Monday, 21 June 2010

How does Christianity fit with reason? (3)

In the last few entries we've been looking at how Christian belief and our rational faculties ought to intermingle. Particularly we've tried to spell out what the Biblical definition of 'faith' is. In the last entry we concluded that Biblical faith is "loyalty to God based on the evidence of his trustworthiness." In this entry we're going to start to see what that faith looks like in a Christian's intellectual life.

The evidence

Ask any Christian why they believe as they do and they'll likely have an answer in their mind even if it's not well formulated or they don't feel it's a particularly impressive one. Some Christians find their way to God because they see evidence of his working in the lives of their believing friends and family. This certainly contributed to my own conversion. Some have perhaps believed Christianity since they were very young and so find it hard to articulate a precise reason; they just see that it fits with the world and what happens in their life. Others take a more overtly intellectual route and say, examine the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection, find it compelling and then subsequently commit themselves to follow him. There are of course many varied reasons why a person may come to a Biblical faith in God, and I think the reasons given above are actually more credible then some grant, but the point to take here is that each Christian has at least one initial reason for making his/her commitment. This is the evidence that one's loyalty to God starts to spring from.

For those whose initial reason for belief was based on more personal and experiential factors, it is wise to supplement that faith with some more objective factual reasons. This doesn't mean that every Christian ought to be well versed in the most recent formulations of the Ontological argument, rather each Christian ought to have just some awareness of the basic facts upon which Christianity is based. This factual basis is of course the resurrection of Jesus as an actual historical event, the very thing Christianity is centred around, and the very thing the early Christian leaders proclaimed as evidence of God's really being involved in what Jesus did during his life and crucifixion. You can read a very good defence of the resurrection's actuality here. If you're a Christian why not memorise just a few of the 17 factors JP Holding gives that makes a fictional account of the resurrection unlikely?

Paul, a great early Christian leader instructs his churches to grow in knowledge, such as in Colossians 1:9-11. I think such instruction still applies to us! In addition when hard times come, and your personal experience is one of hardship, we need some grounded truths to cling to and excercise faith from. This is what C. S. Lewis meant when he said "faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods (Mere Christianity)." You might also add, "in spite of your changing circumstances."

The trust

You might, even if it's just for the sake of argument, concede that the Christian might have good grounds for believing in the truth of the resurrection, but what about all the other things that Christianity entails? What about the existence of an afterlife for example? Whether or not there is independant evidence for the existence of an afterlife, it is certainly true that not every Christian will have access to such evidence. Are such Christians being irrational when they believe in the afterlife without direct evidence? I'd have to say 'no'. If a Christian has a reasonable belief that say, God really rose Jesus from the dead and so most probably, Jesus' teachings were true, it seems to me that the Christian can reasonably trust those teachings as they pertain to the afterlife. In the same way we do not have independent evidence directly available to us for all the things our friends and family tell us. But we have evidence that they are generally trustworthy people and so we have a reasonable trust in them.

But what if I have a reasonable trust in God, but I encounter some contrary evidence or argument which seems to falsify one of those beliefs I've held in trust? Should I abandon my belief in those teachings, or Christianity all together? Or should I ignore such contrary evidence? Is there some sort of middle ground I can take? It is these concerns that we'll look at next time.

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