Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

Posts Tagged ‘rational’

Christianity is Historically Reasonable

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

It seems lately that there has been a resurgence of atheism and agnosticism in American youth culture. With this in mind, it is necessary for young Christians to be able to explain and defend their faith through reason rather than mere appeals to authorities that non-Christians do not accept (i.e. the Bible, Church authority, Holy Tradition). Using inductive reasoning and the historical record, Christians can demonstrate that their faith is reasonable.

In my experience, most atheists and agnostics reject Christianity on the basis of a dogmatic and irrational rejection of miracles and Christian morality. Let me address this briefly before turning to the historical data.

Miracles are philosophically possible for the reasons the skeptic philosopher David Hume lucidly explained with regard to causation: past chronological experience in itself is no guarantee that physical phenomena will always occur in the future exactly like in that past experience. Philosophical skepticism undermines the dogmatic scientism and rationalism that say miracles can’t happen. I also suggest reading C. S. Lewis’ Miracles which explores precisely this topic and asserts that the reality of reason itself is miraculous. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning. Haldane states “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

Morality, if it is to have any real and signficant meaning apart from human opinion and preference, is a matter of faith. Morality is beyond reason. Reason and logic can never provide foundational moral principles; reason can only expound upon such unprovable principles. You can’t reason your way to unselfishness as a moral principle. Whether egoism or love is moral can be determined only by appeal to a faith, a religion. Atheists and agnostics have no reason on principle to embrace love and altruism. Because God is excluded, any atheist or agnostic “morality” has to be man-made and thus inherently arbitrary. For who is any man to say his morality is better than any other man’s? Moreover, a willful refusal to obey Christian morality says more about the disobedient person than it does about Christian morality; such a willful refusal certainly doesn’t say anything about the truth or reasonableness of Christianity one way or another.

Alright, now on to the historical evidence. 

What we know about Jesus and early Christianity as a matter of history comes from Christian, Roman (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger), and Jewish (Josephus and the Talmud) primary sources. The Christian sources are eye-witness testimonies. They tell us four historical facts that are accepted by sincere and mainstream scholarship and have to be accounted for by the atheist, agnostic, or non-Christian:

  1. Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities.
  2. The tomb of Jesus was guarded and yet found empty. Neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities could produce His body.
  3. Afterward, many of His followers, former skeptics among them, claim to have to have seen Jesus alive in the flesh (not a ghost) and to have interacted with Him.
  4. His followers then, in the face of harsh persecution and martrydom, created a revolutionary worldwide movement that converted millions of people to a new way of life based on the life and teachings of Jesus. They achieved this without any significant economic, political, or military power.

The second and fourth facts are particularly significant. 

The Christian explanation for these historical facts (the resurrection) is far more reasonable than all the other theories that non-Christians have come up with over the centuries. It passes historical scrutiny. Let’s take a look at these other theories one by one:

 1. Jesus’ followers created a myth; they lied.

  • The gospels tells us that Jesus’ followers were amazed at the sight of the risen Jesus; they did not expect Him to rise from the dead. Some refused to believe it even after others told them that He was alive in the flesh.
  • It is one thing to create a myth or lie; it is quite another to endure persecution and death for the sake of beliefs that one knows or even suspects to be untrue. Such behavior is highly unlikely. Who would behave like this? (See theory #4 too.)

2. Jesus’ followers stole the body of Jesus. (A very early accusation made against Christianity by Jewish authorities.)

  • The gospels and Jewish sources tell us that the tomb of Jesus was closed with a stone and guarded. It is highly unlikely that the poor, weak followers of Jesus could have overcome the guards nor do Jewish sources make this claim.
  • If the followers of Jesus had stolen the body, then they would have known that Christianity was false. That would bring us back to the previous theory (#1) which has already been rebutted.

3.  Jesus didn’t really die. (This theory is held by Muslims in particular and other non-Christian theorists.)

  • This theory requires us to believe that Roman soldiers didn’t know how to kill people. How reasonable is that?
  • Even if Jesus somehow managed to survive the scourging, crucifixion, and spear in His side. How reasonable is it to believe a man in such a state could have rolled the stone away from his tomb, overcome Roman guards, and made his way to his followers in various locations?

