Intellectually Responsible Christianity

thinkerWhenever I talk with fellow Christians about the necessity of an intellectually responsible faith, I often receive a response that is a mixture of agreement and anxiety. Most Christians would agree that our belief system should not look like the secular caricature–a blind leap past the cliff edge of rationality. However, in some important respects, many believers are at a loss for how to improve upon loving God with their minds. The vast number of books, journals, articles, video lectures, online courses, and formal degree programs overwhelms them, and sadly, many never begin at all, choosing instead to continue through life with an intellectually shallow, emotions-driven faith. Others do just enough studying to make them dangerous.

In this post, I’d like to offer a short set of guidelines for Christians who wish to be obedient to the command to worship God with their minds while avoiding the common pitfalls that, quite frankly, produce more stumbling blocks for unbelievers than they remove.

1. Getting Started

Becoming an intellectually responsible Christian is a challenging, lifelong process! Don’t allow this fact discourage you. The journey is, without a doubt, deeply fulfilling and continually rewarding. Set reasonable, short-term goals for yourself and don’t allow the sheer volume of available resources overwhelm you.

I recommend starting out with the new revised and updated edition of J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Take your time with it. A good goal might be a couple of chapters per week, making notes and highlighting key passages along the way. You’ll want to review your notes and highlights in this book every couple of years.

2. Tackle Key Topics, One at the Time

It’s important to be well-rounded in your knowledge, but this doesn’t mean that you  have to master every subject related to Christianity (as if that were even possible). I suggest that you read at least one high-quality overview volume from a respected scholar in each of these main categories:

Essential Christian Doctrine– Whether you are a new Christian or you were raised in the church, you will greatly benefit from becoming more familiar with the central doctrines of the faith and how to identify heresy. A good way to approach an independent study of Christian doctrine is to tackle one subtopic at the time. I recommend obtaining a single-volume general theology textbook for your library, such as Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology by Thomas Oden. This is a hefty tome, as are most comprehensive theology texts, but don’t let that discourage you! Start from the beginning, work through a chapter, and then take a break to do some of your other reading before coming back. Don’t set any sort of deadline for finishing, just commit to studying it regularly.

Church History– It’s extremely important to understand the history of our faith and how the church has impacted  society over the past two thousand years. An excellent introductory volume is Church History in Plain Language: Fourth Edition by Bruce Shelley.

Origin of the Bible– This topic is essential to a deeper understanding of our faith and for the project of Christian apologetics. A wonderful text is The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce.

General Apologetics– There aren’t enough hours in the average life span to become a specialist on every facet of Christian apologetics, but you at least need exposure to them. A very nice, dependable volume is Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis.

Defense of The Resurrection– This is a central topic for Christian apologetics, because it is the central doctrine for Christianity itself. You need to be familiar with the basic arguments for the historicity of the resurrection. I recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

Origins– Where did the universe come from? How did life begin? Is man made in God’s image, or is he simply the product of blind biological processes? These are fundamental questions, and we need to be able to discuss them responsibly. More on this in the next section.

3. Read More Than One Perspective on Controversial Topics

Some topics pertaining to the Christian belief system are HIGHLY controversial. Whenever you are ready to brave these waters, it is crucial that you read different points of view FROM GENUINE PROPONENTS OF EACH DIFFERENT VIEW. This is a lesson I learned the hard way!! Don’t accept one person’s word about the views with which they disagree, because mistakes are often made when someone attempts to characterize an opposing viewpoint. Furthermore, almost no one manages to be unbiased whenever they defend their favored view against another. Read what the “other guy” actually says! Get your information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

For example, if you are studying biological origins, read offerings from at least four well-qualified authors: an intelligent design proponent, a theistic evolutionist, an old-earth creationist, and a young-earth creationist. A wonderful way to do this is to buy a volume that contains essays from multiple authors. A nice starter book is Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds. Another helpful text is Science and Christianity: Four Views  edited by Richard Carlson. Finally, an EXCELLENT treatment of the earth-age controversy is John Lennox’s short book, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science.

