Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Faith Hidden Within Reasoning?

May 1, 2011

“But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt belief A except from a position of faith in belief B.” — _The Reason for God_, Introduction

Maybe he’s right on this point, but let’s dig deeper; I’m not even sure what my conclusion will be here.

First we need to define faith. From, it seems to me that the best definition in this context is, “belief that is not based on proof.” The Bible seems to agree with this definition, e.g. Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29.

Let’s suppose Keller is right when he says that everyone has some set of core beliefs for which there is no proof. It does not necessarily follow that it is valid to believe the claims of the Bible without proof. I think it’s safe to say that none of us in this discussion are relativists, so none of us would argue that all faiths are equally valid. For example, most (if not all) of my readers would agree that Islam is an especially dangerous faith, because there’s no escaping the fact that it advocates violence. So even if we concede that everyone has faith in something, there’s no denying that some beliefs are better than others, and there must be some criteria for determining which beliefs are the best. What might these criteria be?

As I understand it, here is the main criterion used by rationalists: All of our beliefs must be compatible with observable reality. Observable reality includes the findings of scientists and historians, as well as any facts on the world that anyone can perceive. Keller might argue that this criterion comes down to faith in one’s own ability to observe reality and judge beliefs accordingly. To that I would respond that our minds are indeed limited, but that we obviously have some ability to observe reality, collect facts, judge new claims against those facts, and act accordingly; that ability has gotten us a long way, especially since scientific inquiry began in earnest a few centuries ago.

Scientists have rigorous standards for judging truth claims regarding the physical world. We should be no less rigorous in judging truth claims about the most important questions in life, such as origins, morality, purpose, and whether there is a God who expects anything in particular of us. If we all must have at least one belief that has no proof, maybe that belief should be this: that all other beliefs must be based on evidence. In everyday life, in science, and in modern legal systems, we expect truth claims to be backed by evidence. So again, why not apply the same standard to the most important questions?

I conclude that faith in the importance of evidence is probably better than faith in any specific set of historical and metaphysical claims. So if there is a type of faith hidden within reason, it’s certainly not the faith one normally talks about.