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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?


 A woman once told me "It doesn't really matter which religion you follow; if you're sincere, your beliefs are just as valid as mine." She struck me as a very genuine person in her view, but she was dead wrong. Sincerity never makes a belief true. Sincerity has merit, but one can be sincerely wrong. Her beliefs clashed with logic, and what she needed was a logical faith.

What is a logical faith? Is it possible to even reconcile those ideas? Society views people who can be rational in difficult situations as heroic, intelligent and in control. However, in matters of faith we seem to put up a wall, segregating the virtue of logical thought from the earnestness of religion. We tend to hold a view that reason and faith are much like oil and water and can't be mixed. But that is only because people think that logical reasoning will undermine their beliefs. If this is so, it's possible they might not have a good reason for their faith. 

I maintain there is no good reason for holding any belief system, save one. A person should believe something only if it's true. What good does it do someone to hold a belief if it's not the way things really are? A person can't be proud of believing what doesn't correspond with reality. If I told you I still believe in Santa Claus you might smile, pat me on the head and say, "Dear boy, that's nice" but you'd never take me seriously. If I refuse to let go of a belief even though it doesn't match reality, then you'd rightly conclude I'm deluding myself.

At this point some may say "Yes, but you don't understand that truth is relative. My truth is different from your truth, and these things are true for me." This kind of statement sounds good on the surface but when you really examine it, it makes no sense. For one thing, people cannot hold this view consistently. They still have to look both ways before they cross the street. Their reality may not include the car that's barreling toward them, but they're going to get hit nonetheless. That's what reality does—it affects our lives whether we want it to or not.

Now all religions are in the business of making truth-claims. Religion seeks to accurately describe God, the world, and our relationship to them. If each religion is about truth, then we should be able to examine their claims and see which ones hold up. Good belief systems tend to make good sense and have good evidence, and they can withstand thoughtful, honest examination. If a belief system falls apart under scrutiny, then it probably wasn't true.

For instance, some people believe all faiths are equally valid and they all are using different labels for the same God. Is this statement true? Hinduism believes in millions of gods while Judaism and Christianity believe in only one God. Both beliefs can't be true. One denies the other and therefore at least one must be wrong. That means all faiths cannot lead to the same God. If some people still maintain they do, they might as well still believe in Santa Claus. That's why the woman I told you about was wrong in her opinion. She hadn't thought through what she believed.

Christianity is a faith that has always been very uncompromising in its demand for truth. In writing to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul admonished the believers there to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1Thess 5:21)." He also wrote "If Christ be not raised [from the dead], your faith is vain." These two verses demonstrate that reason and faith aren't necessarily contradictory but complimentary toward each other. Paul expected believers in the Christian religion to believe only what's true.

One of our primary goals at Come Reason Ministries is to get the Christian church thinking about what they believe and why. We feel that in examining the claims of historic Christianity, along with those of other faiths, Christianity can be shown to be the most plausible. However, we also engage questions and opinions from people of all worldviews. We feel that discussion is healthy and when done honestly and openly it will bring all the participants closer to the truth.

So is there such a thing as a rational faith? Yes, there is. A faith that is true is rational. In matters of faith, what one believes can influence life decisions, actions, emotions, and even destinies. No belief system is above inquiry, and in matters of faith the only belief worth having is a true one.

Image courtesy innoxiuss [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Must Science Assume Atheism?



I recently listened to an interesting conversation between Alister McGrath and Jim Al-Kalili on the Unbelievable! podcast. Both guests have an extensive science background and had a very thought-provoking exchange. While McGrath is a Christian apologist Al-Kalili is a theoretical physicist, radio host, and president of the British Humanist Association.

One key point that McGrath mentioned on the program is the assumptions people take from the scientific enterprise. For example, I've spoken with many atheists who say in order to "do good science" one must assume atheism. They then conclude that science is itself an atheistic enterprise and they believe science and faith are then set against one another. But this is actually sloppy thinking, as McGrath pointed out, and it misses a key distinction.

Methodology versus Ontology

McGrath makes the point that science does adopt a certain methodology in its discipline, what is known as methodological naturalism. In other words, science approaches its exploration of the world as if the answers can all be found by uncovering various natural laws and functions. Scientists take this approach because it forces them to dig deeper; asking the "why does this thing function in this way" helps us investigate the natural world more completely.

However methodological naturalism is just that: a methodology. It's an assumption the scientist makes as he approaches his work.  This assumption, just like any other, has limitations and cannot inform us of other questions which may be equally relevant.  As an illustration, think of a forensic scientist. A forensic pathologist can study a body and determine the cause of death. Perhaps the victim's heart gave out under extreme stress. What the pathologist cannot do is say whether the person was under stress because of an emotional crisis at home, because the victim was exercising to try and get into shape, or because the victim was under duress by being held at gunpoint. The mental state of the victim is out of reach to science. Even if it is shown that the death was caused by another party, motive for the crime cannot be shown scientifically. The detectives must employ methods other than naturalism to uncover those.

This is where most atheists who make the claim that science and faith are at odds go wrong.  They jump from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to the existence of God Himself. That's an unwarranted leap. Existence is a question of ontology, not methodology. That is it is a question of existence.  As McGrath stated, "By definition, a research method can uncover some things and not others, and this is the method that science uses. But we have to be very careful we don't conflate that into a view of reality." That would be like a shopkeeper believing that since his inventory shows negative two widgets, he is in possession of widgets made out of anti-matter! The method of inventory is not the same as the reality.

Weighing Science Along With Other Forms of Knowledge

To claim that science is atheistic is to confuse methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, a mistake thinking people should never make. A more thoughtful approach to questions of truth and reality is to take those findings we understand through scientific discovery and see how they fit with all the other ways we can know things. Like the detective, we must gather our facts about the world from more than just the science. We must weigh all the evidence we have and see if we can draw an inference to the best explanation from them. Shutting out other forms of knowledge doesn't make one more intelligent; it makes them less so.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Christian Faith is Based on Fact (video)



Faith for the Christian is anything but blind. In this short clip, Lenny answers a question from a student, explaining how Christianity has always been a belief system based on evidence and reason and why the modern mischaracterization of faith as something opposed to reason is completely wrong.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Events in Charleston Contradict the New Atheists


The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a best-selling bromide against religion entitled God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In that book, he claimed "As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything."1

Richard Dawkins takes a similarly dismissive view of religion in general and Christianity in particular. In chapter six of his book The God Delusion. Dawkins seeks to lay out how an evolutionary paradigm can account not only for self-preservation ,but altruistic actions such as older relatives caring for younger ones or acts of altruism that result in mutual benefit of both parties.2

Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris and other atheists have all claimed that they base their beliefs on reason and evidence. They hold up evidence as the highest ideal. But the ruthless murders of black parishioners in Charleston have provided evidence contradicting the position that religion is detrimental to humanity. It is proving that Christianity has the power to transform a story into something very different than the expected narrative.

