“The revelation of God in Christ does not seek support or justification from men. It posits and maintains itself in high majesty. Its authority is not only normative but also causative. It fights for its own triumph. It conquers for itself the hearts of men. It makes itself irresistible.”
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Chapter five of MCA takes the reader through the strategies and stages of how to use the Socratic Method to separate the faithful from their faith. Now, I am a huge proponent of the Socratic Method, even if I am not a huge fan of Socrates. Moreover, I think that every Christian could benefit from reading this chapter because they will learn something about the method as well as how to use it in evangelism and apologetics. In addition, it gives us great insight into minds like Boghossian so that we can better understand how they think.
The Socratic Method is fine as far as it goes but like any other method, it is easily integrated into a person’s system of beliefs, or their noetic structure if you will. This structure is fundamentally and radically different for Christian theism than it is for empiricism, rationalism, or existentialism. As Herman Bavinck writes,
The very point of contention here is that Christian epistemology transcends human reason and experience. It only begs the question for Boghossian to insist on subjecting the faithful to an epistemology they do not regard to begin with. Nevertheless, I think my interaction with this chapter should be fun and entertaining, if not a little stimulating.
As Boghossian moves to “Actual Socratic Interventions” he makes this startling statement: “Sometimes, even after years of treatment, the faith virus is not separated from its host.” [Loc. 1977] I must confess that is virtually impossible for me to take someone with this kind of attitude toward the conversation seriously. What Boghossian has not acknowledged so far in this project is the fact that most people hold beliefs that are true knowledge and yet if challenged would not be able to justify them. And that especially would not be able to justify them with a philosophy professor. Mr. Boghossian provides several examples of what he calls “interventions” in this chapter. They basically amount to a philosophy professor intellectually bullying ordinary every day folks that do not have the time to sit around and think up strategies for tripping people up as he apparently does. While he might find these things self-amusing, I think most fair-minded educators would find it reprehensible.
For his first victim, he picks a young man that has apparently just converted to Christianity. He is new to the Christian faith. So new that he is in no way ready to engage the sort of questions that Boghossian will ask him. Boghossian asks, “How do you know the thing you felt was caused by Jesus?” The trained Christian might reply something like this, “Because Scripture describes this for me in exactly the same way I experienced it. I once hated Christ and loved sin. Now, I love the Lord and hate sin.”
Boghossian’s next question is a straw man because he treats religious truth as if it is entirely experiential. It is not. He basically says that all religions do the very same thing. The Christian might answer: “With all due respect, that is patently false. Only Christianity provides the basis for my experience. There is nothing like the gospel, sin, and redemption in Buddhism, Islam, or Mormonism. In fact, you may think that all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different but the truth is they are only superficially the same and fundamentally different. If you spent more time studying Christian theism and less time studying Socrates and philosophy, you might have known this.”
Boghossian’s next question: “So what do you think accounts for the fact that different people have religious experiences that they’re convinced are true?” The Christian might answer: “In Matthew 7 and 24 Jesus warned His disciples about false religions. Then again, Paul warned about false gospels in Galatians 1, and he also warned about false teachers in 2 Corinthians 11. Additionally, Paul informs us about a fascinating phenomenon in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 called in the Greek, a ἐνέργειαν πλάνης (energeian planes). God allows men who do not love the truth of His revelation to fall into delusion.” Note to the Christian: if you are ever approached in this way, you should not look at it as an opportunity to flex your knowledge or to make Christianity look incredibly rational. You may be incredibly intelligent and Christianity certainly is rational. However, your goal is to give as much of the gospel as you can in the exchange even if it appears that your interlocutor isn’t listening. Always remember this clear statement from Paul: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) Give them the word. Do not get caught up in philosophical conjectures and speculation. Paul said this about secular philosophy: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) Secular philosophy is a natural enemy of Christian faith. It is the attempt to discover truth about the world apart from trusting in God’s own self-disclosure. It is an outright refusal to trust in God’s revelation in nature and in Scripture.
Boghossian then asks the faithful to consider that their conversion might not be caused by what they think. The Christian might answer, “That is a good question and one that Christians ask themselves all the time. 1 Jn. 4:1 commands Christians to be critical thinkers, to test every claim against Scripture and so that is how we know that a claim or an experience is either true or false. Tell me something Mr. Boghossian, how do you know that human reason is as reliable as you claim it is?”
The next intervention that Boghossian describes is not reflective of genuine Christian theism at all. Christians do not hold onto their faith because it gives them comfort. According to Christian theism, faith is a gift from God. (Eph. 2:8-10) It is the necessary result of divine regeneration. The role of God in the process of Christian conversion is completely absent in Boghossian’s assessment. It truly is something that he does not and cannot understand. Christians are kept by the power of God because it is God’s good pleasure to keep them. That is how He works in us and through us. (1 Peter 1:5) Nothing can separate the genuine Christian from their faith. (Rom. 8:32-39) If you are an atheist, and you really want to engage genuine Christians, you should read these texts if for no other reason so that you might at least attempt to understand what Christians believe. If you really want a challenge, try talking a true Christian out of their faith.
Boghossian’s tactics are more than a little distasteful. It is the typical atheist rudeness and arrogance that always seems to find its way into these discussions. He compares the comfort of faith with the comfort of slave owners. The Christian might answer, “Are you suggesting there is a relationship between having faith and being a slave owner? Do you think these two behaviors are moral equivalents? Earlier you said there was nothing virtuous about faith or about not having faith. Do you think there is anything virtuous about owning slaves or not owning slaves?” This forces Boghossian to explain why he thinks this is a good analogy. He could have easily picked an analogy that was uncontroversial. He chose this one for a very specific reason. Why did Boghossian make the decision to use this analogy? Here, we turn the tables on the philosopher and subject him to some of his own Socratic medicine.
Boghossian then asks, “Are the beliefs in your faith true?” The Christian would certainly answer without hesitation: “yes, they are most certainly true. Scripture teaches that God created the universe and all that is in it, including humanity. Man rebelled and came under God’s curse. This curse extends to the areas of philosophy that seem to fully occupy your time. Epistemologically, man is doomed to contort the knowledge of God he has, so long as he is unregenerate. Ontologically, man is separated from God, in a most wretched condition and doomed for damnation. Ethically, man is hostile to God, totally depraved and unable of doing anything that commends him to his Creator. But God sent His only Son to redeem man, despite the fact that he is unworthy. Now, faith in God’s Son leads to life, leads to hope, leads to meaning, purpose, and dignity. Through Christ, man be in a right position with God, he can know the truth he desperate seeks, and he is capable now of pleasing the one for whom He was made.” As Christians, we are commanded to give an account for the hope that is in us to all that might ask. Boghossian is asking and we need to answer. However, we do not need to concern ourselves with providing Boghossian an answer with which he will be satisfied. That is not the mandate of Christian apologetics and evangelism.
Boghossian wants Christians to submit their beliefs to his unregenerate criteria for justification. This is exactly what we cannot do. We cannot accommodate Boghossian and let him continue to pretend to possess true knowledge apart from God. In our answers, we appeal to the epistemic authority of Christian theism: Scripture. We do this repeatedly until it sounds like a broken record. However, sooner or later, it will be Boghossian’s turn to sit in our chair and provide justification for his view of justifiability. And there is where we shall demonstrate that Boghossian’s own beliefs are not internally consistent. In fact, we will move to show that Boghossian’s claims are self-referentially incoherent. His basic presuppositions do not comport with his noetic structure.
Just a quick comment about Boghossians questions concerning Jesus and His death. The line of questioning is incredibly silly. Boghossian asks if Jesus was clever. The Christian might respond: “Jesus was fully God and fully man. Being fully God, He was omniscient. But as a man, he was the wisest this earth has seen.” Boghossian then asks if I would consider Him a greater man for having made that sacrifice (death). The Christian might answer: “no.” “God’s works are amazing because they are the works of God. Nothing God does can increase His greatness. God is infinitely great.” Next question. Boghossian then implies that Jesus had to be clever to pull off the sacrifice. Could Jesus have not made the sacrifice? The Christian would answer: “no.” “The death of Christ was decreed in eternity past, in every single detail and God providentially works His decrees with utmost efficacy. There is no contingency in the divine decree. Therefore, there was no possibility that Christ would not carry out His work on the cross.”
