Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 3: “How Can I Be Sure Of My Faith?”

I arrive at church to be met by the happy faces and bright smiles of the group. As usual the ladies are preparing the fruit, cakes, and drinks. We sit down and partake in some friendly chitchat.

The pastor is talking about his former career in the farming industry. The topic of vegetarianism crops up.

Pastor: “Before The Fall we were all vegetarians. Ultimately, when Jesus returns, we’ll all be vegetarians once again”
Me: “Were Great White sharks vegetarians before The Fall?”
Pastor: “Yes, everything was”
Me: “What did they used to eat?”
Pastor: “I don’t know. But something must have happened to them after The Fall because their digestion system changed.”
Me: [Tongue pressed firmly in cheek]“I assume that God originally gave them such huge teeth for nibbling sea turnips”
Pastor: [Laughs] “Well, we’ll save that debate for another day”

Yes, I think we ought to.

My suspicions from last week appear to have been confirmed. This group are Biblical literalists. They genuinely believe that Great White sharks (and other predatory animals) were once placid vegetarians that one day had an instantaneous and major physiological transformation to become super-efficient killing machines, and that such a transformation was caused by a female human gnawing on a special apple in a magical garden somewhere in the Middle East, in the olden days.

Hmmmm.

The pastor is keen to get this evening’s presentation under way, so without further ado the lights are dimmed and the DVD starts to play…

Gumbel begins by giving us an account of how he met and fell in love with the lady that would later become his wife. He goes on to stress the importance and beauty of relationships.

“Relationships are exciting” enthuses Gumbel “and the most exciting relationship of all is our relationship with God”

He asks, “What is a Christian?” A question to which he offers his own response, “A Christian is… someone who has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ”

He reminds us that, “If you’re in a relationship, you know”. He supports this statement by offering as an example the fact that we know that we have a relationship with our spouse.

He then tells us that we can also know that we are to receive the gift of eternal life. And that, as Christians, we can have confidence in this belief because… “Our confidence is based on this book [points to the Bible]. The promises in this book. And therefore it’s based on facts and not on feelings. Our feelings are changeable; they go up and down. And if our faith was dependent on our feelings it would be up and down all the time. But it’s not. It’s dependent on the promises of God”

He reads a Bible verse [Revelation 3:20] “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

Gumbel adds, “Holman Hunt, the pre-Raphaelite painter, illustrated this verse [Revelation 3:20] with [a] painting; it’s called ‘The Light Of The World’”. Gumbel then describes the painting, “Jesus, the light of the world, is standing at the door of someone’s house. And the house represents your life or my life. And this particular person has never opened their life to Christ, and that’s shown by the fact that this door is overgrown with weeds and thorns and thistles that have grown up around it. And Jesus is saying, “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, and invites me in, I will come in and eat with them and they with me”.

Gumbel continues, “But when Holman Hunt painted this picture someone said to him, “Hang on a second, you’ve made a mistake. You’ve left off the handle. There’s no handle on the door”

And Holman Hunt replied, “That’s not a mistake. There is a handle, but the handle is on the inside

Gumbel offers us a simple explanation, “In other words, Jesus is not going to force his way into your life or my life. He [Jesus] says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door then I will come in.” He doesn’t say, “I might come in” It’s a promise. “I WILL come in”

Basically Jesus is with us always and is waiting patiently for us to accept him into our lives. It’s in our hands. All we have to do is let him know. Just like a ‘vehicle recovery and assistance organisation’ awaits your emergency call before they despatch one of their patrolmen, Jesus is similarly tooled-up and ready for the job. Just call him!

I must say, though, that in all my years as a believer I never once heard the voice of Jesus, or his knock for that matter. I’m sure I’m not alone in that respect. And I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never experienced Jesus in any way, shape or form. Why is that?

I have prayed innumerable prayers and have sincerely asked God to reveal himself on goodness knows how many occasions in the past. All to no avail. Again, why is that? I wonder.

