Ganssle Defends Faith from Innuendo

Ganssle_review_20200614A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One God + One set of physical laws in the universe = One objective truth.  Apologetics.  It must be written on my forehead (Revelation 22:4).  At a conference last month, a representative of the publisher handed me A Reasonable God by Gregory Ganssle and said—you will love this book.  She was right.

Ganssle is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and a Senior Fellow of the Rivendell Institute at Yale University. Ganssle could be described as Christian philosopher.

For anyone familiar with the story of David Brainerd (1718-1747), Ganssle’s location at Yale appears most ironic.  Brainerd was expelled from Yale for questioning the faith of a Yale faculty member in a private conversation.  His expulsion led later to the establishment of Princeton University.  Unable to be ordained without an ivory league degree, Brainerd became an early missionary to the American Indians and a major inspiration to American missionaries in the nineteenth century[1].  Ironic.

In this book, Ganssle reminds us that the term, New Atheist, applies primarily to books by four authors:  Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.  Their work shares three things in common:  passion, belief not only in atheism but the danger of believing in God, and their status as public intellectuals speaking outside their fields of experience (1-2).  Apparently, if one practices medicine without certification, then one ends up in jail; if one attempts to destroy the faith of a generation, then one ends up on the evening news.

Ganssle organizes his book into seven chapters introduced with an introduction and followed by a brief conclusion.  The titles of the seven chapters are informative: 1. Science, religion, and the claim that God exists; 2. Faith, reason, and evidence; 3. Three arguments for God; 4. The design argument; 5. Darwinian stories of religion; 6. Three arguments for atheism; and 7. The fittingness argument.

Surprisingly, the word, proof, appears nowhere in these chapter titles.  The arguments here are modest, more nuanced[2].  The book title, for example, is: A Reasonable God.  What is reasonable?  Ganssle uses the word in his last sentence in the book but never directly defines the term.  Alvin Pantinga articulated a similar concept, warrant, and wrote an entire book to define it[3].  When the idea of proof is abandoned and the debate centers on what is reasonable, the strength of the argument lies, in part, on the craft of the writer.  Is my story better than your story?

I learned a lot reading Ganssler.  For example, Darwin’s theory can be applied outside biology provided two conditions are met.  First, one needs to demonstrate a benefit.  Natural selection assists a species to survive better than competing species.  Second, one needs to show a transmission method.  Genes record favorable variations (116-117).

The New Atheists speculate that religion is the product of a Darwinian process.  The Darwinian benefit arises with improved survival through a natural group selection process and the transmission mechanism is a meme—a cultural analogue to a gene (122-124).  What is unique about this speculation is that the New Atheists do not bother to valid the hypothesis. This suggests a deliberate strategy of innuendo[4] which Ganssle describes as a Nietzschean genealogy—a genealogy given not to prove that one’s family includes royalty, but to discredit the family (136-137)[5].

Ganssle writes with surprising clarity.  While some apologetic texts read like a bad mathematics text, I found Ganssle’s book readable and engaging.  I would enjoy reading more of Ganssle’s work.

Footnotes

[1]See:  Jonathan Edwards [Editor].  2006.  The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (orig pub 1749).  Peabody:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[2] Alister McGrath (Why God Won’t Go Away, 2010, Nashville:  Thomas Nelson,107) sees modest objectives as one of the strengths of scientific inquiry.

[3]Alvin Plantinga.  2000.  Warranted Christian Belief.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

[4]McGrath (2010, 138) sees the New Atheists as resorting to ridicule when their arguments are questioned.

[5]A familiar voice looms in this line of argumentation—Did God actually say… (Genesis 3:1 ESV).

Ganssle Defends Faith from Innuendo

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

Stott_review_20200427John Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but 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 (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Introduction

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

Background

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Apologistics

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Children Expected to Grow

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

Assessment

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

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Meekness is the Pastoral Gene

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, 

for I am gentle and lowly in heart, 

and you will find rest for your souls. 

