Is "proof" beyond faith?

Discussion in 'Defending the Faith' started by amishrockstar, Mar 15, 2017.

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  1. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    Is it possible to prove/demonstrate the existence of God to an atheist (i.e. someone who doesn't accept the Bible as "proof")? If so, how can it be done effectively without using the Bible? If not, does that bother you, or are you comfortable with just saying it all comes down to "faith?"

    Is there "one" open-and-shut case for Christianity, or do we have multiple apologetic methods because there are multiple personalities and ways to persuade people?

    Since Christians believe by "faith," is trying to offer evidence (i.e. physical/rational) sinful?

  2. rickclayfan

    rickclayfan Puritan Board Freshman

    Nature and rational argumentation affirm the existence of a higher being(s), but Scripture (its qualities) is the strongest argument in favor of the Christian God being the true deity. Then again, without regeneration, no amount of rational argumentation will suffice to persuade an unregenerate man. The ultimate foundation of that persuasion is faith. The faith of a regenerate man is not a mere intellectual notion, but a subjective organ of vision and perception.
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Let's make sure the field is level. The atheist has as much faith as the Christian. All "proof" will ultimately depend upon beliefs for validation.

    As a starting-point, I would observe that beliefs themselves are unseen. The very idea that men have beliefs requires belief. Ergo, any argument which begins with the premise that one can only believe what he sees is self-refuting.
  4. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    Could you elaborate on "how" Scripture is the strongest argument in favor of God? I don't suppose you mean by its mere existence, right? Do you mean that if an atheist reads a portion of it it proves God's existence somehow?

    Sorry, a little unclear about what you mean.

    Also, if faith is "subjective," how could you argue with others (e.g. Muslims or Mormons) who say that they have "faith" as well? In other words, if you're discussing the reasons for why you believe in the one true God, and you state that you have a subjective faith in Him, then couldn't they just argue in the same manner?

  5. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    I thought only Christians could have "faith," no? In what way does an atheist have faith? And if you're saying they have a different kind of faith, then isn't that equivocating on the term?

    I'm not sure that I follow that "beliefs require belief." That sounds like a tautology. Beliefs can be founded on evidence, reasons, or experiences, can't they?
  6. rickclayfan

    rickclayfan Puritan Board Freshman

    The subjective perception is not an argument for His existence. It is invalid to argue your position merely because you feel it to be true. My point is that it is the ultimate ground of the belief in God's existence. The following illustration was used by certain authors: once there was a philosopher arguing that motion does not exist. So, a man stood up and walk and thereby refuted the philosopher's claim. In the same way, a believer simply knows that God exists by personal and subjective experience; he does not need rational argumentation. This perception cannot be used as an argument, of course. A believer does not believe because he is persuaded by arguments and reason, but because he knows. Arguments and reason simply serve to prop up and strengthen that persuasion.

    I mention the subjective nature of faith merely to show that reasoning is insufficient to persuade an unbeliever. This is not because the belief in God is irrational, but because (1) we cannot presuppose that reason is a satisfactory intermediary in this discourse (on what grounds do we suppose reason to be the ultimate source/propounder of truth?) and (2) our mind is darkened by sin.

    In regard to Scripture, I do not mean that it is the mere reading of it that will convert an atheist. Instead, Scripture possesses certain qualities that serve to support its divine origin. These qualities I wrote of in a previous post:
  7. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    On the level of argument, an atheist is said to "believe" God does not exist in the very same sense that a Christian is said to "believe" God exists. There is no equivocation. The nature of their opposition depends on using the word "believe" in the same sense in both instances.

