Why Faith Has No Formula

Nov 17 2013 @ 12:33pm

Wittgenstein once wrote that “Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life.” Reviewing Nathan Schneider’s God in Proof, Robert Bolger believes the statement captures how arguments for the divine actually function:

Assenting to a proof for God is similar; it is couched in the language of rationality — it argues for the existence of something. Yet, as I hint at in my own book, Kneeling at the Altar of Science, the impetus behind accepting a religious proof as valid comes from a person’s gut (or soul) and not merely from her mind. The proofs are only meaningful for certain people; whether they mean anything has more to do with what we bring to the proofs rather than what the proofs brings to us. Isn’t this odd? It certainly is because it is odd to say that proofs “prove” only if we are in a position to see them as proofs. But the oddity disappears when we realize that this is actually what we mean by “proof” in a religious context. Schneider writes, “Assent, like this, is a convergence — a meeting of circumstances, choices, and the best of one’s knowledge.”

What the book might teach us about the search for God:

[T]his leads to another radical claim, namely, that the truth of a religious proof cannot be known except by those who accept it. This is an important point to make since it lets us see that searching for God is not simply searching for some thing among others, a being among other beings, or a creature that is strong and powerful but lives far away. If God could be found at the end of a logical proof, then finding God would be like finding a solution to a math problem or surmising a previously unknown planet by the laws of physics. It is only in the failure of the religious proofs to function in the way other proofs do that we learn something about the meaning of the word “God.”