At the end of the day, the Socratic Method is a tool of a tool. It is a tool of reason, which is also a tool. Reason is the tool of the human intellect. It is not independent of human predication. The disposition of a person’s intellect will determine how they use the tool of reason. This fact explains the volume of disagreement among the various schools of philosophy. On the one hand, secular philosophy denies design while on the other hand seeking to unify the particular with the general. The philosophy of the metaphysics of chance is entirely powerless to produce unity in reality. The problem disagreement between Christian theism and godless atheism is that we have two different epistemic courts of appeal. The final authority for Christian theism is God speaking in Scripture while the final authority for philosophers like Peter Boghossian is their own autonomous reasoning. The Christian appeal is to an authority that they believe transcends all of humanity and creation, while Boghossian and his atheist friends appeal to a product of their own invention. This explains why they have such difficulties like, for instance, making the meaning in life, well, sound meaningful. That is just one of a long list of difficulties the atheist worldview has trouble explaining.
Going back to 1 Cor. 1:18 where Paul informs the Christian that the gospel is considered foolish by the philosopher, by the debater, by the lawyer, by the wise and mighty for the most part, we should be used to men like Boghossian. Scripture told us long before they did that they would consider the Christian message moronic. And so they do. Boghossian is one very small proof for the credibility of Scripture. Scripture says men like him will consider the message of Christ moronic. How many pages have been filled with men like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Boghossian attempting to convince us that Christianity is moronic? New Flash Dr. Boghossian: you are one example for why we should believe the Scripture.
Monday, December 30, 2013
I left off my review of MCA with Boghossian setting the strategy for separating people from their faith by attempting to undermine their confidence in how they claim to know what they know as opposed to what a person believes exists. I should say that Boghossian’s strategy may work just fine on people who really don’t have the kind of faith that exists in Christian theism, but it will not be effective with genuine believers. I will explain why this is so in a later post.
I now want to spend some time interacting with Boghossian’s assertion that “There’s nothing virtuous about pretending to know things you don’t know or in lending one’s belief to a particular proposition.” In other words, the faithful believe it is impossible to separate faith and morality. Boghossian is attempting to establish the idea that faith is morally neutral. There is essentially nothing right or good about having faith. But Boghossian adds, “or in lending one’s belief to a particular proposition.” [Loc.1388] He continues, “The belief that faith is a virtue and that one should have faith are primary impediments to disabusing people of their faith.” And yet, the belief that faith is a virtue, as well as a gift from God, is a primary element in Christian theism. Boghossian is now striking at one of the heartbeat issues of Christian faith. Saying faith isn’t a virtue doesn’t make it so.
Boghossian claims that by redefining faith and by pointing out that people without faith are just as moral as people with faith he can effectively prove there is nothing virtuous about faith. Boghossian points to the atheist Pat Tillman and to Bill Gates as examples of virtuous men without faith. However, giving your life in battle and donating money to good causes does not make one moral or virtuous. Immoral people are capable of doing good deeds just as moral people are capable of doing immoral things. Christian theism teaches that we are all equally sinners in need of a Savior. In truth, if there is nothing virtuous about believing propositions, then there is nothing virtuous about one being willing to revise their beliefs either. I wonder if Boghossian thinks there is anything good about creating Street Epistemologists to go out and talk people out of their faith. Why is this project such a significant passion for him? What is so virtuous about getting at truth? Should people be attempting to know the truth about reality? If there is nothing virtuous about discovering truth, then why does he make all this fuss? Why not just go about your business and leave off this virtue-less initiative?
Boghossian then discusses a tactic that he employs when he has little time to engage the faithful. He refers to these tactics as two powerful dialectical shortcuts. First he asks, “How could your belief [in x] be wrong?” The second question he asks is, “How would you differentiate your belief from a delusion?” Not for nothing, but I love the Socratic Method. I love critical thinking. The only problem with it is that what works for the atheist also works for the Christian. What every Christian thinker has to remember is that he cannot allow the atheist to establish what counts as evidence or as good reasons for belief. The Christian standard and criteria for belief are fundamentally different from those the atheist uses. That being the case, the answer to Boghossian’s questions is simply this: God would have to not exist in order for me to be wrong. The answer to the second question is that my belief is anchored in the unchanging truth of God’s word. I realize this will not satisfy Boghossian’s standards. But satisfying Boghossian’s standards is not our goal. Our goal is giving an account for the hope that is in us to anyone that asks.
There are a number of problems with Boghossian’s attempts to create a morally neutral idea of faith. Not the least of which is his definition of faith as “pretending to know something you do not know.” He assumes that Christian theists will simply let him get away with this definition. I assure you, we will not. The Christian will always insist on the biblical definition of faith. They most certainly will not permit an atheist to redefine it for them. To think otherwise is simply absurd. Since Boghossian’s redefinition of faith will not hold, his attempt to decouple faith from morality is significantly weakened. The second problem is Boghossian’s reasoning that faith has nothing to do with morality. This argument is patently false and it involves fatally fallacious reasoning. The argument looks like this: Some atheists do moral good. No atheists have faith. Therefore, there is nothing virtuous about faith. As anyone can see, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. From the premises above, all we can conclude is that it is possible to go good deeds even if one has no religious faith. I cannot think of any Christian apologist that would disagree with this statement.
I want you to take a different view of Boghossian’s argument. Many Christians do moral good. Many Christians are irrational. Therefore, there is nothing virtuous about rational thinking. Again, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. What Boghossian needs to do is understand the relationship between faith and morality in the Christian worldview. It is evident to this writer that he has not done his homework in this respect. If you are an atheist and you are reading this post, you need to understand that Christianity is a very small religion with very few adherents. Depending on where you live, you may never have encountered an actual Christian. What you have very likely encountered is cultural Christians, or social Christians. These are people who adhere outwardly to some of the teachings of Christianity some of the time. They profess to have faith, but the reality of the case is that they do not. Boghossian’s project is not aimed at biblical Christianity. If it is, I can tell you he misses his mark by a wide margin. Boghossian seems to be aiming at a generic faith, religion in general. You need to understand that true Christians reject the idea of a generic faith. They even reject the notion of theism in general. What Boghossian needs to do is interact with the Christian Scripture if he wants to attack real faith. And this, so far, he has not done.
In order to prove that faith has no virtue, Boghossian needs to understand the Bible’s teaching on the relationship between faith and morality. He needs to know that Christian theism teaches that a lifestyle defined by immorality is a strong indication that a person does not have faith. Conversely, Christian theism teaches that a radical change, to include morality, is the unavoidable consequence of genuine faith. In other words, true faith equals a changed heart and mind. True faith causes a woman to stop lying to her husband, causes a husband to stop cheating on his wife, and causes an unmarried couple to stop sexual activity outside of marriage, just to call out some examples. The kind of faith that Scripture speaks about, true faith, always produces virtuous living wherever it is found. Therefore, there is something virtuous about faith, about trusting in the God who is there.
I am afraid at this point in Boghossian’s project, that the atheist is getting a straw man version of Christianity. Essentially, if you are able to talk someone out of their faith, true Christianity would hold that you have talked them out of something they never really had from the start. Essentially, you are accomplishing nothing, separating men from a shallow mental acceptance of God and not from faith at all.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
As we move to chapter four of Boghossian’s project, I think I need to point out to our atheist readers, one very important point that Boghossian has continued to ignore and that you might also think is a flaw in my rebuttal. Christian theism and atheist do not share the same criterion for justification or warrant. So when you read Boghossian’s talk about evidence and warrant, you must understand that I reject Boghossian’s notion that Christian theism must present itself in such a way as to meet his epistemological demands. That is part of our disagreement, and I might add, a critical component that he seems to be happy to ignore. You should know that if you are an atheist who feels as Boghossian does and you take up his charge, when you encounter Christians that refuse to budge in the conversation that it is not due to brain damage, but rather to the fact their criterion for knowledge is radically different from and intensely opposed to yours.
