Thursday, August 07, 2008

Reason To Believe

Foreword: An Apology

During the past week or so, I have been engaged in conversation with some atheists on this blog. While many of my words have been kind and sincere, I have made a mockery of the Christian faith by use of caustic sarcasm and bruising banter. I have been too eager to defend my views (theism in general and Christianity more specifically) and lax to learn from those of my opponents. Rather than argue any further into a downward spiral where no value is affirmed and where little respect is gained, I’d like to offer an invitation. It’s an invitation to see theism, specifically Christianity, as a reasonable faith, in response to the statement from one atheist, who said, “No amount of rational explanation could ever break through the closely guarded minds of believers in the supernatural. After all, they didn’t get to that point by the use of reason (even though the tool was readily available) so why would they let reasoned discourse sway them now?” Though evidences for theism are not compelling in and of themselves, I hope to show that belief in the supernatural is rational, and that I arrive at theism based on reasoned thought. So please accept my apology and read on with virulence and presupposition laid aside.

A Reasonable Faith: My Argument for the Rationality of Belief in God

I’d like to begin this essay by considering Rationalism, which led during the European Enlightenment era to a rejection of gaining knowledge from mere authority in favor of gaining knowledge through mere reason. Among theologians of the era, the goal was to inject new life into dead doctrinal instruction. In other words, orthodoxy (right thinking) was not exciting mankind to orthopraxy (right living). According to Christian Wolff, a German rationalist who according to Kant was “the greatest of all dogmatic philosophers,” no theological principle that lacked a mathematical equation to demonstrate it should ever be taught. I had a rationalist mathematics teacher, who often said, “Don’t tell me; show me! I’m from Missouri” (the Show Me state). The response to the Rationalism of Wolff and others was Supranaturalism, which attempted to compromise the indemonstrable truths of Scripture (namely the revelation of the supernatural) with reason. The goal of Supranaturalism was to account for valued religious feelings, thereby doing justice to the subjective truths of personal experience.

This feeble attempt to downplay pure Rationalism was mocked openly and often. German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher is considered a hero of this era for attempting to bridge the gap between Rationalism and Supranaturalism, having claimed that, under philosophical and rational convictions, “the Universe is God.” He “held that man’s consciousness of being springs from the presence of God within him. He believed that all morality is an attempt to unite man’s physical nature with his mind.” His explanation announced that God was not to be the object of thought, but rather something to be enjoyed in the depths of one’s feelings. To Schleiermacher, that enjoyment, which later included the ideas of complete dependence and, perhaps surprisingly, predestination, was the crux of religion.

The succinct overview of this recent historic period that undoubtedly has implications on our thinking today in one way or another – and that’s my point in bringing it up, that we all are products of our past, both positively and negatively, and that critical, indeed rational thinking enables us to determine the positive and the negative and move on from there – allows us to move on to consider several things in relation to the subject: In light of Rationalism, Supranaturalism, and Schleiermacher’s bridge-gap thinking, all en route to today’s post-modernism, what evidences support belief in God as rational?

David Robertson reports in The Dawkins Letters, a response to prominent atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins and his book, The God Delusion, that a scientific study was performed by German science magazine P.M., concluding that there is a 62% chance that God exists. There you have it! A science magazine conducts a study and concludes that it is more likely than not that God exists. What more rational reason to believe do you need? Robertson also makes a great point asking Dawkins why he fills so many pages of that book with virulent words against Christianity’s God when whether God is good or bad is irrelevant to a high-minded atheist. Robertson also notes something I’ve had in mind for a while. Many atheists compare belief in God to belief in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Gnomes. But Dawkins didn’t write a book called The Tooth Fairy Delusion; and atheists are called atheists because they don’t believe in God. Otherwise, they’d be on a tirade against gnomes (some of them are!) and call themselves anta-Santa’s or something like that. In other words, if the evidence in favor of God’s existence was the same as the evidence for the Easter Bunny, then far less people would claim a belief in God. Needless to say, the evidence in favor of theism is far greater than atheists are willing to admit – they know what the consequences would be!

