• True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism: A Refutation, Part 8

    Chapter 9: Reason in a Christian Context, by Peter Grice

    In this chapter author Peter Grice attempts to set the record straight about faith and reason. Is faith really the “absence of evidence,” an act of “blind trust,” to quote Richard Dawkins from The Selfish Gene? Grice responds to this common charge. He also tries to explain how Christians view reason and how Christians use reason.

    He first defines his subject, writing,

    Reason is fundamentally the act of engaging the mind – whether done intuitively or rigorously. Poorly or flawlessly. It is a process of (ideally) careful thinking, always involving logic, often drawing upon evidence. Some of its operations include sifting truth from error in making sense of the world, weighing probabilities and practicalities in evaluating courses of action, comparing greater and lesser goods and ills in formulating moral judgments, conceptualizing plans and designs, and constructing objects of technology. (98)

    This is a pretty broad definition of reason by Grice here. I would much rather keep it simple. What we are talking about are the alleged logical reasons why someone might want to take up a particular religion. The New Atheists do not believe that Christians, or other religionists, do not reason at all. This statement is confined only to religious belief. To quote Sam Harris:

    Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever. [1]

    Certainly, as Grice noted, reason can apply to technology and evaluating courses of action in the modern world. He did not say this, but I got the impression that he believes the New Atheists think Christians do not reason at all, including in the modern world, when their statements are only pertaining to religion and the acceptance of their truth claims. Otherwise I don’t see why he felt the need to include the act of reasoning about things that do not pertain to religion. Before I continue with the rest of the chapter I just want to make sure that is clear.

    Grice continues to explain how Christians utilize reason in relation to their religion. He writes,

    Many aspects of Christianity sustain and require the use of reason. The doctrine of Creation, for instance, teaches us that all reality has been made by God, and that we are made for this cosmos. Together, these beliefs strengthen our motivation to investigate all that God has made for His glory and our benefit. (100)

    This is part of the reason why I quoted Sam Harris because it appears clear that Grice has badly misunderstood the New Atheists. Grice said that Christians do use reason; they use reason to study and understand, or “investigate,” the world they believe their god made. Yes, this is one form of reasoning but it is not the form of reasoning the New Atheists are referring to. What the New Atheists are talking about is reason as it relates to digging down into the truth claims of religion and using reason as a means of figuring out if your beliefs are true. Grice looks to be assuming the truth of the bible and going from there, when this is the opposite of how the New Atheists use the word reason.

    Grice continues. He claims the bible admonishes believers to seek the truth. I will quote each sentence in this paragraph and respond throughout.

    [I]t doesn’t seem possible to read the Bible without noticing how it incorporates things like evidence, reason, justification, explanation, proof, defense, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. (100)

    He cites numerous biblical verses in defense of this argument:

    Peter admonishes fellow believers to provide their reasons for believing (1 Pet. 3:15). (100-101)

    This verse says that believers ought to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (NIV) Yes, this verse does tell a believer to “give the reason” for their “hope” but what reasons is the bible referring to? It is extremely vague. Does it mean, as we saw in Acts in Chapter 6, to cite the bible, the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and miracles? This is not evidence. They are nothing more than second-hand stories and trickery. This is nothing more than circular reasoning and is not offering the kind of reasons, nor is it the kind of reasoning the New Atheists are talking about.

    God invites the Israelites to “reason together” about justice (Is. 1:18). (101)

    As Grice notes, this verse is not referring to questioning one’s beliefs or using reason to figure out if they are true, but merely an example of god trying to convince the Israelites to obey his commands! The New English Bible interprets this verse as follows: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.”

    Jesus emphasizes loving God through the full faculties of the mind. (Mt. 22:37). (101)

    How is “love” an example of figuring out the truth of a particular proposition?

    Paul instructs the church to renew their minds and “think soberly” (Rom. 12:2,3) […] (101)

    Once again, this verse is not instructing believers to search out whether or not their beliefs are true, but to believe first and then you will be able to “test and approve what God’s will is.” This verse in its entirety is as follows:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:1-3; NIV)

    Christians might get hung up on the word “test” but you must look at the bible in context. What is it talking about? It’s clearly not asking believers to test their beliefs because the passage begins by telling believers to “offer your bodies” to god, which means to begin by surrendering all doubt and believe in god. After doing this, your mind will be “renewed” and you will be “transformed,” and once you’ve already converted then you will “be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” (NEB) This is referring to surrendering yourself to belief. Once you believe you will be able to judge god’s character. This has nothing to do with checking any facts or thinking rationally about your belief system. The second verse is not referring to thinking clearly at all, or reasoning. It is referring to avoiding thinking too highly of yourself!

