Does Faith Make Sense In An Age of Science? (2009 Version)

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Does faith make sense in an age of science? Multiple myths surround the historical relationship between Christianity and science. This talk, given at Seaford Baptist Church on July 12, 2009, explores some of these misunderstandings. Documentation for the talk has already been posted, with an extended list of resources also available.

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70 Responses

  1. david ellis says:

    How are we defining faith? Its a notoriously slippery word used to mean quite different things by different believers—at least that’s been my experience in talking with them about why they have the convictions they hold.

  2. In one important sense with respect to a hostile secular audience, it does not matter because no explanation of what faith is will ever satisfy their a priori commitments and presuppositions. With respect to the object [used analogously] of faith–God, this too doesn’t matter to those who, through their own free will, do not want to believe (i.e., trust): no “signs” will matter, not even God himself standing in their midst will matter… as we’ve seen over and over and over throughout history. What matters to them is whether they can capture God on their own terms. God is not “captured” by the modern empirical sciences, but God and His revelation is reflected upon by means of prayer, a liturgical life, and the science [mediate intellectual knowledge obtained through reflection and demonstration] of theology. One is either open to the gift of faith, or one is hostile and opposed to it.

  3. david ellis says:

    A definition of the term is still going to be needed if we are to have a discussion about whether some person’s conception of faith makes sense in the age of science. Even a discussion among believers needs it since not all of them use the term in quite the same way and, therefore, misunderstandings and miscommunications will be all too possible without it.

  4. Longstreet says:

    How are we defining faith? Its a notoriously slippery word used to mean quite different things by different believers—at least that’s been my experience in talking with them about why they have the convictions they hold.

    I often have the same problem when asking for a definition of “science”.

    Just an observation.

  5. david ellis says:

    OK, definitions of both then.

  6. ordinary seeker says:

    I have faith in many things, and no aspect of my faith is incompatible with science. But I don’t think my faith is the kind of faith Tom and Holo are talking about here…

  7. Jacob says:

    I grind religion through the same filter of logic that I work everything else through. If I had excellent reasons for belief (for instance, I could see God clearly working in this world, the Bible is a timeless and special book, etc), then that’s something to place faith in, just as I’d place my faith in another human who I respect or love. Or perhaps it’s even like placing faith in the idea that gravity will work, and the apple will fall when I throw it. In other words, faith is a way of expressiong the belief of something coherent and real – the expectation of something that you suppose to be true.

    Now I hate calling religion “faith”, as if religion has an exclusive right to the word. Perhaps you can call faith as evidence of things unseen, but that can apply to literally anything (I don’t see whether machines are operating the matrix, but I do have faith that the world I’m living in is truly reality). Others define faith as the irrational, but that has a few problems. 1) Christian apologetics (which many people here are interested in) would fail. 2) Most religion presume logic, and most humans demand logic. 3) Faith as irrational belief doesn’t have a great track record – it’s basically a way of using emotions to guess. Of course, there is always faith as belief in the supernatural, and this makes sense, but most religions also say that the supernatural interacts with or begets the natural, so while it’s not testable and predictable, it is quite knowable to the open mind. It’s also subject to philosophical inquiries.

    Whatever the case, I don’t have a problem with placing faith in something that seems true and palpable. But many people, myself included, merely say that faith as religion purports doesn’t make sense in this kind of age because it’s unwarranted. If it was more warranted, and there were large things that the natural simply could not account for but a religious belief could, then I would be much more likely to accept it.

  8. OS:

    Of course we’re not talking about your faith: your personal opinions don’t affect the truth. Generally speaking, it amazes me–especially among atheists–how often they emphasize personal opinions over this or that, when this blog has little or nothing to do with personal opinions…

    Jacob:

    We already know your “filter” for determining what is true or false, rational or irrational, warranted or unwarranted is narrowly limited to a scientistic epistemology… and hence not applicable to most of reality. (The “Age of Science” is a deficient historicist label akin to earlier “ages”… like “empires,” “slavery,” etc.) Is there anything new you can add to the discussion? Again, the same thing applies as mentioned regarding OS: get beyond your personal filters, and please don’t try to convince us you’re employing logic rigorously beyond the epistemological confines of the modern empirical sciences.

  9. ordinary seeker says:

    Holo, what is your definition of faith?

  10. Jacob says:

    I don’t think it’s prudent to assume what my methodologies are, given that I was a Christian and immersed in that worldview for twenty years of my life. No, my methodology for discerning truth hasn’t changed (although my standard for proof and critical thinking skills have). If there was a great reason to think that God truly works in this world or that the Bible could not be a product of the strictly natural, then I would believe again. I’m simply saying that Christianity fails in explaining anything in extraordinary details. I’m not impressed with prophecy or the veracity of scripture. I don’t see religious knowledge and belief as a product of a supernatural God but instead the product of all too natural means. I’m not impressed by any supernatural claims. And the philosophical arguments aren’t compelling enough either. These are the things that would need to be worked out in my mind in order for Christianity to be warranted. These are not bold ideas. Many Christians try to use these same claims to prove their religion. How are these bound by scientisfic epistemologies? If anything, I merely have a certain expectation that’s demanding, but then again Christians claim that their religion is extraordinary and capable of holding up to rigorous discrimination.

  11. SteveK says:

    I’m simply saying that Christianity fails in explaining anything in extraordinary details.

    Does Christianity require, or even claim, to do this? Religion aside….as a matter of principle, are simple explanations not really explanations?

  12. OS:

    See http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/index/f.htm and http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05752c.htm. Definition: “The act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God.” You again incorrectly personalize (and hence subjectivize) these discussions by imposing the word “your.” It’s kind of like a small child repeatedly whining, “Says you!”

  13. ordinary seeker says:

    Holo, what you offer is only someone else’s definition of faith. There is no identified authority on the definition of faith. All I’m asking is, what definition are you using in this discussion? If this is the definition you’d like to use–“The act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God”–then am I correct in understanding that you believe faith is God-given? Because I agree that faith is God-given, but I don’t conceptualize God in the way that you do. Does that mean our faith is similar, or different?

  14. Nick Matzke says:

    Hi Tom — I listened to your podcast. Not bad stuff, a lot of it, e.g. the idea that (educated) Christians in the middle ages thought the Earth was flat really is a ridiculous myth that needs as much debunking as possible.

    Galileo…well, even the mildest myth-free interpretation of that episode still reflects pretty poorly on the church and on the general idea of using Biblical inerrancy to decide scientific questions. Even if Galileo ran afoul of broader political problems, even if he was was a poor politician (highly dubious as a general statement about Galileo, actually, if you think about it), even if some of his ideas (e.g. about tides) were incomplete/unconvincing, even if he was pugnacious in defense of his ideas, etc., none of this justified house arrest, banning of his books, forcing a recantation, etc. And even worse, the church kept his books on the Index until the 1800s, and to this day it has still not really completely dealt with the full issue, i.e. opened the relevant archives to general scholarly access and issued a completely honest and apologetic apology. And to this day, a few creationists are still going around defending geocentrism, and using the same inerrancy-based arguments that creationists make, and arguing that everything started to go wrong back when people denied the Bible by disbelieving geocentrism.

    So anyway, I think that particular episode will remain a pretty legit case for the “science & religion are in conflict” people, even shorn of any exagerations.

    Anyway, agreed that White’s “The Warfare of Science and Religion” book is not looked upon favorably by historians. I doubt he actively made anything up out of thin air, and I particularly doubt he did anything like that with the intent to deceive, which is what you came close to saying. In my recollection of criticisms of the book, White had sources for what he said, it’s just that sometimes they were quite poor sources.

    But the above is neither here nor there. I wanted to comment on your main argument about Christianity leading to science. Unfortunately for that, I recently learned that “Christianity was necessary for the development of science” is itself one of the science/religion myths that historians look down upon. They include it in the collection in this book: Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. The idea seems to have started with Whitehead & Jaki, and has become a major talking point amongst conservative evangelical apologists and ID fans. But the actual evidence is dubious at best. Source:

    Efron, N. J. (2009). “Myth 9: That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science.” Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Edited by R. L. Numbers. Cambridge & London, Harvard University Press: 79-89.

    Rodney Stark’s argument specifically is criticized.

    A key bit:

    pp. 85-88 of Efron (2009):

    Modern science rests (somewhat, anyway) on early-modern, Renaissance, and medieval philosophies of nature, and these rested (somewhat, anyway) on Arabic natural philosophy, which rested (somewhat, anyway) on Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese texts, and these rested, in turn, on the wisdom generated by other, still earlier cultures. One historian has called this twisting braid of lineage “the dialog of civilizations in the birth of modern science.” Recognizing that modern science grew out of the give-and-take among many cultures over centuries does not denigrate the crucial role of early-modern Protestants and Catholics in casting the models in which modern science grew. Ignoring this fact obscures something of fundamental importance about modern science, however: the rich diversity of cultural and intellectual soil deep into which its roots extend.

