Monday, November 30, 2009

The Rational Case For Christianity - Intro

Wisely has it been said that man is not a rational being--he is a rationalizing being. A person can convince himself that anything is truth simply through enough rationalizing. Whether he is right or wrong about his rationalizations depends on objective truth. As I have written about previously, all people believe in objective truth both regarding material reality and conceptual reality, regardless of purported belief in relativism. And, even if people didn't believe in objective truth, the objective nature of truth is not dependent on the belief or non-belief of people in it.

The rational case for Christianity, then, is based on objective truth. Christianity is not merely a moral code, or a belief in a certain Jewish revolutionary, though it is no less than those things. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that explains everything. As such, though the case for Christianity is most certainly rational, it is definitely not simple, for reality itself is not simple. Additionally, let us set the bar extremely high. If Christianity is true, it must validly explain everything, it must be practically applicable, and it must not contradict any piece of evidence in our world. If Christianity contradicts even one piece of evidence in our world, then it cannot be completely true.

Allow me to borrow analogies from a couple of brilliant men to illustrate what I mean. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist and philosopher, likens the quest of philosophy to the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle. Imagine that you have a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, but that you have lost the box the puzzle came in. Anyone who has put together a jigsaw puzzle knows how critical it is to use the box top as a guide to assembling the puzzle. If you come across a piece of the puzzle and do not know where to put it, you simply examine the box top and use that information to help you put it in its correct place. Given that the box top for life has been lost, mankind scrambles around looking for various box tops in hopes of finding the one that provides the solution to the puzzle. Every worldview is a sort of box top. Either it matches the pieces of the puzzle or it doesn't. Some of the wrong box tops might possibly help to put some pieces in the right place, but they always either create odd conflicts or provide very little help at all. Only the right box top will serve to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle. If Christianity is correct, then it is the box top that provides a flawless guide for all the mysterious pieces we have to the puzzle of existence and human life.

Similarly, G.K. Chesterton illustrates the challenge of the quest for a fitting philosophy by pointing out that our world is quite complicated and in many aspects, quite unexpected. The simpler something is, the more likely a mere conincidence can satisfy it. The more complicated a thing is, the more irregular a thing is, the less likely a mere coincidence can match it perfectly. For example, noticing that a human being has two eyes, two ears, two legs, two arms and two hands, which are all arranged in near symmetry might lead one to decide that the human body is symmetrical. When we discover that a person has a heart on the left side of their body, it would be perfectly rational to assume that they would also have a heart on the right side of their body. But, of course, this would also be wrong. The simple explanation doesn't fit the evidence. Likewise, if Christianity is correct, it must be right not in some simple or obvious way, but it must correctly account for the irregularites and complexities of the universe. In Chesteron's own words, "A stick might fit a hole, or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key."

And so it is with the case of Christianity. The real question about whether Christianity is rational is not simply whether it works for some people, or if it explains some things. If Christianity is true, then it must be true about everything. The key must fit the lock. The box top must be the correct box top if we are to solve the puzzle. Either every facet of Christianity will be correct and properly explain the universe, or Christianity is wrong. That a key almost fits the lock is no consolation at all, for the door cannot be opened. To be almost right is even worse that being very clearly wrong, for the answer which is almost right seems the most convincing. Either Christianity is true, or it isn't. If it is true, then it must make sense of every single fact of the universe. If even a single piece is actually out of place, then Christianity fails.

Before I continue to point out some compelling facts that only Christianity can explain, I would like to clarify a few things which demand my attention. First of all, I would like to mention the obvious fact that an apparent contradiction and an actual contradiction are two completely different things. If you ask me where I was on Saturday and I tell you that I was at home reading, and I also tell you that I had coffee at Starbucks, you might perceive it as an apparent contradiction. Obviously, I can't be in two places at once. If I was at Starbucks, then I can't have been at home. If I was at home, then I can't have been at Starbucks. These statements are all quite logical and valid; after all, no person can truly be in two places simultaneously. However, the apparent contradiction immediately fades upon the realization that I never claimed to be at home and at Starbucks simultaneously. Once time is accounted for, it is apparent that I was at home during one part of the day, and at Starbucks during another part of the day. I simply use this playful illustration to show that not everything that appears to be a contradiction actually is.

Secondly, I would like to return to the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle to point out that if there are any missing pieces of the puzzle, it is no fault of the box top. Though Christianity may explain everything, our lack of some critical pieces do not invalidate it's truthfulness. For example, though Christianity may explain why the world exists, why man is fundamentally different than beast and why all men have a conception of morals, it is no argument against Christianity to say that it does not explain everything fully. If one is wondering why Christianity provides no clear and conprehensive explanation for why giraffes have long necks, why people enjoy butter on their bread, and why I enjoy grape-flavored lollipops more than orange-flavored ones, that Christianity does not explain these things in comprehensive detail does not invalidate Christianity. We are simply missing a few pieces of the puzzle. However, if Christianity says that no person enjoys butter on his bread, then Christianity does not fit with our universe, for quite clearly there are a large number of people who do enjoy buttered bread.

