Tag Archives: reason

The goal of argument

Our goal should not to merely win arguments, but to gain a more clear understanding of what is true so that we can orient our lives accordingly. An exclusive interest in winning arguments would only serve to reinforce a sort of intellectual inbreeding1 and, as such, serve no real productive purpose.

I am sure I hold false beliefs, given that I am a finite being who is not endowed with omniscience. The trouble is that I do not know what of my beliefs are false. In order to know that I must be confronted with evidence and arguements.

Keep in mind, however, that beliefs are not given up easily (nor should they be) so I will necessarily strain my presently held beliefs to their breaking points before trading them for something else.

I would also wager that my attitude is not particularly unique, which is why I expect and welcome strong resistance. In fact, to paraphrase a friend of mine: I believe that growth is fostered through the managed conflict of ideas.

Afterall, what’s the use in building beliefs on a weak, untested foundation?

  1. I am indebted to Matthew DeLockery for this phrase. []

Do Atheists ever become Christians based on logic and evidence?

Many times I hear otherwise committed Christians ask whether logic and reason have ever helped anyone come to faith or not. They largely view Paul’s speech in Acts 17 as a failure and claim he changed his tactics after the incident on Mars Hill.

The Sunday after EPS (which was awesome), I attended Dr Craig’s class with my wife and Wintry Knight. While there we were treated to a tag-team presentation by Holly Ordway and Stephen Notman.

Here is the audio. [HT Brian Auten]

While both presentations are excellent, what struck me the most was Holly’s story. Being a professor of literature, Dr. Ordway was drawn to Christ primarily through the literature produced by great Christian authors.

Before Holly spoke Dr Craig had her help distribute a few books as prizes. Holly provided quotes from great Christian authors and the books were given to the people who could correctly identify the author. From this simple exchange it was evident that Holly loved her craft and took great joy in it.

We (Christians) need to listen more carefully to people like Holly and Stephen. We need to understand how they were borne into the kingdom so we can work at creating more environments that are conducive to conversions that are not merely emotional highs in a concert setting.

Also, we need more people like the ones who were instrumental in Holly and Stephen’s lives. Christians who are equipped and willing to go where the lost are, invest our lives into them, and wait for them to raise the deep questions that no other world view has an adequate answer for outside of Christianity.

In intellectual neutral

[HT Brian Auten]

William Lane Craig presents this talk calling on Christians to be intellectually engaged. Entitled In Intellectual Neutral, this talk can be found in theaudio/video section of ReasonableFaith.org. Craig offers three reasons to become fully engaged intellectually in order to impact the culture for Christ.

Faith is not a gift, its a conclusion. A verb, not a noun.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Faith is not the gift, Jesus is. Faith is what everyone operates on at some level as we are not omniscient beings who can possess knowledge with 100% certainty. Faith is trust and trust must have an object. It is on the object of our faith that the strength of our faith may be built. If that object is weak, so will be our faith.

Faith, along with our ability to reason and love are both vestiges of the image of God in us. Also, faith is not a work under the law, so even if it were volitional (which it isn’t) it doesn’t count as a work meritorious unto salvation.

Now many (mostly of the reformed variety) like to argue that such a view of faith entails a view of men wherein we are somehow independent of God. We are not wholly independent beings, and quite frankly that is not the issue, its more like a red herring. The issue is whether we are

  1. accountable for our own sins and
  2. whether we are obliged to freely trust (believe/have faith in) Christ that He is who He claimed to be and is able to save us like He claimed to be able to do.

So yes, my faith did come from God, the ability to faith propositional statements (or trust/believe them), and the object of my faith came from God as well. However the responsibility to turn our wills towards Christ in response to the calling of the Holy Spirit is wholly our own.

Faith is not blind (it cannot be and is not prescribed in Scripture). Jesus Himself appeared to be very interested in giving definitive proofs of His resurrection. He argued theologically and historically with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and He provided His body for physical examination by all the disciples (not just Thomas).

Finally, the Greek word translated as faith may be marked as a noun in lexicons. However a noun is defined as:

a content word that can be used to refer to a person, place, thing, quality, or action
the word class that can serve as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or in apposition

Faith is an action, the object of grace, what grace is intended to lead us towards, specifically faith or trust in Christ. In that sense faith is synonymous with believe and trust. Belief or trust or faith are commonly portrayed in the Bible in the context of a marriage relationship, so my faith in Christ is akin to the faith I have in my wife. Both are based on love, and both are ongoing attitudes I take towards persons I love.

