The issue in discussions with believers is not simply the rationlity of any faith claim. Even though believers may appear to argue as though that is the issue, that if you can simply produce a convincing rational argument that would be sufficient to convince them the real issue is much deeper and more fundamental. Although they may mount what appear to be attempts at rational and evidence based arguments it is really, to a greater or lessor extent a ruse. Take a moment and watch this video of an interview with Dr. Willisam Lane Craig who is arguably the most prominent, if perhaps not the most capable, modern apologist for the Christian faith.
Both videos, especially the second video, show that evidence is really NOT important. Evidence is not how you KNOW or are strongly convinced that what you believe is true or what you think might be true is indeed true. The real determining factor is an internal, self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Notice of course, that this is a genuinely circular argument. It is at it’s foundation an appeal to subjective experience which is defined by the very faith to which it is supposed to witness and of which it is supposed to be the confirmation. The issue in dealing with Christianity or any faith based religion is that is is a FAITH BASED religion and NOT based on reason in any sense of the word. They may seen to find REASONABLE arguments to support what they ALREADY BELIEVE, but they are NOT basing what they believe ON REASON OR RATIONAL ARGUMENT. In a sense the presentation by believers of what appear to be and what they represent as rational argument is a dance, it is a feign or a ruse. It is an attempt to manipulate by presenting probablistic arguments to attempt to predispose you to accept what they believe as plausible hoping you will then make the jump from plausibility to conviction.
By relegating reason to be the “handmaiden” of faith and thus to only an ancillary role in belief they are also attempting to innoculate the faithful against the logical and rational objections which can and are raised against what they believe. By so doing it is hoped they will, against all odds, continue to believe. Having Faith IN THE VERY FACE of reason is elevated to the status of a cardinal virtue. Any attempts at rational argument and discourse will, in this climate, most likely result in a hung jury. More often than not, when backed into a corner, Christians will resort to the “faith card” saying, “well, I just believe” or “you just have to have faith”. The best you can really hope for is to begin to weaken the foundation by appeals to reason and hope their rational faculties will be awakened in spite of having been innoculated against them. It is also necessary to confront this irrrationality directly to expose the ruse for what it is.
This sort of vaccination has Biblical precedent. These verses are often presented from the pulpit to buttress the walls of believers faith against the reason they use to decide nearly every other important decision they make in the real world. Here are a few.
John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In this passage Jesus is responding to the proclamation of faith by Thomas. Thomas must have been from Missouri. When presented with the witness of the other apostles to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Thomas basically says, “show me”, ““Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Shortly after when the disciples are togethers Jesus appears and invites Thomas to put his hands on or in the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross. After doing so Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” It is in response to this proclamation of faith that Jesus utters the benediction above. Notice Thomas is asking for evidence that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. He is exercising skepticism at the testimony of the disciples that Jesus has actually risen from the dead. I would say that is a pretty healthy and rational thing to do in the face of such an extraordinary claim. Yet, Thomas is nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” and has by that moniker been elevated as an example of one who lacks faith and who requires evidence to believe. Jesus takes him to task rather backhandedly in his statement. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who will have faith without evidence, even in the face of the extraordinary claims of Jesus, perhaps even dispite evidence to the contrary.
Romans 4:18 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
In this passage Paul is speaking about justification by grace through faith. That is, Paul is argueing that a person is forgiven and therefore made “just” before God in spite of their sin, not by the good things they do in obeying the Law of God but rather simply by faith. In extolling faith Paul elevates Abraham as the father of all the faithful, the father f all who have faith in Jesus’s atoning sacrifice and therefore are may vicariously righteous and just before God the Judge. Notice Abraham is extolled as the paragon and paradign for Christian faith. That faith is defined as being “fully persuaded” that God would do as he had said he would do IN SPITE OF THE CONTRARY EVIDENCE, that being that both he and his wife should by all rights be infertile and unable to have children. Notice this faith is directly compared to unbelief as Abraham is said not to “waver thorugh unbelief” but rather was “strengthened in his faith”. This faith is “against all hope”.
