What is our worldview and how does it affect how we view our bodies. Matt Burford interviews Nancy Pearcey about her book “Love Thy Body”.
This series of blogs has been spurred by the apparent conflict between scientific styles of reasoning and faith. But we have had to do a lot of “throat-clearing,” defining terms and clarifying ideas. In this post, I’ll allow Rich Sam to offer what I think is perhaps the most important criticism of what I’ve been saying about faith. In turn, in the next blog, we will start to really look at what faith is and how it applies to apologetics. That is, we’re almost to the goal of this series.
The time it is taking to put this all into a series of blogs is a testament to the depth and richness of faith. If anything, it is not an act of wishful thinking, nor simply a “belief without evidence.” I think most believers recognize this, but have difficulty explaining or defending faith itself. Indeed, usually when we say that we’re defending (the) faith, we mean doctrines that we hold, not the means by which we came to the conclusion that they were true. Rare is the person who comes to believe by virtue of scientific-style proofs and logical argumentation. In fact, that is arguably impossible, since faith cannot be acquired by human power alone. My goal here is not to convince anyone to have faith. It is merely an attempt to distill the thoughts of the intellectual giants who have made defenses of faith, and thus show that faith should by no means be derided as irrational or delusory. It may, in fact, be essential to rationality. Of course, in turn, I’d like us to be clear enough about faith so that we can see the boundaries of faith—that believing whatever you want, and that there are epistemological (and morally) unsound means of coming to beliefs that we have labelled “faith,” but is emphatically not faith. It’s just bad thinking.
So, this is the goal of these blogs. Faith, as we’ll see, walks a fine line between the extremes of the delusion of relativism (and the related sloppy/lazy-thinking that we often erroneously label “faith”) and the delusion of scientism. We’ve seen already a bit of how faith is different than scientific-style thinking. Let’s see if it falls into relativism.
Review: Rich Sam, C.S. Lewis, and a Banana
A quick review: The goal of what I’ve been writing about in these last few blogs is to work out the relationship between faith and scientific reasoning. I have argued that faith is a way of seeing that is influenced by values, but so is science. In fact, all perception requires some filtering and organization of inputs, and this organization and filtering can only be values—wants, needs, concerns, fears, loves, etc.
This already suggests that the criticism that those with faith “see what they want to see” is not so terrible a criticism. But that criticism also applies to science.
Indeed, as was suggested in the previous blog about bananas, it may be that science—or, rather, scientism—is in fact encouraging us to become truncated thinkers, with emaciated chests, and the incapacity to see what is truly there: Value (beyond control).
And that there is in fact value in the world is what sets a boundary on the beliefs that one can develop from faith. Faith does not drive us to fanciful beliefs about whatever is that we wish were true. That’s delusion. Faith is valued-perception, to be sure, but it is perception formed by valuing what is in fact there.
Now, an astute reader may notice a problem here. And, in fact, even if you’d not consider yourself terribly astute, my guess is that you have this nagging sense that I am leading you down the road into that great (and silly) error of our time: The rejection of objective truth.
Let’s allow Rich Sam to make this criticism of relativism against me:
“You have said that perception can only happen when values have filtered and organized whatever inputs we are getting from the world. This seems a problem already! If all perception must be formed by values, then we have no access to how the world really is. And people with different values will see the world differently, and we cannot make any kind of judgment about anybody’s beliefs because we have no access to pure fact! That’s relativism and it brings epistemology and ethics crashing down into nihilism!
“But not only that, you have said, strangely, that faith involves perception that is formed by values that truly exist in the world. But how in the world could you possibly know this? You cannot perceive any value in the world without your perception having been formed by values that you already held. And so your view is colored and may be causing you to see something that isn’t really there—how could you even know?
“It is like someone saying that the proper way of seeing is to put on yellow sunglasses. Those around her then say, ‘But why yellow sunglasses?’ And she replies, ‘Because, in reality, the sky is green. And I can see that it is through yellow sunglasses.’ To which they reply, ‘But it only looks green because of your yellow sunglasses.’ And she, shaking with the zeal of the faithful declares, ‘But it is a fact that the sky is green. I see it. And you would too if you cared about the truth enough to put on yellow sunglasses!’