4. Don’t Give Up! 

Setting out to become an intellectually responsible Christian is a wonderful lifelong endeavor. The more you learn, the more you will desire to learn. If you go through a season of life that is particularly hectic, it’s okay to set aside your serious studies for a time, but make sure you get back with the program as soon as possible, even if you have to ease back in a little at the time by watching scholarly lectures on iTunes (Biola University has a DYNAMITE collection of free videos!), listening to podcasts, or reading short articles from reputable sources. Keeping the brain juices flowing could be as simple as loading your iPod with lectures you can turn on during your commute or your gym session.

You can do it! Glorify God with your mind! You will never be the same!

 

About these ads

20 thoughts on “Intellectually Responsible Christianity

  1. I would say an intellectually honest Christianity is, in fact, one which concludes that the truth of faith is actually the trans-rational leap into the darkness of the unknown. It is a Christianity deluding itself which presumes to think that the tenants of faith can be reconciled in the subjectivities and limitations of human reason.

    The glory of Christian faith is precisely that it signals the throwing off of the shackles of human reason in order that the person might embrace the fullness of the divine-that which is ineffable to human reason. Why one would seek to enslave faith is beyond me…but that person is certainly not “intellectually honest” about Christianity, for what they have dressed up in human reason is patently NOT faith, by only an intellectually dis-honest imitation of a thoroughly materialist worldview.

  2. Great post on an important topic. Some of these books I’d not even heard of. I also highly recommend J.P. Moreland’s ‘Love Your God with All Your Mind’. I’ve read it 2-3 times already and always gain something new from it!

    Another one is ‘A Mind for God’ by James Emery White. It’s short but remarkably in-depth regarding the cultivation of the life of the mind, especially by Christians. It also includes a reading list of recommendations from the canon of literature.

    However, I find that before we even get to book recommendations we must convince fellow Christians that the life of the mind is even important. I find that people have very little interest in serious reading and study. This has been shown to me again and again in various Bible studies. Even in simple “studies” that require only to fill in the blanks, most people say they don’t have the time. They won’t even read the chapter! I’ve even been criticized because of my interest in apologetics. I have been told (more or less) that too much study and emphasis on the mind is not good, and that the important thing in the Christian life is the heart.

    And yet Scripture tells us we must love Him with our hearts AND our minds, we are exhorted to ‘study to show ourselves approved’, and we are commanded to have an answer for those who ask the reason for our hope. But the critics love to ignore those things. Study takes time and effort – both physically and mentally. Few people have any interest in this today. It drives me insane.

    If this problem could be addressed in a future post, it would be most helpful!

  3. Mellisa,
    Nice piece, I might also recommend William Lane Craig who has more podcasts than one person can work through. I like podcast to help me get motivated sometimes toward a specific topic.
    Thanks

  4. I completely agree with your advice to read divergent perspectives (not just about them). But I would go even further than you did in your specific recommendations. In your suggestions for origins, for example, you didn’t mention reading a thoroughgoing Darwinist, which seems essential if you’re going to honestly cover the field. Unfortunately, I don’t know a layman’s-level book to recommend.

    I would also add one more key topic to your list: the nature of existence. Is the physical universe of space and time all that exists (naturalism) or is there a transcendent spiritual realm populated by God? I see this as a key topic because both viewpoints are essentially presuppositions accepted by faith. But your ultimate worldview depends very largely on which presupposition you start with, and how committed you are to it. A good book (I think–I haven’t gotten very far in it yet) is The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science, edited by Bruce L Gordon and William A. Dembski. It contains essays by 38 scholars covering a very wide spectrum of opinion.

    Finally, I recommend that all Christians–indeed, all people–should actively cultivate embracing truth, and never fearing it. Everything that is true is consistent with all other truth, including Scripture. If any two propositions seem to conflict, then we are misunderstanding one or both, and we should strive with all diligence and honesty to correct that.

    • Earl: Yes! Excellent recommendations!

      For a lay-level book by a non-Christian Darwinist, I would suggest Darwin and Design by Michael Ruse. It doesn’t get overly-technical, but it presents the case for Neo-Darwinism from the materialist point of view.

  5. Re Earl Morton’s suggestion to read a thoroughgoing Darwinist, I can recommend two excellent and very readable layman’s level books by modern “Darwinists”: (1) “Why Evolution Is True,” by Jerry Coyne, and (2) “Your Inner Fish,” by Neil Shubin.