Until the Holy Spirit quickens and convicts the sinner’s soul, a natural explanation void of material evidence always trumps a supernatural explanation, even if the existing evidence leads one to see the supernatural explanation as the more likely one. Thus, as one atheist recently stated, it seems that all persons – theists, atheists, and agnostics – are in fact agnostics, at least as far as material evidence can take us. While this may be true – one cannot be certain of God’s existence (or subsistence – the proper term for an eternal, self-sustaining being such as the Christian’s God) or His non-existence – from a physical and material perspective, it remains rational and reasonable to be a theist. Both sides can and do use empirical science to justify their philosophy.

Theism and atheism, and agnosticism, are philosophical – even theological, if I dare say – positions, rather than merely scientific positions. Presuppositions get in the way. For example, if you have decided that miracles are impossible, then miracles won’t be acceptable proof. In fact, the human will gets in the way as well. Though atheists may deny or have trouble proving the existence of the will, they desire that God not exist, so they suppress the truth by unrighteousness and deliberately forget what they know to be true. Theists are in the same boat, desiring that the material evidence would be less ambiguous, hoping that as progress in science is made, the evidence will support their views more clearly.

The following twelve testimonies to God’s existence are treated with excellence elsewhere, namely in various systematic theologies and volumes of theological philosophy, and though I’d like to be, I am no schooled theologian and a novice philosopher at best. My efforts to summarize them are surely inadequate and may perhaps exhibit poor word choice at time, leading one to misunderstand my intended meaning. Once again, I apologize. Let it be known that theists do not need these testimonies since they have received the wisdom and knowledge of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, if an atheist feels justified in standing on their refutation of all twelve, so be it. Nevertheless, here they are:

12) The universe: The word literally means, “single spoken sentence” (and God said…); Ex nihilo nihil fit: Out of nothing, nothing comes. The cosmological, or first-cause, argument suggests that everything that has a beginning must have had a cause. Kant and Hume both call into question the law of causation; others posit that the universe is indeed eternal. With the assumption that the universe is not eternal, it would appear to require a cause or a birth. That first cause would need to be an eternal uncaused cause, namely God.

There is no material evidence for an eternal universe, though this is the only option for a rational atheist to take. Thus right off the bat, we see that faith is a requirement for atheism as much as theism. But an atheist, thinking that a natural explanation without material evidence trumps a supernatural explanation every time, responds that a natural explanation (quantum mechanics, though quantum vacuum fluctuations involve the transfer of pre-existing energy into material form) for the possibility of an eternal universe does in fact exist (even that is questionable). In reality, science, the flagship of atheism, is abandoned with this proposal and philosophical metaphysics is adopted as the rationale for atheism.

We must also mention the teleological and transcendental arguments for God here. Since the universe reveals order, purpose, and intelligence to a mesmerizing degree, and implies a being who could have created such a world, it is perfectly logical to believe that being does exist. Chaos does not bring order. Kant says that these arguments for God are the best of the arguments for theism, though they are still inconclusive. No well-established fact of observation or repeated testing supports macroevolution, especially on a universal scale. Thus, there are a number of evolutionist scientists who support or at least acknowledge the possibility of intelligent design, and many others, like Kenneth Miller, who are comfortable as theists, even Christians (Francis Collins). And you can even consider the recent defection of once-prominent atheist Antony Flew to theism a reason to believe. The perfect order of the universe cannot be explained naturally; the only effort made here is to appeal to quantum mechanics, but even that difficult field of study does not denounce theism (it actually supports it!). Blind chance is no evidence against theism. Rather theism (speaking of a Creator God) is clearly the more reasonable option here.

11) Life: If for the sake of atheistic faith and metaphysics, we allow the universe to be eternal and ignore the known and unforeseen problems that would exist if that were so, we still have reason to believe in God. For the Big Bang leaves us with a universe void of life. Once again, a natural explanation is offered apart from material evidence for the existence of life. Spontaneous generation falls short, and the irreducible complexity of a cell is such that design is reasonable (see Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box) – evolution is mathematically impossible. As with the universe requiring eternality, for the atheist, life must have arisen from abiogenesis. Sadly for the atheist, this field of science is sporadic in progress and slow moving despite the importance it holds for their position. The multiple hypotheses that exist within this field can’t prove that it works. On the other hand, DNA structure reveals the greater likelihood that abiogenesis couldn’t possibly work.

