Tag Archive: Christianity


Previously, I finished up an explanation of the argument for God based on our moral intuitions, and today I want to take a bit of a side-trip while on the subject of morality. As noted previously,choice we do find that objective morality exists, but sometimes it can be hard to discern what the moral thing to do is in a given situation. This does not constitute an argument against objective morality (the ontology of it), only our ability to know what the moral good in the situation is (epistemology).

We often characterize moral dilemmas as choosing between “the lesser of two evils.” and this certainly conveys the angst involved in having to choose among difficult options. I would submit that this proves ultimately to be an unhelpful phrasing of the problem which leads to unnecessary additional indecisiveness, guilt, and second-guessing. It also doesn’t seem to be quite accurate: if one imagines Christ himself in a position of “choosing between two evils,” doesn’t that still equate to Christ choosing evil? That must not be the right way for us to approach these dilemmas, so how should we then?

I believe a more helpful and accurate way to look a these moral dilemmas is, rather, by asking, “Which option will accomplish the greater good?” The answer to that question, as best as we can discern it, is the option we ought to take. Perhaps a couple of examples will clarify this point.

In Joshua 2, the Hebrews sent spies into Jericho to assess the strength of the people and the city. While there, they came under suspicion of the city guard and took refuge with a woman named Rahab. When the guard approached Rahab, she faced a moral dilemma: reveal the location of the spies, leading to their deaths, or lie to the guards. Rahab concealed the spies and mislead the guard, recognizing that the Hebrews served the true God. In this case, did Rahab sin?

A more contemporary example is that of Corrie Ten Boom’s family who sheltered Jews in their home during the rise of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Her family had to make a choice: admit to the German soldiers that Jews were hidden there, or tell a lie to the soldiers. They chose to lie. Did God disapprove of their actions? Was it sin?

I believe in both of these cases, we are not stuck in a position in which there is sin, no matter which option is chosen. Instead, in moral dilemmas, such as these, we must assess the good available to be accomplished in the situation, as best as we are able, and choose the greater of these goods. Is honesty usually a virtue? Yes. Is saving a life a greater virtue? I would think so. In both of these examples, the greater good is accomplished by working to save the lives of the Jews, than by giving the truth to those who did not have legitimate right to it.

In these sorts of circumstances, we choose the greater good, and that good supersedes the other lesser good which we must violate, and I believe that God gives his blessing. No repentance for sin is needed. That’s not to say that these become easy choices, but it should make them easier to decide with clear conscience, even if sadness for difficult dilemmas still weigh on us. This should be quite freeing for you! We all face moral dilemmas, but facing them from the perspective of “what is the choice that can bring about the most good?” can be an easier question than “which of these alternatives are the least evil?” Is this just semantics? Well, sort of, but the difficulty of decision-making can be trying enough without unnecessary guilt adding the paralyzing further pressure of a no-win sin situation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I hope this was helpful for you! If so, let me know! If you disagree, let’s talk about it. Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

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One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. accident-2-1474589-1599x1066We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.

Identifying the Problem

Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.

But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.

A Contradiction Without God

I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!

But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.

A Problem for Everyone

As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

In the previous post, we began to explore an argument for the existence of God based on morality. The argument goes like this:moral-scales

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

I spent the time discussing the first point, showing that if objective morals exist (and most people acknowledge that they do), they are completely unexplainable except that they be grounded in God. No other source can explain their origin, so that if God does not exist, objective morality cannot exist. So that brings us to the second premise:

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

This point itself is not without controversy, so let me give you some reasons to accept the existence of objective moral values and duties (as laid out by Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist)

The first and foundational step is to acknowledge the existence of some absolute truths. If one wants to deny that there are any absolute truths whatsoever (moral or otherwise), he is going to be immediately caught in the unhappy position of affirming  a logical contradiction, namely “there are absolutely no absolutes.”