    Another fascinating book on biological evolution is “The Deep Structure of Biology: Is convergence Sufficiently Ubiquitous to Give a Directional Signal,” a collection of essays edited by Simon Conway Morris.

    On the subject of biological evolution, in my opinion, there is a significant flaw in the otherwise well done “Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith” by Douglas Groothuis. He devotes two entire chapters (13 & 14) to an attempt to discredit biological evolution, which he constantly refers to as Darwinism (a term which biological evolutionists don’t even use much anymore, probably because biological evolution has come such a long way since Darwin’s day), and supports Intelligent Design, which is bad science and bad theology.

    There is something about Christian philosophers (e.g., Douglas Groothuis and J. P. Moreland) that seems to make them more susceptible than Christian theologians to the arguments of the Intelligent Design Movement. Someone once suggested that philosophers like the logic of the arguments and tend to ignore the underlying facts, or something like that.

    Integrating the theological implications of biological evolution with Christian faith is going to keep theologians busy for a long time. Peter Enns got the project off to a good start with his “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins,” and there are a number of other good books and blogs that are tackling the issue.

    • Paul, please explain why you believe intelligent design is based on “bad science and bad theology.” My education and career background is in biology/genetics, and my graduate degree program encompassed the philosophy and theology related to cosmic and biological origins. I wholeheartedly disagree with such an assessment.

      You cannot separate philosophy from science. That’s what guys like Jerry Coyne have utterly failed to grasp. Many of Coyne’s arguments are outdated and often fallacious. He grossly misrepresents intelligent design theory. Alvin Plantinga and (atheist) Thomas Nagel have both given sound arguments for why intelligent design qualifies as a formal hypothesis. I recommend Plantinga’s book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, and Nagel’s latest book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

    • Keeping in mind that all I have is a B.S.in chemical engineering a long time ago and no particular skill in writing, I can offer the following quotations in response:

      “First of all, Intelligent Design fails in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory. All scientific theories represent a framework for making sense of a body of experimental observations. But the primary utility of a theory is not just to look back but to look forward. A viable scientific theory predicts other findings and suggests approaches for further experimental verification. ID falls profoundly short in this regard. Despite its appeal to many believers, therefore, ID’s proposal of the intervention of supernatural forces to account for complex multi-component biological entities is a scientific dead end. Outside of the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely.” [Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006}, p. 187]

      “ID is a ‘God of the gaps’ theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain. . . . Furthermore, ID portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan for generating the complexity of life. For a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God, this is a very unsatisfactory image.” [Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), p. 193]

      “One of ID proponents’ delusional assertions states, implicitly or explicitly, that if evolution fails to explain some biological phenomenon, ID must be the correct explanation. This is a misunderstanding of the scientific process. If one explanation fails, it does not necessarily follow that some other particular explanation is correct. Explanations must stand on their own evidence, not on the failure of their alternatives.” [Francisco J. Ayala, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion (Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2007), p. 143]

      “Our primary concern about ID is that it promotes the idea that nature has gaps in it that God must intervene to fill. According to ID, nature is powerful and capable of accomplishing much, but some things—like the origin of the bacterial flagellum—require that God must “step in” in an unusual way. This seems piecemeal and incoherent to us. We are more attracted to the idea that God accomplishes these things working through the laws of nature, not apart from them.” [Karl W. Giberson, & Francis S. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), p. 190]

      “It seems perfectly fair to say that if I-D has gotten what it thinks it wants (inference to a designer), then it would amount to one of the most significant arguments for atheism ever—for the designer, now proved, would not be worthy of worship. . . . The problem with I-D is that it is itself guilty of scientism—it too presumes that science is the sole criterion of truth.” [Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), p. 278]

      I have many more quotations like this by various writers, but this should give you an idea of where I’m coming from.

    • Paul, thank you for the quotes you’ve offered here. I would like to respond to each of them, numbering them 1-5.