From my experience the usual Christian answer is that my heart must have become hardened and/or my mind become closed. But couldn’t I say the same sort of thing to them about any other god? Couldn’t I say to the Christian, “I can GUARANTEE that Allah will reveal himself to you now if you allow him to do so, and as long as your heart is sincere and your mind is open”. When they go ahead with the challenge and do not get the revelation that was promised, all I need to tell them is that their heart is obviously hardened and/or their mind closed. It wins every time. Such “guarantees” are completely unfalsifiable.

Any sensible Christian would not buy these sorts of ‘guarantees’ for one moment. In fact they would more than likely laugh them off. And rightly so I might add. But one must ask this: if Christians do find such ‘guarantees’ and promises to be laughable, why do they themselves offer the same sort of ‘guarantees’??

Gumbel takes a moment to look back to the previous Alpha presentation. And in regards to Jesus being resurrected, he asks, “How can we KNOW that [the resurrection] really DID happen?”

I sit motionless in anticipation, my eyes and ears tuned in to the words of Gumbel, and, slowly but surely, his answer rolls majestically off his tongue…

“The answer is we know it because he rose from the dead. God raised him up from the dead” he exclaims, without so much as batting an eyelid.

Let me run that past you again. We know that Jesus rose from the dead because… well… because he rose from the dead.

Impeccable logic, huh?

Let us pay another visit to last week’s hypothetical courtroom. A prosecution lawyer approaches the judge and says, “I know that Mr Smith murdered Mr Jones.” To which the judge asks, “And how do you know that Mr Smith murdered Mr Jones?” In a flash the prosecution lawyer delivers the checkmate, “I know it because Mr Smith murdered Mr Jones”

The prosecution lawyer hasn’t offered evidence in favour of his claim; he’s merely reasserted that claim. Nothing more.

As a former barrister would Mr Gumbel find the case for the prosecution to be a convincing one? No, he would not. In fact I’m sure he’d have no hesitation in dismissing it as ludicrous. But, oddly enough, he just used a similar line of reasoning.

Gumbel is in full-flow now as he hammers home the point that, “We really can have a relationship with Jesus. Jesus is not dead; he’s alive. And therefore you can know him.”

He then expands upon his earlier statement of how we know that we are in a relationship with our spouse. “If you ask me how I KNOW I’m married I could show you the wedding certificate. And another thing I could do is point you toward an event [in history] that took place here on the 7th January 1978 [Gumbel was married in the church where the presentation is being recorded]. And if you ask me how I KNOW I’m a Christian I would point you toward an event in history – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”

I’m wondering if he could offer a date for that, too? Strange how Gumbel gave so much detail about his wedding – the location, the day, the month and the year – but offered nothing remotely as concrete for the alleged resurrection of Jesus. I wonder why?

Gumbel decides that now is a good time to have another run at Romans 6:23 and reads it aloud. “For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He then tells us that some versions of the Bible have that particular verse down as “For the wages of sin is death, but the FREE GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I smile as I think back to last week’s session and my example of offering a lady a ‘free gift’ of a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I’m hoping, for his sake, that he’s not going to dwell on God supposedly giving out ‘free gifts’.

He continues, “I don’t know what you feel when you hear the expression “free gift” but if you’re anything like me I’m cynical of “free gifts”.

Yeah, I bet.

He tells us that when a free gift is offered to us we all automatically think, “There’s a catch!” He smiles as he says that not only do we think there’s a catch we KNOW there’s a catch!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got this feeling that Gumbel is going to prove that he’s not as cynical as he makes out, especially when it comes to ‘free gifts’!

It doesn’t take him long.

Within seconds he assures us that it’s completely different when it comes to God’s free gift (surprise surprise). “God’s gift is FREE. It’s not cheap, but it’s free to us. It cost Jesus everything.”

I need not address further God’s supposed “free gift”, as I gave it quite a bit of time in last week’s blog entry. [See “WEEK 2: “Why Did Jesus Die?”]

