My brother bought it for me as a Christmas gift, this book I had never heard of, A Shot of Faith to the Head, by Mitch Stokes. It was an accidental discovery, for him and for me. I didn’t know it would become a book that I would want to hold on to, one that surprisingly bolstered a faith in the very existence of God I already thought was solid enough.
Upon my graduation from a Christian university, I found my faith challenged by immersing myself for the first time in a higher education environment that was not incredibly dominated by conservative Christians, but instead by a myriad of intellectuals on a spectrum from liberal Christianity to militant atheism. The last time I had frequent encounters with atheists, I was a belligerent high school student with a “smarter than thou” attitude. I devoured endless arguments for what I believed without discretion, and used them as weapons with which to “convert” others. I was met with no success, and usually blamed it on their refusal to think logically. I gave no thought to the possibility that I was arguing the wrong way, or that maybe it was wrong that I was arguing at all about some of the things about which I was arguing. It was as if I was basing my belief in God on my own cleverness, or my image of my own cleverness. I was less concerned with bringing people to the Gospel and more concerned with proving how right I was. As a result, I was arguing more than reasoning with folks.
As a teenager I thought I had equipped myself with “the right tools”. I had a few more years to develop, not only the right attitude, but the right approach to the “arguments” for God. As I began to realize this, my attention turned from arguing against atheists to arguing against fellow Christians who were getting things wrong, partly as a way of atoning for my attitude, my ignorance, when I was younger. When I began to turn my attention back toward evangelistic apologetics, I became aware of what some call “New Atheism“, an atheism that not only mocks Christians as ignorant, but wishes to for us to be eliminated because we are so irrational we are abusive: People like Humphrey, Dawkins, and Hitchens.
When I came across this book, it was like hitting the “reset button” on my own rational foundation for my belief in God. I revisited old arguments, tossed out the bad ones, refined the good ones, and learned better ways to express to atheist and agnostic friends better reasons for belief in God. A Shot of Faith to the Head: Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, has somewhat of a crude title, but he approaches the topic with fairness to arguments from both sides.
Logical Positivism: Great Name, Bad Philosophy
From the start, Stokes opens up by demonstrating the failure of logical positivism to be rational. In a attempt to render religious thought and language of all kinds meaningless, logical positivists define a meaningful sentence as statements that 1) can be observed, and 2) are true. If so, then sentences about God would be meaningless. But not only that, but the sentence, “Only sentences about things that can be observed and are true are meaningful,” is itself meaningless. How can we observe that very sentence in a physical way, and how do we know that it’s true? The reasoning is circular and meaningless, defeating itself.
Making a bold, yet wise move, Stokes decides to identify common ground between theists and atheists who both feel “the evidence” “proves” what they believe. He lays down a hard fact that both sides have to swallow: What we call “arguments”, “evidence”, “proof”, and “logic” aren’t always what we think they are. And it’s not just a card he plays in order to bend the rules so that reasonable people can suspend their reason in order to just use faith to “fill in the gaps”. He establishes that it is a very real and accepted issue for all humans, this knowledge that knowledge itself is open to speculation. He asks both Theist and Atheists to suspend our understanding of epistemology, the science of how we learn what we know and how we know we know what we know. Both theists and atheists would be fools to think that reasoning our way to belief is as easy as saying, “well, hey, just add up all the evidence and see what it says.” We have to examine what we call evidence, how we put it together, and how we determine what it means. If we don’t do this, we’ll just be stuck calling each other stupid idiots.
Like people on the internet.
So as I retraces the steps of reasoning Mitch Stokes took me through, you can probably guess that I am going to ask you to come with me. Whatever your belief in God, I hope you can reexamine your own epistemology—that is, your own understanding of how you came to believe what you believe and what leaps you made to get yourself there. Yes, the author of the book, and the author of this blog, are theists who are inviting you to theism. So long as we all know where we stand before we begin. In our next post, we will begin Part 1 of the book (part 2 of the post).