Lastly, it may be that some people will be confused as to how I define Christianity. The Protestant reformation definitely opened the door for many various groups to present similar yet different versions of Christianity. Therefore, in order to preempt any possible confusion about what I mean when I refer to Christianity, I would like to point both to my previous post on Basic Christian Orthodoxy and to the Apostles' Creed. My case for Christianity is primarily a rational case for that short list of pivotal Christian doctrines. God exists, and is the Creator of all. Man willfully chose and continues to choose to reject God's clear command, and therefore all men are sinners both by nature and by choice. Jesus, who is God incarnate, was born of a virgin, and lived a sinless life. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and to make salvation and redemption available to all who place their faith in Him. His bodily ressurrection, three days after His death, secured his victory over sin and death, and gives new life to all who are spiritually united with Him.

In following essays, I will briefly state the rational case for Christianity by looking at questions of metaphysics, morality, and epistemology, and then offer a short essay on why philosophical materialism, the prevalent philosophy of our day, does not properly fit the facts of our universe.

8 comments:

  1. oh lawdy. i smell 'fail' in the distance.

    "Wisely has it been said that man is not a rational being--he is a rationalizing being. A person can convince himself that anything is truth simply through enough rationalizing."

    Man is a rational being. But assuming Wisely is correct and that the belief that man is an irrational animal (a presumption necessary for Christianity) is valid, I suppose anyone can start with the preformed box top conclusion and work one's way backward, picking and choosing the angles and edges of the piece so as to fit the appropriate slots of the puzzle. This is easily done when it is the author who is defining terms, defining what is relevant and what is not, what is applicable and what is not, etc...

    "Whether he is right or wrong about his rationalizations depends on objective truth." And the objective truth obviously requires bending the laws of nature for this 'rationalization' to proceed.

    Assuming one could make a valid case that Christianity fits the facts of our universe (even if we have only 1 puzzle piece, and nothing more), it does not follow that the faults of Materialism (which there are plenty) imply Christianity is something worthy of following: it isn't.

    I think I can already predict where you'll head with your rationalization, but I'll bite my tongue for the moment to see if it'll appear on this blog. If not, i'll post how I would rationalize Christianity as fitting within our universe.

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  2. While I believe I do and will agree with what you will write on this subject, I think you've taken on a monumental task that many before have also strived to acheive.

    I will be reading this series with great interest.

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  3. @Anonymous: The quote I began with is not to be taken literally... it is tongue-in-cheek humor used to illustrate a point about human nature. I am not actually postulating that man is an irrational being, incapable of rational thought. If man is just an animal, then Christianity is false.

    Secondly, while it is important to define terms, I am specifically stating that one can't pick and choose what is relevent and what is not. Since my criteria for Christianity being true require it to fit with every single piece of evidence in the universe, there are no exceptions. There may be explanations, but there are no exceptions.

    I quite agree with you that the validity of a materialistic worldview has no bearing on whether the Christian metanarrative is true and valid or not.


    @Alkibiades: Quite right you are. People have been trying to do this for about 2,000 years now. This is my little attempt to raise a few clear and compelling arguments in favor of Christianity.

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  4. Silas:

    If you're interested, I wrote an essay this year in which I explain "Why I Am Not a Christian (At Least Not Yet)"...

    http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-i-am-not-christian-or-at-least-not.html

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  5. @Todd: Thanks for linking me to your post. I just left you a comment on the post in question.

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  6. Silas: Without getting too much into the weeds, I’ll make 2 major points…

    1) I do not believe – and would never advocate – that we need “proof” of God or “proof” of Christianity. Rather, I would prefer merely suggest that we make “an inference to the best explanation.” If we do that, I feel comfortable saying that it is nearly certain that God exists (upwards of 99% certainty). As for Christianity – based on my understanding of faith – well, I would put the odds at way, way less than 50%.

    2) I wouldn’t concur that I’m “unfamiliar” with Christianity. I’ve read the New Testament and major portions of the Old Testament. Having said that, you are correct in saying that my knowledge of Christianity is suboptimal and could use strengthening. That’s why I’m looking forward to your series on Christianity.

    I agree with you that “either Christianity is true, or it isn't. If it is true, then it must make sense of every single fact of the universe. If even a single piece is actually out of place, then Christianity fails.”

    That’s the standard I use too. And I’ve just seen too much inconsistency and outright falsehoods to make me a member of the faith. But you claim that Christianity can meet that standard. That’s a bold statement. Having said that, I respect your ambition. And I genuinely invite you to enlighten me.

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  7. Also, I've added you to my Blog Roll, fyi.

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