A (kind of) review of A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes.
This book unnerved me. In a good way. But it still unnerved me.
Because it challenged much of what I believed about we as humans know stuff. One challenge to belief in God is “show me.” As in, show me the evidence for the belief. Many philosophers argue that for a belief to be rational it must have support evidence. This is called “evidentialism.” Mitch Stokes goes on at length to show how evidentialism is wrong.
Let’s start with conclusion: Stokes argues that if evidentialism is true, then all beliefs (even belief in evidentialism) is irrational. How so? Well, if every belief needs proper “evidence” to be rational, then the evidence (which is usually stated in the form of an argument) which verifies the belief also require evidence. So on, so forth, for infinity. For example:
I believe Roscoe the dog stole my shoes…Why?
Because Roscoe always steals my shoes…Why?
Because I’ve seen Roscoe steal my shoes…Why?
Because I implicitly trust my sense as being reliable…Why?
Because I AM ACTUALLY LIVING BY FAITH…
I guess there’s no escape after all.
So if evidentialism is wrong, then people can have beliefs which are rational without evidence (p. 25). Now, isn’t that unnerving? Yes. But Stokes goes on to show how rational beliefs are formed:
“A rational belief is one formed by a properly functioning cognitive faculty operating in the appropriate environment” (25).
Here’s where things get a little sticky for the philosophical materialist, or atheist. Any notion of proper function goes out the window with naturalism (believing that there is no supernatural world, Creator, etc.). So, you want to learn something? Most of the time, you can learn a lot through mere observation. But how do you know that your eyes are not deceiving you? What we do is we assume that our eyes, and ears, and our minds, function properly. Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that proper function, however, assumes a designer who intends His creation to function a certain way.
For example, the proper function of a car is to drive. But car engineers have made the car for the purpose of driving. But imagine you live a world where no cars exist, or have ever existed. And over time, a bunch of scrap metal in a pile fuses together and forms what looks like a Corvette. How would you know what this thing should do? You couldn’t know whether it should drive, or be a huge paper weight, because there is no designer, and thus no intention behind this pile of metal.
If there is no God, then the universe lacks intention. And if the universe lacks intention, then it would be impossible to say whether or not something in functioning properly. So you could never know whether your eyes or ears or your reason was ever working the right way. You could really never have any knowledge of anything.
But this actually helps us bolster our faith in God. Because belief is God is rational even though we may not have evidence for it. It can be believed in a “basic way.” In other words, belief in God can be formed “by a properly functioning cognitive faculty in an appropriate environment” (59). Often, certain experiences wake within us a belief in God, something transcendent like the birth of a child or a near-death experience.
In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to start with the foundation of belief in God. All people have these foundational beliefs. Remember, if evidentialism is true, then even our foundational beliefs need evidence or arguments. But since they are “foundational” beliefs, then no such evidence exists, and thus the whole structure of our belief system is irrational. To put a point on it: I cannot prove that the Bible is God’s Word and the highest authority. For, if I proved that belief with some piece of evidence, then that piece of evidence would be a greater authority than the Bible! So what I do is start with the Bible as a foundation and work from there.
Maybe, I am too. But Stoke’s book is a challenging and stimulating read.
I will probably have to work out more of Stoke’s work in future blog posts.
Buy, borrow, or byass: Buy this book if you want to be challenged. Easier to read than Plantinga, but still not the easiest thing in the world to read.