“We would rightfully consider such a person silly and confused. And that seems to be the conclusion of this long bit of nonsense trying to say that faith is good at all!”
I’m not sure why Rich Sam needs to use so many exclamation points, but even if we remove those, he still has a point. If Rich Sam is right in his criticism of me, then I agree that I must be wrong. So, let me respond with two points.
First, there is at least one place where we all can meet: The world as presented to us by science (and science-like thinking). This is, we might say, a somewhat neutral place where we can discuss and bicker about disagreements. It is not absolutely neutral, but it is close to universally-agreed-upon. And it is in fact objective—not in the sense of being “value-less perception,” but in the sense of a way of perceiving things as objects—things to be controlled/used.
And it is not as if the value of control is distorting our view of things. It is rather that it is a truncated or partial view of what is in fact there. It is like seeing the shadow of something or seeing it in greyscale or in a dimly lit room: You’re not in error about the thing, you simply can’t see the entirety of its color and perhaps even its shape.
Partial views of things do not become distortions until one insists that the partial view is the whole, and that any other aspect must be false.
Let me offer an example (again): A human being, as perceived by science, is ultimately a mere collection of physical causes. These causes are beyond our control or natural ability to see. Humans have no dignity or intrinsic value any more than any other collection of causes has dignity or value.
Now, I doubt many scientists or lovers of science would make such a claim. But if science is the final arbiter of all truth, then things such as human dignity are mere fantasies stumbled upon by blind chance that happened to make our DNA better at reproducing itself. That anyone matters at all is a useful tool for survival of the species. That is its only meaning and ground.
Of course, many of those who embrace faith may in fact suffer from the same problem of only looking at part of the world and declaring it the whole—something we may have to touch on down the road.
The point is simply that we do have a place that we can meet. But this place where we meet—the domain of science—is not the realm of all facts, while places where we differ are places of mere subjective opinion. There are facts that science cannot see. That all humans have a basic dignity is one of those facts. Scientists see this fact, but science does not. And a true adherent of scientism could not see beyond what science sees.
So much for an initial response. But what we’ve covered does not quite save us from the critique of Rich Sam that, in declaring that all perception is formed by value, we are therefore removed from how things really are. Let me offer a second response that has a few more details.
So, how do we respond to the problem noted in the analogy of the yellow sunglasses that Rich Sam stated? I have said that faith responds to values that are in fact really there—values that science alone cannot see. It’s as if we want the sky to be green, so we grab a pair of yellow sunglasses, and then declare that we are putting on the yellow sunglasses so we can see that the sky is in fact green.
Firstly, the analogy is bad: Unlike with the sky and sunglasses, there is no perception of the world that is not colored in some way by the values we hold. Many contemporary atheists think that faith is like a pair of colored sunglasses, while science is seeing things with clear eyes unaffected by sunglasses. But there is no seeing things without the analogical colored sunglasses. So the analogy does not quite work.
It is not even a matter of sunglasses, but a matter of light. Values are like light, and to claim that you can see without value is like claiming to be able to see without light.
But if I say that the analogy is bad, doesn’t that simply prove Rich Sam’s point? If we have no direct access to the world, un-colored by values, then how can we recognize which values are real and which are not?
It sure seems that I have fallen into some sort of postmodern relativism, in which none of us have access to reality and so all factual claims are merely interpretations!
And this brings us back to a point made earlier that in many ways answers Rich Sam’s criticism, though it may not be clear how: The world contains value. So the claim that one must perceive the world in an “objective” (meaning here “without value”) manner is simply false.
Again, though, Rich Sam could simply say: “But how can you be sure that your values aren’t coloring things? How can you know that the values that you see are in fact there, rather than simply being projections of values that you already hold? Put simply: How can you know that your values are not merely wishful thinking?”
I think this is the crux of the issue. It is here—or upon recognizing the danger of arriving at this point—that most apologists bristle and begin to try to lay out a set of factual claims to prove that God exists, and so on. But I’m going to take a slightly different direction. A far more fascinating and rich direction, I think.
