Blog Archive

Followers

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.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label reason. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reason. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why a Beautiful Sunset Argues for God's Existence



Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset or had your breath taken away by a stunning vista? Such experiences leave us with a sense of awe. They also feel a bit hallowed; people are a bit more reverent when taking in the natural beauty of the world. The delicate symmetry of a snowflake or the glistening of a spider's dew-dropped web awakens a sense of beauty in our souls, prompting believers to thank God for His amazing handiwork.

But is that last move valid? Can we infer God simply from something we ourselves find beautiful? Actually, we can.

Last week, I was discussing the various arguments for God's existence with Dr. Robert Stewart and Dr. Sean McDowell. Most Christians who are interested in apologetics are familiar with arguments from the existence of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the reality of moral values and duties. Some have heard the argument from consciousness or the argument from reason. But there is another argument that many people don't hear about and that is the argument from beauty.

What is the argument from beauty? Richard Swinburne explains it this way:
If there is a God there is more reason to expect a basically beautiful world than a basically ugly one. A priori, however, there is no particular reason for expecting a basically beautiful rather than a basically ugly world. In consequence, if the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God's existence.1

The objective nature of the beautiful

I think one of the reasons the argument from beauty isn't more well-known is simply that people don't believe beauty is an objective thing. We've all heard the bromide that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and taken that to mean beauty is completely subjective. Even shows like The Twilight Zone foster the idea. People assume that beauty, since it is enjoyable, is like other enjoyable experiences. And given that everyone has a different view of what counts as enjoyable, then beauty must also be subjective in this same way.

However, the beautiful is different from the merely enjoyable. Roger Scruton upacks the difference:
There is also a sense in which you cannot judge something to be enjoyable at second hand: your own enjoyment is the criterion of sincerity, and when reporting on some object that others find enjoyable the best you can sincerely say is that it is apparently enjoyable, or that it seems to be enjoyable, since others find it so.

However, it is not at all clear that the judgement that something is enjoyable is about it rather than the nature and character of people. Certainly we judge between enjoyable things: it is right to enjoy some things, wrong to enjoy others. But these judgements focus on the state of mind of the subject, rather than a quality in the object. We can say all that we want to say about the rightness and wrongness of our enjoyments without invoking the idea that some things are really enjoyable, others only apparently so.

With beauty matters are otherwise. Here the judgement focuses on the object judged, not the subject who judges. We distinguish true beauty from fake beauty-from kitsch, schmaltz and whimsy. We argue about beauty, and strive to educate our taste. And our judgements of beauty are often supported by critical reasoning, which focuses entirely on the character of the object.2
In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Scruton builds a strong argument for the objective nature of beauty. But it strikes me as obviously part of the human condition that we are built to recognize beauty. That's why no one thinks a rainbow is ugly and why all cultures across time have used color and art to increase the beauty of their surrounding environment. Psychiatrists have noted that distortions of the beautiful can even signal severe mental disorders, as the famous series of cat paintings by Louis Wain demonstrates.

Beauty grounded in God

If beauty is objective, then it reflects a common understanding among all people. The argument from morality says because all people have an inherent understanding of morality; because we can recognize what is good, we can know God exists. The argument from reason states because we can reason towards the true, we can know God exists. The Good and the true are what Scruton calls "ultimate values"—something we pursue for its own sake." He then explains, "Someone who asks, 'Why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning."3

We recognize the beautiful like we recognize the good or we recognize the true. And it is because God exists that we can hold the true, the good, and the beautiful as valuable and objective.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. "The Argument from Design." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rae. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1994. 201. Print.
2. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 6-7. Print.
3. Scruton, 2011.2.
Image courtesy JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Does a Naturalist Justify His Reasoning?



Given my blog and public profile, I regularly get internet atheists who try to goad me into debate. My primary goal in ministry is to have honest discussions with people who are open to ideas, so I tend to ignore those who are trolling apologists looking for a debate. However, every once in a while I may engage someone if I think the exchange will be useful as a learning tool for my readers.