But what about absolute moral values and duties? It’s only when the moral relativist wants to philosophize that he claims that moral objectivity doesn’t exist. We simply cannot live that way. Innate to all of us are certain moral rules of “oughtness:” one ought to protect one’s family; one ought to be self-sacrificial for a good purpose; one ought not take a life without adequate justification; and so on. (The difficult bit, of course, is often in applying these sensibilities in day-to-day life, but that difficulty is not a point for or against this premise; it’s difficult whether you believe in moral objectivity or relativism.) The relativist betrays this inconsistency with his reactions when someone steals his wallet or cuts him off in traffic.

If you believe in universal human rights, you also cannot be a consistent relativist. If you are offended by foreign slave trade, or oppression of a people group by a dictatorial government in the third world, you have no grounding for this outrage under moral relativism. Only with some universal (objective) moral standard can this cry of wrongness make any sense.

Unless there is an absolute moral standard, we are incapable of knowing what is good or evil, justice or injustice, yet we make these moral judgments all the time. The “problem of pain” objection to Christianity trades heavily on this, and I will be talking more about this topic next post.

Without an objective moral standard, “moral progress” is meaningless. The terms “better” or “best” are comparative, and imply a standard. Was Mother Theresa “better than” Adolph Hitler? Is it morally “better” to abolish slavery than to embrace it? Unless an absolute moral standard, what are these conditions being measured against to say one is better than another?

      3. Therefore God exists

Having shown that no other system can account for the objective values and duties that demonstrably exist in reality, we are led to the conclusion that God exists. It is His character that forms the standard of “good” by which we must measure our actions and that of others. To be sure, many numb their consciences through volition and bad example, but a defective or damaged sense of right and wrong are not counter-arguments. It is because of the existence of objective morality that we recognize these deviations from it.

Here’s a great summary video by Dr. Craig:

 

Next time, what about the so-called “Problem of Evil”? We’ll take a look at it and see the implications of it for the Christian worldview.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Many different arguments can be used to demonstrate that God does actually exist. Individually, these arguments are compelling, and I believe when brought together, they make a very strong case, indeed. I want to go through a few of them with you. These are, of course, not original with me, and much more has been said about each of them, but I hope to explain in an easy-to-understand way the intuitive and powerful nature of these arguments.

Causes and Beginnings

Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

To start with, let’s look at an argument about the beginning of the universe, called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Reasonable Faith has put together several great videos presenting these arguments, and so I want to start with one of them. Have a look:

The Kalam Cosmological argument goes like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is a deductive argument, and it is in a valid form, so the task is to examine the premises to see if they are true, and so show the conclusion as also being true.

The first premise, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause,” matches our uniform and repeated experience in everything in life and science. To deny this is to say that some things could spontaneously come into existence with no cause and no reason; there is a rather large burden of proof on the one who would want to assert this counter-intuitive claim. An overthrow, or even an exception to the foundational principle of causation would create a massive undermining of the process and understanding of the scientific endeavor. I simply have not seen any convincing arguments or alternative explanations for the tried-and-true principle of causation that we adopt as the first premise.

Secondly, “the universe began to exist” matches the evidence of modern scientific observation, and is the best explanation of the evidence. But let’s consider some alternative theories that have been suggested.

  1. The steady state theory says that the universe has existed in stasis for eternity past. Cosmological observations and discoveries have rendered this theory obsolete, as there is data that shows the universe is expanding outwards from a central point.
  2. Another theory attempts to modify and salvage the steady state theory by postulating a continuous expansion, in which the universe is and has eternally been expanding, and that as it does so, new matter comes into existence from that central point. But this theory seems rather implausible as well, as (referring back to the first premise) our uniform and repeated observation and experience tells us that nothing begins to exist without a cause. Some sort of reasonable mechanism would need to be proposed and explained to redeem this theory, and none exist.
  3. Another model, the oscillating universe theory, suggests that our universe eternally, past and future, oscillates between cycles of expansion and contraction in which the gravitational forces in the universe cause the universe to collapse back in upon itself, after which it will expand back out. In this proposal, we are observing the universe presently in one of the expansion cycles. The problem here is that the force of gravity is not strong enough to pull all the universe back together; a collapse is not possible through this means. It appears we have a one-way expanding universe.

