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Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus The Game Changer 10 of 10: REASON & SCIENCE

Pop quiz – Which work of ancient literature contains the following: “Come, let us reason together”?

The answer is, of course, the Bible. The Sunday school teachers or taught may have got that one right, but I highly doubt anyone else did. Reason and religion are oil and water to today’s enlightened mind.

Are religion and science really enemies?

Thanks to a bunch of influential pseudo-philosophers and historians, a vast number of people now think that religious claims lack any authority and are completely at odds with the claims of ‘objective’ science.

In order to do science, one must assume that reality is orderly, intelligible and understandable. Do the dominant narratives of today – materialistic naturalism and humanism – provide these foundations or are they borrowing capital from more capable worldviews?

Only certain subject matter is accessible via the scientific method. For example, science can tell us about the various processes at work in the baking of a cake – the combination of chemical ingredients and their reactions, the force required to mix them together, the heat of the oven and what it does to the cake – but it can’t tell us the why of reality, the deep questions that we all seek answers to. Science can explain the cake rising, but not the reason for which the cake is baked – to celebrate the birthday of a loved one and to see joy spread across their face.

My hope for the future

Pop up quiz 2 – Which religious text contains the commandment to “love God with all your mind”? Contrary to public opinion, you don’t leave your mind at the door when embracing Christianity. Quite the opposite.

These small thoughts can by no means provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between religion and science but hopefully they can start a conversation – one where both sides bring reason and tolerance to a vital topic.

A Brief Guide to Critical Thinking

Bridge 8 and animator James Hutson have created six two-minute animations on various aspects of critical thinking. The videos are designed for kids ages 8 to 10 but are also useful for grown-ups who might want an introduction to the basics of logic and the scientific method, as well as to psychological missteps like confirmation bias and the Gambler’s Fallacy.

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark Noll

Few sentences have had as great an impact on evangelicalism in the late twentieth century than the opening of Mark Noll’s 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” he wrote, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” For many, the book was a wake-up call to the anti-intellectualism of the church and the state of evangelical scholarship.

Seventeen years later, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at Notre Dame returns to the topic in a new book released this month: Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.

Read more

Kenneth Samples on the Compatibility of Faith and Reason

Riddleblog has posted audio from Kenneth Samples lecture in his series on “Historic Christianity’s Seven Dangerous Ideas”.

The talk, delivered on May 7 at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, is entitled “Faith Makes Sense:  The Compatibility of Faith & Reason”. In the lecture, Dr Samples gives an overview of arguments for God’s existence, including arguments from cosmology, objective morality and abstract entities.

Download the lecture here.

Kenneth Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons To Believe (RTB) and teaches at the Academy and Adult bible study classes at Christ Reformed Church.  He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference and has also written several articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal.

What does Atheism really mean?

In the April 2010 Reasonable Faith Newsletter, William Lane Craig had this to say about his visit to the University of North Carolina and his debate with Herb Silverman at UNCW, the Faculty Forum on the existence of God.

“Around 1,000 people showed up to hear a very rousing debate. As is typical with secular humanist types, Dr. Silverman had very little of substance to say about the arguments for or against God’s existence (indeed, he presented no arguments against God’s existence, taking the lazy man’s route of re-defining atheism to be just the psychological state of being without a belief in God).”[1]

Atheism has traditionally been defined as the belief that God does not exist. This remains the formal definition in the Philosophy of Religion.[2] Though not usually done, this idea can legitimately be expanded in certain contexts to include the denial of any particular god or gods. The early Christians for instance were called Atheists because they denied the existence of a whole pantheon of Roman god’s.

In recent years there has been a further expansion of the term to what Craig describes above as “the psychological state of being without a belief in God.” The columnist Christopher Hitchens advocated this construal of atheism during his debate with Craig last year (2209) at Biola University. Antony Flew, formally the worlds leading Atheist intellectual recognizes this shift of definition in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion.

“…the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.”[3]

It is said that this shift in definition is taken up to avoid the burden of making an argument. No longer does the atheist have to make an argument, because atheism has changed from being a view to being a psychological state. The first must have a truth-value, while the second is absent any proposition, and therefore has no truth-value.

But have these “atheists” truly escaped the burden of making an argument? I think not for at least two reasons.

First, in moments of honesty you will find that those who claim to be Atheist’s of the new variety are actually undercover atheists of the old variety. Ask any of them in an unguarded moment, “Do you believe there’s a God?” and what answer will you get? There answer will be “No.” They may say “no” in different ways, like “God is a Delusion,” (Richard Dawkins) or “You won’t find me guilty of wishful thinking.” (Christopher Hitchens). Bill Cook, the president of the New Zealand Secular Humanist Society in debate and in print has chosen to define atheism in this new, unorthodox way. In debate Craig caught him out by pointing out that a god merely in the imagination and a god not existing is “a difference without a difference.” A recent Thinking Matters comment stated something comparable to; “I’m not arguing that God doesn’t exist. I just want you to admit that the essential attributes of your God are incoherent.” This is philosophical double-speak. At bottom, these Atheist’s still hold to the classical construal of Atheism, no matter the lip service they give to a having no-belief regarding God.

