I am reading some very useless books. The first is “A manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian. His claim to fame was being thrown out of a PhD program in philosophy at the University of New Mexico. So I guess he is proud of being a trouble
maker. I had hoped there would be some substance to his book but I have so far found nothing worthy of serious consideration. His interest is to teach others how to reason religious people into unbelief. For this purpose he defines faith, atheism and agnosticism to establish a baseline for his manual. His definition for faith is terribly wanting and extremely narrow though it probably defines faith for the vast majority of religious folk. Faith is belief in something you cannot prove. For many, if not for most people this is how they would define faith in God. They have faith in something they cannot prove. Why believe in a God for which there is no proof? Only your upbringing, your culture, your parents, your citizenship and religious influences can be blamed for your faith. Faith that is the result of your genealogy or culture, having no more support than being born at a particular time to a particular family is not the Bible’s revelation of faith.
Boghossian’s definition of faith is something I call blind faith. There is a difference between blind faith and faith that is based on evidences. In many of his examples he establishes faith to be a pretty useless and flimsy excuse for being religious. This is not the kind of faith that the Bible seeks to create in people. And this is where the book fails for me. He defines faith as belief based on nothing more than subjective influences. He quotes other philosophers, “Faith and reason are often-and justly-treated as irreconcilable opposites, despite Pope John Paul II’s famous argument … that the two are alternative ways of arriving at the same truths. After all, faith is by definition the belief in something regardless of
even in spite of evidence, while as David Hume famously put it: ‘A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.’” (page 45). This kind of faith is not biblical faith. It might be the type of faith that many religious people have, including Christians but it is not the kind of faith that God seeks or expects. He wants a faith that has reason to believe.
Boghossian premises, “…that people can be reasoned out of unreasonable beliefs.” Why this is such a revelation to this author is not astounding. If no one can give reason for their faith it should be pretty simple to reason them away from it or at least make them feel ridiculous or embarrassed. However, it has been my experience that most people cannot be reasoned out of unreasonable beliefs. People are not naturally honest. Children are honest but adults are inherently illogical and have been taught to be dependent on mysticism of one form or another. This does not only apply to religious folk but also the very well educated who have been indoctrinated into the belief that life is simply a freak accident having only the appearance of design. What!? Though there is not a shred of evidence for such a statement much of higher academia is atheistic or agnostic because they have been taught that Darwinian evolution is a fact. This “knowledge” is imbibed not because it has been examined but because it has been taught in public schools as science to the naïve and unsuspecting student. Yet, given all the proof in the world that neo-Darwinian evolution is a scientific fraud, most people having faith in evolution refuse to be reasoned out of it. Blind faith is easier to destroy but can be tougher than pulling nails with a rubber mallet.
Boghassian gives five reasons why people embrace the absurd. “1. They have a history of not formulating their beliefs on the basis of evidence; 2. They formulate their beliefs on what they thought was reliable evidence but wasn’t; 3. They have never been exposed to competing epistemologies and beliefs; 4.; they yield to social pressures; and 5. They devalue truth or are relativists. “ (page 48). I concur and I could add several more reasons like, 6. Fear of social rejection, which is akin to social pressures, 7. Loss of income, as many who fall from evolutionary grace are marked from academic development, 8. Fear of the unknown – imagine facing up to your creator when you have spent most of your life avoiding him?, 9. That the revelation of new truth will hold them accountable to moral, ethical and personal standards that they do not wish in their life. i.e., I must exert self-control because I will be held liable for what I do and think in this life. After Boghassin sets up his definition of the brainless from of faith, the rest of the book is a knock down of a straw man.
But then what is biblical faith? Why should anyone believe in God or his salvation or his promise of eternal life if faith is no more than belief in something that can’t be proven?
Webster defines faith in several different forms: strong belief or trust in someone or something, belief in the existence of God: strong religious feelings or beliefs belief in the existence of God.
- allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
- Belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion. firm belief in something for which there is no proof, complete trust
- something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
Of the many definitions of faith which Boghossian used to talk people out of their faith, his is not the definition used in biblical exegesis of the word. Eastmans’s Bible Dictionary says this of biblical faith:
Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true (Phil. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13). Its primary idea is trust. A
thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests. Faith is the result of teaching (Rom. 10:14-17). Knowledge is an essential element in all faith, and is sometimes spoken of as an equivalent to faith (John 10:38; 1 John 2:3). Yet the two are distinguished in this respect, that faith includes in it assent, which is an act of the will in addition to the act of the understanding. Assent to the truth is of the essence of faith, and the ultimate ground on which our assent to any revealed truth rests is the veracity of God.