Therefore God?

It seems that we cannot escape the conclusion that the universe has a cause. How does this help our case for God’s existence? As I said in the last post, we are taking baby steps here. I won’t assert that this proves Christian theism, but I do think it provides some good evidence that is hard to ignore. Some of the properties of the causal agent of the universe would include these:

  • Uncaused – the “first cause” must be uncaused or else it would not be the first cause; something beyond would have caused it, into an infinite regress of absurdity.
  • Exceedingly Powerful – even omnipotent, to cause the universe to exist from literally nothing
  • Personal – only a personal agent with will, intent, and consciousness can explain the beginning of the universe with no prior causes.

I believe there are more attributes we could infer from this argument, but again, I want to be modest and not stretch out beyond our reach. These three attributes are certainly God-like as described in the Bible, and as we go on, we’ll see that the other arguments will bring us even closer to the God of Christian theism.

In the next post, I will briefly discuss some objections that may be raised to the cosmological argument and address my views on the age of the universe, another implication of this argument.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

2 Cor 10:5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christworking-1229720-1279x977

Previously, I took a great deal of time to show that not only does objective truths exist, but that we can reasonably approach and assess truth in many important areas of philosophy, theology, history, and science. Confidence in our knowledge in these areas can be gained and increased by careful reasoning and critical thinking through argumentation. Having laid the philosophical foundations to justify the use of these tools, I now want to apply them towards our knowledge of God.

Can Truths About God Be Known?

Rom. 1:20“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [unbelievers] are without excuse.”

But first, perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few words addressing the question, can truths about God be known? Is God too “other” for finite humans to comprehend or in any way grasp His properties? One agnostic trend makes the claim that this is impossible. Paul, in Romans 1 indicates that some amount of knowledge about God is indeed possible through observation and reflection. I think the agnostic claim itself fails philosophically as an absolute claim, as it claims to have knowledge of God, namely that knowledge about God is unattainable. So what is gained by the destruction of this claim? Well, we can escape the prison of ignorance concerning God; it seems that it is not logically impossible to know something about God (if He exists). This, of course, doesn’t take us very far towards positive knowledge claims about God, but it does make forward progress possible, at least in principle.

Baby Steps

In the posts that follow, I want to move, with slow and careful steps, through some arguments that have installed in me confidence that God exists and is accurately reflected in Christian theism as laid out in the Bible. Slow and careful, I say, because these are not philosophical word games, some smoke-and-mirrors rhetorical trick. I’m not going to try to take you all the way from skepticism to true believer all in one argument, as that seems an awful lot to ask from one argument [1]. Instead, I want to build a cumulative case for you that grows in stages from previous groups of arguments, as laid out in my earlier post about the goals of Christian case making. As a reminder, here is the model I’m following in this method.

                      | Has God spoken? |

                |        Has God acted?         |

     |                     Does God exist?                 |

|    Does Truth exist? Is Truth knowable?         |

We have completed step one, concerning Truth, and are now moving up to the next step, “Does God exist?” The arguments will not, as I said, make the full case in one step, but will move us forward, bit by bit, with evidence for God’s existence, His attributes, and how Christian theism seems to fit best with reality and history among other religions. I think this careful case-building strategy can be persuasive, as the Holy Spirit softens the heart and removes hostility towards God. Overthrowing one’s worldview in favor of one very different is no small matter, and one which I would expect not to happen quickly.

Please join me next time as we begin with arguments for God’s existence, and I hope that you will have your confidence and trust strengthened in the truth of the Bible as we see how reality truly is reflected, described, and prescribed. I certainly found it convincing, and I pray you will too.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Although not impossible – the Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection strikes me as very persuasive, and implies much of content of Christian theism.