4. Jesus’ followers hallucinated or were insane.

  • Insanity and hallucinations are private, not public. If many people report seeing something that is highly unlikely, it is not reasonable to say they are all merely dreaming, imagining things, or insane.
  • Insanity and hallucination in themselves are very rare statistically. Hallucinations are usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation.
  • The gospels tells us that Jesus appeared to and interacted with many of his disciples, as many as 500 of them on one occasion according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Bible also give us insight into the character and state of mind of those whom Jesus appeared to: the disciples were fearful, doubtful, despairing, skeptical, etc., hardly fertile ground for hallucination.
  • Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, Roman citizen, and persecutor of Christians, according to his own letters claims to have encountered the risen Jesus. How likely is it that such a person would hallucinate such things and radically change his life?

Ultimately, each and every one of us has to come up with a reasonable answer to the question that Jesus posed to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The most reasonable answer is the Christian answer. In this way, reason calls us to faith.

This post is indebted to Dinesh D’Souza’s Life After Death: The Evidence and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, both of which I recommend for further reading in Christian apologetics.

Posted in Christian Apologetics, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Global Warming: A Rational Examination and Theological Implications

Posted by Tony Listi on April 30, 2008

http://www.acton.org/media/20080417_christians_and_global_warming.php

This is one of the best rational examinations of the issue of global warming that I have ever seen. The guy is a philosopher by training, so he knows how to break down an issue rationally. He provides a very good holistic look at this hot topic.

As Christians, we have a duty to be stewards of God’s creation, including earth itself. But we also have a duty to think critically in practically applying theological beliefs. We have a duty to the truth and to the poor. The truth is that global warming may not be bad, may not be caused by human actions, and may be beyond our control to do anything about. And the proposed policies coming from the alarmists will hurt the poorest and most vulnerable among us. These reckless and disastrous proposals have made global warming a moral issue for conservatives!

Posted in American Culture, Christianity and Politics, Global Warming and Environment, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Science and Politics, Science and Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

God is Reasonable, He is the God of Reason, God is Reason

Posted by Tony Listi on February 18, 2008

Let Protestantism (or certain strains of it) take a step back and reflect (dare I say reason?) before it vilifies Reason as incompatible or in opposition to Faith. Let it remember that Jesus is the Word, the Logos (Greek for “thought,” “rationality,” “reason,” etc.)

“Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18).

Jesus told us to “love Him” with all our minds, as well as all our heart, strength, and soul. (Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30; Lk 10:27)

He proved His Resurrection “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3) and appeared to Thomas solely to provide sufficient evidence for him to believe.

Jer 16: 9-11 “Now when you tell this people all these words, they will say to you, ‘For what reason has the LORD declared all this great calamity against us? And what is our iniquity, or what is our sin which we have committed against the LORD our God?’ “Then you are to say to them, ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and have followed other gods and served them and bowed down to them; but Me they have forsaken and have not kept My law.”
God gives a reason for his punishment! 

Ezk 36:3 “‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “For good reason they have made you desolate and crushed you from every side, that you would become a possession of the rest of the nations and you have been taken up in the talk and the whispering of the people.”‘”

Jonah 4:4 “The LORD said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?'”

Jonah 4:9 “Then God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?'”

Malachi 2:13-15 “you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. ”

The Gospels serve as instruments of Reason:

John 20:31 “has been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may possess life in his name.”
Scripture is thus offered as evidence and proof that we might believe.

“Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Luke 1:1-4)
The need for eyewitness testimony, investigation, order, and certainty is the demand of Reason.

Jesus, our Lord and God, reasons with us and gives reasons for his teachings (“For this reason”):

Mt 6:25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Mt 12:27 “For this reason they will be your judges.”

Mt 18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.”

Mt 19:5 “and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ?” (See Mk 10:7 as well)

Mt 19:8 “He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Mt 24:44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

Mk 12:24 “Jesus said to them, ‘Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?'”

Lk 1:35 “The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.'”

