A rational argument for God and Christianity

Alan Roebuck has posted a comment Mangan’s Miscellany providing the outline of an intellectual, rational approach to the problem of God’s existence—namely that it’s possible to prove by rational argument both that God exists and that Christianity is true—that goes beyond the admittedly inadequate “intuitive-experiential” approach that I suggested in the same discussion.

Mr. Roebuck writes:

Dennis and Lawrence:

This is a most important topic. Let me try to clarify.

First, there’s a great difference between knowing that something is true, and knowing why it’s true. We may know that God exists through intuition or experience (perhaps they overlap), but since intuition and experience may mislead, we need some intellectual confirmation. Thus the need for proof.

Although you have both acknowledged it, it bears emphasizing: Feser’s essay is not a proof of God’s existence. It is only a demonstration that MacDonald’s basic approach, shared by all of the prominent atheistic apologists, is illogical. Mac Donald She assumes, before examining the evidence, that only empirical (i.e., sense-based) data counts. She thus dismisses the supernatural before she looks at the evidence.

A proof of God, in outline, would be something like this:

First, establish the proper philosophical system within which to examine the evidence. In other words, what sort of evidence counts, and how shall it be interpreted? The basic answer is that we cannot discount the existence of the supernatural and the occurrence of miracles before the evidence is examined.

Second, establish that the basic facts of reality require a God to be their cause. [Remember, this is just the barest of outlines.] This step also involves establishing a few facts about God, such as that He is non-material and timeless.

And this is as far as bare human reason, even when employed correctly, can go. To make progress, we will need God to have told us something about himself. Just as you cannot know any of the important things about a human until he (or someone else who knows them) tells you, we cannot know the important facts about God, and the answers to the important questions of life, unless He tells us. In words.

So we must next look to the religions, and try to ascertain which of them contains the most truth.

And note that if religion refers to reality, then it will be possible for one religion to be more true than another, and it will also be possible for us to know (with some, but not perfect, certainty) which is the most true religion.

How do we test religion? By examining the evidence, of course. We have to, because other ways of knowing can be misleading. (Reason can be misleading too, but it is potentially less misleading than other ways of knowing.)

So why Christianity? Basically for this reason: It is the only religion which does not simply say “Believe because our prophet [sorry, Prophet] said so.” Instead, Christianity rests on Jesus’ identity (the second Person of the triune Godhead) and works (virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, Resurrection). No other religion has anyone remotely like this. And there is plenty of confirming evidence that he did what Christianity says he did; one need not have blind faith. [Remember, it’s only a bare outline.]

This is all very different from the other religions, for example Islam. Mohammed just said “believe,” and there is, strictly speaking, no confirming evidence other than the bloody success of his followers. (Although Muslims claim that their religion was foretold in the Bible, this just shows that man can always concoct pseudo-evidence whenever he wants to. And as for people saying “God spoke to me,” they’re a dime a dozen.)

Furthermore, Christianity is part of our Western heritage, and therefore we Westerners ought to give it the benefit of the doubt until there is strong evidence against it.

Dennis, I appeal to you as a scientist. If you believe that religious claims cannot be tested, I would ask you, how do you know that they cannot? I repeat, if religion refers to something real, then it can be tested. All you need to do is learn the proper way to investigate religion (every field has its proper way to proceed), and then get to work. Perhaps you could start by considering the question, if God had communicated words to man, how would one know it? Presumably if God had communicated with us, He would have also made a way for us actually to know that He had.

P.S. I myself have had very few “religious experiences,” and they were pretty weak. One need not have had a powerful experience of God to be a believer.

After seeing the replies to Mr. Roebuck’s comment, I posted this at Mangan’s:

Even though Dennis Mangan in an earlier comment modestly and amiably described himself as one who would like to believe in God but can’t, and consequently finds himself adrift on the sea of life, in his reply to Alan Roebuck he dogmatically rejects the claims of religion. I think Mr. Mangan is contradicting himself and needs to think about what he’s saying and where he’s coming from.

