Faith vs. Apologetics


(Nathan Scherer) #1

I wasn’t sure how to title this topic and I’m not even really sure what point I’m trying to get to. I have been bouncing around this idea in my head but I wanted to kind of work it out in this forum to see if any of it makes sense and to better articulate it later.

Anyways…

I was talking to my atheist/former christian cousin the other day about how a lot of my old friends and family from certain churches or certain backgrounds have given up on the faith and have become basically atheists. A big portion of them were people I actually looked up to spiritually and would call on them to help me work out my ideas about faith and other important things like science and politics. These were people were always attracted to apologetics and trying to “prove” God by using “reason” and “logic.” I used to really believe that there were ways to make arguments about the existence of what I have my faith in and they were the people who I would go to to help bolster my ideas.

Well, as so often happens when you base your life around really complicated issues without concrete answers, my friends started, one by one, leaving the faith when they couldn’t justify their beliefs around their friends anymore. I often feel like a stranger when I get together with them because I am still there, believing with all my heart, while everyone else submitted to those nagging feelings.

So back to my cousin. We were talking about my friends and it just dawned on me that they had all tried so hard to prove something and when they failed, it left them cold. I mentioned to my cousin the common thread through all of their lives and I ended up saying that I felt there was really no way to “prove” God and that faith is really all that we have on our side.

I’m starting to feel that apologetics isn’t really doing any “good” for us and that it’s just a way to justify our faith in the face of intellectuals when the whole point of faith is that you can’t prove what we believe in. Right? Isn’t that what faith is?

So, maybe that’s my real question: What is faith? Is faith a belief in something after we have all the evidence? Or is faith just something you have despite all the evidence?

I am kind of getting the feeling that God actually rewards our faith because of the impossibility of proving his existence!

I haven’t really paid much attention to the apologetics scene ever since I started becoming more comfortable with the real science explaining God’s creation but I’m now starting to actually feel a little animosity towards it. It has all these promises of clearing up any doubts but as soon as you leave the cave and go out into the real world, armed with all your new arguments, you get smashed as soon as you see light.

Anyways… I posted this kind of as a public diary entry. I just wanted to get these thoughts down, but I often have unchecked thoughts that I end up regretting years down the road and I wanted to get some discussion going about them.

Thanks for listening! :slight_smile:

(BTW, I changed the topic of this post multiple times during my writing so it may or may not apply fully)


(Phil) #2

I’ve enjoyed reading some of Peter Enns on the subject. My daughter and I were discussing the thought that the opposite of faith is certainty rather than doubt, and had to chuckle as we voiced:
Believing what you cannot see is faith.
Not believing what you can see, must be young earth creationism.


#3

I have faith in my wife–but not without evidence.

We (as a society) have defaulted to an Enlightenment definition of “faith,” reducing it to “that which you believe without any evidence whatsoever.”

That definition is a far cry from the pistis (the Greek word we translate as “faith”) found in the Bible. You could almost substitute the word “faith” for “trust” rather than “belief” and it would be closer to the original definition, although pistis also connotes faithful-ness.


(Jon) #4

Faith is the gap between evidence and proof. Biblical faith is evidence based, it is not blind. But if you have proof you don’t need faith.


#5

I don’t think that can be done with apologetics as it certainly hasn’t been done with philosophy. Some arguments may be better than others but there don’t seem to be conclusive ones.


(Phil) #6

Apologetics has a role, in that we like to be assured that our faith is rational, yet for the most part if you are looking for apologetics to convince a non-believer, I think that is a fool’s folly. If you can argue someone to faith, then they can also be argued from faith, which is apparently what happened with the poster’s friends. Which goes to the “no true Scotsman argument” which is something I wonder about but do not claim to know the answer.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

I think the common thread “getting smashed” when it’s exposed to light is not Christian apologetics per se, but aggressive apologetics --whether it be of the pro-theist or anti-theist/atheist sort. What I mean by that is this: some more militant debaters are not satisfied to simply demonstrate the plausibility of their own views (a soft apologetic), but they feel impelled to smash any alleged plausibility that any opposing views have so that their own view must be the only plausible one left standing (an aggressive apologetic). Christians do this when they set out to try to beat non-Christians over the head with some alleged logical compulsion that “no rational thinker should be able to refuse.” Likewise, militant anti-theistic debaters try to promote their own view as the only rationally acceptable one. Both sides founder when exposed to any real challenge at all (but true to form) usually refuse to admit defeat.

On the other hand, the soft apologetic that merely defends my view (whether atheism or theism) as one of the possible or even plausible views consistent with reality as we see it, --that is actually a much more tenable and defensible stance (for both sides). This means faith is needed (on both sides) to bridge the gap toward conviction. And the whole game of rationality and proof and those who like to pretend they are restricting themselves to that particular playground; is heavily weighted against the offensive assault and in favor of the defenders.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #8

I find this distinction between aggressive apologetics (aiming at proof) and soft apologetics (aiming at plausibility) to be very helpful (similar to @Jonathan_Burke’s comments about the gap between evidence and proof). Thanks!