The topic now changes to faith. “What is faith?” he asks. He then offers his own explanation. “Faith is TRUST. Everybody exercises faith. You’re all exercising faith tonight! By sitting on these chairs you’re exercising faith. You’re putting your TRUST in those chairs by sitting on them”

In a way he’s right, we do put faith in chairs, but this is a faith based on evidence and reason. From our experience of chairs we know that they are designed for people to sit on. That’s their purpose. I’ve sat on many chairs, and I’ve seen many others sit on chairs. The overwhelming majority of chairs have held the weight of the person sitting on them. This is good evidence to strengthen my “faith” that chairs hold people. There have been occasions, of course, when a certain chair has collapsed under the strain, but from my experience chairs do a good job of supporting people. It is reasonable, therefore, to put trust in chairs.

But here’s the difference between faith in chairs and faith in God. I don’t have faith in the existence of chairs. I know that chairs exist because it is a demonstrable fact. There’s no ambiguity regarding the existence of chairs. My “faith” is placed in the likelihood that a certain chair will hold a certain someone’s weight. When it comes to God, however, I will need “faith” that he even exists in the first place. I know of no sound evidence that shows God to exist. But the same cannot be said of chairs. Gumbel’s analogy, therefore, is poor.

Gumbel returns to his ‘knowing’ that God exists. As he explained earlier he knows that he is married and knows he has a relationship with his wife because he can point to a marriage certificate and an event in history (his wedding day). But he has a third reason for knowing that he is married and that he has a relationship with his wife, and that is “28 years of experience

He claims that Christianity is analogous to the above in that it offers the same sorts of supporting reasons. For example he “knows” that Christ died for our sins because he can point you toward an event in history (the resurrection) and he “knows” that Christ lives on today because he has personal experience of him.

He expresses passionately how Christians are changed positively as the Holy Spirit enters them. He alludes to the fact that people become better people when they enter into a relationship with Jesus.

He tries to legitimise the nature of faith, that it is in fact something solid, something trustworthy, something concrete, and that faith in God is not blind but “a step of faith based on evidence.

I’m interested to know what this “evidence” is, but sadly we’re not going to find out in this presentation because it comes to a close with Gumbel confidently stating that “Jesus is alive and he’s here tonight!”

The room goes quiet as people contemplate over that last statement. I can see that the faces of the Christians in the room are beaming. They “know” that Jesus is here with us, too…

The pastor turns off the DVD, turns on the lights, sits down, then has a look around at each of us and asks, “So has anybody got any questions, thoughts, reflections, or queries after having seen that?”

There’s a lengthy silence, as no one seems as though they have anything to say. I just sit quietly and wait for someone to raise a point or two. The eldest of the three Christian ladies (who I’ll refer to as “Lady One”) breaks the silence and states that she found it refreshing to hear Gumbel say what he had to say, as it reinforced her belief in Jesus Christ. The other Christians nod in approval.

Another lengthy silence ensues.

I have plenty of questions, as ever, but I’m determined to wait for other people to have their say.

The youngest of the three Christian ladies (“Lady Three”) asks, “Anyone else got any thoughts?”

There are a few nervous twitches as a number of eyes scan around the room looking for someone to ask a question.

Then there’s more silence.

I look around the room myself and notice that most of the group are looking at me. A few smiles begin to crack, and a few giggles are let slip before the pastor says, “Ok, Steve, go on!” Everyone bursts into laughter.

Pastor:[Laughing] “I bet that Steve’s got a list of questions a mile long!”

(Actually the pastor is wrong. My list is two miles long.)

The relatively new Christian male tells us about the time that he had asked Jesus into his heart.

Lady One: “And did you feel him?”
New Christian Male: “Well… I felt a warmth and then… well… that was it”

Hardly a convincing testimony. But isn’t it rather strange that a genuinely sincere would-be Christian like this young man can ask the creator of the universe into his heart and the best this creator can do is to give him a little bit of a warm feeling inside as confirmation of his presence? I mean, come on, can’t God do a little better than that?? We’re talking about an omnipotent being, lets not forget!