    Can you see your beliefs? Yet you believe you have them. Why? What makes you think they are not electrical impulses flooding your brain in an unusually high frequency? Are your beliefs free? or are they caused by something else? is this something else material or spiritual? If they are caused by something else what relation do they bear to evidence, reasons, or experiences? But if they are free how can they be founded on anything? Assumptions abound in the use of the word "belief."
  8. rickclayfan

    rickclayfan Puritan Board Freshman

    I would have to kindly disagree. The negation of belief is not technically belief. I would say this situation is not a battle of faiths, but a battle of preconceived notions and philosophical foundations (the atheist believes in a rational/empirical system, while the Christian goes beyond that).
  9. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Technically, perhaps not, especially once you dig deeper and learn that the atheist has no foundation for any belief whatever. But, as noted, on the level of argument, the opposition of the one to the other depends on the univocal use of "belief."
  10. rickclayfan

    rickclayfan Puritan Board Freshman

    I see, thanks for clearing it up.
  11. mgkortus

    mgkortus Puritan Board Freshman

    I think it is important to have a clear understanding of faith. Most often when an unbeliever speaks of faith, he is referring to something you just accept because it cannot be be proven.
    However, for the believer, the object of our faith is so obvious it is beyond proof!
  12. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the generous response!

    I'm just not quite sure there would be much there for a conversation with an atheist though. If believers believe only because they "know," then there isn't much reasoning or discussion to be had. An atheist won't accept that anymore than we might accept a Mormon saying that he/she knows the book of Mormon is right because he/she felt a burning in the bosom.

    About the scriptural qualities, how would you convince a skeptic who says that Muslims make similar claims for the Quran: It's highly advanced, it's full of wisdom, there is history and unity, etc.?

    Thanks again!
  13. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman


    I still don't quite understand though. The faith or "belief" that a believer has is "unto salvation." How is that anyway similar to the "faith" an atheist supposedly has?

    Many atheists say they have a "lack of belief in God." It's not an active faith/belief as a Christian has. Maybe it's a difference between "strong" vs. "weak" atheism? Strong atheists say something like "there is no god and I can prove it," while weak atheists would say something like, "I haven't seen any convincing evidence for..."

    "No," I can't see my beliefs, but I don't have to "believe" that I have beliefs either. They are there as a matter of experience and thinking through issues. It seems like "belief" is being used in different ways, and I hate to throw out the term equivocation again.

    Beliefs, whatever that may mean, I suppose can be formed by evidence, reasons, or experiences. And "yes" I do think our brains play a part in what we do and don't believe.

    Anywho, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
  14. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    It is (but it's obviously impossible to prove the God of the **Bible** exists without using the **Bible**), but by "proof," I mean proof in an objective sense: the atheist generally will not accept the proof. It is not that something is wrong with the proof itself--whether in terms of logic or evidence--but the deceitful heart will prevent an unbeliever from thinking clearly enough in this matter to be persuaded. I think the best sort of proof to use will vary from person to person and situation to situation. However, I think the goal should be to (1) present the objective proof, regardless of whether the unbeliever will accept it, and (2) show the unbeliever is unrighteously suppressing the truth. A way to accomplish both goals at once is to work with the sorts of arguments that show the unbeliever's beliefs lead to destruction, whereas the unbeliever's false beliefs assume the existence of the things the unbeliever seeks to disprove, i.e., presuppositional arguments such as Rev. Winzer has brought forth. Try not to get lost in details; it probably suffices to show the existence of an infinite, eternal, unchangeable, personal Mind, since that opens up the possibility of revelation (from there, you can go to the Bible as a candidate source of revelation and find out more about this Mind).

    Having presented the proof and done some work to clear objections (the unbeliever will always have more objections; there will come a point in the conversation where it will become clear the wicked heart is being unreasonable; that is when you know you have done all you can so far as arguments from the light of nature go), one should move on to speak plainly to the reality of the situation: the unbeliever is a sinner (make use of the law of God in showing this) and Christ offers the sinner salvation. Oddly (although not really oddly), at this point in a conversation, some unbelievers will talk as though what you say is true. It is the Word of God that is the means of grace that brings salvation, so it is best to move conversation to this point as quickly as one can. However, it depends on the situation: some people have never heard a proper rational defense of the Christian religion; since this unbeliever will need to love God with his or her mind, it is important that they have the arguments. When the Spirit works, the truth of the arguments will then become plain to them. Other people have heard plenty of rational argumentation but have a surprisingly weak grasp of Christian truth or have theological hangups (e.g., they might object from the problem of evil or something; these can be smokescreens, but they give you something that you can use for discussion). Still others have heard enough and simply need to be reminded by you again. One should carefully do whatever seems best for the situation, but in all cases, one should still move quickly to the Word of God itself.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
  15. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think most of the time we need to just use the weapon God gave us. The sword of God's Word is sharp; and here's the wonderful thing--it never asks anyone's permission to work. "Faith [that the Bible is God's Word, that Jesus is the Savior, etc] comes by hearing", not before hearing. Talk about sin; talk about Christ. Talk about how Jesus said in John 3:19 that the reason we sin is that naturally, everyone actually LOVES sin. Ask them if that isn't their experience too (be honest!)?