In previous posts, I’ve attempted to show that argumentation (as distinguished from bickering or fighting) is a good thing – the process in which we take observations and evidence and draw the-great-detective-1425530-1920x1440conclusions about the world around us. We saw the first principles of logic that form the foundation of reason, and that true, biblical faith is based on reason, rather than being opposed to it, as some misunderstand. Building on this, let’s now look at the most common types of arguments: deductive, inductive, or abductive.

Argument Types

In a deductive argument, the premises lead to a conclusion which, if the premises are shown to be true, follows irresistibly. So, for a famous example:

  1. All men are mortal. (premise 1)
  2. Socrates is a man. (premise 2)
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (conclusion)

Intuitively, this should make sense. The conclusion follows from the premises, if they are accepted as true. This is the strongest form of argument.

Inductive arguments contain a conclusion that is established by the strength of their premises, and so rather than the conclusion irresistibly following the premises, it is only probable, not certain. Take this example:

  1. It has rained every day for the last thirty days in Birmingham. (premise)
  2. Therefore, it will probably rain today in Birmingham. (conclusion)

Is the conclusion certain? By no means, but probability seems to be in favor of its being true.

Abductive arguments, sometimes known as inference to the best explanation, draws a conclusion taking into account multiple pieces of data and attempts to most comprehensively explain them all. This is the form of argument frequently used by criminal detectives (such as Sherlock Holmes). Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am in a room with no windows in the interior of a building.

  1. Someone walks in the room with wet shoes and a dripping umbrella. (data 1)
  2. I’ve been hearing some ominous booming and rain-on-roof sounds. (data 2)
  3. The weather app on my phone says there are thunderstorms in my area. (data 3)
  4. A reasonable conclusion would be that it is raining outside currently. (conclusion)

An interpretation of the data occurs which lead to possible explanations which are compared with one another. The chosen conclusion is not certain, but it seems more likely than alternate explanations that may be offered.

Argumentation Gives Knowledge

So to sum up, concerning arguments, two or more premises (including hidden premises) are put together to lead to a conclusion.  The premises must each be evaluated for probability of truth in order to determine the strength of the conclusion.  Since in most cases the premises are assigned probability less than 100% certainty, it usually leads to conclusions which are themselves less than 100% certain.  However, this is simply the way we operate in life.  In many instances, we consider ourselves to have knowledge on topics for which we have varying degrees of certainty.  Different subjects require differing levels of certainty to claim knowledge, yet we navigate reality, personally and corporately making important decisions on what we consider to be (un)acceptable levels of certainty.  For example, criminals are executed through a decision of guilt rendered beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all doubt.  If we are justified at this level of moral certitude to impose a death penalty on another, surely, then, absolute certainty is not required to claim knowledge.  Through diligence and clear thinking, we work to make livable decisions for life, morality, and religion. Through proper exercise of deduction and induction, we are able to approach truth.

Having established (I hope!) the existence and knowability of objective truth, and the value of good argumentation to apprehend truths, I will hereafter shift gears from the mechanisms of knowing truth to the arguments themselves that have been particularly convincing in my mind, as well as many others, for the truth of Christian theism and worldview. I hope you’ll join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Faith and Reason, Part 2

In my last post, I hopefully clarified the difference between biblical faith and the contemporary understanding of that word. Often, it seems to be put in opposition to reason, and it was my goal handshaketo show they are complimentary, not opposites.

What is Reason?

First, I want to make some important distinctions. We will be talking about argumentation here in our discussion of reason, and this word often has some bad associations because of the way we use it. When my kids are in the back seat of the van being nasty to one another with their words, I might finally yell back to them, “Stop with the arguing already!” But I want to use the concept of arguing in a different way here. So here’s what I don’t mean: arguing and reason is not quarreling, bickering, squabbling, or contradiction. It is also not judgmental, narrow-minded arrogance.