Different than expected

We have watched in horror as cities like Ferguson or Baltimore erupt into violent protests and citizens riot after the death of a single black man. In each of those cases, there was some considerable gray area as to the actions of the officers involved: Michael Brown had just stolen from a convenience store and wouldn’t comply with the officer’s requests. Freddy Gray was under arrest and was being transported when he died from injuries that may or may not have been inflicted accidentally.

In Charleston we have nine people attending a Bible study who were mercilessly shot by Dylann Roof with the intent, according to investigators, "to start a race war."3 Outrage over these events should have been more acute than the others, yet there have been no riots. What was the difference?

AME Elder and interim pastor Rev. Norvel Goff, Sr, explained, "A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. They just don't know us because we are a people of faith, and we believe that when we put our forces and our heads together, working for a common good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together in the name of Jesus."4

While the lack of looting and rioting is in itself noteworthy, that wasn’t the most amazing thing to happen in Charleston. Just 36 hours after Roof slaughtered them, the victims’ family members stood in court, stared directly at roof and they forgave him. CNN quotes victim Ethel Lance’s daughter as she said to Roof , "I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you."5 

Felicia Sanders was in the church during Roof’s rampage. She saw her son Tywanza die while trying to reason with him. She and her daughter only survived by playing dead. Yet, Sanders looked at Roof and asked God for mercy for him. "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you."

These Christians were doing something that was the opposite of poisonous, something that in the natural order would make no sense at all. They were following the example of Jesus, who taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus forgave his murderers from the Cross and his followers at the Emmanuel AME Church would seek to do the same.

The power of their actions was noticed by those both inside and outside the faith. Jewish columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote in his column, "Not being a Christian, I can only marvel at the dignity and courage of the victims' relatives who forgave the shooter. If I could ever manage such a thing, it would probably take me decades. It took them little more than a day."6 Charles C.S. Cooke tweeted the video of the families offering forgiveness and commented:
Did the fact that Christians who followed their Lord’s command poison things in South Carolina or is this evidence that directly contradicts that claim? There is no way for Dawkins, Harris, or the other New Atheists to spin this as some kind of evolutionarily advantageous action. It isn’t. In fact, forgiving a threat instead of destroying it would be evolutionary deleterious. It makes no sense given a naturalist accounting, but it makes all the sense in the world given a supernaturalist accounting.

For those atheists who say they’re all about reason and evidence, here it is. Anyone issuing a retraction yet?

References

1. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve Books, 2007. 23.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. 217-218.
3. Ellis, Ralph, Greg Botelho, and Ed Payne. "Charleston Church Shooting: Questions Swirl around Suspect Dylann Roof." CNN. Cable News Network, 19 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting-main/index.html.
4. Rodriguez, Vanessa. "Peace, Not Rioting at Charleston Church." Christian Examiner. Christian Examiner Newspapers, 22 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. http://www.christianexaminer.com/article/defiant.forgiveness.sends.message.to.charleston.mass.murderer/49132.htm.
5. Ellis, 2015.
6. Goldberg, Jonah. "In the South, Grace and Dignity after Charleston Church Shootings." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0623-goldberg-charleston-dignity-20150623-column.html.

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's Imperative that Christians Train for Their Faith!

Mischa Elman was a celebrated violinist who emigrated from Russia to New York and spent many years providing captivating music. His wife tells this great story of Elman's quip after the orchestra was making too many mistakes:
One day, after a rehearsal that hadn't pleased Elman, the couple was leaving Carnegie Hall by the backstage entrance when they were approached by two tourists looking for the hall's entrance. Seeing his violin case, they asked, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Without looking up and continuing on his way, Elman simply replied, "Practice."1
Of course this is an old joke that has many iterations, but there is something that we can learn from this old canard. We value practice as one of the primary ways to develop skill and prepare for important occasions.  One would never imagine putting a musician on stage in front of a packed house at Carnegie Hall without them first practicing. No one plays as a major league baseball player without spending many hours in the batting cages.



However, how do we help our kids practice and strengthen their faith before we send them out to face college professors or others who would seek to tear down their beliefs? College is a crucial time for young Christians as they are establishing themselves and their beliefs away from their parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings. This is when young people will begin to examine much of what they've accepted as true. Yet, if the church has never taught them to think critically or how to respond to difficult questions or objections, how will they be prepared to face highly educated opponents? It would be like asking them to pinch hit for the World Series without ever playing in the minor leagues.

Steven Kozak recently wrote a prescient article asking "Are Christian Students Living Within A Christian Worldview?" He states:
The Church has done an excellent job of providing an assurance of salvation, but had not provided her with any intellectual resources to help her defend the impending onslaught of alternative theories and ideologies that are taught in college classrooms. Personal worship? Check. Pretty good moral compass? Check. Hopes of going to heaven someday? Check. A clear understanding of why the gospel is needed in our world, and how to engage our world for the Kingdom of God, hmmmmmm?2
Kozak notes that "Colleges all over the world are content on teaching every system of philosophy and morality possible, and yet excluding the most influential and dominate system of beliefs in the history of the world."3 Without proper preparation and instruction, many young people will never know the incredibly strong intellectual and rational history that undergirds their faith. They will never know that those seemingly convincing objections to God's existence pale in comparison to the Christian evidence of the universe's need for a Creator, its incredible design, the reliability of reason, the need for a moral lawgiver, and many others.

Tomorrow I will lead a group of Christians in a trip to U.C. Berkeley where they will become immersed in a climate completely unchristian. They will engage with atheists, visit a Unitarian Universalist church, visit a Hare Krishna Temple, and interact with secular students on the UC Berkeley campus. Throughout these five days, they may be challenged and stretched, but they will also better understand the reasons people have both for and against Christianity. They will get trained to talk about issues of faith in a loving, intelligent way. And they will know what it's like to engage others without being tongue-tied.

