Tag Archives: Blind Faith

Giving an Answer

The Apostle Paul Explains the Faith to King Agrippa, his Sister Berenice, & Proconsul Festus - by Vasily Surikov, 1875
The Apostle Paul Explains the Faith to King Agrippa, his Sister Berenice, & Proconsul Festus – by Vasily Surikov, 1875

Ever been on the hot seat, so to speak, having to try to answer questions under pressure? Some may thrive under pressure, but most of us would rather do without that. I had to deliver an engineering presentation to a room full of colleagues recently, and I was definitely more nervous about the potential questions that might be asked afterwards than about the presentation itself. You can rehearse a speech or slideshow until you have it memorized, but questions from others are unknowns that are hard to plan for, aren’t they?

I was talking with an atheist friend who mentioned that he didn’t like discussing religion with me because he could never come up with good responses to my questions or assertions. Not that I’m some expert in philosophy or science or debate – far from it! But there are some serious holes in the atheistic worldview that it doesn’t address, issues that it tends to gloss over in the rush to attack Christianity. I simply ask about those, or state how I think Christianity better explains some aspect of the world than atheism.

That aside, the main thing I want to look at today is this: is not being able to reply to objections to your worldview a good reason to avoid discussing it? Understand, this applies to anyone – atheist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, anyone. Atheists often like to accuse Christians of having a “blind faith” and defining faith as “belief in spite of the evidence”.  But what precisely is the atheist with no answer to objections to his view holding on to? Simply his faith, or trust, that his views are correct based on the understanding  he has. And there’s nothing wrong with that, to that extent. I generally trust my airline pilot without needing to check his logbook or follow him on his preflight inspection. But if a fellow passenger raised an objection that the pilot appeared drunk when he boarded, my trust in our pilot would become a blind (and possibly misplaced) trust if I chose not to investigate this new information. Likewise, if we choose not to investigate when we’re presented with objections, not to ask questions and seek answers, then that willful ignorance is the very blind faith the atheist decries in others. Objections should instead be motivation to dig into the issue, study it, and decide what is actually causing the lack of satisfying answers.  Is there good support for our view that we’re simply unaware of, or can’t remember under the pressure of the moment? Or can we not give a good answer because our worldview itself lacks a good answer? That’s an important distinction. We’ve all been stumped at times. While our inability to answer a question is always an indication of the limits of our own knowledge, sometimes it is also an indication of the limits of the worldview we’ve chosen. For instance, the Ptolemaic (geocentric) model of the universe was reaching the limits of objections it could answer when Copernicus came along. Its answers were becoming more and more ad hoc, with more fixed spheres, and epicycles, and eccentrics, and equants being added to make the model match observations. Copernicus’ geokinetic view put the earth in motion and explained (better) the non-uniform motion of the planets.

So I would ask my atheist friends: what better explains the fine-tuned universe, or the origin of life and it’s extreme complexity and apparent design, or the existence and transcendence of morality? Is it a worldview with a free agent (God) capable of design and moral prescriptions? Or one without? Which view is more ad hoc? Don’t feel obligated to respond under pressure, but do pursue those answers. Don’t dismiss the objections of Christians or ridicule them without actually looking for answers to those questions. To criticize without being able to offer a solution is the realm of armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers. Don’t be that person. Do seek to understand the objections to your view. For instance, can you state the opposing side’s objections in your own words such that they would agree that that is their objection?[1] If not, you may not really understand their objection in the first place. This is how people (on both sides) just end up talking past each other, never actually addressing the issues raised by their opponents. In closing, if you don’t like blind faith in Christians, then don’t put your own faith blindly in a worldview that doesn’t really answer – and can’t answer – many of the most important questions in life. Be as critical of atheism as you are of Christianity.

[1] Hat tip to Peter Kreeft for reminding me of that bit of wisdom through his books Summa Philosophica and Socratic Logic.

Called to Investigate

Sherlock HolmesSkeptics will often accuse Christians of “blind faith”, of believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary. If you think that’s the case, I invite you today to consider who is actually commended in the Bible. In Acts 17:11, Luke is recording the results of Paul’s missionary activities among the Bereans, and states,

