Monday, April 29, 2013

Intellectual Barriers to Christianity

In my discussions with atheists, I am trying always to ask the question, “If all intellectual barriers were removed, would you become a Christian?” I’m not sure of the source of this question, but I am quite sure I didn’t invent it. Let’s examine the question itself, and then discuss some of the responses one may get. 

Intellectual barriers are necessarily involving person-specific circumstances. What may be rational for one to accept may not be rational for another (even if the basic criteria for rationality remain constant between both people). What this phrase means is that a barrier is something preventing one from accepting the truths of theism (and the essentials of Christianity). It is not the same as saying one is justified in refraining from belief in God and Christianity. Instead, it is something that, if true, would make belief in God irrational/untenable.

This point is extremely important. Too many times, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, will not believe unless a certain criterion of evidence is met; in short, they will not believe unless compelled. The removal of intellectual barriers, on the other hand, is simply allowing the person to place his faith in Christ.

So, what are the answers one may receive? Well, it seems to me the answer is either yes or no. If she answers “yes,” then one may go about the task of apologetics. Now it’s certainly true that some people say “yes” and do not really mean it. That is, it will turn out they will not believe unless compelled, after all. However, there will be some who will realize belief in God is justified, and respond accordingly. In one case, I asked this question of someone, and she said “no.” In that case, the problem for her is not intellectual; it’s a problem of the will! How do I know that?

First, if one responds that they will not believe even in the case of removal of intellectual barriers, then it means that, even if justified in accepting the truths of Christianity, they would not choose to do so. In that case, so long as they maintain this position, they will never believe. Here’s an argument to that effect:

  1. If one will not believe Christianity even if intellectual barriers are removed, then it is because of his will.
  2. If one chooses not to believe, then one will not believe unless compelled to do so (whether rationally or otherwise).
  3. But if one believes under compulsion, it is not true faith.
  4. If one does not have true faith, then he is not saved (a Christian).
  5. Therefore, if one will not believe Christianity even if intellectual barriers are removed, then he does not have true faith.
  6. Therefore, if one will not believe Christianity even if intellectual barriers are removed, then he is not saved.

The antecedent of (2) is identical, analytically, to the consequent of (1). The consequent of (2) simply means that a choice not to believe can only be overcome by God violating free will or by rational compulsion (which may, by the way, be identical to violating free will). (3) should be agreed upon by nearly everyone familiar with Christianity. (4) is true under the umbrella of Christianity, and (5) and (6) are entailed conclusions, and hence cannot be denied.

So, the next time you ask and explain this question, listen carefully to the answer. You may be surprised at what you can learn!


  1. I'm not sure there's a difference between removing intellectual barriers and providing evidence.

    Let's say I'm blind. In other words I can't see. Is there a difference between the barrier of blindness and the lack of evidence from non-seeing? If the barrier is gone, the evidence will flow in with nothing to stop it.

    1. Hello John, thanks for the comment! Certainly, I'm not stating that removing intellectual barriers is not offering evidence. But what I am saying is that "in short, they will not believe unless compelled" type of evidence versus the allowance, warrant, or justification of being able to believe. Both involve evidence, surely; but one involves compulsion (on pain of irrationality) while the other offers justification. I don't think atheists will ever be rationally compelled to believe in God in this life; else where is the faith? But too many times we let this slide instead of pointing out the fact that if atheists are justified in believing in God and Christ and yet refrain from doing so, it is not for intellectual reasons, but volitional.


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