“By What Standard?”

Many times when people with varying world views and belief systems are having a heated conversation you will hear each person state particular ideas without offering any evidence to back up those ideas. Generally speaking, the ideas that we feel we don’t have to question are our presuppositions. In other words, no person is coming to a conversation with a completely neutral position, instead, we argue from our held beliefs. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as we recognize that we are doing it. Being blind to our own presuppositions or assuming that they are universally believed is a prime reason so many conversations do not end well.

            We must be able to get to the root of our beliefs in order to have constructive conversations. We do this by asking two primary questions. 1) Why do you believe what you believe? And 2) What is the standard or foundation for your belief? Let me explain using an illustration that I have used many times in the past.

            Imagine I’m working on a puzzle. After hours of work, I put in the last piece, smiling as I look at my accomplishment. You look at my work and say, “Something is wrong.”

            Amazed at your seemingly rude comment, I respond, “What do you mean?” You tell me I did the puzzle incorrectly, that I need to go back and correct it.

            “What gives you the right to say that I’m wrong? Who made you an authority on this puzzle?”

            “I don’t consider myself an authority. However, if you look at the picture on the box, you’ll see that yours doesn’t match. I may not be an authority, but the puzzle box sure is.”

            I take a deep breath, look at the box, and finally admit you are right. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that many of the pieces don’t actually fit together but were forced together. As I use the box to correct the puzzle, the picture becomes clear. Originally, my puzzle appeared to be an abstract painting, but now I see that it is a lake with a boat and a big blue sky filled with clouds. It’s a beautiful picture and I almost missed it.

            In this example, the puzzle box is the standard or objective measurement by which one is to judge the correct construction of the puzzle. Sure, you may be able to force some pieces together, but unless you use the true standard to judge the puzzle you will always be off. Similarly, if one were to ask the second person why he believes that the puzzle was wrong, he could simply point to the box. In other words, the question is, “Why do you believe what you believe about the puzzle being wrong?” The answer would then be, “The box shows that it is wrong.” We’re not talking about emotions or “this is the way I was raised”, we are talking about objective standards for belief.

            You see, this is important for all people to consider. Whether you consider yourself religious or nonreligious, a Christian or an atheist, a Republican or a Democrat, why do you believe what you believe? By what standard do you support your belief? Are your beliefs grounded in objective truth and reality? Or do you believe particular ideas because your parents did? Or because you’ve been swayed by culture? Or because you have an emotional attachment to a particular view? There are many reason we believe certain ideas, however, the question remains, “What is the standard of your belief?”

            One person might say, “I believe that God created the world in six literal days. That Adam and Eve were the first humans from which all people today have come.” Another person might say, “I believe that the universe came about through the Big Bang and that human beings are the result of billons of years of natural evolutionary processes.” Still another says, “I believe the earth was made by the Fairy Queen from Candy Land.” How would one go about judging each of these beliefs? Which one is true? “It’s true if it’s true to you.” No, that’s not a tenable position. We tend to go hyper PC when dealing with beliefs. That is not helpful to anyone. Instead, we can start by asking the two questions mentioned above.

            Imagine a brief conversation between the above people (we’ll leave out the Fairy Queen for now). “I believe that God created the world because it’s part of my religious faith.” The other person interjects, “Well, I believe in the Big Bang and evolution because it’s science. And I believe in science.” Now, this could be a very short conversation that wouldn’t get anywhere if these two people don’t start to address each others presuppositions. For instance, what is the standard for religious belief? Is there objective reasons to believe in God and His revealed truth? Likewise, what is the standard for scientific inquiry? What can science tell us and what are the limits of science? Perhaps, some might find it interesting the faith and science actually tend to go hand in hand. So whether you would say you believe in God creating the world, the Big Bang, or somewhere in between, my question is why do you believe that? If your response is simply because of my religion or because of my belief in science, I don’t think you’ve thought it through enough. What is the standard for your belief in science or faith?

            Over the next few weeks, I want to continue to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. What are the standards for what we believe and are we willing to examine these core issues? Finally, if we see contradictions or false ideas in our belief systems and world views, are we willing to change them accordingly?

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

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