The new Christian male goes on to tell us that he wasn’t such a nice guy before he became a Christian, but since he became a Christian he says, “I’m not shouting at the people that I used to shout at. I’m more kind and more helpful.”

I tell him that if his life has been turned around for the better, and he is seeing positive effects in his life, then this can only be a good thing. The pastor then says, “I think I’d be a really horrible person if I wasn’t a Christian”

I’m beginning to feel as though Christians do not have a very good opinion of themselves. Maybe it’s this sort of mentality that is required in order to embrace Christianity in the first place, seeing as it would have a person believe that he/she is an undeserving, worthless sinner who is in need of forgiveness.

The pastor then refers to the example of us having faith in chairs. He says every time we go to sit on a chair we could look at it, examine what it’s made of, and then determine the chances of it holding our weight. But there’s a much easier way to approach everyday situations like sitting on chairs, says the pastor: we could just take a leap of faith. It’s a lot simpler to just put our trust in the chair. We shouldn’t over-analyse things, he says.

The thing is, though, having faith that something is true doesn’t necessarily make it so. Having faith that a chair will hold your weight is no guarantee that it will. Similarly, having faith that God exists is no guarantee that he does.

Do the Christians in the group believe that faith is sufficient for supporting a truth claim?

Me: “Muslims have faith, Sikhs have faith, and Hindus have faith. But you don’t think “Oh, they have faith therefore their beliefs must be true”.
Lady Three: “That’s right”
Me: “And that’s how I view the claims of Christians like yourself. The fact that you have “faith” that something is true isn’t an argument in favour of it being true”

At this point Lady Two repeats her testimony from last week, about the time that she had prayed for “100% faith” and how she had experienced God filling her with his Holy Spirit. She wants to know how I can explain that. Basically she wants to know that if God doesn’t exist then how can she have experienced him?

First of all I tell her that I’m not making the claim that God doesn’t exist. Secondly I ask her to explain the “experiences” of those people of other religions. If their gods don’t exist, I ask, then how can they experience them?

After a momentary pause she suggests we change the subject.

Curious as to why it is that I do not believe in their God, the group ask for my reasons. I tell them that I have a problem with reconciling the existence of their supposedly all-loving God with the existence of evil that we see in the world. I ask them for their thoughts on God’s mass slaughter of the firstborn children of Egypt [Exodus 11:5]

Long-Standing Male Member: “Whatever God does is right. So whatever decision God makes is the right decision. God is God and he’s perfect. So whatever he decides to do is right”
Me: “An all-loving God that kills innocent children in order to punish a Pharaoh, well, that just doesn’t add up.”
Lady Three: “How do you know they hadn’t done anything wrong? Pharaoh’s regime was oppressing the Israelites”
Me: “And what’s that got to do with the firstborn?”
Lady Three: “They refused to release the Israelites from slavery. To enslave a whole nation is a sin”
Me: “A little child sleeping in a cot hasn’t enslaved anybody. Its only ‘crime’ is to have been born of Egyptian parents”
Lady Three: [Long pause] “Hmmmm”
Pastor: “When we make sin individual then your argument is very logical, I agree. But I happen to believe that sin is corporate, so a nation has to be responsible for the way a nation behaves, and they should bear the consequences.”
Me: “So the Egyptian firstborn were guilty by association?”
Pastor: “In a sense, yes”

This kind of thinking would see no problem with judges sending children to prison for the crimes committed by their parents. This kind of thinking is a dangerous kind of thinking, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

The pastor can see that I’m having trouble believing that an all-loving God would slaughter defenceless children. He admits, “There are things in the Old Testament that I struggle with.” He continues, “I have to interpret what I read in the OT through the eyes of faith in Christ. That brings a real insight, because if I were to just look at it on its own it would seem very harsh. In the past I have wrestled with the problems that you are currently wrestling with, but this was only because I failed to grasp what “holiness” meant. Nothing can stand in the presence of a holy God unless it’s made holy itself. Even those firstborn, they were not holy because they were blemished. Yes, it’s hard for me to understand why it had to be so ruthless, but I think that is because I still, after 27yrs of a Christian, fail to comprehend the awesome holiness of God. I just have to trust him.”