Lk 7:47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Lk 11:49 “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘ I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute,….”
The Wisdom of God has reasons for its sayings!

Lk 12:22 “And He said to His disciples, ‘For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.'”

Jn 6:65 “And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.'”

Jn 7:22 “For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.”

Jn 8:47 “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Jn 10:17 “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again.” It seems that the Father has reasons for his love!

Jn 12:27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Jn 12:39 “For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere….”

Jn 13:11 “For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.'”

Jn 18:37 “Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.'”

Jn 19:11 “Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.'”

Paul:
Acts 26:23 “that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

Rom 1:26 “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature….” God acts reasonably.

Rom 4:16 “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law….”

Rom 14:9 “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Christ died reasonably, for a reason.

1 Cor 11:10 “For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.” Paul gives reasons for the precepts he gives.

1 Cor 11:30 “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” There is a reasonableness, cause and effect, between impious acts and their consequences.

Eph 5:14 “For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper,And arise from the dead,And Christ will shine on you.'”

Phil 2:9 “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name….”

2 Thes 2:11 “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie….”

1 Tim 1:16 “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience….”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind.”
Refutation requires reason. 

More Scripture:
Heb 2:11 “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren….”

Heb 2:17 “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Heb 9:15 “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

James 3:12 “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Heavenly and godly wisdom is reasonable!

James 4:5 “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” Scripture is reasonable! It has reasons for what it written in it.

1 Peter 3:15 “but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear….” God wants us to be ready with reasons for our faith!

1 Peter 4:6 “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”

2 Peter 1:5 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge….”

2 Peter 2:12 “But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed….” The damned are without reason, unreasonable.

1 Jn 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

Jude 1:10 “But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things are they destroyed.” Again, the damned are without reason, unreasonable.

Rev 7:14-15 “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.”

Rev 12:12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them….”

BibleGateway search of “reason” turns up 243 hits (http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=reason&searchtype=phrase&version1=31&version2=49&version3=47&version4=8&version5=9&spanbegin=1&spanend=73

Gen 2:24 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Gen 41:32 “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

Exdous 9:16 “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.”

Lev 17:5 “The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they were sacrificing in the open field, that they may bring them in to the LORD, at the doorway of the tent of meeting to the priest, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD.”

Lev 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.”

Lev 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”

Num 6:11 “and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day”

Num 9:6 “And there were certain men, who were unclean by reason of the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day:”

Num 9:7 “and those men said unto him, We are unclean by reason of the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer the oblation of Jehovah in its appointed season among the children of Israel?”

Num 9:10 “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be on a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto Jehovah.”

Job 23:7 “There the upright might reason with him; So should I be delivered for ever from my judge.”

Proverbs 3:30 “Do not accuse a man for no reason– when he has done you no harm.”

Jer 12:1-3 “Righteous art thou, O Jehovah, when I contend with thee; yet would I reason the cause with thee: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they at ease that deal very treacherously?”

Daniel 4:34 “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever….”

There are certain things that even an omniscient Being cannot do, because they are nonsensical and impossible, by the nature of things. God’s moral nature works the same way. He is love, and cannot be unloving, by nature (2 Tim 2:13).
Limited comprehension is not the issue. How can we fully (or even very substantially) understand any number of things, such as eternity, omnipresence, the Two Natures of Christ, the Holy Trinity, etc.? We can only have a faint appreciation of them and assent to them, as revealed truths. But Christians believe that Scripture (revelation) doesn’t contradict the laws of logic and right thinking any more than natural laws do. It is all a seamless whole: Reality.

When God destroys nations, that isn’t murder, because God is Creator and Judge, and has the prerogative to give life or take it away. They are judged because of the evil they have done, and so there is no injustice. And if God commands the Israelites to destroy a nation, then they are also acting rightly, since they have received divine guidance.
These actions were not right simply because God arbitrarily willed something that we would usually regard as wrong, but because it was time for the enemies of Israel to be judged by their Judge.

God cannot will something sinful because that contradicts His essence as a perfectly holy Being. To say that He can is blasphemous. The “rules” do indeed apply to God also, just as He is “bound” by the laws of logic. Otherwise we take away His goodness and end up with a “god” that is not the all-loving, all-good, all-wise God of the Bible. That is a radical existentialism or some other man-made religion and not Christianity.