    Even if you look no farther than Europe during “the Scientific Revolution” for the origins of modern science, religion is only part of what you will find. One historian has recently argued, for instance, that commerce had as much to do with the rise of modern science as Christianity did… […] Further, the early-modern voyages of discovery and the rapid establishment of new maritime trade routs in short order flooded Europe with new information, new goods, and even new plants and animals, all of which sparked new lines of inquiry and new theories about nature and, in particular, natural history. […]

    Historians have also concluded that a great many other forces affected the growth of modern science in Europe. […]

    [I won’t type out the whole thing, but Efron includes: new technology, changes in political organization, inspiration from Europe’s legal systems, growth of other secular institutions, early scientific societies were made up of pious Christians of various denominations, but were explicitly aimed at transcending religious affiliation; and the increasing influence of skeptics of traditional theism in the 1700s and 1800s.]

    When booster insist that “Christianity is not only compatible with science, it created it,” they are saying something about science, they are saying something about Christians, and they are saying something about everyone else. About science, they are saying that it comes in only one variety, with a single history, and that centuries of inquiries into nature in China, India, Africa, the ancient Mediterranean, and so on have no part in that history. About Christians, they are saying that they alone had the intellectual resources — rationality, belief that nature is lawful, confidence in progress, and more — needed to make sense of nature in a systematic and productive way. Aobut everyone else, they are saying that, however admirable their achievements in other realms may be, they lacked these same intellectual resources.

    Often enough, what these boosters really mean to say, sometimes straight out and sometimes by implication, is that Christianity has given the world greater gifts than any other religion. Frequently, they mean to demonstrate simply that Christianity is a better religion.

    “Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy. Why? Again, the answer has to do with images of God.”

    [quoting Rodney Stark, “False Conflict,” The American Enterprise, October/November 2003: 14]

    […]

    This anything-your-religion-does-mine-can-do-better attitude jiggers one part condescension with two parts self-congradulation, and one wonders why some find it appealing. Yes, Christian belief, practice, and institutions left indelible marks on the history of modern science, but so too did many other factors, including other intellectual traditions and the magnificent wealth of natural knowledge they produced. Assigning credit for science need not be a zero-sum game. It does not diminish Christianity to recognize that non-Christians, too, have a proud place in the history of science.

    Finally: part of your argument was that Christianity was important for the rise of science because it provided the ideas of regularity and natural law. There is some support for this more moderate thesis here:

    On the Origins of Methodological Naturalism
    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/03/on-the-origins.html

    If true, I think it a problem for precisely the sorts of conservative evangelicals and ID fans who might otherwise like the idea. Their beef with modern science is precisely on the point that it relies on natural law too much — they would prefer that science included various miracles now and then, even to the point of keeping them in various places basically because the Bible says so, not because the real science has any unusually bad gaps.

    (Every field of science has things that are unknown or incompletely understood, of course, but evangelical apologists arbitrarily zoom in to conclude that in a few specific areas, like evolution, these gaps are where God performed miracles. Even more disturbing, the gaps quite often are in the knowledge of the apologists, and not in the actual scientific literature once you become acquainted with it.)

  15. Charlie says:

    Hi Nick,
    Is there supposed to be anything in that long comment that is a refutation of the Whitehead/Jaki hypothesis, that Tom would disagree with, or that doesn’t comport to what Stark writes in his books? Other than giving it your own negative spin and adding your own rhetoric, what facts have you added here that ought to change one’s opinion that science arose only once, in Christendom, and that, even though it had many an influence (which Stark highlights) it was dependent upon Christianity?
    Since freedom, the economy and the law of Europe at the time were also products of the faith they seem like weak counter-influences to claim.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks, Charlie, for that clarification.

    Thank you also, Nick, for your encouraging words about the podcast, in spite of some disagreements or warnings you want to raise.

    You seem to imply that I said Christianity was all it took for science to develop; or maybe your point is that some other Christian apologists somewhere make that claim. But I did say in the podcast that one should not conclude that Christianity was all it took for the creation of science. I distinguished between “necessary” and “sufficient.” Christian theology was necessary for the development of science, but by no means would I (or authors I’ve read) suggest it was sufficient. In the lecture I mentioned the development of mathematics, which owes a lot to the Arabian world, and logic, which owed a lot to the Greeks. Since I’m at it now we could also mention all the ancients who devoted so much to observation of the heavens, which provided much of the observational impetus for the birth of science.

    So if you’re objecting to the claim that Christianity was the sole force behind the birth of science, that’s fine, I don’t agree with it myself. But I continue to hold that it was a necessary contributor.

    As for people using this to buttress claims that Christianity is a superior religion, I think that with some considerable care taken to develop the argument properly, a claim like that could be supported. But that was not what I did, and I would not want anyone to think that was what I was attempting to do, because it is a very different kind of project than the one I took on, so I trust you wouldn’t be thinking of evaluating what I said on that basis. What I set out to do was to teach a certain group that there is no truth to the commonly held belief that Christianity and science have had some centuries-old relationship of conflict, and that quite the opposite is actually true.

  17. david ellis says:


    Definition: “The act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God.”

    By this definition a falsehood cannot be believed on faith.

    So you’re saying that people in other “faiths” don’t have faith? That people with faith are followers of the true religion and people who follow a false religion are just self-deluded?

    Of course, the problem then becomes the one I originally raised:

    how do we tell the two apart?

    Also, when a believer in the true religion believes a false doctrine about that religion what does this say of his faith? It would seem even most believers in the true religion (supposing there is one) are a blend of faith and delusion concerning their religion. Again, how are the two to be told apart?

    How does one tell the knowledge from the delusion?

  18. david ellis says:


    So if you’re objecting to the claim that Christianity was the sole force behind the birth of science, that’s fine, I don’t agree with it myself. But I continue to hold that it was a necessary contributor.

    Alchemy, one might argue, was a necessary contributor to the development of chemistry. But alchemy is, none the less, based on principles fundamentally at odds with science—employing methods of forming beliefs which fail to provide a sound means of distinguishing facts from falsehoods.

    Much like Christianity.

  19. Tom Gilson says:

    @david ellis:

    I’m still in too many meetings a day to keep up with the comments here, and I will be for a few more days at least, I think. But I saw this most recent one from you, David, and I just smiled. The analogy over-reaches, showing you don’t get the argument. I think you could get it if you wanted to, but you don’t want to.

  20. david ellis says:

    I get the argument. I just happen to disagree with it (in precisely the way I stated).

  21. Atheism is a grave sin against the First Commandment. As is the case with all sin, it quite literally degrades our human nature–in this case, severely clouding the ability of the mind to reason correctly. Since the human intellect presents to the human will what it deems true (hence providing the will an object upon which to act), a disordered intellect (i.e., one not ordered to the true, the good, the beautiful) provides the will a disordered vision of reality… and hence a disordered object is chosen.

    Digression: One is not made free simply on the basis of absolutely unrestricted choices but on the basis of being able to understand and choose that which is good, true, and beautiful. (Analogy: a river is not more “free” if it is not constrained by its banks, for a river without banks to direct it to its telos and hence keep it from stagnating is nothing more than a swamp–the epitome of death and decay. Humans are not more “free” if the rules of the road are disobeyed: the result is not freedom but death.) Choices are secondary to the attainment of human excellence: freedom must be ordered to the good of the person, opening possibilities for the perfection of the individual and society. The highest ideal is not to have the option to choose, but the option for an excellent choice. This is why freedom is valuable… and a very delicate thing. “Choice” raised to the status of a cult becomes what all things risk becoming if so elevated: an idol. End digression

    The intentionality of not wanting to understand arguments (which presupposes a free will, doesn’t it?) is thus just one of many, many soul-debilitating problems atheism imposes upon its adherents. Richard Dawkins, in this respect, is a posterchild example of intentional and emotional reactions to faith.

  22. Dave says:

    Hello David

    How are we defining faith? Its a notoriously slippery word used to mean quite different things by different believers—at least that’s been my experience in talking with them about why they have the convictions they hold.

    It has also been used in a very slippery fashion by philosophical materialists. Since I am a very ‘literal minded’ person I generally prefer to go to the dictionary and see what it has to say about a particular word before I begin inventing my own definitions. For the sake of clarity I have posted the definitions from ‘dictionary .com’ with links so that you may confirm their veracity should you choose to do so…. or… should the forces of nature compel those of you who do not subscribe to the doctrine of free will.

    faith

    –noun
    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.

    2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
    […]
    4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith

    religion

    –noun
    1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. [bold added]
    […]
    6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice. [or; of philosophical naturalism and its consequents]
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion

    You should note that the definition of ‘faith’, as it relates to this discussion, is a trust or belief in some idea or set of principles.

    You have faith in materialism and evolution – I have faith in God and creation. Both cannot be true, but proving the falisty of one or the other presents some serious difficulties. Even the virulent anti-theist Richard Dawkins would only go so far as to argue there ‘probably’ is no God. Most Christian theists Dawkins echoes Dawkins qualified certainty asserting that there ‘probably’ is a God. Both assertions, you may observe, are qualified and therefore imply a degree of faith.

    The faith of the atheist is that the material world time/space, matter/enegy is sufficient to explain the entire universe and all that is in it. The Christian theist acknowledges the reality of the time/space, matter/energy universe but argues that it is incapable of explanation without adding to it mind/intentionality.

