Misunderstanding Faith

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A mistake made by some Christians and most skeptics is believing that religious faith, or faith in God, is blind faith.  But biblical faith is not a leap into the dark, but a leap toward the light.  As Greg Koukl nicely summarizes:

“Faith [on this mistaken view] is religious wishful thinking, a desperate lunge in the dark when all evidence is against you.  Take the leap of faith and hope for luck.  Curiously, none of the biblical writers understood faith this way.  Jesus tells his naysayers, ‘Though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me’ (John 10:38 NASB, emphasis added).  Peter reminds the crowd on Pentecost that Jesus was ‘a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22 NASB).

“Paul writes that the evidences from the natural world for God’s eternal power and divine nature ‘have been clearly seen,’ so much so that those who deny Him ‘are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20).  Later he says that if we believe in a resurrection that didn’t really happen, we have hoped in vain and ‘are of all men most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19 NASB).  No religious wishful thinking here.

“So let’s set the record straight.  Faith is not the opposite of reason.  The opposite of faith is unbelief.  And reason is not the opposite of faith.  The opposite of reason is irrationality.  Do some Christians have irrational faith?  Sure.  Do some skeptics have unreasonable unbelief?  You bet.  It works both ways.”

Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Kregel, 2010, p. 30 (Kindle edition)

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Dallas Willard on Science

“ ‘Science,’ as now generally understood, actually combines appeals to all three sources [of knowledge: authority, reason, and experience], but in undigested and incoherent ways that permit it to be manipulated in the public arena, where policy issues are in question, for numerous unscientific and political purposes.  Indeed, nothing would be more helpful in the midst of today’s confusions than a thorough understanding of the nature and limitations of “science” itself.

“But the sciences themselves cannot provide such an understanding, because each one is limited to its peculiar subject matter (which certainly is not “science”), and so the necessary work cannot be done in any way that is “scientific” under current understandings.  That reveals the impasse of modern life.  Science is the presumed authority on knowledge, but it cannot provide scientific knowledge of science.

“. . . No science is omnicompetent, nor, very likely, is any [particular] “scientifically minded” person.  But given the present confusions in the world of intellect, this seems to be a point easily missed.  Actually, what we see here are the influences of an unsupported worldview.”

— Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, 60-61.

 

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The Rage Against God

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“The difficulties of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is often a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid.  But what if that is not the problem?  Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares.

“I tend to sympathize with them.  I too have been angry with opponents who required me to re-examine opinions I had embraced more through passion than through reason.  I too have felt the unsettling lurch beneath my feet as the solid ground of my belief has shifted.  I do not know whether they have also experienced what often follows—namely, a long self-deceiving attempt to ignore or belittle truths that would upset a position in which I had long been comfortable; in some ways even worse, it was a position held by almost everyone I knew, liked, or respected—people who would be shocked and perhaps hostile, mocking, or contemptuous if I gave in to my own reason.  But I suspect that they have experienced this form of doubt, and I suspect that the hot and stinging techniques of their argument, the occasional profanity and the persistent impatience and scorn, are useful to them as they once were to me in fending it off.

“And yet in the end, while it may have convinced others, my own use of such techniques did not convince me.”

— Peter Hitchens in The Rage Against God, 12, 13.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Noumenon

Immanuel Kant

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“(pl. noumena) ‘Thing-in-itself’ contrasted with appearance or phenomenon in the philosophy of Kant.  Noumena are the external source of experience but are not themselves knowable and can only be inferred from experience of phenomena.  Although inaccessible to speculative reason, the noumenal world of God, freedom, and immortality is apprehended through man’s capacity for acting as a moral agent.”

A Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Antony Flew, 251.

 

“By Kant’s view, humans can make sense out of phenomena in . . . various ways, but can never directly know the noumena, the “things-in-themselves”, the actual objects and dynamics of the natural world. In other words, by Kant’s Critique, our minds may attempt to correlate in useful ways, perhaps even closely accurate ways, with the structure and order of the various aspects of the universe, but cannot know these “things-in-themselves” (noumena) directly. Rather, we must infer the extent to which thoughts correspond with things-in-themselves by our observations of the manifestations of those things that can be sensed, that is, of phenomena.”

— “Noumenon,” Wikipedia.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology

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“In addition to his moral philosophy, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is well-known for his theological writings.   He is arguably the most eminent philosophical theologian ever to have lived.  To this day, it is difficult to find someone whose work rivals Aquinas’ in breadth and influence.  Although his work is not limited to illuminating Christian doctrine, virtually all of what he wrote is shaped by his theology.  Therefore it seems appropriate to consider some of the theological themes and ideas that figure prominently in his thought.

“The volume and depth of Aquinas’ work resists easy synopsis.  Nevertheless, an abridged description of his work may help us appreciate his  philosophical skill in exploring God’s nature and defending Christian teaching.  Although Aquinas does not think that philosophical reasoning can provide an exhaustive account of the divine nature, it is (he insists) both a source of divine truth and an aid in exonerating the intellectual credibility of those doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith.  From this perspective, philosophical reasoning can be (to use a common phrase) a tool in the service of theology.

