When recently challenged by a conservative Christian to describe my worldview, I responded that it was one of attempting to face the facts, which had led me to be a theist and to try to be a follower of Jesus, but which had also led me to reject many of the claims of orthodoxy.
[In a conversation on the Pontifications blog, a regular commenter who goes by the nom de blog Br. Michael challenged me to describe my worldview. I've adapted my response into the posting below.]
Brother Michael, my worldview is basically that of attempting to face the facts and trying to conduct myself accordingly. There are some foundational facts we all have to face. I submit that the following propositions are not only well-established, they're well-nigh indisputable.
1. Human knowledge is limited. We don't know everything. We're constantly being reminded that even as to things we think we know, our understanding may well prove to be incomplete or flat-out wrong.
2. Change is a constant. Things never have and never will stay the way they are. Life has never been a parking lot where all the cars stay neatly ordered in their places. Life is a busy freeway interchange where traffic can come at you from virtually any direction. (So far as we can tell, this seems to be physically inevitable, because it appears that since the beginning of time, every single atom and subatomic particle in the universe has been in motion.)
3. We still must make judgment calls. Like drivers in the busy freeway interchange, we do not have the luxury of immobility or inaction. We must constantly make judgments about what to do, or not do, in our lives. Imperfect knowledge doesn't give us an excuse to avoid making these judgments. At any given time, we have to make our best guess about the appropriate thing to do, and proceed accordingly -- conscious that our best guess might be wrong.
4. We're going to make bad calls on occasion, but we have the ability to learn. Points 1 through 3 mean that mishaps are going to happen. None of us is infallible. But we have been blessed with the ability to learn. Humanity's experience gives us reason to hope that over time, individually and collectively, we will continue to improve our ability to navigate the traffic patterns in the freeway interchange.
Some Possible Theological Implications
This face-the-facts worldview, I submit, is consistent with theism, and also with what Jesus preached. Let's conjecture that the theistic view is correct: that there is a God who created the universe, and that he may well actively participate in the universe on an on-going basis. See my essay, How Do We Know There's a God, for a defense of this conjecture.
Facing the facts puts God first. When we face the facts, we deal with what God has actually done in the universe, as best we can discern it. We thus avoid enthrallment to wishful thinking about how we would have done things if we had been in God's shoes. This helps us to place God first in our lives, as the First Commandment calls us to do. Physicist-theologian the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne comments, "I have great sympathy with David Pailin when he says that 'Attempts to defend theism by ignoring the question of truth . . . are fundamentally atheistic. They worship human wishes rather than ultimate reality.'" (The Faith of a Physicist, Fortress Press paperback ed., ch. 2, p. 30.)
Facing the facts goes hand in hand with putting our trust in God. Someone who trusts in God can accept and deal with whatever comes along, confident that in the end, things will work out all right.
Facing the facts means accepting that all beliefs are provisional. We are not in a position to declare categorically that a particular body of knowledge, or a given set of beliefs, constitutes Immutable Truth. Humanity has too much hard experience to the contrary.
Facing the facts leads to metanoia. The facts we face include those we can discern from our own experiences and from the experiences of others, present and past. When we use these experiences to learn, to improve our "navigational ability" in life's busy freeway interchange, we engage in the metanoia, the change of mind and of life -- that is, the repentance -- that Jesus preached.
Very Good. I now give you the "competent theologian" award. You do describe, however, someone who is deep in faith, for some fundamentalists, once one brick falls in their wall of belief, the whole thing comes tumbling down.
Its nice to know that there are lay people who try to wrestle with these issues so deeply, and as well.
Peace to you.
Posted by: John Wilkins | November 30, 2004 at 08:33 AM
Since English is an imprecise language, what is your definition of facts and beliefs and how would you differentiate between them ? How does facing the facts put God first? I would think this is quite subjective, depending upon the fact under consideration. How does Christ fit into this picture?
Posted by: Greg | November 30, 2004 at 08:28 PM
Greg, all "facts" are ultimately beliefs. Some are more well-established empirically than others and more reliable as a predictor of the future. If I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning, it's a pretty good bet. If I believe I can skip my commute this evening by stepping off the 25th-floor roof of my office building and flying home, well ....
I think I explained my position about facing the facts and putting God first in the paragraph having that subheading.
Thanks for visiting.