If your church, school, or youth group would like to find out more about these Apologetics Missions Trips, please get in touch with me here. Come Reason Ministries will work with you to plan an event that will be as transformative as it is faith-building. Just click here and we will send you more information.

References

1. Carnegie Hall. "History FAQ." Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall Corporation, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. http://www.carnegiehall.org/History/History-FAQ/.
2. Kozak, Steven. "Are Christian Students Living Within A Christian Worldview?" Stevenkozak.com. Steven Kozak, 1 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. http://www.stevenkozak.com/content.cfm?page_content=blogs_include.cfm&friendly_name=Students-Living-A-Christian-Worldview.
3. Kozak, 2014.
Photo courtesy Josh Hallett and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Contradiction of the Tolerance Brigade

Imagine the sacrifice that's involved in becoming a vegetarian. Certainly, such a decision comes at some significant sacrifice. You would have to renounce your ham and sausage breakfast sandwiches and learn to enjoy different types of meals. And you'd have to be more selective when eating out as your choices will be more limited. You would have to clean out your kitchen of meat products or meat-derived sauces and flavorings. You would need to learn a whole new way of preparing food.



So, in order to be better prepared for the vegetarian lifestyle, you decide to enroll in a vegetarian culinary course at the local college. Here, they promise to help all vegetarians learn ways to prepare well-balanced and healthy meals that fit their chosen lifestyle. Yet, after you arrive, you notice that some chefs are teaching their students the different seasoning choices for trout, salmon, or halibut. Another is discussing how to make chicken tacos while a third is demonstrating the proper temperature to cook a steak!

You first complain to your fellow students, but you're told you're judgmental and intolerant. "But, this is supposed to be a vegetarian cooking course," you say. They answer, "We stand with teachers in rejecting culinary clauses that impede their freedom, including the right to choose what to use when preparing a meal." I would imagine that after all your personal sacrifice and hard work, this would not only be offensive to you, but you would walk into the office and demand your money back!

Sacrificing Morality in the Name of Morality

The same thing is happening right now in San Francisco. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has set forth a set of rules for all instructors of primary and secondary Roman Catholic educational institutions in the San Francisco archdiocese to be adopted in the fall of 2015. It includes certain moral actions, such as teachers should affirm and believe in the churches teaching on chastity, and "only in marriage between man and woman that the intimacy of sexual union" is allowed while extra-marital relationships, including homosexual relationships are defined by the church as "gravely evil."1

None of this should be surprising, as these are well known beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, people are protesting the statement, rallying under the hatshtag #teachacceptance. They have asked for volunteers, stating:
We believe that the students and employees at our schools deserve to go to work and attend classes free of fear and discrimination. In addition, the Archbishop has mandated that all faculty and staff be reclassified as "ministers," which will leave them without workplace protection.

We affirm and believe in the value of diversity of thought within our Church. We also affirm and believe in the value of diversity and inclusion within the halls of our school. It is unconscionable that any employee or student should fear discrimination.2
Their Facebook group, Support SF Teachers, even organized a rally to protest these changes to the schools' handbook. They write "We stand with teachers and faculty working in the San Francisco Archdiocese in rejecting morality clauses that impede their freedom, including the right to choose who to love and marry and how to plan a family." Basically, they want it all; they want to be called Roman Catholic while opposing some of the most fundamental moral standards held throughout the church's history.

What's Left to Distinguish?

So, can you call someone who dines on T-bone steak every Saturday night a vegetarian? Just because I have oatmeal for breakfast each morning, it isn't enough for others to consider me a vegan. Why would groups like the Support SF Teachers demand the acceptance and tolerance of values antithetical to that define the Roman Catholic Church? Because they just want to call themselves Catholic?

The rife contradiction in this isn't even lost on the left. Slate.com has never been a destination to find conservative thought, yet, Slate's William Saletan recently wrote an article about the ridiculousness of those demanding the church change its position.3 Saletan nails it when he states:
The protesters are confused. They reject morality clauses but call the archbishop's behavior sinful, shameful, and wrong. They belong to a church but seem to think it shouldn't forbid anything. They insist that no one can be judged, except for issuing judgments that contradict their own. They can't explain or even acknowledge the moral differences between homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. The nonsense of nonjudgmentalism has turned their brains to mush. It's clouding their ability to think and speak clearly about society's mistakes—and their own.
I agree. How is one to define the distinctives of any faith if none of those distinctives are allowed? Such an approach isn't tolerance, its ridiculousness. Vegetarians are vegetarians because they don't eat meat. If you want to teach how to cook a steak, don't apply at a vegetarian cooking school. Likewise, believers are believers because they follow the tenets of their faith. If you want to be morally promiscuous, don't apply at a school where they demand that you act morally responsible. Today's demand for tolerance makes as much sense as a vegetarian owning a butcher shop.

References

1. "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church." Catholic San Francisco. Catholic San Francisco, 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. http://www.catholic-sf.org/ns.php?newsid=25&id=63175.
2."Volunteer Form for #TeachAcceptance." Google Docs. Support SF Teachers, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QeY03_-_P1o0JlUlIurFwTnoEbFYdyNrrb6_5ImcAPg/viewform.
3.Saletan, William. "Why San Francisco Catholics Are Wrong About the Church's New Morality Clauses ." Slate. The Slate Group, LLC, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2015/02/san_francisco_catholics_are_protesting_salvatore_cordileone_s_morality_clauses.html.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jesus and Logical Fallacies: The False Dilemma

There have been many times where I've been speaking to a non-believer who tells me that he would rather place his trust in science and reason than in faith. Versions of this include "facts rather than religion" or "knowledge over ancient belief."



Such objections are certainly not uncommon today, even though they are completely illogical. Each one exercises a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. A false dilemma tries to limit one's choice between only two options when there may be more options available. To use a popular example, imagine a man on trial. As he sits in the witness stand, the prosecutor comes to him and asks, "Is this the first time you've beaten your wife, yes or no?" Of course, either answer to such a question immediately incriminated the man. The third choice of "I have never beaten my wife" is never offered by the prosecutor, which sets the defendant up with only two options, each of which places him in a bad light.

