Validation of Faith


#1

I guess there aren’t many people here with faith problems yet, but this is just a recent thought I’ve been looking for feedback on.

Okay, I wrote all of this after doing a lot of reading about Descartes and some thinking about the external world and knowledge. So if there are any holes or vague points, let me know and I’ll try to explain myself. Otherwise, let me know how you feel about this viewpoint through discussion.

Now to define some key words:

Know/Knowledge: Can be certified with empirical proof, cannot be doubted
Have faith in/believe: submit to belief in something despite a lack of physical proof
**Prove: **to ascertain a fact using empirical data and scientific methods.

Hypothetically, let’s assume that we have a can of paint. And I make the statement that the color of this paint is yellow. Now we must verify the truth of that statement. Certainly when I look at the paint I see the color yellow. That is my own personal perception of the can of paint. Can I be certain that everyone else sees yellow paint too? Of course not. But I make the general assumption that everyone does, because that’s the truth as I see it.

So let’s take this a step further and say my friend sees blue paint. To reduce variations, let’s take an omniscient point of view and say my friend is telling the truth as he sees it. In the same way that I looked at the paint and saw yellow, he sees blue. Now we have a situation: what is the truth? Which of us is wrong? What steps could I take to find the truth and if the paint is actually yellow, how can I prove to my friend that he’s wrong?

Proposition #1
-We could take a random survey (or for better accuracy, several surveys of different people).
-This solution is not based on the popularity of one choice, but looks at each person as a different variable in an experiment. If a large majority of individuals believes the paint is yellow, then it is fairly safe to assume, although not doubt-free, that this is true.
-Failing points: people could lie, majority could be wrong, etc.

Proposition #2-
If possible, perhaps we could conduct an experiment on the paint and see which hues are reflected off it and which are absorbed.
-Failing points: experiment may not be possible, results may still be based in perception

In short, there is no way to prove the paint is yellow without a doubt. However, can it then be conceded that knowledge can be formed even in the midst of doubt? Maybe, maybe not. I am left with one option, then: because I cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the paint is yellow, but the only observations I can make are based on my perceptions of the yellow yolk, I must take a leap of faith and assume that I am correct. I still may be wrong, but to avoid a lifetime of doubt and skepticism, I must have faith that in my perceptions.

Now to apply this to a broader scope. I cannot prove that anything exists. I cannot know that anything exists withthe exception perhaps of myself (cogito ergo sum). But I can see the external world. I hear, touch, smell, taste the external world. So to avoid uncertainty, misery, and possible insanity, I must believe the external world exists.

Does God exist? I have never physically perceived a God. I cannot prove through reasoning alone that God exists. And yet, I have also never perceived an elephant and cannot prove they exist either. But I have faith that they do. So could I have faith in God, despite my lack of proof, the same way I have faith in everything else? Certainly I could if the desire to have faith in God was in me. And thus faith is validated.


#2

This reminds me of Morpheus asking Neo “How do you define real”?

I have experienced the reality of God - as real as the air around me and as close as my arms at my sides. For a long time I thought that meant I was spiritually strong - but later I realized it was my weakness which required so much ‘proof’.


#3

Exactly, proof is completely and entirely dispensable. You don’t need proof to believe that God exists. For a small time I thought I did and I used that as an excuse for not taking the Kierkegaardian “leap to faith”. But once weight enough is pressed upon you, proof seems much less important and a leap doesn’t seem quite as optional.


#4

I do feel blessed about the encounter but hard heads NEED that. I was an atheist with no proof but, as you say, circumstances pressed me severely and it happened. I wasn’t even LOOKING along those lines - it was a spontaneous spiritual thing…


#5

Atlantis

Thanks. I would not put things in quite the way that you do (for starters, I would not define knowledge, belief, proof, etc in the way that you do). Nevertheless, I do think that you are correct in suggesting that we cannot prove that God exists or that Christian faith is true. I also think that you are correct when you suggest that we cannot prove most of the things that we take to be true. Of course, it does not follow from that that we do not ‘know’ these things to be true - we may well do. However, the knowledge that we do have almost inevitably falls short of Cartesian certainty. As you say, unless we wish to go insane or believe nothing then we simply have to accept that this is the way that things are and deal with it. It’s not hard - we all do it.


#6

I appreciate the feedback! And I agree, the Cartesian standards for certainty are practically neurotic but I have had moments where I actually fooled my mind into thinking: “Is this real or am I just dreaming that it’s real?” And even the same thing about my own existence. It’s best to just go to sleep in those instances.


#7

Atlantis

If you are interested in epistemology the good news is that it is an area that Christians (including evangelicals) have done a lot of work. There are so many Christian philosohers who have worked in this area that one hardly knows where to start (esp as they do not all agree). I would recommend a book by C. Stephen Evans called “Faith Beyond Reason” (Eerdmans) as it explores varius different Christian models of how faith and reason relate and it is very readable. You may be interested to know that Keith DeRose at Yale is an epistemologist (who does a lot of work on philosophical skepticism) who also happens to be an evangelical universalist.


