Paradigms and Percentages

I spent the morning at an excellent Christian school, giving a talk during the high-school chapel and then in religion class.  My challenge to the students was to figure out why they believe what they believe - to honestly question the basis of their faith and see how firm it really is.

The discussion today reminded me of a question I've been asked many times.  That is, "How can intelligent people that have the capacity to think critically - how can they believe in something they cannot see?"

They've asked me to come back and help the students answer that question - to help them map out a path to maintain their faith in spite of the onslaught of doubt and skepticism coming their way at the secular university.

I can't wait to dig into it with them!  I think I'll start with something like this.

A paradigm is:
"A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline."
Here's a piece of my "Christian paradigm".   At the highest, most abstract level - this is where I start.

First off, I always play the percentages.

I spent most of my adult life in the hard sciences.  And pure science, as you know, is all about hard facts.

But I can't prove (to myself or to you) that orthodox Christianity is the one right way. And I refuse to hold a set of beliefs just because my mother or some churchman told me to.

So what's a thinking man to do?

Well, I tend to go with that which has the highest percentage chance in my (admittedly peculiar!) mind of being "true". That goes for just about everything in my life.

So why then do I hold fast to orthodox Christianity? Because I think it has the highest percentage chance of being the truth.

Am I 100% sure?  Nope - I won't be until I'm standing in New Jerusalem.

But you know what?  The list of things I'm 100% sure of is really, really short.

I think I'm about 99% sure of Christianity, and that's fine for me.

I'm just being honest here - I think most Christians would fear such an admission. Not me. And I should tell you that my trust in this approach to my faith has led to what many people would call "extreme acts".

For example, I cashed out my interest in my software development business and moved my family to another part of the state so I could teach Christian theology. I took a 90% pay cut - so you've gotta know I'm either insane, or I really really believe this stuff (maybe both!).

My confidence lies in the historical person of Jesus for the following reasons:
a) Anyone who believes he never existed isn't thinking hard enough. He certainly
existed.

b) Anyone who believes he was not substantially who he said he was, or that he did not substantially perform the acts the Gospels record that he did - isn't properly examining the evidence.
I say that because there were too many opposing interests (Sanhedrin, Pharisees, Romans) that would've proudly and loudly exposed any substantially fraudulent view of the early Church.

That didn't happen. No Roman produced his dead body - no Jewish leader said, "All that never happened". Again, they'd have done so if they could've.

So in my mind, Jesus was who he said he was, and Jesus did what the Gospels record he did.

Is there, in my mind, a small chance that a wholesale fabrication got by the Roman and Jewish antagonists of the first century? Yes there is.

Yeah, there's a chance (!) that the disciples stole Jesus' body out from under the noses of the burly Roman soldiers guarding the tomb (with a huge rock rolled in front of the entrance).  But not a very big chance!

Let's get silly for a second. Being generous to the naysayers - what if there's a 5% chance of wholesale fabrication? Even 5% against leaves me with 95% in favor - and that'll do for me.

By the way - just so you know - the atheists, evolutionists, postmoderns, Muslims, Hindus and the rest - they're offering no better odds!

So here's the fundamental premise upon which I've built my worldview, and by which I strive to live my life each and every day.
"Since the evidence indicates that Jesus indeed existed, and substantially did and said what the gospels say he did and said, he is without peer in the pantheon of spiritual leaders. No one else comes close.
As such, Jesus is worthy of my complete devotion. I must spend my life seeking to understand him, his words and his actions in the proper context.
I must try and understand his paradigm - to understand what he believed about the past and about the future - and then I must believe the same."
Now, if you want to find out what's so special about what Jesus "did and said" that causes me to say that "no one else comes close" - well, you'll need to read the New Testament for yourself!  :)

2 comments:

Frankie Fire said...

That is a very interesting post, Mike! I really enjoyed reading it. However, I do have a different point of view on this matter.
First of all, as long as there is a percentage, there is a doubt (even if it is 5% and 95%).
Second, there are millions of other people believing that Islam is the only true religion, Judaism is the only true religion and many others... And for each and every person, who was introduced to some religion from his childhood, it will be the only one, even if he have many questions without answers.

I personally do believe in existence of Jesus and every other "prophet". Jesus was one great man, who saw that mankind is loosing it's humanity and getting perverted and he knew that the only way to make people follow the rules of morality, is to make them fear something that is above them and that will "judge" them after they die. (If I can't make you scared in this life, I will make you scared in your afterlife).

Religion was created by people. Yes, by great people like Jesus, Muhammad and other "prophets". However, nowadays we lost the main notion of religion (which are, not to kill, steal and stuff like that). Religion got too deep into political issues, which caused wars and hate between different religious views (which every religious person has).

Well, there is a lot of things I can say on that matter being 100% sure... Thanks for interesting post ;)

Sincerely,
Frankie Fire

Mike said...

Thanks for the comments Frankie. I'll try to take them in turn.

1) You are correct if by "doubt" you mean that I am not 100% certain that Jesus is who the Bible says he is.

There are very few things that I am 100% certain about - the effects of gravity being one example of something I am 100% certain of.

However, I do "believe" or "trust" that Jesus is who the Bible says he is - based on the weight of historical, textual, relational and cultural information from the 1st century.

To be blunt, anyone that is 100% sure of anything metaphysical is, in my estimation, kidding themselves. By definition, the metaphysical is beyond proof or verification in our sphere. Thus "faith" or "belief" is honestly the only thing we can bring to the metaphysical table.

However, I do try to find as much hard evidence as possible for the explanations of the metaphysical that I put my faith in - as I've described in my post.

2) I truly like your use of the phrase "losing its humanity". It perfectly describes the situation brought by living "out of covenant" with the Creator.

But after many years spent in serious study of the Judeo-Christian narrative contained in the Bible - I can tell you that said narrative does not at all say that Jesus' purpose was to cultivate fear in his listeners or make them scared in an afterlife.

Jesus came, according to the story, to fulfill a very specific and well-defined role in the over-arching story of Judaism. That is, the long awaited role of Messiah.

I don't have space here to restate all the denotative and connotative meaning and expectations wrapped up in that job description, but I've written much on the subject around here for those that might care.

Suffice to say, the inauguration and announcement of a New Kingdom was chief in the Messianic Job Description, but again, since justice can't be done to the topic in this response - I'll stop here.

3) Religions, or worldviews, indeed come from, or by, or through (depending on your viewpoint!) people.

We use worldviews to make sense of the past, our present and our future.

Then, depending on our position, background, predispositions and capacity to consider the metaphysical - we may be apt to believe the statements made by the worldview describing or categorizing the metaphysical.

We then snap our life-stories into the grand stories of the worldview we adopt in order to provide a sense of meaning in our lives.

Of course, this raises the question - what makes one worldview worth adopting over another?

Again, for me, if the Messiah of Israel as defined in the whole of the Judeo-Christian story really was resurrected back there in the 1st century - then I must do something with that fact.

If one man really did defeat death, and if his surrounding story promises to defeat death and it's associated horrors for me and all those who will follow him into his new world - then I'd be a moron not to follow too.

For my taste, the weight of evidence points to exactly that.

So then I seek to find out what the resurrected Messiah's worldview was (what he believed about the past, present and future) and then I adopt the same.

I understand that for many - the evidence isn't enough, or perhaps they haven't yet examined it, or they just don't care, or they feel their worldview better explains the evidence, or a thousand other reasons. That's OK.

Part of being an individual is making individual choices, and I'm cool with that.

Thank you so very much for your insightful comments, Frankie. I hope to be able to speak with you more in the future!