    Both the Christian and and the atheist observe the world they live in and interpret their observations according to the prinicples which they hold by faith. I observe a rose or a waterfall and wonder at the creative artistry of God (mind/intentionality acting within time/space, matter/energy) while Richard Dawkins, observing the same rose or waterfall, wonders at the creative artistry of matter in motion (time/space, matter/energy). [an odd anthropomorphism don’t you think?]

    Which is why I also cited the definition of ‘religion’, a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe,…. As I argued above, proving or disproving the existence of God with absolute certainty appears to be beyond the capacity of human reason and so we hold to the afirmate or negative as a matter of faith. Since our beliefs (faith) about “the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” are based upon an unproven, and possibly unprovable, assumption, philosophical materialism is as much a religion as Christian theism.

    It is a common ‘straw man’ argument that science is about ‘facts’ (objective truth) while religion deals with ‘faith’ (subjective belief). While some of my co-religionists uncritically subscribe to this straw man argument, I think the analysis above demonstrates its falsity. Both the theist and the atheist build their belief system from an foundation of faith. Each observes the same ‘natural’ world with similar eyes and intellect. Each interprets their observations in light of their faith position. The real question is, “Which faith better answers the big questions about life, the universe, and everything?”

  23. Dave: outstanding exposition!

  24. Nick Matzke says:

    There is a difference between saying “historically, Christianity played a role in the origins of modern science”, which is true, and the statement “Christianity was necessary for the origin of modern science, and science would never have come about anytime, anywhere, without it” (which is what the term “necessary” would mean). The second statement is highly ambitious, not endorsed by historians, and not strongly supported by a sample of n=1 historical cases.

  25. Jacob says:

    Dave –

    You highlighted part of the definition of religion, but you didn’t highlight three huge qualifiers that make claims much more likely to be categorized as religious – qualifiers that would unequivocally separate materialism from theism. I mean there are a lot of truth claims we make about reality. I can’t independently verify that the world I perceive is indeed the true reality, so it must be taken on “faith” (even if I were to believe that God himself is the harbinger of true reality, thus giving me sufficient epistemic reasons for knowledge, I can’t independently verify the veracity of that belief because it’s still dependent on the reality that I’m trying to affirm). So that alone does not make a religion. What we do say is that a belief in reality as it appears to us is valid because there is no reason to believe otherwise. Likewise, the same argument can be extended to God. It’s not pertinent to believe in God because there is no good reason for doing so. This is the entire crutch of the point. Many people who I guess you could call materialists aren’t actually making radical claims about the complete non-existence of supernatural forces. They’re saying, okay, define it and give me sufficient reasons for belief.

    Now, of course, Holo’s strawman is that all such materialists use a scientific epistemology as a starting point. But to me it’s only logical that one would approach supernatural claims by treating it as if it’s supernatural. Given the events of my de-conversion, that was my starting point. It wasn’t any naturalistic worldview that was terribly attractive to me. But the inefficacy of Christianity’s claims actually repelled me from that religion. After all, materialism is only predicated on the lack of a supernatural, so one needs to examine those claims openly and honestly. First one needs to ask, do these things exist? Are they prevalent enough so that they can’t be accounted for by any margin of error? Is it truly impossible given just the natural? And most importantly, what do they say? If I claim that prescience isn’t possible given the natural, and God has his book with specific claims of actual prophecy and a blueprint for what it says about the world and my life, and these prophecies are just too prevalent and correct to ignore, then I’m working toward a sufficient belief in the Christian worldview. But if I show that prophecy is quite unreliable, then that’s working toward sufficiency of proof that the Bible is not from a supernatural source.

    This, of course, has nothing to do with whether either belief is a religion. Otherwise any claim about reality becomes religion. No, religion needs dogma. For instance, I can say that we’re all inside the matrix, but it’s not a religion – it’s merely unwarranted. If I build dogma and practices around that, then it’s a religion. Either way, I still need to show why fundamentally certain evidence should be required and why a given set of evidence is sufficient. The naturalist would say that little faith is required to believe that no God as religions purport is true because religions fail to live up to their claims. This, then, would not be a large leap. It’s what we do every day: take evidence and form conclusions with various degrees of certainty. There is the possibility that we’re wrong, but that’s where good logic and rationality come into play, lessening the likelihood (we hope) of wrongness. Good beliefs, we think, are warranted. Bad beliefs are not. Using words like faith and religion partially undercuts the true methods of epistemology.

    I do try to keep my mind open, but my opinion is that any supernatural force in this world would be relatively inconsequential. One argument is that the existence of anything natural must suppose the supernatural, but I say that it merely shows that our current laws and understanding are insufficient to deal with this question, and this does not mean supernatural as most would come to describe it (which, I assume, would be something beyond any hopes of ever testing or affirming with any clear, precise definition of science or math or whatever).

  26. david ellis says:


    You should note that the definition of ‘faith’, as it relates to this discussion, is a trust or belief in some idea or set of principles.

    That’s the definition you’re using. What I note is that this definition is enormously different from the one Holo proposed as the one he’s using. Which simply serves to make my point that I was in need of a definition from the Christian’s proposing the idea of the relationship between faith and science before real discussion could occur.

    I will try to keep in mind with each individual in this discussion what definition they said they were using.

    As to faith in the sense of trust or confidence in X, I have no particular objection to the idea—so long as its rationally warranted.


    The faith of the atheist is that the material world time/space, matter/enegy is sufficient to explain the entire universe and all that is in it.

    Let’s be clear. Do you mean by faith, in this statement, the definition you proposed or do you also mean that its an idea accepted without proof or evidence (that is, something one has confidence in as an assumption, presupposition or first principle)?

    And should the definition of faith as you’re using it here be revised to reflect that?

    By the way, I have no such faith–by either definition.


    Once our beliefs (faith) about “the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” are based upon an unproven, and possibly unprovable, assumption, philosophical materialism is as much a religion as Christian theism.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not a materialist (I’m pretty much completely agnostic on almost all questions of metaphysics).

    And I point out you seem to have, judging from context, been using three definitions of faith (not necessarily all incompatible–this is for clarities sake):

    A. faith= trust or confidence in something

    B. faith= trust or confidence in some something not on the basis of evidence (having properly basic beliefs)

    C. faith= holding certain presuppositions as first principles fundamental to one’s worldview

    You’ve assumed that all of us atheists hold to philosophical materialism as a basic/presuppositional belief.

    I’ll point out two problems with that.

    First, some of us, like me, DON’T believe in any particular metaphysical system (though I don’t necessarily claim I don’t hold any basic beliefs—but the ones I hold, if any, are of the most minimal possible variety).

    Second, you say that ‘The real question is, “Which faith better answers the big questions about life, the universe, and everything?”’.

    But that’s not the only question to be asked when it comes to basic beliefs. For example, its obvious that if one’s basic presuppositions are in error they’re capable of skewing everything in one’s thinking toward error. So its precisely in the matter of presuppositions we must take the greatest care. Some questions I’d ask:

    Should we hold more than the bare minimum of presuppositions (like principles of logic rather than, say, that the Quran is the Word of God)? My answer, as already implied, is an emphatic NO.

    What constitutes a reasonable assumption? How can it be distinguished from an unreasonable assumption?

    What kinds of propositions can one take a position on as a properly basic belief and what kinds can’t be legitimately called “properly basic”?

    That’s just for starters.


    Nick: The second statement is highly ambitious, not endorsed by historians, and not strongly supported by a sample of n=1 historical cases.

    well put. I haven’t heard the problem with the common Christian claim concerning its necessity for the emergence of science stated more clearly or succinctly.

  27. Nick:

    Your statement regarding the orgins of science as we know it today “not endorsed by historians,” if not a bald-faced lie, is utterly ignorant… probably because your idelogical commitments support selective inattention against obvious truths. I don’t have time now to expose the nonsense of your categorical assertion, but a quick list of historians should put you to shame: Pierre Duhem (French physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science, best known for his writings on the indeterminacy of experimental criteria and on scientific development in the Middle Ages), Stanley Jaki (physicist and professor of the history of science at Rutgers), Edward Grant (professor of history and philosophy of Science at Indiana University), Thomas Woods (Professor of History at Stony Brook), William Wallace (Professor of Philosophy and Historian of Science at Catholic University and University of Maryland), Benedict Ashley (Natural Philosophy, St. Louis University), Yuval Levin (Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center specializing in science and public policy), Anthony Rizzi (Princeton-trained Caltech physicist now at LSU), etc., etc., etc. Your further claim “not strongly supported by a sample of n=1 historical cases” is even worse. I’m shocked how committed you are to your own ignorance of what’s out there and how committed you are to your own disordered ideological constraints… with David following along lockstep like the typical unquestioning lemming. Amazing!

  28. Dave says:

    Hi David

    Let’s be clear. Do you mean by faith, in this statement, the definition you proposed or do you also mean that its an idea accepted without proof or evidence (that is, something one has confidence in as an assumption, presupposition or first principle)?

