I have been extremely busy the past two weeks – our semester is quickly winding down and the deadline for my PhD applications are drawing close. Needless to say, I’ve neglected responding to secularist10 to focus on research papers and GRE prep! For that, I’m sorry. I’d love to offer a more thorough response, but a brief one will have to suffice for the moment. I’m just going to touch on a few issues that drive to the heart of what’s really going on here.
Secularist10 offers the following account of epistemology and the verifiability of an argument:
As human beings, we have questions. How do we answer these questions? By using (1) evidence and (2) arguments based on that evidence. Whichever argument or position or idea or philosophy has more evidence supporting it is the winner. It’s that simple. A corollary of this approach to understanding is that ideas or beliefs for which there is minimal evidence are to be looked upon with heavy skepticism and doubt, and, in the same way, claims for which there is no evidence are not to be accepted at all.
God is one idea for which there is no evidence.
This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. For example, no one would argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Furthermore, the evidence could be out of reach. You might be in a closed room with no windows when the lights go out. You cannot see everything, or occupy every space at that moment, so there might indeed be evidence somewhere that a ladybug is in the room with you. The fact that you could not prove this would not suddenly call into question the reality of the presence of that ladybug, it would merely be an epistemological hurdle for someone in a dark room.
On a second note, what’s admissible as evidence? Whose evidence? What courtroom? All of this assumes one’s own foundations for sweeping issues such as what constitutes knowledge, how we know things, how we can trust what we know, etc. So while the issue ultimately does become fundamental, it’s not really “that simple.” To say that we have no evidence for God is an amazing claim in and of itself. Such a declaration would presuppose access to all knowledge, which under the approach of secularist10 doesn’t make sense.
The approach as outlined above by secularist10 (whether they actually hold to it or not) assumes that only what we can see, taste, touch, smell, etc. should be admissible as evidence. But this assumption needs to be substantiated. Anyone who claims objective knowledge of the world based upon empirical verification through a scientific method or whatever it is needs to demonstrate how that method is substantiated by something other than itself which can give it such weight. For Christians, this “something other” is God who has revealed himself not just in a set of canonical books we call Scripture, but definitively has drawn near to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, any claims that humans cannot comprehend God have been eradicated by Yhwh, who himself has taken on our lowly condition by dwelling amongst us. He has given us the “hermeneutical key” (or more crudely, the “decoder ring”) of all of life: Jesus Christ.
All religions begin with a few underlying assumptions that are not supported by any proof, and which therefore require faith to accept.
Well, if we’re being honest, everyone does this. If that makes everyone “religious,” then ok. Everyone has a certain understanding, developed or not, of the perennial issues of “life, the universe, and everything,” to quote Douglas Adams. Each and every one of these understandings, or perspectives, eventually boils down to underlying assumptions that require faith to accept. This is unavoidable. Ultimately, what you have to do is look at those underlying assumptions and ask what they’re based on. Where do they come from? How do they make sense of everything?
Ideas are totalizing, so you cannot talk about something without at the same time talking about everything. Therefore, unless you can account for everything, you cannot account for anything. The burden for anyone rejecting Jesus Christ as God is to demonstrate how their own ideas make better sense of the world and do so without borrowing assumptions from the view they are rejecting. I believe this task is impossible for a naturalist, a mere “deist,” or what have you.
But let me be clear: that’s not why I am a Christian. I didn’t somehow gather together all of the various arguments, weigh them against one another, and then come to the enlightened conclusion that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried, and raised again on the third day to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of God, etc.
It is faith. But that’s hardly a reason to look askance upon that confession. Because, as I hope we can all agree upon by now, everyone has faith. But there’s substance behind my faith. The view of “life, the universe, and everything” that I get from Jesus Christ and the Scriptures that attest to him (Luke 24) makes sense of everything. No, I don’t “have it all figured out.” But God does, and he has revealed enough to me to trust that I don’t need to have it all figured out.
What I do know is that we are here for a very specific reason. Because of our inherent pride, we fail to see that everyday and we’ve gone astray from the purposes for which we were created. As a result, everything has suffered and we find ourselves separated from God. Jesus Christ is the answer to this dilemma, the God who approaches man, and the only man who can approach God. He has reconciled us through his death, resurrection, and ascension. He is making all things new, and will one day eradicate every last sliver of pain and suffering we see. That I cannot attempt to explain. Hope baffles me.
For further reading, I encourage anyone interested in these issues to read N. T. Wright’s magisterial (and meaty) study on the resurrection: The Resurrection of the Son of God.