    I live in a majority Muslim country; a place where almost everyone affirms the existence of God, but denies the authority of the Bible. Many times I begin to think, "I need to convince his person of the truth of the Bible before I can share the Bible with them in any way that they are going to receive." But it's simply not true. The Word of God works effectually with or without our permission. In this sense, people may (and do) believe in Christ actually before they believe in the Bible. I know this is a little different than your question, but maybe there's some application.

    Aside from the Bible, I'm beginning to think that the best apologetic is genuine Christian fellowship. Maybe this relates more directly to your question. Without quoting Bible, without trying to prove the existence of God, simply bring your atheist friend (if he's willing), not necessarily even to church, but to a group of Christians who are simply genuinely sharing struggles, sins, honestly and genuinely, perhaps over meal. A lot of times I begin thinking that it's doctrine that's going to win people over. Most of the time it's simply our lives, and genuine love that breaks down the barriers.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  16. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    "Yes," that's exactly what an atheist would say, "faith is something you just accept because it cannot be proven."

    But, in a way, isn't that just what Christians say as well? You don't set out to "prove" anything, right? By the power of the Spirit, you "accept" God's existence and commands, right?

    Saying something is "beyond proof" is, in effect, to say the same thing that the atheist says about God's existence, no?

    Again, as the title asks, isn't "proof" going beyond faith?

  17. rickclayfan

    rickclayfan Puritan Board Freshman

    It's worth remembering that we do not convert people, only God has the power to do so. If there was a step-by-step guide that had infallible results all the time, we would have it by now. The thing is, like was mentioned by Raymond, the problem is not with the proofs or argumentation, but with the human heart. If we begin to suppose that people can be converted solely through argumentation we would be guilty of Pelagianism.
  18. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    That's three (at least) questions. Maybe I can say a few words on the third question.

    I am not sure it is always sinful to offer evidence for the existence of God. But the moment you think that your atheistic opponent is ignorant of God he scores ten points.

    There are some things that not only can be known about God but are known about God already by all men. This knowledge does not come to men at the end of some elaborate search or intellectual process. They know him already. They know this because God has shown it to them by making this knowledge plain to them. So let's consider what they know about God. Do they know that there is a God? Yes, but they know more. They know the true God. The very same God we Christians know. No, they don't know everything about him but let's see just what they do know. They know his invisible attributes, his eternal power, his immortality and his divine nature, all of which have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world so that they are without excuse. And what do all me do with this innate knowledge? Do they seek God? No, they suppress these glorious truths by their unrighteousness.

    What else do they know? They know God is angry at their sin from the awful things that come upon them in this world, to even seemingly innocent people, for the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all their ungodliness and unrighteousness. They also know that deserve eternal punishment in hell. And what do they do? Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

    So is it sinful to offer evidence for the existence of God? Maybe not, but be careful! Don't unwittingly aid your opponent in his God-denying program of suppressing the truth. Remind him that he knows God and that he is just denying it to his eternal ruin.

    PS - See Romans 1:18-32
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  19. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    In a nutshell, faith is simply trust (which of necessity includes knowledge and assent). A Christian is not saved because He has faith itself, but faith in God. An unbeliever is not one who does not have faith, but one who does not have faith in God. The atheist trusts in science, or the human intellect, etc.