      1. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Collins as a fellow believer who understands the importance of reconciling faith and science. I admire his enormous accomplishment on the Human Genome Project. You’ve quoted his book, The Language of God, which I have read and reviewed a few times. Incidentally, Dr. Collins has recanted some of the material in that book because of more recent scientific discoveries. For instance, a main pillar of his argument centered on the prevalence of “junk DNA.” Chapter 5 contains the bulk of his assertions on that front. This past year, the ENCODE project, documented by publications such as the scientific journal, Nature, demolished this argument. Now, over 80% of the genome is known to have function, whether it is coding for proteins, regulating gene expression, or other key duties in biochemistry. The really cool thing about this, is that leading ID theorist, William Dembski, used intelligent design theory to PREDICT this would happen. Turned out, he was correct. Ironically, this is a prime example of what Collins said about “A viable scientific theory predicts other findings and suggests approaches for further experimental verification.” Dembski has written an outstanding article on the usefulness of ID theory in scientific investigation. You can read it here: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/10/design_inferenc064871.html

      One final comment on quote #1: Collins makes the direct implication that ID theory is interventionist. This is a mischaracterization of ID theory. Formal ID theory does not make any specific claim about points of intelligent intervention in nature’s development. Rather, it says that certain features, such as the information encoded into DNA, are best explained by the postulation of a designing intelligence behind nature. This is a much more minimalist claim. It is also a point of divergence (pardon the pun) for the wide variety of ID proponents in that some of them go on (beyond ID theory) to embrace or deny things like a universal common descent of life.

      2. Some of what I said in response to quote #1 can be applied to this quote (ID is NOT interventionist, requiring God to step in and “fix” things during the creation process). ID is not “God of the Gaps.” ID does not say “We don’t yet know how life emerged from non-life, therefore an intelligence must have done it.” Rather, it makes a two-fold argument: 1) Neo-Darwinian explanations for the emergence and divergence of life are sorely insufficient in their explanatory power and 2) there are features of nature, such as the specified complexity of the digital information in DNA, that are best explained by intelligent agency. We already know from direct experience how to detect intelligence in other branches of science, so inferring intelligence based on the same type of observed effects is completely reasonable. In scientific practice, we infer the existing cause that is KNOWN to produce the effect in question. Since biochemistry contains information, ID theorists infer that there must be an informer, because there are no other sources of information.

      3. Francisco Ayala is mischaracterizing ID. ID contains BOTH a positive and negative argument, not just the negative. My comments on quote #2 are applicable here.

      4. My comments on quote #2 are applicable here as well. Collins and Giberson are mischaracterizing the claims of ID. ID theory is saying that there is a non-material principle at work (intelligence) IN ADDITION TO the laws of physics and chemistry. Essentially, ID says that matter and natural law go a long way, but by their very nature (non-intelligent), they cannot produce specified complexity, such as the multi-layered digital coding found in the genome. Those effects are well known to be the product of intelligence. The need for intelligent agency to account for life is by no means a shortcoming of the Designer. Rather, it is a clever demonstration, to mankind, of His necessity in the natural order. Romans 1:20

      5. This quote borders on the ridiculous, in my opinion. One of the main goals of ID theorists is to argue AGAINST scientism. ID does not attempt to argue BEYOND science, but it throws the door wide open for other disciplines to enter the discussion on origins! In other words, limiting its assertions to the scientific realm is NOT AT ALL the same thing as saying that science is the only way to discover truth (scientism).

      In closing, I would like to point out that the vast majority of arguments against ID really are not arguments against ID. Rather, they are arguments for common descent, which ID does not rule out. Jerry Coyne’s book, which you mentioned earlier, is a prime example.

  6. I tried these and the additional quotations out in a private communication with Dr. Walter Kaiser a while back. He didn’t buy them either. I guess I’ll have to rethink my position. Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

    • Paul, thank you for participating in the discussion. It is such an important one, and I think believers need to be aware of and willing to engage the key arguments. God bless.

  7. @existdissolve:

    I have two questions for you.

    1. Would you say that it is true of the Christian worldview that one ought to throw off the shackles of human reason in order that the person might embrace the fullness of the divine-that which is ineffable to human reason and that it is false of the Christian worldview to embrace human reason?

    2. Would you affirm the following thoughts: Engaging in reason to aid the faith is a case of engaging in a dishonest imitation of a thoroughly materialist worldview. Whatever engages in a dishonest imitation of a thoroughly materialist worldview ought not to be done. And therefore engaging in reason to aid the faith ought not to be done?

    • @Kevin Wong–I’m not sure what you’re at by simply rephrasing my original statements into questions that are slightly reworded. What are you really asking? I’m happy to answer questions, but don’t want to play games.

  8. @existdissolve:

    No games are intended.