I may be wrong, and welcome your instruction if you would like to
to this problem will be the topic of the next blog or two…or, you know, however
many it takes to get there.
 Perhaps the most important defense of the epistemological legitimacy of religious belief is that of Alvin Plantinga, while expositions of faith that I have used and are far better than what I write here can be found in a variety of thinkers. I personally recommend Josef Pieper’s On Faith, as well as Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. And, of course, the podcast “W_ndering Toward Wisdom” I have been doing with Dr. Joel Schwartz which has covered some related topics of how value affects perception, and the formation of theories in science.
 Scientism is an ideological term. It refers to that belief, which cannot be determined by science, that science is the final arbiter of all truth. Such a view is obviously self-referentially incoherent, and depends on a view of metaphysics, epistemology, and a philosophical anthropology that goes far beyond the domain of science. Many have held this view as a kind of heuristic principle, useful for gaining new knowledge about the physical universe by avoiding appeals to the transcendent as (easy?) explanations of difficult to understand phenomena. Perhaps simply by habit they’ve come to embrace a useful practice as an all-embracing ideology. Of course, I’m not sure anyone actually embraces this view, except when they’re in an argument about religion.
 Curiously, Plato, in his allegory of the cave (Republic,Book VII) seems to imply that the place of meeting would be down in the darkness of the cave, where people saw only shadows of things, rather that in the realm of light and clarity of vision. That is, where we meet the majority of people to dialogue is not the place of full truth, but rather partial truth. This may be the case, in that science is a place of more easily accessible truths about the world—not that science is easy, nor that discoveries have been made that require little intelligence! Rather, the place of shadows is that on which we can more easily agree. And by “easily agree,” I would follow Plato’s lead in the Republic, where he says that moving from the shadows to seeing reality requires that one’s soul be turned toward the Good. That is, one must develop rightly ordered values to see what is in fact there. The stuff in science requires no such turning. So, while it requires vigorous intellect, that is relatively easy compared to turning one’s entire being toward the Good. In fact, in the Republic, those in the cave were chained and only turned toward the Good when compelled essentially by force (of course, to Plato this “force” was philosophy, not physical force or threats).
 If you’re familiar with Plato, you’ll perhaps recognize that I’m saying something he said over 2000 years ago, in which he compares the Good with the sun, which makes all things see-able (and knowable). Of course, what I am saying might also make sense of how Jesus refers to himself as truth (and the way and the life) and also as the light of the world. Perhaps Jesus isn’t making a simple metaphor about how he brings hope, but also making an epistemological claim that to know him—more specifically, to love him—makes one capable of truly understanding the world.
Matt interviews Sean McDowell and Brett Kunkle about some of the big issues that youths are dealing with in today’s culture. Screen time, digital media, and how we deal with these issues are all discussed.
So far in this series of blogs, we’ve looked at the problem of faith and talked about how faith is used in contexts that are not necessarily religious, as well as discussing what science tells us about the world.
What is the problem with faith, according to most of its critics? It is that people claim that faith is a means of gaining knowledge of the world. But faith is (highly) suspect, because it arises from a set of values—that is, we might say that the person with faith is looking for something that they really wish to be true. Having such values colors what one sees, even to the point of the person seeing something that isn’t true. That is why “faith” has led to countless divisions and disagreements—from personal problems to religious wars. (Whether faith will, in fact, lead to such divisions is an important question. Perhaps, these divisive kinds of “faith” are not really faith at all?)
Of course, we’ve seen that science too is driven by values. It gets started by the value of world-control (again, note that this control is not necessarily bad, but most often very good), and is used by those who control parts the world for the sake of other values—from caring for the sick to eating lunch to killing someone.
That science can be used for good or for evil makes science appear somewhat neutral. But this neutrality is really just the universality of the human value of control: Everyone wants (some level of) control of their environment/world. But no one wants control alone. We always want control for some other reason, some other goal or value that we hold.
Thus, science is not “objective”—not in the sense of being valueless pursuit of knowledge—nor is the value that gives rise to science, the value of world-control, sufficient for a meaningful human life.