The absurdity of their insistence on the new definition, is that if it were so, babies, dogs and cats, even trees should also be considered Atheists. Further still, if Atheism on the new construal were diligently and systematically applied, it would be totally compatible with for Theism being true, and even the more rationally respectable option. So if this truly is what Atheists mean by “Atheism,” why is it that the New Atheist’s rail against the notion of God so much? Misquoting Shakespeare, my history professor said of Dawkins, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

The extreme expression of this linguistic pose is Reggie Finlay, the host of the Infidel Guy Radio program. He will describe himself as an Atheist-Agnostic or Agnostic-Atheist. Agnostic because he recognizes that he cannot know with certainty that God does not exist, and Atheist because he believes that nevertheless Atheism is the more likely than Theism. Findlay says, “I really doubt it [theism].”

To this you may respond, “What reason is there to think that Atheism is more reasonable than Theism?” You would be right to do so. Here is the second reason for why the atheist has not escaped the burden of having to make an argument. Because they implicitly, sometimes explicitly, make the claim that traditional Atheism is the more probable candidate. This claim, like any other positive assertion, needs philosophical justification. Thus the new brand of Atheist is in the difficult position of once again having to support his position with arguments lest he be called irrational.

Attempts of deflection are unsuccessful. Generally Atheist’s appeal to the idea that it is Theism that makes a claim to knowledge that has not yet been demonstrated, so we should not believe God exists in the absence of evidence. This appeal is what is called the Presumption of (traditional) Atheism. It is a poor appeal in two respects.

First off, Atheism also makes a claim to knowledge that cannot be demonstrated. Why then does the adherent of Atheism adopt this psychological state of non-belief in God? Was a coin flipped? Why not non-belief in Atheism? Why not Agnostic-theism?

Second, this appeal relies on idea that all the arguments for Theism, such as the cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological and historical arguments, etc., are unsuccessful. This lays a heavy burden on the Atheist who now has to try and find reasons to either deny (highly plausible) premises or show an informal fallacy of some sort in the arguments for God’s existence. This is an uncomfortable position to be in as it will always be on the back-foot – defensive mode.

The Atheist might try to appeal to make other appeals, such as to the presence of evil in the world. But once they go there, they are once again in the difficult situation of trying to make arguments like their Atheistic intellectual forebears. Arguments that, after years of re-formulation, eventually grew tired and were found not to work. For instance, Christopher Hitchens, whose only argument (or shall we say railing?) is the Problem of Evil, embarrassingly admitted in a panel discussion in Dallas Texas that the presence of evil and suffering in the world could be explained coherently on the Christian worldview.

If my arguments are correct, then one implication is that Atheism is not the default position or a position of intellectual innocence/neutrality. As rational agents we should be able to give account for the justification of our beliefs and the Atheist must accept this fact, no less than the Theist. Personally, I think so-called Agnostic-atheists, non-theists, a-theists, etc., should tie their shoelaces and become either full-fledged Atheists, or kept faithfully to Agnosticism while calling it thus.


[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith April Newsletter 2010, www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8081

[2] Atheism: “the view that there is no divine being, no God.” Penguin dictionary of Philosophy. Edited by Thomas Mautner. Penguin Books (1996)

“Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God.” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Edited by Ted Honderich. Oxford University press (1995)

The belief that God – especially a personal, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God – does not exist.” The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. BUNNIN, NICHOLAS and JIYUAN YU (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” William Rowe (1998). Atheism. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Rowe does go on to say in the article: “Another meaning of ‘atheism’ is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God. These two different meanings are sometimes characterized as positive atheism (belief in the nonexistence of God) and negative atheism (lack of belief in the existence of God). Barring inconsistent beliefs, a positive atheist is also a negative atheist, but a negative atheist need not be a positive atheist.”

[3] A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997), s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew.

I am indebted to Jason Kumar for most of these footnoted references as well as excellent editorial advice.

The Anthropological Argument: Part 2

In my previous post I briefly summarised some anthropological arguments for God’s existence that have been used over the centuries. In this post I shall state and defend a specific anthropological argument, and examine if it is a good and convincing argument. Unlike other anthropological arguments which appear on the surface to be rhetoric, I shall express this one syllogistically.

1) Whatever man needs to exist, exists.

