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TSE  November 2004

TSE November 2004

Subject:

Re: (OT) faith and empiricism

From:

William Gray <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 8 Nov 2004 14:26:28 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (39 lines)

Here goes:

Faith is choosing to believe that someone or something is trustworthy. In other words, faith is taking someone's word on things. For instance, if I have never been to the Venice and you tell me it stinks there, I have at least two options. I can believe you and agree with you, or reject what you tell me. My decision will be based on how trustworthy you are.
Faith in the Christian religion most often refers to taking God's word on things no matter what appearances may look like. In other words, Abraham may "exercise his faith" that he will indeed have a son, even though he and his wife are well past childbearing age and they have been unable to have children as of yet. In fact, Hebrews chapter 11 tells us that "exercising his faith" is exactly what Abraham was doing when he "believed God." Of course, they had a son, Isaac (whose son Jacob was later renamed Israel). And there are many other instances as well.
People today exercise faith when they take "God's word on things" because of His word the Bible. Of course, there are some prerequisites here. In order to exercise this kind of faith, you have to believe that God indeed exists. Romans 1 tells us that everyone ever born really knows this, but in a way I'm skipping ahead. You also have to believe that the Bible is the word of God.
I guess what I'm trying to point out here is a common misconception: faith is not believing something one has no evidence for. Faith is in fact choosing to believe the evidence one has been given despite the fact that there appears to be contrary evidence.
Here's an imperfect but interesting analogy: ever seen the film THE ABYSS? It's certainly not among the top tier of cinematic achievements, but there are some interesting ideas there. One scene in particular stands out, where the main character (played by Ed Harris) must wear a high-pressure suit and breath liquid oxygen in order to descend into the abyss. Despite scientific realities outside the film, the challenge facing him requires him to exercise his faith. Naturally, any human would think that attempting such a thing would cause him to drown. But he has been told that in fact, this is the only way he will survive the descent. He dons the mask and after nearly choking on the liquid, learns to breathe it. He descends into the abyss and ends up making a marvelous discovery there. Well, this is like faith. God says that people are sinful and in need of a Savior, and in fact He has provided this Savior. The average person will react by saying (at least), "I certainly don't think I'm sinful, and how can you prove to me that Christ even existed, much less was God and so on and so forth." The step (not leap) of faith is to accept God's word as the best account for things, despite the way things may appear. This faith is also why Christians are often (not always) joyful despite tragedy -- because they believe that God is working things together for good despite the way things might look on the surface.

So, Debra, faith is preparatory to understanding the evidence. One can put faith in God's account and use that account to interpret the data of reality (in an imperfect way, certainly -- no Christian is perfect). Or one can put faith in some other account -- for instance, another religious system, or themself, or whatever. But faith is a decision that something or someone is trustworthy enough that they get to trump any doubts you may have or any contrary opinions that may arise. Every person exercises faith -- the difference is the object of their faith.
In response to your "some people quotation," I would put it this way: if you were omniscient, there would be no need for faith. Every person who is not omniscient has a need for faith. For instance, if I tell you that the Loch Ness monster does not exist, I would really have to be able to be everywhere at once in order to know this for sure. But I can't be, which is why we refer to the problem of the universal negative. Christians believe in a God who is omniscient and omnipresent and so on (in fact, such a thing is one definition of God), so God's account of things can be trusted, no matter how things look like from where I'm standing (that might be the empirical evidence you're talking about). And there is a dance between faith and evidence to be sure. My faith in God, for instance, has been confirmed to me through empirical evidence -- answered prayers, situational miracles, and so on. But these are not reasons for having faith -- they are confirmations, icing on the cake. If I never had my faith confirmed, it would still be right if I had faith in the right object.
Protestants believe it is not the amount of your faith but rather the object of your faith that is vital. Faith as a grain of mustard seed, for instance, will suffice, if it is faith in Christ's substitution. Faith in yourself, faith in others, faith in some abstract idea like a higher being -- those are not sufficient objects. They are not trustworthy enough.
Hope this helps toward an answer.

Best wishes,
Will

>>> [log in to unmask] 11/06/04 10:47AM >>>
> it is a statement of faith expressed in absolute terms,
> not a matter of "empirical evidence."

I don't think I understand the relationship between religious faith
and empirical evidence.  On one hand, I've heard people say that if
empirical evidence were available, faith would not be necessary.
Faith arises when there's no evidence (or insufficient evidence) to
demonstrate or to prove what one believes.  On the other hand, I've
heard people explaining or justifying their faith on empirical
grounds, as when someone says: "The complexity of patterns found in
nature could not have come about by accident; they are proof of a
divine intelligence" or "The fact that my family survived the
hurricane shows that God was looking out for us and protecting us" or
"The miracles reported in the Bible are not fiction; they are
empirical evidence of God's powers."

Ought I conclude that when people of faith are arguing with
rationalists, they dismiss empirical evidence as irrelevant, but when
they are affirming their faith, they call empirical evidence into
service?

Debra

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