“An adequate understanding of Aquinas’ philosophical theology requires that we first consider the twofold manner whereby we come to know God:  reason and sacred teaching.  Our discussion of what reason reveals about God will naturally include an account of philosophy’s putative success in demonstrating both God’s existence and certain facts about God’s nature.  Yet because Aquinas also thinks that sacred teaching contains the most comprehensive account of God’s nature, we must also consider his account of faith—the virtue whereby we believe well with respect to what sacred teaching reveals about God.  Finally, we will consider how Aquinas employs philosophical reasoning when explaining and defending two central Christian doctrines:  the Incarnation and the Trinity.” (continue article)

— Shawn Floyd at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Logos

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“A Greek word, of great breadth of meaning, primarily signifying in the context of philosophical discussion the rational, intelligible principle, structure, or order which pervades something, or the source of that order, or giving an account of that order.  The cognate verb legein means ‘say,’ ‘tell,’ ‘count.’  Hence the ‘word’ which was ‘in the beginning’ as recounted at the start of St. John’s Gospel is also logos.

The root occurs in many English compounds such as biology, epistemology, and so on.  Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, makes use of a distinction between the part of the soul which originates a logos (our reason) and the part which obeys or is guided by a logos (our emotions).  The idea of a generative intelligence (logos spermatikos) is a profound metaphysical notion in Neoplatonic and Christian discussion.”

— Nicholas Dent, “Logos,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 511-512.

On John’s use of logos in the prologue to his gospel, William Temple writes that the Logos “alike for Jew and Gentile represents the ruling fact of the universe, and represents that fact as the self-expression of God.  The Jew will remember that ‘by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made’; the Greek will think of the rational principle of which all natural laws are particular expressions.  Both will agree that this Logos is the starting point of all things.”

— William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1939) 4, quoted by Millard J. Erickson in The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Baker, 1991), 26.

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March 1 Debate Between W. L. Craig and Victor Stenger

The Oregon Faith Report relates the details:

The OSU [Oregon State University] Socratic Club will sponsor a public dialogue entitled, “Two Philosophers Debate the Existence of God,” on Monday, March 1, at 7 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus.  William Lane Craig will argue for the Christian view that a personal God exists and Victor J. Stenger the atheist position that there is no God.

Is God the greatest fact or the greatest illusion?  Of all the questions posed by philosophy this is surely the most important.  Has scientific knowledge made belief in God unnecessary and outdated?  Is the universe all there is and God merely a human invention and a fantasy?  Or is there an uncreated being, who is absolute, perfect, eternal, and personal that we call God?  These issues will be addressed by two distinguished philosophers who will offer widely differing points of view.

[. . .]

The Socratic Club is in its eighth year as a student organization at OSU. The Club is modeled on the original Socratic Club, which was founded at Oxford University in 1941, with C. S. Lewis serving as President.  At OSU it offers a forum for opposing points of view on subjects of contemporary debate at the intersection of Christian belief and contemporary culture.  Each speaker is given 25 minutes to present one side of an issue, after which the two query each other regarding their differences before the floor is opened to questions from members of the audience.  Two events are planned for each quarter.  For more information visit the OSU Socratic Club online at http://oregonstate.edu/groups/socratic/

The mp3 of their previous 2003 debate is available here.

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Stanley Fish Reviews Reason, Faith, and Revolution

Stanley Fish gives a fine summary of Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution at his New York Times blog.  Fish notes that Eagleton doesn’t reveal his religious commitments, but Eagleton roundly critiques the New Atheists and what might be called a scientific humanist worldview.  The latter will likely remain long after the furor of the New Atheism dies down.  Thanks to my colleague Madison Trammel for passing this along.

The article begins:

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?” (continue reading)

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C. S. Lewis and the Redemptive Imagination

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Albert Einstein was on to something when he said:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Of course, facts and empirical reality are important, even indispensable, but imagination puts the fire in the equations.  Lewis wrote,

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up” (“On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” On Other Worlds [Harcourt, 1966], 34.)

Bruce Edwards (Professor of English, Bowling Green State University) explores the role of imagination in Lewis’s (and Tolkien’s) work in an insightful new post on the C. S. Lewis Blog.  He makes the perceptive point that

For both Lewis and Tolkien the imagination tapped by [visits to imaginary worlds] brings us back in touch with the primary means by which we come to make sense of what we euphemistically call the “real world” in the first place. Reason may give us the “facts,” but it is the imagination that allows to put such facts in meaningful order. As Lewis viewed it, the imagination provides humankind the rationale for trusting reason in the first place, uncovering the gestalt of life’s meaning—its enchanted core.

Further,

We all have our Neverlands. Literary spaces of reverie. Places of refuge. Places of recovery. For C. S. Lewis, that “Neverland” was to be found especially in the genre of the fairy tale, an affection and an admiration he shared as a guilty pleasure with his close friend and ally, J. R. R. Tolkien, architect of Middle-earth. As Lewis famously said to Tolkien at one point early in their friendship, “Tollers, people don’t write the books we want, so we have to do it for ourselves.”

No doubt the same could be said of blogs.

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