Scientists have never observed abiogenesis (life erupting from non-life) happening in nature, nor have they been able to create life through laboratory experiments. In fact, controlled experiments have not even come close to creating any sort of self-replicating life form. In addition, because nature cannot even produce the most basic homochiralic protein molecule (what life is “made” of), the intelligent design necessity model is more reasonable than the evolutionary model, though both lack material observation and experimental abilty.

Finally, just in case atheists had hope along with their faith, and just in case theists were somehow worried about what might come to pass, one website added, “If indeed a self-replicating lifeform is, at some future date, created in the lab, it’s plausibility and actual manifestation of a mechanism for the origin of life was made possible through deliberate design of intelligent minds. There will still be no known process acting naturally producing life from non-life, therefore, abiogenesis seems out of the realm of empirical science. Furthermore, the extreme complexity of all lifeforms seems to point in the direction of an outside Intelligence. This is perhaps why Crick (one of the Discoverers of DNA) and Orgel (a microbiologist) proposed the theory of Directed Panspermia: the belief that Life came to earth from outer space.” In Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein’s documentary on this issue, several prominent atheists and evolutionists acknowledge the origin of life as a mystery, all the while pointing to crystals and aliens as potential sources. No wonder I’m a theist!

10) Consciousness / Reason: Failing to see the rationality of the first two arguments, atheists hopefully decry the existence of the soul, thinking that humanity is just another step in random and chaotic evolution. The question, “What are you?” is answered scientifically with material evidence: “I’m Human.” The question, “Who are you?” is answered differently apart from material evidence. How do we explain consciousness and reason? Theists point to the soul (not, as C.S. Lewis said, that we have souls, but that we are souls!). If you want to call it the inner man, the psyche, the breath, the heart of hearts, the will, or the mind, that’s fine to this point. Atheists deny the existence of anything non-material, so the soul does not exist. For a fun read, consider the experiment of Dr. Duncan MacDougall in 1907. What’s to keep an atheist from running this experiment today, morality?

Interestingly, a prominent neurologist noted that thoughts in the brain do not originate there. When I say, “Think of a sandy beach,” you think of a sandy beach. You visualize it, seeing it without using your eyes. A brain scan would show activity upon my command, but that activity did not originate in the brain. The non-material “mind” or soul or heart – where the human will (desire, internal effort) is located – brought the thought of a sandy beach into the brain. Now I can’t prove that with material evidence, but it’s reasonable simply because science can’t show where or how the thought originates. Consciousness makes no sense apart from the soul, and we’ll talk about it more under point number four.

I will also place the ontological argument for God, popularized by Anselm long ago, here. It is the idea that a conception of God (being the perfect being which can be conceived) demands the existence of such a being. In other words, if we can conceive of a morally perfect and just being, then there must be one. Robertson often uses a question when speaking with atheists, “Can you describe the god in whom you do not believe?” He likes to reply to their usually unbiblical response, “I don’t believe in that god either;” for it is quite irrational to believe in a god that does not exist! (On this truth, theists and atheists agree!) While a fallacy may be committed in asking the question, his point, akin to the ontological argument for God, is well made. Atheists and agnostics usually demand proof of a false gods man has created – Carl Sagan’s dragon in the garage. But the one true God is Spirit, a non-material being, and therefore, no material evidence (other than the mass of testimonies below) is valid in the blind eyes of those who refuse to see the truth. However, just as an atheist can conceive of a soul, though they don’t believe it exists, and just as everyone can conceive of the idea of a “good marriage,” though some people deny the possibility of a “good marriage,” even an atheist can conceive of such as being as God.

