Monday, May 16, 2005

I Don't Have Enough Faith...Part III

When I wrote the first post in this thread, I had no intent of making the book by Geisler and Turek my focus. Rather, I wanted to concentrate on what I consider to be problematic with the saying whose popularity among Christians precedes its being used as the title of their book - "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist" (or its variant "It takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian"). In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have made any reference to the book. Nevertheless, comments from Michael and Tony piqued my curiosity about the book, leading me to do some research.

As I didn't have it in my possession, I checked online in hope of finding an excerpt that might address the distinction between biblical and unbiblical understandings of the nature of faith. Amazon's excerpt didn't contain anything relevant to my question but I did note the following sentence in the book description: "All worldviews, including atheism, require faith. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist argues that Christianity requires the least faith of all because it is the most reasonable." Faith, as presented here, is obviously unreasonable belief. Unsure of whether this was a description provided by the publisher, I then checked Crossway's site which confirmed this as their chosen promotion of the book. The following is the full text of the description:

I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist argues that Christianity requires the least faith of all worldviews because it is the most reasonable. The authors lay out the evidence for truth, God, and the Bible in logical order and in a readable, non-technical, engaging style. A valuable aid to those interested in examining the reasonableness of the Christian faith, Geisler and Turek provide a firm challenge to the prior beliefs of doubters and skeptics.
As Tony noted in his comment, in the interest of reducing an opponent's position to absurdity, one may, for the sake of argument, adopt his or her assumptions and show their logical consequences. While I don't share the atheist's definition of faith as irrational or unwarranted belief, for example, I may nevertheless say to my atheistic friend, "Even if I did define faith the way you do, it would take more faith to be an atheist and here's why." Wanting to see if this was the stance Geisler and Turek take, I headed off to the bookstore today and at last procured my own copy (thereby disproving any suspicions that I was subtly calling for a boycott). From my reading so far, it seems that the authors are not merely adopting a concept of faith foreign to that of the Bible for the sake of argument, but are stating their own position.


In the book's introduction, after making the claim that "the atheist has to muster a lot more faith than the Christian" (p. 26), the authors explain what they mean:

We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge. And it turns out that atheists have bigger gaps in knowledge because they have far less evidence for their beliefs than Christians have for theirs. In other words, the empirical, forensic, and philosophical evidence strongly supports conclusions consistent with Christianity and inconsistent with atheism (p. 26).
Earlier in the introduction, the authors describe the late Carl Sagan's well-known assertion that "the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be" as "the ultimate statement of faith in atheistic materialism" (emphasis in the original). They then write: "How did he know that for sure? He didn't. How could he? He was a limited human being with limited knowledge. Sagan was operating in the realm of probability just like Christians are when they say God exists."

My original question remains. Is the concept of faith presented above compatible with faith as described in Scripture? Does one get the impression from the Bible that the amount of faith required is inversely proportionate to the scarcity of evidence? If the answer to this question is "no," which I think it is, is it really helpful to speak in such terms in our apologetic and evangelistic conversations with non-Christians? Wouldn't it be better to explain to them what it is that the Bible is speaking of when it uses the term and how that differs from blind faith? While looking for the quotation from Schaeffer's The God Who is There that I included in a previous post, I came across the following passage in which Schaeffer was determined to make that distinction:

Of course, faith is needed to become a Christian, but there are two concepts concerning faith. The two ideas of faith run like this: One idea of faith would be a blind leap in the dark. A blind leap in which you believe something with no reason (or, no adequate reason), you just believe it. This is what I mean by a blind leap of faith. The other idea of faith, which has no relationship with this, none whatsoever, is that you are asked to believe something and bow before that something on the basis of good and adequate reasons. There is no relationship between those two concepts of faith.

The biblical concept of faith is very much the second and not the first. You are not asked to believe in a blind leap of faith. The Bible teaches that there are good and sufficient reasons to know that these things are true. - Volume I, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, pp. 181-182

None of this is designed to discredit either of the authors or the totality of the volume they authored. I only wish to think with other believers about how we may most faithfully and accurately present a biblical perspective to those to whom we commend and defend the gospel of Christ.

15 comments:

YnottonY said...