    1. This is an instance of the law of excluded middle, which states that a proposition cannot be true and false at the same time in the same sense. It serves as one of the primary bases for reasoning.

    2. This is an instance of a logically valid deductive argument.
    Premise 1: e is D
    Premise 2: All D is O
    Conclusion: Therefore e is O
    Let “e” be an instance of engaging in reason to aid the faith
    Let “D” be the class of dishonest imitations of a thoroughly materialist worldview
    Let “O” be the class of things that ought not be done.

    Given that this are re-statements of your opinions, in order for you to convince us to discard reasoning for a more authentic faith, you must actually engage in reasoning itself. So either your conclusion that we must relinquish reasoning for a more authentic faith is false or otherwise you must resort to some other means other than inference to convince us that we must relinquish reasoning for a more authentic faith.

    • So, as I originally suspected, games. Human reasoning is a
      nasty animal. We all adhere to its arbitrary rules when they serve
      us, but are guilty, nonetheless, of violating them in everything we
      say. Appealing to rules to one-up a rhetorical opponent is a very
      juvenile approach, not to mention tremendously unproductive. It’s
      much like the absolutists cockily (but amusingly, in their
      self-deluded ignorance) claiming that the relativist is proving the
      absolutist’s point by denying absolutes. While potentially
      logically correct (at least from the perspective of the
      absolutist), it doesn’t actually lend any meaningful content to the
      discussion. So instead of trying to dance around your pointless
      games, I will aid you by expanding on my thoughts from before. The
      ultimate point is that you entirely misunderstood what I read. I
      didn’t say that reason is illegitimate altogether. I said it is an
      illegitimate aid to faith. Faith, as I originally said, is a
      trans-rational movement into the unknown, the unknown being that
      realm of existence which must necessarily be denied by reason. As
      such, its “truths” cannot be founded in reason, for if the truths
      of faith were the objects of rational investigation, they would
      cease to be of faith. So what is the role of reason in relation to
      faith? Reason should lead every reasonable person to be a fully
      integrated materialist. On the basis of human reason, we should all
      conclude that the universe exists, that we exists within it, and
      that whatever meaning or truth we might suspect to find in
      existence will be boundary-limited to the universe. On the basis of
      human reason, we should all conclude that notions of God are
      impossible, for that which is not of the universe (e.g., “all that
      is”) is absurd. Faith, then, is not produced out of reason, as if
      the one naturally leads to the other, as if reason is laying a
      foundation for the movement of faith. If this were the case,
      “faith” would merely be one more species of reasoning, yet one more
      genus in the family tree of that which properly belongs to human
      knowledge. Quite to the contrary, human reason provides the
      anti-foundation for faith, the domain which must be eclipsed in
      order that the human person might embrace that which is
      trans-rational, that which is other-than, that which is not within
      the domain of human reason. As such, then, faith cannot come by
      reasoning. It must be embraced through the coming to the end of
      human reason (e.g., materialist mindset), but nonetheless having
      one’s existence impacted inexplicably by the unprovable, yet
      existentially undeniable force of the person of Godself. This is
      why faith is properly categorized as the ultimate crisis. It is the
      existential calling away of the person from the shackles of human
      reason into the darkness of the unknown and the unknowable God. In
      the despair of coming to the materialist end of reason, the person
      of faith is faced with the gauntlet of staying within the domain of
      reason, or casting off into the trans-rational life of faith. I
      have more to say on this, but must head out to work.

  9. @existdissolve:

    1. You are within your right to claim that I am playing some game. But two things strike me with that response. One, the inference is yours, not mine. I re-stated what you had said and demonstrated that you too relied upon reasoning. Two, that’s fairly uncharitable of you. You insist that “Appealing to rules to one-up a rhetorical opponent is a very juvenile approach, not to mention tremendously unproductive.” I think it is far more juvenile and unproductive to dismiss what your rhetorical opponent, me in this case, has demonstrated to be a weakness in your position and simply call him juvenile and unproductive. Why not try to engage in my actual words and lines of reasoning? Notice that nowhere in my previous post did I call you names or call into question any of your motivations. I simply re-stated your opinions. Notice in your response to me are the words “juvenile,” “unproductive,” “cockily,” “self-deluded ignorance,” “pointless games,” and so forth.

