Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, by Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman Jr.

This was a pretty long book that grew tiresome at times but which covers a lot. The intent of the book is to lay out the four main apologetic approaches and attempt to integrate them into a cohesive approach. These four approaches are called the classical, evidential, Reformed and fideist apologetics. Each seeks to defend Christianity in a unique way. To various extents they can be combined but they are also exclusive in that they disagree on very important meta-apologetic issues such as the relation between theology and apologetics.

In what follows I am going to answer a set of questions posed in the book to the various apologetic systems. I think that in all matters of Christian faith one ought to be as honest as possible with themselves and non-believers. Developing a nice castle in which you can’t live in is tantamount to building a castle in the air. So in thinking about apologetics one must not ‘bite off more than one can chew’ so to speak. Here goes:

Metapologetic Questions

1. On what basis do we claim that Christianity is the truth?

My take is a combination of the evidentialist and fideist approaches. Christianity is unique in that it can be verified by external evidence. The Eastern philosophies, Mormonism, and Islam all appeal to subjective experience to justify their claims. Christianity does too in a way since it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and leads us to a relationship with Christ. But the difference is that Christianity can be tested by someone from the outside. That is its greatest strength and why I think it to be true. The Resurrection of Christ and the general reliability of Scripture is key here in this. The evidence cannot compel faith but bring one who is seeking for transcendent truth in this life to the brink where she will have to decide either to chase after Christ or back away. The walk is the real proof in the pudding but evidence is what can bring one to that decision place.

2. What is the relationship between apologetics and theology?

I disagree with Karl Barth that the best apologetics is a good theology. I do agree however with Kierkegaard that the best apologetic is a life lived in accord with the truth known through theology. The apologist is one who defends the truth of Christianity through induction (I am taking a notably evidentialist approach here) while the theologian explicates what Christianity means through that same method. In this regard, apologetics does precede theology (contra Barth) because one has to believe first that Christianity is true before one gets into theology. The last statement should be qualified in that it is from the point of view of one outside. For the Christian, the practice of one’s theology in her everyday life is the most ultimate test of its truth.

3. Should apologetics engage in the philosophical defense of the Christian faith?

Yes. I leave open the possibility of the constructive use of philosophy in the traditional theistic arguments but I am skeptical of many of these to various extents. Christianity is based upon factual claims which concerns history, not philosophy per se. Philosophy is a good servant in examining the presuppositions and conclusions of people studying history or science but when it is on its own, it is only speculative.

4. Can science be used to defend the Christian faith?

Here, I depart from the evidentialist fold. Science and faith are opposed in that the first is concerned with things seen while the second is concerned with things unseen. I do think that science can be used to show that Christianity is believable but anything more than that gives science too much priority over faith. To combine science and faith is to depart from Christ because it takes the emphasis away from Him.

5. Can the Christian faith be supported from historical inquiry?

It can, but only after a certain point and up to a certain point. What I mean by this is that one must be interested first to even want to go there. A hostile atheist or a someone who just doesn’t care will not respond to any historical evidence. One has to go up to a certain point in curiosity and desire for the truth for this to work. ‘Don’t through your pearls before swine,’ Jesus said. After that point where one is open and seeking, then historical inquiry can support Christian faith, or the possibility thereof. It should also be remembered that this does not bring one all the way to faith. Only by their own choice and through the work of the Spirit can someone come to saving faith.

6. How is knowledge of Christian truth related to experience?

One cannot fully know that Christianity is true through the intellect alone. For saving faith, experience is necessary. By ‘experience’ I don’t mean seeing miracles but in seeing one’s life be transformed by God’s Spirit. Kierkegaard said rightly that in the New Testament faith is tested not by reasons but by one’s life. Experience may not be the first ground on which one knows that Christianity is true but it is definitely the last ground.