I am very suprised by the description here: "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist argues that Christianity requires the least faith of all because it is the most reasonable." What they are saying is clearly bad. It seems that they are not assuming the atheistic understanding of faith for the sake of argument, but they are actually believing the atheistic notion of faith as something antithetical to knowledge. Their view is that knowledge gained displaces the need for faith. I was mistaken. I was thinking they were just presupposing that view of faith to make a point. They are not working with a right understanding of faith in their own worldview as Christians. Your criticism is valid. They are not wise in their understanding of faith from a Christian perspective. Their books will outlive them and confuse others. How sad! A bad book cannot repent.

YnottonY said...

Just for the record, I was the one who called it a bad book, and not Keith. It sounds like the central and important theme of the book is what the title suggests. If that's the case, then it qualifies as a bad book in my view. However, I would also add that my comments are not meant "to discredit either of the authors or the totality of the volume they authored." I am only commenting on what seems to be the central point of the book. It's main point builds on a fundamental misunderstanding of faith from a Christian view, judging from the excerpts etc.

Mike said...
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Mike said...
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Mike said...

I think that the critisism of this book is mistaken. I am not doubting the points made about the use of "faith." However, the oft claim of the atheist is that Christianity requires blind faith. The book attempts to demonstrate that when it comes to blind faith an atheistic worldviews requires the devotee to swallow a bigger blind faith pill than Christianity. In this sence your critisism miss the whole point of the book. I find it hard to believe that you could so cavalierly criticize a Norm Geizler. Do you not think that he has thought about the issues you're concerned about? Additionally, if you had actually read the book then you'd understand why your critisism fall short. I think you should repent of your arrogance, ynottony.

Mark said...

I have to agree with gracesublime. Having read this book as well, I sense the critics here are not aware of the authors' intent. This is a critical error in reading any literature and seems to be more and more common in our information age.

Turek and Geisler are trying to engage the Atheist yes, but I sense that they are trying to equip the every-day Christian. Are they flawless in their approach? No, and Keith, you point out in your blog entry that they don't always properly define their approach in the best manner.

But again, this book does hit on some good entry-level fundamentals in thinking for Christians and Atheists alike. It challenges the postmodern relativism of our society, it quickly demonstrates the logical fallacies that are prevalent in everyday thought, and points the thinker toward learning more about these matters.

After reading it, I was well aware that this is a "101" book. Not advanced, not intended to be advanced. Rather, it is a "portal" if you will, a portal to the "thinking world" of apologetics.

Theologians and Philosophers will be dissapointed (as we have seen here). People that are just starting to think honestly about these matters, will undoubtedly seek out more details, more information, and hopefully their faith will grow. Mine did.

Ironically, reading that book several months ago only depened my desire to take a more in-depth look at matters such as this, and has further led me to sites like www.str.org, which eventually led me here.

BW Holly said...

To gracesublime and Mark:

It seems to me that you've not responded to the core point being made and I'd be interested in your addressing this:

"My original question remains. Is the concept of faith presented above compatible with faith as described in Scripture? Does one get the impression from the Bible that the amount of faith required is inversely proportionate to the scarcity of evidence? If the answer to this question is "no," which I think it is, is it really helpful to speak in such terms in our apologetic and evangelistic conversations with non-Christians?"

Thank you very much.

ynottony said...

If I understand the Geisler/Turek position on the idea of faith correctly (perhaps I am not), would this prayer be equivalent to a request for increased ignorance? NKJ Luke 17:5 And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." Perhaps they should have prayed for increased knowledge instead? If as that book says, "Faith covers a gap in knowledge," then would the disciples be praying for the gap to increase between what they believe and the evidence for those beliefs? It seems to me that if Geisler and Turek are right, then the disciples should have prayed for increased knowledge instead. That is either the case, or the bible is not working with their definition of faith.

I also look forward to a reply to the core point brought up in bw holly's post.

Mike said...

Every point you have made about faith is completely valid and true. However, all I am pointing out is the book's title (and the over arching point of the book) is play on word to demonstrate that the typical atheistic defenition of Christian's excersing a "blind faith" falls short when compared to the evidence. That is the point. Geisler is not promolgating a new or novel definition of faith.
In a very popular level - the book takes the basic arguments against Christianity and demonstrates that they are flawed and that indeed a Christian worldview makes sense. The book is a challenge to the atheist argument and not a theology book.
To challenge the validity or worthiness of this book (with out reading it) is akin to a witch hunt.

Mike said...
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Mike said...

Additionaly, contextually speaking - the quote from page 26 is out of context. In the broader context of the book we'd see that the book is again demonstrating that the atheistic argument that Christians believe in God blindly is indeed inconsistent. Which is the point of the book.

