Monday, 21 June 2010

How does Christianity fit with reason? (4)

We've been looking at how Christian belief and rational thought co-exist and we've established that faith as the Bible defines it is "loyalty to God based on the evidence of his trustworthiness." We've seen that if we have a reasonable evidence for the truth of the core basis of Christianity, we can have a reasonable trust in the truth of Christian teachings where we perhaps don't have direct evidence for their truth. Today we've going to look at how a Christian ought to respond to evidence and arguments which allegedly go against Christian teachings.

Don't throw it all away!

Imagine being in Benny's shoes...

Jimbo: Hey Benny! You know that Christian guff you believe in? Well the deductive argument from evil disproves it.
Benny: Oh?
Jimbo: 'Fraid so mate. You see, a loving and all powerful God would always have the desire and ability to eliminate evil. Yet evil exists! So your God doesn't exist.

How should Benny deal with this challenge to his faith? What if he responded like this:

Benny: Well Jimbo old pal the jig is up. I don't know how to respond to your argument. I'm not a Christian any more.

Would that response not be too hasty? I think so. For one, if you're a Christian, you believe that God is a person. In our relationships with people it is not virtuous to automatically distrust someone at the first signs of something awry. It would not be virtuous to automatically accuse your spouse of having an affair just because some things could be interpreted that way. Generally, at first we give the people we trust the benefit of the doubt. The same with our trust in God. While if Jimbo's argument is sound, Christianity couldn't be true, Benny should give God the benefit of the doubt, at least for a while, that a good refutation of the argument exists.

Even if Benny cannot locate any such refutation it doesn't follow that he ought to give up his Christianity. After all, in scientific practise, a theory is not abandoned as soon as some data seems to be unexplainable. Seeing as the theory still has some good explanatory power with most of the data, it is reasonable to think that a solution might present itself in the future. Similarly, a Christian faced with an unresolved objection to his/her faith will have to make a choice about how problematic this objection really is. Some questions to consider might be: is this objection something which might be resolved in the future? If this objection is valid, must I abandon Christianity as a whole or only a certain way that I've looked at it? Do I still think Christianity is generally persuasive? Obviously if 90% of Christianity's claims faced such objections it would be hard to believe in it with intellectual integrity. It is down to each person and their conscience to determine at what point a particular belief would be intellectually irresponsible to hold on to.

Don't stick your head in the sand!

Imagine if Benny responded to Jimbo's challenge like this instead:

Benny: Well Jimbo, that's a persuasive sounding argument, but I know I'm right so I needn't bother answering it. It's definitely wrong.

This is another inappropriate response! Now Benny, having a trust in God, will generally believe that at some point in his reasoning, Jimbo's argument fails but this does not mean that he shouldn't seek to identify exactly where this failure occurs. For instance if Jimbo is himself to come to a place of trusting God, he might need this intellectual objection answered. If Benny ignores the question, he won't be helping him much.

Secondly, while Benny might have good reasons for his faith in God, these reasons (mostly likely) do not equate to a definite 100% logical proof that Christianity is true. (This isn't itself problematic, hardly any of our beliefs are logically certain. Consider your belief that the blog you are reading exists. It may be the case that an alien has removed your brain and is stimulating it so that you merely believe you are reading a blog, when actually no such blog exists. This is a genuinely possibility but that doesn't make your belief that this blog exists irrational). What this means is that it is possible that Benny is mistaken in his beliefs. From my experience, this isn't a topic most Christians like to talk about, but it is a genuine possibility that we must address. I am a Christian and I consider it a possibility that I am wrong about Christianity being true. I do not believe that I actually am wrong, but I recognise that it is not impossible that I am wrong. As such there may be genuine refutations of Christianity that exist. If I ignore everything that claims to be such a refutation then I risk blindly following a false belief. If I believe the earth is flat but I ignore all evidence to the contrary I am being irrational. To maintain intellectual integrity we have to in some way consider the objections that come to us.

This acknowledgment can be confusing to some Christians who aren't familiar with the nature of logical certainty so let me say straight away that what I am NOT suggesting is a rampant skepticism regarding one's own Christian belief. As I said, hardly any of our beliefs are logically certain, and it is irrational to doubt them just because they aren't. And as I've already shown above, it is irrational to abandon Christianity at the first sign of contrary evidence.

The question then is how does one act with integrity, confronting opposing ideas, but with faith and wisdom? This is the topic of our next entry.


Black thought said...

This is one of the most well thought out defenses of having christian faith i've come across so far.

I used to be a christian, but over time became more agnostic. i do accept that possibility that christianity is true, but i seriously doubt it.

Either way, if more christians used more logic, honesty,and self examination, then maybe non christians wouldn't be so anti christian. (possibly even more open to becoming "saved")

Martin said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments Black thought. I think you're right, if Christians came across as more honest and open to intelligent discussion, Christianity would appear more credible than it does in the eyes of many.

Kudos on appreciating the arguments for a position without holding that position yourself. Was there any particular problem with Christianity that caused your doubts to grow?