Apologetic Questions

1. Why should we believe in the Bible?

We believe the Bible because we believe in Christ. For those who need evidence, this is provided by arguing for the reliability of the Bible and for the resurrection of Jesus. Another primary means of knowing this is through one’s personal encounter with Christ. Not everyone who has lived or lives currently is privileged with having easy access to the historical record, although that record does bear witness to Him. What ultimately unites all Christians in the personal experience of God acting in our lives.

2. Don’t all religions lead to God?

No. Religions make conflicting truth claims which entails that they cannot all be true. They all may have some true elements or assumptions that have some truth behind them but they cannot all be true.

3. How do we know that God exists?

I do not reject the traditional theistic arguments of the classical apologist and may be inclined towards using some of them. The problem with much of these arguments is that they are tedious and eminently debatable. So are the arguments pertaining to the resurrection of Christ, one can claim. The difference though here is that the resurrection can get one both theism and Christianity while the others may get only a generic theism. This is not to say that the theistic arguments shouldn’t be used but that they should take a less prominent place in apologetics. Again, the last ground for knowing that God exists is a personal relationship with Christ. All arguments are a means to this end, which in itself is the greatest argument.

4. If God exists, then why does he permit evil?

I do not think we have a full answer to this. The Free Will Defense is classic but it leaves something to be desired. The paradox of Christianity is that the infinite God died. The cross changes how we ought to perceive this problem. As Kierkegaard said, “That God could make creatures free over and against Himself is the cross that philosophy could not bear and on which it has remained hanging.” In the face of evil one can bow out and accept life trying to avoid it as much as possible. One can also ignore it and optimistically go about life. Or one can accept the paradox of Christianity, believing both that evil is the grave threat to every person and that one must zealously struggle against it. As Chesterton said, the Christian is alone a combination of the extreme pessimist and the extreme optimist.

5. Aren’t the miracles of the Bible spiritual myths or legends and not literal fact?

The legacy of Hume and modernism is an a priori rejection of miracles. This is simply begging the question. One must look at the evidence and not decide before one looks that miracles are impossible. Even if one does not believe in God, the evidence for Christ’s resurrection from the dead ought to be enough for one to accept both theism and Christianity.

6. Why should I believe in Jesus?

You should believe in Jesus because he claimed to be divine (this is true even if one disregards John and takes only the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels and believed to be authentic by the Jesus Seminar) and rose from the dead. This is the bedrock of the faith.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book Review: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, by J. Budziszewski

I really looked forward to reading this book and wanted to like it. The title implies that a strong case will be made that all humanity has a natural moral sense that unites most people no matter where they lived or how isolated they were throughout history. This is a hugely important topic because it is under attack by many in the secular world who do not see this law written on their hearts. It is too bad that this book is not more focused on that main issue. Instead it deals more broadly, discussing the ideas of natural law philosophers like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke, while also dealing with the challenge posed by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century. The book ends with a brief discussion of contemporary philosophers in the natural law tradition or in its immediate orbit.

What this book lacked was a focus on the main issue which the title raises. Dealing with Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s conception of the ideal government is interesting but it doesn’t immediately address the issue in the title. So while one may be still questioning what natural law is and if it exists, we are treated a discussion on the nature of government by philosophers who are already assuming that natural law exists. Given our current cultural climate and the title of the book, defending the claim that there is a natural law should take precedent.

Despite this complaint, I found that the book was well written. If I hadn’t already studied Aristotle, Locke and Mill in college I would have found it much more fascinating, as I found the part about Aquinas (whom I don’t know much about) fascinating. Since this book is more wide-ranging than I wished it to be, I will keep the rest of the review focused only on the narrow topic of the existence of natural law. (I did study political philosophy in depth in college but I will refrain from speaking of government.)

