Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Insanity of Unbelief
“It is unfortunate, though not surprising, that all humans have fallen in varying degrees into a pit of insanity. Holding mindlessly to false beliefs, failed hypotheses, and unjustifiable ideas, each individual is left clinging for life to any root, branch, or outcropping that will prevent his plummeting decent into the dark abyss of folly.” [Haddad, Insanity]
Paul wrote something very similar, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4) In our interactions with unbelievers Christians make a grave mistake when we forget that those who are unconverted, living in unrepentant sin, are blind to their sin and ignorant of their wretched circumstance.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions of human knowledge. How do humans know things about the world in which we live, including ourselves? By what standard can we claim that we know something? When I say I know there is a tree outside my window I am claiming to know that a particular state of affairs exists at that moment in that place. One does not have to look very far before realizing that this subject, among an almost endless list of subjects, can quickly become extremely complicated. Indeed, the conversation can get downright frustrating for the ordinary person that has little to no interest in philosophical quibbles that seem to add almost no value to their practical life. For that reason, most people, to include Christians avoid the subject of epistemology altogether. And that is a state of affairs worth mourning. It is not in keeping with Christian ethics to engage in intellectual slothfulness. We must arm ourselves to be excellent thinkers and able defenders of the faith. But knowledge must have a starting place. Real knowledge does not exist in a vacuum. What is knowledge and how do we know when we actually possess it?
What is the goal of acquiring knowledge and how shall we proceed? A philosopher may say that the goal of knowledge is to construct a view of the world that reflects how the really world is, how it really works, what makes it what it is. As to how we shall proceed, opinions are about as vast as there are minds. One could emphasize the mind in the quest for knowledge, pointing to the organizing activity in which the mind is constantly engaged. Others may be quick to say that we should focus on the experience of sensations, observations, forming theories as we go and updating them as our observations change along the way. All this begs the question as to what we are that we should know anything, whatever know actually means. Indeed, knowledge must have a starting point. The common denominator for the approached above, both rationalism and empiricism, is man. Knowledge begins, according to all non-Christian philosophy, with the mind or experience of man. Man is the arbiter of what passes for knowledge versus mere opinion or simple belief. But Christian theism, biblical Christianity, and specifically, the reformed branch of protestant Christianity takes a much different approach to epistemology, man’s theory for how we know.
“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” [Calvin, Institutes] When we think about what knowledge is, we must admit that it would be foolish to think that we could ever know anything without first knowing ourselves. But how could such a knowledge ever be acquired in a world where evolutionary theory was actually the state of affairs that had obtained? It seems to me ridiculous to claim that a blob of molecules in motion that exists as some accident of nature, existing without purpose, without cause, without design, could even begin to rise to a place of knowing anything at all. “Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” [Calvin, Institutes] Yet, man clearly wishes to cut himself off from his only source of true knowledge and pretend to himself that he can still know something about himself and the reality in which he exists. Philosophers over the centuries and especially in contemporary times have demonstrated just how fruitless such an endeavor has proven to be. The ancient Hebrew was right; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7) Knowledge does have a head, a beginning, a starting place: God. One cannot cut off the stream that feeds the pond and expect the pond not to stagnate. “When belief falls victim to indifference, and truth to lies, the sweet breeze of knowledge is replaced by a dispiriting blanket of hot air.” [Haddad, Insanity] Indeed, there is an awful lot of hot air on the landscape today both in secular society and even in the visible Christian community. Men indeed have lost their sanity.
Christianity affirms that men have lost their sanity. The unbeliever has become hopelessly insane. In western culture and especially in American culture we see this more clearly with each passing day. Our society murders millions of babies and convinces itself that it is a woman’s health issue. We actually argue over just how far outside the womb a child has to be before it is considered a human child. Such thinking is simply insane. And it is embraced by those who are most lettered among us. That is insane. Our society thinks that gay sex, a behavior that is obvious unnatural, is not only acceptable, but that it should be celebrated and that those who oppose it are bigots and oppressors that should be denied basic privileges. That is simply insane. We have young girls who are having to tolerate boys (who feel like they are girls) in their bathrooms and locker rooms all across the country and educated leaders are telling us this is perfectly ok. That is insane.
There are people in Christianity who deny the creation account of Scripture, a literal Adam and Eve, almost all the Old Testament historical events, the miracles throughout Scripture, that Jesus literally rose from the dead, that Christ is the only way to eternal salvation, that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, that homosexual sex is morally acceptable, that abortion is a viable alternative for the Christian, and a host of other ideas and that you can still be a Christian while holding to any one or even all of these things. That is insane.
The apostle Paul wrote, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. He also wrote just a few verses later, So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. (Eph. 4:17-18) This says it all. We must keep these facts in the forefront of our mind when we interact with the unconverted. They are ignorant, blind, without true knowledge, filled with hate for God. Forget this and we run the risk of compromising the gospel not to mention setting ourselves up for a failed apologetic. To the church at Rome the same apostle wrote, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) The epistemic state of the unbelieving mind is dismal. This raises the question as to why Christians seemingly extend such reverence to the unconverted arguments against God. Jesus nor His apostles ever did anything as silly and perhaps as contemptible as to extend respect to intellectuals whose minds were sworn enemies of God, devoid of understanding, immoral and unethical from start to finish. Instead they challenged the God-hating ignorant and the arrogant with the facts of the gospel. They brought the divine law to bear on the situation and demanded repentance. So too should we.
As Christians and Christian apologists, we must recognize from the start why the unconverted have such a problem with knowledge. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn in to confusing and fruitless arguments about rationalism and empiricism as if the human mind is capable of acquiring an unfiltered, neutral knowledge of God. Yes, all men know that God is there. This knowledge is innate regardless of what the most brilliant philosophers say about innate knowledge. They are wrong because their epistemic starting point is man not God. Paul wrote, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21) The problem is that even though all men possess a universal knowledge of God, all unconverted men also have a universal filter by which that knowledge is perverted. The sinful human mind does its work on this innate knowledge, happily engaging in the fine art of self-deception. The most compelling arguments and the clearest evidence in the world will not persuade the unconverted that Christian theism is true and that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Only God can do that. And God only does that through the preaching of the gospel, not sophisticated philosophical rhetoric. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30) And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5)
Epistemology is a complex and challenging branch of philosophy which is itself a complex field. Christians are wrong to avoid it. But we are also wrong to think it is the key to being better witnesses to the gospel. It is not the key. It is an excellent and useful tool. But it should never become our primary tool. Understanding epistemology and how philosophers argue and how they think will help us understand where and why their view collapses. And that is not a bad thing. The modern man has indeed lost his sanity.
The philosopher’s dialectics never cease, and the questions once posed remain with the same daunting force, driving us to reflection and debate and contributing all the more to our epistemic bewilderment. The feeble phantoms of Mount Olympus cannot silence our thirst for knowledge. And so we rave, we rage, and we rant in debate for the hope and the comfort of a justified true belief. [Haddad, Insanity]
In response to this, the Christian says with the apostle Paul, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) It is in Christ alone that our thirst for knowledge will be satisfied. For God has made Him to be for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)