(We do hope to have something soon on Saturday’s guest.)
Does McCormick have faith right? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
McCormick’s eleventh chapter is all about the f-word, which for him is faith. As I came here, I was expecting more of the same. No actual interaction with scholarship on the concept of faith. No bothering to find out what the Biblical authors would have meant by the word. Just the same usual old canards about faith that have been trotted out time and time again.
McCormick did not disappoint in that area.
As expected, he starts wondering about how many believers would have made it this far through the book. I can understand it. It’s not because the arguments are so good but because they’re so bad that pushing myself through this was a labor of love at times. (Meanwhile, at other times it was so outright hysterical I wanted to see how much more he could get wrong.)
Unfortunately, McCormick has hit on one important note here that many new atheists like to hit on. Faith. There is a great misconception about what faith is in the world today and sadly, Christians give that false impression. It’s quite problematic that atheists who love to go back sometimes and see what a text means when it’s convenient to them and show how Christians don’t understand what they’re talking about at this point don’t bother to go back to the text to see if Christians even have faith right. Hint. They don’t.
McCormick gives a definition that says “To take something on faith or to believe by faith is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence.” Of course, this is a false misunderstanding of the word held by Christians today and atheists do themselves no favor if they justify their mistake by pointing to the mistakes of Christians. If McCormick wants to knock it down, let him, but treating it as the true position with inadequate evidence or despite contrary evidence is an action of faith.
Naturally, McCormick quotes Martin Luther about reason being the greatest enemy faith has. Again, McCormick doesn’t go to the primary sources. When Luther speaks about reason, he’s not speaking about the thinking capacity. He’s speaking about a mind unaided by the Holy Spirit and regenerate and seeking to go about and follow its own desires. Has McCormick done any investigation into Martin Luther and his understanding of reason? No. Instead, he just found a quote he liked and put it up assuming it meant everything he thought it did.
Of course, I should in all of this give my view of faith. That can be found here. This also applies to areas today where we have faith. Those are areas where there is good reason to believe the proposition under question, but there is some element of risk. Such a proper use would be an airplane for instance. Statistics show that air travel is safe, but we all have an element of risk when we get in. There’s no guarantee the plane will land safely.
McCormick says we do not invoke faith for something we don’t want to happen. Indeed, we don’t. That is because faith is when we put trust in something and we often can combine it with hope. Again, none of this shows an interaction with the Biblical material. McCormick has simply condemned the Christians for thinking foolishly yet kept up the act by thinking foolishly himself.
McCormick tells us that many believers have said it is faith and evidence. McCormick says this is a mistake based on what he said earlier, but pointing to mistaken evidence does not make a valid conclusion. McCormick could have asked why they think the way that they do, but he does not. He says that if there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith is not needed, but it can be. Faith is needed in order to act on the proposition. Knowledge is not enough.
People with phobias like myself understand this. When it comes to my phobia, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t seem to faze it. Instead, what is needed is to be able to act. That is then when faith comes where I say “I believe the knowledge I have is sufficient to justify doing something I think is risky.” In the case of Scripture, it’s trusting myself to the risen Christ.
In fact, this all leads to a great irony. Most of McCormick’s criticisms of faith in this chapter I would agree with. If he wants to destroy this kind of faith, more power to him. I want him to do that. I agree that Christians need more than just “faith” to justify the most important question of all. I agree that Christians should have evidence for their beliefs or at least know where the evidence is. (For instance, I would point to a specialist on Islam for instance while I have sufficient reasons for believing the resurrection of Jesus.)
Yet in a great bit of irony, at 3603, McCormick says the following:
The difference is that we often approach the world with a preformed conclusion already in mind. Then, as we consider new information that is relevant to that cherished doctrine, we are receptive to the arguments, evidence, and reasoning that corroborate it and are hostile to arguments that run counter to it. Sometimes we are not aware of it, but our real purpose is to defend the preferred belief. Our faculties of reasoning get put into the service protecting a belief instead of seeking the truth.
This is in fact a great description of McCormick’s book. Now if someone wants to say to me “Maybe you’re guilty of the same” then I say “Maybe I am. If you think I am, present the evidence. Show it.” We should all always be open to being wrong.
McCormick also asks an important question at 3650. He wants to know if there is anything that would dissuade you of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus. This is a good question. Of course, McCormick couldn’t answer it for us since we must give the answer, but I’d be glad to.
For God, you could show a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. Not a paradox mind you, but a contradiction. That would defeat the idea of God. If not that, then you could also refute all the arguments given for the existence of God. This at this point would only show agnosticism. It could be God exists and we just had stupid reasons for believing in Him. You still need to put together a categorical disproof to get to atheism.
For Jesus, it’s quite simple. Some people say the bones of Jesus. I don’t go that route since we have no guarantee that they would have survived had no resurrection taken place which puts us in an unfair position. I just ask people to provide a better scenario that explains the data we have other than the one the church gave.
Next I would ask McCormick what it would take. Unfortunately, what I usually see from this is something like this piece from Jerry Coyne.
The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.
If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity. Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119
Please note that this is “tentative” evidence. Boghossian says similar with saying he’d borrow from Lawrence Krauss that he wants all the stars in the sky one night to say something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me.” This would still not be conclusive enough. We could all be experiencing a mass hallucination.
If McCormick gives something similar in answer, what does this mean? It means no reasoning in philosophy or historiography would convince him. Instead, only a personal experience that we could not give would convince him. By the way, this is all the way while complaining about Christians who go by their personal experience. If McCormick says historiography and philosophy can convince him, I want to know in advance. I want to know he’s not expecting a personal miracle. If he is expecting a personal miracle, then dialogue to convince him is ridiculous. It is only relevant for a watching audience.
We conclude then that McCormick still sadly buys into the same atheist myths that you can find anywhere. One would think a Ph.D. in philosophy would do better. Alas, we are disappointed.