by C Michael PattonOctober 18th, 2012 19 Comments
I often play a game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” ”Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question). I say, “A guy ran into the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy. “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The door is not locked. It is obvious that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Faced with further looks of skepticism, I have them go check the door to see if it is locked or not. Once they check and see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole in their certainty and caused them to confirm it. No longer possessing the certainty I had required for their epistemic verification, they lose trust in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.
Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the postmodern push toward perpetual skepticism that gives way to necessary compromise and a redefining of tolerance, along with many in the church responding by appealing to a fideist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe), Evangelicals are left scratching their heads, wondering why we are checking the door to see if it is locked.
“You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. Some have said that it borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”
“You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”
When a suspicious world says that we cannot be certain about anything because of the alternative possibilities, we find ourselves defending a position drunk with its own form of compromise. When people poke holes in our beliefs with arguments no better than “look, the door is not locked!” we find ourselves missing the big picture, attempting to argue about the security of the door.
How did we get here?
The father of the so-called Age of Reason, Rene Descartes, was commissioned by a cardinal in the church to find a way of attaining a level of certainty that went beyond mere probability. With skepticism on the rise, probability was looked at as the ugly step-sister of the indubitability that accompanied absolute certainty. Indubitability equates to infallible knowledge—knowledge that can’t be wrong. Prove without a shadow of a doubt that God exists by mere intuitive resources. That was Descartes’ commission.
(Let me repeat as this may be a new word to some of you. Indubitability describes the impossibility of being wrong due to an exhaustive and infallible method of inquiry; it means something is beyond the possibility of question or doubt.)
There was celebration at Descartes’ seeming defeat of the skepticism of his day. His “I think, therefore I am” looked as if it provided a bridge to attain the type of certainty to which humans have never been privy. His methodology, which became known as “the Cartesian method,” was adopted in large part by those in the West. And thus began the Age of Reason, where certainty—indubitable certainty—reigned supreme.
Christianity was never bound by any sort of indubitability from a human perspective. We have never been required to check the lock on any door. In fact, no one actually can or does live by such a standard in the acquisition of truth.
But alas, we often think we are supposed to. We have turned “the evidence that demands a verdict” into “the evidence that produces indubitability.” At least that is what we are pressured into doing.
Once this method does not produce absolute certainty, once we cannot account for the door being unlocked, we find ourselves wondering why we are being forced to check the door in the first place. Yet we do it anyway. When the door is unlocked, those who are epistemically conditioned to find this substantial, like my children, enter into a state of suspended belief, doubt, or skepticism, or opt for a “leap of faith” that demands no evidence, and then sneer at those who do demand evidence as if it is passé.
What my kids should say is this, “Daddy, I don’t care if the door is unlocked. It does not play a sufficient part in your proposition to warrant a disregard of the greater areas of viability with regard to our belief that you are the one who slapped us.” And if I respond, “But you don’t know with perfect, absolute, and infallible certainty,” they should say, “No daddy, probability is sufficient to warrant, yea, demand a belief such as ours and, as a consequence, to reject your alternative.” Well, if they said it like that, I would be scared (who says “yea” anymore?), but you know what I am saying.
Probability is sufficient. We neither need to go into intellectual hibernation and accept our beliefs on blind faith, nor do we need to suspend our belief until all the objections, no matter how improbable, are answered (i.e., we don’t need to check the door).
What I posed to my children was merely a possibility to explain the slap, but possibilities do not create probabilities. We are responsible in this life to act upon the revelation given to us, not to seek absolute indubitability.
We are neither postmodern skeptics nor modern rationalists. We find value in both skepticism, when truly warranted, and rationality, when the probability is conditioned by God to be such.
In other words, our belief in Christ’s resurrection should not be sidetracked simply because someone presents an alternative possibility. Yes, we engage these alternatives, but we don’t give them more credit than they deserve. The old illustration of the “leaky bucket” only finds relevance in an imaginary world where indubitability is required for every rational decision. Those who say that the Christian story borrowed from other religions or that Christ’s body was thrown into a shallow grave have simply presented other possibilities that are often no more sufficient to warrant credibility than my “look, the door is unlocked.” Possibility, yes. Probability, no.
Don’t be shaken by unlikely theories.
Don’t hypocritically require indubitability.
Don’t think that all possibilities are equal.
Don’t opt for a “leap of faith” type of faith.
Just because something is possible does not make it probable.
Finally, and most importantly, I believe that the resurrection of Christ is probable to such a degree that the only rational option is for all people to fall on their faces and worship him.
- What if You Missed Something?
- Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith
- Googling for Truth: The Great Commission and Information Overload
- When I Don’t Trust God
- Mike Licona on Christian Doubt