(Matt 11:29)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is a pastoral characteristic, as Charles Colson (2005, 30) writes: “Freedom lies in obedience to our calling.” We know this not only from the words of Jesus, but also from his disciples and those that followed. For example, Jesus says:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt 10:42)

Here he is encouraging his disciples to display humility lived out (or meekness) in front of, not children (“little ones”), but young believers (or seekers). The word for disciple (μαθητής; “mathetes”) here means—“one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice” (BDAG, 4662)—and Jesus’ disciples were instructed to teach young believers with an attitude of gentleness and service, modeling meekness in what they said and did.

The Apostle Paul paraphrases Jesus’ command, making teaching meekness (or gentleness) an explicit requirement for church leaders, as when he writes:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24–26)

Gentleness (or meekness) also appears on many of Paul’s lists of the fruits of the spirit (e.g. Gal 5:19–23; Col 3:12–14) and in the writing of James and Peter (Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 3:15). 

Interestingly, meekness is cloaked in one of the most famous images of Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) The image of the Good Shepherd is, in fact, a messianic image prophesied by Isaiah in one of his Servant Song passages:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isa 40:11)

The Apostle John pushes the shepherd metaphor even further when he writes:

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:17)

Here the messianic shepherd is also both a lamb and a king, underscoring that meekness is a divine attribute.

Shepherding likewise anchors the great pastoral passage in the Gospel of John where the risen Christ confronts and restores Peter to leadership:

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs. (John 21:15)

Three times Jesus asks if Peter loves him and with each of Peter’s responses he asks Peter to give up fishing (catching fish with hooks and nets) and to take up shepherding (caring for, defending, and feeding sheep; John 21:15–18). As with Peter, Jesus bids all his disciples to care for his flock displaying meekness.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Bethune, George. 1839. The Fruit of the Spirit. Reiner Publications.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Colson, Charles and Harold Pickett. 2005. The Good Life. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers

Meek is the Pastoral Gen

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Does Faith Matter? Monday Monologues, January 28, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Faith Prayer and talk about the question: Does Faith Matter?

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Does Faith Matter? Monday Monologues, January 28, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Arguments for God’s Existence

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where direct evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, we can infer the existence of God from the created order, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery—a kind of indirect evidence.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller (2016, 217) summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty. These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (Keller 2016, 218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis that posits that life spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until the creation of human beings. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual response is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:⁠1

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller (2016, 219) writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” 

Given the small probability that the laws of physics randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that the universe was intentionally planned. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach. No reasonable person would assume that this close was randomly created—the existence of a clock suggests a clock maker.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller (2016, 221) writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” 

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained as lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller (2016, 222), citing Thomas Nagel (2012, 110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (1994, 3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Keller 2016, 224)

Keller (2016, 224) summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” 

From Reason and Beauty

Keller (2016, 225) reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller (2016, 226), citing Luc Ferry (2011), writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.”  In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe because he created it—God stands outside time and space. He is also holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments. Keller (2016, 228) makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has had indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western.”

The arguments for God’s existence must be compelling (or Christians must have come to faith for other reasons) because Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West. 

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Timothy Keller.  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

1 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

Arguments for God’s Existence

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Monday Monologues: Pascal’s Wager, July 30, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray for presence and talk about Pascal’s Wager.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: Pascal’s Wager, July 30, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Monday Monologues: Telling Stories, July 16, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray about money and talk about telling stories.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: Telling Stories, July 16, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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The Surprising Role of Story Telling

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Postmodernism is hard to define precisely because, unlike modernism, it engages in nonlinear arguments that are hard to track if you are trained exclusively in linear thinking.  Postmodernism resembles a collage, a hanging ornament with unique pieces that balance one another but may be completely different taken individually. Before explaining what I mean here, let me digress to borrow a form argument from William Placer for why the modern age has given way to the postmodern age.

Is the Modern Era Over? 

