This is the third in a set of responses to Philosophy for Believers. Links to all responses can be found in the introductory post to the series, along with a schedule of future posts.
There are a number of crucial issues in this chapter, but I think the best place to respond is on the issue of “proof” and “belief,” question #19 in the book exercises. “Fred believes that he can prove the existence of God. He believes that to believe in God you have to be able to prove that God exists. Frederica believes neither of these. What is the issue between them?”
Having discussed what it means to believe, in chapter 3 of his book Philosophy for Believers Edward Vick turns to the more controversial question of why we believe. It is also where I have my first real disagreement with Vick. I had two main issues with Vick’s discussion, the way he described the three main approaches, and his understanding of faith.
Vick describes three main approaches to supporting religious beliefs, presuppositionalism, evidentialism, and fideism. Unfortunately from my perspective the first two get a somewhat distorted presentation. For example, I would not fall into the presuppositionalist camp, but I was still somewhat surprised that as an example of presuppositionalism Vick choses the presupposition that:
The Bible is to be taken as true and its world view is to be taken as the context and basis for all assertion we make. (p 58)
While I agree with Vick that this is “a gross oversimplification” I have no doubt that supporters of presuppositionalism would say the same thing and would then go on to explain that the statement itself is an oversimplification of their views.
Much the same can be said about Vick’s presentation evidentialism, though perhaps because it was closer to my beliefs, I found his presentation even more suspect. For example, Vick writes that “both alternative views agree in their belief that the Bible is true. There is no need for proof or discussion of that assumption” (p. 59). That is not even close to my view. If, as an evidentialist, I believed that “there is no need for proof or discussion” about the Bible, then why did I write a book called “Evidence for the Bible?”
Vick goes on to further claim that evidentialists make another presupposition that “the claims made in the very varied ‘books’ of the Bible can be shown to be true” (59). Vick is not very clear on this point. If he means that evidentialists view at least some of them as testable and open to examination, he is correct. But this is a “presupposition” that investigators of any proposition make, be it in the realm of religion, history, science or any other type of claim. As such it would be a valid point, but hardly an argument against evidentialism.
If on the other hand, he means that evidentialists assume propositions are true before they can go “in search of ‘evidence’” that is at best simply false. In addition, it would be a back handed way of claiming that evidentialists are biased and thus would be little more than a fallacious ad hominem attack.
Finally, Vick claims the “hidden Presupposition is that faith is in some way depended upon possessing and understanding evidence” (p 60). Again, this is simply false, but his error goes to the crux of the issue and is one of my major issue with Fideism, which Vick defines as, “We come to truth via faith, not reason.”
A big problem here is that Vick leaves faith undefined,except to quote August Sabatier, “Faith, which, in the Bible was an act of confidence and consecration to God.” While I basically agree with this view of faith, it does not explain how in faith we come to truth.
Faith is the confidence we have in a belief, more importantly it is the confidence we have that leads us to act. We can believe that a bridge will hold our weigh, but it is only when we act and cross the bridge that we can be said to have faith. We can believe in God, but if that belief does not affect how we live, then we do not have faith.
In addition, faith cannot stand alone. It requires an object, i.e., something in which to have faith. An important aspect of faith is that it is separate and distinct from evidence. While one’s faith may be supported by evidence, it can also be a blind faith that lacks evidence, or is even contrary to the evidence. Likewise faith is independent of truth. Different people can have a strong faith in differing and even contradictory beliefs. In short, faith is a statement of confidence in a belief, it tells you nothing about whether or not the belief is true.
As I pointed out last time, this is where evidence comes in. To be clear, evidence is not required. We are saved through faith, not through evidence and in fact, I believe many and probably most Christians came to a saving faith without any consideration of evidence.
But if the question is asked, what should I have faith in, faith will not answer this question. The Mormon in the example I wrote about last time, had faith in Mormonism. Atheists have faith in their beliefs. Everyone has faith in a great many things, and live their lives accordingly. Thus, with so many possible objects of faith how do we know what to have faith in? Why should we have faith in Jesus but not Allah, Vishnu, or Buddha?
This goes to the core of my problem with both presuppositionalism and fideism. Has God really left us to just randomly pick a presupposition or an object of faith? Is it really, ‘You pays your nickel and you takes your chances,’ and then only after you die will you find out if you pick correctly? The bottom line is that the only way one can objectively make a choice, or to know if your current faith is correct, is to look at the evidence.
Having said this, let me say that I do agree with Vick’s closing remarks, i.e., these are not rigid camps and that we must beware of oversimplification. In reality, probably no one is in a single camp. We all hold some beliefs because of a presupposition, others because of evidence and still others because the way we live our life gives us confidence in our belief.
But again, as Paul wrote in 1 Thess 5:21 “Instead, test everything. Hold on to what is good” (ISV).