Rick Darby also declares his disbelief in Christianity, on the basis that we have no “history” of Jesus other than the Gospels. Excuse me, but the Gospels are what we have. We don’t need further history, and, if we had the sort of pragmatic history Mr. Darby wants, it would be a distraction from what the Gospels are conveying. The Gospels are a fully adequate testimony to the life, teachings, nature, and mission of Jesus, as well as the highest thing on this earth. They are themselves the greatest proof that God exists and that the kingdom of Heaven—life in God—exists. To declare that the Gospels are false on the basis that they seem like a mere “compilation of stories from different sources”—oh, please—and that Jesus sounds “compassionate” in some places and “sadistic” in others—gosh, you mean that Jesus expressed himself in different ways in relation to different situations and different people, how impossible—is the kind of know-nothing, reductivist, let’s-destroy-Christianity response to the Gospels that I would expect from the Jesus Seminar, not from Rick Darby, who, though not a Christian, is a man with awareness of higher things.

It does not behoove Mr. Darby, who is an ally of many Christians, to argue positively that the Gospels and thus the Christian religion are false—and not just false, but a lie, a fraud.

* * *

Here is my latest comment sent to Mangan’s

Dennis Mangan writes:

“If I am told that God caused a virgin to give birth to his son, who later worked miracles and rose from the dead, I am going to need some pretty strong evidence.”

This is a classic example of the backwards approach to religion that can only lead to a total misunderstanding and loss of truth.

Mr. Mangan looks at the Bible and Christianity as though they were a set of assertions and doctrines, and then he sits down, puts his chin in his hand, determines that they don’t pass the text of empirical proof, and so rejects the Bible and Christianity.

In the same way, atheists and skeptics like Mr. Mangan approach the problem of the existence of God as a set of doctrines associated with belief in God, and if those doctrines don’t pass muster with them, they say that God doesn’t exist.

This approach reverses the primary thing and the secondary things. The primary thing is that God exists. Once you get that God exists, then you can work out those trickier, secondary doctrinal issues, which are only of relative importance compared with the absolute importance of the truth that God exists.

It’s the same with the Bible. Sure, there are all kinds of problematic texts in the Bible. But to look at those problematic texts, and on that basis to say, well, the Bible isn’t what it says it is, the Bible is just a compilation of stories, is an utterly clueless statement which amounts to saying that there is no shaping hand in the books of the Bible. It is to miss the forest for the trees, big time.

To look at the trees as separate items one by one, and say, “From my forestless perspective these trees make no sense,” is an error that will AUTOMATICALLY cut a person off from the possibility of seeing truth.

By contrast, once you grasp the forest, the trees start to make sense.

And if there are still individual trees that you can’t quite go along with, fine, that won’t make you doubt the forest itself.

So, if you are sincere about wondering if God and the Bible may be true, don’t start off like a little rationalistic Voltaire picking apart the claims in the Bible that are so “obviously” false from a materialistic perspective, like the Resurrection. Instead, read the Bible as a book. In any book, the author is trying to say something. To read the book seriously and sincerely is to open oneself to the author, at least provisionally, and try to get what he is saying.

It’s the same with the Bible. The Author or authors of the Bible are saying something. They’re trying to convey something to us. What they’re trying to convey most of all is not a collection of doctrines, but an experience of the truth of God, especially with regard to man’s relationship with God. That’s what Genesis is about. That’s what Exodus is about. That’s what the Psalms and the Prophets are about. That’s what the Gospels are about . They’re not about a set of doctrines, they’re about God and man’s relationship with God. God didn’t give Abraham a set of doctrines. He appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty. Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Jesus didn’t demand that his disciples absorb a set of doctrines. He said to them, “Abide with me, and I in you.” The God of the Hebrew Bible is a living God, not a set of ideas or rules. Jesus Christ is perfect man and perfect God, a divine person, not a set of ideas or rules. Once a person has that primary truth that the Bible is conveying, then he has a proper perspective for trying to understand the Ten Commandments, or the rules in Exodus on how to treat slaves, or the ritual rules of the animal sacrifice in Leviticus, or the Sermon on the Mount, or whether the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth make sense to him, or whether the Christian religion makes sense to him. But if he doesn’t have that primary perspective, it will all seem, at best, like “a compilation of stories,” and, at worst, like creepy nonsense.

For a person to look at the Bible as a set of doctrines which he must either assent to or reject (and if he rejects them, he rejects the Bible and thus the God of the Bible) is to turn the Bible into a dead thing before he has even started.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 19, 2008 06:59 PM | Send

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