Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sunday Quote: Tim Keller on Doubting Your Doubts

"The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs – you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared."

- Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pg. xix

[HT: Fear and Trembling]

28 comments :

Nick said...

Good quote

Daniel said...

This is a really good quote. It resounded with me because I have noticed in reading and listening to the arguments of non-Christians, that it often seems as if they will first reject Christianity and then accept an absurd alternative explanation of the evidence, one that makes much less sense than the Christian answer. They frequently seem to "require more justification for Christian belief" than they do for their own.

Jason Engwer said...

There's a good passage in one of John Piper's books that conveys something similar:

"Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian's philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case. Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves....If the Christian must produce proof, so must others." (Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], pp. 273-274)

When addressing people's motives or potential motives for rejecting Christianity, things like sex and money are often mentioned. And those are relevant factors. But some other factors that are often underestimated are laziness and carelessness. If defending Christianity seems too difficult, some people will abandon the religion as a result, yet make little or no effort to think about the difficulty of defending the alternative. They point to lists of Biblical difficulties while ignoring lists of difficulties (weightier lists, I would argue) that could be produced by critics of their new belief system. They act as if abandoning Christianity somehow puts them in some sort of neutral or easy territory. But there is no such thing. There is no worldview that makes a person neutral, with nothing to defend, that has an easy answer for every question, or that can't have a long list of objections raised against it by critics.

Take an atheist who rejects claims of the paranormal, for example. He'll produce lists of alleged Biblical errors and criticize Christians for putting so much time and effort into defending Biblical inerrancy. Yet, we could similarly produce lists of paranormal phenomena documented by researchers like Stephen Braude and Michael Sudduth, which, if authentic, are inconsistent with the atheist's worldview. Just as he criticizes the Christian for putting so much time and effort into arguing against alleged Biblical errors, we could criticize the atheist for putting so much time and effort into arguing against alleged paranormal phenomena.

Or take the Jew or Muslim who raises alleged errors in the New Testament. Unless that Jew or Muslim is offering some way of distinguishing between alleged New Testament errors and the same sort of charges of error that could be raised against the Old Testament or Koran, then what's the significance of using that argument against the New Testament?

The way many critics of Christianity avoid such a comparison is by not doing much to defend their belief system. They don't make as much effort to interact with critics as Christians do, so they aren't defending their belief system as much as Christians are defending theirs. But that's not a credit to the non-Christian. It's a credit to the Christian and a discredit to his critic.

RkBall said...

The evangelist's job is to create faith. The apologist's job, or one of his jobs at least, is to create doubt -- doubt about present certainties and doubts.

paulcorrado said...

Jason, i am atheist (not a strong atheist but a person who has not found enough evidence to believe in a god) who rejects claims of the paranormal and i want to assure you that lots of people including nonbelievers spend time rejecting claims of the paranormal.

Replying to "If the Christian must produce proof, so must others".

I have been thinking a lot recently about what type of evidence it is correct to use in order to come to a correct (or more correct) belief. How reliable is testimonial evidence and when should it be used? Is the scientific method the best way to gain information that guides our beliefs? When we can not use the best methods what methods can we use? How do we compensate for our own biases and compensate for our brains many many limits of understanding? The more i learn about psychology the more I come to believe the brain is really flawed at perceiving the truth. so how do we overcome this in figuring out what to believe? (these are questions I ask myself and not questions i am asking anyone to answer here)

proof is such an odd thing. and how we interpret and decide what evidence is useful depends so much on our world view. What one person may use as proof may not be what someone else does. how we get to the conclusion of what we can use as good evidence to shape our belief is important. I can believe we do not have enough evidence god exists and someone else can see that we have plenty of evidence. To the believer (of so many different faiths) it may be extremely obvious that a god or many gods exists, to the non believer it may seem clear that we do not have enough proof to believe a god exists.

I do see indications that the God of the bible exists. Ideas such as: testimonials from believers, reports of miracles in the name of God, the sheer number of people that believe, my experiences with God growing up as a Christian, my sister who is one of the smartest people i know, many others i trust in other areas of life believe in god ... and so on. I also see indications that the God of the bible or any other gods do not exist or have not given us enough evidence that they exist. Ideas such as: so many different religions (claiming to be the one true religion) exist with strong believers, people believe all sorts of supernatural things we know are not true, cargo cults, that fact that people especially before the information age tended to be the religion of their parents, ... and so on.