Why Faith Versus Reason is a False Dilemma

In the objections above, the ideas of faith, religion, and belief are all positioned as incompatible with science, facts, and knowledge. But the assumption that these are incompatible is itself not true. For example, the multiverse theory is based on certain mathematical beliefs and assumptions. There exists no observational data for other universes, nor will there be given that our universe is a closed system. Therefore, scientists who hold to the multiverse theory are doing so based on certain beliefs and a faith in the models they have constructed. Does that disqualify the multiverse theory from being classified as science? Will those skeptics disavow it because they would rather place their trust in reason? Of course not.

Similarly, Christianity is based on certain facts, such as Jesus' resurrection from the dead, based on the historical accounts. Christians use arguments to show that the existence of God is a reasonable position to hold. Reason and evidence are the foundation of Christianity, which just like the multiverse model shows that faith and reason are not exclusive but work in concert.

How Jesus Answered the False Dilemma

Sometimes people offer false dilemmas intentionally as a strategy, such as our lawyer example above. However, it's probably more common for a person to not realize there are more choices than the two presented when he or she is presenting the argument. Still, it is important to highlight the dilemma and show it to be false.

The Gospel of Luke provides us with an example of how Jesus faced a false dilemma. In Luke 20:19-26, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into incriminating himself. Luke tells us that they asked him "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" This was cunning, because if Jesus replied that paying taxes was wrong, he'd be considered a traitor to Rome, but if he said it was OK according to the Jewish law (that is the Old Testament commands) to give a tribute to Caesar, then the would be sanctioning support for a Gentile ruler when Israel's only allegiance should be to God alone.

However, Jesus didn't fall for it. Luke reports:
But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
In Jesus' answer, he brilliantly splits the horns of the dilemma. There are more than the two options of allegiance to God or allegiance to Caesar. One can be a good citizen of the state while disagreeing with some of its positions. The Pharisees weren't offended at the graven image of Caesar so much that they refused Roman money. They simply didn't want to give it back in taxes. Thus Jesus's answer shows that one can be a good citizen and not offend God. In fact, he may have thought of Malachi 6:8, which teaches that all believers should seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Paying for the services of Rome is part of doing justice.

In highlighting the false dilemma the Pharisees offer, Jesus gives us one example of how to better defend our faith. Jesus' use of logic had the effect of silencing his detractors while teaching new truths to his audience. This is just one example of Jesus using logic and reasoning in his interaction with others. We need to prepare ourselves to do likewise.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are you Ready to Argue Like Jesus?

Are you ready? Do you have what it takes? Are you prepared to argue? Christians today face more opposition to their beliefs than in the past. Those people are going to assert them to us. Therefore, we need heed the charge of the Apostle Peter who commanded that we always be ready to make a defense for our hope in the gospel (1 Pet. 3:15). One way to do this is to learn to argue well.



For many people, that last sentence sounds counter-intuitive. "Didn't your mother tell you it isn't nice to argue?" they may ask. Others think it's downright anti-Christian to argue. But, neither of these responses are true; and that's because when I use the word argument, I mean something different from what they're hearing. When I say the word "argument," I don't mean two people yelling at one another or hurting each other's feelings. I mean something completely different; and it has more to do with growing your understanding than raising your voice.

Why It's Impossible to Avoid an Argument

All people have beliefs. You can't be a functioning human being and not hold to at least some beliefs. Some of them are easily identified, such as "I'm alive right now" or "I'm reading this blog post." Others are a bit more complex, such as one's belief in the existence of God or which political party has better answers for his or her country, yet all these beliefs have some kind of reasoning behind them. It may be that you investigated the data or it may be that you were taught a belief from a young age. The authority figure or your study helped form your beliefs. There are a few beliefs that are self-presenting, like the belief that I am not in pain right now. I know I'm not feeling pain because pain experience is direct and immediate. However, most of our beliefs are formed through other means.

Because each one of us has beliefs, each one of us holds to certain things we believe are true about the world. A belief is simply that, something we take as true about the world. Those beliefs will also shape my actions and reactions to situations around me. If I believe in the power of prayer, that belief is going to play itself out in the action of my praying. If I believe that an unborn baby is made in the image of God, then that will shape my political views on abortion. Your beliefs will always spill out into your actions and touch the people and institutions you come in contact with.

There's the issue, though. Because different people hold different views about the world, it should be no surprise that you will run into people who don't believe things that you hold as true and they believe things you hold as false.  Such contacts mean two people will desire different outcomes to a specific situation, each believing that his or her outcome is the correct one. Just like two cars that are traveling in opposite directions arrive at a one-lane bridge simultaneously, both cannot go on their merry way until the conflicting desires are resolved.

Preparing to Argue Like Jesus

Because you, dear Christian, have reasons for your beliefs, and everyone will face beliefs that conflict with their own, it becomes crucial that you make sure you are better prepared to engage those conflicts. That requires you to learn to argue well. As I said at the top of this post, arguing doesn't mean yelling, fighting, or hurting someone's feelings. Arguing is simply discussing your beliefs with another person, but doing so by providing reason and evidence, or as Michael Palin defined it: "An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." It means we talk and support our belief with the reasons why we think that such a belief is true.

As I've been saying, this is exactly the way Jesus did it. The Gospel of Luke tells us that "The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40). Jesus in his human nature grew in knowledge. He learned how to speak, and he learned the beliefs of his day. Jesus quoted the Scriptures – do you think he studied them? Do you think he worked at memorizing them? Do you think Jesus was a good student?  Did He study hard? He certainly seemed to know the beliefs of the Sadducees and the Pharisees as he put both to shame in Matthew 22.

I invite you to join me for the next few days as I lay out what well-structured arguments look like, and how you can make them. I also want to show what fallacies are, both to help you avoid them and to pick them out if your opponent should use them. Learn to argue more effectively; you will be following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Building Faith Muscles in Your Kids

Last week, I got to have a nice conversation with my eighteen year old son about some different things that's been on his mind. He told me that he's been mulling over concepts of predestination and free will, and reading up on the subject.  We discussed the Calvinist and Arminian models as well as Molinism. We also talked about the nature and purpose of salvation and touched on creation models.



Some of you may think that because I'm an apologist, our family has "theology hour" or some such thing.  That would work about as well in my home full of teenage boys as it would in yours. However, there are a few things you can do to nurture the faith of your children.

1. Realize that It's Their Faith You Want to Develop

I think it's natural that people want the best for their children. In affluent cultures such as ours, that desire sometimes gets mistranslated, though. As parents we can mistake providing a safe, loving home for our kids into providing a care-free area for them to grow up where every difficulty is eliminated or marginalized as much as possible.

