Faith and/or Reason
On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening's guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it's a legitimate and difficult objection. I'm not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God's being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, Reggie, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I'm taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we're in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.
John Mark Reynolds (IVP Academic: April 2009), 266 pages.
Christian theology shaped and is shaping many places in the world, but it was the Greeks who originally gave a philosophic language to Christianity. John Mark Reynolds's book When Athens Met Jerusalem provides students a well-informed introduction to the intellectual underpinnings (Greek, Roman and Christian) of Western civilization and highlights how certain current intellectual trends are now eroding those very foundations. This work makes a powerful contribution to the ongoing faith versus reason debate, showing that these two dimensions of human knowing are not diametrically opposed, but work together under the direction of revelation. ~ Product Description
James W. Sire (InterVarsity: Mar 2006), 205 pages.
You gave it your best shot. You made the best case you knew how, and your friend still wasn't persuaded to follow Christ. Why is it that solid, rational arguments for the Christian faith often fail? For over fifty years James Sire, noted author and public defender of the Christian faith, has asked himself that question. Sometimes, of course, the arguments themselves just aren't that good. How can we make them better? Sometimes the problem has to do with us and not the arguments. Our arrogance, aggressiveness or cleverness gets in the way, or we misread our audience. Sometimes the problem lies with the hearers. Their worldview or moral blindness keeps them from hearing and understanding the truth. With wisdom borne of both formal and informal experience, Sire grapples with these issues and offers practical insight into making a more persuasive case for Christ. Includes an annotated bibliography of resources for framing effective arguments. ~ Product Description
John Stott (InterVarsity Press: Jan 2004), 128 pages.
In a time when many Christian authors recommend the claims of Christian faith by descriptions of faith encounters and invitations to "dance with the mystery," Stott, author of many foundational apologetic works, offers a clear and compelling account of the theological basis for his own belief. He begins by explaining the sense of God's own pursuit of him, providing illustrations from the lives of famous Christians with similar experiences. He continues with a logical examination of the claims and character of Jesus as seen in Scripture. The last section discusses the nature and needs of human beings, explaining how those needs are fully met through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The book concludes with a simple invitation for the reader to respond to the claims of Christ personally, offering a sample prayer. For some readers, the book will seem overly structured, since Stott frequently reviews the logical points of each section. For those accustomed to arguments conducted by way of emotive stories, his reliance on logic may feel a bit dry. But readers of a more analytical temperament will find a compelling discussion of the claims of Christ in a remarkably readable, brief form. It's the sort of book that Christians who need a more reasoned, thoughtful approach to their faith will read and then pass along to skeptical friends. ~ Publishers Weekly
William P. Alston in Truth Journal Vol. 1 (1985).
Philosopher William Alston articulates why he returned to Christianity after discarding his Christian faith not once, but twice. Alston notes that it was not any of the classical arguments for the credibility of Christian faith that beckoned him back, but rather something more intangible: "My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn't heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me." Alston goes on to say that what has kept him faithful ten years on is a real sense that God remains active in his life... that his faith "is working; the promise is being fulfilled". For what it's worth, here's one man's testimony. ~ Afterall
John W. Loftus (Prometheus: Jun 2008), 355 pages.
For about two decades John W. Loftus was a devout evangelical Christian, an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and an ardent apologist for Christianity. With three degrees in philosophy, theology, and philosophy of religion he was adept at using rational argumentation to defend the faith. But over the years, as he ministered to various congregations and taught at Christian colleges, doubts about the credibility of key Christian tenets began to creep into his thinking. By the late 1990s he experienced a full-blown crisis of faith, brought on by emotional upheavals in his personal life as well as the gathering weight of the doubts he had long entertained. In this honest appraisal of his journey from believer to atheist, Loftus carefully explains the experiences and the reasoning process that led him to reject religious belief. The bulk of the book is his "cumulative case" against Christianity. Here he lays out the philosophical, scientific, and historical reasons that can be raised against Christian belief. From the implications of religious diversity, the authority of faith vs. reason, and the problem of evil, to the contradictions between the Bible and the scientific worldview, the conflicts between traditional dogma and historical evidence, and much more, Loftus covers a great deal of intellectual terrain. For every issue he succinctly summarizes the various points of view and provides references for further reading. In conclusion, he describes the implications of life without belief in God, some liberating, some sobering. This frank critique of Christian belief from a former insider will interest freethinkers as well as anyone with doubts about the claims of religion.
Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Intervarsity: 1983), p. 49.
Computers function as they do because they have been constructed by human beings endowed with rational insight. And the results of their computations are accepted because they are evaluated by rational human beings as conforming to rational norms. A computer, in other words, is merely an extension of the rationality of its designers and users, it is no more an independent source of rational insight than a television set is an independent source of news and entertainment.
William Lane Craig on Atheism said...
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p.37.
The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God's Holy Spirit.
Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994)
But the fact that Christianity can only be shown to be probably true need not be troubling when two things are kept in mind: first, that we attain no more than probability with respect to almost everything we infer...without detriment to the depth of our conviction and that even our non-inferred, basic beliefs may not be held with any sort of absolute certainty...; and second, that even if we can only show Christianity to be probably true, nevertheless we can on the basis of the Spirit's witness know Christianity to be true with a deep assurance that far outstrips what the evidence in our particular situation might support (think analogously of the person convinced of his innocence even though all the evidence stands against him). To demand logically demonstrative proofs as a pre-condition for making a religious commitment is therefore just being unreasonable.
"In Intellectual Neutral", in Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville TN, B&H Publishing: 2007), p. 8.
The gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the cultureal milieu in which one lives. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel which a person who is secularized will not. You may as well tell the secular person to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ! Or, to give a more realistic illustration, it is like a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement approaching you on the street and inviting you to believe in Krishna. Such an invitation strikes us as bizarre, freakish, even amusing. But to a person on the streets of Delhi, such an invitation would, I assume, appear reasonable and cause for reflection. I fear that evangelicals appear almost as weird to persons on the streets of Bonn, Stockholm, or Toronto as do the devotees of Krishna. ¶ Part of the broader task of Christian scholarship is to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. Therefore, the church has a vital stake in raising up Christian scholars who will help to create a place at the university for Christian ideas. The average Christian does not realize that there is an intellectual war going on in the universities and in the professional journals and scholarly societies. Christianity is being attacked as irrational or obsolete; and millions of students, our future generation of leaders, have absorbed that viewpoint.
"God Is Not Dead Yet", in Christianity Today (July, 2008).
However all this may be, some might think that the resurgence of natural theology in our time is merely so much labor lost. For don't we live in a postmodern culture in which appeals to such apologetic arguments are no longer effective? Rational arguments for the truth of theism are no longer supposed to work. Some Christians therefore advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it. This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism! That's just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can't prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.
Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994)
Moreover, it's not just Christian scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with the issues. Christian laymen, too, need to be intellectually engaged. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one's faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one's life by the conviction that one's faith is objectively true.
Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994)
It is imperative that we turn the whole intellectual climate of our culture back to a Christian world view. If we do not, then what lies ahead for us in the United States is already evident in Europe: utter secularism. Throughout Europe, evangelism is immeasurably more difficult because the intellectual climate and culture there are determined by the conviction that the Christian world view is false and therefore irrelevant. Therefore, Christian missionaries often must labor years to get a handful of converts. If we lose the theoretical issues, then in the end our practical application will be fruitless.
Argumentation and Debating (Houghton Mifflin Co.: 1908), pp. 145-6.
We have seen that the first step in argument is the interpretation of the proposition in order to resolve it into its essential parts; and we have seen that a first step in any such interpretation must be the definition of terms. Many fallacies are due to inadequate definition of terms, for the most dangerous source of verbal confusion and consequent dispute is our failure to set forth our meaning with perfect clearness, and the more subtle the misinterpretation, the greater the danger. The study and practice of argumentation is sure to reveal innumerable chances for confusion due to the lack of satisfactory definitions. We can seldom proceed far in any argument, no matter how simple it may seem to be, without feeling the necessity for this preliminary work of exposition. Without the protection of painstaking definitions, no point in an argument is proof against the insidious fallacies of ambiguity. When the two sides in a controversy use the same terms with different meanings or different terms with the same meaning; when colleagues are not agreed and consistent in the use of terms; when any man employs a term in one sense and later shifts to another sense, the result is a confusion which may carry in its train whole troops of fallacies. Clear and convincing definitions are fundamental requisites of sound argument.
A practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians In the Higher and Middle Classes in this country Contrasted with Real Christianity, paraphrase (William Collins: 1833, orig. 1829), pp. 10-11.
In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defence of it? They would blush, on their child's coming out into the world, to think him defective in any branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments which belong to his station in life, and accordingly these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his religion as he may; the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education, and his attachment to it (where any attachment to it exists at all) is, too often, not the preference of sober reason, but merely the result of early prejudice and groundless prepossession. He was born in a Christian country, of course he is a Christian; his father was a member of the church of England, so is he. When such is the hereditary religion handed down from generation to generation, it cannot surprise us to observe young men of sense and spirit beginning to doubt altogether of the truth of the system in which they have been brought up, and ready to abandon a station which they are unable to defend. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities, which are falsely imputed to it, they fall perhaps into the company of infidels; and, as might be expected, they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils, which, had they been grounded and bottomed in reason and argument, would have passed by them "as the idle wind," and scarcely have seemed worthy of serious notice.
Kenneth Richard Samples (Baker Publishing Group: Jul 2004), 288 pages.
It can be difficult to answer questions about the Christian faith-even for Christians who regularly read their Bibles and attend church. What can they say to a skeptic who questions Christian doctrine or truth claims? What about young Christians who want answers to their tough questions? Without a Doubt covers questions on everything from the doctrine of the incarnation to religious pluralism, from evolution to moral relativism, with rational answers for even the most stubborn skeptic. Chapters contain charts, relevant biblical texts, and outlines to help readers grasp key ideas relevant to proclaiming the gospel to an unbeliever or discussing doctrine with another Christian. ~ Product Description