The main thrust of chapter four concerns methods for “deprogramming” the faithful from their religious delusions. Boghossian compares this process to that of a drug intervention. Once again, this tactic produces in the unsuspecting atheist, a false sense of superiority over the faithful. I am always on the lookout for Boghossian’s street epistemologist. The last scientist I encountered was on the verge of rejecting logic so that she could hand on to her empiricism. Atheist, beware, if you are speaking to intelligent and genuine believers who have actually bothered with these subjects, you will be overmatched. However, I encourage you to take up the cause and speak with as many Christians as you can. I will provide a hypothetical interaction with Boghossian at the end of this series so that you can see how a Christian theist should respond to his straw man paradigm.
Boghossian makes a very revealing comment in chapter four: “If you are reading this book you probably already possess attitudes that predispose you to rationality, like a trustfulness of reason.” I said in an earlier post that Boghossian has some faith of his own that he has not discussed in his project. It is here that we are now beginning to see his faith in the power of human reason. We will eventually ask Boghossian to justify his belief in the adequacy of human reason to deal with questions related to the existence of God and any other inquiry into the nature of reality, as far as that goes. We are interested in knowing from Boghossian why he thinks reason is possible in the kind of world he believes exists.
Boghossian instructs the SE to be willing to say to the Christian, “I don’t know.” The SE is informed that they should not worry about that. Well, if the SE approaches the right Christian, they will have the opportunity to say that quite a lot. Moreover, they should be ready to hear answers with which they disagree and reasoning that is fundamentally different from their own. For example, when the Christian says I believe the Bible is God’s word because it claims to be God’s word and on that basis alone I believe it. That kind of reasoning sounds odd to the atheist. But you must think of it from the Christian’s basic belief. If God exists, and He in fact created all that is, and He in fact has spoken to us in the Bible, then it is only reasonable that we take God’s witness of Himself as true. If we attempted to point to something other than God’s own word to show that God’s word is true, we would be saying there is a greater witness to God than God Himself. And if that were actually true, Christianity would be falsified. Now, if you can’t follow that argument, you have more work to do in terms of how you reason. And if you can follow that argument, then you know that breaking through that epistemology is going to take a little more than a small book on creating atheists.
Boghossian says, “Every religious apologist is epistemically debilitated by an extreme form of confirmation bias.” [Loc. 1263] He uses Gary Habermas as an example. Now, here is a critical question from critical thinker: does Dr. Boghossian expect us to believe that he has no bias concerning the claims of the Bible? Has he really found that state of pure objectivity? Boghossian criticizes Habermas for concluding the most outrageous of all claims, specifically, that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Boghossian has a list of more plausible explanations that Habermas should first believe if he were really objective. But is this a display of pure objectivity? Does not Boghossian bring his own philosophical bias to the discussion? The Romans and Jews wanted to crush Christianity. Could they not have simply hung the rotting corpse of Jesus out for all to see? Or, is it really plausible to believe that the disciples of Jesus stole the corpse and then one by one, were tortured to death for something they knew was a lie? Once we remove Boghossian’s anti-supernatural bias from the equation, the only rational explanation for the empty tomb is that Jesus rose from the dead. Here we have a perfect example of a man engaging in extreme bias while he is in the process of criticizing someone else for being biased. Habermas is only unreasonable because he rejects Boghossian’s basic presuppositions about the possibility of miracles. I think Boghossian calls this doxastic closure.
Boghossian talks about evidence, but then he dismisses the documents of the New Testament out of hand. It is as if they do not exist. You see, what qualifies as evidence is not just an insignificant question. It is at the heartbeat of Boghossian’s project. It is a project that in my opinion is becoming more insubstantial the more we learn about it. Boghossian finally begins to discuss justification. He talks about two primary schools regarding justification for belief (coherentism and foundationalism) and lands on foundationalism.
I agree that a belief structure must rest upon a foundation. In that sense, I am a foundationalist. However, I think Boghossian is wrong when he says that faith is the foundation. It is certainly wrong when it comes to Christian theism. The foundation of Christian theism is Christ Himself. The question is this: can genuine faith in Christ be destroyed by anything, to include naturalistic rationalism? Scripture teaches that it cannot.
Boghossian sees God as the conclusion of a faulty reasoning process. The problem as he sees it is faith. But not all Christian apologist take this approach. In fact, there are many with a high view of Scripture that see God, not as the conclusion of reasoning, but as the necessary precondition for reasoning from the start. In other words, some apologists ask the question, “what else has to be true in order for reason to exist?” The answer is that God is the necessary precondition for both reason and faith. Attempting to destroy either one will do nothing to impede God. If God does not exist, then intelligible experience does not exist (since God is the necessary precondition for intelligible experience). However, intelligible experience does exist. It is not the case that God does not exist. Boghossian seems to be interacting only with those who either, have a false faith or a very thin argument for why they believe.
Boghossian is clearly a foundationalist. Repeatedly he talks about evidence, warrant, and justification. He indicts faith for apparently contributing to the formation of beliefs without the proper justification. While the Christian views Scripture as their epistemic authority, Boghossian contends that human reason is his epistemic authority. Since Boghossian and I are both foundationlists, so to speak, the question remains, why is he a strident atheist while I am a Christian theist? We both believe that a belief structure must have a foundation or an anchor if you will. We both believe in the value of human reason. Our only difference seems to be on the question of faith. The answer to this mystery is not located in our epistemological differences. The answer is ethical. I will address the real reasons for faith in my final review of Boghossian's project.
What Boghossian is actually talking about when he talks about a foundation is a noetic structure. “A person’s noetic structure is the set of propositions he believes, together with certain epistemic relations that hold among him and these propositions.” [Plantinga, Faith and Rationality, 48] Now, the foundation of a noetic structure must rest upon something other than the structure. Beliefs about the validity of reason or the laws of logic cannot rest upon the laws of logic. Humans form beliefs on the basis of other, more basic beliefs until we get to our foundational beliefs. These foundational beliefs are beliefs that are self-evident. We do not believe them because of other beliefs. They are self-justifying. They require no evidence or warrant. They are by definition, properly basic beliefs. This is so far, so good where the Christian theist is concerned. But if I were an atheist, I would be getting quite nervous at this point.
A properly basic belief “must be capable of functioning foundationally, capable of bearing its share of the weight of the whole noetic structure.” [Ibid. 55] What then is Boghossian’s view of a properly basic belief. Typically it is just this: a belief is properly basic if it is a) self-evident, or b) incorrigible, or c) evident to the senses. Now, here is the elephant in the room when it comes to foundationalism: foundationalism itself is self-referentially incoherent. In other words, foundationalism is not self-evident, or incorrigible, or obvious to the senses. Foundationalism that rests upon a non-transcendental foundation then collapses upon itself. If the base is this weak, one has to wonder just how weak the rest of the structure could be. The nature of Christian truth is unlike that of logic or mathematics. Boghossian repeatedly fails to represent Christianity as resting on its own foundation. He reasons that faith must rest upon reason when the truth is that in Christian theology, reason rests upon faith. Christian epistemology is not empirical nor rationalistic in nature. On the contrary, a distinctly Christian epistemology it is revelational in nature. “All knowledge of God rests on revelation. Though we can never know God in the full richness of his being, he is known to all people through his revelation in creation, theater of his glory.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, 53]
Boghossian’s failure to understand the nature of Christian knowledge of God leads to multifarious errors in his criticism and regrettably for his lofty project. Christians do not come to know God on the basis of argumentation and evidence. The starting point for the Christian is Scripture. Our faith rests in the authority and reliability while Boghossian’s faith rests in his own ability to create a noetic structure that can sustain itself without becoming self-referentially incoherent. The type of belief we are talking about when we talk about belief in God is like belief in the self, other minds, and the external world. In none of these areas do we typically have proof or arguments, or need proof or arguments. [Plantinga, Faith and Rationality, 65]
I must apologize for having to review chapter four in two parts. It is by far the longest chapter thus far.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Chapter three of “A Manual for Creating Atheists” is truly a very difficult chapter for intelligent people of faith to read. This is not because it offers some profound intellectual challenge to faith. Rather, it is because Boghossian waxes extremely insulting in the chapter. However, the Christian must resist the temptation to be drawn into Boghossian's unkind ad hominem. Instead, we must critically examine the truthfulness of his propositions, all the while pointing out his philosophical bias, his wild conjectures, and his unproven philosophical assumptions.