Probably the most important principle I can offer is this first one: your desire is not to give your kids your faith, but to have them develop a strong faith of their own. This is key. Teenagers are naturally inclined to seek out meaningful lives. They actually want to understand their world and do things that are important. But our kids don't yet have the experience to know how to go about understanding the world. They're like a young hockey player who has some raw talent, but who doesn't know what it takes to make it in professional athletics.

Your job as parent is to train them. You can't simply tell them what to believe, you have to ask them what they think in a certain situation. You have to let them understand the basics of Christianity then ask them how they would express it. This means drawing their attention to big topics.

One way you can do that is to use movies to point out different worldviews.  For example, my family may go watch the latest superhero action movie. The movie is a lot of fun, but I also try to draw attention to the values the film is promoting. Listen to their ideas of why this hero is so cool and ask why would they want to be like him or her. Ask a lot of questions! The more you explore their point of view, the more they will see where their beliefs may be inadequate. Just as a young athlete must get acquainted with the rules of the game and know the mechanics of moving  on ice skates, so the young Christian must learn to stand upon those things he or she believes. We are to train our children in the way they should go; we shouldn't try to carry them there.

2. Faith Requires Exercise to Grow Stronger

Next, don't shun tough questions that they have or difficult situations in which they're placed. We have a tendency as parents to want to "helicopter" our kids out of uncomfortable or difficult situations. But doing so actually impedes their growth. Faith is like a muscle; in order to make is stronger, one must use it.

This is again just like developing an athlete. You would never take a person who only played in a neighborhood league and force them to face the professionals. Athletes grow by joining leagues where the level of play is higher than they're used to, but where they can be coached and receive additional instruction on how to improve. As they grow, they're own style and skill come to the fore.

One way I help youth ministries do this is by leading different apologetics missions trips to places like Salt Lake City, Utah or Berkeley, CA. We take kids out of their comfortable environment and train them how to interact with students on a college campus who do not share their Christian beliefs. They get to dialogue with atheists or others and they then can see how those views compare to their own. All the while, we are training the students and talking with them after every encounter.

The problem is if we don't let our kids struggle just a bit with tough questions or with objections to their faith, they will never learn that what they believe is actually able to withstand the pressure. I've talked with many people who in college lost their faith. It wasn't because they thought the objections to Christianity were too difficult to overcome. Instead, they concluded that, since their parents and pastors told them to just ignore those "troublemakers" with tough questions that Christianity didn't really care about the truth at all. Since they had never faced someone antagonistic to their beliefs before, they never knew that Christianity could handle to toughest shots thrown at it.

Our kids can do amazing things. They are truly interested in forming their beliefs, but that formation requires them to have some experience with those beliefs. Help them grow into mature Christians by allowing them to explore their faith and be challenged every once in a while. The conversations that result may surprise you!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Virtue of God's Hiddenness

One of the questions that I often get asks is "If God doesn't want people to go to hell, then why doesn't he make himself more known?" Previously, one way I've answered this is to point out that even if God were to do a miracle in front of someone, it doesn't guarantee that the person would place their trust in him.

However, I want to raise another possibility as to why God doesn't make Himself more obvious: God values trust. Jesus emphasized God's desire for trust in his dealings with Thomas. Remember, the disciples had seen the risen Christ on that first Easter evening, but Thomas wasn't present. John then records that Thomas wanted more proof than the testimony the others offered, stating "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe" (John 20:25, ESV). Jesus appears to Thomas a week later and says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29, ESV).


Before we go too far, it's important to note that Jesus wasn't telling Thomas to believe with no evidence. Thomas had walked with Jesus for three years and had seen many miracles, including the raising of the Jairus' daughter and more recently Lazarus. The Gospels tell us that he also spoke plainly about his death and resurrection (Matt 16:21, Matt 17:22, Mark 9:9, John 2:18-21, John 11:25). Jesus was not asking of a blind faith, but one built upon the time and evidence he had already provided.

Similarly, instead of proving himself to us at every turn, God desires that we trust him by looking at the ways he has already revealed himself to us. I can think of at least three reasons why God would want to look for us to trust Him.

1. Trust allows us to develop an honest relationship with God

Trust is the key to faith. Imagine a man who marries an attractive woman, one who seems to be hit upon by almost every man she meets. Now imagine that right after marriage, he continually tracks her whereabouts via her cell phone's GPS, he places hidden cameras in her car and in the home, and makes her prove that she hasn't had an affair. What kind of relationship would they have?  Does such a man truly love this woman, or does he simply want to control her?

In order for love to be real, one must have some trust in the beloved. God wants to cultivate the virtue of trust in us. It would be as inappropriate for us, as children of God, to demand proof of God's actions as it would be a young child demanding proof that her parents are not torturing her because of their demand to have her eat her vegetables or to not cross the street alone. Trust must be practiced to become mature, and trusting God helps us develop that virtue.

2. Trust allows us to survive the dark times

Another benefit of developing the virtue of trust is that it can carry us through the darker times of our lives. We live in a fallen world where each of us will face difficulties. Struggles, sickness, and death are all part of the human condition. However, for the person who trusts God and his word, they can have the confidence that such difficulties are able to be overcome. A believer can more bravely face his trials knowing that God is sovereign over them and that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom 8:18). Without trust, one is faced with desperation and despair. Dark times test the trust one has in God and can steel their hearts to trust him.

3. Trust allows us to be more effective in our walk with God

God also wishes us to learn to trust him because such trust allows us to be effective Christians in the world. As a hockey fan, I know that a team needs trust to succeed. The forwards must trust their defense in order to be aggressive enough to rush the net. The defense, in order to block the player coming down the center, must trust their goalie to stop the outside shots. Everyone on the team has to trust their training and coaching to execute plays properly.

Likewise, Christians who are the most effective for the kingdom are those who trust that God will help them with the tasks he has called them to do. They can take some risks, they can work through the difficult times with the hope of better days and they can see how much God has done for them to this point.

4. Trust allows us to be blessed by God's faithfulness

One final point: only those who trust God have the blessing of seeing their trust rewarded. When God answers prayer, delivers one from a trial, or provides success in ministry, the one who trusted him can look back and glorify the God who keeps his promises. The blessing of seeing God work to the good of his people is impossible for someone who would never trust that God would make good on his word.

