The Minneapolis Ex-Jehovah's Witness "ALPHA" Meetup Group Message Board › Ryan Sutter Series (Part 5)

Ryan Sutter Series (Part 5)

Group Organizer
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 88
Reason and Faith

I remember taking a philosophy class back in high school in which we discussed the nature of faith. I could not, for the life of me, understand what the teacher was getting on about when he talked about the question of whether faith needed to have an evidentiary starting place. As his example he talked about Noah?s Ark and asked if it would change or strengthen a person?s belief in the Bible if the ark were found. He then asked if the fact that finding Noah?s ark might strengthen faith means that the faith was weak in the first place.

I didn?t understand this argument because to me faith without evidence, without reason, was inconceivable. I?ve never been capable of believing in something simply because I wished to believe in it. I have always needed to have a starting place for my faith and to have solid reasons on which to build it. I?m not good at believing things because they are comforting or because they nice things to believe. I never have been and frankly I was trained from a young age not to be by none other than my religion, the Jehovah?s Witnesses.

The Watchtower Society has a book called ?Reasoning From the Scriptures? which is basically the guidebook for discussions when going door to door. You can look up a topic and read what it has to say on the topic, get quotes and scriptural citations and basically work from there. On the topic of Faith it has this to say:

?True faith is not credulity, that is, a readiness to believe something without sound evidence or just because a person wants it to be so. Genuine faith requires basic or fundamental knowledge, acquaintance with evidence, as well as heartfelt appreciation of what that evidence indicates.? - Reasoning From the Scriptures, page 129

This definition of faith is interesting. It specifically mentions that we should have sound evidence for what we believe and that we should not believe things simply because we want them to be so. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Think about it. If we simply believe whatever we want to believe that is no way to find ?truth?. I can believe all day that I have an invisible friend hanging out with me but it doesn?t make him real. If he started moving things around, fluffing the pillows and pouring me coffee I might have something to go on because evidence would be provided but otherwise the belief would simply be wishful thinking or credulity. So, I can definitely agree in principle with the statement that there is a difference between faith and credulity. The big question then becomes one of evidence. Where does evidence end and faith begin? This is where I differ in my opinion of what the Society says here. They first suggest the need for ?sound evidence? but their definition of genuine faith only calls for ?basic and fundamental knowledge? and ?acquaintance with evidence? along with ?heartfelt appreciation of what that evidence indicates?. I have always taken this to mean that sound evidence would lead one to the truth and that faith would enhance ones appreciation for it. Evidence and reason should not then contradict faith but rather bolster it. It seems that perhaps for all these years I have been reading this wrong. I have always thought that you were supposed to get all the knowledge and evidence you could and then allow faith to fill in the gaps where logic, reason, science and the senses can?t operate. What it actually appears to be suggesting, however, is that you should learn the rough outline, the basics, the general facts and then use your heart to interpret them or at least to provide you with an appreciation for them.

At what point though does a person of faith stop acquiring evidence and reason and start exercising faith? What constitutes a basic fundamental understanding of the evidence? How is a person supposed to know that their heart is being guided to an accurate conclusion? What is ?sound evidence??

In an effort to answer these questions for this essay I attempted to look up the topic of Science in the Reasoning book and found that there was no heading for that topic. I am also currently unable to find my Watchtower Library CD-ROM so I will simply state what I learned as a member of the organization. I learned that science and reason were to be trusted up to the point where they continued to agree with the Bible. The Bible, being the inspired word of God is inerrant, therefore if the Bible says one thing but science says another, it is at this point that reason and faith part ways. It is at this point that the person of faith chooses to believe the Bible rather than the evidence.

I have had first hand experience with this shearing point between reason and faith on multiple occasions in conversations with my father, the elders and other Jehovah?s Witnesses and Christians of other faiths. I have discussed the evidence, for example, that the flood of Noah?s day could not possibly have been a global deluge. The evidence is completely overwhelming and consistent and I will discuss it in a different post on this site at a later date. Suffice it to say that when the evidence and lines of reasoning conclusively point to a conclusion that contradicts a Bible account the evidence is then rejected as a trick of Satans or as the ?wisdom of men?. Never mind logic, evidence, reason or any of those things at this point. Satan is in control of the world and can make anything appear however he wants it to, therefore if it contradicts with the Bible, it is a deception and false. Additionally, Jehovah can do anything and therefore if it?s not Satans fault that the evidence appears a particular way then Jehovah must have arranged it that way. The reason for this does not need to be understood as God will reveal it all in his due time if we only have faith.
Group Organizer
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 89
For me, sound evidence means what it sounds like. Evidence that is sound. Sound, to my mind means that it will stand up to inspection. That it is logically correct, based on observable reality and capable of withstanding critical analysis. Critical analysis does not produce ideas, but it tests them to see if they make sense, if they are correct. No evidence can be called ?sound evidence? unless it can withstand critical analysis. Critical analysis, therefore, is a an essential component of building faith if said faith is going to lead a person to an accurate conclusion because it is with critical analysis that one determines what is ?sound evidence?. When one determines that this criteria is to be applied to everything EXCEPT the Bible then one is no longer basing faith on evidence, they are basing it on ?wishful thinking? or wanting it to be so. If there is a shearing point at which the Bible trumps evidence then there is no distinction between faith and credulity because ultimately one has to make the decision that the Bible is God?s word. That decision is an act of credulity if not based on evidence and if evidence points in the other direction? well, you can see the conflict I hope. In order to accept the idea that faith requires evidence, then one cannot determine which evidence they accept and reject without resorting to credulity. One can only take the evidence as far as it leads and then use faith to make educated guesses about what it all means even if that means determining that some parts of the Bible cannot possibly be literally true. That is what I always thought I was doing as a Witness until I learned that I simply wasn?t looking closely enough at the evidence.

Basing my faith on reason was what I was taught to do. It was the thing that distinguished faith from credulity. I still believe it is correct and I do not think there is any other way to go about it.
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