    Faith is the “trust” or “belief” (an attitude of mind) “in some idea or set of principles (a proposition). It says nothing about the “warrant” (proof) for that trust or belief. This leads into the straw man of that “faith is a belief without “warrant” so popular among the evangelical atheist and, unfortunately, sometimes subscribed to by Christians… who should know better.

    Of course, the atheist assumes that he has “warrant” for his assumption which is denied the theist. I’m just calling the bluff. So give me a warrant for the claim that “the material world time/space, matter/enegy is sufficient to explain the entire universe and all that is in it.” Simple enough.

    And should the definition of faith as you’re using it here be revised to reflect that?

    Why, faith may be based upon evidence, “George appears to be an honest guy, so I think it is safe to loan him $5.00.” is an act of faith. You have faith that George will return the $5.00. That faith may be warranted or unwarranted.

    The big question is whether the faith of the atheist, or the theist, is warranted. Since they are contradictory, one must be unwarranted. So show me your warrant.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not a materialist (I’m pretty much completely agnostic on almost all questions of metaphysics).

    And why do you think that you are an “agnostic on almost all questions of metaphysics”? Could it be because, as I have argued previously, in a materialist universe there is no “warrant” for any belief, not even the belief in my own existence as a person or agent. Since I, and perhaps the whole universe, are figments of my (hypothetical) imagination there can be no objectively true answers to the big questions about life, the universe, and everything.

    Everything becomes subjective, so I can invent any metaphysic I want, and modify it arbitrarily to suit my mood.

    First, some of us, like me, DON’T believe in any particular metaphysical system (though I don’t necessarily claim I don’t hold any basic beliefs—but the ones I hold, if any, are of the most minimal possible variety).

    No kidding.

    Time to go back to work….

  29. So show me your warrant.

    But it would be so… well… small!

    😉

  30. Charlie says:

    The cathedral school of Chartres, an institution of learning that came into its full maturity in the twelfth century, represents an important chapter in Western intellectual history and in the history of Western science. The scholl made important strides toward excellence in the eleventh century under Fulbert, who had been a pupil of Gerbert of Aurillac, the bright light of teh late tenth century who later became Pope Sylvester II. Practically everyone of the period who made any substantial contribution tot eh development of science was at one time or another associated or influenced by Chartres.

    Thomas Goldstein, a modern historian of science, describes the ultimate importance of the School of Chartres:
    .”..each one of these steps seems so crucial that, taken together, they could only mean one thing: that in a period of fifteen to twenty years, around the middle of the twelfth century, an handful of men were consciously striving to launch the evolution of Western science, and undertook every major step that was needed to achieve that end.”

    Goldsrein predicts that in the future, Thierry will probably be recognized as one fo teh true founders of Western science.”


    Thierrys was profoundly devoted to the study of the liberal arts and under his chancellorship Chartres became the most sought after school of these vnerable disciplines.

    Thierry’s religious convictions filled him with a zeal for the liberal arts. For him, as well as many other intellects of the Middle Ages, the disciplines … invited students to contemplate the patterns with which God has ordered the world and to appreciate the beautiful art that was Hod’s handiwork.

    One of the characteristics of twelfth-century natural philosphy was a commitment to the idea of nature as something autonomous, operating according to fixed laws discernible by reason, and it was here that Chartres perhaps its most significant contribution.

    How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Thomas E. Wood Jr., Ph.D.

  31. Dave says:

    But it would be so… well… small!

    Don’t be cruel Holo… they’re just lost sheep. 8^>

  32. david ellis says:


    Faith is the “trust” or “belief” (an attitude of mind) “in some idea or set of principles (a proposition). It says nothing about the “warrant” (proof) for that trust or belief.

    Warrant, as I’m using the term here, is not limited to proof. For example, I am warranted in believing that 2+2=4 simply because its self-evident—not because I have proof of it.


    Of course, the atheist assumes that he has “warrant” for his assumption which is denied the theist. I’m just calling the bluff. So give me a warrant for the claim that “the material world time/space, matter/enegy is sufficient to explain the entire universe and all that is in it.” Simple enough.

    Didn’t you read what I said? I have no such belief.

    My position, rather than what you describe, is simply that I don’t include things in my worldview unless they they are needed to explain some feature of the world. I have no reasonable grounds for believing (whether on evidence or as a first principle) in vampires. Therefore they are absent from my mental model of the world until such time as I do have reason to think them real. I don’t have a belief in nature spirits like those imagined by some Pagans or Wiccans because I have no reasonable grounds for believing in it (and, to be clear, I think even one’s presuppositions need reasonable grounds—for example, logical truths are something I take as first principles on the grounds that they are self-evident).


    Why, faith may be based upon evidence, “George appears to be an honest guy, so I think it is safe to loan him $5.00.” is an act of faith.

    OK. You want the first, broadest definition. I have no problem with that (but still think we must identify our grounds for the faith/trust regarding whatever claim we are assenting to).


    The big question is whether the faith of the atheist, or the theist, is warranted. Since they are contradictory, one must be unwarranted. So show me your warrant.

    My warrant for being an atheist is the same as the warrant I stated earlier for being a nonbeliever in vampires or in nature spirits. I see nothing about the world I observe that needs a deity (your Christian one or anyone elses) to account for it so my worldview is absent deities.

    The first principle I’m operating on is not (as you seem to assume) materialism—I’m not a materialist—its the following principle:

    it is not reasonable to believe in the existence of beings when the belief is not necessary to account for any feature of the world one observes.

    And even this I’m not sure I’d call a first principle—since its not really something I just assume or presuppose. Its something I’ve concluded from long thought on epistemological questions as a principle likely to work best in separating fact from fantasy.


    nd why do you think that you are an “agnostic on almost all questions of metaphysics”? Could it be because, as I have argued previously, in a materialist universe there is no “warrant” for any belief, not even the belief in my own existence as a person or agent.

    How many different ways do I have to tell you I’m not a materialist?

    I consider quite a few other metaphysical theories at least equally plausible (if not more so). Including neutral monism and panpsychism to name just two of many possible examples.

    I don’t find that I require an answer to most metaphysical questions in order to function effectively in the world and I see no way to verify or falsify most of them—therefore I have no position on these issues. Its an entirely open question so far as I’m concerned.

  33. david ellis says:

    One thing I think worth pointing out is that theists and atheists tend to have opposite approaches to epistemology.

    I constantly find Christian apologists (especially of the Reformed/Presuppositionalist variety—and it seems to be seeping into the views of other Christian apologists too) defending the claim that one’s worldview starts from a set of presuppositions and is built up from there—often resulting in them making the argument that since theists and atheists both start from a set of presuppositions (articles of faith) the theist is just as rational as the atheist in his views on religion.

    While my approach (and I think this is representative of atheists in general, though there are probably exceptions) starts from the observable world and then asks “what model best explains what I observe in a straightforward, parsimonious way”.

    The starting point isn’t presuppositions (articles of faith). Its observation.

    This may or may not apply to some of the theists here. But I note that many of the moves Dave’s made in this discussion strongly resemble those of Presuppositionalist apologetics.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    @Nick Matzke:

    Holopupenko has already responded to “not endorsed by historians.” As to your concern about the small sample size, first, your count is wrong. It’s not n=1 if we’re counting opportunities for science to have developed, or places and times in history when science could have developed. Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, or China, or Muslim Arabia, come to mind as viable candidates where the candidacy failed.

    Second, not all knowledge is statistical. A sample of 1 is sufficient for knowledge in many cases. A sample of zero can be sufficient, even. How many married bachelors are there? We can know something about married bachelors without having a single one to point to; i.e., that they don’t exist. That’s logical, not statistical knowledge.

    Meanwhile there are causal connections that are traceable in history. Part of the causal chain that led to science was the confidence the first scientists held in (a) the rationality and therefore potential explainability of the universe, (b) the worthwhileness of studying nature, (c) the belief that knowledge could progress or move forward, and so on. These were products of Christian theology, as a matter of historical fact.

    It is logical to suppose that where the universe was taken to be irrational, where the study of nature was devalued, where there was no hope in the progress of knowledge, science could never develop.

    So here we have a case where there was some significant number of cultures that never developed science. We have a case where science did develop. It can hardly be coincidental that the culture in which it developed was the only one in history that exemplified a developed body of thought supporting (a) through (c) etc.

    Does that prove that science never could have developed somewhere else, sometime else? No. But where science actually was born, a worldview based on Christianity was essential to that having happened. And it is manifestly reasonable to suppose that something like (a) through (c) would have been necessary for its birth.

    And there have only been two sources of beliefs like (a) through (c) in all of history. One has been the utterly unique theology of Christianity, and the other has been (much later, of course) the demonstrated success of scientific research. Nothing else has ever come even close to producing the confidence necessary to support the scientific pursuit. I’m sure you would not consider the demonstrated success of scientific research to be the cause of the birth of science in any possible world.

    So either Christianity was necessary for the birth of science, or some other pre-scientific set of ideas would have had to come along that produced something like (a) through (c), with enough philosophical and cultural power to build a whole cultural mindset like Christianity did. And in a pre-scientific world, what could that have been? Some other religion with beliefs just like Christianity’s in many ways. Do you prefer that conclusion to the one I’ve presented?