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

These Jews were highlighted as role models not for blindly accepting this teaching from Paul, but rather for fact-checking him. He came proclaiming that the Jewish prophecies of a coming Messiah had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. What did they do? They went back to the original sources, the writings of Moses and the prophets, and verified for themselves each day whether what Paul had said matched up like he said it did. And this wasn’t just skimming Paul’s citations to spot-check him. The Greek word used for “examining” the Scriptures is ἀνακρίνοντες (anakrinontes), meaning to examine or investigate someone or something thoroughly (even by torture); to interrogate; or to subject something to careful study, evaluation and judgment. In fact, this word is used often in the New Testament (and secular Greek writings) to refer to the process of a judge interrogating a witness or defendant.[1] Luke also notes that they did this daily. This wasn’t just a thorough check the first time they heard Paul speak; they were verifying what he said each day that he was there. Why? Because this is important stuff. The world will try to say that religious belief is a back burner issue – something that can be a quaint little compartment in your life if you choose, or can have no part in your life if you choose that route, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Yet, your beliefs about the existence of God, His attributes, whether He is involved in His creation or not – these have major impacts in every area of our lives. These are “big-picture” questions that send ripples through every little detail of our lives. And while the world may encourage apathy toward spiritual questions, the stakes are higher than most people are comfortable admitting. So be like the Bereans, and  keep investigating to see if these things are so.

Now, was this just a fluke, or do we see this call to investigate elsewhere in the Bible? We do, actually. Paul wrote a letter to the new Christians in Thessalonica, that “less-noble” city he’d been run out of before going to Berea. In it, he encouraged them to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[2] Here, it’s the word δοκιμάζετε (dokimazete), meaning to test or try something to prove that something is good or genuine, as in the case with precious metals. Is anything exempt from this, like religious claims? No! John uses this same term when he wrote in his letter to the church to “test the spirits” to see whether they are from God, lest believers be led astray.[3]  Again, Paul uses this term when he admonishes the Corinthians,  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”[4] .

In each case, we have a call to investigate, to examine everything, even ourselves, according to God’s unchanging standard. Does that leave any room for believing something blindly, “in spite of the evidence”? No. On the contrary, Peter tells the Christian he must always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”.[5] We must know what we believe and why we believe it, both for our own sake (that we not be led off track by false teaching) and for the sake of others (that we may be able to explain to them why they, too, should believe what we do). So dig in to the Scriptures like a Berean, and discover that rich, reliable, and inexhaustible vein of gold that is God’s Word.

[1] Luke 23:14 – Pilate’s examination of Jesus; Acts 4:9 – Peter & John before the Sanhedrin; Acts 12:19 – Herod’s examination (and execution) of the guards tasked with keeping Peter imprisoned.
[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.
[3] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[4] 2 Corinthians 13:5, NASB.
[5] 1 Peter 3:15, NASB.


Black Diamond - for experts only...
Black Diamond – for experts only…

There is a trend I’ve noticed in debates (especially online) where it is put forth that who you are disqualifies you from making any statement on a controversial issue. Those familiar with logic will recognize this as the genetic fallacy, that a statement’s origin can determine whether it’s true or false. And yet it persists in the public square. Here are some examples, some of which I’ve been personally challenged with: you can’t speak about human behavior unless you’re a psychologist; you can’t speak about science without being a scientist; you can’t speak about abortion unless you’re a woman; you can’t speak about legal issues unless you’re a lawyer, and on and on. Since this is often brought up, let’s look at this in more detail.

First off, does someone trained in a particular discipline and working in that area have an advantage over the typical layman in discussing that topic? Certainly, but this doesn’t preclude other people from forming reasonably valid opinions on the same topic. For instance, if you want to know whether your office building can support a heavier rooftop air conditioning unit, by all means, call an engineer like myself to investigate that for you. We’ll apply our knowledge, experience, and specialized analysis software to your situation to work out the safest, best solution to the problem. But if you’re in your office, and the roof is starting to visibly sag, the sheetrock on the walls is starting to buckle inward, and you can hear loud noises as bolts suddenly snap, please, don’t think you need to wait on an “expert” to tell you that you need to get out! That situation doesn’t require an expert to say “Run!” There is a difference between needing the fine-tuned conclusion that a subject matter expert can bring to a topic and needing to establish the broad, basic solution that can be deduced by anyone applying valid reasoning to the evidence at hand. In the roof collapse example, it doesn’t really matter to the occupants whether the roof beams are failing due to lateral-torsional buckling or by block shear at the column connection. They can look at the ceiling getting closer to their heads, and listen to the building, and reasonably come to the same basic conclusion as the engineer: this building is collapsing and we need to evacuate. Likewise, you don’t need to be a psychologist to recognize the guy trying to run people off the road has some serious anger issues he needs to deal with. And lawyers, despite their expertise, actually don’t decide the guilt or innocence of a person charged with murder. They can only explain the case; average citizens on the jury make the decision.   This idea that only experts on a topic can speak on any level about that subject leads to blind faith in those experts, and is really a forfeiture of our responsibility to dig deep and understand the issues we face. Please understand, this is a standard I hold myself to as well. If you hire me as an engineer, and I make some crazy-sounding recommendation that I can’t explain any basis for, don’t blindly trust me either – by all means, call me out on it.

