apologetics, atheism, Early Christianity, Historical Apologetics

Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen contra Boghossian (and others)

Peter Boghossian is perhaps most famous for his work A Manual for Creating Atheists. In this work, he argues that believers–and Christians specifically–see faith as belief without evidence or “pretending to know what you don’t know” (Manual… [Durham, NC: Pitschstone Publishing, 2013]), 7ff. Many atheists throughout time have pushed a redefinition of faith, claiming that Christians believe without or against evidence.

Origen (ca.184-253), one of the most prolific early Christian writers, was also one of the first to offer a defense of Christianity. In his work Contra Celsusm (available for .99 in Origen’s works), in which he answered a skeptical Greek interlocutor,  Ceslus, Origen began Chapter X of Book I with words that may seem to demonstrate the notion that faith is belief without evidence:

[W]e must say that, considering it as a useful thing for the multitude, we admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons, who are unable to abandon all other employments, and give themselves to an examination of arguments…

Before the party gets started however, the rest of this chapter from Origen is well-worth considering. Indeed, Origen argued that all positions require belief without reasons, and continues the above quotation directly: “and our opponents, although they do not acknowledge it, yet practically do the same.” Origen, in other words, alleged that both Christians and non-Christians must believe, in some cases, without evidence or reasons. Why? He explained:

For who is there that, on betaking himself to the study of philosophy, and throwing himself into the ranks of some sect, either by chance, or because he is provided with a teacher of that school, adopts such a course for any other reason, except that he believes his particular sect to be superior to any other? For, not waiting to hear the arguments of all the other philosophers, and of all the different sects, and the reasons for condemning one system and for supporting another, he in this way elects to become a stoic, eg., or a Platonist… or a follower of some other school, and is thus borne, although they will not admit it, by a kind of irrational impulse to the [selected] practice…. to the disregard of the others…

Origen, then, notes that humans are prone to jumping on board with whatever philosophy they first sign up with. Whether that is Christianity or militant atheism, we tend to explore that which we find familiar. Moreover, we approach rival philosophies with bias. Any philosophical position, argued Origen here, is one that we accept to some extent without evidence. After all, no one really can examine every rival belief and find that one’s own is the only one that is reasonable. Rather, we must accept that we have the relevant information at hand and move forward on that information.

Origen’s argument flies in the face of skeptics like Boghossian. Rather than accepting a definition of faith as belief without evidence, Origen notes that all belief systems have elements that are held without evidence. We seek self-confirmation. We often find it. Origen doesn’t leave it there however, through the rest of the book, he answers many objections to Christianity that persist to this day. Christianity, Origen argues, is reasonable and stands against the objections people bring against it.

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Is Faith a False Epistemology?- Debate Review: Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian– I review a modern debate about this same topic between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew.

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SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen contra Boghossian (and others)

  1. Step 1: Provide evidence that any deities exist.
    Step 2: Provide evidence that the deity or deities in which you believe exist.
    Step 3: Don’t resort to logical fallacies for Step 1 or Step 2.

    You have already failed Step 3, by attempting a tu quoque logical fallacy.

    Posted by RandyW | August 15, 2016, 9:50 AM
    • I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Origen’s point is subtle, so I understand how you may have missed it. On the one hand, he is noting that Christian belief relies to some extent upon first principles; on the other, he is noting that all beliefs do rely upon at least some first principles. Moreover, we have no small amount of bias when it comes to investigating things like first principles. So no, it’s not a tu quoque, and no, I’m not going to get mired down in endless debate in whatever form you wish to bring forward.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 15, 2016, 12:18 PM
      • Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence. And, the greater the claim, the greater the evidence that should be required. Because hard solipsism is not escapable, and because I am going to cease to be if I don’t operate as though this reality is actually real as perceived and based on our collective understanding, and because the logical absolutes are fundamental to gaining further and maximally demonstrably accurate understandings of our reality, they are properly basic and cannot be proven. But, asserting that other ideas deserve such a position that they should be accepted without evidence, when those ideas are NOT properly basic and fundamental to forming maximally demonstrably accurate understandings of our reality, is not justified. Just because some things must be accepted a priori does not mean any old thing ought to be.

        Posted by RandyW | August 15, 2016, 12:45 PM
      • “Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence.”