    2. Say if I accepted what you just responded. If I were to be convinced by what you said and turned my life around in response and threw off the alleged shackles of reason to embrace a more authentic faith, and if someone were to ask me why I had done so, how shall I respond? Perhaps I would respond by saying a gentleman nicknamed existdissolve explained to me the real meaning of faith, demonstrated to me why it is superior to a reason-aided faith, and I inferred then that it was wrong of me to continue in my present course. Would you not think that my hypothetical friend would be deeply confused at this point? Perhaps this hypothetical friend would then point out to me that I had embraced the conclusion that a reason-aided faith is an inferior one because I had assessed the evidence and reasons for it and found them compelling. See, in your rejection of a reason-aided faith, you are appealing to reasons in order to elicit that conclusion from the rest of us. So if anyone embraced your portrait of a more authentic faith, we would have done so by means of reason–your argumentation would have sounded convincing in our ears. So you too cannot avoid a reason-aided faith either.

    3. You have an unusual idea of what reasoning is. Twice now you have referred to reasoning as being more akin with a materialist worldview. This is ironic, as there are materialists who confess that it is very difficult to account for how it can be the case that something like the laws of logic–immaterial, universal, obligatory rules–can somehow exist in the world if all the world was merely molecules being arranged and re-arranged. Where in any of that physical soup would there be immaterial stuff like logic?! In fact, some atheists are coming to see how logic may accord better with theism than it does with materialism. You claim that it is a necessary consequence that reason would conclude that God does not exist, for anything that is not of the universe is absurd. You have a strange idea of what reason must be, for reason is about inferences. Inferences cannot stand alone; it requires data to begin with. There is nothing about the concept of the universe that immediately discounts the possibility of God existing, unlike the concept of a square immediately discounting the possibility of the square being a circle at the same time. Further, I don’t think faith is the product of reason. Reason aids faith, but does not commandeer it. Reason alone cannot yield some of the deepest and richest pieces of information we have about God, but nonetheless reason can help us understand it. I subscribe to an Anselmian view of faith seeking understanding. Left to my own intellectual devices apart from the Bible, I could not have dreamt up the Trinity or the Incarnation or the atonement or that God loves me and wishes for me to be a part of his people. But having learned these things from the Bible, I think reason can help me understand them better.

    4. And this will be my final point. You speak of faith being the ultimate crisis, the existential calling away of the person from the shackles of human
    reason into the darkness of the unknown and the unknowable God. The crisis of faith that I see in the four Gospels is not away from reason, but away from self-serving agendas. Jesus used plenty of reasoning with his opponents. The crisis they faced was not that they were rational and needed to stop being rational. Rather, the crisis was that of power. They had it and wanted to keep it. They had riches and wanted to hold onto it. They had prestige and wanted to maintain it. To submit and follow Jesus as the true Messiah, one in which the Kingdom of God would be brought about by peace rather than by sword, was not their idea of what they wanted. You may, if you wish, continue to dispute me on any of these points. I would welcome it. But as long as you continue to dispute me on these points, if I ever agree with you on any of them, I would have reasons and evidence to believe in the conclusion that a reason-assisted faith is a bad one. But how did I get to that conclusion? By reasons and evidence. Your project is in jeopardy. Either you must stop providing reasons and evidence in hopes of convincing us, or you must do something entirely different.

  10. 1.) I never said that I wasn’t using reason. That’s a terrific misunderstanding on your part. As far as being juvenile and unproductive, just don’t do it. If you don’t like people telling you that you are acting that way…then stop acting that way. Simple.

    2.) Honestly, I would hope your friend would be confused. Confusion and rejection was mostly the response that the apostles received when they preached the scandal of faith. That is the point. The movement of faith is not “apparent” or “understandable.” It is a trans-rational, inexplicable embrace of that which is “other-than” whatever is germane to human knowledge and experience. It is not something that can be explained, defended, or established on the basis of human reason (hence my antipathy for the spurious field of apologetics). It is an existential reality that can only be “realized” in the living of it. The moment it is (supposedly) established within human reason, it has become perverted and is nothing.