Something else to consider is that amateur enthusiasts often develop extensive knowledge in those areas that attract them. For example, I don’t often have to deal with liquefaction as a design consideration, but someone whose house collapsed in an earthquake because it was built on susceptible soil may devote their life to learning everything they can about liquefaction mitigation. Even though they may not have the engineering credentials that I do, I might still do well to heed what they say about that topic. I’d want to verify how they arrived at their conclusion, but we should never discount someone’s statements simply because of the person making the statements. You see, ultimately, the objective nature of truth determines the validity of the message, not the qualifications of the messenger.

Often, when I get this kind of pushback, the person I’m debating ironically also doesn’t meet the qualifications they demand of me before I can speak on the topic. By their own standard, they shouldn’t be voicing their opinion either. But typically, this is just a tactic for attempting to shut down the conversation. For example, one time, an abortion supporter told me I couldn’t comment on anything about abortion because I wasn’t a woman. And yet, the Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of abortion in 1973’s Roe v. Wade case were all men. The difference? Only that they were agreeing with her position.

Are we free from the duty of making informed decisions? Can we just “leave that to the experts?” Can we ignore the claims of those who aren’t experts? Not as Christians, we can’t. The Bible tells us to “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”[1] That may surprise some who assume the Bible demands a “blind faith” or a “leap in the dark”, but we actually aren’t allowed to check our minds at the door. We need to study the evidence, reason through the implications, and make the wisest, most discerning choices we can, in whatever the matter is at hand, even if we’re not experts.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB.

The Telescope of Faith

Messier 96 galaxy viewed by Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy Nasa.gov.
Messier 96 galaxy viewed by Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy Nasa.gov.

The last couple of weeks have been about the evidential nature of faith and how it is the result of “divine persuasion”[1], of seeing the evidence God has provided us, and recognizing that the source of that evidence can be trusted. When I first started rock climbing in college, I quickly learned that how far I got off the grounded depended on how much I trusted my climbing equipment. I had to put my faith in my climbing shoes, rope, harness, and anchors. But once I saw they were trustworthy, it was “game on!” But faith is applicable in far more of life than just rock climbing. And in the current book I’m reading, J.C. Ryle looks at the life of Moses as an example of faith lived out.

In his classic 19th century book “Holiness“, Ryle makes this brief but insightful point about Moses’s faith in God: “Faith was a telescope to Moses.” In the context, Ryle was referring to how Moses’s trust in God helped him to see past all of the trials and pain to the Promised Land of Israel. But I think this analogy goes so much farther. Hebrews 11:1 gives the most direct definition of faith in the Bible when it says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[2] Ryle develops the first part of that definition with his idea of a telescope in that Moses’s faith gave him assurance of the hoped for result, but today I just want to highlight how the telescope of faith applies to the second half of that definition as well.

Living in Nevada for 10 years in an area away from the lights of towns was a nightly reminder of Psalm 19 when it says that “the heavens declare the glory of God.”[3] The stars and the Milky Way were so much more visible there compared to where I live now. But as beautiful as those starry nights in Nevada were, I was seeing only a fraction of a fraction  of the majesty of the cosmos that we see now through our large optical telescopes, our simply gigantic radio telescopes, or our space-based telescopes like Hubble that are unhindered by the atmosphere. Groups of pinpoints of light have now been revealed to be these awe-inspiring systems of billions of stars of all different sizes surrounded by enormous, beautiful gas clouds. In some cases, we see more structure and beauty looking at these systems in the portion of the spectrum we can’t see than we do in the normal range of visible light. Mapping the universe in ultraviolet, infra-red, microwave, and X-ray radiation has revealed things we never would’ve been able to prove existed by our normal unaided sight alone.

Yet… it wasn’t any of these telescopes that made those things reality. The various telescopes simply showed us the reality we couldn’t see. Just as we see the stars above and dimly recognize the grandness of the universe, the evidence we see points us to God and we place our faith in Him. But then a strange thing happens. As we trust Him, He opens up the shutter on the faith telescope, and we begin to see the full spectrum of life, so to speak. We thought we were seeing all the evidence for God, and it was sufficient to answer His call to follow Him, and yet it was only His calling card! Now, we find His signature everywhere we look, written in the nanoprinting of every cell; written in hidden mosaics of life now suddenly obvious to our faith-trained eyes; written so large across the horizon of the universe in galaxy-wide letters that we laugh that we missed them before.

