Wednesday, January 30, 2008
How Can You Know that God is Really There?
A more specific question is how can we know with certitude that the Christian God is there? To answer it simply and honestly, you can’t. This is a stark contrast to what Evangelicalism teaches.
Traditionally there have been three approaches to the solution of this question. I would call them the 1) Aristotlian, the 2) Kierkegaardian and the 3)point of despair.
In the Aristotlian view, you can reach certitude through logical deduction. But, the problem with this approach is that Aristotle himself considered reason has the highest (and infallible) of human senses. He advocated that pure truth could be reached through reason alone.
The Catholic Scholastics and a few other Christian movements adopted the Aristotlian view . . . but I don’t think it is the true Biblical view. The true Biblical view is that we are fallen and not one part of our being has been spared . . . including our logic.
Jeremiah 17:9 (New International Version) says; “ 9 The heart (center of the soul, mind) is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” So it is a vain hope that we can reach complete certitude through fallen reason. But this does not mean that reason is useless. Just like a fallen creature (who’s creativity is also fallen ) can still create beautiful art, a fallen person can come very close to truth through reason alone . . . but never certitude.
The unfortunate response to this inability to reach certitude through logic has lead some Christians to take the Kierkegaardian view , that the Christian concept of faith requires an illogical step. A more modern, American Evangelical interpretation of that would be expressed in the statement that I heard a Christian girl make in our philosophy class debate (on whether or not Christianity is true). She said that she knew for certain that God was there, and He was the Christian God, because she had a “God-shaped void in her life that he filled perfectly when he came into her life.”
I think that this gal, in 1976, almost quoted word for word the script that she had heard in a Billy Graham movie “Time to Run." This anti-rational approach is even far more unreliable than reason. Although Evangelicals will call it a “God thing” it is really (if we are honest) an emotional thing. The Christian, who “feels” that God is there is no different from Shirley MacLaine saying that she can “feel” the presence of some ancient Ican god channeling through her. They each speak with total confidence.
With the failure of these two approaches, some Christians end with the third path . . . despair.
In Tomlinson’s book, Post-Evangelical he points out that one major difference between the Evangelical and Post-Evangelical is that the later can accept the notion of uncertainty. I think, if we are truly honest, we must understand that in our fallen state, we can not know with certitude that God is indeed there. But we can know, of the options available, that assuming that He is there is the best alternative.
When I say assuming, I am not speaking of some type of existential leap into the dark (against all reason) nor am I speaking of Faith, as a the same type of leap. The Biblical concept of faith is not about believing against the face of no evidence. It is a moral choice to trust. I assume that the Christian God is there, because of the inferiority of alternatives and apart from that, I can CHOOSE to trust him with my life.
The way that I personally came to grip with this, after my personal disillusionment with Evangelicalism and my flirtation with my old agnosticism, was doubting completely. See my posting “Doubt Boldly.”
In the same way that Descartes did, I pursued my doubts all the way to the silence of my bed, in the middle of the night. I thought . . . therefore I knew, with much certainty, that I was there. Next, I knew with some certainty that I was personal (being a person and not just a carbon-based machine). I mean, I started pinching myself and as I felt the pain I considered that I was there and awake. Some in secular psychology would call this “self-awareness” and consider it as a phenomena of the neurons of the brain. But if we are rational, but respecting the limits of reason, we must know that we are more than a carbon-based machine. It is feasible that everyone around me is a carbon-based machine, but in my heart of hearts I had the (rational, not emotional) intuition that I was a person.
Francis Schaefer speaks of the fact that the impersonal (universe that came into existence spontaneously) can not give rise to the personal. I could go on, but I strongly suggest that you read his book The God Who is There.
So I had my faith deconstructed for me, when I discovered that much of Evangelicalism was a farce, and then I went to the next step of re-constructing my belief and my faith.
But as a Post-Evangelical, I can live comfortably with the notion that I can be somewhat confident, but without certitude. I can also act in the moral choice of faith without certitude. I don’t have to lie about it anymore (as most Evangelicals are taught to lie).
I want to explore this much more later.
I really do try to limit the size of my posts . . . but there is so much to say. Before I leave this subject for now, I did want to add a couple of thoughts.
While I realize that some other pilgrims may be tempted with systems such as Islam or Pantheism I have not. As much as I don’t care for American Evangelicalism it seems the be the lesser of farce (compared to other religions).
The real temptation for me has always been a materialist-atheistic position. I think this is true because I work in science. Most of the atheists that I’ve been around are in this intellectual purgatory, where they accurately observe some of the silliness of Evangelicals (TV Evangelists, Christians often lying about miracles) they too live in a farce. They live their daily lives as if a deity does exist. They can not live consistently with what they say they believe and that’s what I mean is that they don’t doubt enough. They don’t allow their doubts to take them to the edge of despair.
Atheists also long for personal significance. If they work in the scientific world, it is a more’ of that subculture to be a thinking atheists. There is a long, historical reason for that.
But if atheists would take their doubts all the way to the end, they would realize that they must live in a way to reflect the atheistic reality that they; 1) Are impersonal blobs of organic chemistry 2) can have no value, 3) can have no meaning, 4) can have no morals 5) can have no beauty, and 6) their person-ness is simply an illusion (of biochemical reactions).
But atheists can not live this way, even for a day.
Posted by MJ at 1:43 PM