Monday, November 03, 2014

What If You Can't Be Reasonable Without Faith?

Sam Harris, one of the new atheists, in his book The End Of Faith defines faith this way:
The truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern—specifically in propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death. Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse—constraints that you're leaving like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility, and candor. 1
Of courses, Harris is completely wrong in his view of faith. Some aspects, such as his attempt to divorce faith from civility are a bit laughable—especially when it is the "reasonableness" of Harris that tries to label any person of faith as lost in outer space.



Sam Harris is a master at creating straw men when discussing religious belief, and that's just what this is. But the misconception has been around a lot longer than Harris. It was probably expressed most succinctly by Mark Twain who said, "Faith is believing in what you know it ain't so." But people of reason can be also people of faith, in fact the Christian practice of apologetics is designed to give reasons and evidence for faith. Part of the confusion is polemical; atheists like Harris have a desire to make people of faith look as bad as possible, so he writes that the faithful are uncivil and deceitful. But Harris isn't being reasonable here. I've written before about  Harris's misdefinition of faith; you may read articles here and here. I think another key problem with Harris; view is that he misunderstands the concept of reason as well.

What is Reason?

Everyone assumes they know what reason is, but reason involves thinking rightly about the world around us. Ultimately when we talk about reason we talk about a rational enterprise (using our minds) to aim at an objective criterion. We avail ourselves of what we know to try and make sense of ourselves, the world and our experiences. Basically, being reasonable means we are looking for truth by thinking well.

Since reason involves looking for truth, it then becomes important to realize that reason includes going beyond ourselves. Truth is an objective thing; it's something "out there" not just something subjective. Any truth claim lies outside of the individual. Truth may stand in contrast to the experience that an individual has, including even empirical/sensory experience

For example, your senses may tell you that the Sun circles the Earth. If we look up, we watch it; we can see it with our eyes. Isn't that enough proof? No, it isn't. Isn't that empirical evidence? Yes, but just a bit of empirical evidence alone may lead you astray. Just because we see something with our eyes it is not necessarily the end of the matter. How do we know that our eyes are not telling us the truth? We have to find new facts and we then use our reason to compare different sets of data.

When Copernicus offered his model of the solar system where the earth circles the sun, part of the driving nature to his belief is that the Creator of the world would prefer simpler and more beautifully designed way to arrange the planets' motion:

For Copernicus as for many ancient philosophers the sky is the visible God; therefore the study of the movement of the celestial bodies is the most excellent way to the invisible God. The Creator is the great architect of all things; in the cognition of the mathematically simple structure of the universe man will become united with Him. It is suggested that these theological ideas gave Copernicus the pertinacy to work out his heliocentric system despite the misgivings of contemporary Aristotelian physicists.2

Copernicus, then, sought to explain the universe that was as satisfying to his faith as it was to his eye. He dedicated the book containing his findings to Pope Paul III and said:
I am not so much in love with my conclusions as not to weigh what others will think about them, and although I know that the meditations of a philosopher are far removed from the judgment of the laity, because his endeavor is to seek out the truth in all things, so far as this is permitted by God to the human reason, I still believe that one must avoid theories altogether foreign to orthodoxy.3
 There was no way to deduce Copernicus' view using sense data alone. Copernicus showed mathematically why his model made more sense, and part of the attractiveness of his model was its simplicity and beauty. But Copernicus says that he wished to remain orthodox in his understanding of the world and it was his use of reason as given by God that led him to his view of a sun-centered solar system. Metaphysical faith helped propel the Copernican model forward.

When one seeks to be reasonable, it means that he must weigh all the information at his disposal. That may include considering ideas that are not based in empirical observation alone, but ones that have a basis outside of nature. If God's existence makes more sense out of things like the emergence of life from nonlife, the emergence of consciousness and the orderly nature of the universe, then, barring actual evidence to the contrary, it would be unreasonable for us to believe there is no God.

I wish Sam Harris and other atheists who like to bring up Copernicus would look at how reasonable Copernicus really was. I also wish that some of the New Atheists would also hold to not being "so much in love with my conclusions as not to weigh what other think of them." That would be a very reasonable thing to do.


References

1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. 65. Print.
2. G Zimmermann, Die Gottesvorstellung des Nicolaus Copernicus. Studia Leibnitiana 20 (1) (1988), 63-79. As quoted from O'Connor, JJ and E F Robertson. "Christianity and the Mathematical Sciences - the Heliocentric Hypothesis." The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. University of St Andrews, UK. July 2014. Web. Accessed 03-11-2014.
3. Copernicus, Nicholas. "Dedication of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies." The Harvard Classics. By Charles William Eliot. Vol. 39. Connecticut: Grolier Enterprises, 1993. 55. Print.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Christian Faith Is an Objective Faith

The Christian faith is an objective faith; therefore, it must have an object. The Christian concept of "saving" faith is a faith that establishes one's relationship with Jesus Christ (the object), and is diametrically opposed to the average "philosophical" use of the term faith in the classroom today. One cliché that is to be rejected is, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it enough." 

Let me illustrate.
I had a debate with the head of the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. In answering a question, I happened to mention the importance of the resurrection. At this point, my Opponent interrupted and rather sarcastically said, "Come on, McDowell, the key issue is not whether the resurrection took place or not; it is 'do you believe it took place?'" What he was hinting at (actually boldly asserting) is that my believing was the most important thing. I retorted immediately, "Sir, it does matter what I as a Christian believe, because the value of Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the one who is believed in, its object." I continued that "if anyone can demonstrate to me that Christ was not raised from the dead, I would not have the right to my Christian faith" (I Corinthians 15: 14). 
The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed — not in the one trusting, but in the one trusted. 
—Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.San Bernardino, CA. Here;s Life Pub. 1979. Print. 4.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Talk about Faith on Facebook


Social media offers a great opportunity for Christians to talk about their faith, but many times we are confronted with people who don't think twice about slamming the faith. How can we be both winsome and compelling in representing Jesus online? In this podcast series, Lenny provides real-world examples of how to be both winsome and effective in online conversations.

Friday, August 29, 2014

You're Smarter than You Think You Are

I'm a big comedy fan. Nobody does silly-smart like Monty Python. Their "Philosophers' Football Match" was hilarious. It makes you appreciate good satire.