Maybe you’ve heard, or maybe you’ve said, that faith is “blind”, that it is belief in spite of the evidence. And yet all of us place our faith in different things each day, whether it’s rock climbing equipment, or the aircraft (and its pilot) taking us on our next business trip, or the brakes on our car. And all of these can be untrustworthy instances of misplaced faith. Let me encourage you, friend, to put your trust – your faith – in the only One who won’t let you down. Don’t live your life with blinders on, only seeing a narrow spectrum of reality, when the Author of reality has so much more to show you.

[1] “Faith” comes from the Greek word πίστις (“pistis”), derived from the root word πείθω (“peitho”) meaning to be persuaded.
[2] Hebrews 11:1, NASB.
[3] Psalm 19:1, NASB.

Making It Personal

engineering-plansThere was an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Civil Engineering magazine that got me thinking. Their ethics column dealt with the question of misuse of a professional engineer’s seal and made the following statement:

“Inherent in the message carried by a P.E. seal is the element of personal knowledge. With so much trust placed in an engineer’s assessment of professional documents, it is essential to know that the engineer is certifying the documents not on the basis of blind trust or an unsubstantiated belief in another’s work but because he or she has had sufficient personal involvement with the documents to know whether or not they meet the standards of the profession. Accordingly, the requirement of personal involvement looms large both in state licensing laws governing the use of an engineer’s seal and in the codes of conduct….”

Looking at this aspect of my life as a professional engineer and as a professing Christian, I see some parallels between the two.

  1. Personal knowledge is required in both cases. I shouldn’t stamp engineered designs that I didn’t personally design or thoroughly review. Likewise, I shouldn’t hold my Christian beliefs (or any, for that matter) just because they were my parents’ beliefs, or because they are generally socially acceptable where I live. I have to own them; I have to make them mine. But I don’t do that simply by accepting someone else’s beliefs unquestioned. They may be right, or they may be wrong; and ideas have consequences – some more serious than others. If I mistakenly trust a friend’s incorrect directions and take a wrong turn, the effects may be pretty minimal. But if the stakes are higher, like a life-or-death decision, it’s critical that I take full responsibility for that decision and choose wisely. If my eternal future is at stake, that’s not a decision I should (or even can) delegate to someone else. That’s on me, and “not to decide” is to decide.
  2. Blind trust or unsubstantiated belief may be accidentally correct, but that’s simply not sufficient for important decisions. A bad engineering design passed through supervisors and peer reviewers without adequate scrutiny can endanger thousands of people. A false belief, accepted blindly, can condemn countless people to an eternity apart from God. So it’s critical for each of us to examine ourselves, to understand both what we believe and why, and to verify that our beliefs are well-grounded, justified, coherent, and truthful. Our beliefs need to be warranted.
  3. Personal involvement – i.e. action – is required. If I’m stamping calculations or drawings done by someone else, it’s incumbent on me to personally act in a couple of ways. First, I need to take whatever action necessary to verify what I’ve received is correct before I stamp it. However, I also can’t fall victim to “paralysis by analysis”. I can either accept them as justified or reject them as insufficient, but I need to decide one way or the other. In examining my own beliefs, or prospective beliefs, I have to recognize that short of being omniscient, I won’t have every possible question answered to the nth degree when it comes to making a decision, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a reasonable, well-informed decision based on the evidence I do have. The absence of exhaustive data doesn’t mean I don’t have sufficient informative data to take action.

I want to avoid so-called “blind faith” in both my engineering and my Christian life. I want to “know whom I have believed” as the apostle Paul wrote[1]. In the words of Elton Trueblood, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Rather than being blind, only Christian faith is sufficiently well-founded to allow trust without reservations to be warranted. God doesn’t ask us to put our trust in just anything. In fact, He doesn’t want us trusting our eternal life to anyone other than Him. This is why the apostle John tells his readers to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”[2] This is why Jesus pointed people to evidence of His authenticity, attested to by the miracles He’d done in the sight of those questioning Him.[3] This is why God always reminded the Israelites that He was the God who had led them out of Egypt, who had miraculously fed them in the wilderness, who had driven their enemies before them when they were ridiculously outnumbered by vastly superior forces.  These reminders were a constant call to put their trust in His proven power and love and faithfulness, in His repeated demonstrations that He is the only one worthy to be worshiped and obeyed. It’s a call He still issues to us today, to “taste and see that the Lord is good”[4], to “come and see”[5] for ourselves that He is our only hope, and to make Him our personal Savior.

[1] 2 Timothy 1:12, NASB.
[2] 1 John 4:1, NASB.
[3] John 10:22-39, Luke 7:18-23, NASB.
[4] Psalm 34:8, NASB.
[5] John 1:46, NASB.