Excerpts from Miracles by C. S. Lewis
“All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning…. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true. It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight…. Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the [random, uncontrolled] motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’ (Possible Worlds, p.209) But Naturalism, even if it is not purely materialistic, seems to me to involve the same difficulty, though in a somewhat less obvious form. It discredits our processes of reasoning or at least reduces their credit to such a humble level that it can no longer support Naturalism itself…. Acts of thinking are no doubt events; but they are a very special sort of events. They are ‘about’ something other than themselves and can be true or false. Events in general are not ‘about’ anything and cannot be true or false. [They just happen by cause and effect.] Hence acts of inference can, and must, be considered in two different lights. On the one hand they are subjective events, items in somebody’s psychological history. On the other hand, they are insights into, or knowings of, something other than themselves…. And we cannot possibly reject the second point of view as a subjective illusion without discrediting all of human knowledge. For we can know nothing, beyond our sensations at the moment unless the act of inference is the real insight that it claims to be….”

“Reason is our starting point. There can be no question either of attacking or defending it. If by treating it as a mere phenomenon you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again…. For him [the Christian], the human mind in the act of knowing is illuminated by the Divine reason. It is set free, in the measure required, from the huge nexus of non-rational causation; free from this to be determined by the truth known….”

“The knowledge of a thing is not one of the things’s parts. In this sense something beyond Nature operates whenever we reason…. We have seen that rational thought is not part of the system of Nature. Within each man there must be an area (however small) of activity which is outside or independent of her. In relation to Nature, rational thought goes on ‘of its own accord’ or exists ‘on its own.’ It does not follow that rational though exists absolutely on its own. It might be independent of Nature by being dependent on something else…. It is only when you are asked to believe in Reason coming from non-reason that you must cry Halt, for, if you don’t, all thought is discredited. It is therefore obvious that sooner or later you must admit a Reason which exists absolutely on its own…. Yet if any thought is valid, such a [eternal self-existent] Reason must exist and must be the source of my own imperfect and intermittent rationality. Human minds, then, are not the only supernatural entities that exist. They do not come from nowhere. Each has come into Nature from Supernature: each has its tap-root in an eternal, self-existent Rational being, whom we call God. Each is an offshoot, or spearhead, or incursion of that Supernatural reality into Nature….

“Reasoning doesn’t ‘happen to’ us: we do it…. The traditional doctrine that I am a creature to whom God has given reason but who is distinct from God seems to me much more philosophical than the theory that what appears to be my thinking is only God’s thinking through me…. It seems much more likely that human thought is not God’s but God-kindled….”

“We are interested in man only because his rationality is the little tell-tale rift in Nature which shows that there is something beyond or behind her….”

“Two views have been held about moral judgments. Some people think that when we make them we are not using our Reason, but are employing some different power. Other people think that we make them by our Reason. I myself hold this second view. That is, I believe that the primary moral principles on which all others depend are rationally perceived. We ‘just see’ that there is no reason why my neighbor’s happiness should be sacrificed to my own, as we ‘just see’ that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. If we cannot prove either axiom, that is not because they are irrational but because they are self-evident and all proofs depend on them. Their intrinsic reasonableness shines by its own light. It is because all morality is based on such self-evident principles that we say to a man, when we would recall him to right conduct, ‘Be reasonable.’… If we are to continue to make moral judgments (and whatever we say we shall in fact continue) then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of Nature. It can be valid only as an offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom, a moral wisdom which exists absolutely ‘on its own’ and is not a product of non-moral, non-rational Nature. As the argument of the last chapter led us to acknowledge a supernatural source for rational thought, so the argument of this leads us to acknowledge a supernatural source for our ideas of good and evil…. If, like me, you hold that moral judgment is a kind of Reasoning, then you will say, ‘We now know more about the Divine Reason.'”

“Reason is something more than cerebral biochemistry…. The presence of human rationality in the world is therefore a Miracle….”

Posted in Catholicism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Religion and Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »