The phenomenology of faith

This week I ran across a curious post at the factorysense blog. The post claimed that prominent British intellectuals and atheists A.C. Grayling, Polly Toynbee and the better known Richard Dawkins were “chickening out” of a debate with intelligent design apologist William Lane Craig (who I don’t doubt is as well known to evangelicals but not very well known to the rest of us).

The blog was little more than a short frame for a very long video in which Craig (or his producer) cut and pasted brief snippets from the terrible three to make them look like uncivil bastards and Craig like the forgiving and understanding lamb of God. 1

Of course I had to switch to my Mac to watch the video because it wouldn’t play on my iPad, so maybe I was already slightly unreceptive to Lane’s message. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to set aside any plans to poke Rick Perry or rhapsodize on the anniversary of 911 as so many others will in order to ask why Christians would even care about a debate over whether or not God or intelligent design can be proved.

Christians accept the reality of a personal God experienced through an encounter with a resurrected Jesus. This has nothing to do with philosophy or reason. If we did feel compelled to talk philosophically, we might call this a phenomenological experience.

If our faith is real, it really doesn’t matter whether God’s existence can be proved, whether the Bible reflects the current thinking in science, or others find faith to be an irrational and even superstitious experience. If we have to prove God’s existence by appealing to objective, scientific and rational criteria, then we lack the faith we profess. We lie to no one but ourselves.

When Paul preached to the philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens, he didn’t construct a philosophical argument. He simply used the notion of “an unknown god” as a launching point for an exposition of his faith. When most of his audience mocked him or and the others dismissed his to “take it up later,” he didn’t get upset.

Unlike Dr. Craig in is response to Dawkins, Toynbee and Grayling, Paul didn’t call the philosophers cowards for not publicly debating him. He simply left.

Their unbelief did not affect his own faith and he saw no reason to drag the confrontation out.

I don’t understand why some Christians feel compelled to drag others into the light against their will. Nor do I understand why they feel they need to make society teach Christian beliefs to their children rather than accepting that they alone are responsible for their children.

Christianity, like science claims to be, is purely empirical. Only the standards of verification differ. Christians base their faith on a personal experience of God and the community of other saints. Scientists insist on rigid experiments.

The most important difference is this: If my experience of faith isn’t duplicated exactly by someone else’s, my own faith isn’t undermined. I understand that faith will manifest itself differently with circumstance, society and even maturity.

With science, the opposite is true. So scientists create testable conditions, which unfortunately involve trying to create artificial environments based on variables that may or may not reflect the real world. And since there is no way to guarantee that the results of any set of experiments will be duplicated exactly (that’s the problem with the inductive hypothesis), scientists fill in the gap with mathematics and logic—neither of which are empirical.

The conditions of their enterprise force scientists to test, retest, debate, hypothesize and argue. Christians simply argue because they mistakenly think they should to behave like scientists. That may be the scientists’ fault or the fault of their own insecurities.2

But it’s hardly an article of faith.

1So forgiving and understanding, of course, that he resorted to the same aspersions and out of context accusations as them. He hired a snide and sarcastic sounding narrator to read the snippets and highlighted them in bold yellows and reds, while videotaping himself looking compassionate and kindly as he extended his challenge, making sure to look perplexed as to why they would possibly refuse his kind offer. It was a bold and transparent piece of theatrics to just about anyone who had no vested interest in hearing what either side had to say.back

2And, perhaps, the fact that Christian officials ridiculed and harassed scientists for so many centuries that they made themselves look like ignorant morons. Kind of the way many Christians do today.back


2 responses to “The phenomenology of faith

  1. Why is it that you refer to those Paul spoke about as Philosophers, when you say that Christianity has no place in Philosophy? Does Greek Religion have a place in Philosophy?
    See, from these statements, I can see your main beef is with Christianity? Is that correct?


    • Sorry it took so long to answer. WordPress told me I didn’t have any comments until I noticed a couple of newer ones. I have no beef with Christianity. I’m a Christian. As to philosophy, philosophy isn’t comfortable with faith, and Christianity is fundamentally about faith, not reason. I say this a someone who studied philosophy. The core of Christianity is that we can have a personal encounter with God. We can try, but we can’t reason our way to a personal encounter. Yes, this falls in the tradition of writers studied in philosophy, but it isn’t an idea that can be proved or argued.


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