Sunday, September 23, 2012

What would it take to lose your faith?

David Marshall recently had an abortive exchange with militant atheist Peter Boghossian:

Boghossian’s attitude is irrational. He acts as if it’s useless to debate someone unless your opponent is open to persuasion. But public debates aren’t about convincing your opponent. Marshall is a published Christian apologist who’s debated other atheists. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Marshall is a fideist, if Boghossian had debated him and demonstrated that Marshall’s faith is irrational, that would be a notch in Boghossian’s belt.

Be that as it may, I’d like to address Boghossian’s challenge. He said:

Answer this question: What would it take for you to lose your faith?

This does not answer the question. Please answer the question or this will be our last communication.  What reasons would have to be mistaken? Give me an example of a reason and how you know it would be mistaken. What would this look like?

But that’s a deceptively simple question.

i) For one thing, professing Christians can lose their faith for emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons. Disappointment is a common factor.

ii) Presumably, Boghossian’s is getting at the issue of whether Christian faith is falsifiable. And there’s a qualified sense in which, hypothetically speaking, Christianity must be falsifiable. Christianity can’t be true and still be made consistent with just anything. Christianity is not constantly redefinable. If Christianity is true, then some other things are false. And if some other things are true, then Christianity is false. For instance, if Islam were true, that would falsify Christianity.

iii) Also, from a Reformed standpoint, faith is something only God can give, and something which, by the same token, God can take away.

iv) However, some beliefs are more far-reaching than others. Let’s alter Boghossian’s question:

What would it take for you to cease believing in other minds or the external world?

Now that’s not a question which is easy to answer. Indeed, the question may be unanswerable. That’s because belief in other minds or the external world are beliefs by which we evaluate other beliefs. But if you ask me to consider what reality is like assuming that my friends, parents, siblings, spouse, and kids are computer simulations, that my memories are implanted, then that’s a question I can’t answer, for at that point I have lost any frame of reference. I have nothing left to go on.

v) Perhaps Boghossian would say that’s an extreme case, which is hardly analogous to losing your Christian faith. But is it? Actually, a godless world is even more reductionistic than the scenario I just outlined. Consider some implications of the Christian faith:

a) Our minds, memories, and senses are trustworthy in performing what God designed them to do.

b) There’s objective morality.

c) There’s a good reason for everything that happens.

But suppose you deny Christianity, and thereby deny those implications. If you go down that road, you begin to lose your bearings. You can’t find your way back. Deny (a-c), and what’s left? What’s your standard of comparison? 

vi) Which brings me back to (ii). Hypothetically speaking, Christianity is falsifiable. Yet even falsification takes certain truth-conditions for granted. But what if denying Christianity ends up denying the ability to evaluate anything?

Boghossian’s question is superficial. It fails to take the alternative into account.  


  1. What Would it Take For You to Change Your Mind? Reasonable Faith Podcast with William Lane Craig

  2. (To Atheists) Answer this question: What would it take for you to lose your faith in atheism?