All that said I personally see more evidence for the belief that we do not have enough evidence to believe in God or gods but i do understand that i may be wrong. i have been so many times in the past and my perception of what evidence to use is being interpreted by the tool i was given and as i mentioned i think the brain is an imperfect tool. But it is the tool i have.

I also understand that a Christians can have different experiences or evidence and come to a different conclusion even if they follow the same logic gathering methods i do.

Jason Engwer said...

paulcorrado,

I don't deny that atheists and other critics of Christianity sometimes study the paranormal and other relevant evidence to some extent. That's why I used qualifiers like "many" in my earlier post. And the fact that somebody has studied something doesn't mean he's studied it well.

You go on to make comments about the brain and historical testimony. You're already accepting the working of your brain and the brains of other people, as well as their historical testimony, in reaching the conclusions you've described. I wouldn't make much of the fact that something is "flawed" or "imperfect". Probability is a good thing, even though it's less than certainty, and we frequently accept conclusions that are only probable. Being overly concerned with certainty is a common mistake.

paulcorrado said...

Jason, sorry, i went on and on a bit. :) I just want to make the point that many nonbelievers look at the evidence they have been presented and makes a choice they find rational. They may weigh the reliably of each individual bit of evidence in a different way than the Christian who also may be making a rational decision based on the evidence they have been given and their perception of the validity of the evidence.

I also want to point out that i disagree with the statement "secular worldviews are secure and sure". As a non believer (and many others I know) my world view is not secure and sure at all. It changes all the time as i learn new things and new evidence is put forth. My experience is with believers being much more sure. That said, he may not be referring to my brand of non belief but I am guessing more nonbelievers are like me (i could be wrong) have not found the evidence to believe but are not 100 percent positive in any one way.

Daniel said...

I love this quote! It's so very true, and yet most people don't even realize it.

Very good stuff. Thanks for everything you do here.

paulcorrado said...

I recognize the beliefs on which my doubts about Christianity are based, and seek as much proof for those beliefs as I seek from Christians for theirs and have not discovered that my doubts are not as solid as they first appeared. But i may may be missing something.

Nick said...

Paul. We all seek proof. What I'd really like to know is what would count for you as legitimate evidence for Christianity and then what would count as legitimate evidence for atheism.

paulcorrado said...

Nick, thanks for asking. to start I want to be clear what i am arguing for. I am arguing the current evidence that i see does not show me that a belief in God is rational.

I know this sounds odd (and i may not be using terminology correctly but i am trying) but I currently believe that it is rational for some people to believe in God and rational for others not to believe in god. I do think that God either exists or does not exist and we have each had different degrees of evidence for or against God and we use this evidence to make rational decisions even if the decisions are not always correct.

I believe it was rational for people at one time (say 5,000 years ago) to believe the earth is flat because you had no reason to believe otherwise and may not have had the time to learn the science necessary to understand that it is not. that does not mean you know the earth is flat but you may have had no reason not to think that. I would intuitively think the earth was flat if i did not have what i believe to be very reliable testimonial evidence (including photos, and an almost universal belief from all people i have ever talked to)that it is not. Even if it is not intuitive the earth is round i believe it is. I do not have a full understanding of science in a way that if someone said i had to prove it was round with out testimonial help I could. but i do not need that evidence as i trust my sources.

So when is it rational to believe in God or not ? I would say if you weigh the testimonial and experiential evidence you see that god exists with the evidence you see that god dose not exist you can come to a conclusion either way. (I listed a few of these in an earlier comment, number 5 on this post) In that post i also explained some of the reasons I at one time was a Christian. At that point i found the evidence for believing in God strong enough to believe. No one person has all of the evidence for and against God but we do weigh what we have been given and come to a conclusion.

I hope i was clear. I am still working out my ideas on this and I am well aware that I could be wrong. My ideas on the world change often as i learn new things.

Nick said...

Hi Paul.