This is perhaps the preeminent chapter on faith in the Bible. No one really knows who wrote this document known as the Book of Hebrews. It was thought that Paul was the author during the time of the early church. Scholars today argue this is not the case and propose a number of other possibilities but ultimately, no one knows. Notice faith is described in terms of “assurance” and “conviction” of things hoped for (but not yet possessed, that is things promised but not a reality) and “things not seen”. Faith is once again defined as knowleged in the face of or even contrary to evidence as in that which is now a reality and is “measurable” or seen. The chapter goes on to extol various examples of this kind of faith, Abrahm being the most prominent but also including Enoch, Moses and Joshua. They are all praised because ” 39 And all these, having [y]gained approval through their faith, did not receive [z]what was promised” yet still believed God would do it and acted as if it were true. The author further states that faith is crucial “6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Believing and acting on that belief even in the face of all reason not too is absolutely critical to pleasing God.
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
This is the last passage I’ll deal with here. This passage illustrates how, particularly in the category of knowledge, wisdom and reason, faith is elevated to the point that even that which appears to be foolishness is actually wisdom and true knowledge. This is the direct innoculation against all the arguments and reasoning of you could possibly offer a believer. If what you say is an argument AGAINST what the Bible says, especically the cross and the resurrection, it can be summarly dismissed without any consideration. The quotation is from Isaish 29:14 where God promises to deal “wonderfully marvelously” with his people to awken them from their rote religion. The reference seems to be to the wise within the nation Israel and indeed Paul includes not only Gentile but also Jew in his defamation of wisdom and knowledge.
In verses 20 through 25 Paul contrast the “wisdom of the world” as represented by the “wise man”, the “scribe”, the “debater of this age” and declares that God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world”. He later refers to Greeks searching for wisdom. God has confounded this wisdeom by the “foolishness” of the message of the cross, or the crucified messiah because it is through faith in that foolishness that people come to know God and are delivered from their sins. To the Greek the cross is foolishness. But it is really, according to Paul, “the wisdom of God”. Paul also parallels the contrast of the “wisdom of the world” and the “foolishness” of the cross with a contrast aims at the Jews who seek signs (acts of power) but are stymied by the apparent “weakness” of the crose which is actually a manisfestation of the power of God. He concludes this double contrast this way in verse 25, “25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. ” By so doing Paul takes aim at his two major critics, the unbelieving Gentiles with their “wisdom” and the unbelieving Jews who find the “weakness” of the cross a “stumbling block”.
Paul reiterates this argument in 1 Corinthians 3,” 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; 20 and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.”” Note that the “reasoning of the wise are useless”. In 11 Corinthians 10:5 the author encourages believers to bring every though captive and subject it to the Lordship of Jesus,” 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, ..” Notice he is refering not simply to ideas but to speculation or reasoning. The presuppostions and idea content of the Bible forms a “governor” as it were on the activity of rational thought and any resulting ideas. Only those ideas and whatever reasoning that may have given them birth which is consistent with the Bible is acceptable, all else can be eliminated without “due process”.
It’s not difficult to see how this would be used to disparage reason, philosophy and any other manner of human thinking or reasoning in favor of the standard of the gospel and the “wisdom of God”. Any manner of thinking that might conflict, find fault with or criticize what is seen as the truth of the Bible, not just the crucifixion and the resurrection, would be immediately thrown out of court by virtue of the fact that is was critical. There is no need to evaluate or interact with the arguments against the resurrection or the existence of Jesus or the historicity of the crucifixion as a salvific event, they are by their very nature thrown into the trachbin of “worldly wisdom”. Dr. Douglas Wilson is a case in point. Dr. Wilson, a Presuppositional Apologist and pastor states that what constitutes rational or logical proof is what the Bible says is adequate, rational or logical proof. An argument which is considered circular according to the rules of logic is not really circular according to the logic accepted by the Bible.