Here are a few more resources on the subject of faith:

On the dangers of doubt

Unmitigated doubt is a cancer.

What I mean by that is not that doubt itself is a bad thing. IT isn’t. Men are borne with doubts and fears which naturally lead to a sort of curiosity about the world around them and about the larger philosophical questions such as meaning, purpose, existence, origin, etc.

Socrates famously put it this way: The unexamined life is not worth living.

So doubt itself is not a problem. The problem comes in when we doubt and have no end in mind, no clear requirement as to what could possibly satisfy our doubt. This type of doubt is what Pascal had in mind when he wrote:

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

I must agree with Pascal here. He notes that a person who refuses to ground his doubt in something is not to be pitied like the person who makes an honest effort of seeking answers through careful and diligent study and yet, for whatever reason, comes to hold wrong beliefs and ideas. No, the person who does not ground their doubt in anything, like most modern atheists who are blinded by the post modern notion that any objective answers concerning the deep and fundamental questions of life, are to be scorned as being intellectually lazy.

That is, they should strive to take up the challenge of honestly examining what it is they reject. As Pascal also says:

In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

Questions beg to be answered. Or at the very least explored. The worst place is to end up in a state of perpetual and unending doubt. Doubt which does not drive one forward to a further examined life, but paralyzes with fear unto inaction.

Unmitigated doubt, therefore, is a cancer. And that cancer will spread until it is terminated in something. For those who choose not to stop the spread of their doubt themselves, the cancer, when fully developed, will lead inexorably to apathy.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8 (emphasis mine)

When you ask questions, expect answers.

Can’t I make anything up and claim it’s Christian?

In a recent discussion with a group of de-converts from Christianity the following objection was raised:

Actually, my article *argues* that there is no objective definition of Christianity; it does not assume it. That was pretty much the point: there is no supernatural referent to “Christian” (or “God” or “salvation” or any of it), so the only definition(s) possible have to do with human social designations. Many groups of course *claim* to have objective definitions, but since I believe (a) they are all wrong, and (b) all lack the authority to settle the question for everyone, I can either scrap the word “Christian” altogether, or understand it to refer only to those who profess to be followers of Jesus. Thus, the boundaries of the term “Christian” are very fuzzy: it doesn’t refer to anything divine, and there is no universally accepted coding system, as it were. So: there is no correct answer.

Anyone is, of course, free to stipulate any definition of “Christian” they wish. You can, if you like, define “Christian” such as to exclude de-conversion. I can’t say that you’re wrong. But there is no reason at all I have to adopt your definition.

Here is my response:

Christianity does have an early and objective definition which has been upheld by all orthodox Christians ever since the establishment of the Church in the book of Acts. In fact, this objective definition is what we use in order to determine whether something is orthodox or not.

This definition is seen clearly in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul clearly states what many believe to be the earliest Christian creed or codification of Christian beliefs. It contains a number of things but the quick rundown is that Christians believe that Christ is a real person, who died a real death, who then rose from a real grave in a real, physical body and who appeared to real people.

I realize it is very popular to characterize Christian belief in particular (as well as religious belief in general) as merely a product of wish fulfillment or a preference akin to which flavor of ice cream is best (I prefer chocolate). However the fact remains that Christianity is based upon real, historical events which means that Christianity, like Judaism, is potentially falsifiable.

This also means that no one can epistemologically be a “true Christian” unless Christianity is, itself, true. If you have renounced Christianity and now believe it to be false, by definition you also believe you were never a “true believer” because you would have to logically commit yourself to the idea that you were deceived when you held an irrational belief (if, that is, Christianity is indeed false).

Finally, you seem to misunderstand the “no true Scotsman fallacy”. The fallacy is one of lack of objective definition such that the goal-posts are rendered wholly subjective. My contention (as well as Paul’s per 1 Corinthians 15) is that lack of objective definition of what beliefs are definitive of “true Christian beliefs” is simply not true.

We do have an objective standard, rooted in real historical and falsifiable events. Our claims are not entirely subjective, nor are they ad-hoc (as supposed competing explanations of unique Christian claims such as the resurrection are).