But we can say that science is “objective” insofar as we understand that term to mean “to perceive objects only in terms of how they are controlled and what control they exert (cause-effect).” In fact, we might define “object” as “that which is understood as merely something that is or can be controlled.” Science objectifies the world, and thus helps us to understand causation and control. That is the objectivity that science possesses—useful but limited.
The Head, the Chest, and the Stomach
Given that science is consistently presented as being opposed to faith, I want to look a little more at how science functions in human thinking and motivation. I want to do this by drawing from The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.
Lewis begins this prescient work by critiquing the two authors of what he refers to as The Green Book. These two authors describe the situation of seeing a waterfall and how one would describe the waterfall as “sublime.” They claim that when you say that the waterfall is sublime you are really only describing something about your emotional state in response to the waterfall. Thus, “sublime” does not describe anything objective in the waterfall. The elements of the waterfall contain nothing that can be objectively determined to be sublime. It is merely a relatively quicker elevation drop in the flow of water to the sea.
Lewis critiques this view rather thoroughly in the book, showing some serious dangers that might come with such a view. He first sets out to describe the human person by referring to three parts: the head, the chest, and the stomach. The stomach refers to those desires that we might call instinctual—not necessarily just the body’s desires, but they are those that are connected with survival, reproduction, and so forth (including, of course, the desire to ascend to the top of hierarchies, since this is related to survival).
The head is the capacity for humans to reason: The head is a problem solver. The head has no particular desire, no goal, except that which is given from either the stomach or the chest. The head is merely concerned to figure out how to get from point A to point B—when point B has been given to it by either the stomach or the chest. For example, you might want to get from this side of a large lake to the other, and given that desire to get to the other side, your head would kick in to try to gauge the costs and benefits (given the values fed to it by the stomach and chest) of various routes, whether they are do-able or not, etc. Build a raft? Walk around? Grab a log and swim while holding the log? Perhaps the goal is to get from single to dating-that-person-over-there. Your head may kick in to give advice. (If you’re like I was when I was in high school, your head lacks the requisite knowledge to offer anything approaching useful.) You may also be in a place of ignorance about why things tend to fall to the ground, if unhindered (and heavier than air). You are at point A, a place of ignorance mixed with curiosity, and want to be at point B, a place of knowledge, or at least a recognition of the limits of knowledge.
The question is whether the head has any motivation at all. Lewis says no. I think it might have one motive: To obtain knowledge of the world as objects—specifically, as objects that can be controlled. What is the nature of a thing’s cause, effect, and what can I do to manipulate it? This might be the head’s only motive—a universal motive of humanity. Of course, as I said in the previous blog on this topic, this motive to know-things-as-objects-that-can-be-controlled is not enough of a motive for any meaningful action, let alone a life. One must at least desire to eat and to rest.
Lewis also talks of the chest. He says the chest is drawn to things that the stomach does not desire and that the head is unable to see or analyze. The chest sees beauty, sublimity, glory and goodness. It is how we recognize love and honor, and are drawn by compassion and shame.
Of course, the authors of The Green Book argue that the claims of the chest that the sublime is out there, that “sublime” is a true description of the waterfall, are false or at least misleading. The head, in this case science, gives us the factual description of the waterfall. Sublimity or beauty, they say, are merely subjective emotional responses. That is, it is not that one is lying or deluded when one says that the waterfall is sublime, but one advertently uses the adjective to describe the object, when one should be using the adjective to describe one’s emotional state.
Now, the implications of this view are manifold. But let me mention two that are significant, and dangerous.
First, if such claims as to the value of things out there—such as beautiful, awesome, sublime, honorable, etc.—are merely references to our emotional states, then the chest can only be motivating us to have more experiences, rather than to great things. There really is no difference between having a “sublime” experience before a mountain and being, say, synthetically stimulated to feel such feelings. For the mountain is not sublime—you are merely describing your feelings.
I remember my daughter, then in first or second grade, coming to me and talking about having learned in school the difference between fact and opinion. Opinion, of course, included all value judgments, while fact included all…well, facts. So I asked her, “Is the claim ‘murder is wrong’ a fact or an opinion?” She thought for a moment, because, being a value claim, it sure sounded like an opinion. But, after some hesitation, she said, “That is a fact.” My daughter in first (or second grade) was smarter than the (in)famous A.J. Ayer (at least in his Language, Truth, and Logic)!