    [Paul instructs us to] “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) […] (101)

    Let’s put this verse in context. It says,

    Do not stifle inspiration, and do not despise prophetic utterances, but bring them all to the test and then keep what is good in them and avoid the bad of whatever kind. (NEB)

    This is not referring to any form of checking facts. Paul was admonishing Christians to apply a moral test to prophecies. They were commanded to believe any prophecy that was considered morally good and to disregard any prophecy that was considered morally bad. This has nothing to do with checking facts or conducting any kind of investigation about whether or not the Christian faith is true. [2]

    [Paul instructs us to] “supplant childish thinking with mature reasoning” (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20). (101)

    This verse is the well-known passage that reads “When I was a child, my speech, my outlook, and my thoughts were all childish. When I grew up, I had finished with childish things.” [But apparently not his imaginary friend.] (1 Cor. 13:11; NEB) This does not appear to be discussing a better form of reasoning, just the act of maturing. This verse also does not specify any kind of rational ways in which a believer might test the truth claims of their religion. The same applies to 1 Cor. 14:20.

    Habitually [Paul] reasons in the temples and marketplace, and even with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). (101)

    Paul was not ‘reasoning’ with anyone, he was preaching. He was not providing evidence for his beliefs and why they should believe. In fact, most of the philosophers “sneered” at Paul when he told them about Jesus’ resurrection.

    Here is the passage in context:

    Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

    “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

    “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

    When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. (Acts 17:22-33; NIV)

    I don’t see how the author could call this an act of “reasoning.” He was preaching what be believed from the bible. That’s it.

    All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” come forth in a full revelation of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:2-3). (101)

    Once again, how is this referring to anything that could possibly be construed as seeking out reasons for your beliefs or fact-checking those reasons? How is a “revelation” a form of evidence? It isn’t.

    Grice concludes,

    Throughout the Bible, the theme is the same: precisely because God made us in His image, we are to seek after the truth with all of the rational capacities we have been given. (101)

    In actuality, it appears the only thing these verses tell Christians is to first suspend all disbelief and believe what we tell you. Then they appeal to various revelations for good measure, which is not any form of evidence.

    Next, Grice takes the reader through what he believes to be a more accurate reading of the infamous bible verse of Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”), which he claims is not “blind.” (101)

    He writes,

    Many have taken this to mean that faith is an invisible substance that somehow responds to a lack of evidence. In context, however, what it is saying is that our trust in Jesus is the tangible experience we have in the present, and it functions (figuratively) as substantial assurance that God will act in the future. (101)

    Grice appears to have proven the skeptics’ point. How is “trust in Jesus” and being given “assurance” that their god will act any form of evidence, let alone empirical evidence? It isn’t. I’m relieved he did not try to claim that this passage says Christians demand evidence as some apologists have, but this does not imply any form of evidence at all. It is specifically saying that the foundation of one’s belief is trust itself, which is not a form of evidence. [3]

    I am amazed at how Grice tries to argue how the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Issac is an example of “a reasonable response to God” because Abraham had already “experienced the incredible miracle of his wife delivering a son well after she had entered into menopause,” and had “repeatedly met with God in profound and personally transformative experiences, and seen abundant evidence of God tremendous goodness and love.” (102)

    No. This is a story of a religious maniac who took the hallucinations he was experiencing at face value and nearly murdered his own child. Even assuming all of the supernatural stuff is true, to be willing to murder your own child because some magic being says so is insane. I do not care how or in which way Christian apologists try to spin this story. It’s disturbing that they defend these gruesome acts.

    In conclusion of this section Grice says,

    The biblical pattern of coming to faith always begins with evidence. The first stage of evidence is the pervasive knowledge of God’ discernible in creation (Rom. 1:20). In addition, sometimes the evidence is the experience of personally encountering God. (To automatically dismiss this evidence as psychic malfunction is to beg the question.) (103)

    Sorry, we’ve taken a look at the bible and have found no evidence of fact-checking nor examples of asking for evidence for their beliefs. Grice confirms this attitude when he tellingly says how Christians know god exists because of his “creation.” But why do they believe this? The bible. This is an example of circular reasoning. And it is not begging the question to doubt stories of people of faith seeing or speaking with their gods. Given the fact that there has yet to be any tangible evidence of anyone talking to any gods it is only rational to have doubts until conclusive proof is provided that these believers were not merely hearing voices.

