Reading Through A Shot of Faith [to the Head]
Chapter Four: “Trust Me”
I had to laugh at the asertion by Christopher Hitchens that “faith is too easy,” a quote Stokes opened chapter four with. It seems I constantly ask God to strengthen my faith. No, faith does not come easily, real faith anyway, a faith worth having.
In chapter four Stokes lays out the philosophy of faith as “believing something by way of testimony.” This was a unique perspective for me as I always held to the old adage faith is belief in something you can’t see. Stokes’ definition is much more tenable. Faith does not come by way of argument– you don’t win people to faith (and at the end of chapter five, Stokes makes this abundantly clear). It is interesting to see Stokes’ philosophical argument come into full view and still realize the biblical argument holds true that we need reliance on God since reliance on self for faith is self-defeating and no faith at all. Stokes takes special note to qualify the faith in which he is referring to as “a way, method or process of believing (i.e., by way of testimony),” while “faith in Scripture” should be labeled “the Bible,” and faith “contrasted with the absence of belief in God” should be labeled “belief in God.” Finally, Stokes gives an implicit definition of reason as “that faculty which performs ‘deductions’ or, in general, inferences. It’s the cognitive faculty that we use to give an argument.”
I enjoyed Stokes discussing credulity and gullibility. Credulity is only what we would have today, had we not turned from God in the garden. I am certain gullibility is only a trait caused by the fall since it relies on lies and deception (think upon Satan’s deception of Eve). It is in our nature to “believe testimony.” Gullibility rests more on the transponder than the receiver, but because of the fall we as receivers must test the credulity of transponders, and “we learn to fine-tune it as we discover which sorts of people are reliable (or not)…Our knowledge would be scant indeed if we couldn’t learn from other people’s experience, if we couldn’t trust the testimony of books, teachers, and parents.” Testimony is indeed crucial.
Stokes includes an Immanuel Kant quote calling for those of faith to grow up, yet it came across to me as childish. It sounded more like a toddler’s first coherent composed phrase: NO, I DO IT! Self-reliance is immature and prideful. It gives us men prone to little to no counsel– Hitler and Stalin come to mind. Stokes warns of the abuse of reason, “like most tools, helpful if used properly dangerous if abused.” As I constantly warn my boys, tools are not toys, when tools are used as toys things get broken or people get hurt.
Stokes closes out chapter four laying out “faith is the starting point for all we know and believe.” It is that foundation evidentialism is missing. Finally, Stokes assures the need to “depend on someone or something other than ourselves” in trusting testimony, turning the atheist’s mantra on its head. “Don’t tell me to question authority and then get upset when I question authority.” This only works when trying to unseat the establishment, but once you become the establishment it becomes difficult to assert any authority. “Trust me,” indeed.
Chapter Five: Darwin’s Doubt
Chapter five brings us back to gullibility and credulity: “but does that mean we must trust all testimony? Surely not… the real question for us at this point, then, is who– and what– should we put our faith in?” How do we trust what we trust? I must admit there was some more pretzel brain syndrome I encountered in this chapter, but the breakdown of both agnosticism and atheism was very enlightening, and I would highly recommend this chapter to anyone desiring to understand either, and the differences between them. Stokes does a masterful job dissecting these two world views in a few short pages. Here in chapter five, Stokes brings us back to Hume and his contemporary Reid. Hume is shown to take an intellectual cop-out “confessing ignorance about our origins,” and Reid’s statement comes into play again “since faculty and reason came both out of the same shop.” So where do these key elements come from for Hume? He confesses ignorance, and as Plantinga points out this “leads to further problems. Serious ones.” This is where my brain turned into a pretzel a bit, but Stokes was using this for effect to show the errancy of Hume’s argument being built upon ever shifting sand. “Mistrust always feeds on itself– and its destruction is widespread. Ask anyone who has been lied to.” Agnosticism then is essentially lying to yourself. Time to close the book on agnosticism then. Moving onto atheism.
Stokes makes a pithy observation contrasting atheists from agnostics: “neither atheists nor agnostics believe in God, but atheists have the further belief that God doesn’t (author’s ephasis) exist, wheras agnostics would refrain from taking such a stand.” Ugh. Today’s atheists, as Stokes points out, have received a gift from Darwin which Hume could not posess– evolution. Evolution gave atheists a creaton story. “They firmly believe that their cognitive faculties are the result of blind, unguided evolution.” However, Stokes takes the time to dissect how evolution cannot be relied upon for proper cognitive faculties, even highlighting Darwin’s misgivings on trusting the “convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals.” So, the “atheists find themselves in a situation very similar to Hume’s” in the end anyway. Put a nail through atheism then too. It is interesting Stokes doesn’t argue evolution vs. creationism. He doesn’t have to, he allows evolution as a theory to implode on itself.
So what if the atheist doesn’t cling to blind evolution? Well, then they must be concerned with true beliefs, and if that is the case “then maybe the widespread belief in god would be a kind of ‘evolutionary’ evidence for his existence.” Uh oh… It should also be noted Stokes uses the small ‘g’ god here as he is merely arguing for the existence of a god, not the God.
Stokes drives the final nail into the coffin of agnosticism and atheism by proving them to be “self-defeating.” This, then, is the first time we begin to pick up Christianity in earnest since “Christianity doesn’t suffer from the self-defeat that afflicts agnosticism and atheism.” The chapter closes with Stokes highlighting arguments form the previous chapters on evidentialism and faith, tying them to the arguments in chapter five on agnosticism and atheism. So, “is it rational to believe in God?” Here again, I believe Stokes is recognizing the Spirit’s role in faith, warning that “only a small fraction of Christians have come to believe in God through an argument.” Our basic, rational belief in God is “caused by experience working through properly functioning faculty in an appropriate environment.” Think on how Christ came into your life, likely it didn’t come about via a formal debate. Thankfully “belief in God can be entirely rational without being based on argument whatsoever.” Regardless, the arguments will present themselves to us, and we should, as Stokes calls us, have “calm confidence.”