    And of course this is still off the main point: showing that Christianity was not (as many have claimed) hostile to the birth of science. It was quite the opposite: science was born and nurtured from within a Christian view of reality.

    (Regarding all the discussion on the definition of faith: could somebody do me a favor–since my time is still somewhat limited–and explain why it matters to the original post? If that’s in the discussion already, I’ve overlooked it in my hurried scans of the comments. I’m having trouble thinking offhand what difference it makes this time.)

  35. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    I just feel compelled to respond to this:

    Holopupenko has already responded to “not endorsed by historians.”

    There are thousands of contemporary historians. Holopupenko cited these:

    Stanley Jaki (physicist and professor of the history of science at Rutgers),
    Edward Grant (professor of history and philosophy of Science at Indiana University),
    Thomas Woods (Professor of History at Stony Brook),
    William Wallace (Professor of Philosophy and Historian of Science at Catholic University and University of Maryland),
    Benedict Ashley (Natural Philosophy, St. Louis University),
    Yuval Levin (Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center specializing in science and public policy),
    Anthony Rizzi (Princeton-trained Caltech physicist now at LSU), etc., etc., etc.

    It seems like Holopupenko ran out of actual historians before he got to the etc. etc. etc. What should bother anyone reading this list is that many on it did not begin their careers as trained historian, or even show historical training on their resume (Jaki does not on his Wikipedia page, although I know that he has written at least one book on the subject). Benedict Ashley is identified on Wikipedia as being “a theologian and philosopher,” for instance. In other words, the list is populated with the religious who have (presumably, and oh so surprisingly) weighed in that their religion was the sole reason for the birth of science.

    But I don’t mean to smear everyone on the list, just ask for some level of scrutiny before it is accepted as it is proferred.

    I actually appreciate Stanley Jaki’s efforts (although I think they’re ultimately over-reaching), but I think it might be relevant to include the fact that he was a Benedictine priest. Still, he brings to light much about Christianity’s support for the early efforts of science that should be known.

    Moving down the list from 1 to 2, there’s this from Edward Grant’s book, “The foundations of modern science in the Middle Ages,” (page 195)

    Thus medieval natural philosophers sought to investigate the “common course of nature,” not its uncommon, or miraculous, path. They characterized this approach admirably by the phrase “speaking naturally” (loquendo naturaliter) – that is, speaking in terms of natural science, and not in terms of faith or theology. That such an expression should have emerged and come into common usage in medieval natural philosophy is a tribute to the scholars who took as their primary mission the explanation of the structure and operation of the world in purely rational and secular terms.”

    and this (page 200):

    Although theology was always a potential obstacle to the study of natural philosophy, theologians themselves offered little opposition to the discipline, largely becauses they were too heavily involved with it. Albert Magnus, the eminent medieval theologian, regarded natural philosophy as independent of theology.

    So it appears that, even starting with the second person on Holopupenko’s list, there is in fact a breakdown in historical opinion for Christianity per se being essential to the creation of science. (I don’t believe that Christianity has, by any means, been an absolute opponent of science either – I just think that calling it essential is over-reaching. I would say Christianity was inadvertently helpful.)

    But in order to accept a thesis of someone like Jaki as historical consensus you’d have to be largely ignorant of the value that most historians place on the importance the Holy Roman Empire’s awkward but effective separation of church and state (as opposed to Islam and the Byzantine Empire, where both were combined). A much more persuasive, and accepted, interpretation is that the physical distance between the seats of political (wordly) and religious powers in Western Europe fomented the growth of the West’s greatest strength over the last 1,000 years, it’s secular powers, including politics, technology, science, commerce, etc.

    So if you want to look at why science was born in the West, the more significant factor (at least among virtually every historian I’ve read on the subject) is that the separation of religious and secular worlds enabled intellectual thought to co-exist between two spheres, freeing it from the constraints found in a world where politics and theology were combined.

  36. david ellis says:


    Regarding all the discussion on the definition of faith: could somebody do me a favor–since my time is still somewhat limited–and explain why it matters to the original post?

    This post was titled “Does FAITH make sense in an age of science”.

    And I don’t know what the question’s asking until I know how you’re defining the word “faith”. I’ve heard too many very different definitions from Christians (including the two so far presented in this discussion) to assume I know what you mean by the word without you telling me.

  37. Dave says:

    Hi Tom

    Post #3 – What’s the definition of faith. I get really annoyed with people who imply that faith is a blind and unquestioning commitment to irrational belief (the atheist definition of “faith”). David’s complaint notwithstanding ,the atheist definition of faith is not, in any sense, the Biblical definition of faith. I beleive, the atheist definition was first proposed by Kant as a (inapropriate) response to the radical skepticism of the enlightnement.

  38. Tony lobs the oh-so-endemic-to-atheists genetic fallacy: In other words, the list is populated with the religious who have (presumably, and oh so surprisingly) weighed in that their religion was the sole reason for the birth of science. In other words, their arguments aren’t addressed… simply who they are disqualifies them. Imagine if one of us tried that against the usual atheist suspects: there would be heck to pay.

    The rest of Tony’s points are bilge: I was targeting Nick’s categorical and false assertion. No one proposed that Christians are unified in their views as to the level of necessity of Christianity’s impact in making science as we know it today possible… Tom pointed this strawman out quite nicely. The point made was that Christianity WAS necessary.

    Nothing Tony so weakly proposes matters. In fact, he betrays his own ignorance as to what precursors made natural philosophy’s development during the Middle Ages possible: the Cathedral schools, the universities, etc. ALL of them deeply steeped in theology and philosophy, i.e., precisely the correct vision of nature that made experimentation, observation, scientific methodologies possible.

    By the way, the “separation” thing is laugable because, for among other reasons and because Tony admits it (in addition, he is a non-specialist), it’s “his” reading. Yeah, that and 10 cents won’t even get you a cup of coffee.

    It was the Church, not the secular state, that produced theologian philosophers who solved the single most important problem of physics during the Middle Ages: understanding inertia and debunking Aristotle. It was the Church that rejected the chronologically-circular and hence psychologically-debilitating-to-science world views of pagan cultures. It was the Church that championed the Scriptures point that creation was “good” and hence worthy of our study. It was the Church that rejected the latent Idealism adopted from Plato and even partially Aristotle that saw experimentation as “menial labor.” It was the Church that established universities. It was 1,000 years of monastaries that developed important technologies that needed to be studied scientifically to be perfected: everything from argricultural implements like the plow to the first eyeglasses, the first pendulum clock, beer fermentation, etc., etc., etc. And, yes, there are PLENTY of more historians if Tony would only care to look. He won’t: challenging a disordered worldview is dreadfully painful.

    Really, Tony: only knowing a portion of subject matter makes you dangerous… to yourself.

  39. david ellis says:

    There is no one atheist definition of faith. The definition I would use (the one, that is, that I think best reflects what most Christians mean when they use the word) is what Craig referred to as “the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit”.

    Of course, I’m highly skeptical that that’s actually what’s happening. But I’m perfectly willing to define faith as what Christians believe to be the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. Even if I think its more accurately characterized as self-reinforcing religious groupthink—or something similar.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    @david ellis:

    I should have jumped in sooner on this faith question, based on your 10:36 pm comment last night. It’s simple in this case. “Faith” in this context was a reference to the whole spectrum of being a follower of Jesus Christ. I wasn’t referring to a specific, narrowly defined epistemic attitude or anything of the sort in this context. Maybe it will help if I tell you that I could have titled the talk, “Does Being a Christian Make Sense In An Age of Science?” or “Does Following the Way of Jesus Christ Make Sense In An Age of Science?” But “faith,” which in one of its dictionary meanings is synonymous with those things, is shorter and more suitable for use in a title than those other wordings. I was speaking to a group of believers who knew what I was talking about.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Did you listen to the podcast, by the way? What you’re saying is, “I couldn’t tell from the title what the talk was about.” That’s not so unusual in titles, is it? (“The World Is Flat.” “Blink.” “Who Moved My Cheese?”)

    There’s a direct approach to an answer: listen to the talk.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me add this also:

    Early on in this thread you wrote, “A definition of the term is still going to be needed if we are to have a discussion about whether some person’s conception of faith makes sense in the age of science.”

    It sounds to me (see my two previous comments) like you wanted to have a discussion about whether faith makes sense in an age of science, but you wanted to have a completely different discussion than the one the rest of us were having, the one that I started with the original post. If you had wanted to join the discussion that was going on, you would have taken the time to find out what it was about, rather than starting off caviling about a word whose use, in context, was not opaque or vague.

    If you want to have a different discussion than the one we’re having, you have your own blog.

  43. David said,

    [I]t is not reasonable to believe in the existence of beings when the belief is not necessary to account for any feature of the world one observes.

    This seems too strong to me. Do we really know of anything that is necessary to explain what we observe?

    What about other persons? Might it be that I am the only person and yet the world is as I observe it? Yes, it might. Perhaps my observation of other persons is illusory in character. (Make up a story here if you like. Brain in a vat, evil demon . . . whatever you like.)

    What about a reality external to my mind? Might it be that I’m all that exists and yet the world is as I observe it? Again the answer is yes. Perhaps all that I observe is one great dream generated within my own mind.

