Faith and Reason: Part 2
I went back to the Faith and Reason class today, accompanied by Derek Sansone, who had heard about my experience last week and was very interested to see the class for himself. There had been somewhat of a backlash against the previous week's class, which had involved an interview of several invited atheists. Since the format had not allowed for much reponse to the atheists' arguments, many had felt that the unidirectional exchange may have put in jeapordy some of the weaker Christians, and inspired doubt with which they were unable to cope. This was especially seen as an error given the fact that the class takes place within the church context. Kevin Harris, the leader of the class, had consulted with Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig, who both agreed that it was not a good idea to interact with atheism in a church setting- especially without the adequate chance for Christian rebuttal.
To rectify this imbalance, Kevin prepared a brief rebuttal to some of the arguments for atheism (and thus, against Christianity) that had been broached by the invited guests the week before. I'll go through the main points here, and offer my commentary.
First, this view has fallen on hard times, especially the last 50 years, with the emergence of Big Bang cosmology. The evidence shows that the universe had a beginning - it is not eternal. There was nothing "natural" prior to the Big Bang because there was no nature! But since something cannot come from nothing uncaused, there must have been something beyond nature to bring it about! So the universe must have had a super- (beyond) natural cause. All matter, space, and time itself came into existence a finite time ago. Since the universe is not eternal, and something cannot come from nothing uncaused, then something eternal beyond the universe must have caused it.Current cosmology theorizes that space and time both began simultaneously, therefore it makes no sense to talk about anything happening "prior to the Big Bang." In addition, although cosmology theorizes a finite Universe, it does not follow that there was a "beginning." This indicates linear thinking in regards to space-time, when in fact it is multi-dimensional. A good analogy for this is to think of the Universe as occupying the surface area of a sphere. There is no beginning or endpoint to a sphere, but it does occupy a finite surface area.
There are many things that are real, yet are not material. Like numbers, ideas, propositions, the Laws of Logic, etc. These things are real (exist in reality) but they are not material! Many atheists don't like this observation because it opens the door for the possibility of an immaterial, transcendent God and spiritual reality.The examples given are all concepts, which are themselves material in nature since they depend on a material brain to store them, and which are metaphysically natural, since no coherent concept is independent of material context.
God of the Gaps
First, the Christian does not need to argue this way. We can point to God based on what we do know, not just on what we don't know. We can show evidence for God from things like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning design in the universe, and of course the historical evidences for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.This seems to miss the issue. Positing God as the Creator is itselt a God of the Gaps approach, as is the Argument from Fine Tuning. Historical evidences for Jesus really aren't germane to an argument like God of the Gaps, because it is concerned with scientific knowledge, not historical knowledge.
Second, the Christian view is compatible with God being the ultimate cause of various phenomena, yet, He can work through "secondary causation". God created the world (ultimate cause) and the world contains systems that produce various phenomena (secondary cause) - all within God's providence!This is the approach taken by Deism, and it's also scientifically worthless. The difference between a naturalistic Universe and a Universe created to run naturalistically is nil. But admittedly, for those who take a position of faith, this approach is the best hope to retain appreciation for the scientific approach.
Against Atheistic Morality and Meaning
The fact that atheists recognize morality just like we all do shows that there is incumbent upon mankind a sense of "ought" - one ought do this and one ought not do that, etc. This moved C.S. Lewis from atheism, to theism, to Christianity. "Survival instinct" and social conformity fail to fully explain objective moral values. In that case, whoever is the strongest or whoever gains control of a given society determines what is moral. Imagine for a moment if Hitler had conquered the world and the Nazis were still in control! So, we must go beyond society to judge society and atheism says we can't do that. Yet, that is what they want to do!This is an attack against moral relativism, and one which those of us here at GTA would support. So the equivocation of atheism with relativism is incorrect, but it's a common error among Christians.
Second, notice that "better" implies a best. We don't know if things are getting "better" unless we have a best in mind. If we are making "progress" then there must be a standard to which we are progressing. But on atheism, there really is no ultimate standard. It is just what you, they, Hitler, or anyone else thinks is the standard. Therefore, we must all fight to get "ours" (survival of the fittest?).This is not true. It is possible to compare two things without having an ultimate standard. Evolution, for example, functions by giving selective advantages to populations which are "better" suited to their environment than other populations. It does not follow, however, that there exists some ultimate standard of a perfect squirrel to which all existing squirrels can be compared, nor to which they are progressing towards. And you'll notice the naturalistic fallacy implied by the final part of this section, I'm sure.
Third, notice much of this can be applied to meaning too. If there is no ultimate meaning in the universe then one is left to create his or her own meaning. If God does not exist, then there is no ultimate meaning in life. The entire universe and everything in it will one day die out in what scientists call the "heat death". In that case be a cannibal or a cardiologist - it ultimately matters not.This section carries much more weight with a Christian- the idea of creating one's own meaning is foreign to the Christian mindset. The lack of "ultimate" meaning in life does not intimidate me, it challenges me to do my best to find that meaning on my own.
In conclusion, the Christian need not ever doubt his or her faith in the Risen Christ due to the arguments of atheism. Atheism is an inferior worldview which does not adequately explain the universe, the meaningful human heart, nor the historical data concerning our Lord.This is what really interests me about the desire for reasoned arguments and evidence to the Christian- their intersection with faith. It seems to me that faith that needs to be bolstered by arguments and evidence is a very weak faith indeed- I wonder if, given a hypothetical situation in which their arguments and evidence are found by them to be lacking, would they give up that same faith?