Is that really an explanation, though? I don’t think so.

We return to the topic of personal experience. I tell them that I have never experienced their God. I ask why it is that God supposedly has all this love, power and knowledge but he can’t even make himself known to me. They “answer” this by saying that there have always been doubters.

Pastor: “When Jesus rose from the dead there were people who still didn’t believe him”
Long-Standing Male Member: “Thomas doubted him, but when Jesus turned up he told Thomas to stick his hand in his side”
Me: “So why doesn’t Jesus turn up here now and cure our doubts in a similar manner? We’d be sorted then”
Long-Standing Male Member:[With a hint of sarcasm] “Do you think so?”
Me: “Yes”
Long-Standing Male Member: “Well I think that God knows that even if he showed himself you STILL wouldn’t believe”
Lady Three: [Laughing in agreement] “If Jesus were to appear here now you’d say, “I’m not sure that you’re Jesus. Are you really him or aren’t you?””
Me: “Well he’s supposedly omniscient. He knows everything that has ever happened and ever will happen. I’d just ask him a few questions about myself that only I knew the answers to. That would be a good start.”

I don’t know about you but if a person were to appear in the room out of thin air, proceeded to defy a few laws of physics, and then finished off by giving me answers to things that only I could possibly know, then I’d probably find that quite a convincing demonstration. Wouldn’t you?

The pastor states that he believes that I will come to know God. And when I do I’ll be in a happier place.

Pastor: “I honestly think that if you’re honestly seeking God then you will come to that place. And when you do come to that place your faith will be stronger because, as Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe who haven’t seen me”. You need to walk by faith. If you don’t then you’re probably going to want Jesus to show himself every time you go through a rough time.”
Me: “Him showing himself once would be a start. As for faith, well, I wouldn’t mind a touch of faith based on reason and evidence, rather than just pure blind faith”
Pastor: “I don’t think anyone of us [Christians] have blind faith because my faith is based on evidence and reason.”
Me: “That’s great. And that’s why I’m here, to listen to such evidence. Supposedly my eternal well-being depends on me accepting the Christian claim. So I must have some good evidence on which to accept such a claim. Blind faith isn’t enough.”
Pastor: “When you come to faith you will be grateful that Jesus didn’t turn up every time you were having problems, because faith is more real when you just feel it inside”

Faith is more real when you just feel it inside? What does that mean? Let us think about that for a moment. Let us suppose, say, that God doesn’t exist. Now, if there was no God, yet people believed in him, wouldn’t we expect these believers to be perfectly satisfied with merely a ‘feeling inside’? Because, after all, that’s all they could ever get.

We are approaching 9pm and as a final thought for the evening Lady Three suggests, “Stephen, you could always challenge God and ask him if he’s there”. I state that I have done that on innumerable occasions in the past, however I assure her that I will try again later tonight.

On that note the pastor brings the session to a close with a prayer.

Another thoroughly enjoyable evening on the Alpha Course. Next week’s session is entitled, “Why and How Do I Pray?”

Should be interesting!

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September 22, 2008 - Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 Comments »

  1. Puh! No comments!

    I enjoyed your post as usual Stephen.

    “I must say, though, that in all my years as a believer I never once heard the voice of Jesus, or his knock for that matter. I’m sure I’m not alone in that respect. And I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never experienced Jesus in any way, shape or form. Why is that?”

    This statement interested me. As an x atheist; x Christian; x atheist I couldn’t deny, as you have, those things. Turning to atheism, I attributed different explanations to them (coincidence, the momentum coming solely from me), but I knew all the same what I was talking of.

    Moving on to Thomas. I wonder if I’m right in assuming that Thomas is the only person to have proof of God in the whole Bible. In the rest of the Bible God isn’t empirically provable. Maybe the point of that is for Jesus to make that statement.