Last week, a Twitter user going only by the name Truth who objected to one of my tweets. He claimed "I am open to believe whatever is true." Looked on his Twitter profile and he only describes himself as "Naturalist." I've written previously on how naturalism cannot ground reason. You can see a short article here, or read my contribution to the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. So, I decided to see how someone who claims to be open to truth understands what truth is. I've reproduced the exchange below:

Started on Dec 18, 2016
Posts You May Have Missed: The Irrationality of Indifference to God t.co/C5EMwP2KqG comereason tweeted on Dec 18, 2016 06:47Reply
@comereason This is absurd. There is no good reason to believe in life after death. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:54Reply
@comereason I am open to believe whatever is true The supposed consequences of not believing a specific claim is not evidence for the claim. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:56Reply
@Gottisttot44 How do you know what's true? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:39Reply
@comereason Through the use of reason, evidence etc. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:40Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you ascribe to philosophical naturalism or did I read your profile wrongly? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@comereason methodological naturalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@Gottisttot44 Thanks for the clarification. So, how can you trust your reason then? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:44Reply
@comereason do you want to take this conversation to chat? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:45Reply
@comereason it's going to take more than a 140 characters to have a debate on presuppositionalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@Gottisttot44 But I'm not a presuppositionalist. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@comereason I think it is going to be a lot more difficult to debate in full like this but I will if you are not willing to move to chat. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:49Reply
@comereason didn't say you were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:50Reply
@Gottisttot44 Who's debating? I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does a methodological naturalist place trust in reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:56Reply
@comereason because it leads to effective results. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:57Reply
@Gottisttot44 But effective results doesn't mean it's true, right? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@comereason it will just boil down to that. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:51Reply
@comereason it means corresponding with reality. Which is how I define true. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@Gottisttot44 But beliefs can be effective and not true. Michael Ruse holds that morality is a useful fiction. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:00Reply
@comereason I didn't say that the belief was effective. I said the results were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:02Reply
@Gottisttot44 Right. But my original question was "How do you know what's true?" You answered reason and then proffered effective results. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:06Reply
@comereason your original question was why do you 'trust' reason and I said because it provides effective results:corresponding with reality gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:08Reply
@Gottisttot44 My question was based from our prior exchanges: Why do you trust reason to discover the truth. That includes true beliefs. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:13Reply
@comereason because when I use reason it leads to results that correspond with reality. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:14Reply
@Gottisttot44 Again, results that correspond with reality prove neither the truth of a belief nor that your reasoning is correct. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:16Reply
@comereason I disagree, if you make a claim and it corresponds with reality then the claim is true and belief is justified. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:17Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you see the mistake you made above? What we wish to discern is *whether* the claim corresponds to reality or not. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:29Reply
@Gottisttot44 You said the way you do this is through reason. I asked why do you trust reason and you said "b/c it corresponds / reality." comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:30Reply
@Gottisttot44 You find truth through reason and you trust reason b/c you say it's true. You've argued in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:31Reply
@comereason no. I 'trust' reason because it works. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:33Reply
@comereason there is an argument to be made here but not the way you are presenting it The bigger problem is your position doesn't help fix* gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:35Reply
@Gottisttot44 A man can reason that he must run 3 miles to keep the fat demons away. He tests his theory and it works! comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:18Reply
@comereason Oh ok... so we are done reasoning. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:45Reply
@Gottisttot44 All I'm saying is you have expressed no good basis to trust your reasoning will lead you to truth. So, how do we proceed? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:57Reply
@comereason I told you, the conclusions we get to using reasoning are matched and verified by empirical observation. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:03Reply
@Gottisttot44 And I've given you an example that contradicts that. What is the naturalist's explanation for why we should trust our reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:11Reply
@comereason What example? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:37Reply
@Gottisttot44 Belief in fat demons keep a mans weight away. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:41Reply
@comereason How is it reasonable to conclude there are fat demons? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:42Reply
@comereason by reason i mean using logic to come to a conclusion based on valid and sound premises. In this example the man did not do this. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:46Reply
@Gottisttot44 First of all, arguments are valid and sound, not premises. Premises are either true or not true. Again, arguing in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:07Reply
@comereason actually premises are sound or unsound. But yes the argument as a whole is either valid or invalid. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason I just ran out of space. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason and you still haven't explained how my reasoning is circular... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:12Reply
@Gottisttot44 Why wasn't it reason? Bc it wasn't using truth in the premises. Circular. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:19Reply
@comereason You are making no sense... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 12:08Reply

I'll leave aside his confusion with soundness and validity for the moment. What you should pick up on is how he keeps switching his understanding of truth. He states that truth is "that which corresponds to reality, which is the definition of the Correspondence theory of truth. However, when asked why one should believe that reason is a trustworthy tool to arrive a truth, his response is "because it provides effective results," which is the Pragmatic theory of truth. This is the basis of his confusion.