Boghossian begins this chapter by setting a priori knowledge and analytic statements over against synthetic statements and a posteriori knowledge. This is an old argument between rationalists and empiricists and one that will likely never be settled. Specifically, he attacks certainty. He writes, “Certainty is an enemy of truth: examination and reexamination are allies of truth.” One cannot help but wonder how knowledge advances or progresses if it has no foundation upon which to advance. I shall return to this criticism later in the post.
Boghossian asserts that, “Faith taints or at worse removes our curiosity about the world.” Seemingly, faith leads to certainty about facts of the world and such certainty allays curiosity. Boghossian thinks, “Faith immutably alters the starting conditions for inquiry by uprooting a hunger to know and sowing a warrantless confidence.” The author of this project speaks with the strangest level of confidence for a man that thinks such confidence is the enemy of knowledge and truth. It is odd to read someone criticize the idea of certainty with such a high degree of, well, certainty.
Boghossian then makes this very puzzling statement, “Once we understand that we don’t possess knowledge, we have a basis to go forward in a life of examination, wonder, and critical reflection.” This statement would be humorous if it wasn’t so disturbing. The critical thinker has to wonder what the basis of our examination and critical thinking might be if we are all ignorant of it. How can one know that we have any basis at all for the pursuit of knowledge? How can one understand that they are knowledge-less? To understand implies a degree of knowledge. And to have adequate understanding to know that exploration is needed and desirable seems like a healthy degree of knowledge. Apparently Boghossian hasn’t the foggiest notion that knowledge depends upon knowledge, and so too does the very notion of examination, wonder, and critical reflection. The necessary precondition for knowledge is knowledge. I must confess that I find Boghossian’s line of reasoning here utterly absurd. At a minimum, knowing that one does not know is knowing. What then is the basis for that knowledge? Boghossian will eventually be forced to disclose his own foundation of beliefs and it is there that we shall find his faith.
From here, the author makes an ethical statement, which is also quite puzzling given his epistemological proclivity: “Wonder, curiosity, honest self-reflection, sincerity, and the desire to know are a solid basis for a life worth living.” I cannot help but ask how Boghossian knows that there is such a thing as “a life worth living.” What does “a life worth living actually look like?” Additionally, is there only one “life worth living” or are there more? Furthermore, what justification can he provide for such a sweeping and universal claim? I wonder if there isn’t an element of faith somewhere in Boghossian’s own worldview. Indeed, if it can be shown that such is the case, the implications for Boghossian’s project could turn out to more than just a little hysterical. After all, his entire thesis, the unreliability of faith as an epistemological method, would rest upon the very thing he so desperately wants to avoid: faith.
The goal of the Street Epistemologist is to “help people destroy foundational beliefs, flimsy assumptions, faulty epistemologies, and ultimately faith.” We cannot tell if Boghossian is speaking of the notion of foundationalism or if he means specific beliefs. As far as it goes, everyone enters this discussion with foundational beliefs. They are impossible to destroy. They can only be replaced with competing foundational beliefs. In addition, I intend to show that every epistemological position is, at bottom, a faith position. The only different is the object in which the faith is placed.
As we move through this particularly offensive, closed-minded, and arrogant chapter, the author once against makes one more outlandish statement about faith: “After all, faith is by definition the belief in something regardless or even in spite of the evidence.” The idea is that Christian faith has absolutely no evidence to offer and in fact, it exists in spite of the evidence against it. Boghossian then points to the Gervais & Norenzyan 2012 study that supposedly concludes that analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief. What Boghossian does not tell us is that most of the subjects in that study came from a liberal Canadian university, hence, highly underrepresenting the typical North American population. Suffice it to say that the study to which Boghossian refers is a real howler.
Boghossian spends a lot of time on what he calls “Doxastic Closure.” This is what happens when a person holds to a belief that is resistant to revision, supposedly regardless of the evidence. Boghossian says, “This puts people in a type of bubble that filters out ideologically disagreeable data and opinions.” I wonder if “doxastic closure” is the same thing as dismissing the reliability of faith as an epistemology from the start, because it does not meet one’s ideas of their criteria for justification.
Boghossian tell us that doxastic openness is a willingness and ability to revise beliefs. One has to wonder what sort of evidence Boghossian would need in order to justify a belief. Suppose someone asks him to be open to changing his criteria for justification, how do we think he might respond? Boghossian’s view of his ability to be purely objective about these matters seems more than a little naive.
I could continue my review of chapter three, but I will stop with one more Boghossian assertion that is nothing short of outrageous. He writes, “This section will unpack two primary reasons for this appearance of failure: either (1) an interlocutor’s brain is neurologically damaged, or (2) you’re actually succeeding.” He continues, “In Short, if someone is suffering from a brain-based faith delusion your work will be futile.” If Boghossian means for people to take his project serious, then he should leave aside such insulting conjectures and ad hominem and explain to his atheist colleagues that it could be due to the fact that their arguments rest upon a hopeless irrationalism, are not supported by the evidence, and most of all, contradict the truth of God revealed in Scripture, which is actually why intelligent Christians reject them. One has to do more than link together a bunch of ad hominem statements if they hope to persuade others of the validity concerning their point of view.
The Christian response to Boghossian then is to ask him to justify the certainty with which he condemns certainty. Boghossian claims that certainty is an enemy of the truth and about this he seems to be quite certain. Boghossian’s whole enterprise seems to be that faith aims for certainty. His argument goes something like this: examination and reexamination are allies of truth. Certainty endangers examination. Without examination truth is endangered. Faith produces certainty. Therefore, faith endangers truth. But one has to ask why truth ceases to be truth once we become certain of it. I am certain that 2+2 = 4. I do not need to examine the equation again. I do not need to reexamine the equation again. I am certain it is true. Boghossian tells us that truth is threatened by certainty, but he fails to illustrate for us just why he thinks this is the case.
Boghossian’s claim that faith removes our curiosity about the world is manifestly misleading. The fact that Christian theism asserts that there are some things, about which we can be certain, does nothing to quell intellectual adventure or curiosity about the many things we do not and even cannot be certain about. It does not follow that certainty about the existence of God leads to certainty about all of reality. The fact of God’s existence does nothing to eliminate mystery, adventure, or curiosity of all of the facts of God’s universe and of the revelation of Himself both in nature and in Scripture. Apparently Boghossian is unfamiliar with the voluminous materials and documents produced by theologians over the centuries, all designed to inform, to question, to wonder, and to search for the truth.
Boghossian implies that he believes there is a life worth living. This implies that life has value, worth, and meaning. It also implies that not just any life has value, worth, and meaning, but rather, a specific kind of life. Moreover, without saying so, it implies that there is at least one kind of life that is not worth living. Now, apparently, the life worth living is a life filled with wonder, curiosity, honest self-reflection, sincerity, and the desire to know. But why isn’t a life filled with certainty, apathy, insensitive selfishness, insincerity, and epistemological disinterest? In addition, why isn’t the life that mixes these traits worth living? Are there more than one lives worth living? Why this life and not that life? Boghossian opens Pandora’s Box and closing it is not a task I would desire.