    It’s not that I believe, or give any credence to, such hypotheses as these. It’s rather that they must be admitted as prima facie possibilities; and if they are, we cannot suppose that other persons, an external reality, etc. are necessary to explain what we observe.

    I think that the right thing to say here is this: we all have lots of basic beliefs, and among these are belief in other persons and belief in an external reality. (I’ve got ’em, and I bet you do to.) And those basic beliefs have us posit many things that are not necessary to explain what we observe.

  44. Tony Hoffman says:

    Holopupenko,

    In just one comment you combine this:

    Tony lobs the oh-so-endemic-to-atheists genetic fallacy: In other words, the list is populated with the religious who have (presumably, and oh so surprisingly) weighed in that their religion was the sole reason for the birth of science. In other words, their arguments aren’t addressed… simply who they are disqualifies them.

    So my point about the religious and non-specialist backgrounds of your historians (and the a challenge as to what conclusions you say they have all reached) is the genetic fallacy, and a few paragraphs later…

    By the way, the “separation” thing is laugable because, for among other reasons and because Tony admits it (in addition, he is a non-specialist), it’s “his” reading.

    … you declare that what I say (nor quotes from a historian you cite) does not matter precisely because it comes from me. Genetic fallacies only work one way, I guess.

    And, yes, there are PLENTY of more historians if Tony would only care to look. He won’t: challenging a disordered worldview is dreadfully painful.

    Apparently it is.

  45. david ellis says:


    This seems too strong to me. Do we really know of anything that is necessary to explain what we observe?

    Fair enough, that was poor wording on my part. I didn’t mean to imply logical necessity—but my statement can reasonably be interpreted that way.

    Earlier I put it in these words: “I don’t include things in my worldview unless they they are needed to explain some feature of the world.” Which is probably better (so long as needed is not interpreted as logical necessity but, instead, explanatory value as part of the model that best explains what I observe in a straightforward, parsimonious way).

    And I would argue that our belief in an external reality over solipsism is the better explanatory model.

    But I recognize that it is difficult for us humans to be objective on this question since the belief in an external reality comes so naturally to us—we must recognize the possibility that the way we’re “wired” may be impacting our assessment of the issue. Which is why I think its an issue well worth giving extensive thought to. Its a great epistemological “test case” for probing at our assumptions and metaphysical intuitions.

    That in mind I’d be interested in knowing whether you think a man who, for example, was convinced everyone but him was a p-zombie is irrational? And if so why?

    In case anyone isn’t familiar with p-zombie thought experiments (very commonly discussed in philosophy of mind):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie

    And now to Tom:


    I should have jumped in sooner on this faith question, based on your 10:36 pm comment last night. It’s simple in this case. “Faith” in this context was a reference to the whole spectrum of being a follower of Jesus Christ….Maybe it will help if I tell you that I could have titled the talk, “Does Being a Christian Make Sense In An Age of Science?” or “Does Following the Way of Jesus Christ Make Sense In An Age of Science?”

    OK. See why it was important to ask the question? This makes three Christian responses. All quite different.


    Did you listen to the podcast, by the way? What you’re saying is, “I couldn’t tell from the title what the talk was about.” That’s not so unusual in titles, is it? (”The World Is Flat.” “Blink.” “Who Moved My Cheese?”)

    I listened to the first third of it—until I lost patience with the inaudibility of the audience half of the conversation and turned it off.


    It sounds to me (see my two previous comments) like you wanted to have a discussion about whether faith makes sense in an age of science, but you wanted to have a completely different discussion than the one the rest of us were having, the one that I started with the original post. If you had wanted to join the discussion that was going on, you would have taken the time to find out what it was about, rather than starting off caviling about a word whose use, in context, was not opaque or vague.

    If you want to have a different discussion than the one we’re having, you have your own blog.

    Tom, you’ve barely been entered into this conversation. You simply brought up the topic. The rest of us have taken that ball and run with it. Sorry if conversation hasn’t gone in the direction you would prefer but that frequently happens (especially when you’ve been too busy to even participate). I’m more than happy to discuss any points regarding whether Christianity makes sense in an age of science that you (or any of the others here) like.

    But I don’t feel I’m obligated to listen to a what, 45 minute?, lecture by you to do so (and if you disagree you’re more than free to ban me from posting—I have a whole internet full of places to discuss religion and won’t notice the loss).

    Until then, we’ve been discussing some interesting epistemological issues that are relevant to the topic. Feel free to join in.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    @david ellis:

    You wrote,

    OK. See why it was important to ask the question? This makes three Christian responses. All quite different.

    So what?

    I listened to the first third of it—until I lost patience with the inaudibility of the audience half of the conversation and turned it off.

    You lose patience easily. I edited out most of that.

    Tom, you’ve barely been entered into this conversation. You simply brought up the topic.

    David, that wasn’t true at 9:47 on July 21, right after I posted it, when you asked, “How are we defining faith?” You didn’t pay attention to the way the term was used in the original post, or you would have known how “we” were defining faith. You took a post on the historic relationship between science and faith (for which the definition would have been plain if you had listened to the podcast) and you steered it in a completely different direction.

    Since you didn’t listen, your comments number 20 and especially 22 are out of court. You said you “get the argument,” but you don’t even know what it was.

    As to whether “faith” is “a notoriously slippery word used to mean quite different things by different believers,” it’s actually a rich word with shades of meaning that depend on the context. So is the word “meaning,” for that matter. Nothing out of the ordinary there, nothing “slippery” about it. If you want to know what “faith” is about, consider that there might not be a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s not always used in a manner that calls for philosophical precision. It wasn’t being used that way this time. You’re being tendentious in calling for that precision, and you’re being tendentious in ragging on Christians for not falling in lockstep on how to craft a technically precise definition.

    Okay. Having said that, I acknowledge that the subject has been de facto changed. At least you’re no longer pretending to argue about the content of a podcast you didn’t listen to (as you were in comments 20 and 22). If you all want to stay on the topic of what is faith, that’s okay with me. But recognize (I’ll repeat myself here): it’s okay if we all state a different conception of what faith is when we put it into words. It’s okay if we don’t have it precisely, technically defined. In fact, since the word has multiple denotations and connotations, the precise technical definition will vary according to the questions being asked about it. Example: Is it “the faith” (as in the whole way of following Christ?) or “the faith” that I personally experience?

    Until then, we’ve been discussing some interesting epistemological issues that are relevant to the topic. Feel free to join in.

    I disagree. There is no topic on the table to which the definition of faith you’ve asked for makes any difference. One topic has been brought up, which is the relationship of faith to science, and on that one the definition of “faith” has been adequately supplied, as should have been obvious to anyone who listened to the podcast in the original post. No other topic has been brought up, to which the definition of faith matters.

    So Holopupenko, Dave, Charlie, and others, bear in mind that there’s something going on here you need to be aware of. David is pressuring you to come up with this precise definition of faith. It doesn’t need doing. It’s more like word games than anything substantive. It’s not necessary to do it unless there’s some specific question being asked about a specific understanding of faith, which has not been the case throughout this discussion.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    David Ellis,

    You claimed (comment 22) that you “get the argument.” You said more recently, “I listened to the first third of it—until I lost patience with the inaudibility of the audience half of the conversation and turned it off.”

    Some facts for others here to bear in mind in evaluating that.

    The audience part of the conversation was from about 3:00 to 3:30, and again from about 4:35 to 7:15. If you listened all the way through that and then stopped you listened to one-seventh of it. You heard the introductory part where I called on the group to discuss why the topic we were going to be discussing was important. If you had actually listened to a third of it you would have known that you we were long past the audience discussion portion. But it doesn’t appear you did that, because you said you shut it off in impatience over the inaudible portions. It doesn’t appear that you heard a single word of my argument.

    Your credibility is not enhanced by this.

  48. david ellis says:


    You took a post on the historic relationship between science and faith (for which the definition would have been plain if you had listened to the podcast) and you steered it in a completely different direction.

    Again, you’re more than welcome to take whatever direction you like in discussing this topic. I’ll be happy to respond.

    If I went in a different direction with some comments others have been willing to respond to, what of it?


    If you want to know what “faith” is about, consider that there might not be a one-size-fits-all answer.

    I don’t think there is—as should be clear from my comments in which I said I’d try to keep in mind, with each individual christian in this discussion, how they were defining it.


    It’s not always used in a manner that calls for philosophical precision. It wasn’t being used that way this time. You’re being tendentious in calling for that precision, and you’re being tendentious in ragging on Christians for not falling in lockstep on how to craft a technically precise definition.

    Never did I ask that the word be defined in a technical or precise manner. I simply asked for a definition so I wouldn’t misunderstand the points being made. A broad definition is fine with me (as, for example, your definition: ““Faith” in this context was a reference to the whole spectrum of being a follower of Jesus Christ”).


    At least you’re no longer pretending to argue about the content of a podcast you didn’t listen to (as you were in comments 20 and 22).

    I didn’t intend to imply that I’d listened to your broadcast or that I was responding to what you said in it. I simply meant that I’m quite familiar with the arguments claiming that Christianity was necessary to the development of science. I’ve heard them countless times.