I don't know if my interlocutor believes that all truth claims must have some kind of empirical point of verification. I do know that he cannot escape his circular justification for his beliefs, though. Not all naturalists would hold to his view; some would rightly believe that there are certain things one can know directly and immediately without even using reason (such as the laws of logic themselves!) But, even there, a naturalist is stuck in justifying such a belief.
Image courtesy Bart Everson and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teaching the Three Rs of Being Human



Every parent wants his or her child to grow into a fully capable, knowledgeable human being. One way we seek to accomplish this is to make sure our children have a proper education, beginning with what has colloquially become known as the three "Rs": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic. These three Rs are not simply basic skills. Reading allows children to take in knowledge, writing allows them to communicate and distribute knowledge, and arithmetic provides the basis for not simply mathematics, but logical comparison and a host of other concepts. Together, the three Rs have become a shorthand way to reference a complete foundational knowledge all children need to build upon for a successful education.

However, there is another set of three Rs that are at least as foundational to the development of successful human beings as those with which we're all familiar, and I've noticed that not only are these three Rs not taught to children today, but young adults who are deficient in understanding them are causing major repercussions in our university system. These aren't three Rs of education. These are three Rs that distinguish us from animals. They are the three traits that make us civilized human beings and if the next generation doesn't learn them, society will regress as it has already begun to do.

The three Rs of being human are Reason, Regard, and Reverence. Let me briefly explain each of them below:

Reason

Reason is an incredibly important skill human beings are capable of developing, and it is one that makes us uniquely human. Animals operate off of their appetites, desires, and drives. Bonobos are very sexually active and much more socially open, so much so they are called the "hippie apes."1 But bonobos also cannibalize their young.2 They operate off their drives and instincts. Humans use their reason to overcome their drives. This is what being civilized means. But left-leaning political movements today have been pushing to return to basing our decisions on our desires. We have become men without chests, flabby, and looking more like animals and less like rational beings.

Regard

Another concept that is being lost on the next generation is the Golden Rule. Many people give lip service to the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, but it seems that a whole lot of college kids think the rule comes with an asterisk, acting as if it only applies when that other person agrees with your position. But Jesus put it in context, declaring "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:39-41, ESV).

The concept of recognizing and extending honor to people because they are also human beings is uniquely Christian.. It recognizes that people are flawed and no one is beyond redemption. It is a practical way to show humility as opposed to arrogance. Given the protest culture we increasingly find ourselves in today, humility has become a rare commodity.

Reverence

Lastly, we need to teach our children the crucial aspect of reverence toward God. No one should believe he or she is the center of the universe. By recognizing there is a higher moral law to which we all are accountable, it further serves to help us realize both our fragility and dependence.

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologiae, recognized that human beings alone weigh their actions through reason, seeking to attain "the good" or the highest level of happiness. As Shawn Floyd summarizes, Aquinas believes "human actions are those over which one has voluntary control (ST IaIIae 1.1). Unlike non-rational animals, human beings choose their actions according to a reasoned account of what they think is good."3 Aquinas argues that each of us seeking happiness can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate good, which is God. Without recognizing God, we are doomed to seek only immediate and imperfect pleasures, diminishing our capacity to be truly human by finding the ultimate good.

Losing Our Humanity

It's become popular to bash the medieval as people who were stuck in the Dark Ages and ignorant. However, Aquinas understood what it meant to be human rather than an animal and he strove to live out that difference. Today, our society is regressing, operating more on feeling than facts and comfort over truth. They would rather have us behave more like the bonobos, indulging our sexual passions whatever they may be.