So the question of whether you were a “true believer” in the first place must logically center around what you believed in relation to the objective truth claims of Christianity (specifically the resurrection of Jesus) AND what competing, credible, competing theories/arguments/and evidence you have subsequently found that have provided sufficient defeaters to your original beliefs.

In the end, you were either a “true believer” then (of the objective claims of Christianity) or you are a “true believer” now (in atheism/agnosticism). However, die to the law of the excluded middle you cannot claim to have been a “true believer” of both since, at the end of the day, one of them is false and therefore cannot have “true believers” no matter how strenuously it’s adherents may wish it to be true.

Was I ever saved in the first place?

I was recently sent the following challenging response to a previous post regarding the deconversion of those who once claimed to be Christians:

Apply your reasoning to any other area of life, and no one can ever stop believing something that they really believed in. True belief PRECLUDES assimilating newly discovered evidence which causes re-evaluation of what you once would have given your life in defense of????

So an Amazon tribal person who once believed that the sun revolves around the earth, who is shown through diagrams and scientific language he understands, then stops believing that and then believes that the earth revolves around the sun, DIDN’T REALLY BELIEVE IN THE FIRST PLACE THAT THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH????

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? And yet that is the same faulty logic you are applying to us former Christians (in my case, a Th.B. from Multnomah Bible College, several years as a missionary in Europe, and 46 years as a witnessing, praying, worshipping, fervently passionate evangelical.

If you apply your logic to all of life, no held belief can ever change, and if it does, it was never a true belief. The only infallible test of true belief is DEATH. If you can make it to the grave without ever denying a belief, then that proves it was “true”. There is NO OTHER WAY to prove whether the belief was genuine, according to your test of belief.

I started penning a response but it quickly grew past the size that could be comfortably included or contained within a comment field. So I’ve chosen to include my response below and post it outside of my normal post schedule. Enjoy!

You raise some interesting questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in the following.

I think it would be a useful exercise to step back and define what we mean by terms such as belief, faith, and knowledge. Generally these terms are the concern of epidemiologists and admittedly there is not, strictly speaking, widespread consensus even among them.

Since greater men than I have been exploring this subject longer than I have been alive I must apologize in advance for any confusion I may inadvertently bring into the discussion and encourage you to, instead, seek out works by epidemiologists such as Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, etc. if you seek a more academic discourse on the matter.

At any rate, I’ve written elsewhere in regards to how beliefs are formed and would like to simply cite the following from Alvin Plantinga’s “Warrant” series as the basis of how “true beliefs” are formed:

A belief has warrant (and can thus be considered true) if and only if:
1. it is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly,
2. in a cognitive environment sufficiently similar to that for which the faculties were designed,
3. according to a design plan aimed at the production of true beliefs, when
4. there is a high statistical probability of such beliefs being true

With that definition in place I would like to turn to your underlying question of objectively claiming to have held a belief or not. Specifically I would like to examine the case of the African bushman you mentioned above.

I freely accept that the bushman held a belief in the sun’s rotation around the earth and that he believed such a belief to be true. However one factor was working against him and at least one more, I believe, likely played a part in working against him which caused his resulting belief to not be true and thus not to constitute knowledge.

1.) He lacked the epistemic faculties (or access to the proper epistemic sources, rather) required to detect the truth regarding the relationship of the earth and the sun.
2.) He lacked an environment that was geared towards the production of true beliefs. That is, his culture more than likely played a role in the continuation of the belief that the sun revolved around the earth. Thus the environment he was a part of was not, strictly speaking, wholly interested in the pursuit of truth and thus not geared towards the production of true beliefs, at least in this instance.

Absent these crucial pieces we can see that there was a clear breakdown in the epistemic process which, while producing many other true beliefs, failed to obtain to the production of a true belief in this case.

Now I want to apply the same criteria to the subject of whether a person who no longer believes in Christianity (or Christ moreover) ever was a Christian in the first place.

This is a fairly complex subject and I apologize if my initial treatment of the issue failed to be as well defined as it could have been.

Let me begin by saying at the outset that not being omniscient I cannot, of course, know what epistemic warrant you or anyone else who has since renounced their once-held belief in Christianity has had access to. That is, I do not know how your belief was formed, what it was formed on, or how it was sustained for such a lengthy amount of time. However I am curious since, as a person who holds Christianity to be objectively true, if sufficient defeaters were to exist (along with sufficient positive competing explanations) for the facts Christianity is based upon (specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ) then it would stand to reason that no one ought to be a Christian and we ought to prefer the competing explanation over the one we currently hold.