Placher starts his discussion of the Enlightenment with the father of the Enlightenment, René Descartes, writing:

“Descartes had set the goal of seeking a foundation for knowledge, but modern philosophy soon divided between empiricists who looked for that foundation in bare, uninterrupted sensations [things you see, hear, feel, taste…] and rationalists who sought it in logically unchallengeable first truths.” (Placher 1989, 26)

For empiricists, a problem quickly emerged because:

“We cannot build knowledge on a foundation of uninterpreted sense-data, because we cannot know particular sense-data in isolation from the conceptual schemes we use to organize them.” (Placher 1989, 29)

If this is not obvious, think about how one knows that a light is red and different from yellow or green. In order to recognize the difference, one needs to understand the definition of red and how it differs from yellow or green. Without knowing that definition, red is not a distinct color. We teach colors to children at a young age so they seem obvious to us as adults, but to untaught kids colors have yet to be learned. The definition of red is what is meant here as a conceptual scheme.

For logicians, Placher (1989, 33) observes:

“What we cannot do is find some point that is uniquely certain by definition, guaranteed to hold regardless of any empirical discoveries, independent of any other elements in the our system.”

Placher (1989, 32) notes the definition of a mammal, “a warm-blooded animal with hair which bears live young”, had to change with the discovery of the platypus, a mammal that lays eggs. While the problem posed by the platypus seems trivial, Placher notes after referencing Russell’s paradox that:

“If our definitions in mathematics or logic lead to problems, we may decide to change them, but we always have more than one choice [of definition].” (Placer 1989. 34)

In conclusion, Placher (1989, 34) cites Wittgenstein observing:

“when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house. If theologians try to defend their claims by starting with basic, foundational truths that any rational person would have to believe or observations independent of theory and assumptions, they are trying to do something that our best philosophers tell us is impossible.”

In other words, the attempt by Enlightenment scholars to find a defensible basis for objective truth has failed and we are now in the postmodern era where it can be said: “how you stand on an issue depends on where you sit”.

A Picture of Postmodernism from Mathematical Modelling

Placer basically argues that the foundations of science, the idea of objective truth, cannot be validated as a logical framework. Let me offer a logical argument for what he is arguing from my modeling background in economics.

The typical argument in economic modeling is metaphorical—the economy can, for example, be characterized in terms of aggregate demand where demand is divided into different components, like consumption, investment, and government spending. To perform a mental experiment, we might change government spending while holding consumption and investment constant. The effect on aggregate demand is accordingly limited to the effect of the change in government spending. The size of the effect will be determined by statistical estimates of past aggregate demand. 

This type of modeling is referred to as a static equilibrium model because we make our forecasts based on only one changed variable at a time. This is a linear argument and quite familiar to economists trained in the modern period. What changed in the postmodern period was the idea of allowing all the variables to change simultaneously—the introduction of general equilibrium models. Mathematically, models could only be approximated, not statistically estimated in the prior sense. 

The reason for this intractability arises because the historical experience likely does not offer observations on changes that might be expected in the future. In the 1980s, for example, we saw interest rates rise to levels never previously seen; the Great Recession likewise saw housing prices fall further than ever previously observed or even contemplated. 

Postmodern Dilemma

This hypothetical modeling complexity is precisely the same problem faced by postmodern society—too many cultural norms have been altered too quickly. With the traditional sources of personal stability—family, work, church, education, technology, attitudes about gender, authority, freedom—in motion, we observe high levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide. 

In this context of instability, we hear professions in all callings imaginable telling stories about the more complex cultural system will evolve. The older process of imaging one change at a time simply does not work. The typical reactions that we observe are either to rely on our faith that God will guide us or to chase after the myriad of untested assumptions and stories that postmodern advertisers can offer (Sacks). The role of Christian apologetics is to make sense of the new environment and how the Christian message can lead us, our kids, and our neighbors back to God.

References

Placher, William C. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The Surprising Role of Story Telling

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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Monday Monologues: A Hebrew Heart, July 9, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray for the local church and talk about a Hebrew Heart.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: A Hebrew Heart, July 9, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One reason that many people dismiss apologetics is influence of the romantic period (early nineteenth century) has led many Christians to focus on heart rather than head in their faith. Pastors have been known to say—“people won’t care what you know until they see how much you care.” While there is truth in this expression, head and heart cannot be separated.