Over and over again Boghossian claims that faith is based on a lack of evidence. Or he tells us that faith is unreliable and unreasonable all because of its apparent lack of evidence. What Boghossian has not done so far is tell us what type of evidence he means. One man is convicted for murder because there were two credible eyewitnesses that saw him do it. Another man is convicted of murder because of the forensic evidence gathered at the scene and his inability to provide a legitimate alibi. What exactly constitutes evidence? This is the problem of the criterion. If Boghossian is going to assert that faith is not rational, then the burden of proof is on him. And such proof must begin with what he means when he uses such terms as evidence, reasonable, justification, warrant, and rational. We know that self-evident propositions exist. They do not require evidence to be rational. We do not require justification in order to believe them. And we know that other propositions are not self-evident. Boghossian needs to explain to us sooner rather than later, precisely what is the nature of these propositions that require warrant and exactly what that warrant must look like in order to be rational.
The problem so far with Boghossian’s epistemology is that it is guilty of epistemic circularity. Epistemic circularity is a malady from which an argument for the reliability of a faculty or source of belief suffers when one of its premises is such that my acceptance of that premise originates in the operation of the very faculty or source of belief in question. [Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 119] When Boghossian asks us to accept his standard for what is rational in order to determine what is rationally justifiable, he is asking us to accept what is essentially an epistemologically circular argument. Epistemic circularity is only curable in Christian theism where the source of all knowledge is transcendent. On to chapter four.
Friday, December 27, 2013
This post will disrupt my series on “A Manual to Create Atheists” ever so briefly, in an attempt to address the area of intellectual ethics in the Christian worldview. Since the Christian worldview encompasses every part of the human person, and since the intellect is central to the human person, it follows that Christian ethics has much to say about how Christians use or, unfortunately, neglect intellectual activities. There are two extreme states of the intellect that every believer must avoid. The first state that we must avoid is the state of an undisciplined, uncontrolled insatiable intellectual curiosity where speculation reigns supreme. The second state is no better, and perhaps may be worse, namely, the state of a radical intellectual lethargy, which I also call intellectual sloth. This latter state is just as undisciplined as the former.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that the Scripture takes a high view of intellectual perseverance and discipline within the Christian community. That is to say, Scripture encourages and praises the principle of a disciplined approach to intellectual performance on the part of God’s people and it proportionately condemns the idea of intellectual lethargy. The perlocutionary goal of this post is to persuade the reader to “give themselves” more fully to intellectual excellence. I hope to convince you that the reward is worth the effort by showing you first and foremost that the immediate reward is actually pleasing God.
My aim is to goad you, as a Christian, to either take up the goal of becoming a critical thinker, or if you are already progressing in that skill, to encourage you in your quest. However, it is no easy task to become a biblically positioned critical thinker. It is not something that just comes to you. Like philosophy, or logic, critical thinking is not a skill that you can acquire through rote memorization. It is a skill that requires tremendous focus, methodical study, and intense discipline. Critical thinking is not something a person just does once in a while. It is something you become. How does this relate to Christianity? What is the relationship between critical thinking and Christianity?
I believe Scripture has a lot to say about relationship between Christianity and critical thinking. 1 John 4:1 says, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Greek word dokimadzete (δοκιμάζετε) carries the sense of scrutiny. The act here is primarily mental in nature. In this case it means to examine, to give to intellectual scrutiny. The idea is to attempt to learn the genuineness of something (Louw-Nida). In addition, the word is an imperative, which means it is a command. The word is employed once by John and Peter, and twice by Luke. The other 18 occurrences are in Paul. In fact, Paul informs us that the unregenerate scrutinized God and after their own evaluation considered the acknowledgement of God unworthy of their approval.
Paul uses the word in Rom. 12:2 to inform the Roman Christians that the renewal of the mind is precisely how we engage in the process of intellectually scrutinizing the will of God. This involves exegesis, logic, and questions. Lots of questions. Paul tells the Corinthians that they are to scrutinize themselves. (1 Cor. 11:28) He repeats this command in 2 Cor. 13:5. In Gal. 6:4, each man is told to scrutinize his own work. Phil. 1:10 tells us that it is through this intellectual scrutiny that we are able to identify those things that are excellent. Paul tells the Thessalonian Church to scrutinize all things carefully. (1 Thess. 5:21)
Paul informs the Corinthian Church that he is “Destroying speculations” and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. This word, logismos (λογισμός) has the sense of a statement containing a logical conclusion. It is intimately related to the idea of an argument, a logical argument. Those of us in American culture typically think of an argument in incredibly differently ways from how the ancient Greeks thought about it. One has to bear in mind that Corinth was situated just beside Greece, the birthplace of western logic. Therefore, we have to understand the meaning of this word in its more technical sense. It was much more technical than the American idea of a mere disagreement. It was a disagreement but far more intellectual than we might imagine. The point here is that Paul viewed the use of the Christian intellect as central in spiritual warfare, in refuting the false teachings of the enemy, which are viewed as intellectual and spiritual weapons designed to spoil and thwart the spiritual growth of Christians. We battle these intellectual weapons with our own sanctified intellectual weapons, but intellectual nonetheless.
Paul prays that the Philippian Christians’ love would abound in real knowledge. To the Colossians his prayer was that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. In the next verse, Paul links “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” with “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Peter informs his audience that they are to add to their moral excellence, knowledge. Peter words were literally to supply or to furnish knowledge. The idea is that we are insure that we also furnish knowledge along with our moral excellence. Knowledge is something that is both given and acquired. We add to the knowledge imparted to us at salvation, knowledge of other spiritual truths. Genuine acquisition of knowledge is an intellectual enterprise that is wrought with troubles, and one that requires more energy than most people in our culture are willing to expend. The sad fact is that this state of affairs is at times even more truthful of Christians than it is of unbelievers.
The Proverbs inform us that we are to make our ears attentive to wisdom, to incline our heart to understanding, to cry out for discernment. The idea is that effort is clearly being made to gain understanding. Understanding is an intellectual constituent. Praying is not enough. If you pray for understanding and never tackle Scripture, listen to a sermon or lecture, read a book, it is likely that your understanding will be quite limited. Prayer helps, but it alone will not produce much by way of understanding. God has chosen specific methods for how Christians are to acquire knowledge. Christians are supposed to love understanding, to love knowledge. The one who loves instruction loves knowledge, but the one that hates correction is stupid. Every time you put forth the effort to learn, you are engaging in the practice of correcting yourself. You are correcting your understanding. And this correction should also produce a change in your conduct. You conduct yourself according to how you understand moral principles. Intellectual performance is the self-correcting behavior designed to produce spiritual growth in the knowledge of Christ. Those who hate intellectual discipline hate knowledge. Knowledge should be pleasant to our soul (Pr. 2:10). Wise men store up knowledge (Pr. 10:4). Prudent men act with knowledge (Pr. 13:16). The sensible are crowned with knowledge (Pr. 14:18). The lips of the wise spread knowledge (Pr. 15:7). The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (Pr. 18:15) It is not good for a person to be without knowledge (Pr. 19:2).
For too long now Christians have been satisfied not to spend energy on intellectual acumen. We have neglected genuine Bible-study, in preference for shallow talk about nearly anything that doesn’t require laborious thought. We would rather rehearse how the game went or will go or how the vacation was or what is the goings on at work than we would anything remotely resembling intellectual labor. We prefer to spend our free time watching American reality TV. Who needs all this abstract theological talk? Christianity, we hear from nearly every quarter, is about a relationship, not about doctrine. This kind of witless and mindless thinking has robbed Christianity of almost all its intellectual acumen, and stripped away nearly every shred of critical thinking that it had remaining over the last thirty years or so. It is dishonoring to God for the Christian to neglect the wonderful mind He gave us. We should endeavor to explore the vast potential of the human intellect in a way that seeks to express the spectacles of His grace and saving redemption. This requires that we devote lots of vigor, being diligent to achieve a level of intellectual acumen that makes us skilled discerners of truth claims so that we can spread God’s truth on the one hand and effectively refute detractors of God’s truth on the other. In short, it makes us biblically positioned critical thinker.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
In chapter two of his project, Boghossian wastes no time striking at the center of a Christian Epistemology. Specifically, he begins with two distinct definitions of faith: “belief without evidence,” and “pretending to know things you don’t know.” Boghossian believes that faith claims are knowledge claims and that faith is therefore an epistemology. We will come back to this point of view in the analysis section of this post.