What she said has tremendous implications, though: My daughter was declaring that the chest also points to realities about the world. And thus the attraction of the chest toward the great and beautiful is not merely a subjective desire for how we think things should be, but in fact a response to what is true and good. Indeed, it includes the claim (stated first in Genesis 1, echoed in Plato, but firmly rejected these days) that reality is in fact bound up with the good.
But if The Green Book is to be believed, then my daughter is wrong, and what is good is unrelated to how things are.
The second bad implication that arises from the belief that value claims are merely descriptions of subjective emotions is that the head can only now be motivated by the stomach. It is emphatically not now free to pursue unadulterated truth, unhindered by silly and childish sentiments. No, the head always acts as a response to a motivator other than itself: either the chest or the stomach. And the stomach never stops motivating the head. The only question is whether you also have a functioning chest. Once the chest is emaciated away by rejecting such value claims as mere subjective emotion, then one is left with a head and only a stomach to motivate that head.
Do I need to make note of how we have become such “men without chests” as Lewis describes? People claim that their true, essential identities are tied to stomach-desires—primarily sexual desire. At the same time, ideas like honor, self-sacrifice, honesty, forgiveness, beauty—these are mocked as silly, exclusive, steeped in traditions that have done terrible things. A banana duct-taped to a wall sells for over $100,000. A man then eats it. Such is a mockery (and was likely intended to be so) of art. But what, we might say, is art but some sort of self-expression? That, indeed, is precisely what a chest-less person would say! Since the chest is only subjective emotion—the object itself has no value at all. And thus, too, I have emotions, spew them on a canvas of some sort, and it is art. That simple little claim in The Green Book announced this trajectory, and we are reaping the potassium-rich results.
The duct-taped banana is in fact a perfect picture: Without the chest to draw us toward real art, we are left with the useful as determined by the head (duct tape) and the stomach to motivate (the banana). The chest can see nothing of beauty or sublimity here. Only the head and the stomach see anything that they desire.
The authors of The Green Book were wrong. And that banana isn’t art. My daughter was right. The waterfall is in fact wondrous. Beauty does exist. We should pursue honor. In the next blog, we’ll bring these ideas to deal directly with faith and science. In the meantime, if you haven’t read The Abolition of Man, do it!
 It might be that this desire to control is, in fact, a motive of the stomach, or a motive that the stomach and chest share. I’m not interested in arguing one way or the other at this point.
 You astute thinkers out there might say, “Given that ‘murder’ is defined as ‘wrongful killing,’ it is analytically true that ‘murder is wrong.'” Yes, yes. But I was talking to a young child. I could have said, “Is killing innocent people wrong a fact or an opinion?” But that would have been needlessly confusing for her, I think.
 That reality is bound up with the good does not mean that “all things are good as they are.” It means something more like, “When things are all made good, they become what they truly are. And, therefore, to see things that are beautiful, sublime, etc., is to see glimpses of things as they are truly meant to be.” This is not as foreign an idea as you might think. We call people “inhuman” or “beasts” or “animals” when they act terrible toward others. And we use the word “humane” (from an earlier English form of “human”) to refer to acts that show kindness and compassion. That is, we think that a human is more truly a human when they exhibit certain virtues. That is, goodness is tied to what we really are. We speak the same way about a variety of other things. “Now, that’s a car!” means the same thing as “That is a very good car!” That is, to say that it is really what it is is another way to say that it is good. To be a good X simply means to truly be X.
Matt Burford has a discussion with Doug Powell on the nativity and if the manger is a myth. Join us as we dig into a Christmas tradition as old as the faith. Doug Powell is a singer, songwriter and accomplished apologist. To find out more about Doug’s many works you can check out his website here!
Photo By Brandon Robbins
Get ready for something to chew on. Matt Burford got a chance to catch up with our long time friend and associate Greg Koukl about his 10th anniversary edition of Tactics. Did you know that Greg and his book on tactics is one of the reasons we named our ministry “Tactical Faith”? Well, you do now.
Photo Credit: Cameron Bertuzzi