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Doubt

Doubt

Paul Tillich on Doubt as an Element of Faith

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The affirmation that Jesus is the Christ is an act of faith and consequently of daring courage. It is not an arbitrary leap into darkness but a decision in which elements of immediate participation and therefore certitude are mixed with elements of strangeness and therefore incertitude and doubt. But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Therefore, there is no faith without risk . The risk of faith is that it could affirm a wrong symbol of ultimate concern, a symbol which does not really express ultimacy (as, e.g., Dionysus or one’s nation). But this risk lies in quite a different dimension from the risk of accepting uncertain historical facts. It is wrong, therefore, to consider the risk concerning uncertain historical facts as part of the risk of faith. The risk of faith is existential; it concerns the totaliy of our being, while the risk of historical judgments is theoretical and open to permanent scientific correction. Here are two different dimensions which should never be confused. A wrong faith can destroy the meaning of one’s life; a wrong historical judgment cannot. It is misleading, therefore, to use the word “risk” for both dimensions in the same sense.

Letting Others Help You Find the Way

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Gregory Alan Thornbury relates the crucial role for his faith of a responsible Christian thinker: [Carl F. H.] Henry helped secure my faith because he was doing more than responding tit-for-tat to higher critics of the Bible’s historical reliability. Henry did that, but he went one step further: He brought philosophical gravitas … His focus was broad. He addressed epistemology — how we can know the truth, which was my primary concern as an undergraduate philosophy student. I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ Humanly speaking, had it not been for … the theologian with a titanic brain and a journalist’s pen, I could have gone the other way. Henry showed me how to be both a scholar and a follower of Jesus. From that moment in my undergraduate days, I covenanted with God to help people like the 18-year-old version of myself — people who are on the boundary of leaving the church, and are looking for just one good reason to stay.

Sincerity

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It is not easy to speak the truth; it is less easy still to speak the truth in love, that is, to be sincere. For, as I understand them, sincerity and the speaking of the truth in love are almost equivalents. Some men speak the truth and are rude. Others speak the truth and are blunt. Others speak the truth and are frank. The sincere speak the truth not with rudeness, not with bluntness, not in frankness, but in love. There is no sincerity except that which springs at once from a love of truth and from brotherly love. Sincerity does not exist apart from charity. Love of truth untempered by love for man is a harsh mistress, apt to scold and quarrel, effecting less for all her scolding than sincerity effects by a smile. ~ An Excerpt

The Boob Tube for Brooders

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Recently a number of philosophically arresting moments have managed to insert themselves into the television landscape. True to form, Ronald D. Moore and company continue to address contemporary political, philosophical, and religious questions in the alternate world of Caprica, territory he brilliantly charted in his groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica. If the pilot is any indication, Caprica promises to explore even more pointedly themes of religious and ethnic tolerance, terrorism, technology, and the nature of the soul. ABC’s FlashForward, clearly aimed at continuing the legacy of Lost and retaining its audience, has somewhat disappointed so far, but has nonetheless woven several provocative existential questions into its narrative, including one powerful Sartrean moment in particular. On the comedic front, NBC’s Community had the temerity to devote an episode to whether humanity is intrinsically good or evil, and did so superbly. I’ll admit to being prone to vegging in front of the tube even when the viewing is less cerebral, but a couple of these moments had me off the couch cheering for the writers.

Appeals to Motive

Go The fallacies in this section have in common the practise of appealing to emotions or other psychological factors. In this way, they do not provide reasons for belief.

Janelle Aijian on Christian Doubt

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For Pascal the first rule of human thought or behavior is that we are not what we were meant to be. God did not create us to live lives shrouded by doubt, but sin has distorted even the faculties that give us knowledge. That means that understanding who I am according to the Christian story means understanding that I am, fundamentally, fallible. I know that my desires can distort the way I see the world. I know that my reason can become prideful and dogmatic, and lead me into error. So for Pascal, and here he echoes Augustine, doubting myself is sometimes just good common sense. It’s thinking rightly about my own limitations in light of the distorting effects of sin.

