_A Shot of Faith To The Head_: Bad Title, Great Book: Intermission—Argumentation and Defense
But wait. Aren’t we ultimately saying, if we follow the line of reasoning from our previous post, that the Christian definition of faith is belief without evidence? Recall that everyone operates on faith of some sort. Also recall that not in every field does absence of evidence prove evidence of absence.
Stokes uses the illustration of looking for life in your tent. If you are looking for a cow, absence of evidence would be evidence of absence. No see cow=no have cow. But if you are looking for microorganisms, it’s a different story. No see microbes=still might have microbes. It takes faith for me to know there are microbes in my tent. This faith is not blind, as if based on a random person telling me. It is taking for granted that microbes are virtually everywhere there is oxygen on earth, because experience and reliance on authorities in the field of microbiology has led me to take such a leap. There is nothing dogmatic or irrational about that.
The Art of Self-Defense
After demonstrating that belief in God is not naturally irrational, Stokes pauses to give us a primer in the art of answering attacks. I’m glad he did this, because too often do we “go on the defensive” and lose sight of our purpose, if not just lose sight of wisdom in our pursuit of our purpose.
For one thing, there is a difference between clues and proofs. In philosophy, “inference to the best explanation” is how we put clues together, clues that make conclusions plausible. That doesn’t mean “anything goes”, but that, even in the midst of rigid standards, we all reason subjectively, and must be aware of our subjectivity. Stokes uses the example of Copernicus. To one group of people, it “looks like” the sun is moving. To another group, it “looks like” the earth is moving. But as we learned new facts, and put them together, we decided to shift our perspective to the more plausible explanation. After all, we have never actually observed the earth moving around the sun. We have agreed this is the most plausible explanation for the movements we see occur, based on all the clues.
We must admit we all think this way. From there, we each reason based on what we believe to be granted, and compare our conclusions to see which is more plausible. And as a relief to Christians, Stokes reminds us, “you need not have all the answers, just the most strategic ones.”
This is very important to people with a journey like mine. In the past my philosophy was to accrue all the “ammunition” I could against unbelievers to show that I was right. I had not been transformed into understanding that I needed to have the faith to rely on the strongest reasonings that did not come from men, but from God himself, imparted into his creation. I actually remember once bragging to friends that I could prove God existed, as if I was some wunderkind the world needed to thank. I couldn’t just admit that it was as simple as God having revealed his existence in nature, and that he wanted his followers to play the role of discovering this and aiding others in rediscovering it, with the help of the Spirit to aid us. Coming to this understanding of God’s power changed how I shared the Gospel.
So to defend ourselves, Stokes tells us we are equipped with two natural, extra-scriptural witnesses that give testimony to the existence of God:
“The Starry Heaven’s Above
and the Moral Law Within”
aka “Creation and Conscience” (the outer world and inner world)
1. Outer—Romans 1 and Psalm 19 are not blueprints for arguments stemming from creation, but rather passages that use metaphors of how we use our senses to come to these discoveries naturally.
2. Inner—It is ironic that one of the chief arguments against theism (not to mention Christianity) is that suffering shows that God does not exist, because one must then explain why it is amoral for this god to let men suffer. To do that, one has to appeal to an inner sense of morality that humans seem to share, and account for its existence.
Both of these testimonies of the senses—one of the outer world, one of the inner world—involve our cognitive faculties, faculties that operate in a way that meditates not just on what is practical, but what is true. Stokes takes an intermission from his book to prime us in these fundamental facts, for without them we are likely to cling to bad arguments.
So as we move on in upcoming posts, let us keep things in perspective.