This premise is wholly plausible. For instance, man needs water to exist. Its a sure bet then that water exists. Air is needed to fill my lungs so I can continue to exist and therefore, since man does continue to exist, air exists.

Similarly, man needs relationship to exist. This existential need is no less real for its lack of physicality. Even hermits have pets. There is something about man that is relational. Recall the film Castaway, with Tom Hanks. Whilst alone on his island, he made a ball a friend and called it “Wilson” out of his need for relationship. That relationship was as real as the island about him, and just as essential as food and water for his continued existence, despite the ball being an inanimate object. When we are alone we turn on the TV or radio just for the sound of it to fill the house, for there is a need in us to have relationship, however impersonal it may be. Which leads us to our second premise.

2) Man needs God to exist.

To support this premise one could cite the religious impulse of man, or that for all human beings worship, in some form, is inescapable. Appeals to universal human existential questions, such as; “Is life meaningful or meaningless? Is there a purpose in existence? When gazing at the stars in the night sky the powerful vista evokes the question in all of us, are we are alone in the universe?

One might also appeal to the need of humans to have objective moral values and duties, and for a necessary first-cause to first create and then sustain human contingent existence. But these are utilised in other argument of Natural Theology, and as much as possible we want to let this argument stand on its own legs.

There does seem to be something about ourselves that requires something more than what the earth and all its treasure can provide. In similar fashion to Augustine, the songstress Stacie Orrico observes,

“There’s gotta be more to life,
than chasing down every temporary high to satisfy me
‘Cause the more that I’m
Tripping out thinking there must be more to life,
Well it’s life, but I’m sure, there’s gotta be more
than wanting more.”

We reach for the transcendental. We seek for the sublime. People strive all their lives to fill the hole in their chests, even if they never realise that is what they’re doing. Often the most successful men and woman are empty inside. Some of the deepest lows come after achieving the greatest heights and finding it was not as fulfilling as they hoped it would be.
God seems uniquely capable of fulfilling the existential needs of humans. Especially in regards to meaning and immortality, but also with respect to grace as a solution for guilt, purpose for living, hope for the future, fulfilment as a productive member of society in the present, etc. This leads us to the conclusion.

3) Therefore, God exists.

But is this a good argument?

Excursus: I hold that for an argument to be “good” it must be logically sound, having no formal or informal fallacy, with true premises. However, one need not know if certain premises are true, these premises must only be more plausible than their contradictory. If an argument has all these criteria then one is rationally obliged to accept the conclusion, no matter how painful or annoying it may be. That makes it a good argument. Obligation to be rational aside, one hopes that the simplicity of the argument and plausibility of its premises is convincing to at least some of those who would naturally be opposed to the conclusion. But I do not hold this hope to be a condition for a good argument.

As the conclusion does flow logically from its premises, commits no informal fallacy that I am aware of, the only question that remains is this; are the premises true or at least more plausible than their contradictory. There seems to be nothing wrong with the first premise, so attention diverts to the second premise. Does man need God to exist?

I think so. For all the reasons given above, and those I cannot express. Also, as a Christian theologian I believe it to be so on the basis of Biblical revelation. However, I can see that these reasons would not be convincing to an obstinate atheist, nor someone mired in a naturalistic worldview, where the idea of God merits no more consideration than the toll of a distant bell [1] does a teen who thinks he’s invincible. As long as God remains an unfelt existential requirement the detractor of the argument can simply deny the second premise and be done with it.

This pattern I find to be the weakness of all the anthropological arguments. Though it meets my criteria for being a good argument, it fails to be a convincing argument to anyone significantly detached from Christianised anthropological thought. This is not an indictment of the anthropological argument, it merely reveals a limit of its utility in evangelism and apologetics.

It does however seem to me that this specific anthropological argument (along with other reasons of course) lingers in the background of many people’s story of how they eventually came to accept Jesus Christ as King of their lives. C.S Lewis said “emptiness is at the center of my being.” This emptiness or need could well be the method God uses to draw people to himself, just as salt on the tongue draws a camel to water. So while it is not the argument itself, it is the deep intuition of the subject of this argument which convinces in the end. As Augustine said “We have a God-shaped vacuum in us that can only be filled by Him.” I would only add it might be the case that it is only until Christ enters into our lives that we recognise the vacuum was indeed God-shaped.

1) a knell: the sound of a bell, esp. when rung solemnly for a death or funeral. Figuratively used with reference to an announcement, event, or sound that is regarded as a solemn warning of the end of something.

Humility in the Wrong Place

“But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason… But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn… The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 31-32.

Source and Norms

So far we’ve explored some key terms, method, and the issue of diversity and unity within Christian belief. Today I’ll be looking at where we discover theological information and how we evaluate it. To illustrate I’ll be using the four-legged chair you are sitting on.