When we have a verbal interaction with someone, it usually takes on one of these four forms: [1]

  1. Discussion – A discussion is where people are sharing information and opinions with one another.
  2. Disagreement – Disagreements happen when people have conflicting opinions, but are not trying to change the other’s mind about it.
  3. Argument – People with differing opinions are now giving reasons to support their beliefs in order to persuade the other.
  4. Fight – Name-calling, insulting, and other nastiness happens in a fight; it is abusing the other person and not giving reasons at this point.

I love this classic Monty Python skit to illustrate:

Reason is a tool by which we evaluate observations to form conclusions about reality; it is working out what follows from what and evaluating the relationship between real and possible objects and other real and possible objects. This often involves others, challenging ideas and being challenged; this is argument, part of loving the Lord with all your mind (Mark 12:30). Arguing well is a good thing, as it helps us distinguish truth from error.

Is Faith Opposed to Reason?

If you say yes, then your view of the relationship between faith and reason looks something like this:

FvR2 FvR1

As one grows, the other shrinks: the more evidence and reason one has, the less need for faith, until it is eventually all squeezed out. Conversely, one with “perfect faith” then has no doubts and no need for logic and reason.

But, as I pointed out in my last post on faith, this isn’t a picture of biblical faith at all. Instead, it is more accurately illustrated this way:

F&R

In reality, the more evidence and reasons we have concerning the trustworthiness of a thing or proposition, the more trust or faith we place in it. This is biblical faith and the true model of the relationship between faith and reason.

In the next post, I will talk more logic and putting together your toolbox for clear and critical thinking.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] As seen in The Fallacy Detective

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.

the-matrix-red-pill-blue-pill

Can Truth Be Known?

How do you know what you think you know? Can you have 100% certainty about anything in life? Are you sure that the world around you exists as you perceive it?

Skepticism and The Matrix

These are all questions that come to mind as a result of watching the 1999 film The Matrix. If you are one of the three people left who hasn’t watched this by now, let me sum up for you the plot relevant to this post. A young man who goes by the online pseudonym “Neo” begins to see clues that the life he lives and the things he sees and experiences may not be what he thinks: that there is a world beneath the world. A group who seeks out those with this dawning perception contacts him and offers him a way out into the “real” reality. Neo discovers that he and the majority of humanity has been enslaved by machine overlords and plugged into the power grid to keep the robots charged up. In order to keep humanity docile, the machines plug into the brains of the human batteries and feed a “virtual reality” scenario in their consciousness in which they think they are living their lives in turn-of-the-millennium earth. Adventure and hijinks ensue.

This concept, brought engagingly to the screen in 1999, is credited to René Descartes in the 17th century. He conceived it as a thought experiment to probe the depths of skepticism, to figure out just what sort of things one could be certain about. In Descartes’ model, it is not robots and a sophisticated virtual reality program, but an evil genie casting a spell of deception on the skeptic, producing for the subject an experience of false reality. Descartes realized that there was no way to know for sure that this wasn’t the case. This led to a regress of skepticism in which he landed on the one thing he could be certain about: “Cogito ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, I may not have certainty that I am not being deceived in what I perceive, but I can be sure of one thing – that there is a “me” that may be deceived. “I doubt, therefore I know there is at least a doubter.” 

Living Life

So what do we do with this skepticism? It doesn’t seem to leave us much room to maneuver with confidence, does it? It turns out that this angst, while interesting to recognize and a good exercise for ordering one’s beliefs and epistemology, isn’t as crippling as it may seem on first understanding. Granted that we don’t have complete certainty about everything we think we know in life, we still make life-altering decisions on a regular basis. How can we responsibly do this without 100% certainty about the particular issue? Well, because of Descartes’ skepticism exercise, we understand that there is only one thing we can be sure about, that “I” exist. Yet we are forced in life to make decisions, and so we do so with confidence by presuming our sense impressions are more or less reliable. This presumption is justified in the absence of a valid defeater. In other words, unless I have good reason to doubt my sense impressions, I am rational in believing the evidence of my senses and drawing conclusions with reason and philosophy. So we gather data, process potential defeaters, and assign probabilities (not necessarily explicitly) to truth claims relating to our decisions (“Biblical Christianity properly reflects reality,” or “Nissans are generally more reliable that Fords,” or “I should eat at Moe’s today instead of Krystal,” etc.), and act on those decisions. Does objective truth exist? Yes! [1] Can we be completely certain that we know truth in these or any decisions? No, but we can know it well enough to live life with confidence.