After the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards observed that, if revivals were not followed by sound teaching, the formerly fervent new believers soon wandered off, never to be seen again in church. We witnessed this very same pattern in the weeks after 9-11 as the new faces in church after the attack soon disappeared again. Clearly, we need apologetic insights into the faith that we adopt with our hearts in order to remain faithful when our fervent hearts cool.

In part one of this review of Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, I gave an overview of Clark’s argument about evidentialism

“Evidentialism [according to Clark] maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

I will examine in part 2 three arguments for the existence of God laid that Clark critiques: the cosmological argument by Richard Taylor, William Paley’s argument from design, and a probabilistic argument outlined by Richard Swinburne. Clark describes attempts to prove God’s existence from facts known about the natural world at natural theology (15).

The Cosmological Argument

This argument begins with a question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (17) Citing Taylor, Clark appeals to the principle of sufficient reason:

“…for every positive truth there is some sufficient reason which makes it true. There are two ways that statements can be true. Statements can be contingently true, which means their being true depends on something else; and statements may be necessarily true, which means their truth is not dependent on the truth of other statements.” (18)

Taylor sees no reason to doubt that the existence of the world is contingent on something else that we do not know (the chain of causality must lead to something eternal and imperishable). This eternal and imperishable being is God (21-22).

While the conclusion from this argument that God exists is obvious to a theist (someone who already believes in God), a non-theist sees no reason to conclude that the world is contingent on anything (23). The theist stops when God is presented; the non-theist asks whether God is contingent (24). Thus, the pre-supposition that God exists renders the argument moot.

The Argument from Design

Clark summarizes Paley’s argument succinctly:

“The world shows design; design implies a designer; hence, the world requires a designer.” (27)

Paley arguments that the existence of a stone poses no evidence that anyone ever put it there, but if one found a watch lying on the beach, the precision and subtly of a watch begs the question of who made it.

Hume argued, unlike with a watch, we have no experience with how the universe was made and so it appears as a unique item. Our explanations are therefore by analogy, not direct knowledge. Suppose, for example, the universe were created by a committee, not just one person. Thus, we cannot intuit the existence of God from design, except perhaps through anthropomorphism (51). Darwin believed that instead of design, the extinction of species pointed to an absence of design and to evolution as the mechanism for the creation of complex animal features (33-34).

A Probabilistic Argument

Clark summarizes Swinburne’s probabilistic argument as follows: 

  1. “The existence and design of the world—including morality, free moral agents, religious experience—are extremely improbable without the hypothesis of theism.
  2. The hypothesis of theism significantly raises the probability of the existence and design of the world.
  3. The hypothesis of theism explains and unites under a sign hypothesis an otherwise disparate and unlikely set of phenomena—the existence and design of the world, religious experience, miracles, and evil.
  4. The hypothesis of theism has sufficiently intrinsic plausibility.
  5. Therefore, it is like that God exists” (38).

Mackie looks at the same evidence and concludes that a materialistic or naturalistic origin for the universe is more likely, particularly because we have never observed a person without a body (38-39). Consequently, once again we see that the probabilistic argument depends heavily on the fundamental beliefs that you hold, prior to the argument rendering the argument moot (40).

Clark argues that because each of the arguments for God’s existence (or non-existence) do not stand alone, independent of prior beliefs, experience from the natural world cannot be used to substantiate the existence of God. In statistics, we are taught that relationships among observe data cannot determine causality, a restatement of Clark’s conclusion. It is accordingly pointless to pursue the requirements for proof under evidentialism (43). He therefore proceeds to explore alternatives.

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

References

Darwin, Charles. 1958. Autobiography (Orig Pub 1887). Edited by Francis Darwin. New York: Dover.

Hume, David. 1980. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Orig Pub 1776). Edited by Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mackie, J.I. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paley, William. 2002. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (Orig Pub 1785). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. Online: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/paley-the-principles-of-moral-and-political-philosophy. Cited: 18 November 2017.

Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon.

Taylor, Richard. 1974. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

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Plantinga Defends Merits of Confessional Faith

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