If we don't start teaching the three Rs of humanity, we are in real danger of our culture becoming truly debased, one not fit for real humans to live in.

References

1. Angier, Natalie. "In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/science/bonobos-apes-matriarchy.html.
2. Callaway, Ewen. "Hippy Apes Caught Cannibalising Their Young." New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18454-hippy-apes-caught-cannibalising-their-young/.
3. Floyd, Shawn. "Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-moral/#H2.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is Rejecting God a Sign of Rationality or Resentment?



It is natural to believe in God. The vast majority of people throughout most of history and across all cultures have had some kind of belief in the divine. Yet, atheism and agnosticism seem to be on the rise, especially in Western culture. What motivations are causing more and more people to dismiss God as a real option? Is it really a mark of rationality to dismiss the idea of God?

Many atheists I speak with will say that they've come to the conclusion there is no God simply from rational reflection. This is a possibility, but it begs the question as to why throughout the annals of history where we have the writings of so many highly rational people, there haven't been more atheists. It also doesn't explain all the rational people today who do believe in God. Finally, it sounds a bit pretentious to say that one can turn off one's experiences, feelings, and biases and use reason alone to come to such a profound conclusion.

In his book Faith of the Fatherless, Paul C. Vitz claims that people reject God for willful reasons as much as rational ones. Vitz sees their unbelief rooted in part or in whole on their will and attitudes of who God is and how they perceive him. He explains:
Some people reject God and religion because of the awful things that have sometimes been done in the name of God or religion. This unbelief has a basis in reality and can be quite rational. Believers have debated these criticisms, but these criticisms certainly cannot be rejected out of hand. Others reject God and religion because of experiences with pain and suffering or because all they know are very simple-minded teachings about Scripture. Such responses for the unbeliever in question are not irrational, but from the perspective of a serious believer such responses are unjustified by a deeper understanding of the issues.

But, sometimes the various arguments about bad religion disguise or cover up a deeper reason for rejecting God and religion. Some people have an intense hatred and fear of the Good, of the True, and of the Beautiful. All of these are attributed to God and are rather often found in holy, religious people. But why would anyone have such motives? How can this be? Such individuals resent goodness because by comparison they know they are not good, perhaps even quite bad; they resent truth because they prefer lies over the restrictions that follow accepting truth. Many even prefer their own ugliness to others who present or create beauty. They take pleasure in destroying or deconstructing what is good or beautiful or true out of envy and personal resentment.

Finally, there is a most important personal factor, which is perhaps best described as free will. After all, the individual, whatever the cultural and personal pressures favoring or opposing atheism, must ultimately decide which way to go. At any given moment, or at least at many times, every person can choose to move toward, away from, or against God.1
In my experience, factors of resentment and will powerfully motivate a lot of atheists in their unbelief. It explains so many visceral reactions I've encountered with unbelievers who don't simply disbelieve in a divinity, but seem to actually hate the Christian God.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel, who is an atheist, succinctly summarizes the problem in discussing his own non-belief. After drawing distinctions about rejecting religious beliefs and institutions, Nagel confesses it isn't these things that alarm him about atheism:
I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.2
Nagel himself admits it isn't only rationality that undergirds his  atheism. He is honest enough to say he has some emotional motivation as well. He doesn't want there to be a God to whom he is answerable.

To be sure, Christians can believe in God for opposite but reflective motivations. It may not be rationally based reasons why they came to faith but a desire to satisfy an emotional relationship. The rational justification of belief may come afterward. But labeling non-believers as "free thinkers," "brights," or "rationalists" is disingenuous as it is clear non-belief can easily have its origins in emotion and bias.

References

1. Vitz, Paul C. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Dallas: Spence Pub., 1999. Kindle. (Kindle Locations 2351-2358).
2 Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print. 130.
Image courtesy Bradley Gordon and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Atheists Admit Their Disbelief Linked to Emotional Discomfort


Recently, I was on a college campus as a young atheist asked what I thought was the cause behind the growth in the number of people, especially young people, who don't identify as any particular religion. I answered that it is a pretty big question and I think the reasons are varied and diverse as the group to which he was referring. He didn't seem satisfied with that answer.