    My take is that the design of our world works perfectly that way,and for God to be evidential in the way that you’re demanding would counter the ‘logic’ of the biblical presentation, if you take the accumulation of texts to be created for the purpose of describing God as is best understood by students of the theory.

    Thanks again for this series.

    Comment by m0rk | October 5, 2008

  2. Stephen,
    I’ve always thought the faith in chairs example was a poor one. I think a better example of faith is found in the first astronauts who landed on the moon. As you have already pointed out, we see chairs support the weight of a person every day of our lives so it doesn’t take much faith to sit in one and expect it to hold your weight. But for the first astronauts who landed on the moon, that was something never done before. They had to have great faith that all the scientists, engineers, and workers had done their job correctly. They couldn’t rely on past experience because it never had been done before. I think this is a better example of people who expressed great faith, but not a blind faith. I hope my posts are helping you see both sides of the argument.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 8, 2008

  3. Hi Frank.

    In my article I stated that people may place faith “in the likelihood that a certain chair will hold a certain someone’s weight,” but such people don’t have faith in the existence of chairs.

    Similarly, the astronauts in your example may have had faith “that all the scientists, engineers, and workers had done their job correctly”, but they didn’t have faith in the existence of scientists, engineers and workers. Nor did they have faith in the existence of the moon.

    Remember, we have to have faith in the existence of God.

    Although your analogy may be slightly better than the chair analogy, it’s still using the same kind of poor reasoning that I highlighted in my article.

    All the best,

    S. Butterfield

    Comment by Stephen Butterfield | October 8, 2008

  4. Hi Stephen,
    I think you are pushing the analogy too far.
    The example of faith in chairs and of the astronauts are simply to demonstrate we all exercise “faith” and not all faith is “blind faith”. We don’t need faith to know that when you jump off a building you will hit the ground, gravity works 100% of the time. But every time we get on an airplane or go skydiving we are exercising some amount of faith but that faith is not a blind one. We see people getting on and off airplanes all the time, but we also know that pilot errors have crashed many airplanes. Ultimately we get on because we trust(exercise faith) that the pilot(whom we have never met) did not spend all night at a pub and can actually fly the plane. I think too often when people hear the word faith, they immediately think it doesn’t apply to them and they equate faith to the absence of evidence or reasoning.
    If you want an example of requiring faith in the existance of something, I can think of 2 examples. I think of Columbus who had faith in the existance of a round earth. He based his faith on the evidence he had at the time (therefore not “blind faith”) but it still required a huge leap of faith for him to set sail where no one else dared. I also think of treasure hunters who search the ocean floor for sunken ships that they have never seen. They allocate thousands of pounds and man hours based on faith that the documents they posess correctly tell them that such ships did exist and the approximate whereabouts of where they sunk. Christians believe that their Bible is a treasure map that leads them to a God they have never seen. So I can understand the concept of having faith in something they have never seen with their own eyes. Some Christians do exercise “blind faith”, but I’ve also met many who have as I call it a reasonable faith.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 9, 2008

  5. I also wanted to share a story that might help understand the difference between belief and faith. A tight rope walk was getting ready to cross a large chasm. He asked the crowd, how many of you believe I can make it across? The crowd shouted, “we believe, we believe!”. He then turned to them and said “he who has faith will get on my back”. I admire Columbus because he had the courage to act on his faith as so do most great men.
    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | October 9, 2008

  6. I too went on an Alpha Course a few years ago, as I thought it was not fair to criticise it unless I had experience of it! I wrote a report which is on: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=64405
    [Susan, the link you gave didnt work, so i’ve found a new link for you above. Edit: S.B]

    I wonder if you have given a link to your blog to the BHA, as I have no doubt they would very much like it.

    I saw a link to this site on one of the BBC message boards (Christian Topic I am almost sure it was) and found it most interesting.

    (I have a website, but it’s very much a work in progress so I have not put the link.)

    Comment by Susan Buckingham | November 24, 2008

  7. I’m following this story with interest, as time permits. So far, I see the same old semantic legerdemain that is the favorite tool of religion the world over.