Presuppositional apologetics addresses most issues that arise in this category; though however valuable apologetics is in defending faith, consciousness and reason alone do not make theism necessary. This reality of “this consciousness is emphatic, as against the figments of a fallaciously abstract reason, in asserting the self-subsistence (and at the same time the finitude) of our being; it declares that we are independent inasmuch as we are truly persons or selves, not mere attributes or adjectives, while at the same time, by exhibiting our manifold limitations, it directs us to a higher Cause on which our being depends.” It’s reason to see theism as a rational choice.

9) Morality: The argument for objective good points to the existence of a holy and just lawgiving being, namely God. If any of these testimonies could be considered compelling, this may be it. However, the lack of material evidence leaves us at an inconclusive standstill. Atheists can attempt to use science to show that moral ideas come from evolution, and that religious believers are no better behaved then unbelieving counterparts, which is a sad truth. But that does not address the philosophical question, “Are moral values objective, and if so, from whence do they come?” The gradual development of moral instincts through evolution is simply not relevant to the moral argument for God’s existence. Moral consciousness offers an emotional and ethical appeal to theism, and I find it interesting that the Bible speaks of atheists as fools, which is always a moral designation and never a cheap shot at one’s intellectual shortcomings. Non-material realities, such as objective and universal good and evil testify to theism. Thus theism again, may be deemed reasonable.

8) Religion: The existence of religion since the dawn of humanity is another solid reason to be a theist. The historical, or ethnological, argument says that since all nations are religious and have been as far back as one can determine, belief in God demands an actual God. Human religion (or religiousness) exists because God exists. There are three primary methods of determined how mankind came to be religious. The highly speculative historical method fails to offer a reasonable conclusion since man appears to be religious from the earliest of evidences. Stephen Langdon, along with others (Marston and Schmidt), suggested in the early twentieth century that mankind was originally monotheistic, though humanity’s “religious expressions” rapidly degraded into various forms of polytheism.

Whether or not Langdon and others are correct is ultimately irrelevant. It is a natural explanation that seems reasonable to believe. No material evidence can be shown (there is none) to dissuade a theist from thinking their expert opinion to be valid. That’s all that needs to be shown at this point. Why? Atheists demand material evidence for knowledge, but where material evidence is lacking, a natural explanation trumps a supernatural explanation every time. It just so happens that material evidence and natural explanations always fit with Biblical claims, as we’ll continue to see. For example, here, original monotheism and the rapid decline from it fit the account of the Bible exactly as one would expect. Furthermore, all of us – theist and atheist alike – have the same evidence. Our interpretation of that evidence based on presuppositions is where we differ.

So the question becomes, “Did Langdon and others carry a presupposition into their studies on the origin of religion?” Do those who oppose Langdon’s view (only one that I know of – Meek) bring presuppositions to the table? If, as a theist, I know that theism (and ultimately Christianity) requires monotheism at human origin (which it does), then I’ll try to prove that humanity was monotheistic at the beginning. If an atheist knows that as well, then they’ll try to prove that humanity was polytheistic – or better yet, atheistic – at its origin. Do you see what we fall into? Science is no longer the issue; it is now the tool in the hands of philosophers who swing it and tug it back and forth trying to uphold their preconceived notions. But I digress…

There is also the psychological method to studying the origin of religion, which fails because religion is considered too complex to be simply explained. It is simply impossible to study ancient mankind psychologically without engaging in speculation; furthermore, many speculative conclusions drawn from this method conflict with reality.

Thus, the theological method of religious origins helps greatly here. Revelation, not naturalistic evolution, is adequate to describe the origin of religion, and it fits with reality. We observe what revelation tells us we should observe. Since (A) it is obvious that mankind (1) is religious, (2) has appeared to be religious from the earliest evidence, (3) has a conception of God, and (4) thinks theology to be an important matter, (B) presuppositions conflicting with the historical and psychological methods, which are purely naturalistic in efforts, are made in the theological method – (1) that God exists, (2) that He has revealed Himself, and (3) that mankind is created in His image. This general revelation (what we see in nature and history) makes special revelation (what God tells us in His Word) prove not only to be true but perhaps more importantly, to be applicable to real life as well. However, neither general revelation nor human reason alone provides any absolute and reliable knowledge regarding an adequate basis for religion’s existence. Rather since both provide reasonable explanations, they may be deemed rational.