Sources for Christian belief are those things that deliver information about God and act as vehicles for what he reveals. Norms are standards by which any information is tested to be accurate and true. Evangelist, revivalist and founder of the Methodist movement, Charles Wesley described four other sources and norms for Christian belief. Although he was not the first, what he articulated came to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Like a four-legged stool each source and norm acts as a prop to uphold the Christian who sits down to develop his theology. The first leg we need to consider is Scripture.

Jesus declared to his disciples the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25) Very early the writings of those apostles and their associates came to be considered by the churches as possessing the same authority as the Law and Prophets (what we call now the Old Testament). Thus the Bible is for Christianity the most authoritative and respected source directly available for correct theological information. It acts as a norming norm – a standard by which none can contradict. Just as it would be unthinkable for a U.S. Supreme Court judge to say, “The constitution says all Americans should have the freedom of speech, but I disagree!” so it would be unthinkable for a Christian to deny the explicit teaching of Scripture. To remain faithful to Christian doctrine one must remain faithful to the scripture, and if on some point you think differently, it is there you cease to think Christianly.

Our second leg is Tradition. Everyone who starts a church that runs it for more than a week has tradition – even if the goal is to avoid all tradition. The two thousand year history of the church provides a wealth of theological information – some good, some bad – that has arisen and been affirmed by what is called the Great Tradition. It is very difficult to maintain that this history is not in some way influencing a person’s theology. The Reformers, especially Luther, who affirmed Sola Scriptura, which rightly expresses the idea that scripture alone is the final word, nonetheless accepted that scripture was always interpreted in the light of the Rule of Faith, which effectively became the four ecumenical creeds (the Apostolic, Nicean, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian). Tradition is a normed norm (a standard which itself is held accountable to another standard), which holds within it the compass of scripture.

I have in the past been critical of the role of Tradition as a source for Christian belief. That has only been when I have been evaluating what good theology is. Good theology, I take it, is that which is objectively true. This principle is the primary condition from which I choose to build. Tradition then becomes at most a useful guide, as it generally has been through the ages faithfully responsive to the instruction and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Vanhoozer says, “Canon may be the cradle of Christian doctrine, but tradition is its wet nurse.”[1]

The third leg of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is Reason, or the deliverances of the cognitive faculties. It includes wider disciplines such as philosophy, science, history and especially logic. It is with reason we delineate premises and evaluate arguments. Reason helps us to explore the internal consistency of an individual’s theology (or the internal structural soundness and aesthetic harmony of a theological castle). Reason is essential in communicating the gospel and is vital for that branch of Christian theology that seeks to defend Christian truth-claims, i.e., apologetics.

The final leg of our chair is Experience. Theological castles are not constructed in a vacuum. We naturally look to the world that God created to inform us about him. Against the background of our experiences in this world our theology will inevitably be influenced. One example is the Swiss-born, Neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth, who abandoned Liberal theology because of all the evil he saw perpetrated in the Germany during World War One. Another example of experience acting as a source and norm within Christian belief is the once popular position called Cessationism. A Cessationist holds that the gifts of the Spirit are no longer operative today, but ceased to function sometime after the passing of the first or second generation after Christ. Due to the overwhelming amount of miracles today preformed in the name of Jesus, especially in Asia and Africa, and the availability of testimonies of witnesses to these miracles, this doctrine has largely been renounced.

Some theologians suggest another leg be included. Creation, it is argued, is also a source and a norm. We shall speak more of this next time when we exit our Prolegomena and begin with the Doctrine of Revelation, but for myself I do not see how creation constitutes anything substantively different than what is already covered by Reason and Experience.

Precisely how these four legs are ordered in terms of importance is disputable. Different tradition-communities lean more heavily on certain legs. It is how we order these sources and norms that create most of the variety we see in theology. For instance the many differences between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches from Protestant churches stem from the different emphasis placed upon the role of Tradition as a source and norm. Let me suggest however that scripture should be considered the most authoritative, directly available source and norm for Christian belief – a norming norm – for all who seek to build their castles. The reason for this I hope should be made clear in our next section.

But a stool, of course, is more than its legs. The supreme source for all Christian belief is Jesus Christ himself. As the incarnate Word of God he is the most authoritative and reliable special revelation possible. The disciple declares Christ as “the true light that gives light to every man.” (John 1:9) Luther described Christ as the “canon within the canon.”

These are the Scriptures that testify about me,

John 5:39

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Hebrews 1:1-3

If we want to know of God, we must ultimately look to God himself, revealed specially in the person of Jesus Christ. Our clearest picture we receive of Him is through the scriptures.

Next time we begin on the Doctrine of Revelation.

Footnotes:

1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The drama of doctrine: a canonical-linguistic approach to Christian theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) p. 234.