(Larry Bunce) #9

People with extremist views seem to be liable to toggling from one side to the other. I remember reading that a big percentage of campus radicals of the late 60s had been staunch Barry Goldwater supporters in the 64 election.
Many people have no tolerance for ambiguity, and see everything as black or white. That is one of the reasons that there is so much support for the AI G position. That position also gives rise to the atheistic evolutionist approach. Everything is assured, no nagging doubts, and an unshakable belief that anyone holding a different position is ignorant, stupid, or evil.
A moderate position always carries with it the possibility of attack from both sides, But history has shown that a moderate position carries the most truth. Theistic evolution is not a ’ compromise’ between YEC and evolutionism, but the result of a long history of Christians whose strong faith led them to adopt a moderate position from the beginning.


(Nathan Scherer) #10

Theistic evolution is not a ’ compromise’ between YEC and evolutionism, but the result of a long history of Christians whose strong faith led them to adopt a moderate position from the beginning.

That’s great


(Michael Peterson) #11

Well said!


(Jamie) #12

I think Faith is trusting in what you know to be true, even when it is hard. Without faith, you are vulnerable to being decieved by false appearances.
You shouldn’t be having faith that God exists. You should know that.

OP when you say God rewards faith because of the impossibility of proving his existance, you are on the wrong track. You arent even on the train. It isn’t impossible, or even hard. What is harder is releasing your western assumptions about the ultimate nature of reality. Research Berkeley’s Idealism. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_idealism

The bible is clear that the existance of God is easily apparent to those who seek him… The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”. The heavens declare the glory of God. Even the demons know God exists. Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

Your faith cannot be based on apologetics. It must be based on a personal relationship with Christ. I suspect that is something your friends were missing.

Many apogetics arguements are not good arguements. Many christians get demolished because they don’t understand the other side. And when they do, they loose their faith… because they did not build their faith on a solid foundation, but instead on flawed arguements.


#13

Concise and well stated.
Faith, Hope, and Love. The greatest is Love because only it will remain in the end. Hope will be realized by attainment of Glory and Faith will be replaced with knowing. Love remains always. (I Cor 13:13)

Thought I’d add some supporting scripture for your comment.


(Jon) #14

Thanks that was good.


(Nathan Scherer) #15

The bible is clear that the existance of God is easily apparent to those who seek him… The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”. The heavens declare the glory of God. Even the demons know God exists. Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

And I agree with that, but if you don’t believe the bible then it doesn’t apply in your mind. Which leads me to this:

Biblical faith is evidence based, it is not blind.

Again, I would agree with that, but if you don’t believe the bible then what evidence would you use?


#16

Nathan, I think this is where apologetics serves the faith. General revelation in nature screams for a first cause and no matter how detailed our scientific discovery gets, that hasn’t changed. This doesn’t require the bible but it also doesn’t explain what to do with the knowledge that God Is. The bible is where we find that special revelation which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“[…]because anyone who comes to him must (first) believe that he exists […]” Heb 11:6

The evidence that “God Is” should lead to the understanding that God doesn’t rely on us for His existence, it’s the other way around. Just as a child would wish to please a parent, so should we desire to please God. A child depends on the parent for all things, so do we depend on God for all things. Once you realize this, you understand that the onus is on us to seek God and understand what pleases Him, it’s not God’s responsibility to conform to our expectations and please us.

But that worldview has consequences in how we live our lives. The Christian worldview demands submission to God, to abstain from wickedness, to be “set apart” to God. Paul writes that if Christ hasn’t risen then we are to be pitied above all others. Why? because we spend our entire lives living for the hope that is only fully realized after this life.

The wisdom of God is foolishness to men.

So the special revelation is the only answer to the question raised by general revelation. We don’t need the bible to know that God Is, but we do need it (the Gospel of Christ) to act on that knowledge.

And of course, believing is a choice, even when it comes to believing what you actually know. Consider the rich young ruler (Mat 19), Jesus cut to the heart of the matter and identified his pride as his first love. The man knew Jesus was a prophet (called him good) and spoke the word of the Lord, yet when directly instructed to do something painful, he chose to believe something else. So it is with many Christians, once they realize what it means to be a Christian they choose to believe something else so to preserve whatever they hold dear.

Apologetics can serve your faith, but it can also serve your pride. If you think you’ve reasoned the answers apart from God then you’ve made yourself on par with God. God resists the proud. Even more so the proud Christian. (Heb 12:6)

Watch these cousins of yours. If they ever did give their lives to Christ then God will show His love through chastisement. Watch for their brokenness and then be there to remind them of their first love.