Well, not really. You said it was rational at one time to believe and not rational at another time, though someone could be in their epistemic rights based on the knowledge that they have. I would like to clarify that more knowledge does not equal more rationality. It's about how one uses the knowledge. I would consider a mind like Aristotle more rational since he had little to go on and went far with it.

By the way, a little rejoinder. The thing about believing the Earth is flat? That was never widely believed. The Greeks knew it was a sphere. So did the medievals. Most could tell you its circumference.

My concern is with post 5. Look at the evidence for God you list.

Testimonials.
Reports of miracles.
Number of people who believe.
Some smart people believe.

Nowhere here do I see arguments from Augustine, Aquinas, Aristotle, Craig, Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, or others. Instead, most of this is just subjective experience and does not deal with any great argumentation.

What on the other side?

Different religions.
People with strong opinions disagree.
Cargo cults.
Believing what you believe based on where you were raised.

Nothing from a George Smith, Michale Martin, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, etc. (Although the last four I would hardly count as good sources really.)

These are again pretty much subjective. The odd thing is none of these really tell me anything about God. They don't explain the question of existence, the origin of the universe, the existence of morality, the question of Jesus and his claims to deity and resurrection, etc.

It looks to me like you just repeated what you said again really without telling me "How do you determine which evidence is valid and which isn't?" I want to know your reasoning process you use to approach the data.

paulcorrado said...

Nick, you are right. i did not state my reasoning. and it is fair that you do not except my reason even when i do. and i apologize if i am inconsistent. I admit the argument i am making (belief in god can be logical for some and not logical for others) has been one i have been working on in my head for a while but it has only been a few days that I have had a chance to put it down on paper and work it out ... and this is helping me. I have so much to learn as far as reasoning and logic and how knowledge is obtained and so forth.

quick note. as far as the earth is flat, i believe and i could be wrong, that it some point people believed the earth was flat. I do not know when people in general stopped but i think we can agree that we perceive it as flat and at some point in history the average person did too. I do not want to argue about when and specifically stated 5000 years ago as i did a few minute of research, determined it was about 2500 years ago and doubled it so no one would disagree with me. :) but i could be wrong as i did not do much research. this is not the main point but we could take the same approach to the earth being the center of the universe or the sun being the center of the universe and on and on.

I admit that i do not know all of the arguments of the people you have listed but have looked at a number of arguments and they all seemed flawed or did not match the way i see the world. I have spent a fair bit of time looking at arguments for Christianity and none of them convinced me. That does not mean that none of them ever will or that I am correct.

I did note some of the evidence that I find reliable (Testimonials. Reports of miracles. Number of people who believe. smart people believe) that makes me look at and study it and these are the reasons i look much closer at the Cristian God than any of the other 1000's of gods history has given us that i could also look into. Once i decide from the pro Christian God evidence that I see that it is really worth looking into I listened to lots of debates between believers and non believes, looked at arguments for both sides on the web, red some books and did a fair bit of research. I have to admit i do not have a full understanding of all of the arguments (as few if any people do) but I took what i do believe about the world and the mind (what we use to understand the world) and the evidences i see that Christianity does not exist and came to the belief that I do not have enough evidence to believe in Christianity or any other god or gods.

paulcorrado said...

part 2:
what would it take for me to believe? this is not specific but it would take me believing the evidence i see for Christianity was stronger than the evidence against it. I am really hesitant to say one specific items as if one specific item is how i make up my mind. And on a blog post it is difficult to say without sounding like i need some crazy amount of evidence such as god audibly talking to every person on a day to day basis so no one in the world could doubt it. (that would do it but it would take much less evidence than that for me to think belief was rational). A few ideas that could make me believe would be more reliable testable evidence that was not also explainable by other methods. testable reports of miracles that that i think are more rationally explained by a supernatural cause and directly attributed to Christianity. I guess i can go on and on about things that could make me find it more rational to believe in Christianity but you get the picture.

