistemic truth-status of certain beliefs or doctrines, many of which may be non-essential.

Second, it assumes one has understood the counterarguments in the relevant and appropriate ways.

This one is huge. It seems nearly every time one witnesses a Christian "de-convert," it is on the basis of some horribly fallacious reasoning. This point is not meant to argue these specific counterarguments here, but it is worth it to say that if one receives a poor counterargument against Christanity/God and it causes him to lose his faith, it does not follow that the ontological status of the propositions "God exists," and "Christianity is true," is false.

Third, it assumes an objective, rather than emotional, examination.

While pure objectivity is never possible, it is nonetheless possible to be closer to or farther from objectivity when examining a subject. When people start questioning a long-held belief sincerely, a funny thing happens: they get reverse confirmation bias. That is, any evidence to the contrary of their proposition counts with more weight than any for its truth, regardless of how much weight it should actually carry. Couple that with the emotional issues people typically have, and one's faith may well crumble even though its referent is actually true!

Finally, it assumes if one does not know an answer to the objection, the objection must stand.

With all of the bad arguments against Christianity, there are some decent ones. None that I think are sound or actually true, but some clearly better than others. Suppose there is a highly complex argument presented to you. Suppose further that you haven't the slightest idea of how to refute it. The conclusion seems wrong, but you are so unfamiliar with the concepts in the premises you just do not have an answer. Assuming the conclusion to be true until conclusively proven otherwise is simply not rational. Only if you have examined the proposition and find it to be true should you embrace the conclusion. Otherwise, as long as belief in God is properly basic, there's no need to give it up.

Now I am not endorsing the idea that the faith is illogical or unreasonable. I think there are good reasons to believe. I am concerned with those who think because some people's faith has failed, it is therefore false. There is no good reason to think that is true, as all four of the above assumptions must be true in this case.

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