My young interlocutor may have believed that nonreligious belief is on the increase because human beings are less gullible than in past generations and more willing to believe science can explain the world better than religion. It seems to be a common assumption with those I engage online, even though science cannot banish God. But even if atheists mistakenly assume science can somehow disprove God, this isn't the real basis for their atheism.

Two new studies by the American Psychological Association confirm that disbelief in God for a significant percentage of atheists is not due to dispassionate reasoning, but the effect of emotional or relational discomfort with what they perceived God to be. According to an article in Psychology Today, which summarized the findings, "54% of self-reported atheists indicated some relational and emotional reasons for nonbelief. In the second study, 72% of 429 American adults who expressed some level of atheism or agnosticism endorsed similar reasons."1 Those are pretty high percentages of self-described atheists who admit to an emotional or psychological component contributing to their disbelief.

As the article notes, this isn't a new revelation. Previous studies have shown that atheists have negative feelings toward their conception of God2 and those emotions play a part in their being atheists. Dr. Paul C. Vitz in his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism explored the link between what Vitz calls "interpersonal trauma with attachment insecurity" of atheists in history. He sees a link between disbelief on God and defective fathers in the lives of atheists, along with other factors.

What Atheists Themselves Say 

The interesting thing in these studies is that the findings are not a result of third party inference, but the admission of atheists themselves. It's nearly three quarters of atheists who are admitting an emotional reason as contributing to their atheism. Those numbers may be higher in actuality as self-reporting usually leads to lower than actual results. Some people may not realize certain emotional motivations and others may not want to admit to them. Regardless, the two studies referenced report the majority of atheists who participated do indeed have emotional reasons for not wanting God as they understand him to exist.

The reason all of this is important is a practical one. Just as dispassionate reasoning alone doesn't usually account for one's disbelief, it follows that dispassionate reasoning alone will only go so far in helping one believe in the God of the universe. As human beings, we are relational creatures. That's part of how we reflect God's image. If you're a master at facts and argumentation in defending the faith but you don't bother to get to know the person, you aren't going to be very effective. People are people and all want to feel like individuals who hold worth. That includes nonbelievers. Don't lead off conversations with your best arguments. Get to know one another. Build relationships. Show them real care and you may find a real person who's willing to share real hurts. Only then will they be really ready to listen.

References

1. Tix, Andy, PhD. "The New Psychology of Atheism." Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
2. Bradley, David F., Julie J. Exline, and Alex Uzdavines. "The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God." Science, Religion and Culture SRC 2.3 (2015): 120-30. Web.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is Wisdom and How Can I Find It?



If you ever want to see how people can assume certain concepts, just ask a friend if they understand what the concept of time. Most would quickly respond, "Of course! Everyone knows what time is." Then ask them to give a definition of time that doesn't refer back to itself in some way (i.e. "Time is hours, minutes, and seconds. What are those? Measurements of …time.") Most people find this task extremely difficult, not because they don't have any concept of time, but because they haven't reflected specifically on what time is.1

While the example of defining time may be interesting, there are other, more important concepts that we also assume we know but don't necessarily understand clearly. Wisdom certainly fits that category. Over and over in the Bible, we are instructed to seek out wisdom, such as the passage in Proverbs 3:13-18:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
This passage is indicative of how the scriptures encourage the gaining of wisdom. But there is a tendency among casual readers to assume that wisdom is the same thing as knowledge. Christians sometimes think that the command to get wisdom is basically becoming more familiar with the Bible. I don't think that's quite right. While knowledge is certainly a component of wisdom, the Bible seems to paint a fuller picture of wisdom than simply learning.

Making Wisdom Bigger than Knowledge

If one looks further in the book of Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly becomes clearer. Proverbs 5 begins, "My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." Notice the verbs the author uses: be attentive, keep, guard and incline. It isn't that the son doesn't know or realize relations with the forbidden woman is wrong. The proverbist is teaching knowledge isn't good on its own; it must be put into practice. The son needs to remind himself of what he knows and not deceive himself by acting on his feelings in a way contrary to knowledge.