Boghossian accuses the faithful of offering vague definitions of faith, which he calls “deepities.” “A deepity is a statement that looks profound but is not. Deepities appear true at one level, but on all other levels are meaningless.” [loc. 265] Boghossian then points to a number of examples of vagueness, one of which is Heb. 11:1. The rest of his examples seem to be arbitrary selections designed only to prop up his straw man approach at this point. Apparently, “faith is a leap over the probabilities.” He says faith is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief.
The second definition of faith, pretending to know things you don’t know, is like someone giving advice about baking cookies who has never been in a kitchen, says Boghossian. Boghossian then inserts a table with commonly heard phrases that believers use about faith and he inserts the phrase “pretending to know things I don’t know” in place of faith in each instance. It truly is a type of brain washing of the atheist. Boghossian pretends to be equipping atheists to help the faithful cure themselves of their faith but what he is actually doing is attempting to find a better way to protect the atheists during their exchanges with the faithful. This tactic is designed to create a cementing of the atheist’s mind. Do not take the individual’s argument seriously. The atheist should view the faithful’s conversation as an incredible and foolish joke from the outset of the conversation. By taking this approach, Boghossian hopes to shield the atheist from genuinely thinking about the statements of the faithful.
Boghossian then attempts to essentially annihilate the meaning of faith by ripping central components of its meaning away. It seems the author views faith as purely epistemological in nature. But this would be more closely aligned with a philosophical or purely intellectual and even a rationalistic understanding of faith than a theological one. Clearly, Boghossian’s understanding of Christian theism is terribly insufficient to the task he sets out to accomplish. It is a philosophical howler to criticize a view that you do not even understand. For the Christian reading this post, you should take solace in the fact that no godless philosopher, atheist or otherwise, really understands Christian theism. The core ingredient to understanding biblical Christianity is the illuminating work of God the Holy Spirit coupled with the gift of biblical faith. Absent that work, a genuine understanding of Christian theism and its principles and concepts is impossible.
Boghossian defines “atheist” as one who “believes there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief in a divine, supernatural creator of the universe.” As I interact with the author, I will ask questions about these kind of statements. A critical thinker would ask, what would be sufficient evidence? Additionally, what qualifies as evidence? Again, what does Boghossian mean by warrant? If we turn the guns on this belief, we would ask if there is sufficient evidence to warrant the belief that all beliefs should have sufficient evidence in order to be warranted or justified? What evidence could Boghossian provide for the belief that beliefs should come with sufficient evidence? How could the atheist justify such an epistemological structure and then unify that structure with his belief that the universe is a product of chance, a grand accident of accidents?
Boghossian defines an agnostic as one who believes there is not sufficient evidence for the existence of God but who says it is logically impossible to make a definite conclusion, so the agnostic just doesn’t know. This is fair enough as far as a definition goes.
Boghossian claims that, “Faith is an epistemology.” [Loc. 423] The critical task of philosophy is to question truth claims whenever they are put forth. We cannot fault Boghossian for any questions he might ask, so long as they are genuine questions. However, Boghossian has invited the faithful into this discussion. And the faithful are not trained philosophers per se. We are theologians. As theologians, our philosophizing is always theological. Now, the task of the theologian is fundamentally different from the task of the philosopher even if there is a great deal that we have in common. “The task of dogmatic theology, in the final analysis, is nothing other than a scientific exposition of religious truth grounded in sacred Scripture.” [Bavinck, Dogmatics, V. 1, 26.] What Bavinck means by scientific is nothing more than a disciplined inquiry into the revelation that is Sacred Scripture. He is emphasizing a studious process or methodology that for our culture has long been abandoned outside the academy. What the Christian must always guard against is what Bavinck said earlier in his work: “Neither the subjection of dogmatics to philosophical presuppositions nor the dualistic separation of confessional theology from the scientific study of religion is acceptable.” [Ibid. 25] Boghossian does not appear to be asking questions as much as he is making dogmatic affirmations. What is remarkable is that he is making such assertions about a subject in which he is not a specialist: theology. When it comes to the nature and definition of faith, we must turn to the theologian for our education. He is in a much better place to tell us what this word means and how it relates to the field of human knowledge.
Boghossian pushes the conversation of faith as epistemology to a place of confusion. He calls faith a method and a process people use to understand reality. This is a thoroughly rationalistic perspective of faith. Now, it is certainly true that Scripture asserts that we understand by faith, that the world was created by the very words of God. In other words, faith is the instrument by which we arrive at our knowledge that the world was created by the very words of God. However, faith is not, strictly speaking, an epistemology. Faith is closer to the idea of trusting God’s word to accurately inform us. We may ask if it is possible to think of the role of faith as providing the necessary preconditions for epistemology to get going in certain respects. At any rate, faith is far more than Boghossian seems to consider thus far in his project.
Boghossian writes, “Knowledge claims purport to be objective because they assert a truth about the world. Subjective claims are not knowledge claims and do not assert a truth about the world; rather, they are statements about one’s own unique, situated, subjective, personal experiences or preferences.” [Loc. 422] If knowledge is justified true belief or warranted belief, then it follows that subjective claims can be knowledge claims so long as they rise to the level of warranted belief. For instance, my belief that I had a dream last night about the Browns winning the Super Bowl is a knowledge claim even if it is an insignificant one. Boghossian’s reduction of knowledge claims to external, objective claims seems to be driven more by his not so obscure agenda than by anything else. His definition of knowledge precludes the possibility of experiential knowledge and we know that such a scenario is utterly absurd. I know that I love my wife and kids. But according to Boghossian, such knowledge really isn’t knowledge at all. Knowledge claims are more than just propositions about the world.
Boghossian says that faith claims about the world are knowledge claims about the world. I wholeheartedly agree. Boghossian then asserts that the knowledge claims of faith are unreliable because there are so many different faiths and these faiths have serious disagreements about the state of affairs that has obtained. However, one has to wonder how disagreements among differing faiths proves that faith is unreliable as an epistemological method any more than disagreements among atheists about epistemological methodology means their respective methods are unreliable. If rationalists can disagree without compromising rationalism, then so too can faiths. Boghossian writes, “If a belief is based on insufficient evidence, then any further conclusions drawn from the belief will at best be of questionable value.” [Loc. 440] I believe he is right. Indeed, before I am finished evaluating Boghossian’s project, I shall subject his basic beliefs to this belief to see if his own system can withstand his own scrutiny. This is the process that presuppositional apologetics employs to show the unbeliever the internal contradictions of his own system. After all, the difference between us comes down to warrant. What do we mean by the expression, “insufficient evidence?” If we can pinpoint the meaning of this expression, we can then pinpoint our difference. Is it as simple as faith? I think the answer might be yes and no. I will come back to this point as I work through Boghossian’s project.
Boghossian writes, “faith claims have no way to be corrected, altered, revised, or modified.” Surely he is not correct. In this respect, there is a way for just such a process within Christian theism, which is the sort of faith that I defend. In concluding the chapter on faith, Boghossian writes, “The only way to figure out which claims about the world are likely true, and which are likely false, is through reason and evidence. There is no other way.” [Loc. 456]
The Christian Rejoinder
Before you read this section, I would encourage you to go back to the beginning of this post and read it again. The goal of this section is to respond to the major claims put forth by Boghossian’s second chapter on faith and to provide you with a method for interacting with the atheist or street epistemologist (hereafter SE).
We first have to ask the SE to justify his definition of faith. Remember, the SE defines faith as “belief without evidence” and as “claiming to know things you do not know.” The first point is that the Christian is not interested in defending “religious belief” or “generic faith.” The Christian theist is only interested in discussing the faith of Christian theism and no other. Unless you make this distinction, your defense of “faith” and “religious belief” is sure to stumble. We are not interested in a generic conversation about religion. We are interested in giving an account for the hope that is in us. We are interested in giving the gospel of Jesus Christ. By it, we know that blind eyes are opened, and true knowledge is imparted to the sinner. We must avoid the temptation to wax philosophical even though we know a thing or two about the discipline. Our focus must be on the gospel, that gospel which alone possesses the capability to do what we are seeking to do in the grand scheme of things: persuade the sinner to believe the gospel and to embrace the Christ of the gospel.
