Killing Faith: Deconstructionist Christians
Proving the literal truth of the Bible is counterproductive to Christianity.
by Brian Dunning
December 7, 2006
Also available in Japanese
Today we're going to take a bit of a departure and delve into a religious question, not with any intent to prove or disprove anyone's beliefs, but to study the logical underpinnings of the value of such proof. Perhaps the most important pillar of religion is faith. Its importance is that it is independent of proof or evidence; indeed, it is the lack of proof or evidence that makes faith what it is. If proof or evidence did exist, faith would become superfluous and unimportant.
There is a profound contradiction rising in the world of religion. Some proponents of various religious dogma such as Creationism, Noah's Flood, and Revelations have taken a disturbing turn. They have taken to performing scientific research in an effort to prove their religious belief, thus directly attacking their religion's central pillar: faith. In this episode we're going to consider the value of this.
Abraham is regarded as the father of faith among most of the world's people, including Muslims, Christians, and Jews. He earned this title through demonstrating the mightiest act of all: being willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac, indeed with the dagger poised above his head ready to fall. Isaac was saved when God sent an angel at the last second to put a stop to it, who told Abraham that he'd proven his faith. It was an act that very few among us could have duplicated; I certainly wouldn't have done it. For this reason, Abraham is exalted, and rightly, according to the religious tenets. His was truly an act of great faith.
Consider this question: If Abraham had known that God would intervene at the last second to spare Isaac, would his act have been as heroic?
Theological tradition tells us no, it would not have. The reason the Abraham story is important is that it's the supreme demonstration of faith. Abraham raised his dagger fully intending to kill his beloved Isaac, all for his faith in God. He felt every ounce of the unimaginable anguish. Could you have brought the dagger down and plunged it into your own child? Achieving this level of faith is the essential goal of all Christians, and for that matter, it is for Muslims and Jews as well. Faith must be the absolute pillar of religion.
Now let's turn the clock forward a few thousand years and see where the faithful are today. Surprisingly, I see a lot of them doing the equivalent of asking questions before raising the dagger. Questions like "Can you please prove to me that the angel's going to intervene? Can you show me the scientific evidence that proves Intelligent Design? Can we find some natural explanation proving it was possible for Moses to part the Red Sea?"
The Associates for Biblical Research (abr.christiananswers.net) publishes a quarterly PDF document called "Bible & Spade". It's all about archaeological projects throughout the middle east that they say supports the Biblical record. The current issue offers evidence from Egypt on the location of the Exodus crossing of the Red Sea. They have an exhaustive mission statement page, in which they state and restate their belief that the Bible is absolutely and literally a correct and true historical document. It is "infallible, inerrant and authoritative". Their purpose also includes "Edifying the Christian Church by encouraging a deeper knowledge of, greater appreciation for, and stronger faith in the Bible through knowledge and correct interpretation of the findings from archaeology and science." In short, they are all about proving the Bible is true through archaeology. They call this "encouraging stronger faith in the Bible". Encouraging faith through proof. They want to leave us no room for doubt.
Maybe my dictionary is out of date, but faith and proof are oil and water. Faith needs no proof, and in the presence of proof, faith becomes irrelevant. Faith means to believe without proof; indeed, it means to believe in spite of evidence to the contrary. Where is the heroic faith in believing in something that's proven right before your eyes? That's hardly a demonstration worthy of Abraham. To seek to marginalize the element of faith by showing supporting evidence, is to seek to undermine the whole basis of the religion.
We see the same thing happening in any of the numerous groups seeking to find Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat in Turkey. On some of their websites you'll find tremendous amounts of information about how a wooden ark could have survived thousands of years, how it could get so high on the mountain when there's not enough water on the planet to do it, exactly where it's located in the satellite photographs, exactly how two of every animal could fit on one ark, what its dimensions are and where and how it was built, and so forth. But nowhere did I find an explanation of why it's important that it be found. To my way of thinking, even if you're of the mindset that Noah's flood was simply a literal account of an incident and not a meaningful allegory, then allowing it to be found, thus proving the story, would be more likely to be on Satan's agenda than on God's. Why would God want to marginalize faith? I can think of every reason why Satan would want to do this, but not God. Is proving the Bible really doing the work of God?
If faith is to have any relevance, there must be room for doubt. Without doubt, there is no faith. Without faith, there is no religion. The ability to doubt is essential to religion.
Abraham's faith did not need the crutch of supporting scientific evidence that God is real, nor would he have made much of an impression upon God if he'd had such. I challenge those who are true believers to stick with their faith, and to hold their faith to be (if I may borrow the terms) "infallible, inerrant, and authoritative". Or, if you want to use what science tells us instead, then consider that you're no longer keeping your faith in the infallibity of scripture. You cannot do both. If scripture is infallible, then the very act of doing scientific research into its factuality is a sign that you've already replaced your faith with doubt. If faith is not enough to support religion on its own, then faith has already been killed.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Killing Faith: Deconstructionist Christians." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
7 Dec 2006. Web.
22 Nov 2017. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4012>
References & Further Reading
Anonymous. The Bible (King James Version). Various: Various, 2006. Genesis Chapter 22.
Corbin, B.J. The Explorers Of Ararat: And the Search for Noah's Ark. Online: Great Commission Illustrated (GCI) Books, 2009. 73-108.
Hoitenga, D.J., Jr. Faith and Reason from Plato to Plantinga: an Introduction to Reformed Epistemology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
Moberly, R. W. L. The Bible, Theology, and Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Rosenberg, David. Abraham: the first historical biography. New York: Basic Books, 2006. 40-45.
Shorto, R. Descartes' Bones: a Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
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