Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Conversation with Angie: How I deal with problems I can't solve

Angie and I went back and forth a few more times on the issue of certainty and reasonableness, and some clarifications were made on both sides. I want to skip that and move on to the next part. I wanted to start with the most difficult issue for me, which was God's apparent unresponsiveness to prayer.


[deleting some stuff]

This is what you said: "And, if what the Bible says is true, why do prayers, needs, etc., so often go unanswered and unmet?"

I relate with this more than anything else you said. God's apparent unresponsiveness to prayer is one of the major causes for doubt in me. Now I can't claim that I've never had prayers answered before, but when you compare reality to some of the things that are said in the Bible, it doesn't seem to match up. For example, Jesus said that anything we ask in his name will be done for us. Does that correspond to reality? There seems to be a disconnect, even if you grant the answers I HAVE received to prayer.

The Bible gives several reasons for why our prayers may not be answered, but I'll be honest with you in saying that I don't find those answers very satisfying. Since I don't find those answers very satisfying, of course I can't hope to satisfy YOU with them. Before I go into them, let me tell you, in general, how I deal with objections to Christianity that I just can't answer.

Imagine one of those balance scales with a tray on either side suspended by a tiny little chain connected to an arm that rests on a fulcrum. I'd draw you a picture if I could, but I think you get the idea. On one side of the scale, you pile all the reasons for why Christianity is probably true. On the other side, you pile all the reasons for why Christianity is probably not true. If the case for Christianity is stronger than the case against, then the scale will tilt toward affirming the truth of Christianity. And if the case against is stronger, the scale will tilt the other way.

Do you see how this sort of flows from what we were talking about before? I don't require absolute certainty, which could only be had if there were an irrefutible argument for Christianity and no arguments at all against Christianity. I only require that Christianity is more reasonable than not--that is, the case for is stronger than the case against.

With this epistemological method, it isn't even necessary for me to be able to refute all of the arguments against Christianity. If I could refute any of them, I could take them off the scale. But even leaving them on the scale, and agreeing that they do count against Christianity, my belief in Christianity is still rational since the weight of the case against Christianity cannot overcome the weight of the case for Christianity on the other side.

Put simply, I base my beliefs on what I DO know rather than what I DON'T know. I may not be able to tell you why God didn't answer a prayer, or why some evil happened, but I don't need to answer those questions in order for me to be rationally justified in believing that Christianity is true.

So that's basically how I deal with arguments against Christianity that I can't answer.

The only exception to this method is the rare instance of an irrefutable air-tight argument. You could pile on the arguments for Christianity all you want, but all it takes is one irrefutable argument against Christianity to outweight them all. This works the other way, too.

Let me give an analogy to explain what I mean. Let's suppose we want to know if it's true that "all crows are black." To find out, we go out in the wild and look at as many crows as we can. The more black crows we observe, the higher the probability is that the claim that "all crows are black" is true. We can never know with 100% certain that it's true unless we could observe every crow that exists, and even then, whose to say the next crow won't be born white? But the more we observe, the closer to certainty we become. Now all it takes to disprove the claim is one white crow. You could have ten million black crows on one side of the scale proving that all crows are black, and yet one white crow on the other side of the scale will outweight them all and prove the claim that "all crows are black" is false.

So far, I have yet to discover any such argument either for or against Christianity, so the truth of Christianity lies in the realm of possibilities. There are reasons for and against, and I simply weigh the evidence and find Christianity more likely to be true than not. Do you follow me so far?

As unsatisfying as some of the Biblical reasons are for why prayers aren't answered, as long as it's at least possible that there are legitimate reasons, the argument against Christianity from unanswered prayers is not air-tight. It's only a probabilistic argument. At best, it makes Christianity less likely to be true. And let's face it; if there ARE legitimate reasons for why prayers aren't answered, they would have to be God's reasons, since God is the one who answers prayers. If they're God's reasons, it shouldn't surprise us at all that we don't happen to know what they are.

All I've done in this email so far is to give you the method I use in answering your prayer concern. I meant to actually go through some of the Biblical answers, but since it took so long just to explain my epistemological method, and since I have to get ready for work, I'll save the actual answering for another email. I want to know what you think of the method and if I explained it clearly.

By the way, it just makes my day that you are so willing to discuss these things with me. I'm enjoying it. Anybody who can get my brain working is alright with me!


Conversations with Angie:  Biblical reasons for why prayers aren't answered, part 1


daleliop said...

Scales of Justice

ephphatha said...

If I could've posted that picture in my email, it would've saved a lot of explaining. :-)