Posted by: D. C. | December 01, 2004 at 12:51 PM
Yes...But it appears that you are restricting yourself to facts of the natural world. To use your example, the sun rises in the east but why should one put G-d first in his life because it rises in the east? I can see people being moved by the beauty of a sunrise and giving praise and thanks to G-d.
Posted by: Greg | December 02, 2004 at 12:01 AM
Greg, I don't think I'm restricting myself to the facts of the natural world. I'm simply saying that facing those facts goes hand in hand with trusting in God. One can certainly trust in God for reasons other than those facts.
It's fine for a person to be moved by a sunrise and give praise and thanks to God, as you suggest. But if that person were to insist that the sun is literally rising in the east because that's what he sees with his eyes, he would not be not facing the facts in respect of the other evidence we have about the solar system. He therefore would implicitly denigrate what God has actually done, and would be in danger of worshipping the (incomplete) evidence of his senses instead.
(Can I infer from your rendering of "G-d" that you're an orthodox Jew? If so, I'd be interested in any different perspective you might have about some of the writings I've posted.)
Posted by: D. C. | December 03, 2004 at 04:16 PM
ISLAM confirms the big bang theory and the speed of light to the last digit
Posted by: Nazeem Dollie | October 19, 2006 at 07:53 AM
What are facts? What is truth?
For us humans, we "see thru a cloud darkly" and we might not be sure what we see. Our definitions of truth, of knowing are partly influenced by the current thought fashions of our culture.
Currently, the thought fashions are heavily influenced by a postmodern kind of doubting...at other times, persons thought almost every concept of their culture and "absolute". There are varieties of thought fashions---read old books of certain eras to get ideas of what the main "pop" ideas were or are. Or talk to a new college student to find out what the new secular ten commandments for this year are...
But within the limitations of being a human with limited knowledge, I read my Bible, listen to sound teaching, try to look and listen to the general world (and diverse opinions around me) and I trust and have experienced God reaching to me.
While my perception may be a bit clouded, GOD is not limited by my weak brain & perception. Prayer helps me connect to Him. However imperfect my perceptions, I feel His presence. And reading of the Jewish Carpenter, as he walks, works, heals, teaches in His middleast home, He speaks to me now.
It's not all dependent on us.
Posted by: V Knutsen | May 11, 2007 at 03:21 PM
so i once wasn't christian.. but now i am.. things that were once ok to me.. are all the sudden not ok to me..
biblically they are not a 'sin' but to me they are a sin if i partake in them.. how does that work?
Posted by: Carl Schuster | December 05, 2008 at 10:56 PM
Exactly what is at risk by not believing in any supreme being? Is it fear of the end of a personal existence? Is it fear of having not having a firm "anchor point" in determining one's moral/ethical beliefs? Is it fear of suffering an unending torment for not believing what has been offered as a "true" belief system? In summary - is it fear of anything? Fear is a prime motivator, but it is based on an emotional response and it is definitely not the result of a rational thought system. The concepts of fairness, goodness and self-sacrifice for the good of others have absolutely nothing to do with belief in any sort of supreme being!!! They stand on their own merits.
Posted by: Jon the Unbeliever | October 19, 2009 at 11:34 PM
@Jon the Unbeliever, that's an insightful question.
I'm not sure there's anything at risk for those who don't 'believe in' a supreme being.
I assume arguendo that you intended the quoted term to refer to concluding, in one's own mind, that such a being exists.
I doubt very much that reaching such a conclusion — or any other — is volitional: Some people do, some don't.
We really have no idea how the human mind works in that regard. Neither do we know why some people think politically along Democratic or Republican lines, nor why some people 'get' advanced math and others don't.
Then consider that, throughout history, individuals have reached countless intellectual conclusions that proved to be incomplete or even wrong. Evolution seems to have wired us that way.
Natural selection has probably biased to reach conclusions as opposed to remaining agnostic. To borrow an illustration I read somewhere, on the prehistoric savannah it was doubtless safer for humans (and other prey) to err on the side of concluding that the nearby rustling in the grass was a tiger, and therefore to flee, than otherwise.
So it's hard to imagine that a Creator would care (or even notice) about one particular set of conclusions we reach, namely those about 'him.'
Those who claim that 'he' does care haven't come close to adducing supporting evidence; they want us to accept that claim purely on their say-so — and then to do as they tell us about how we should live our lives because 'he' supposedly wants it that way.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt | October 20, 2009 at 05:14 AM