I admit that the evidence i need for Christianity is much stronger than evidence i need for other things because the claims of Christianity rather extraordinary. For example i would find a person needs to give me more evidence in order for me to believe them if they claimed they saw a UFO land in their back yard then I if they claimed the saw a spider in their back yard. Both could be true and both could be lies or mis-perceptions but one fits much more with my world view (spiders exist and are often seen and UFO,s may exist but are seldom if ever seen, and my guess is they have never been seen) Many of the claims in Christianity or the Christianity most people I know defend, include, resurrection, an all knowing being that not only created the world but cares about us as individuals and talks to us directly from time to time, a possible virgin birth, a book that is divinely inspired, and so on. The way i see the world this needs a lot of really strong evidence to make this a reliable belief but i do see some evidence (as stated above) so it is worth looking into.

paulcorrado said...

part 3

As far as the evidence from the people you listed, as stated, I do not know all of the arguments they give but none of the ones i have heard have convinced me. the Cosmological, Ontological, Moral, Pascal's wager and the other arguments i have heard do not hold ground for me to believe in a god and much less the Christian God. Can you tell me the one,two or three best bits of evidence from these people. It is possible that i have not heard them and one would change my mind.

How do I determine what evidence is valid and which isn't? I guess the more extraordinarily the claim the more evidence i need to believe it. I must try and weigh the strength and amount of the evidence, try and also take into account my bias and other flaws the brain has in determining what to believe.

I do not see why the fact that Christians can come up with answerer that explain the question of existence, the origin of the universe, the existence of morality and so on make it true. that does not work for me at all. That is like saying UFO's explain the existence of life, non belief in UFO's does not. UFO's exist because life exists and it is a better explanation than non belief. (i am not sure if you were making that argument so sorry if you were not, but if so i just wanted to point out how i see it)

I think i covered most of the topics. I may have missed some or not be clear on some an as always i may be really off on some areas. I am sure if having this same discussion in 3 months i would give a few different answers or explanations but this is the best i have right now.

So what would it take for you to not believe in the Christian God?

thanks for the great discussion Nick!

paulcorrado said...

part 3

As far as the evidence from the people you listed, as stated, I do not know all of the arguments they give but none of the ones i have heard have convinced me. the Cosmological, Ontological, Moral, Pascal's wager and the other arguments i have heard do not hold ground for me to believe in a god and much less the Christian God. Can you tell me the one,two or three best bits of evidence from these people. It is possible that i have not heard them and one would change my mind.

How do I determine what evidence is valid and which isn't? I guess the more extraordinarily the claim the more evidence i need to believe it. I must try and weigh the strength and amount of the evidence, try and also take into account my bias and other flaws the brain has in determining what to believe.

I do not see why the fact that Christians can come up with answerer that explain the question of existence, the origin of the universe, the existence of morality and so on make it true. that does not work for me at all. That is like saying UFO's explain the existence of life, non belief in UFO's does not. UFO's exist because life exists and it is a better explanation than non belief. (i am not sure if you were making that argument so sorry if you were not, but if so i just wanted to point out how i see it)

I think i covered most of the topics. I may have missed some or not be clear on some an as always i may be really off on some areas. I am sure if having this same discussion in 3 months i would give a few different answers or explanations but this is the best i have right now.

So what would it take for you to not believe in the Christian God?

thanks for the great discussion Nick!

paulcorrado said...

Nick, part 3 is not posting for some reason, not sure. I will try and post it in a bit

Nick said...

Paul. If you're interested, state it upfront. I am a member of TheologyWeb.com and I could create a thread for you in the Deeper Waters section, the one I'm in charge of named after my ministry. It might be a better format for extended discussion.

Let's look at Part 1 for now. I have all three parts in email by the way.

You have not in all that I've seen yet given me the method by which you evaluate evidence and determine if it's acceptable or not. Nevertheless, some points.

First off, if we go to TWeb, we can discuss the point of the Earth there and its sphericity. I am convinced I am right, but it is not the main point here. I will say I believe this is an atheist myth meant to cause a divide between faith and reason.

As for the arguments, I would recommend you also make sure you not confine yourself to simply modern times and the internet. There are hardly any new arguments for God and new arguments for atheism. They are just old arguments by new people. I prefer the argumentation of Aquinas and I would be glad to go into that.

Nick said...

Part 2 seems to focus on extraordinariness. First off, I am glad you differentiate between extraordinary evidence and extraordinary claims. However, my main focus is what you mentioned last about what Christians believe. You said it includes the following:

resurrection, an all knowing being that not only created the world but cares about us as individuals and talks to us directly from time to time, a possible virgin birth, a book that is divinely inspired, and so on.