    The next section is titled “Reason and the Resurrection.” Here, Grice tries to defend belief in the resurrection on rational grounds. He writes,

    What kind of evidence did Paul have for the bodily resurrection of Jesus? He and the early Christian community were galvanized by the shared conviction of multiple eyewitnesses, based upon “many convincing proofs.” For a period of forty days, their once-crucified leader lived, breathed, spoke, and ate among the group of people who knew him best: the once-cowardly Peter, then the twelve of the inner circle; afterward, “more than 500 brothers and sisters at once, most of whom are still living,” followed by his own half-brother James, then all the apostles, and finally the once-hostile Paul. (103)

    There is only one problem with these so-called “eyewitness” accounts. All of these accounts are mere hearsay, based upon ancient texts and visions (from Paul). It is extremely improbable that any actual eyewitnesses were still alive during the time the bible was written. [4] Even if a single eyewitness were to have survived there is still the matter of a supernatural resurrection of a man from the dead, which is medically impossible (without modern medicine of course, and even then it’s not a given).

    Throughout the rest of this section Grice continues to tout the bible as an example of “eyewitness” testimony, when this claim is beyond absurd. He commits an even larger blunder, however, when to top off his already fanciful argument, he commits an appeal to authority by citing the late Antony Flew, writing,

    The essential ingredients of an appropriately historical case remain firm, compelling one-time leading atheist philosopher Antony Flew to remark, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (104)

    I cannot understand how Christians can continue to cite the late philosopher Antony Flew, whose unfortunate situation seemed to have been taken advantage of by a number of Christian apologists. Even if Flew had ignored or disregarded every single thing he’d ever written about logic and evidence, this argument would still boil down to nothing more than a fallacious appeal to authority.

    As we’ve seen, Christians have nothing but hearsay and the facts cast entirely too much doubt on the writers of the bible either knowing the alleged witnesses or themselves being the alleged witnesses.

    The next section is titled “Reason and Christian Practice.” Grice writes that Christians’ “spiritual life” requires their mind since they must “discern” through reason “good from evil.” He continues to say, “We draw on knowledge gained through general revelation (knowledge acquired by means of experience, observation, and conscience) and special revelation, the great resource of Scripture, with its very episode teaching us something of righteous character (including what not to do).” (104)

    This is only about reason as it has to do with morality. It has nothing to do with rational reasons for belief, thus is irrelevant to the discussion.

    Grice continues to argue that reasoning is a form of teleology, which “correlates purposes with functions; goals with strivings,” (107). Because naturalism denies any form of purpose in the universe naturalism cannot account for reason. Grice quotes James Barham,

    […] If human beings had never existed, countless billions of other living creatures would still have pursued their various goals in exactly the same way. Yet, metaphysical naturalism would have us believe that teleology is some sort of illusion. In other words, all of the life sciences, as well as the social sciences and the humanities, are making constant use of a principle that officially does not exist! (108)

    Grice himself continues:

    “To circulate blood” is the purpose, or normative standard, which in turn defines whether the heart is functioning properly. As a standard or goal, it is blatantly teleological, which is strictly incompatible with the established form of Naturalism.

    This makes no sense. Naturalism implies (because of the evidence) that there is no purpose inherent in the universe. Like the earlier argument about morality in Chapter 8, this does not mean that the life forms created by the “blind watchmaker” cannot not have some kind of purpose. An inherent lack of purpose in the universe itself does not imply that the biological systems and organisms that evolved within the universe themselves cannot have purpose. Even more than that, since when did science ever say that biological systems had no purpose? Yes, all things serve their purpose, since organisms must do things in order to survive. That’s their purpose: survival. Anything beyond that is up to them.

    Science acknowledges unintentional design, while Christians are referring to intentional design. The question at hand is how it came about. Christians seem to be getting their terms confused. Yes, scientists have noticed and acknowledged the seeming “design” in nature and how these “designs” serve a particular function. However, this was not caused by any intentional agent. [5] This was the entire point to Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker: the apparent design of nature’s organisms is not due to some magical being, it is due to the blind forces of nature acting upon the objects and organisms in the world. Christians’ only argument against these facts? “No, God did it.” It’s brought out of nowhere without any logical or factual justifications.

    No, the bible does not convey a message of rational discourse or of reason. There are no eyewitness reports of a hugely unlikely supernatural event, and the apparent “design” in nature can be explained via natural processes. Christians’ only counter-argument to these facts is to continue to assert without any justification that their god did it. For all of this talk of reason, this book seems to be getting more and more unreasonable as the chapters progress.

    1. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005; 19

    2. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu, 2009; 385

    3. Ibid.; 237-238

    4. Ibid.; 203

    5. The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, 2006

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist