Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the tag “Proof”

Positive Positivism?

What is Positivism?

It’s not a way of life that insists you remain happy all the time. It’s got nothing to do with magnets and electricity. And it doesn’t have anything to do with chemistry or physics, per se.

Positivism is a philosophy that insists that the only true statement is a statement that can be proved through empirical evidence. You’re probably aware of this way of thinking, even if you didn’t know what it was called – or that it even had a name. The insistence upon measurable evidence based proof comes from a Positivistic methodology.

This way of thinking is extremely pervasive in the world today, even in an increasingly postmodern world…whatever that may mean.

There are many good things about this philosophy, things I think make an extremely large amount of rational sense. However, there are aspects of this philosophy that I think are irrational and perhaps harmful.

If the only things that can be considered true are those things that can be measured, our science is restricted. We are limited by what we already know, or are at least restricted to a short field of view. What I mean by this is that we are restricted by rules that we have constructed based on recurring patterns that we have observed in the observable, material universe.

However, I have two concerns with this:

  1. In the world we live in, occasionally things happen that defy these rules. Events occur that are un-explainable because they are outside the rules we have created.
  2. Science is continually updating with new evidence, and old rules become obsolete. If we restrict ourselves to the rules we have already created, we deny ourselves further scientific development. Any development is restricted to a very limited field of view before us, constrained by observable and measurable rules.

Let’s take Jesus’ resurrection for example. Our experience of this material universe tells us that dead people do not come back to life. The 19th century philosopher and theologian David Strauss argued that because we don’t experience resurrections today we cannot say there ever has been any. This is a very Positivistic way of thinking.

But just because resurrections don’t regularly occur doesn’t mean we should insist they don’t happen at all.

Just because something lies beyond the rules we have constructed doesn’t mean we should believe them to be false. If we were to insist on this, we would never make any scientific progress at all. There will always be things lying outside of our observable rules; we will always revise old rules and expand our present knowledge. But to do so requires that we do not immediately reject those things that defy our present rules.

Hence I believe we should construct a revised Positivism.

I do not wish to reject Positivism outright, for I believe there must be precedence given to recurring patterns. Earth gravity will always cause things to fall down, not up, and will always stop me from floating into space. One plus one will always equal two. Applying enough heat to plain water will always cause it to heat up enough to make my coffee. Drinking too much of my 15 year old Glenfiddich in one night is never a good idea.

There must always be space for measurable rules.

But there must always be space in our understanding for those things that defy our present understanding. We must always leave space for those things that are un-explainable, confusing, bewildering and surprising. We must always leave space for mystery.

Yes, apply a reasonable amount of critical skepticism to these things that lie beyond our rules, but do not immediately reject them.

A revised Positivism encourages measurable evidence without immediately rejecting the immeasurable. It encourages skepticism but leaves space for the mysterious.

A revised Positivism allows reason and faith in God to coexist in harmony. It allows a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, as well as our own future resurrection. It allows scientific progress to stand side by side with a belief in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deny what God has done, but let us not deny God all together.

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Lennox on Faith

Ephesians six tells us to put on the armour of God, to protect ourselves as Christians. One of the pieces of armour is the shield of faith. However, these days, ‘faith’ has come under attack. Often the word faith is used in conjunction with the adjective, ‘blind.’ The New Atheists attack the idea of faith, saying that children are brought up being brainwashed into believing. This faith requires no evidence or proof, and is, thus, ‘blind.’

I recently went to a conference in Sydney, where a man named John Lennox spoke. This man, a professor of mathematics at Oxford, a three-time PhD writer, and lecturer in Christian apologetics, has debated Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. One particular area he debates against is this idea of ‘blind faith.’ He says the only faith that is blind faith, is dangerous faith. True Christian faith is not blind, but is built on evidence.

Watch these two videos…

Some points I wanted to mention are that Lennox says that blind faith is condemned in the bible, there is only absolute proof in mathematics, there are only pointers toward facts elsewhere, religion actually encouraged science, and the early Christians were not stupid, but believed because of the evidence in front of them.

Lennox recently brought out a new book, in which he discusses this topic. The book is called “Gunning for God” and I recommend it! In it, he mentions a common dictionary definition of ‘faith’ which can include a belief in something for which there is no proof. He thoroughly disagreed with and spent a while on this very topic. His argument is that faith is built on evidence. So go get the book. And actually read it. Don’t be like so many people who get books…and don’t read them. Jesus calls us to love him with our minds – according to Jesus, thinking is vitally important. Thus, reading is important as a Christian. Either reading Christian books like Lennox’s or a C. S. Lewis, or read the bible, read! A Christian not reading is like a soldier going into battle without weapon.

Anywho…

A bit further, Lennox quotes a distinguished British literary critic – Terry Eagleton – who criticized Dawkins of saying that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe, unquestionably. Eagleton says, “Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that (referring to blind faith). For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.”

In the second video, Lennox talks about a bank manager. He also uses this analogy in his book. The bank manager will not lend you money unless he trusts (or has faith) that you will repay that money.  It is impossible for him to have absolute faith that you will repay the money, but there are pointers towards this faith. There is evidence towards this. What is your history of repaying money like? Have you payed it back in time? Or have you not? Do you have a job that will allow you to eventually pay back this money? Etc. etc.

In the first video, Lennox gives four categories of evidence that gives us reason to have faith in God. There is objective, science, history and subjective which can include experience. But he emphasizes the fact that these are only pointers towards faith, not absolute proof.

His big point, and the point I am trying to emphasize is that faith is not blind. Faith is not irrational or dumb, but is built on real evidence. When you look at a kayak, we can look at it from a scientific, objective perspective, that it is built in such a way that it can float, there are no holes in it, it can hold a person, and shield that person from water flooding in. We always know from experience and history that kayaks usually float and allow people to float down rivers.

When we turn to the bible, we don’t see people with blind faith. Look at Thomas, who demanded proof, and upon seeing the holes in Jesus’ hands, believed and declared him to be Lord. John, in his Gospel, says “these things are written that you might believe.” He wrote the Gospel to give you reason to believe, as Thomas did. Luke wrote at the very beginning of his Gospel that he investigated everything carefully, in order that he could write an orderly account so that you might believe. And, again, at the beginning of Acts, ch.1, v.3, Luke says, “After his (Jesus’) suffering he presented himself alive to them (the apostles) by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days.” Luke didn’t base his faith on nothing. He investigated and gave proofs, in order that we might believe.

A couple more points that Lennox makes:

  1. If God does not want us to reason (as the New Atheists suggest), why does he call us to love him with our minds?
  2. If, as the theory of evolution argues, our brains came about from an irrational, unguided process, how can we trust anything that our brains tell us? Can rationality come from irrationality?

In fact, one of the greatest proofs for God’s existence is not in the complexity of the universe, but in the fact that we can understand this complexity. Whereas evolution does not allow for rationality, theism does, because God gives us that ability to reason. This isn’t necessarily saying evolution isn’t true (many theists would profess to a progressive creationism, or similar). Perhaps God guides the process. But a non-theistic, or atheistic, approach to evolution, to me, doesn’t make sense.

And we reason in order that we may have faith. Faith comes from reason and rationality. Faith is built on evidence. Peter tells us to be able to give an answer for the faith that we have, which presupposes the fact that we can give a reason for our faith.

My intention for this blog is to encourage you. If you’re like me, at this time of year, you’re swamped with study, reading and either writing, or thinking about up-coming essays. You’re stressed and you’re burning the candle at both ends. But what I wanted to remind you of is that your faith is not stupid. You’re not going through all this for nothing. Also, in today’s world, the charge of hostile atheism keeps coming at you. But remember that your faith is not stupid, irrational and delusional. It is in fact, built on evidence, real evidence, that we are called to use as a shield in order to protect who we are, our relationship with Christ and our mission in this world.

And, lastly, remember what Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. He will be with you always. Even until the end of the ages.

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