    I disagree. There is no topic on the table to which the definition of faith you’ve asked for makes any difference.

    It helps me understand what you mean and allows me to be more confident we aren’t completely misunderstanding each other. That’s sufficient, for me at least, to be glad I brought the question up. Regardless, though, the “interesting epistemological discussion” I was referring to wasn’t the question of the definition of faith (both Holo and Dave have given their definitions and I was content that the issue of the definition of faith was, at least for the sake of discussion with them, settled). I was talking about the topic of basic, foundational beliefs, proper basicality, the ways worldviews are formed and the like.

    So far as I was concerned we’d already moved on from the preliminary definitional questions into far more interesting territory.


    So Holopupenko, Dave, Charlie, and others, bear in mind that there’s something going on here you need to be aware of. David is pressuring you to come up with this precise definition of faith.

    Sheesh. So much apparent hostility just because I asked for a definition of terms. And, again, I didn’t ask for a precise or technical definition. I’m more the happy with the fairly broad definition you gave

    Can we move on?

  49. david ellis says:


    Some facts for others here to bear in mind in evaluating that.

    The audience part of the conversation was from about 3:00 to 3:30, and again from about 4:35 to 7:15. If you listened all the way through that and then stopped you listened to one-seventh of it.

    My estimate of the how far I got into it was based on the bar having been around a third of the way across when I stopped listening. I roughly estimate that I’ve been listening for about 15 minutes of a 45 minute audio file. If my estimate was off, what of it?

    By the way, 3:30 to 7:15? I’m impressed that they had the stamina to participate in a nearly four hour discussion. I hope they at least got a few breaks.

  50. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    You wrote:

    Holopupenko, Dave, Charlie, and others, bear in mind that there’s something going on here you need to be aware of. David is pressuring you to come up with this precise definition of faith. It doesn’t need doing. It’s more like word games than anything substantive.

    But earlier, David did simply explain that he…

    …was in need of a definition from the Christian’s proposing the idea of the relationship between faith and science before real discussion could occur.
    I will try to keep in mind with each individual in this discussion what definition they said they were using.

    That seems fairly reasonable and accommodating to me, especially seeing as how the others were willing to put forth their own definitions.

  51. Dave says:

    This is an interesting critique of atheology from a purely philosophic perspective.

    Playing Fast and Loose with Complexity:

    A Critique of Dawkins’ Atheistic Argument from Improbability

    Mark F. Sharlow

    Abstract

    This paper is a critique of Richard Dawkins’ “argument from improbability” against the existence of God. This argument, which forms the core of Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, provides an interesting example of the use of scientific ideas in arguments about religion. Here I raise three objections: (1) The argument is inapplicable to philosophical conceptions of God that reduce most of God’s complexity to that of the physical universe. (2) The argument depends on a way of estimating probabilities that fails for the probability of an entity that creates natural laws. (3) The argument supposes that complexity arises from past physical causes; however, some forms of complexity known to mathematics and logic do not arise in this way. After stating these three criticisms, I show that some of these same considerations undermine Dawkins’ critique of agnosticism. I close the paper with some remarks on Dawkins’ conception of God.

    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00004652/01/argument_from_improbability.pdf

  52. David E. asks:

    I’d be interested in knowing whether you think a man who, for example, was convinced everyone but him was a p-zombie is irrational? And if so why?

    Yes, he would be irrational. But the reason (very likely) is not that he has a definitive, or even good, refutation of the p-zombie hypothesis if we this we mean a non-question-begging argument sufficient to show p-zombie hypothesis is likely false. I would suppose rather that the belief that others are sentient just like me is basic, and properly so.

    And I’m unconvinced that, say, the supposition that there are other persons can be shown to be part of the best explanation of our observations. If it could be shown, the argument would be tantamount to a refutation of the skeptic; but I don’t think that that’s possible. The history of philosophy has shown us time and again that the arguments that take aim at skepticism simply do not have the power to convince. They’re just more philosophy, and as such are never decisive. My view, then, is that if justification for belief in other persons had to wait on the construction of a successful argument (even if that argument was an inference to the best explanation), that belief would never be justified. It had better be basic, then.

  53. david ellis says:


    I would suppose rather that the belief that others are sentient just like me is basic, and properly so.

    Yes, but what makes it properly basic. For example, laws of logic are properly basic because they are self-evidently true.

    My point is that its not enough to just say “it’s properly basic” and leave it at that. Surely we can probe a bit deeper than that.

    One way something can be properly basic is that, as mentioned, its self-evident (this probably only applies to math and logic but I’m open to arguments for other things it might be applicable to). Another possibility is that some things are properly basic simply because its inherent in the way our minds work. I doubt, for example, that many sane men could convince themselves that solipsism is true even if they couldn’t come up with a single decent argument for belief in the existence of the external world. But I’m a bit dubious about this variety of proper basicality. I don’t find it all that implausible that we are by nature prone to some beliefs that are false.

    Another way something might be argued to be properly basic is if it fits the following criteria:

    a. its an issue that is inherently not resolvable by empirical evidence (as, for example, there is no observable difference between p-zombies and normal humans)—even supposing our senses are reliably reporting the external world. And:

    b. its an issue we really can’t function without taking a position on.

    The p-zombie issue is one that seems to fit these criteria. And I think these sorts of issues have to come down to the issue of parsimony.

    And the p-zombie hypothesis seems clearly less parsimonious. It posits that a fundamental and important difference can exist between individuals despite having no observable consequences. It results in a whole set of epistemological and metaphysical quandaries about why this difference exists which simply aren’t faced by the hypothesis that others have the minds their behavior naturally suggests to us that they have.

    But is this proper basicality? Or would it be better called inference to the best explanation?

    And is the principle I’m using to make that inference (that an explanation be as straightforward and parsimonious as possible) itself properly basic? Or does it rather (as seems to be the case based on the long period of thinking by which I came to this conclusion) based instead on exploring the ramifications of this principle as compared to others I might employ instead.

    Ultimately there may be some things I’m willing to call properly basic but I tend to limit them to far more fundamental questions than Christians I’ve seen argue for the proper basically of some of their beliefs do.

    Finally, would anyone who’s listened to it all the way through like to bring up any issues related to points made in Tom’s talk? He seems to have concerns about the discussion not having addressed his lecture.

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m happy for you all to continue with the discussion you’re on. I’m still involved in the busy week of meetings I mentioned a few days ago. When I popped in to comment yesterday, and to ask what the relevance of the faith definition was, I really was just asking what its relevance was, since I couldn’t quite figure it out.

    It turned out the answer I got seemed a little strange, and I responded again. I wasn’t ever trying to steer the direction of conversation in this thread; I was just pointing out that I didn’t see that David’s 10:31 answer didn’t make sense and seemed tendentious.

    But if you’re done with that topic, it makes no difference now. Enjoy the discussion, and I’ll be in and out of it still.

  55. SteveK says:

    I think everyone knows what the terms ‘Christian faith’ and ’empirical science’ mean.

  56. david ellis says:

    Yes, and if he’d titled this post “Does the Christian faith make sense in an age of science” I’d have probably felt no need for a definition. But the title he did use might plausibly have been interpreted as questioning whether faith in the sense of some variety of religious, non-empirical warrant for a belief was compatible with science’s approach to understanding and learning about the world.

    But that’s all been cleared up and we can happily move on to more interesting issues.

  57. Okay: Back from a wedding…

    Tony:

    So… you agree your original point was nonsense because you argued fallacious (genetic fallacy). Thank you. Also, you’ll note I put the “specialist” TRUE comment regarding you in parentheses… which means it’s not germane to the point. MOREOVER, I pointed out your genetic fallacy, I indicated we could never get away with it, I gave you a parenthetical example, and you STILL apparently missed that example. Again, my amazement is constantly refreshed by atheists. Finally, neither you nor Nick responded to your the erros–quite revealing.

    Tom:

    I do realize the game being played by David… it’s part of his general MO. It’s part of the general approach by atheists: when you know you’re down, you obfuscate… and you ontologically flatlandize reality to fit the narrow self-serving vision: demonstrations and sound argumentation be gone! (Jacob, for example, is playing essentially the same tired old scientistic, philosophically-challenged, word-manipulation game with which DL used to haunt this blog.)

    Historically, by the way, there is a precedent that echoes down from Descartes’ category error of seeking hyper-mathematical certitude in realms of knowledge to which it doesn’t apply. Since then, Hobbes, Hume, Kant… eventually the positivists, then Quine and today’s scientismists added their disordered spins to Descartes’ error. One of those ripples/echoes is David’s apparent inability to distinguish between an operational (per accidens) definition from a proper or essential (per se) definition, and then to emphasize the former over the latter.

  58. Descartes’ error and its connection to David’s error bears a tiny bit of expansion as it relates to the general error of atheists/naturalists who seek to illicitly impose the epistemological constraints of the modern empirical sciences (while denying reality its ontological richness) in areas of knowledge for which they are inappropriate. The precision of mathematical definitions cannot properly apply to the real world: mathematical terms and definitions arise from a different level of abstraction than abstractions in the physical world (the definition of a triangle is a very different type of abstraction than the definition of “object” in physics; there is no real infinity in the contingent world, there is no perfect circle in the real world, etc., etc.) because both the formal object (subject matter) and material objects considered by both are quite different. How much more so is this the case when we move to the realm of philosophy… or theology? These guys, at base, refuse to acknowledge that distinction (unscientifically, by the way!).