Mark said...

bw holly,

I think gracesublime has some great answers, once again. I would only add that the authors are more interested in debunking the attacks on Christianity, and training the "every-day" Christian on how to think about these matters.

As a result, I do think their use of the term faith is compatible with Biblical faith (I'm thinking here of Hebrews 11:1's simple definition: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (NIV)).

Certainly, a deeper reflection on the nature of faith, how it manifests itself, and how we as believers take hold and grow within it, is well beyond the scope of the book. As such, to throw out the book because it gives a weak definition of faith in the midst of a one-liner is a mistake.

The title is wacky, the content is basic, but the overall package is certainly compatible with Scripture. Further, it is Christ-Centered...so even if their written definition of faith doesn't muster up the proper theological underpinnings it should, the rest of the book does exhibit the right principles (each grounded in Scripture, and shown to be in concert with logic and reason) for the average Christian to grow.

I think the best thing for this crowd to do would be to read the thing. I think you would find that the authors' purpose is achieved—and Scriptural integrity is not really in question.

Douglas Beaumont said...

Geisler and Turek are not taking the "blind leap" definition of faith, nor are they equating faith with knowledge. The classical view of faith and knowledge is that knowledge requires no trust. For example, the fact that I am typing right now is knowledge, my belief that Africa exists is faith (because I have not been there).
Thus, faith is trust in some authority (books, people, etc.). To "increase one's faith" does not mean additional ignorance, nor does it mean 100% proof (which would be knowledge). It means increased trust in the object of faith. Thus, as Aquinas said, in Heaven faith will cease, for we will KNOW God. Like it or not the evidence for Christianity is probablistic and requires trust. Thus it requires faith. So does atheism, but it requires more trust because there is less evidence. That is the point of the title. BTW: This post is not "IMHO". I know both Turek and Geisler and this understanding is accurate regardless of what anyone thinks about the book or whether or not they agree with it.

KP said...

Contrary to what some may think, it was neither my intent to be iconoclastic nor to challenge the value of the book in question. And I certainly wasn't in search of witches (nor implying that any existed). I am sincerely appreciative of Dr. Geisler's labors in the field of apologetics, having benefited from them personally. I do hope that disagreement over ideas and/or questions about the biblical fidelity of those ideas can be expressed without it being interpreted as personal attack. The manner in which we disagree with each other before a watching world is every bit as important (actually, more) as the apologetic arguments we craft to persuade unbelievers of the truth.

Time doesn't permit me to respond to all that's been said but I'm grateful to those who have bothered to contribute to the discussion.

gracesublime, I remain unconvinced that I took the passage cited from p. 26 out of context and would appreciate specific references from elsewhere in the book to demonstrate that the understanding of faith offered there is not that held by the authors.

soul device, thank you for the clarification regarding the classical distinction between faith and knowledge. I read Geisler's article on faith and reason in his Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics last night in which he explains Aquinas's thought on the matter. This leads me to wonder about something else. If, as you said, knowledge is the product of 100% proof (which does not exist for God's existence), then how are we to understand the scriptural texts that refer to believers as knowing God? Do the Scriptures restrict knowledge of God to the eschaton as does Aquinas?

Douglas Beaumont said...

KP:

The term is used in different ways - to "know" someone can mean to know facts about them or to know them intimately, or to have sex with them. Context decides. I guess I would have to look at every Scripture that speaks of knowing God. Here are a few: 1 Jn. 5:20 says, "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true." I am not sure that this is present tense, but even if it is it seems that "know" here is equivalent to "understand" (i.e. have knowledge about). 1 Jn. 3:1 seems to indicate that believers "know" God in the same they do "NOT know" believers. This seems to have to do with reception of the truth (non-belivers obviously "know" believers in the usual sense). Jesus says eternal life is knowing God (Jn. 17:3) - so apparently we already know God in whatever way He meant it (Jn. 5:24). It is important to remember that common terms can take on specific philosophical and theological usage. For example, "church" and "baptize" were both common secular terms in biblical times, they became more spiritual in Scripture, and very specific in theological discussions today. So while some terms may be more synonymous in various usage (like Paul using "justification" for more than the first stage of salvation), Aquinas was speaking in philosophical (specifically epistemological) terms - viz. to "know" is to inform the mind, thus it is not "faith" which is to believe / trust in something unseen (Heb. 11:1). This also might explain how the demons can "know God" but are not saved. The term is used in different ways.