7) Theology: Though theology, the study of God – and not the study of religion, as some have claimed in order to maintain it as an empirical science – was once considered the queen of sciences, it is now denied consideration as an empirical science, since God, a non-physical being, cannot be observed directly or subjected to repeat testing through various physical experiments (ala the scientific method). Theology is not recognized by most as a valid empirical science, because it is grounded in authoritative revelation, rather than human reason. But that doesn’t mean reason is excluded from studying revelation. On the contrary, revelation requires reason as the instrument by which it is grasped. When an atheist reads a book previously unknown to him, he uses reason to interpret the meaning of the words and determine whether the claims are true or false; the same is true for theists.

Scriptural tests are used in theology, rather than rational tests, which seems to reduce its value in the presence of other sciences. Nonetheless, while theology is not a descriptive science (describing historical truth), it is a normative science (describing objective and absolute truth). The principia, defined as “the primary source of knowledge,” are different for the natural sciences, compared with theology. Principia are basic principles, and in science, the principia are these: autonomous man has the final say on knowledge, nature is the realm of knowledge, and reason is the means by which nature is understood by man. In theology, God has the final say on knowledge, revelation is the realm of knowledge, and faith is the means by which revelation is understood by man. In the end, both science and theology, if deemed mutually exclusive, are still merely means of systematizing knowledge, and faith can be excluded from neither of them. Likewise, since faith cannot be excluded from atheism or theism, theism can be deemed rational.

And from theology flows anthropology, thus the view of man as sinful though potentially good aids us in seeing God’s image distorted. Again, theism confirms what reason reveals through observation and testing. True science supports theism, not atheism.

6) Experience: While this is by no means a compelling evidence on its own (it can be delusional), experience must be taken into account when considering theism and atheism along side their consequences. Consider awe; there is no natural reason for awe. Only theism can bring a right response of awe. Consider compassion, sacrifice, gratitude, humor, joy, despair, and conscience (discussed above). Consider love (both loving one’s loved ones (family and married life) and loving one’s enemies). Why do we experience love? Why do cross-cultural, interracial, multi-ethnic Christians fellowship together? The human experience can only be rightly understood under the umbrella of theism; we live in God’s kingdom. The question remains: Are we His loyal subjects?

5) History: Testifying to God’s existence, His Story is moving along just as He said it would. Scripture confirmations in terms of archeological evidence and prophecy aligning with human history make theism more than reasonable. There is much more to be said under this heading, but time and space do not allow it.

4) Beauty: The aesthetic argument for theism appeals to our apprehension of beauty. Objective beauty (art and music and character and even faith) leaves us contemplating the designer of beauty, namely God. For example, humanity in general believes that the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” are beautiful traits. Why? There is nothing naturally noteworthy in them. God explains that those traits are the fruit of the Spirit. No one exhibited those traits like Jesus, and so there’s no wonder that so many people around the world love Jesus even though they’ve never seen Him. Though He lived long ago on the earth, He is the most beautiful Person to ever live. The testimony of beauty also ties to consciousness and reason. To be able to contemplate the universe is a trait of humanity alone; it has not evolved apart from a designer. The beauty of language – its very existence – cries out to God – and not surprisingly, the Bible tells us about language. Reveling in the beauty of a symphony, a well-written book, a poem, or a painting is done because one admires the beauty of the Deity whom is reflected by the masterpiece. Seeing beauty is a theistic adventure.

3) The Church: While she has blasphemed the Lord who bought her as a whore of a wife to her husband, the Church nevertheless – and perhaps because of that – exhibits evidence for God’s existence, even if as a testimony to His love, forbearance, mercy, and grace, but namely through changed lives and unselfish living. The Church is a hospital where sick people come to get well. I know, atheists will love to jump on that sentence as my own testimony for sickness equated to delusion. But of course, what I mean by that is the forgiveness of sin and the transformation of selfishness to selflessness. Countless people testify daily through their changed lives. The early church, made up of eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus and His disciples, lived unfathomably counter-cultural lives and died for their faith. That’s a good reason to believe, for people do not die for what they know to be a lie.

