Axioms for Faith

I co-lead an emergent Christian community of conversation in my city. We have various streams of events -- community service, common meals, contemplative practice, services, book discussions, speaker events, community action, and faith-and-science discussions. A few weekends ago, we decided to discuss Science Mike's Axioms for Faith which is part of his series on doubt.

I want to share these with you because they can be extremely helpful for some of us dealing with doubt, and they can be extremely interesting for those of us looking at faith from a scientific lens. Due to the lively and deeply divided discussion my group had on the axioms, I want to preface your reading of the axioms with a few comments.

  • Take a moment to look up what an axiom is in science or mathematics.

  • In mathematics and science, axioms are independent and don't depend on one other. In contrast, some of these axioms will use terms or concepts from other axioms. That's ok; feel free to think of the axioms as a loose analogy.
  • These axioms are not an evangelical, proselytic tool. They are not a tool to debate atheism versus theism. Rather, they are a tool that might possibly help a person of faith with doubt as she falls from certainty. Science Mike experienced it as a fence or barrier against complete loss of belief.
  • Related to the previous two points, the axioms are scaffolded like a ladder. Imagine someone falling from faith. Before he falls completely away from faith, what is the last thing he could possibly hold on to? To think about it another way, if someone were falling away from faith, what is the first thing she could hold on to as she built it back up in a new way? The list is presented in that order. I invite you to give comments about how you would order the ladder from your experience.
  • The axioms are not definitive, canonized statements of Christian faith. They are simply a tool that personally helped Mike in his personal faith journey. If it's useful for you, great. If it's not, discard it.
  • The axioms are not perfect, and Mike says this himself. In fact, he invites help to improve him. You can send feedback to him.
  • The term "AT LEAST" includes definitions that go beyond. This was a difficulty my group had in our discussion. Sometimes, for example if a person thought God was more than Mike's definition, she would call Mike's definition wrong. But these are "at least" statements (similar to '≥' in mathematics) which are still true if you feel the defined concept is inclusively greater than or more than the axiom. For instance, if I have an apple in my hand and say "this object is at least a fruit," that is true even though we could specifically say it is more: it is an apple. However, if you feel the axiom or definition is not minimally true, that the concept (faith, God, prayer, etc.) does not, in any way, include the minimal axiomatic statement, feel free to disagree and comment. Remember, these axioms are the very least that science can verify about these concepts.
  • The axioms, if accepted, do not necessarily lead to an "orthodox," mainstream Western Christian faith. Mike says it probably leans more towards an Eastern Orthodox faith.
  • Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.

    God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.

    Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

    Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one's own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.

    The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.

    Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.

    Jesus is AT LEAST a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.

    The Holy Spirit is AT LEAST the psychological and neurological components of God that allow God to be experienced as a personal force or agent. EVEN IF this is all the Holy Spirit is, God is more relatable and neurologically actionable when experienced this way.

    The Church is AT LEAST the global community of people who choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. EVEN IF this is all the church is, the Church is still the largest body of spiritual scholarship, community, and faith practice in the world.

    The Bible is AT LEAST a collection of books and writings assembled by the Church that chronicle a people group's experiences with, and understanding of, God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of the Bible, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

    Here are some questions to ponder. I'd love your feedback.

    1. For a person of complete religious and spiritual unbelief, how you would order these 10 concepts or axioms to create a ladder?

  • Which axiom do you feel is the least controversial, most solid, and clearly obvious?
  • Which axiom do you feel is the most controversial, most reasonably disputable, and least obvious?