Saturday, January 30, 2016

How Incorrect and Unexamined Background Principles Can Affect Your Thinking

In the last post, we discussed how principles are present in everyone’s lives. Now in this post, I’d like to discuss a very important way this can affect you. Lurking in the background of every attempt at reasoning, whether excellent or terrible or anywhere in between, is a set of principles. Now I’m not advocating that we go out and list these principles any time we’re about to engage in reasoning; but being aware of these can help.

I read a recent “deconversion” story of a former Christian-turned-atheist recently. In his story, he explained how he loved Christ and wanted to be a Christian. Further, he wanted to have strong proofs for his faith. He mentioned something like, “I wanted to find irrefutable arguments and evidence for God’s existence and Christianity’s truth, or at least arguments that were so good no one could deny them.” When he didn’t find such arguments and evidence, he abandoned the faith.

Now this post is not to discuss the various evidences and arguments for Christianity’s truth and God’s existence, though I certainly think those are quite good. I do want to discuss his principle. It’s quite unreasonable.

I see a variant of this thinking quite often—sometimes even from budding young apologists—but what I don’t see is anyone attempting to justify it. Why, in order to be justified in being a Christian, must the evidence be so good that no one can deny it? I don’t see a good reason. Even the “extraordinary claims” line often tossed about doesn’t justify such thinking (it only justifies “extraordinary evidence,” not evidence so good no one could deny it).

In fact, not only do we not see a reason to accept the standard, we can actually see a reason to reject it. Given that the goal of Christianity, so to speak, is not merely to believe in God, or even merely to believe in the intellectual facts of the Gospel, but instead to enter into a loving, trusting relationship—with God as our Father and Christ as our Savior where we follow him with our lives—that we call “faith,” it would actually be counterproductive for God to have the world be such that we could not deny the truths of the Gospel. God does not want compulsory relationships; in fact, love is such that “compulsory love” is an oxymoron.

Notice the wide gulf that exists between “can deny x,” and “cannot accept x;” they are not identical. There is no good reason to accept such a standard. In fact, such a standard implicitly says, “If I am not forced to believe, I will not believe.” But this, then, is a dispositional matter of the will, not the intellect. And that is something for which we need God and his Word.

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