    Man is condemned, not for a lack of faith, but for a lack of faith in God, which is a rejection of the object of the Christian faith.
  20. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    On the level of the formal argument, again, noticing what each one is setting forward in opposition to the other, the believer is not believing "unto salvation," but simply believing in God as such. He is setting forth theism; and in opposition to this belief the atheist is setting forth his belief that God does not exist. Until this formal aspect of the argument is properly levelled out it will be impossible to establish what passes for "credible" or "reasonable" belief. The criteria for rationality will be more severe on the theist than on the atheist, and the atheist will never be required to answer for his beliefs according to his own rational tests. Once that is the case you cannot "prove" anything, either objectively or subjectively.

    On that criteria I would say that it is impossible to establish an objective basis for any belief.
  21. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't know. I still don't think it's right to say that "faith in God" and "faith in science" are the same kind of "faith."

    I don't think it's correct to say that "faith" is simply "trust." They are synonyms for sure, but I feel that there's a distinction between the two. Christian faith isn't simply trust that comes from "knowledge and assent," but it also entails an element of trusting and believing even when you don't know what's going on or what the plan is (e.g. the faith of Abraham with Isaac).

    Christians trust in what they cannot see (i.e. God), while atheists (those who lean towards western science) trust in what they can see. This reminds me of the "some trust in chariots... but we trust in the Lord" verse.

    Ultimately, I don't think it's correct to say that an atheist has "faith in science," since I don't think Christian "faith" and the word "trust" are perfect synonyms. Scientists "trust" in science because of their experiments that lead to results (their theories are tested in the physical world, they work, and they trust them); there isn't really an equivalent to that in Christianity (i.e. "taste and see that the Lord is good..." isn't a science experiment).

    So, again, to me, it seems like equivocation to apply "faith" to non-believers, especially to scientists.
  22. mgkortus

    mgkortus Puritan Board Freshman

    I recommend reversing the order. Rather than saying proof is beyond faith, I prefer to say that faith is beyond proof. In other words, the object of our faith is so clear and obvious that it goes beyond proof. To use an analogy: if you and another individual were standing in the middle of a rain storm, it would not be necessary to prove to that individual that is raining.

    But it is always important to remember that (saving) faith is the gift of God given only to the elect and it is included as part of our salvation. The Canons of Dort make this clear.
  23. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    If the object of faith (i.e. God) is "so clear and obvious that it goes beyond proof," then why do apologists, debaters, and millions of Christians spend so much time, energy, and money trying to "prove" God to non-believers?

    That God is "invisible" and "unseen" goes against the assertion that God is so clear and obvious. Doesn't the Bible mention that unbeliever's minds are darkened by God, and so it is not so clear to them who or what God is? Aren't even "believers" seeing things as through a glass, "darkly?"

    Again, I think that the whole apologetics industry goes against the idea that faith is beyond the need for proof (or at least "people" themselves are beyond the "need" for proof).
  24. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    That is what the atheist would have you believe, but it is nonsense. Here you are writing to other people. You must believe that they have a mind to understand you. Yet these minds to whom you are writing are "invisible" and "unseen."

    There is a whole realm of unseen realities which is obvious to reason. Reason itself is unseen; as is volition, morality, virtue, etc.

    Again, until it is realised that atheism is a "belief," and that the atheist is equally bound to account for the foundation and functionality of "belief" in human beings, the debate is unevenly inclined to his advantage, and the theist has no hope of showing the rationality of belief in God. The field must be levelled out.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017
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  25. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    The non-believer is deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), not able to come to Jesus unless given to by God (Eph. 2:2), must be quickened by God (Eph. 2:4-5), cannot choose righteousness until regenerated (Titus 3:5), loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), is unrighteous, does not understand, does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), is helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2-1), is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2-3), cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14), and is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:15-20).

    Apparently not a few actually believe they can argue these spiritual corpses into the Kingdom. Seems to me it would be more prudent to inform the non-believer of his dire state of affairs and how terrible it will be to fall into the hands of the living God, yet mercifully that same God has provided a means for them to avoid the wrath to come: Romans 3:23; 6:23; 8:1; 10:9; 10:13.
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  26. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    To add on to what has been said, there are a variety of reasons why. AMR has given one. Some others people have are (1) to shut the mouth of unbelief, (2) to encourage believers in their faith, (3) to leave unbelief all the more without excuse, and (4) to awaken the sense of divinity by means of these arguments.

    It depends on what you mean by "proof" and "need." One can know something without proof, and one can believe something on some other basis than proof. The proof merely gives reasons in the public sphere for the truth of some belief. In the case we are discussing, all people have enough proof to know God is and is a rewarder of them that seek Him. In that sense, they do not need proof. However, due to suppression of the truth, people deceive themselves into believing they do not know. Proof can be a means for bringing up what is held under by their suppression. However, it is not the only way to do that: conviction by the Word of God can accomplish the same. So still, we see a sense in which proof is not needed. However, if one wants to have a discussion, then one will need to use something in order to go back and forth. It is in dealing with the mechanics of that that proof is needed (it is needed in discussion when showing an evidential or rational basis for certain theist beliefs).

    Having said all that, if one is going to argue, one should make sure the playing field is level (as Rev. Winzer has been discussing).

    I completely agree. However, on a practical level and in my experience, many people do not have the proper philosophical training to appreciate these sorts of foundationalist or presuppositional arguments. How would you (or anyone on the board who sees this question) bring these arguments down to the level of the common man? Or would your strategy change for such people?
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
  27. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The "other minds" argument is easily grasped. The common practice of speaking or writing to another person expresses a basic belief which is intuitively accepted.
  28. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    How would you distinguish? What are your thoughts on James 2:19?

    "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!"

    The Bible speaks about different kinds of faith. These are sometimes described as historical, temporary, faith of miracles and saving/justifying faith. You may want to consider the scriptures own use of faith, then apply it to science. I think you'll find very much commonality between historical faith and the faith of science or atheism. Ask yourself, "what kind of faith do demons have?" Certainly there are differences, but to avoid using faith in the realm of atheism denies that they base their system of belief on presuppositions. To say that an atheist has no faith is to pretend with them that they don't rely on unprovable assumptions and... the unseen.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017
  29. amishrockstar

    amishrockstar Puritan Board Freshman

    Interesting points and concession.

    I think you'd agree that the human experience in the world is that other humans exist and interact with each other. The "modern" human experience is that we email people we cannot see, and we talk with people on cellphones who are somewhere else. People have addresses and take up physical space; the same cannot be said of God. Your analogy breaks down because the "invisible" and "unseen" nature of humans living in the physical world is not the same as the invisible/unseen nature of God (who no one has seen). In other words, it's not equal to say that one must "believe" that someone will receive an email in the same way a Christian has "faith" in God.

    Abstractions (e.g. morality, virtue, etc) don't exist in the same way that God is said to exist. Again this analogy breaks down.

    I've talked with loads of atheists and seen many, many debates (as I'm sure you have). Atheism is often defined as a "lack of belief." It's not a belief in something or someone; it's a "lack of belief." You don't have a "belief" in the non-existence of leprechauns; you simply lack a belief. The same could probably be said for Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, etc.

    I don't see "faith" and "belief" as the same thing when it comes to discussing theology or religion. They are synonyms but not the exact same thing. Christian faith is not the same as the "belief" that demons have (James 2:19), and it's certainly not the belief that an atheist has that someone is reading his/her messages online.

    I'm sorry, but Christianity is a set of "beliefs," and I'm sure we can agree on that, but atheism is not a set of beliefs, doctrines, or propositions; there is no creed he/she must hold. Atheism is a lack of belief in God (or gods), and we probably won't agree on this point.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  30. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    It is not that you are having a discussion with another person, but that you are assuming the person with whom you are having a discussion has a MIND. The point is that you assume unseen qualities in the person. Yes, the analogy breaks down with regard to God because God is pure spirit and man is not, but before the analogy breaks down it has served the purpose of showing that belief in unseen realities is intuitive and inevitable.
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