The Far Side, the single panel comic strip by Gary Larson, was another piece that had some pretty funny moments. One comic in 1986 that I distinctly remember was a panel showing two deer standing only on their hind legs facing each other. One deer has two concentric circles forming a target on his chest. The caption has the other deer saying, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal."



As we press on into the twenty-first century, I find that more and more Christians are feeling the same way that deer felt. We can feel the frequency of attacks against Christian believers increasing faster than ever before. We see this most evidently in the recent best-selling works of the so-called "New Atheists," such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. These titles are now well-known and they've been extensively covered by popular media. However, I think that the prominence of these books is a comment on how our society has become more uncomfortable with a strong Christian faith.

It really seems as if we're entering a time where lines are being drawn more clearly. We live in a society that views belief as a deeply personal approach to life, and the most important thing to guide one's moral life. Yet most people also adopt a "salad-bar theology" in their beliefs; they think that they can pick and choose beliefs by what they like and don't like. If your plate looks different than mine, that's OK. Just so long as I can have only what I like1.

But we cannot be passive in the face of attack. In fact, the Bible commands us to engage with others in the war of ideas. We are the "always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks, yet with gentleness and reverence" as 1 Peter 3:15 tells us. That means we will need to be ready to have answers and face people who may seem pretty smart.

Think About It

How do you feel about what you believe? Is it only a personal choice or are there reasons why you believe what you do?

Pretty scary, huh? Well, don't be too worried. You're smarter than you think you are! You have the ability to give good, solid answers for the things you believe. You have just as much ability to stand up for your faith as anyone else—even the so-called experts. Then, why do most people get so flustered when objections or questions come their way? Well, primarily it's because they haven't ever taken the time to sit down and think through what it is they actually believe. But, as Christians, we're commanded to do just that!

Although many people want to shrink from such a command, I want to encourage you to move forward. Pick a topic, such as the existence of God. Study it. Read some of the good books, web sites and other materials that are already online. Checkout podcasts, like our weekly Come Let us Reason podcast.  It isn't as hard as you think. And it's crucial to remember just what's at stake.

You see, ideas have consequences. Believing what God says about people being made in His image caused advocates like William Wilberforce to rise up and demand the abolition of slavery. Believing that all human beings are precious powers the pro-life movement and has a direct impact on saving babies. It's not about trying to be some type of intellectual; it's about how knowledge affects the way we react to events as we see them. It means we're able to impact the world because we know things. We are fighting a spiritual war and souls hang in the balance. Let's fight smarter.

References

1. A Barna survey reports "74% to 23%—adults agreed that their religious faith was becoming even more important to them than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance." The report also states "By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church." See "Christianity Is No Longer Americans' Default Faith", Barna Group Ltd. Jan 12, 2009. Online at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/15-christianity-is-no-longer-americans-default-faith accessed 7-23-2009



Saturday, May 24, 2014

What's the Conflict between Faith and Reason?


We constantly hear that faith and reason are opposites; if you have faith in something, you’ve left reason behind. Do Christians follow a "blind" faith? Is reason the enemy of faith? In our most recent podcast, Lenny shows why there is no real conflict between faith and reason.  In fact, as its history has shown, Christianity is an inherently reasonable faith.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Sam Harris' Wrongheaded View of Christian Faith

Photo courtesy Auren Hoffman.
If I ask Christians for a biblical definition of faith, many times I have Hebrews 11:1 quoted to me: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." But, is that the end of the story? Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, takes Hebrews 11:1 as an example of how Christians are not reasoning, how faith is diametrically opposed to reason. He writes, "Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass ( 'things hoped for') or for which one has not evidence ('things not seen') constitutes evidence for its actuality ('assurance')."1

Obviously, Sam Harris is not a Greek scholar, nor is he a biblical scholar. He knows nothing about exegesis and he's just flat wrong on this, but he wants to prove his point. The assurance of things hoped for does mean the assurance of future things. Faith does deal with those things that we don't necessarily know, or that we don't have 100% confidence in. By the way reason deals with things we don't necessarily have 100% confidence in. You can reasonably believe something or you can claim you know something with less than 100% confidence.

As an example, think about a man dating a women he is considering marrying. He talks with his friends and says, "I think it's time to ask her to marry me." His friends may reply, "Well do you think she will say yes?" A reasonable response would be, "I have faith that she's going to say yes so I'm going to ask the question. If I had no faith that she would say yes, then I wouldn't ask at all."  Is such a faith a blind faith? Or is it based nio years of involvement and growing to know one another? I had faith that my wife and I would be compatible together as husband and wife. How can I know that? The only way to know how compatible we are is to become husband and wife. We cannot know that beforehand.

When we talk about "the assurance of things hoped for," it is not merely something which does has not come to pass. When we talk about "the conviction of things not seen," it is the writer using a Hebrew idiom where if they wanted to stress a point or add emphasis they would repeat it. That's what the writer of Hebrews is doing here. The lines "The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" is the same phrase said differently. It's a linguistic device.

Both Sam Harris and Christians need to realize that the Bible isn't meant to be taken so superficially. Hebrews 11:1 it is a good definition of one aspect of faith. It is not the sum total of what faith means, just as saying God is love is not the sum total of all that God is. God is also defined as a Spirit. God is also defined as a consuming fire. We are told many things that God is in the Bible and love is one aspect of God's character, but it's not the sum total of God's character. God has more depth to Him than merely love. Similarly, Hebrews 11:1 does not provide a complete definition of faith. One must take the passage for what the author intended, and not limit the whole concept of faith to that one verse. If you'd like to read a fuller definition of the biblical meaning of faith, see this post. But there is one thing you can actually know, and that is that Sam Harris' version of Hebrews 11:1 is nothing but a straw man.

References

1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Science is founded on faith as much as religion

Dr. Paul Davies, Regents' Professor and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University is a very well-known name in astrophysics. His contributions to his specialty have resulted in him being awarded the Templeton prize, the Kelvin Medal from the UK Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society. He's a scientist's scientist.

Below is a quote from Davies from an article he wrote for the New York Times where he comments that science has as much a faith component as religious belief. Davies states:
The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn't so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence. 
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. 
And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.
Read his whole article here. For more on science versus scientism, see my series of articles here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Science owes a debt to theology

Although we hear a lot today about faith and science being enemies, the scientific enterprise as we know it today wouldn't exist without Christianity and how it saw the world. This may seem surprising to you, but when you think about it, you can see how it makes perfect sense. Prior to the modern era, the primary view of how we can know things was based on the thinking of Aristotle, who believed that we can only start with things we know and simply reason to an outcome. This "First Principles" idea infiltrated much of science since Aristotle, until the 13th century, when a couple of Franciscan monks began to challenge the idea.1 What ultimately fuelled their investigation was the idea that the Christian God was a rational being, and therefore we could uncover His ways if we investigated his creation in a rational manner.