(Nathan Scherer) #17

Watch these cousins of yours. If they ever did give their lives to Christ then God will show His love through chastisement. Watch for their brokenness and then be there to remind them of their first love.

I believe that! :slight_smile:


(Eric Inclan) #18

I wanted to clarify something about your response. You wrote: “The bible is clear that the existance of God is easily apparent to those who seek him… The fool has said in his heart “there is no God”. The heavens declare the glory of God. Even the demons know God exists. Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”

I suspect you already know what I’m about to say, but for the sake of the general discussion:

When Proverbs uses the word “fool” is it simultaneously referring to someone “immoral” so as to make a connection between immorality and stupidity. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16, draws the same parallel between “wisdom” and “righteousness.” In fact, the entire Bible essentially does. I want to point out that no one seeks God (Romans 3:11), so I find it counterproductive to quote verses about seeking within this context because “seeking” God is not a matter of personal effort or personal intelligence. In fact, wisdom/righteousness has nothing to do with IQ. The reason the “fool” says in his heart “there is no God” is because of arrogance (which Solomon then equates with stupidity because immorality is the only genuinely stupid thing humans do - everything else is a simple mistake that results from our finite brains and the way we learn).

All that to say this: Romans 3:23 - No one is exempt. No one is special. We only “seek” God because has changed our lives so. Naturally, we are all arrogant, and even after our salvation, we remain sinners (arrogant). There is absolutely nothing intuitive, obvious, evident, etc., about the existence of God in the mind of an arrogant human being, and we all make this mistake throughout our lives.

So if your goal is to convince someone else that you are right and they are wrong (like the aggressive apologetic stated above) you run into the following problem: Suppose there are two people, one moral, and the other immoral (both have free will and are perfectly rational). How can the moral person possibly convince the immoral person that he is immoral? It’s like trying to convince a lunatic that he is crazy. Everything you tell the lunatic comes across as nonsense, and everything the lunatic tells you comes across as nonsense. Now extrapolate this to 7 billion people, and add God (the only moral being in the mix) and you see what the problem is. You can speak your peace, but at the end of the day, every individual must figure things out for themselves. People that learn do so because they want to. People that find the truth do so because they seek it. And those that ask, seek, and knock, only do so at the behest of God himself so that “no one can boast” (Eph 2:9).

Ultimately, this is also why a soft apologetic is better (intellectually, morally, etc) than an aggressive one: no one knows what they’re talking about (it is this reason that there is no substitute for a personal relationship with God, as you said - not church, not the Bible, not reason, etc.). Personally, I do not doubt the existence of God, but that’s my faith, not my knowledge… of course, this raises the question: How do I know that my “relationship” with God isn’t a one-sided product of my imagination? But that’s beside the point.


(Jamie) #19

I agree that in many situations especially in dealing with most atheists a soft apologetic as you call it is a much better way to go. I completely agree with that and it is what I do myself when talking to atheists. I would also generally agree with your point about arrogance. However you seem to assume that everyone is aware and conscious of their arrogance and has labeled it as such. That is of course not true and most people would deny being arrogant and even believe it strongly themselves all without seeing their actual situation. It is interesting that you bring up imagination. Because you don’t actually know that your entire life is not the product of your imagination or someone else’s. In fact I would argue strongly that is it is irrational assume that there is such a thing as an independent physical reality. A physical reality is something that does not require sustenance and as a result it is a easy but incomplete substitute for God. Many people’s confidence that God does not exist ultimately comes from their conviction that they understand the ultimate nature of reality to be a physical one. And that is arrogant even more so because it is irrational.


(Eric Inclan) #20

I agree with most of your points. I do not assume that people are aware of their own arrogance. That blindness to one’s own bias is the basis of my “convince a lunatic that he’s crazy” example.

The metaphor I use in my mind is that “independent physical reality” is the product of God’s imagination. In that sense we are “like God” with the fundamental difference being that His imagination forms the essence of our reality, whereas our imaginations need not correspond to anything even remotely real. Also consistent with this metaphor is that physical reality does “require sustenance” in that God is actively thinking of us (and everything else). Another metaphor I like is that time, for us, elapses the way time elapses in the books we write. I can author an entire epic in which millions live and die, in full detail, and then go forward and backward through the narrative without ever being bound by the time the characters in my book experience (there was a movie once called “Ink” - great line: God is the storyteller and we are the ink). Your thoughts?

Metaphors aside, I think your last line hits the nail on the head :slight_smile:

Before I forget: my main point was that people thinking about God draw their conclusions from a moral argument moreso than an intellectual one. I suspect more people take issue with the problem of evil than reconciling God with physical reality.