Friday, January 22, 2010

Faith & Doubt :: The Tension between Faith & Doubt :: week one

The Apostle Peter instructs us to,

…Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason
for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

As we launch into a new series, we do so with the prayer that God will help us to live our lives is such a way that we actually become compelling to the world around us. Not merely because of the clothes that we wear, the bumper-stickers we sport or the declarations we proclaim, rather by the expressions of "hope" and authentic love that simply permeate our very being.

It seems, that Peter assumed that there would be such compelling life expressions as hope and love were simply the natural byproduct of someone "sanctifying Christ" in their "hearts". As this community of followers of Christ withstood persecution and suffering with steadfast-consistency, others looking on would be stuck by the essence and quality of their "hope" and be moved to inquire the "reason" and source of such strength.

The word Peter used here for “reason” is the Greek word apologia. We get the English word “apologetics” from it. Not to be confused with giving an “apology” of “I’m sorry.” Apologetics is an intellectual response that gives reason or defense for what one believes.

In this series, Faith & Doubt, we are going to explore some of the questions that are being asked about Christianity and faith in God. In recent days, there has been a resurgence within academic settings, that has brought some of the age-old questions and challenges regarding God, faith and science to the forefront of the conversation. In this series, we’ll be exploring some of these questions.

To get started, there will be a lay-out of a few terms that are commonly used in such philosophical conversations. Secondly, before we begin to engage specific questions, it may be helpful to introduce several writers who have been instrumental in reframing specific questions in an attempt to discredit the claims of Christianity and such. There will be a few excerpts from their writings to help us get a sense of the types of things they are writing and the tone in which they are being written.

A Few Terms:

  • Apologetics: apologia (1 Peter 3:15) – to give a reason, answer, instruction or defense. Apologetics is an intellectual response that gives reason or defense for what one believes.

  • Theism: is the belief in the existence of a god (or gods); specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world.
  1. Deity created the universe and continues to actively participate in the world's activities and in human history.
  2. Polytheist (polytheism)poly – many + Theos – God.
  3. Monotheist (Monotheism) mono – one + Theos – God.
  • Agnostic: a (without) gnosis (knowledge) –is one who does not know whether or not there is a God.
  1. The “soft” agnostic does not know whether or not there is a God.
  2. The “hard” agnostic says one cannot know about the existence of God.

  • Atheist: a (not/negative) theos (god/deity) – Without God –an atheist is one who does not believe in God. Additionally, the atheist may or may not actually deny the existence of God.

"The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it," writes Dinesh D'Souza. "They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion - and especially the Christian religion - disappear from the face of the earth."[1]

In recent days, there’s been a resurgence, particularly in academic circles of what’s being called, as I mentioned earlier, “The New Atheism.” It’s more than a casual dismissal of the belief in God…

New Atheism: don’t simply – not believe in God, they are antitheist.

It’s more of an evangelistic crusade to remove the belief in God from the consciousness of humanity… Richad Dawkins calls it “militant atheism.”

As stated, New Atheist, don’t just not believe in God, they are opposed to God and the belief thereof. It’s not just a stance of, “I don’t believe God exists,” rather its one of “God does not exist and you’re ludicrous if you believe He does…”

They contend that since belief in God is so LUDICROUS, there must be some biological reason that causes them to do so. Especially, since no one in their right mind would do so.

As such, Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion supposes, “The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain.”[2]

Or, as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker suggests, there might be a “God module” in the brain that predisposes people to believe in the Almighty.[3]

The contend that such belief in God goes against all reason, not to mention, all the evidentiary facts of science.

Scholars like anthropologist Scott Atran presume that religious beliefs are nothing more than illusions.

Atran contends that religious belief requires taking:

“what is materially false to be true” and

“what is materially true to be false.”

Atran and others believe that religion requires a commitment to “factually impossible worlds.”[4]

The New Atheists refer to themselves as “brights.”

I am bright,” writes Richard Dawkins, which he defines a bright as one who espouses "a worldview that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."[5]

According to Daniel Dennett, "We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.”[6]

Christopher Hitchens, in his book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything says,

“All religions and all churches are equally demented in their belief in divine intervention, divine intercession, or even the existence of the divine in the first place.”[7]


  1. What are some of your initial reactions to some of these statements?
  1. How would you respond and answer such assertions?

[1] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, xv.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 168.

[3] Steven Pinker, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion," lecture at MIT conference, October 14, 1998.

[4] Dinesh D'Souza, 15, cited by Robin Henig, "Darwin's God," New York Times Magazine, March 4, 2007;
Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary landscape of Religion, 264.

[5] Richard Dawkins, "The Future Looks Bright," Guardian, June 21, 2003.

[6] Daniel Dennett, "The Bright Stuff," New York Times, July 12, 2003.

[7] Christopher Hitchens, "Bush's Secularist Triumph,", November 9, 2004.

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