J’s (his last name is just too long) defense of natural law begins at the beginning, which happens to be Aristotle. The natural law for Aristotle could be accessed through the data we have from our sea of moral intuitions which are expressed in common opinion. Just as I have to measure the desk in front of me to find out its dimensions, I have to look to inner data to discover moral truth. Of course, he didn’t just assume that common opinion or everyone’s inner intuitions are true but uses these to ascend to truth by questioning and applying logical reasoning. Aristotle’s method here seems so commonsensical to me that I find that it hardly needs to be said. This goes to show either how much Aristotle has influenced me or how much I have come to the same conclusions as him in this respect.

Unless one is interested in political philosophy one shouldn’t read this book. To get more into the topic of the title, perhaps a sampling the world’s religious and moral texts would help. Reading C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher, recommends (shockingly) the Pope. To be quite honest most of this book builds castles in the air based on heavily disputed foundations. They are good looking castles, built by the most awesome philosophers like Aristotle and Aquinas, but they are castles in the air nonetheless. I guess I was hoping for something more substantial from this author.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book Review: C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, by Victor Reppert

I found this to be a great defense of C.S. Lewis’s argument against naturalism. To state briefly, Lewis’ argument is that naturalism is self-refuting because it denies the very reasoning capacities that are needed to conclude that naturalism is true. How does it do this? In short, it collapses all reasoning into mere Cause and Effect, denying Ground-Consequent reasoning. Every state in the universe, including mental states, is just a result of the previous state and so forth. Person A votes for Barack Obama because of all the physical matter interactions in her brain and her environment, relegating rational inference to being only a smokescreen hiding these true physicalist explanations. What if Person A states that she is voting for Obama because she thinks his healthcare plan will greatly reduce unnecessary suffering in America? She may be thinking to herself, if I vote for Obama, then suffering will decrease. At hearing this the naturalist would have to jump up and look to evolutionary genetics, sociological theory, and the other ‘soft sciences’ for clues to the real explanation. The decision was perhaps due to her genes and/or environment. This in turn breaks down to the purely physical interactions of the ‘hard sciences,’ which turn from psychological explanations to purely physical ones. ‘She grew up in a very liberal Democratic area and her parents are Democrats’ turns to ‘These neurons in her brain fire when she thinks of Obama…‘ The chain of cause and effect, like a long line of dominoes, has been falling since the Big Bang ensuring from the beginning of the universe that she’d support Obama.

You can see the problem now for the naturalist who holds to a set of metaphysical beliefs such as, 1) The physical order is causally closed. 2) atheism, etc. Under the naturalist’s own schema though, these beliefs cannot be held up. Any rational justification could be debunked just as he debunked the Obama supporter above.

Theism can account for both Cause-Effect and Ground-Consequent relationships. Being created in the image of God we are endowed with reason. Person A could really be supporting Obama at bottom because of her rational beliefs. If one is to contend against her belief, one must do so on the Ground-Consequent level, as is usually (or perhaps one should say ’hopefully’) done in political debate. They must either show that her reasoning is invalid or unsound. If this argument is correct than basic explanations must include reasons as well as what Reppert calls, “the blind operation of nature obeying the laws of nature.” (Pg. 53)

Now that this argument is stated and expounded a bit I will move onto Elizabeth’s Anscombe’s criticism. There is obviously more to Reppert’s book than this but I want to touch only upon what I think to be the most significant/interesting ideas.

One significant criticism Anscombe employs is what Reppert calls a “paradigm case argument.” She basically asks why one should take Lewis seriously if they are a naturalist since if naturalism is true then Lewis’s distinctions between valid and invalid reasoning would be meaningless. By asking, what if all our reasoning is invalid is really to ask a meaningless question because in the naturalist paradigm such ideas of ‘true’ and ‘false’ are defined differently than the definitions Lewis used. In essence such people are playing a different language game. It would be like if a believer in Descartes’ Evil Deceiver tried to convince someone not of that belief that everything they believed was false. There would be communication difficulties to say the least.
Reppert gets around this by claiming that as a skeptical threat argument, the paradigm case objection would be valid, but if one changes the argument to a more modest argument to the best explanation then one gets around this objection. Rational inference must be assumed to exist for any discussion to take place. This conflicts with naturalism because under naturalism reason explanations are always reduced to physical explanations which are nonrational. Therefore, naturalism should be rejected as false.