Reply: First off, yes. Resurrection. You say this is outside of your experience, but it's also outside of mine. I've never seen a resurrection. Most Jews in the time of Christ hadn't. They were open to it, but they hadn't seen one. This also can't be a modern thing as if we can say "In our age, we know dead men don't come back to life naturally." The ancients knew that also. That's why they buried them.

For the idea of a God who loves us and talks to us from time to time, while I agree God loves us, that is not sentimentality. The two are often confused. Also, I am in ministry and I have never once heard God speak to me. That's a modern notion. I would recommend some articles at Tektonics.org on the client/patron system as well as DeSilva's book "Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity."

For a divine book, yes. That is the best way I believe for the message to be available at all times to all peoples. All of these other claims I believe focus on the prime one, does God exist.

And now we get to the odd part. For most people, the claim "God does not exist" would be the extraordinary claim. If you believe that extraordinary claims require more evidence, then most would say "What is your evidence for this claim?" Have you presented any for atheism?

Nick said...

Now on to part 3. Looking at the arguments, you say you find them wanting, but you do not list why. Keep in mind these arguments are not used to ipso facto prove Christian theism but theism in general. For instance, Dawkins in The God Delusion claims that Aquinas might have proven a god of some sort, but not the one of Christian theism. Aquinas would answer "That wasn't the point!" Aquinas spends the next part of the Summa explaining the God whose existence he has demonstrated.

I also do not believe UFOs could be a valid explanation as UFOs are dependent on matter and existence for their being. They're just as much a part of the system that they are meant to explain.

What would it take to convince me Christianity is false? You can either demonstrate that Christ did not rise or show a necessary contradiction in the doctrine of God.

paulcorrado said...

before i even read what you wrote i am going to try and post part 3 of what i wrote earlier.

part 3:
As far as the evidence from the people you listed, as stated, I do not know all of the arguments they give but none of the ones i have heard have convinced me. the Cosmological, Ontological, Moral, Pascal's wager and the other arguments i have heard do not hold ground for me to believe in a god and much less the Christian God. Can you tell me the one,two or three best bits of evidence from these people. It is possible that i have not heard them and one would change my mind.

How do I determine what evidence is valid and which isn't? I guess the more extraordinarily the claim the more evidence i need to believe it. I must try and weigh the strength and amount of the evidence, try and also take into account my bias and other flaws the brain has in determining what to believe.

I do not see why the fact that Christians can come up with answerer that explain the question of existence, the origin of the universe, the existence of morality and so on make it true. that does not work for me at all. That is like saying UFO's explain the existence of life, non belief in UFO's does not. UFO's exist because life exists and it is a better explanation than non belief. (i am not sure if you were making that argument so sorry if you were not, but if so i just wanted to point out how i see it)

I think i covered most of the topics. I may have missed some or not be clear on some an as always i may be really off on some areas. I am sure if having this same discussion in 3 months i would give a few different answers or explanations but this is the best i have right now.

So what would it take for you to not believe in the Christian God?

thanks for the great discussion Nick!

paulcorrado said...

Nick, lot to digest and I will look it over. thanks.

paulcorrado said...

Nick, I am not sure if my part 3 from my last post is visible to you, it is not to me, but i think your refereed to it in your answers so it may be?? let me know if you see it. thanks

It ends in:
"So what would it take for you to not believe in the Christian God?
thanks for the great discussion Nick!"

Nick said...

I saw it and see it listed here. Again, I'd be glad to take this over to TheologyWeb.com

paulcorrado said...

yes, lets move over to TheologyWeb.com. I do not know how long i will be able to keep up the discussion but yes, it may be easier. thanks. let me know what to do on TheologyWeb.com

Nick said...

I will start a thread in the Deeper Waters section called "Discussion with Paul" for you. I will include a link here so people can see the background to it.

paulcorrado said...

Nick, i have tried to register at TheologyWeb.com and kept having problems with it but will try some more. i literally spent 15-20 minutes filling out the form in both the Facebook and regular registration many times and could not get in.

Nick said...

Paul. Sometimes it happens. Try to email someone there and they can help you out.

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