Looking at it this way, I think we can get a much better idea of what wisdom really means. Wisdom is knowledge properly applied. It encompasses both informed thought and the outworking of that reasoning. It requires the student to understand not simply the commands of God, but his character. It means the student must develop his reasoning skills to make judgments on how to act in specific situations. It also means one must practice and develop discipline and self-control, just as the New Testament commands (1 Cor. 9:25, Gal. 5:23, 1 Pet. 4:7, 2 Pet. 1:6).

Wisdom Affects Your Walk

Once the Christian sees wisdom in this broader view, it will change his walk. Study and developing reasoning skills become as much an act of devotion as prayer and worship. These are necessary tools that the faithful believer must draw upon in his or her walk with Jesus. How can one properly apply the knowledge that has never been acquired?

As the proverbist counsels in Proverbs 4:7-9, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." The best way to be wise is to understand what wisdom is, and then go out and get it. You've just taken the first step. Now, keep waking towards that prize.

References

1. For those who may be wondering, one can define time as "the succession of moments." Also, any idea of change implies the concept of time, since change requires a before state and an after state. This is why when people like Lawrence Kraus tries to point to quantum fluctuations to explain the existence of something rather than nothing, they fail, since time is one of the things needing explaining.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Belief without Evidence is Crucial for Knowledge



Being a reasonable person is a great goal; no one wants to be thought of as foolish or gullible. But does being reasonable mean one needs to have reasons for all of one's beliefs? I've run onto many people who would answer "Yes" to that question. I mean, even the word "reasonable" contains the root of "reason!" How could one be reasonable without having reasons for one's beliefs?

This kind of thinking is prevalent in the online conversations I have with atheists. I recently offers one in this example. But not only is my interlocutor unreasonable in asking for evidence for what would be rather benign claims (like a person's academic achievements in casual conversation), he is wrong about what constitutes reasonable belief at all.

Principle of Credulity

In the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose thigs are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2
This is the key point in when debating with a person who will only accept something based on evidence or that evidence only counts if it is scientifically testable.

What Counts as Evidence?

Take a claim like the one Paul made in 1 Cor. 15:5-7 that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, then all of the apostles, then to James, and then to five hundred people, and lastly to Paul himself. Paul is offering evidence in the form of eyewitness testimony, both his own and of others. If one discounts that as evidence, by what criteria are they doing so? If it is because eyewitnesses can get things wrong, then why ever allow them in courts? What about scientist who base all of their research on visual observation of events or instruments. Doesn't it follow that their eyes could deceive them as well?

The objector might claim, "My problem with that testimony is we simply don't observe people rising from the dead!" But that objection really begs the question, as Swinburne notes. If observation cannot be trusted, why should we trust the observation that people don't rise from the dead?  Maybe they have in the past and we missed it!

If you press for evidence before you believe anything, you will never reach a starting point. There is always the question of "What is the evidence that backs up the evidence you're presenting? Why should I believe that to be true?" It becomes as Swinburne said an infinite regress, where one can never justify anything at all.

In the next post, I highlight another of these principles, one that states why in the absence of any evidence to the contrary testimony specifically should be believed. Stay tuned.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986. Print. 11.
2. Swinburne, 1986. 12.
Image courtesy jon crel and licensed via the Cretive Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Atheists, Evidence, and Unreasonable Demands



Yesterday, I tweeted a link to my article "Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?" The point of that article was that faith and reason are not contradictory. One reply to that was a tweet by The_Apistevist, who identifies himself as an atheist on Twitter. He asked: "how can belief without evidence be considered rational?" Now, I had never claimed Christianity had no evidence, nor did I argue that one should never seek evidence in matters of faith.  Belief without evidence was his assumption.

Because I've engaged in these kinds of conversations before, I didn't want to retread the evidence for Christianity.  It's well-documented on both the ComeReason.org web site as well as this blog. Most of the time, atheists will simply reject the evidence I offer, stating it doesn't count for some arbitrary reason or another. For example, testimony is evidence, but such is usually dismissed out of hand because the content of that testimony is "religious."