Anscombe’s last line of attack claims that reason-explanations are noncausal. Lewis is quite correct here to object. If Person A votes for Obama because he gives him warm feelings inside than that shows that her claimed rational reasons for supporting him are if not untrue in themselves, then untrue when it comes to her own decision-making. A person cannot be thought of as rational unless their rational claims are causal over and against what is happening psychologically. Reppert states, “For example, if a prosecutor were to believe that the defendant was guilty on the basis of DNA evidence, what would we think of him if it turned out that he hated the defendant so much that he would believe in his guilt regardless of the DNA evidence?” (Pg. 64)

I would go onto Reppert’s six arguments from reason but I am tired and I frankly do not have a sufficient understanding of the philosophy of mind to consider them critically. After reading most of Lewis’ works and Reppert’s defense of him, I am confident that this argument is sound. Now, I am curious about what the ‘other side’ would say in response the Argument from Reason.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Instead of reviewing the anthology of Kierkegaard quotes I have read, I will just produce the ones that touched me most right here.

"If one who lives in the midst of Christendom goes up to the house of God, the house of the true God, with the true conception of God in his knowledge, and prays, but prays in a false spirit; and one who lives in an idolatrous community prays with the entire passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest upon the image of an idol: where is the most truth? The one prays in truth to God though he worships an idol; the other prays falsely to the true God, and hence in fact worships an idol."

"Christ says: Do according to what I say - then you shall know. Consequently, decisive action first of all. By acting, your life will come into collision with existence and then you will know the reality of grace. Nowadays we have turned the whole thing around. Christianity has become a worldview. Thus, before I get involved I must first justify it. Good night to Christianity! Now doubt has surely been conquered. And this doubt can never be halted by reasons, which only nourish doubt. No, doubt can only be halted by imitation."

"That Jesus Christ died for my sins certainly shows how great his grace is, but it also shows how great my sins are."

"The anguished conscience alone understands Christ."

"Is this the test: to love Christ more dearly than mother and father, than gold and goods, than honor and reputation? No, the test is this: to love the Savior more than your sin."

"That God could create beings free over against himself is the cross that philosophy could not bear but upon which it has remained hanging."

"The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned is not that his father or teacher should be an unbeliever, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in their being pious and God-fearing, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep within there lies a terrible unrest. The danger is that the child is provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love."

"Today's Christianity is a matter of being elevated for an hour once a week just as in the theater. It is now used to hearing everything without having the remotest notion of doing something."

"We can flee evil either out of fear for punishment - like slaves, or out of hope for reward - like hirelings, or out of love of God - like children."

"That a person wants to sit and brood and stare at his sin and is unwilling to have faith tht it is forgiven is itself a further guilt. It simply ignores what Christ has done."

"Only through the consciousness of sin is one admitted; to want to enter by any other road is high treason agains Christianity."

"A person sins out of weakness, then out of despair. In the strict sense the latter alone is the sin. Here, also, is the cross. You doubt that the sin you have committed out of weakness can be forgiven. All is lost, you think and thus you sin. But the cross can bring you to a halt, if you let it."

"What sin cries to heaven? The very one that hides most secretly and most quietly within. What the adulterers, murderers and thives do cries out already here on earth."

"It is not dreadful that I have to suffer punishment when I have acted badly. No, it would be dreadful if I could act badly - and there were no punishment."

"The opposite of sin is faith. And this is one of the most decisive definitions of all Christianity - that the opposie of sin is not virture but faith."

"The intensity of suffering is greatest when you have the power to free yourself from it. I must use my energy to force myself out into the suffering and then use it to endure the suffering."