    When I board an airplane, I am playing the percentages, not exercising faith. I’m well aware of the glide path of an unpowered passenger jet. I’m aware of the statistically small risk, and I’m also aware that ignoring it or trying to wish it away is not going to have any effect on the outcome. Isn’t it strange how you seldom hear people talk about faith in connection with operating a motor vehicle? Is that because we tend not to trust other drivers, have a decent understanding of our own skills and limitations, and have a measure of control in which to exercise self-preservation? I trust the FAA, the commercial airlines, and the whole system to provide a competent pilot that has an analogous level of skill and control in the cockpit… and he has a co-pilot. I tend to thank the pilot when we touch down, not God.

    I’m really enjoying your writing style by the way. If you’re not a professional writer, you could be.

    Comment by breakerslion | December 22, 2008

  8. Hello breakerslion,

    You say, “When I board an airplane, I am playing the percentages, not exercising faith.” but later on you say “I trust the FAA, the commercial airlines, and the whole system to provide a competent pilot that has an analogous level of skill and control in the cockpit… and he has a co-pilot.” That my friend is having faith. Faith is trust in action. I’m not saying you have faith in God, but you have faith in the FAA, pilot, engineers who designed the plane, the mechanic, etc… You should thank the pilot when you touch down, you placed your life in his hands for a couple of hours and had faith in him. Don’t be afraid of faith, you practice it every day.

    Thanks,
    Frank

    Comment by Frank W. | March 3, 2009

  9. Sorry, I know that this is an old conversation, but I wanted to add:

    Frank, this is not the same thing at all. You’re confusing trust based on the weight of evidence with faith based on a supposed knowledge of truth. If I get on a plane, it’s because I think it’s probably safe, based on all the other plane ridea I know happen every day, although I’m fully aware that there is a possibility of on accident.

    Faith in God on the other hand is not based on evidence in the same way, and you can tell that as people who have faith in God say they “know” he exists. Someone who thought getting on a plane was safe would never say this. They are aware of the possibility it’s not safe, but think it’s reasonable to take the small risk.

    Every example you’ve offered is an example of people acting in light of the weight of objective evidence. Belief in God, whether right or wrong, is the exact opposite of this.

    Comment by Ally | July 13, 2009

  10. Hello Ally,

    When you get on a plane, you are exercising faith. Faith in the pilot, faith in the air traffic controllers, faith in the engineers that designed it, faith in the security screeers, etc. Let’s not fool ourselves and say we’re not exercising faith when we get on a plane.
    Some people choose not to fly because they do not have faith in the airline system while others do because they do have faith. They choose to fly even though they do not “know” with 100% certainty that they will get to their destination.
    Beleiving in God is similar. Weigh the evidence and make an intelligent decision for yourself. If you believe that all that you see around you came from non-life and we’re here by chance, then believe in atheism. If you believe it wasn’t an accident but God created all things then choose a form of theism. If you’re still trying to figure it out then you’re an agostic. Whatever you choose make sure it is based on the most accurate information possible. Just don’t reject evidence because it may favor one side or the other. You may be surprised what you find if you keep an open mind.
    An honest person will say that both atheists and theists express faith in what they believe.

    Comment by Frank W. | January 6, 2010

  11. Thanks for the blog Stephan really interesting. There is alot of talk about feelings however the bible states that faith comes though hearing and hearing from the word of God – faith should be based on what the bible says not feelings. If I trusted my feelings I would believe some very strange things! The evidence you are looking for is contained within the bible. The bible is full of science – the old testement talks about the planets as spheres long before the world was know to be round. The old testement also talks about the springs of the deep and we know today there are vents in the ocean floor from which springs hot water. These are not the only references. Regarding the reserection “The book that refused to be written” is a really interesting read where a “rationalist” lawer examines the evidence for the resurrection here is a summary of the book:

    “Dr. Frank Morrison, a lawyer who had been brought up in a rationalistic environment, had come to hold the opinion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was nothing but a fairy tale happy ending which spoiled the matchless story of Jesus. He felt that he owed it to himself and to others to write a book which would present the truth about Jesus, expose the misconceptions, and dispel forever the mythical story of the resurrection.