Please notice that when the Bible uses the word faith it is in the context of a persuasion, trust, a truth, and is evidence based. Knowledge is almost synonymous with faith, though biblical faith includes the idea of the human will yielding to a certain understanding of what is and / or what isn’t true. While we might then argue that certain truths are geographical or cultural I would rather look at examples of how God revealed the veracity of faith so that even unbelievers shuddered at the reality of their experiences. Though some experienced such earth shattering events, their knowledge did not turn into faith; the mental assent to put trust in God, even through their own undeniable knowledge of what they had experienced
could have rationally persuaded them to do so. Others who experienced the same events or witness the same evidence came to faith (trust) in the unseen God. “Ahha!”, you say. ”I knew unseen or unknown would crop up in this discussion.” I never said that faith is not applied to those things we cannot prove. I have faith that when I sit down in my chair that it will hold me. This belief is based upon my experiences. I have good evidence for this belief and this trust in my chair. My argument is that faith is evidence based so that those things, some things, that are unseen do have proof for their existence. Biblical faith is a trust (an assent to believe something) due to a certain knowledge, facts, truths, evidences of sufficient magnitude so as to warrant that trust. And this is very different from the simple definition of atheists, “faith is belief in what cannot be known or proven.”
Consider the events recorded in Egypt under the guidance of Moses (Exodus); ten plagues, multiple miraculous signs and salvation through a path on dry land down the middle of the Red Sea. These were the means to rescue a nation from slavery. These “signs” were evidences that the unseen God had heard the moaning of the children of Abraham. Moses was given certain miraculous manifestations of the supernatural in order to convince the enslaved nation that their God was about to rescue them. While most of the people of that generation experienced the works of God, only two survived the wilderness over the 40 year wanderings to enter the land that God had promised to Abraham. Two had put their trust in the unseen God. Two believed that He was good and that He would protect them and keep his promise to Abraham through them. These two had faith in God base on the evidence they had witnessed.
Consider the Messiah; the one who was the ultimate promise of rescue to the Jewish nation. Why did anyone have faith in this man’s words? Jesus did miracles. They were not just nice things he did for unhappy people but they were signs that were so unusual they were evidence that God was with him and that what he was saying about the law, the kingdom and the eminent destruction of the Jewish nation was true. The miracles were proof that Jesus was the chosen one of Israel. Jesus said, “37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. John 10:37-39. And again, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” John 14:11.
The raising of the dead man Lazarus had several purposes. It was the beginning of the end for Jesus as this undeniable miracle would send the officials off to plan his execution once and for all. But it was also a work of sufficient magnitude that no one could deny Jesus was the Promised One, even his enemies.
42 “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. John 11:42-45
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
And the many other signs he did were meant to be seen so that people would believe in him (have faith that Jesus was Messiah). Consider these words:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. John 2:23
He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” John 3:2
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14
Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” John 7:31
Of course having countered the definition of faith as a mindless transaction using biblical faith the next question is why believe the Bible? Why trust the Bible? Why have faith in the Bible? This too is a fair question. Do people believe the Bible because their parent did or because they went to a nearby church that taught the Bible was true? Do people put their faith in the bible because the nation was founded on the principles of the Bible? Why does anyone believe the Bible is true?
Before touching on this question it is important or at least it has been important for me to determine what is true about the world. Having been raised in a Methodist church and then educated in the sciences, biology, microbiology and molecular and cellular biology, I found many disconnects in everything I was exposed to and wondered why. As a Methodist I found that the church has clergy not mentioned in their own Bible. The preachers wear robes that set them apart from the parishioners. The use of candles,
musical instruments, infant sprinkling and even the building itself were religious relics from Catholicism. Even Jesus despised outward displays of piety and ancient baptisms were by total immersion of adults into water after they confessed faith in Christ. This is the Bible revelation. When asked why the church had departed from the simplicity of Bible teachings I discovered the answers were extremely weak, required faith in unproven assumptions, departed from reason and held a prejudice that men could out think their creator.
As to biology the only major problem I had was that most biologists held the belief that evolution had explanatory power to solve the problem of life’s origin and existence. But in fact, all evidence used to support evolution was extremely weak, required faith in unproven assumptions, departed from reason and held a prejudice that men could out think their creator.
My conclusion was either that the world is mad and God had been discharged from his obligation or that there was no God and its ok to be mad. My solution was to accept the theory of evolution as a failed hypothesis, having no empirical evidence and based primarily on faith in the properties of matter that are not known to occur and cannot be proven to have occurred in the past and to research what is known through empirical science to see if it is in harmony or at least not antagonistic to the revelation of God in the Bible. I found that practical science reveals evidence that demands a designer. I found that the Bible is the only “religious document” supported by historical sciences like politics, geography, archeology, ancient civilizations and other religious persuasions. It is the only book that claims that an intelligent designer was responsible for life, the cosmos and that this intelligence has answers to human suffering and relationships. Furthermore, a proper understanding of the Bible establishes one with evidences of fulfilled prophecy that is rejected by 99% of modern Christianity and completely ignored by modern theologians. Of course none of these discoveries changes the fact that the world at large is still mad.
I said all this to say this, it is easy to talk someone out of faith who has not talked themselves into faith. Faith that is not based on evidence is blind. Faith based on false ideas is frightening. Faith held by prejudices is dangerous. But none of this makes faith bad of itself. Boghossian can slap himself on the back for writing a book on how to create atheists. It is effective but to what end? His methods take advantage of people’s feelings not their faith. He crushes their delusions and wishful thinking. He opens the eyes of the blind but leaves them in a dark place. He never successfully deals with anyone who has Biblical faith.