Tag Archives: knowledge

In intellectual neutral

[HT Brian Auten]

William Lane Craig presents this talk calling on Christians to be intellectually engaged. Entitled In Intellectual Neutral, this talk can be found in theaudio/video section of ReasonableFaith.org. Craig offers three reasons to become fully engaged intellectually in order to impact the culture for Christ.

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Why faith matters

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Faith is not a gift, its a conclusion. A verb, not a noun.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Faith is not the gift, Jesus is. Faith is what everyone operates on at some level as we are not omniscient beings who can possess knowledge with 100% certainty. Faith is trust and trust must have an object. It is on the object of our faith that the strength of our faith may be built. If that object is weak, so will be our faith.

Faith, along with our ability to reason and love are both vestiges of the image of God in us. Also, faith is not a work under the law, so even if it were volitional (which it isn’t) it doesn’t count as a work meritorious unto salvation.

Now many (mostly of the reformed variety) like to argue that such a view of faith entails a view of men wherein we are somehow independent of God. We are not wholly independent beings, and quite frankly that is not the issue, its more like a red herring. The issue is whether we are

  1. accountable for our own sins and
  2. whether we are obliged to freely trust (believe/have faith in) Christ that He is who He claimed to be and is able to save us like He claimed to be able to do.

So yes, my faith did come from God, the ability to faith propositional statements (or trust/believe them), and the object of my faith came from God as well. However the responsibility to turn our wills towards Christ in response to the calling of the Holy Spirit is wholly our own.

Faith is not blind (it cannot be and is not prescribed in Scripture). Jesus Himself appeared to be very interested in giving definitive proofs of His resurrection. He argued theologically and historically with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and He provided His body for physical examination by all the disciples (not just Thomas).

Finally, the Greek word translated as faith may be marked as a noun in lexicons. However a noun is defined as:

a content word that can be used to refer to a person, place, thing, quality, or action
the word class that can serve as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or in apposition

Faith is an action, the object of grace, what grace is intended to lead us towards, specifically faith or trust in Christ. In that sense faith is synonymous with believe and trust. Belief or trust or faith are commonly portrayed in the Bible in the context of a marriage relationship, so my faith in Christ is akin to the faith I have in my wife. Both are based on love, and both are ongoing attitudes I take towards persons I love.

Here are a few more resources on the subject of faith:

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Was Jesus an advocate of blind faith?

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. –Hosea 4:6a

The Bible does not require of even condone the “blind faith” of Immanuel Kant.

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Wordy Wednesday: Philosophical presuppositions

Philosophical presuppositions are ideas and beliefs we hold, consciously or unconsciously, which affect the way we interpret facts and evidence. In short, our philosophical presuppositions affect how we reason.

Many people are completely unaware of their philosophical presuppositions which is unfortunate since awareness of our philosophical presuppositions helps us better understand the arguments made by others who are often approaching a topic or subject from a completely different philosophical presupposition. Being aware of our presuppositions also helps us address the root of our differences with others rather than the outlying branches or surface issues.

Without addressing the fundamental differences in our world views what we end up managing to produce is more confusion and hard feelings than meaningful communication with others who hold fundamentally different presuppositions than we do.

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What it means to place your faith in something, and why you can’t do it

I love the field of study known as epistemology or the study of knowledge. Basically answering the question, “How do you know what you think you know?” Especially in a culture that tends to deny objective reality, particularly as it pertains to non-material objects/ideas, I find it helpful to be able to answer the skeptic’s critique of faith in metaphysical realities as being intellectually vacuous or as many like to claim, a “leap of faith”.

What is faith?

In Bruce Little’s lecture What is faith? Does belief require Warrant?, he asserts that faith is, in a nutshell, a conclusion one makes based on reason and evidence. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Notice this verse tells us that faith is the certainty of things we do not see, not the things not known. The difference between the two is a rather large leap. Consequently we are told in Romans 10:14-15:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Faith, then, requires knowledge. Or, to put it the way Paul did in the preceding verse: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

How are beliefs formed?

One of the most common misconceptions today is the notion that we can directly and causally will ourselves to believe something. A favorite thought experiment I like to use is this: Imagine I offered you a suitcase with a million dollars if you would believe that the moon were made of cheese. You would certainly have the incentive and desire to believe that the moon is made of cheese but until you were able to amass enough evidence1 you would not be able to form the belief that the moon were made of cheese.

The point is this: We can’t directly control our beliefs.

So then, how are beliefs actually formed?

Drawing sources

In another lecture by Bruce Little titled The Formation of Belief, he argues that beliefs, while not formed directly as we’ve seen above, are formed indirectly by what we choose to accept as credible evidence. This lends itself to the wisdom found in Proverbs where we read that wisdom is gained through a plurality of counselors2. While we cannot directly control our beliefs, we can choose what we will and won’t allow ourselves to be persuaded by. What we allow ourselves to be persuaded by indirectly determines what we place our faith in and shows what we value the most.

This also lends itself to the repeated assertion in Scripture that what one feeds on (that is, information and influences) is what one will eventually start resembling. This is also why Proverbs again warns us that those around us have a profound influence on us either for good or for ill.

Conclusion: The nature of faith

Faith is built on evidence, real or imagined.

Faith is not an object, it is a conclusion drawn given evidence.

Faith is only as strong as the evidence it is built on.

Faith is only valid insofar as the conclusion is true.

In short, everyone has faith.  And while we cannot directly will ourselves to believe anything, we can choose what we will and won’t accept as evidence which indirectly determines what we will and won’t have a foundation to place future beliefs on.

Consequently, most people are afraid of questioning certain central beliefs they hold out of fear that if their prior beliefs are shown to be invalid their subsequent beliefs will change. Regardless of this danger, if we are honest in our pursuit of truth we ought to be willing to objectively3 examine all forms of evidence, both physical as well as metaphysical. We also ought to fight to maintain consistency among the beliefs we hold as we grow which means we must constantly be willing to re-examine our beliefs from time to time.

Further reading

For more resources regarding the epistomoligical warrant for belief in God in general and the God of the Hebrew Scriptures in particular, I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s lecture on Religious epistemology and Alvin Plantinga‘s 3-volume “Warrant” set which includes: Warrant: the Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief.

  1. Notice that the evidence here does not necessarily have to be valid and true in order for the belief to be formed. []
  2. Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 11:14 []
  3. That is, use the same high standard of measurement for all evidences that present themselves. []
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