    Precision of language is a wonderful thing, and David’s dogged persistence might be a noble thing if he seeks precision for the sake of truth. Unfortunately, David appears to regard truth only as an attribute of precision… which very much echoes DL’s MO. I hate to keep reanimating the ghost of DL, but it is very important to see and uncover such errors… which are all too rampant among the loyal opposition.

  59. Tony Hoffman says:

    Holopupenko,

    So… you agree your original point was nonsense because you argued fallacious (genetic fallacy).

    My point remains that you proffered a list of historians (and that Tom appeared to subsequently endorse) that, on scrutiny, 1) contains those who are not historians, 2) gives the false impression that all those on the list endorse what you contend (that Christianity was necessary for the origin of modern science), and 3) contains those who can be reasonably suspected of bias on the issue of Christianity’s role in the birth of science.

    I think that you have not touched the substance of my points.

    But I should probably have made a broader point, which is that the question itself (was Christianity necessary for the birth of Science?) is not really a properly historical question.

    Let’s review:

    Originally, Nick Matzke wrote: “Christianity was necessary for the origin of modern science, and science would never have come about anytime, anywhere, without it” (which is what the term “necessary” would mean)…[This} statement is highly ambitious, not endorsed by historians, and not strongly supported by a sample of n=1 historical cases.

    I believe you incorrectly addressed this question by offering your list (with which I had my separate objections). But as I understand Nick’s comment above he’s not asking to compare lists of historians, but asserting that the question itself is extra-historical; no historian with any training would think of asking it in this way or deign to answer it as posed. That is because questions of necessity are fundamentally extra-historical.

    What do these questions have in common?

    1) Was the American Revolution impossible without Benjamin Franklin?
    2) Could the Industrial Revolution never have happened without railroads?
    3) Would a First World War never have happened if Prince Ferdinand hadn’t been assassinated?

    The y are the kinds of questions that are not asked (nor answered) by historians because they demand more of the field of history than it can reasonably be expected to answer. That fact should be obvious to anyone who’s even taken an AP level history class.

    History takes the evidence and comes up with explanations based on a historians estimates of most likely probabilities. Necessity is obviously outside its purview.

  60. david ellis says:


    The precision of mathematical definitions cannot properly apply to the real world….Precision of language is a wonderful thing, and David’s dogged persistence might be a noble thing if he seeks precision for the sake of truth. Unfortunately, David appears to regard truth only as an attribute of precision….

    Holo, you have a talent for misrepresenting your opponent’s position which is, in my personal experience, quite unparalleled.

    I was not demanding a precise or technical definition as has already been made clear:


    Never did I ask that the word be defined in a technical or precise manner. I simply asked for a definition so I wouldn’t misunderstand the points being made. A broad definition is fine with me (as, for example, your definition: ““Faith” in this context was a reference to the whole spectrum of being a follower of Jesus Christ”).

    And, again, I didn’t ask for a precise or technical definition. I’m more than happy with the fairly broad definition you gave.

    This is one of the reasons your comments go largely ignored.

  61. Tony: You say, They are the kinds of questions that are not asked (nor answered) by historians because they demand more of the field of history than it can reasonably be expected to answer. And yet, you criticize me for including in the list historians AND philosophers of science, etc.? Are you that obtuse? (Your genetic fallacy still lingers, by the way.)

    David: Sorry, but I got you spot on by riding Tom’s assessment of your MO. More crudely (but no less truthfully) put: what doesn’t meet your personal expectations doesn’t count. You may not be cognizant to what extent you reflect some of the errors of Descarte et al, but you most certainly do… although I’m not saying they’re that blatant.

    All: Did any of you read Harris’ silly op-ed piece in the NY Times against Collin’s appointment as Director of the National Institutes of Health? His closing paragraph is a gem of atheistic fallaciousness and philosophical incompetance:

    Francis Collins is an accomplished scientist and a man who is sincere in his beliefs. And that is precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about his nomination. Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who sincerely believes that a scientific understanding of human nature is impossible?

    First, if one is sincere in their religious beliefs, then one is automatically suspect (yet another example of the genetic fallacy atheists are so prone to employ). Why cannot we be highly suspect of the beliefs of atheists? Second, the guy just doesn’t get the fact that “nature” in its deepest and broadest sense is a philosophical term. Actually, I think he does get it but the territoriality grab that his scientism imposes upon Harris chokes off his ability to reason clearly. The modern empirical sciences (MESs) give us all sorts of interesting and important insights into the natures of things. BUT, to fully capture the nature of all entities exclusively through the MESs is balderdash. A chemist certainly knows part of the nature of NaCl, but the housewife who cooks delicious meals by adding the right touch of salt knows more than the chemist does… but from a different, non-MES perspective. And let us praise, glorify and thank God for that.

  62. Jacob says:

    Holo –

    Nearly every time I reply to you, you run. In the last thread you claimed that I had committed a genetic fallacy, but I was merely critiquing whether one can know spiritual truth, which is very relevant, as it directly addresses the efficacy of revelation. I never received a response. In this thread I explicitly stated that I’ll consider evidence that the Christian considers important to his worldview, so there should be no question that I can work beyond a strictly natural worldview. There is nothing more intellectually dishonest than one who is smug but never backs it up in an argument. When am I going to get a sustained, logical argument instead of these broad accusations that contain no specific examples?

  63. Jacob:

    Your comment from 18 July 3:59 am under the post titled “Science and Religion: Reason vs. Authority?” is a beautiful example of the genetic fallacy… with a bit of historicism thrown in to boot. You weren’t merely “critiquing”–you were fallaciously dismissing by means of a rhetorical trick. Do you think it helps your credibility to try to deny this in a barking moonbat-like manner?

    “Run”? Trying to turn the tables now, are we? (That’s also a fallacy, by the way.) Sometimes it’s better to stand silent before the fallacious or irrational and let it only hear its own shrill voice. Your MO has been exposed: no need to keep beating that dead, decaying horse.

  64. Tony Hoffman says:

    Holopupenko,

    I wrote: They are the kinds of questions that are not asked (nor answered) by historians because they demand more of the field of history than it can reasonably be expected to answer.

    You replied: And yet, you criticize me for including in the list historians AND philosophers of science, etc.? Are you that obtuse? (Your genetic fallacy still lingers, by the way.)

    I made a broader point about the limits of the field of history (that affect even those whose powers are as mighty as philosophers, believe it or not), and that were separate from my criticisms of your list.

    You seem incapable or unwilling to address an argument. I will let my comments, and your lack of material response to them, stand as a testament to this.

  65. Jacob says:

    Holo –

    Yeah, that’s the argument I talked about to which I responded to your genetic fallacy criticism and yet received no reply, and here you do nothing to add to it – only more vague accusations. What rhetorical trick? My post had several different points. Is belief contingent on natural means or supernatural means? Are people truly receiving a sort of supernatural revelation? Can one believe in two different things based on two different circumstances? Can we know whether the supernatural is effecting people and in what way? If Christians can use experience in their favor, then why can’t I use experience against? You have failed to address this critical point. It’s dismissed because of your own fallacies.

    Tom and Dave and others think enough of my points to at least attempt to address them (or at least think that they can correct what they perceive as problems in my reasoning). At worst I appear to be clueless by continuing to argue, though I doubt that anybody else actually think it. All you have to offer are generic, vague claims that never move beyond, even after I make more nuanced distinctions (for instance, I pointed out reasons why we can know truth after you claimed that my worldview doesn’t permit such a thing, and instead of continuing with a more nuanced discussion, you clung to those vague claims). Like Tony said, you seem incapable of addressing certain points. You have a strawman view of what people are saying. But I say bring it on. Expose my points as much as they can be exposed. But all I see is that you pick upon certain arguments with zeal and avoid others because of some illusion you’ve constructed in your mind. I respect Tom, at least, for trying to address my arguments.

  66. Dave says:

    Hello Jacob

    Is belief contingent on natural means or supernatural means?

    “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Pascal

    Are people truly receiving a sort of supernatural revelation?

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” St. Paul

    Can one believe in two different things based on two different circumstances?

    Alice laughed. `There’s no use trying,’ she said `one ca’n’t believe impossible things.’

    `I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

    Can we know whether the supernatural is effecting people and in what way?

    “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” Pascal

    __________________________________________

    A thing there is whose voice is one.
    Whose feet are two and four and three.
    So mutable a thing is none,
    That moves on earth or sky or sea.
    When on most feet this thing doth go,
    Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow.
    __________________________________________

  67. …………………………………
    It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
    It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
    Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
    When you give yourself away
    People never crumble in a day
    It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade…

    The journey from your mind to your hands
    Is shorter than you’re thinking
    Be careful if you think you stand
    You just might be sinking…

    (Casting Crowns)
    …………………………………

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