Regarding unselfish living, hypocrisy in the church is something that must be acknowledged. It’s a sad truth that weeds grow up with tares, and it’s sad that Christians aren’t perfect. In the name of God, horrendous behavior has been exhibited. Nevertheless, no greater good has been exhibited in the entire world than by theists, especially Christians. Compassion and generosity are shown in no greater measure than by the Church. And that God-likeness reveals a rational reason to be a theist.

2) The Bible: I hope by this point, one would see belief in God as reasonable and rational. For if not, then sadly the final two testimonies will not help. Special revelation is necessary to be compelled to theism. For the theist, theophanies, communication, and miracles, yielded in special revelation, answer the questions that general revelation leaves unanswered. Sadly, atheists in general write off any Scriptural evidence offered, calling it “circular reasoning.” While circular reasoning is not necessarily a negative, it can still be avoided here. We can show that the human authors of the Bible were trustworthy morally as eyewitnesses. We can note that the Old Testament Scriptures were deemed by the apostles to be inspired by God. We can say that the Old Testament foresaw a New Testament – namely a New Covenant. So finally, we can arrive at the New Testament, being written by trustworthy authors about that New Covenant to which their inspired Scriptures pointed, and its inspiration in a non-circular way. Once again, I know that is not compelling. But it is certainly no worse than an atheist’s natural explanation with no material evidence!

The number of manuscripts available to study, the eyewitness accounts of verified historical events, and the statistical probability that the 40 authors writing in three different languages and multiple genres on hundreds of topics over 1500 years would agree in their presentation of a united message, give us reason to believe the authenticity of the Bible. Furthermore, most (certainly not all) denials of Biblical inspiration, reliability, and authority are based on false assumptions or taken out of context. The others need to be and have been carefully addressed elsewhere. But I’d be glad to examine them closely with you, if you’d like to bring something to the table.

It is reasonable to be a theist; though incapable of a logical demonstration that leaves no room for doubt, faith that God exists is based on reliable information, namely general revelation (natural, physical, and material evidences) and special revelation (Biblical and spiritual evidences).

1) Jesus: He tops the list (see Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus is God, so it is no surprise that He is the best evidence for the existence of God that a Christian theist can offer. We have faith, true, but it is faith in a real person about whom more books have been written, more arguments built, and more confessions have been made than any other figure in all of human history. He didn’t overthrow the mighty Roman Empire, as many expected Him to do; He didn’t earn more money than other people; He didn’t patent new inventions; He didn’t travel the world. Those accomplishments, while certainly noteworthy to most humans, were worthless to this man. He merely loved people, showed compassion, worked miracles, revealed God in Himself, and gave Himself as a ransom for many. Perhaps that’s why He’s not a prominent figure in secular history. Someone has said, “If Jesus isn’t real, show me the person who invented Him, and I’ll worship him.” And that’s a reason to believe in God.

Once again, I’m not trying to compel an atheist to be a theist. I’m simply suggesting that theism is rational. Taking all of these testimonies together, it’s reasonable to consider theism a viable option. And, as I stated earlier, I don’t need any of these testimonies to hold to faith, as my faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed to me. It’s not something I conjured up, and it’s not something that can be taken away or discarded. So if this essay helps you to grow stronger in your atheistic faith, I’m sad to have helped, but if you’d like to explore theism more closely, I’d be glad to join you.

6 comments:

PhillyChief said...

You have a lot there to address, so I'll need some time but I will address your "reasons".

Steven Carr said...

German science magazine PM?

Have you read Peter Moosleitner's interesting magazine?

It is certainly an interesting magazine, and I enjoy reading it, but it is not much more serious than Reader's Digest (also a good magazine in its way)

PhillyChief said...

Excuses to Believe

John Evo said...

Chip, I don't know if you've seen it or not, but PhillyChief did respond as promised.

quantum_flux said...

Chip, I don't know if you realize this or not, but everything that Christianity believes about the existance of God can be much more properly explained by either modern psychology, brain science, or physics.

Maria Salva said...

Re: excuses to believe
A list of responses to your reasons to believe, from scientific knowledge.