Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Intellectually Acceptable"? An Introduction to Reformed Epistemology

“Accordingly, our question is this: is belief of this sort intellectually acceptable? In particular, is it intellectually acceptable for us, now? For educated and intelligent people living in the twenty-first century, with all that has happened over the last four or five-hundred years? Some will concede that Christian belief was acceptable and even appropriate for our ancestors, people who knew little of other religions, who knew nothing of evolution and our animal ancestry, nothing of contemporary subatomic physics and the strange, eerie, disquieting world it postulates, nothing of those great masters of suspicion, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, nothing of the acids of modern historical biblical criticism. But for us enlightened contemporary intellectuals (so the claim continues) things are wholly different; for people who know about those things (people of our rather impressive intellectual attainments), there is something naïve and foolish, or perhaps bullheaded and irresponsible, or even vaguely pathological in holding onto such belief” (Dr. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, page viii).

Today’s post will provide an introduction into the study of Reformed Epistemology. Plantinga’s quote here is a good one because it places a question before us that many atheists think about. In my evangelistic encounters with atheists this summer, it is this view that, sadly, many atheists are tired of hearing. I won’t go into many details here, but all I will say is this: when encountering an atheist one cannot simply quote the Bible, give the gospel, and hope that the atheist will be “zapped” into believing in God. Instead, one must use the evidence available to argue that the existence of God is a plausible view.

The question here though, is one that we as believers need to ponder: is Christian belief (the idea that there is a God and that God is Jesus Christ) intellectual? Is there something wrong with those who hold this view? I do not think there is something wrong with those who believe in God and Christ. But I’m not so sure that my view here is without bias or emotion: after all, I am a Christian, believe strongly in God, and I want Christian belief to be an intellectually-viable position to rival the anti-Christian views present in the world. I strongly believe in Jesus, and I want the entire world to believe in Jesus. I also want Christianity to be the only way to be saved, and I also want Jesus’ words in John 14:6 to be true. And all this is apart from the issue of whether or not these things are true (though I believe they are).

Those who think that modern advances such as evolution, physics, and the rest of those above make faith in Jesus Christ irrational are those who believe the evidence points against the possibility of divine existence. But take one of the examples above, such as evolution: does the fact that we all “could” possibly have derived from a common ancestor necessarily do away with the necessity of a Creator to all of life? Of course not. If all of life came from a common ancestor, where did the ancestor come from? Those of you who have seen the documentary “Expelled” probably have Michael Ruse at the forefront of your mind at this moment. When Michael Ruse is asked by Ben Stein about the origin of life, the conversation goes something like this (my paraphrase):

Stein: From what did all of life originate?

Ruse: From the backs of crystals.

Stein: And where did the crystals come from?

Ruse: I already told you---from the backs of crystals!

But this argument is circular: if all of life originated from crystals, then the crystals themselves had to be placed on earth by someone. Crystals did not just “poof” into existence; rather, crystals had to be formed under certain temperatures, environments, etc. So, if certain temperatures and environments had to be at play to create crystals, who set up the temperatures and environments? Surely, if one appeared at a chemistry laboratory and saw liquids in test tubes forming other liquid substances, one would not presume that those liquids and test tubes just “appeared” out of nowhere. Rather, someone would say that a person is responsible for the setting of test tubes, chemicals, and all the rest. In the same way, life itself on earth did not just “evolve” into what we see. And this brings up another question: if life here simply “evolved,” why didn’t life evolve on other planets? Why is it that Earth is the only planet in the solar system where life “evolved”? If evolution was the cause of it, then evolution actually did something that was “not random.” I think this testifies to the falsity of evolution itself.

Having said all this, I will go back to Plantinga’s statement. Those who think that Christians are crazy for believing think the way they do because they are convinced the evidence is greatly opposed to Christianity. I, on the other hand, do not. I do think, however, that to believe in Christ apart from the basis of evidence does amount to nothing more than “wish-fulfillment.” According to Scripture, our faith is not just “wish-fulfillment,” or as Freud and Marx said, “a comfort in a cruel world,” but the truth. Paul writes words in 1 Corinthians 15 that ought to give believers great pause to reflect on the truth of Christianity:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up---if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:13-19, NKJV).

 Paul mentions not once, but twice, that if Christ did not rise from the dead, “your faith is empty” and “your faith is futile.” The point Paul is getting at here (and the point that I will drill throughout the entire series on Reformed Epistemology) is that, without the historicity of the Resurrection, our faith amounts to nothing more than faith in UFOs (which, by the way, have nothing to confirm their existence). If Christ did not rise, our faith is useless, worthless, of no use.

I’ll take up Plantinga’s question: is Christianity intellectually viable? Yes---but only because Christ rose from the dead. The truth of the resurrection is what makes Christianity intellectually viable. But the resurrection does serve as evidence and, unfortunately, Reformed Epistemology argues that one can be rational by believing in God without evidence or argument (for the divine existence). There will be more to come. Stay tuned.

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