This is a good time to contradict Boghossian’s perspective and definitions of faith. Bruce Malina writes, “In American culture, faith has a strong intellectual character. It is an act of the mind. Because this culture is so strongly rational, faith takes on the further nuance that a person believes something or someone merely on a word of authority, even – perhaps even especially – when the evidence doesn’t necessarily add up.” [Malina, Bruce. Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 75] The NIDNTT defines faith as “the trust a man may place in men or the gods, credibility, credit in business, guarantee, proof, or to trust something or someone.” [Michel, NIDNTT, 594] Louw-Nida inform us that faith is “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.” S.S. Taylor writes, “The biblical concept of faith/faithfulness stands at the heart of the relationship between the God of the Bible and his people, a relationship which, in its essential bi-polarity, is intensely personal, dynamic, and multiform.” [Taylor, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 488] Returning to Malina, “In sum, faith primarily means personal loyalty, personal commitment to another person, fidelity and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness.” [Malina, Handbood, 74] Having challenged Boghossian’s definition of faith, and having offered a theological understanding of the term, and having established the limits of our discussion to involve a discussion of Christian theism, we are now in a better position to speak with him concerning the hope that is in us. It is absolutely critical that the Christian engage in critical thinking from the start, taking nothing for granted, and remembering exactly that their calling in this situation is both high and holy. The next question the Christian asks Boghossian concerns his belief in the principle of justification.
When Boghossian says that beliefs based on insufficient evidence produce other beliefs that are of questionable value, we have to focus on this principle of justification. The basic problem with justification is that it is not self-justifying. If every belief requires sufficient evidence, then where is the evidence for this belief? In the end, and at bottom, the Christian will eventually hear the retort, “well, that is just the way things are.” Seriously then, the principle of justification cannot survive its own demands. When it is asked to provide sufficient evidence for itself, there is nothing but silence. If you use this question on an atheist that understands your question, I promise you the initial look on their face will be priceless. If absurdity has not entered the conversation by this time, fasten your seatbelt because it is about to begin.
Finally, Boghossian’s accusation that faith provides for no self-corrective feature is simply not true. Apparently, Boghossian is unfamiliar with Christian theism’s view of the authoritative and corrective nature of Scripture. It is against the standard and teaching of Scripture that our beliefs are measured. At the end of this chapter, Boghossian provides a picture perfect view of viciously circular reasoning. He informs us that the only way to get at truth is through evidence and reason. And of course he knows this is true because of reason and evidence. In other words, the proof for reason is reason and the proof for evidence is evidence. But as far as it goes, where is the evidence that evidence is the best way to establish truth? Where is the reason for reason? These are both synthetic statements (statements about the word) that Boghossian claims to know a priori. How is it possible to insist on evidence for such a priori knowledge since such knowledge by nature, exists apart from human experience? We will come back to this concept of knowledge later in our interactions I am sure. It is enough to say that there are different types of truth claims, different ways of knowing, and different kinds of evidence about which we must all be aware as we provide answers to those who ask us to provide an account for the hope that is in us.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Over the next several posts, I intend to deliver a critical response to the claims made in the new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.” I will begin with the first chapter on Street Epistemology and weave my way through all nine chapters. Since one of the central principles of the book is that Christian faith is antithetical to critical thinking, I will undoubtedly be subjecting the claims of this project to some critical examination of my own. My central proposition is that only Christian theism as a worldview can provide the necessary preconditions to make this atheistic project possible from the start. In other words, the only reason that such a project on atheism could possibly exist is because the state of affairs are what Christian theism says they are. Before the atheist can even get started on their own quest to subject the believer to a fusillade of critical questions, the believer should turn the tables on them. My aim is to not only refute the claims made in this book, but also to help you interact with the scenarios in kind of a role-play methodology, if you will. The game that the atheist is taught to play in the book presupposes that which atheism itself cannot possibly justify, namely, knowledge apart from God. Since we know the atheist will be asking leading questions, we will challenge the basis for the presupposition behind the question before we answer it. In other words, there is a presupposition that serves as the basis for a leading question. And every one of those presuppositions rests upon some ground. We answer a question with a question in an attempt to identify and then annihilate that ground. We engage in the tactic of meta-questioning. We challenge the very basis of the question to begin with and the knowledge it presupposes.
When Peter told us to be ready to give an answer to anyone that asked us to give an account for the hope that is in us, he was not implying that we had to prove to the unbeliever, through rational argumentation, that the reason for the hope that is in us must meet the demands of unbelieving standards. We have no such obligation. The atheist may demand it but Scripture does not! Our command is to provide the atheist with a biblically faithful answer, not one that comports with the unbelieving demands of godless criteria. In addition, we must also keep in mind, as my pastor would say, that we are to avoid casting our perils before the swine. This is a very ominous command and one that Christians would do well to integrate in their evangelism.
The Christian must take the Street Epistemologist to the epistemological woodshed, and remind him that justification remains the central difference between us rather than the lack of sound argumentation or evidences. You see, the atheist demands justification for every belief. The presupposition is that every belief is ‘justifiable.’ However, what happens when we subject the idea of justifiability to the process of critical thinking? We have to ask what kind of statement is the statement that “justifiability is a necessary component for rational belief.” And we conclude that such a statement is a belief. Moreover, since such a statement is a belief, it seems right, for the sake of consistency, that it also must come under the ‘justifiability’ requirements the same as any other belief. However, if the atheist says that justifiability is self-justifying, we must then ask how they offer justification for the belief that some beliefs are self-justifying. You see, a self-justifying belief does not require evidences or sound argumentation. Self-justifying beliefs are uncontroversial and obvious to human thought. An example is the belief in other minds. I realize that for many Christians, this line of reasoning may sound like a foreign language, but it really isn’t as difficult as it seems. It is only difficult because you may not be used to some of the language or the pattern of thought that is being employed. I encourage you to stick with it and in time it will become second nature.
Human beings form beliefs on the basis of other beliefs. However, sooner or later, we run out of beliefs that justify our other beliefs. I view it like the chain that runs from the ship to the anchor. There has to be an end somewhere along this chain of beliefs. Otherwise, we could never have made our way to even the idea of belief. The concept of belief simply would not exist. In case you are thinking about the consequences of such a state of affairs, you should be thinking that in such a scenario meaning would be impossible. That is the point. Along this chain of beliefs, we eventually get to the anchor. You see, a worldview is a system of beliefs that are eventually anchored to something or nothing at all. The anchor is analogous to self-justifying beliefs. These beliefs are the end of the chain. They do not rely on other beliefs for justification.
“A Manual for Creating Atheists (MCA hereafter) offers practical solutions to the problems of faith and religion through the creation of Street Epistemologists – legions of people who view interactions with the faithful as clinical interventions designed to disabuse them of their faith.” (Ibid. Loc. 216, KE) The arrogance of intellectual autonomy is apparent at the outset of the project. From the beginning, it is difficult to take the writer seriously. The first chapter seems more like an encouraging sermon, a pep-rally if you will with Boghossian as the cheerleader, to fellow atheists, attempting to convince them they really do have the upper hand.
Chapter one of MCA begins with a discussion about the kind of atheist and the method the author seeks to create. He calls this kind of atheist a Street Epistemologist. It is supposed to be a direct, blunt, straight-talking atheist that can bring a sharp, articulate tone to the conversation with the faithful who are really sick and in need of clinical intervention. There is a humanistic tone of compassion emanating from the rank arrogance of it all. The language really would be humorous if it wasn’t so blasphemous.