That’s Just Your Opinion!

So we all have to make our own decisions, appraising the situations and associated truth claims. Does that mean anything goes? After all, at the end of the day, isn’t it just your opinion? Who can say that you have knowledge of the truth in the matter? As we saw in an earlier post, knowledge requires belief. Belief requires opinions, but not all opinions are equal. “Who can say” is the one with the best reasoning for their opinions. (There is a great deal more that should be said about the effects of sin on mankind’s ability to reason and form knowledge, but as I am laying a foundation of justification for reason and argumentation for the Christian case-maker, I’m going to move right on by this point.)

“But wait,” you may say. “What’s the role of faith, then, and its interaction with reason? Aren’t they opposed to one another?” I’ll take that up in my next post!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] If you doubt the existence of objective truth, consider that the negation “Objective truths do not exist,” is itself a statement purporting to declare an objective truth, and so refutes itself. Thus, objective truths do exist.

In my last post, I described the influencers that contribute to the beliefs that people hold, categorizing them as sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical, and showing that go-away-1544609members of the first three categories were insufficient of themselves to provide adequate basis of belief. Only when we begin with a properly functioning mind can we correctly appraise truth claims presented by the society, psychology, and religion.

It is also worth noting three categories of reasons why people will “SHUN” or reject a truth claim, according to J. Warner Wallace [1]:

A. RaSHUNal – Rational reasons are a request for more evidence to justify a truth claim. It is in this aspect which Christian case-making may be most useful.

B. EmoSHUNal – A truth claim may be resisted due to emotional hurts in the past or present related to the claim. As concerns Christianity, the resistant person may have been hurt by a pastor, another Christian, or (seemingly) God Himself. Helping this person will require patient love and friendship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is generally not the situation for a formal argument, although sometimes rational objections may be offered as a smokescreen to hide the true hurt.

C. VoliSHUNal – Volitional objections to a truth claim amount to a declaration that “I don’t care if it can be shown to be true, I’m not changing my life for your claim.” As relating to Christian claims, again, making a good case will not make much headway, as their will is set against it. Although they will often present rational objections as well, the smokescreen nature of their objections become apparent if a couple of exploratory questions are asked: “If I were able to answer your objections to [God’s existence, reliability of the Bible, historicity of Christ’s miracles, etc.], would you become a Christian?” or “What is your standard of proof? What evidence would you require to convince you of the truth of Christianity?” The answers to these questions frequently reveal the volitional nature of their resistance to Christianity. In this situation, the softening of their hearts by the Holy Spirit is required, and your steady and virtuous friendship with them may provide you an opportunity to answer honest questions about God that may be forthcoming.

In almost all cases, it is my belief that the normal use of apologetics by the Christian will be done in the context of a relationship with the other person. Theodore Roosevelt is attributed with the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and I agree. You aren’t making friends simply as an emotional wedge to proselytize; I’m talking about genuine and caring friendships in which the other person then becomes open to finding out more about that which is important to you and the reasons you hold for your beliefs.

1 Peter 3:15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

Form friendships, and be ready!

Next post will be concerning how truth is known. I hope you’ll join me!

Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

[1] J. Warner Wallace, “Why Some People Simply Will Not Be Convinced,” Cold Case Christianity, August 16, 2013, accessed October 8, 2013, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/why-some-people-simply-will-not-be-convinced/.