#8

The difficulty lies, I think, in categorical thinking. Placing things within a ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ framework creates more problems than it solves. And trying to place arbitrary dichotomies upon a dynamic, indescribable reality makes for a very troublesome belief system. What does yellow mean to you? And how do we know we’re seeing the same hues that others are? And aren’t all colors simply degrees away from each other? And might an object well be reflecting, to a degree, some blues and other colors along with the yellow? And does the question even really matter?

Indeed, what is reality? That is the often unasked question. And once we open that can of worms we see that no final definition can be made except the very basic experience we have. A definition of reality is unneeded; things which don’t exist simply can’t be referred to. One only simply needs to look at things in the light of his experience.

And once doing this, God, the breath of all life, inevitably becomes closer to the human soul than could have ever been imagined.


#9

If that is true then if it is found God does exist He cannot condemn the atheist for not believing (I am not taking ‘prove’ here to mean absolute proof - just beyond reasonable doubt). However, the bible says that the ‘evidence’ of creation is so overwhelming that everyone is ‘without excuse’ (Romans 1:20).


#10

Well, they were talking about Cartesian certainty in particular. A good definition I found is, “Cartesian Certainty (also called ‘demon-proof certainty’) is attributed to a belief when I could not be wrong about that belief even if all of my sensory input was caused by a malicious entity (the ‘Cartesian demon’) whose sole purpose was to induce me to believe falsely. In other words, Cartesian certainties are truly infallible.”

The downfall of this kind of certainty is that it is often based upon assumed knowledge. ‘I exist’ can be stated as a cartesian certainty, however what does it mean to exist? And what does it entail, and do I really exist? Statements cannot be infallible, for statements merely describe reality and are not reality themselves. Reality is much more fluid than can be expressed. Our categorizations (contained in statements) are merely ways of arbitrarily organizing reality.

For instance, look at the way that we often percieve the difference between dreams and waking life. Dreams are considered unreal, while waking life is considered real. But what do ‘unreal’ and ‘real’ mean in this case? Is there anything more to the words than the words themselves? If the one is not real, then how can it even exist? One might say that dreams have no causal relevance to waking life, but many dreams that people have had will dismiss this thought. It may simply be argued that dreams are an experience of another world. And what makes this world less ‘real’ than the one we are familiar with? It seems that at the very least a less ambiguous term could be used.

In the same vein, many people have experienced God for themselves. What makes this experience less real than the more common experience of the world that we generally all have?


#11

St. Paul wasn’t talking about atheists, though. He was quite explicitly talking about religious pagans who, for sake of doing injustice, created images of lesser gods to worship. Thus God’s indignation is being revealed from heaven on all the irreverence and injustice of men who are retaining the truth in injustice–that is, who still have the truth but who have perverted it. (1:18-23)

Thus the condemnation again in verse 25, that these have altered the truth of God into the lie, and are venerated, and offer divine service to the creature rather than to the Creator.

St. Paul points out later, in chapter 2, that there is no partiality with God in two ways. On the one hand, whoever sins without the Law (i.e. the Torah) also perishes without the Law, and whoever sins knowing the Law is judged by the Law.

On the other hand, it is not those who hear the Law but those who do the Law who shall be justified; and whenever those who do not have the Torah are by nature doing that which the Law demands, these are actually fulfilling the promise of God to have the Law written into their hearts and so themselves are a Torah. Thus their conscience and their reasonings shall not only accuse but also defend them in the day when God will be judging the hidden things of humanity through Jesus Christ.

So pagans (or atheists either in this case) don’t get cut any slack for not knowing the Law; but even pagans (and atheists too, in this case) may be cooperating with the Holy Spirit testifying in them to do that which is morally right–which is also why they don’t get cut any slack!–but for which God will fairly judge them to be righteous men.

(Notably, St. Paul has already said, back in chapter 1, before complaining about pagan idolatry, that he owes a great debt to the pagans that he is anxious to pay back to them; yet later in chp 8 he avers that we owe nothing to the flesh but only to the spirit insofar as the spirit is cooperating with the Spirit of God in Christ. Consequently, he must think that at least some pagans are cooperating with the Spirit of God in Christ; Whom he later avers again, in chapter 10, is Himself the chief preacher of the gospel of redemption to all men.)

C. S. Lewis has somewhere put it quite well (if I recall correctly), that we are not condemned for failure to follow an alien law, but for failure to follow even what we ourselves believe to be right. That is what St. Paul is saying in chp 2, and to some degree also in chp 1–although in chp 2 he fairly puts the matter the other way around, too, that we can trust God to fairly judge as righteous those who act in accord with the Spirit, even if they themselves have never heard of the Torah.