Asking a question about the function of the world

Is the world discoverable? Before we can begin any scientific enterprise, we must first know if it is ever possible to find the answer to certain questions we are asking. This is no trivial point. If you were to have all the latest brain scanning and most sensitive neurological equipment, you could tell a person is dreaming, but you could never tell what that dream is about. The question of content is outside of science altogether and must be reported by the dreamer. However, Christians such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger and Francis Bacon, and others knew they could begin to investigate the world scientifically, because God would create a world to work in a specific order.2 And since the Christian God isn't capricious, he wouldn't "change the rules" so to speak and change the laws of nature from one day to the next.

So today, when a scientist builds a hypothesis, he or she has already assumed that the world is really the way we experience it. But why is he or she justified in such an assumption? Remembering the hit movie The Matrix may help you get a clearer picture of my point. In The Matrix, most people believed they were living normal lives in a well-developed world when in reality they were simply being fed a computer simulation straight into their brains. The things they experienced weren't real, but a forgery. However, science assumes that we can talk about the real world and find out new things about it. Grosseteste and other Christians answered such objections by appealing to their theological framework: that God is the kind of God that wouldn't lie or change the rules on us. Science needs this grounding in theology to justify its assumption of consistency in experimental results.

Scientism dismisses theology as a fairytale

Of course, science's evil twin scientism would never acknowledge that Christian theism is the basis for the modern scientific enterprise. In fact, you many times hear scientism's claim that theistic beliefs are the enemy of science3; they hold back the true advancement and if we would only throw off the shackles of belief in God, we could somehow progress to a new era of scientific discovery.

Physicist Paul Davies, who is by no means Christian, reflected on why scientists should believe the laws of nature exist at all and why they're rational. He questioned his colleagues about them. Davies writes, "Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from 'that's not a scientific question' to 'nobody knows.' The favorite reply is, 'There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.' Davies goes on:

"All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed… The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science."4(emphasis added)
As Christians, we believe that God orders the universe and makes it discoverable. It offers reasons why we can trust our senses as reporting reality, and trust the fact that there are certain laws undergirding specific interactions in the world. Scientists assume a framework that theology grounds. This is why historian Lynn T. White writes:
"The preaching of a monk in the fastnesses of the German forests may seem far removed from the modern laboratory; yet the monk was an intellectual ancestor of the scientist. As the triumphant chant, 'I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,' rang through the new churches of the northern frontier, another foundation stone of the modern world was laid, the concept of an orderly and intelligible universe."5
To read the previous articles in this series, click here and here.

For the next article, click here.

References

1. For a good overview of this point, see Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004 218-219.
2. Schmidt. Ibid.
3. See MacKenzie, Richard "Is Faith the Enemy of Science?" where MacKenzie argues that it is. Lawrence Krauss responded affirminigly to MacKenzie and commented, "I have asked Richard if his recent purpose is to destroy faith or teach science, and he has indicated that destroying faith at the moment is a higher priority. I accept that argument, however for me the latter purpose, teaching science, is higher priority."
4. Davies, Paul. "Taking Science on Faith" The New York Times. 24 November 2007.
5. White, Jr., Lynn T. "The Significance of Medieval Christianity". The Vitality of the Christian Tradition, 3d ed., edited by George F. Thomas New York: Harper & Bros, 1944. 97.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does the authoritative teaching of Christianity stifle reason?


Although G.K. Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy over 100 years ago, it continues to provide prescient, applicable wisdom for us today. At the beginning of chapter three in that book, a chapter entitled "The Suicide of Thought," Chesterton notes how the sages of our modern age trade on poor assumptions.

Concerning the rejection of religious authority, he writes:
Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."
Chesterton here asserts that faith is not the enemy of reason, but that reason relies upon faith for its relationship to reality. While skeptics and atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris continue to shout that they have claimed the high ground of reason, Chesterton ably shows how those claims crumble, and he does so nearly a century before the New Atheists even made them!

The fact that the man or woman who holds to faith in Christ can truly be considered reasonable is made even more clearly with the release of the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheists. I was fortunate enough to have contributed to this volume and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for ways to demonstrate how Christianity is intellectually as well as spiritually satisfying.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Christians Cannot be Intellectual Slackers

C. S. Lewis had a great quote when talking about the followers of Christ. He said, "God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all."

I completely agree. Christians today have accepted the secular world's idea that somehow faith and reason inhabit separate spheres. The two are sitting on opposite ends of a spectrum and the more one applies tools such as logic and philosophy to his or her beliefs, the less and less they will be considered faithful or pleasing to God. A bumper sticker that used to be fairly popular summed up this kind of attitude: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

But nowhere in scripture are we commanded to approach our beliefs blindly. In fact, we are commanded to do just the opposite. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was he replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Tellingly, although Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He added the phrase "and with all your mind." Jesus said that loving God must include developing the life of the mind.

This makes a lot of sense, given how Jesus identified Himself. In John 14:6 He said, "I am the Way the truth and the Life." Well, if we think about Jesus as truth, then we should be applying reason and logic to our beliefs. Logic is simply a tool that we use to find truth.

Part of our difficulty in seeing logic and critical thinking as ways we can better love God may be because we think that such tasks are only human enterprises, while Jesus is divine. Logic means works, while He is grace. But if Jesus is truth and we can use logic to discern truth, then we can use logic to see the reality of Jesus.

You may be surprised to find that out that the implementation of logic is actually found throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament. Jesus used logic and argumentation many times. For example, just before He gave the command to love God with your mind, the Sadducees tried to test Him with a question about a woman who was married and widowed seven times. They used a technique in logic known as reductio ad absurdum to show that their views on the afterlife were correct. However, Jesus capably destroyed their argument and chided them, saying "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" He then give the command that we must love God with all our minds.

The Sadducees were unprepared. They hadn't done their homework and as a result had a mistaken view of God. As faithful followers of Christ, let us not shy away from some of the harder work of learning and developing our minds so we can more completely love our God with all that we are.
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