Twofold Truth

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This is a long but exceptionally eloquent and learned dialogue between a group of thoughtful friends in the late 19th century. Dr. Trevor poses the question “whether what is demonstrably true in one subject or from one point of view can be false in another or from a different standpoint?” Their dialogue bookends Trevor’s formal paper, where he argues that whatever may be the case in reality, at least within our own deliberations, “we cannot without the most gratuitous mental suicide allow the subjective co-existence of antagonistic convictions both claiming to be true at the same time”. Trevor begins by noting the severe limits of our knowledge. “The thinker rightly regards himself and his knowledge as a small islet in the immeasurable ocean of the unknown.” He unsparingly traces a history of the ecclesiastic autocracy of theological dogma until reason got its foot in the door and began an insurrection, asserting itself against the “Roman” church as the singular arbiter of truth. Nonetheless, he argues, the phenomenon of competing considerations is not just a byproduct of religious authority, but rather an inescapable aspect of being human, coming at us from many angles: “the Known and the Unknown, individual man and collective humanity, Intellect and Emotion”. Trevor therefore commends the thinker who has “double vision”, the ability to see and integrate various sources of evidence, who is always reticent and reflective, even in conviction. Though it requires treading through some rather dense prose, the discussion of these “Christian skeptics” is a feast of language and thought. At times it captures the spirit of Afterall.net better than I ever could have in my own words. ~ Nate

Mark Galli on Faith as a Gift

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There hardly seems to be a correlation between intelligence and faith or intelligence and doubt. But, of course, intellectuals are tempted to justify their habits of mind and heart by making doubt into a virtue of sound intelligence. It nearly goes without saying, but those of us who live a life of doubtless faith also try to justify our existence. The Bible touts the centrality of faith. We read such passages and are tempted to pat ourselves on the back for our faith. We’re truly biblical Christians! We’re inclined to pity those who live with doubts, wondering if they are really as committed, as Christian, as we are. And our “pastoral” attitude is sometimes, “Why don’t they just snap out of it?” Such self-justification assumes that faith is a product of will power — that our doubtless faith is a virtue we’ve developed. An honest self-examination suggests otherwise. How is it that I can look at some of the most horrific things in history and current events and not question the goodness of God? All the evidence seems to point to a natural conclusion, to which I am clearly not led. This is either psychological denial or a gift. And if a gift, then it is hardly something I can take credit for, nor something I can expect others to adopt as if it were something completely under their control.

Authentic Communication

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Whether setting about to love our neighbor, to settle a dispute, to share in the suffering of others or to speak up on behalf of the marginalized, we inevitably must engage in communication. And what could be more natural, more human, than communication? But we all learn quickly enough that good communication is not always natural. There is much to learn from Scripture and from the academic study of human communication. Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis are able guides, aiding us in understanding the broad field of human communication in Christian perspective. Here they offer readers a vital assessment of the power of words, perspective-taking, persuasion and conflict management — all in an effort to improve our abilities to communicate forgiveness and shape the world we live in for the good. Special attention is focused on the place of Christians as counterpublics — those who offer alternative perspectives to the dominant voices in society. ~ Product Description

After You Believe

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How do you develop a character suited for God’s Kingdom? Practice, practice, practice. That, in a nutshell, is the message of this volume on building Christian character by Wright, a prodigiously prolific Bible scholar and Anglican bishop of Durham, England. In arguing for “this new vision of virtue, which is a vision of Jesus Christ himself,” Wright carefully explores such classical exponents of character as Aristotle. He also acknowledges the existence of other notions of encouraging behavior-based rules, duty, or being “true to oneself.” Drawing on scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, Wright asserts that true transformation comes through the work of the Holy Spirit and through worship, mission, and “following Jesus.” As the habits of virtue grow, the church community will become the royal priesthood it is meant to be, anticipating (one of the author’s favorite words) God’s coming new world. A follow-up to Wright’s Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, this solid volume will appeal to Christians who appreciate biblical interpretation that hews to tradition but incorporates an emphasis on contemporary social justice as an element of Christian virtue. ~ Publishers Weekly

Lewis’ Moral Argument for God

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In this oft discussed passage from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spurns the supposed implications of a century’s worth of cultural anthropology, arguing that, in spite of surface differences, virtually all people possess an innate moral compass that is at bottom similar or the same. He begins by noting that human quarreling presupposes such a shared set of moral norms, that without a common set of “Rules of Human Nature”, quarreling would be, in effect, impossible. Lewis goes on to argue that this set of moral obligations we find in ourselves suggests a moral lawgiver. En route, he comments on the proper limits of science, on what we can infer on the basis of our own self-knowledge, and on the hypocrisy of those who claim no such common moral knowledge exists. Lewis’ essay is hardly the most rigorous moral argument for theism on offer, but it does display his knack for drawing on the everyday to illustrate his premises and his argument for a common ethic is especially worth considering in view of the conventional wisdom about the radical diversity of moral norms. The moral differences between persons and cultures is profound. Can Lewis’ argument for universal “Rules of Human Nature” be sustained? I’m particularly keen to reflect on the extent to which apparent moral differences should actually be attributed to different beliefs about reality. On this, see his thought provoking comments on the old practice of burning witches at the stake. Also note his observation that the materialistic and religious views of reality are not a bifurcation emerging out of the Enlightenment, but rather a fundamental divergence that turns up “wherever there having been thinking men”.