Were you a believer at one time? I believe you were, and I would further concede that your actions at least appear to back up your claims. However this does not answer the question as to what your beliefs regarding Christ were or were based on. Many times I run across even professing Christians who are unable to clearly articulate what they believe much less why. If these believers were to renounce their faith tomorrow I would be hard pressed to make a case of their ever truly having held a clear and objective belief in Christ in the first place.

Now, to switch gears slightly.

So far I’ve dealt with this issue primarily from an epistemological and philosophical standpoint. However I would like to turn to the theological standpoint since I believe it also has some bearing in this discussion. After all, Christianity is not merely about the cold acceptance of facts, but also work of a being we hold to have objectively occurred at one point in history which opens the door for a real relationship with this same being.

I’m speaking, of course, about Jesus and his work on the cross. Now I’m not sure where you’ve come from theologically, but what I am going to outline I believe is a fairly orthodox position ascribed to by most of the major creeds down through Christendom.

What saves a man?

Is it merely our mental assent to a cold hard fact? While I believe such a mental assent and acceptance of at least a bare minimum of facts is required (such as the ones outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), I do not believe that our mental assent to the facts alone is what saves us or brings us into relationship with Christ. What saves us is the righteousness imputed unto us from Christ in such a way as to be irrevocable . Such an event, I would maintain, is also an irreversible event in time in much the same way as the decision to jump off of a cliff or walk through a door.

So the question becomes: Could you have been imputed Christ’s righteousness at one point in the past and still be saved even though your current belief structure no longer affords the same degree of warrant you once held? Possibly.

You see, one of the curious things about mankind’s ability to form, change, and reform beliefs is that while we do grow in our epistemic capacity and acquisition of new beliefs (and rejection of previously held beliefs) we don’t reject ALL of our beliefs. If that were the case we would never be able to grow at all since we would merely be in a constant state of flux.

The same holds true when it comes to Christianity and it all hinges on how our beliefs in Christ were formed and what our basis was (if any) for the rejection of those beliefs.

We must also keep in mind that when 1 John 2:19 was written, there weren’t such things as cultural Christians who had grown up on the church. Believers in that day, for the most part, either accepted or rejected the claims of Christ’s objective historical actions and claims. In John’s case the people who “went out” were (according to the context of the letter) not even claiming what Paul proclaimed as a minimum criteria of one being a Christian in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and were, instead, attempting to essentially hijack the Christian religion for their own ends (and we later see from the Gnostic movement that many were unfortunaly successful in their efforts).

So, the answer to “was I ever a Christian in the first place” is a lot more complex and more often than not it cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”, even by the person asking the question. The evidence of a person’s present state of unbelief, while making it very hard to accept that the initial state of belief hard to accept, is ultimately not a question that is of no import if asked of a fellow human.

You see, the final question here must be directed at God.

It is his answer that ultimately matters and if you no longer believe that he exists then I suppose you will have to wait until you meet Him (or not) after you die in order to ask Him.

The nature of faith according to CS Lewis

[HT Dangerous Idea]

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. -CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Faith is not opposed to reason. True Biblical faith, the kind Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 15, is based squarely in truth, facts, logic, and reason and not in blind flights of fancy based in emotions and wish-fulfillment. Not that our faith is devoid of emotion or that our life in Christ is detachable from powerful experiences. However we must remember that our faith is first of all grounded in truth which is both rational and testable.

Wordy Wednesday: Philosophical presuppositions

Philosophical presuppositions are ideas and beliefs we hold, consciously or unconsciously, which affect the way we interpret facts and evidence. In short, our philosophical presuppositions affect how we reason.

Many people are completely unaware of their philosophical presuppositions which is unfortunate since awareness of our philosophical presuppositions helps us better understand the arguments made by others who are often approaching a topic or subject from a completely different philosophical presupposition. Being aware of our presuppositions also helps us address the root of our differences with others rather than the outlying branches or surface issues.

Without addressing the fundamental differences in our world views what we end up managing to produce is more confusion and hard feelings than meaningful communication with others who hold fundamentally different presuppositions than we do.