The Sufficiency of Probability in Christian Faithby C Michael Patton
I often play a game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” ”Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question). I say, “A guy ran into the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy. “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The door is not locked. It is obvious that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Faced with further looks of skepticism, I have them go check the door to see if it is locked or not. Once they check and see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole in their certainty and caused them to confirm it. No longer possessing the certainty I had required for their epistemic verification, they lose trust in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.
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Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the postmodern push toward perpetual skepticism that gives way to necessary compromise and a redefining of tolerance, along with many in the church responding by appealing to a fideist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe), Evangelicals are left scratching their heads, wondering why we are checking the door to see if it is locked.
“You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. Some have said that it borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”
“You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”
When a suspicious world says that we cannot be certain about anything because of the alternative possibilities, we find ourselves defending a position drunk with its own form of compromise. When people poke holes in our beliefs with arguments no better than “look, the door is not locked!” we find ourselves missing the big picture, attempting to argue about the security of the door…
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