So, I decided to take another route. Is it true that no one should believe anything without evidence other than a person's word? Could such a standard work in the real world? Below is the full conversation with The_Apistevist . You can see how his own criteria quickly devolve into an unworkable position.
Of course, at this point, The_Apistevist is caught in an intractable position. I am both demanding evidence AND I'm the one who rules whether or not whatever he offers me counts as evidence. This is exactly the game many Internet atheists play regarding the existence of God. He has no way of satisfying my criteria, so according to his own rules I am justified in stopping the conversation because I cannot believe him when he tells me he is honest.

How would the world worked if everyone took up this position? How could you drive if you couldn't trust other drivers to obey the traffic laws without first demanding evidence? How would commerce work?

I don't believe his claim that he demands evidence for every statement another makes. He simply couldn't function this way. However, he would rather be relegated to an unreasonable position than admit he holds beliefs where he has no evidence other than the word of the person to whom he's speaking. That truly is unreasonable.

Image courtesy Flickr.com/paurlan and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.

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, September 23, 2015

Why Claiming Religion is False Undercuts Darwinism



According to atheists like Daniel Dennett, religious belief is a falsehood that arose via evolutionary processes. In his debate with Alvin Plantinga on the topic "Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?" Dennett said "I think that the natural sciences can provide us with a very compelling explanation of why and how people came to believe in God, which does not at all suppose that it would be a true belief. But if we can diagnose the etiology of the belief in God, we can even make predictions about how and why this would be the case and how it would work. Then, we have undercut the presumption that because so many people believe in it, it must be true."1

This kind of thinking is fairly prevalent in certain atheist circles, used mainly to explain why belief in a god or God is found across all cultures throughout all times in human history. The universal nature of religious belief poses a bit of a dilemma for the atheist, as it demonstrates the desire to reach out to a higher intelligence is as natural as wanting to fill one's stomach. C.S. Lewis famously observed:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.2
If Lewis is wrong, it means that most of humanity has a false desire to believe in God. But given its falsehood, how can naturalists explain its universality? The answer that Dennett and others offer is that such a belief was in its way evolutionarily advantageous. Dennett argues for this view in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In the debate he explained why he believes he's justified in looking to science to explain religious belief: "If we have a good theory that explains how massive systematic falsehoods could arise in the human population and be maintained over generations, then that in itself is a pretty good reason for supposing that we've got a good handle on this, better than their handle on science."3

The Elephant in the Room

So, Dennett and others holds that 1) religious belief arose naturally via evolutionary processes4 and 2) it is a belief that is false. It follows logically from those two premises that evolution produces false beliefs. Not only does evolution produce false beliefs in certain people or in a small population, but if the two premises are correct, evolution produces, to use Dennett's words, massive systematic falsehoods that arise in the human population and are maintained over generations.

Here's where Dennett runs into a wall, though. The very fact that our reasoning ability exists at all on a naturalistic understanding of the world is due to evolution on his view. We trust our reasoning abilities to give us true facts about the world. One of those true facts that Dennett and other naturalists hold is there is no God, evolution can account for our belief system. But why should I think that belief is any more true than the belief that God exists, if Dennett is right?

In fact, why should we place our trust in human reasoning ability at all if evolution produces huge whoppers of falsehood that permeate all of humanity? Why should we trust our evolved monkey-brains reason to ward s some kind of external truth about where we came from, given Dennett's explanation?

As I've argued in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism:
Basing our ability to reason on a cause-and-effect model doesn't make sense. Reason is not the kind of thing that can be explained by examining the makeup of the brain or its physical processes. Reason must be oriented toward an objective external reality and our ability to tap into that reality. In fact, if naturalism is true, it means either that what we take to be rationality is either in no way grounded in external, objective truth (and as such cannot be called rational), or we're fooling ourselves into thinking that rationality exists at all.5
It seems to me that by holding to religion as an evolutionarily produced falsehood, the naturalist loses his entire foundation to assert that his explanation is itself true. He's undermined not simply evolutionary belief but rationalism itself.

References

1. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Alvin Plantinga vs. Daniel Dennett." YouTube. American Philosophical Association Central Region, 21 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwnZRe8y-xg.
2. Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2002. 114.  Print.
3. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?", 2009.
4. Dennett, D. C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Atheism and the Argument from Reason." True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013. Print.

Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X