    And regarding the rest of your point on #2, I would simply respond that you are imposing categories that I am not assuming. Just because you believe that reason cannot be divorced from faith does not mean that such a scenario is true, nor that those who disagree somehow have to argue along the lines that you are assuming. It goes back to the absurdity of the absolutist mocking the relativist…but all the while the absolutist is just as ridiculous in the epistemological foundations from which he is arguing.

    3.) I’m not interested in what some arbitrary selection of materialists think that you believe corroborate your point about the origin and nature of reason. I’m simply stating my opinion that it seems reasonable to conclude that because the human mind, in its inherent, bounded subjectivity, is “of” the universe (e.g., material), it would also follow as a matter of course that the outcomes of its processes would occur within–and only within–the domain in which it occurs. Since the material universe is “what is” from an epistemologically investigable perspective, it seems reasonable to conclude that materialism is a natural outcome of thinking.

    While reasoning certainly doesn’t discount, out of hand, the notion of something other-than the universe existing, the existence of that which is not “what is” is not a terribly meaningful concept to the subjectivity and material-boundedness of human reason.

    And regarding particular tenants of Christian orthodoxy, I would agree that reason certainly aids in understanding them. But understanding them is not faith, and has nothing to do with faith. An atheist, an agnostic, and a Christian could have identical understandings of these tenants, but this shared understanding does not mean that either has faith.

    But let’s say that reason does somehow “aid” faith. Precisely how does that happen? How does reasoning about God aid faith? What, precisely, is the nature of this “faith” that is supposedly undergirded by human reason?

    4.) I would say, then, that you have terrifically misread Scripture. Yes, I agree, that Jesus spoke against the self-serving agendas and the hegemonies of power that he encountered. But on a deeper level, I see in the Gospels (and in the apostles’ writings) and undercutting of the false pride of the human mind. The way to God that Christ and the apostles described was not through the avenues of knowledge and wisdom; but through the scandal of the way of the cross. It was against those who were “in the know” that they preached. They each, in their own way, came to end of their reason (look at Paul), despaired of it, but miraculously found illumination not in the way of rationality, but rather in the existentially transforming encounter with the living God.

    • If you like book recommendations on the subject of
      Christianity and biological evolution, I can recommend recent works
      of some Christian writers (mostly) with professional training in
      biology (plus theology in some cases), such as: Denis Alexander’s
      “Creation or Evolution: Do we have to Choose?”, 2008 Stephen C.
      Barton and David Wilkinson (Eds.), “Reading Genesis after Darwin,”
      2009 R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble (Eds.), “Darwin, Creation and the
      Fall: Theological Challenges”, 2009 Simon Conway Morris’s “Life’s
      Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe,” 2003 Darrel
      Falk’s “Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between
      Faith and Biology,” 2004 Karl Giberson`s “Saving Darwin: How to Be
      a Christian and Believe in Evolution,” 2008 (a little light on the
      theological implications) Stephen J. Godfrey & Christopher
      R. Smith’s “Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and
      Biblical Interpretation,” William G. Joseph’s “In Search of Adam
      and Eve: A case for a theology of Evolution,” 2011 (presupposes
      evolution; heavy on the theological implications from a Roman
      Catholic perspective) Denis Lamoureux’s “Evolutionary Creation: A
      Christian Approach to Evolution”, 2008 Jack Mahoney’s “Christianity
      in Evolution: An Exploration,” 2011 (presupposes evolution; heavy
      on the theological implications from a Roman Catholic perspective)
      Keith Miller (Ed.), “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, 2003 (a
      great all-round introduction) Kenneth R. Miller’s, “Finding
      Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God
      and Evolution,” 1999 Michael S. Northcott and R. J. Berry (Eds.),
      “Theology after Darwin,” 2009. In addition, there is on-line
      material by Stephen Matheson and Dennis Venema (who claims to be
      coming out with a book along with Daniel Harlow and John Schneider,
      to be entitled “The Intersection of Evolutionary Science, Biblical
      Exegesis & Christian Theology”).