So, for example, the argument of Paul for the existence of God in Romans 1 is the basis for both the Teleological argument later advanced by Christian apologists. It is also one of the most tired argument advanced by believers. On Dr. Wilsons criteria it represents a sound logical argument regardless of it’s failure to meet the test of logic and philosophical scrutiny because the Bible advances it as a sound argument. Therefore ANY criticism of it from a logical or philosophical perspective represents “the wisdom of the world” and can be dismissed. Admittedly the Christian apolgist may attempt to throw water on the criticism by what appear to be rational attempts to interact with it but in the end these are just ways of trying to appeal to the heart through the word. The best approach of this particular type of apologetics is to suggest ways in which the argument might not be valid, especially quoting the Bible, but then to change tacts if the person continues to bring rational criticism. It is clear from this sort of tactic that the strategy has little or nothing to do with actually seeking to determine what is true by logic, reason and evidence. It is openly admitted that these rational arguments cannot be effectively combated by reason, only by the Bible and the “rational feign” I’ve previously described.
This perspective on reason, logic and evidence with it’s contract between the “wisdom of God” and the “wisdom of the world” is one aspect of a black and white line of demarcation made in the Bible and informing the thinking of consistent believers. The Bible makes a hard and fast distinction between Christ and Belial (the devil), the flesh and the spirit (sinful nature and the Holy Spirity), the old man and the new man (sinful Adam and the sanctified nature), and being in the “world” but not “of” the world where the “world” or “age” is this that which is characterized by sin and disobedience to God. In consistent Christian theology the “noetic” effect of sin is taken seriously and the thinking and reasoning of those not “redeemed” by Christ have throught processes that are taineted and corrupted by sinful rebellion and therefore by “foolishness”. These thought processes cannot be trusted as a means of arriving at the truth. Only thinking which begins with the “knowledge of God” and proceeds subject to the presuppositions of a Biblican worldview is to be allowed and only it’s conclusions are to be accepted.
Dr. John Frame, a former professor of mine at Westminster Theological Seminary, makes several significant statements along this line in his book, “Apologetics to the Glory of God”. He defines one of the aspects of Apologetics as, “…attacking the foolishness (Ps. 14:1; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) of unbelieving thought”. He goes on to reiterate, “Non-Christian thinking is “foolishness,” according to the Scripture …. and one of he functions of apologetics is to expose that foolishness for what it is”. He does on to say, “…the unbeliever intentionally distorts the truth, exchanging it for a lie…”. This is the case not only for the conclusions reached but also for the process of reasoning itself. In discussing the apparently circularity of some arguments used by Apologists he states, “The fact is that the Christian here is presupposing a Christian epistomology — a view of knowledge, testimony, witness, appearance, and fact that is subject to Scripture. In other words, he is using scriptural standards to prove scriptural conclusions”. So while an history using accepted historical methods for attestation would not accept the Biblical testimony that the resurrected Jesus was see by more than 500 people as evidence for the resurrection, the Bible declares that it is valid evidence, therefore the standards of historical inquiry can be damned. Ultimately the believer and unbeliever cannot even agree on the METHOD for inquiry and proof much less the conclusions. He argues that the empiricism of Hume is based on “presuppositions” which the Christian cannot accept, therefore Hume empiricism is not an acceptable method or standard fr argueing the truth of a claim. This is true NOT because he has confronted Hume’s arguments and proven, philosophically, by generally accepted methods that Hume is wrong but rather because the Bible allows for evidence and methods of argument Hume would consider circular and therefore unacceaptable.
So, it would be tempting to think when you are discussing religion with a believer that you are agreed on the method of reaching the truth and it is only the conclusion on which you differ. This creates the delusion that you are both on the same page and if you can provide sound logical arguments you might have a chance. For many, if not most, this is not the case. It is not only the conclusions that difffer it is the very method itself. They have been innoculated against reason as a means of pursueing truth. It is that which needs to also be addressed in any discussion or argument.