Boghossian, the author, tells us “Street Epistemology harkens back to the values of the ancient philosophers – individuals who were tough-minded, plain-speaking, known for self-defense, committed to truth, unyielding in the face of danger, fearless in calling out falsehoods, contradictions, inconsistencies, and nonsense.” (MCA, 187) These are characteristics that are very admirable indeed. I hold them in high esteem along with the author. However, the challenge we will put to the atheist repeatedly will be to account for such values in a universe of pure chance, where there is no rational or scientific justification for connecting these particulars with the general. There is no basis for induction in a chance universe. In a world of chance, tough-minded is nothing more than one way to behave no different from weak-minded. To move from us to ought is beyond the reach of justification. The “Street Epistemologist” is going to have to show how reason, or science or experience can provide any rational ground for why some behaviors are admirable and worthy of honor while others ought to be avoided.
The idea of the Street Epistemologist is a mixture of an intellectual MMA tough-guy who at the same time, after he bashes your faith to smithereens, opens his satchel and applies the ointment of reason, science, and evidence to make it all better. This tough guy atheist operates with a moral code, a set of values from within. So we begin our journey with the god-hating blasphemer, Peter Boghossian, to see exactly how tough and how smart he really is.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
The national debate sparked by the Duck Dynasty controversy is a debate about worldviews. A worldview is a system of beliefs is that are purported to be 1) internally consistent and 2) claim to reflect the state of affairs as they actually are. In other words, a worldview has the duty to avoid contradiction within its system as well as to provide for a rational justification for its most basic beliefs. If a worldview cannot achieve both, internal consistency and provide rational justification for its basic beliefs, then it is considered weak and should be abandoned for a more coherent system.
So Phil Robertson made the statement that homosexuality is a sin. So he used bestiality in the same sentence in which he used homosexuality. He also included a variety of other sinful behaviors in that list. What Phil Robertson was doing was paraphrasing 1 Cor. 6:9: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Phil Robertson admitted to being guilty of living a lifestyle at one point in his life that placed him squarely on this list. There are a lot of questions surrounding this text. First, what do these adjectives mean? Second, is it actually true? Finally, can a person embrace the Christian worldview without embracing the truthfulness of this text? Whatever your answers are to these questions, one thing is certain: how you answer these questions is predominantly driven by your worldview.
A Christian is a person that fully embraces the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview is entirely contained and taught only in the Christian scriptures. Therefore, a Christian is one that fully embraces the Christian scriptures en toto.
A Christian is a person that fully embraces the Christian worldview. Christian theism is both internally consistent, and it provides rational justification for its basic beliefs. In fact, Christian theism is the only internally consistent worldview, not to mention the only worldview that provides rational justification for its basic beliefs. To be a Christian is to embrace the revelation of God in full. “Revelation is divine self-presentation; its content is identical with God. To speak of revelation is simply to point to the divine self-utterance: I am who I am.” [Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, 14]
It is entirely incongruent for the professed subscriber of the Christian religion to reject in piecemeal fashion, the very revelation of God that is responsible for its existence. Christian theism, like any worldview, operates as system. The moment you begin to remove components from Christian theism, you no longer have Christian theism. What you have is a worldview that may imitate, to a large measure, Christian theism but it is not Christian theism. Parallels with another worldview, do not equal monotony. Moreover, there can be no differences with Christian theism that are not, in and of themselves, profound. This is owing to the extraordinary unity that circumscribes and shapes Christian theism. It is this point of view that most Christians, be they public figures, apologists, and even pastors, fail to make clear to the outside world and especially to American culture. Christianity is either radically embraced from end to end or not at all. No man can serve two masters, Jesus said. We either fully embrace the Christian worldview or we fully embrace a non-Christian worldview regardless of the label we give to it.
The Christian worldview is entirely contained and taught only in the Christian scriptures. There are no sources outside of Holy Scripture that inform the Christian worldview. Some may claim that tradition is a source for the Christian worldview. However, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes because their traditions sought to displace God’s word, “thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (Mk. 7:13) Jesus Himself claimed that word of God was the truth. (Jn. 17:17) Only the sacred writings, says Paul, are able to give one wisdom leading to salvation. (2 Tim. 3:15) Neither the Jews nor the ancient church ever placed other works on par with the sacred writings. The sacred writings have been identified as the manner by which God has communicated His divine self-disclosure to the Christian community. This disclosure imposes itself upon the Christian community. It is not for the community to change the disclosure but for the divine disclosure to transform, shape, and inform the community of what it means to truly know God and to truly acknowledge Christ as Lord. This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian. And it is precisely this that American culture rejects in preference for a worldview that is so loosely connected with its founders that it is hardly recognizable. We must not kid ourselves that American pop-culture actually understands Christian theism. Clearly it does not.
Christians are those that hear and do God’s word. Jesus said “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. (Matt. 7:21) Jesus was serious when He spoke these words. For some reason, many professing Christians seem entirely oblivious to this remark. Jesus also said clearly, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (Jn. 8:47) People who claim to be a Christian but reject God’s word are simply deceiving themselves. Now, notice that Jesus uses God’s word en toto, as a unit. There is no such thing as rejecting some of God’s word and rejecting other parts of God’s word. You either accept God’s word in its entirety or you reject it. 1 Jn. 2:4 states: “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” There are a lot of people, dare I say the overwhelming majority of people that profess to subscribe to Christian theism who are in reality liars. They reject the teachings of the Christian worldview.
I have said that a Christian is a person that fully embraces the Christian worldview. A Christian is a person that has surrendered their intellectual autonomy to the knowledge and wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than question the teachings in the Christian worldview, they allow the Christian worldview to question they’re understand of things. The manner in which Christians know and embrace Christian theism is by knowing and embracing the Christ of Scripture and by diligently seeking transformation by the Holy Scripture. The Scripture itself is the only source for informing the Christian worldview. Because Scripture is God’s self-presentation for His Church, there is no other source upon which Christian theism draws to inform its community of its beliefs and practices. A Christian then is one that embraces fully and without hesitation this revelation of God in the Word of God.
Christian theism, as a system can only be accepted at face value or rejected at face value. The Christian worldview, like any other worldview stands or falls as a unit. If you wish to call yourself a Christian, then you should have an undying and unapologetic devotion to the teachings of the Jesus Christ and His apostles. The writings of these men must serve to inform your thinking on the current state of affairs that have obtained in the world. Christian theism is the expression of beliefs and teachings as promulgated in the writings of the prophets, apostles, and their close associates as God directed and inspired. Rejection of these writings in any way shape or form is a rejection of God’s revelation and as such an outright rejection of God.
What are the implications of all this on the Duck Dynasty controversy? I asked at the very beginning if 1 Cor. 6:9 is true. I also asked what it means. How does the Christian answer this question? Since Christians believe the writings of Paul to be the inspired word and revelation of God Himself, then Christians believe that 1 Cor. 6:9 is true. In addition, there is no ambiguity in the language of the text in question. The meanings of the words are very straightforward. This means that Christian theism most assuredly affirms that homosexuality is a sin. Since Christians are obligated to receive the teachings of God’s word without hesitation, then it follows that Christians in order to be Christians must subscribe to the view that homosexuality is a sin. A worldview that is incongruent should be abandoned. Any attempt to accept homosexuality within Christian theism is incongruent with Christian theism. Therefore, either the effort should be abandoned or the worldview should be rejected. In short, if you are a Christian, you reject the view that homosexual sex can be morally acceptable. Conversely, if you accept the proposition that homosexual sex is morally acceptable, you are not a Christian. Your other views that are similar to Christianity do not make you a Christian. What makes one Christian is the regeneration of their heart that results in a radical conversion and a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that produces unswerving devotion to all that Scripture teaches. The fruit of faith is proven by the inward working of the Holy Spirit and that work manifests itself to all. Faith is noticeable and, to an unbelieving world, profoundly offensive. Phil Robertson is offended a god-hating culture merely by using his very prominent platform to give them a dose, in a most practical and down-to-earth manner possible, of biblical Christianity. My hat is off to you Mr. Robertson. Stay strong and God speed!
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