  11. @existdissolve 1. I never claimed that you claimed you
    weren’t using reason or rationality. My claim is the very opposite:
    That in trying to convince us of abandoning a reason-assisted
    faith, you have to, and have, engaged in reason. So say I was
    convinced by you and decided to change my mind about what faith
    really is. How did I get there? Based upon the reasons you
    provided. It is a self-performative incoherence, much in the same
    way if I uttered the following sentence: “I don’t speak or write
    any sentences in English.” It simply cannot be done without
    assuming the contrary of the content of the sentence. The entire
    time you are trying to convince us that a reason-assisted faith is
    an inauthentic one, you are drawing inferences… which is
    reasoning. Further, you may call me juvenile all you want. That is
    your prerogative. But once again, I point out that I am trying to
    engage in discussion with you and you accuse me and resort to
    name-calling. 2. My hypothetical friend would be confused because
    it would seem (and I would hate to use this word, but here goes…)
    hypocritical. For someone to advocate a faith that is not assisted
    by reason and do so by using reason is to act contrary to what one
    declares. That does not elicit a lot of confidence for a good
    definition of an “authentic” faith. 3. Okay, you’re not interested
    in some arbitrary selection of materialists and the problems they
    have reconciling materialism with logic and reason. Fair enough.
    But then why persist in thinking that reasoning is based upon a
    materialist worldview when materialists have trouble thinking so?
    And of course a an atheist, agnostic, and a Christian can all
    understand the content of faith without it eliciting faith. I never
    claimed that faith was purely the deliverance of reason. That would
    be a hyper-scholasticism that I think is impossible. No one could
    simply sit in an armchair and conceive of the Trinity, the
    Incarnation, the atonement, or the Church in the same way that
    sitting in an armchair one can conclude 4 from 2+2. But reason
    assists faith in the same way that my understanding facts about my
    wife helps me relate to her directly. It would be a dysfunctional
    marriage if I said to my wife, “I don’t want to know things about
    you; I just want to know you.” So when she wants to tell me about
    her favorite color or her favorite restaurant, I ignore her. Or if
    she tries to explain to me why she felt loved or hurt because of
    something I said or did, I don’t try to dialogue and understand
    further. So when the early Church heard about Jesus and they wanted
    to know Him, what happened? Did they encounter him? I’m sure they
    did. I’m sure they felt his presence via the Holy Spirit. Perhaps
    he showed up in visions as well. But the apostles wrote things
    down. They explained and argued why Jesus as opposed to anyone else
    was the fulfillment of God’s promises and was very God himself.
    John 20:30-31 is fairly definitive that he wrote these things that
    the readers may reach a certain conclusion. There is inference
    involved. The cognitive element is not enough for faith, as you
    rightly pointed out. Simply assenting to the truth values of
    propositions is not enough, for God is not a proposition.
    Relationship with him, namely a trust and a loyalty, is. But that
    cannot be less than the intellectual element just as my relating to
    my wife is more than the intellectual element, it cannot be less.
    The intellectual element can aid in my relationship with my wife in
    a myriad of ways. If we had a fight, I might have a strong
    emotional reaction of questioning whether she still loves me. But
    looking over all of our pictures, recalling the character that she
    has and that she is a woman who abides by her promises, remembering
    that she has forgiven me in the past, I can go back to her and
    apologize and have confidence that we can make things work. In
    times of spiritual crisis, one of the things (not the only thing) a
    person should do is to recall the vast evidence of God’s
    faithfulness–not only in the individual’s life, but also for
    Israel and the Church. To recall that Christ did in fact resurrect
    from the grave should give us hope in the darkest of moments.
    Again, it’s not the only thing to do. But it is an important thing
    to do. 4. The way to God and Christ is not a pure deliverance of
    reason. I never claimed that. But Christ and the apostles did in
    fact reason. Consider the many times the Pharisees and Sadducees
    and the lawyers tried to stump Jesus, trap him in his own words.
    The pattern of Jesus’ dialogue with them was to out-think his
    opponents and demonstrate the fallacy of their thinking. He didn’t
    reject reason at all; he used it. If reason is not to assist faith
    at all, then the New Testament shouldn’t have been written to
    provide us fuller content, explanations, clarifications, examples,
    and argumentation of Christ fulfilling God’s promises to Israel and
    that the nature of Christ is such that he is fully God, fully man,
    and yet remained one person still. In any case, this is the last
    I’ll say about the matter. As long as you persist in arguing, which
    requires reasoning, with me that my reason-assisted faith is an
    inauthentic one, I’m not sure much progress can be made. You may
    fervently and passionately argue all you wish that faith ought not
    to be assisted by reason, and in so doing only subvert your own
    conclusion.

Comments are closed.