Speaking the Truth in Love

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To speak the truth, or what seems to be truth to us, is not a very hard thing, provided we do not care what harm we do by it, or whom we hurt by it. This kind of “truth-telling” has been always common. Such truth-tellers call themselves plain, blunt men, who say what they think, and do not care who objects to it. A man who has a good deal of self-reliance and not much sympathy, can get a reputation for courage by this way of speaking the truth. But the difficulty about it is, that truth thus spoken does not convince or convert men; it only offends them. It is apt to seem unjust; and injustice is not truth. ¶ Some persons think that unless truth is thus hard and disagreeable it cannot be pure. Civility toward error seems to them treason to the truth. Truth to their mind is a whip with which to lash men, a club with which to knock them down. They regard it as an irritant adapted to arouse sluggish consciences.

Roger Ebert on Catholicism and Belief in God

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When I was in first or second grade and had just been introduced by the nuns to the concept of a limitless God, I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn’t there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don’t know the answer to the first one. … I no longer lost any sleep over the questions of God and infinity. I understood they could have no answers. At some point the reality of God was no longer present in my mind. I believed in the basic Church teachings because I thought they were correct, not because God wanted me to. In my mind, in the way I interpret them, I still live by them today. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but my personal choice would be to have nothing to do with an abortion, certainly not of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Popes come and go, and John XXIII has been the only one I felt affection for. Their dictums strike me as lacking in the ability to surprise. They have been leading a holding action for a millenium. ¶ Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word. When people rail against “secular humanism,” I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them. Over the high school years, my belief in the likelihood of a God continued to lessen. I kept this to myself. … ¶ Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don’t. I avoid that because I don’t want to provide a category for people to apply to me.

Logic and Theism

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This book includes arguments for and against belief in God. The arguments for the belief are analyzed in the first six chapters and include ontological arguments from Anselm through Gödel; the cosmological arguments of Aquinas and Leibniz; and arguments from evidence for design and miracles. The next two chapters consider arguments against belief. The last chapter examines Pascalian arguments for and against belief in God. This book is a valuable resource for philosophers of religion and theologians and interests logicians and mathematicians as well. ~ Publisher’s Description

A. N. Wilson on Doubting Atheism

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This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume’s masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together, rather as a Catholic having doubts might return to the shrine of a particular saint to sustain them while the springs of faith ran dry. ¶ But religion, once the glow of conversion had worn off, was not a matter of argument alone. It involves the whole person. Therefore I was drawn, over and over again, to the disconcerting recognition that so very many of the people I had most admired and loved, either in life or in books, had been believers. … Of course, there are arguments that might make you doubt the love of God. But a life like Gandhi’s, which was focused on God so deeply, reminded me of all the human qualities that have to be denied if you embrace the bleak, muddled creed of a materialist atheist. It is a bit like trying to assert that music is an aberration, and that although Bach and Beethoven are very impressive, one is better off without a musical sense. Attractive and amusing as David Hume was, did he confront the complexities of human existence as deeply as his contemporary Samuel Johnson, and did I really find him as interesting?

James F. Sennet on Doubtful Belief

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I have doubts. I think I know too much for it to be otherwise. And I think I’m far too honest with myself about the best that unbelief has to offer. I have not mastered the blissful ignorance or self-deception that so many conservative or evangelical Christians manage to shelter themselves with. I don’t mean that to sound perjorative, but the fact of the matter is that I find it very difficult to convince very many "Bible believing" Christians that the case for unbelief has a single shred of intellectual strength, and that really bothers me.

The Rediscovery of the Highest Good

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Stuart Hackett’s The Rediscovery of the Highest Good, originally handwritten in spiral notebooks, is a masterwork of philosophical ethics that guides readers through 2300 years of discourse on the issue of morality, from Plato through Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. "It is the destiny of every human person to decide," Hackett opens. "Whether our choices are genuinely free or inevitably determined, invariably trivial or occasionally momentous, carelessly settled or reflectively reasoned, at least in one sense all this makes no difference: for the one thing about which persons have no choice is that we unavoidably and necessarily must choose, and cannot therefore escape our responsibility to do so." ~ Product Description

Thomas Nagel on Explanations

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The reason we are led to the hypothesis of a designer by considering both the watch and the eye is that these are complex physical structures that carry out a complex function, and we cannot see how they could have come into existence out of unorganized matter purely on the basis of the purposeless laws of physics. For the elements of which they are composed to have come together in just this finely tuned way purely as a result of physical and chemical laws would have been such an improbable fluke that we can regard it in effect as impossible: The hypothesis of chance can be ruled out. But God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world. The explanation of his existence as a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility to which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God. If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: explanation by the purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental even than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.