    Upon studying the facts, however, he, too, came to a different conclusion. The sheer weight of the evidence compelled him to conclude that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. Morrison wrote his book – but not the one he had planned. It is titled, Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter, very significantly, is “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”

    Furthermore there are many cases of miraculous healings today. Just 2 months ago my housemate was in so much pain with his back that he was unable to get up from his bed – I went into his room to find out why he was not up and about – I offered to pray for him and by the time I had finished my prayer God has completly healed his back I mean he got up twisted and went out! My mum’s a physio so I checked with her whether there was any scientific explination and she believes it was miraculous also. Similar accounts are held by other people in our church. This is not the only time I have seen God answer my prayers in a miraculous way.

    Anyway I’m aware of the amount of space I’ve taken up. But please take heart there is real concreate evidence avaible. Just as a quick one which provokes thought, the higgs bosom partical theory regards a force that sweeped the universe after the big bang creating mass, this is an interting theory because it basicaly reinforces the fact that currently science has no explination as to why everything in the universe has mass.

    Comment by Morgan Ball | January 19, 2010

  12. These people are insane. My friend is taking the course now. He’s an atheist. And found you site looking for others who have done it. One thing to add, I have a friend who, when asked what sort of evidence would be convincing for god/Jesus’ divinity, answers that as god is omniscient, god knows exactly what evidence would change his mind–even if he, personally, has no clue.

    The amount of “has to,” “had to,” “needed,” and “best/only way,” I hear from apologists, referring to an omnipotent god, is ridiculous. Those words have no meaning in a universe where god is omnipotent. He doesn’t “have” to do anything. There is no “better” way–as for him there are many ways that work just as well–he’s not constrained by anything. So the human Jesus blood sacrifice plan was based on divine whim, not necessity. When people ask why did Jesus die? I have to say, “Well if your god exists, it’s the sort of thing he really appreciates and likes.” What else can you say? It can’t have been “necessary” to reach any goal. God could reach any goal using all manner of means that for an all powerful being, would be just as efficient. Ah, but a full universe to produce a spec of life on Earth as the focus of all things…that’s not really a god interested in efficiency, is it?

    It’s endless. But love the write ups.

    Comment by tracieh | September 23, 2010

  13. Hi, I found your post most interesting and exciting 🙂 Wish you were at my Alpha table when I was taking it 😉

    Comment by Hamman Samuel | October 7, 2010

  14. Thank you for your comments, what do you think of this quote?

    “faith (or God confidence) is trusting in something we have reason to believe” In search of a confident faith, J. Moreland and K.Issler

    i agree that the bigger question is about the existence of God. So does God exist? is it reasonable to believe in him?

    i wonder what evidence do you have that God doesn’t exist?

    Have you looked at Plantinga’s list of arguments for God? here are some interesting articles on the existence of God http://www.bethinking.org/who-are-you-god/

    Comment by Nay | March 3, 2011

  15. […] The Bible is often taken literally and simplistically, making many Alpha teachers Creationists. Stephen Butterfield in an atheistic diary of his full Alpha Course attendance, describes a teacher claiming that pre-Flood creatures on Earth were all vegetarian, including the Great White Shark. The Second Coming Of Jesus, he promises, will restore the Vegan order to all life forms. https://alphacoursereview.wordpress.com/2008/09/22/week-3-how-can-i-be-sure-of-my-faith/ […]

    Pingback by THE Alpha Course Cult Beliefs AND Controversies | Relijournal | August 10, 2011

  16. Or vegan sharks, and lions and lambs being together in peace, could both be poetry, or metaphor for the whole of creation being restored to peace and harmony.

    Also, if the pastor mentioned gave a book that he already read, that doesn’t mean that there are not great answers out there. The dialogue can become infinitely long…

    Comment by rent | January 22, 2013


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