        Present your evidence for this, please.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 15, 2016, 1:02 PM
      • If you want a maximally demonstrably accurate understanding of reality, the things we accept as true without evidence should be as few as possible. If you don’t care if your understanding of reality is as accurate as possible, add in whatever you want. But, having presuppositions that are not justified and are not fundamental to understanding reality in a demonstrably accurate way is not a good method of getting to the truth of a thing. Perhaps you have a method of understanding reality that involves such presuppositions AND consistently leads to more demonstrably accurate models of reality than by not using such presuppositions. But, to demonstrate that efficacy, we’d still have to use our most effective method of finding truth. Maybe you have a secret method that’s superior, and that’s cool, but until something is demonstrated better than the best method, it is folly to pretend it is not thd best method.

        Posted by RandyW | August 15, 2016, 2:08 PM
      • I asked for evidence regarding the statement you made that “Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence.”

        I am waiting for evidence to support that statement to be presented. The latest comment was a series of hypothetical statements followed by comments about whatever imagined model I would support. Do you have evidence to support that statement, or is it itself a statement you accept without evidence?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 15, 2016, 8:26 PM
  2. J.W. wielding the philosophical katana like a true master! The poor victim’s entire case was felled with one swipe — “show us the evidence for the claim that ‘no things should be accepted without evidence'”.

    Christian Theism 1
    RandyWism 0

    Well done, J.W.!

    Posted by No Apologies Allowed | September 8, 2016, 8:49 AM
    • If you care about whether the things you believe are true, then I am right. If you don’t, then that’s your prerogative. Bragging about a disregard for having a maximally demonstrably accurate model of reality seems a fool’s errand, but you’re free to do so. I just don’t know why you think that is worthwhile.

      Posted by RandyW | September 8, 2016, 9:15 AM
      • I’m not debating what I think. I’m asking you to provide evidence for your claim about evidence. All you’ve done is reaffirm that you prefer your view because you care about it. That’s not evidence; that’s emoting.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 8, 2016, 9:17 AM
      • Caring about having an accurate model of reality is why claims should not be accepted without evidence. The more accurate one’s model of reality, the more one is able to accurately predict outcomes, which leads to better survival ability. Evidence: We now have a nearly 0% infant mortality rate, a nearly 0% childbirth mortality rate, and an ever-increasing lifespan, not to mention the capacity to feed seven billion people. It’s not faith that led to any of these outcomes. It’s an insistence upon evidence to support claims, which has led to an ever-more-accurate model of reality. If you don’t think human survival is an objective that should be sought, go nuts. But, I’ll take fact over faith every time.

        Posted by RandyW | September 8, 2016, 9:33 AM
      • I have asked repeatedly for evidence for your claim as quoted multiply above. Anecdotes that allege to prove other claims are not evidence for your claim about evidence. Please provide evidence for your claim.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 8, 2016, 9:39 AM
      • To clarify, this is the claim that RandyW has made: “Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence.”

        So far the only time that you have specifically said you provided evidence was with this: “Evidence: We now have a nearly 0% infant mortality rate, a nearly 0% childbirth mortality rate, and an ever-increasing lifespan, not to mention the capacity to feed seven billion people.”

        Note that this alleged evidence is connected with yet another unsupported claim: ” It’s not faith that led to any of these outcomes. It’s an insistence upon evidence to support claims, which has led to an ever-more-accurate model of reality.”

        One could once more ask, “And where’s the evidence for that claim?”

        Assertions continue to be piled upon assertions, yet what I have consistently asked for is evidence for the early claim: “Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence.”

        Thus far all that has been answered is the allegation that accepting this claim (apparently without evidence itself) is the only way to operate as if we care about truth. But of course that itself is yet another claim that was made without evidence.

        Where is the evidence? It is becoming more and more clear that the claim “Other than the logical absolutes and the assumption that I exist in a reality that is shared by others, there are no things that should be accepted without evidence.” is itself accepted by RandyW without evidence, and challenging that claim by asking for evidence–the very thing the claim purports to encourage–can only be met by appealing to emotional concepts like “caring about truth” [note that this concept is not a bad one–but there has been nothing to connect this care for truth specifically with the claim at hand] or with anecdotes that are admitted in the same paragraph to be alleged evidence for entirely different claims.

        So far, the case seems quite flimsy.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 8, 2016, 9:47 AM
      • Another mini-sermon on the tenants of RandyWism…

        Instead of another pointless comment, why not answer J.W.’s question?

        Posted by No Apologies Allowed | September 9, 2016, 10:00 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Did the Son have a beginning? – Origen vs. heresies | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - October 17, 2016

  2. Pingback: Origen Answered It: An Incomplete List of Skeptical Arguments Answered 1800 years ago by Origen, Contra Celsum Book I | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - February 6, 2017

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