The Reason for God

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In this apologia for Christian faith, Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author’s encounters as founding pastor of New York’s booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One of Keller’s most provocative arguments is that all doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. Drawing on sources as diverse as 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson and contemporary New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, Keller attempts to deconstruct everyone he finds in his way, from the evolutionary psychologist Richard Dawkins to popular author Dan Brown. The first, shorter part of the book looks at popular arguments against God’s existence, while the second builds on general arguments for God to culminate in a sharp focus on the redemptive work of God in Christ. Keller’s condensed summaries of arguments for and against theism make the scope of the book overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, it should serve both as testimony to the author’s encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to re-evaluate what they believe, and why. ~ Publishers Weekly

Tim Keller on Doubt and Doubting Doubts

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A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. ¶ Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.

god is not Great

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Hitchens, one of our great political pugilists, delivers the best of the recent rash of atheist manifestos. The same contrarian spirit that makes him delightful reading as a political commentator, even (or especially) when he’s completely wrong, makes him an entertaining huckster prosecutor once he has God placed in the dock. And can he turn a phrase!: "monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents." Hitchens’s one-liners
bear the marks of considerable sparring practice with believers. Yet few believers will recognize themselves as Hitchens associates all of them for all time with the worst of history’s theocratic and inquisitional moments. All the same, this is salutary reading as a means of culling believers’ weaker arguments: that faith offers comfort (false comfort is none at all), or has provided a historical hedge against fascism (it mostly hasn’t), or that "Eastern" religions are
better (nope). The book’s real strength is Hitchens’s on-the-ground glimpses of religion’s worst face in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes. But its weakness is its almost fanatical insistence that religion poisons "everything," which tips over into barely disguised misanthropy. ~ Publisher’s Weekly

Doubting

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We live in a culture that doubts everything as a matter of principle. In such an environment, how can even faith be immune to doubt? Can I really trust in the gospel? Does God really love me? Can I really be of any use to God? We are taught to doubt but commanded to believe. Somehow we think that admitting to doubt is tantamount to insulting God. But doubt is not a sign of spiritual weakness — rather it’s an indication of spiritual growing pains. Alister McGrath, no stranger to a faith born of doubt, here offers good news to doubters: your faith can grow, and strengthen as it grows. It needs to take root in your experience of God, it needs to take in the nourishment of instruction in the words and ways of God, it needs to be stretched into greater obedience to the commands and calling of God — but it can grow beyond doubt into a thriving relationship. ~ Product Description

On Truth

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Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect. Our culture’s devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. Some people (professional thinkers) won’t even acknowledge “true” and “false” as meaningful categories, and even those who claim to love truth cause the rest of us to wonder whether they, too, aren’t simply full of it. Practically speaking, many of us deploy the truth only when absolutely necessary, often finding alternatives to be more saleable, and yet somehow civilization seems to be muddling along. But where are we headed? Is our fast and easy way with the facts actually crippling us? Or is it “all good”? Really, what’s the use of truth, anyway? With the same leavening wit and commonsense wisdom that animates his pathbreaking work On Bullshit, Frankfurt encourages us to take another look at the truth: there may be something there that is perhaps too plain to notice but for which we have a mostly unacknowledged yet deep-seated passion. His book will have sentient beings across America asking, “The truth—why didn’t I think of that?” ~ Product Description

Nature as Reason

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This noteworthy book develops a new theory of the natural law that takes its orientation from the account of the natural law developed by Thomas Aquinas, as interpreted and supplemented in the context of scholastic theology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Though this history might seem irrelevant to twenty-first-century life, Jean Porter shows that the scholastic approach to the natural law still has much to contribute to the contemporary discussion of Christian ethics. Aquinas and his interlocutors provide a way of thinking about the natural law that is distinctively theological while at the same time remaining open to other intellectual perspectives, including those of science. In the course of her work, Porter examines the scholastics’ assumptions and beliefs about nature, Aquinas’s account of happiness, and the overarching claim that reason can generate moral norms. Ultimately, Porter argues that a Thomistic theory of the natural law is well suited to provide a starting point for developing a more nuanced account of the relationship between specific beliefs and practices. While Aquinas’s approach to the natural law may not provide a system of ethical norms that is both universally compelling and detailed enough to be practical, it does offer something that is arguably more valuable — namely, a way of reflecting theologically on the phenomenon of human morality. ~ Product Description