Chapter 2: Faith and Reason

31 March 2006

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Smith’s second chapter is, in my view, almost completely irrelevant to the discussion. I agree with him that we should not believe things without reason. He mistakenly defines ‘faith’ as “belief without, or in spite of, reason.” [98] However, this definition of faith, even if it accurately describes what many people think faith means, is not justified by the Biblical model. 1 Since I can mostly agree that faith so defined is not a good way to truth, I will primarily critique certain passages that, I believe, are factually incorrect, misleading, or unnecessary.

Near the beginning of the chapter, Smith claims that “Explicit atheism is the consequence of a commitment to rationality- the conviction that man’s mind is fully competent to know the facts of reality, and that no aspect of the universe is closed to rational scrutiny. Atheism is merely a corollary, a specific application, of one’s commitment to reason.” [98]

Is Smith correct about this? Explicit atheism is only a ‘consequence of a commitment to rationality’ if in fact atheism is the most rationally justified worldview, a thesis which Smith fails to show throughout his book. But is it even true that atheists can claim to be able to theoretically ascertain all knowledge of the universe? For many atheists, the answer is no. Many atheists have postulated alternate universes in order to avoid theistic arguments for God’s existence. 2 For these atheists, at least, the universe is not theoretically explicable. Therefore, Smith is not correct that atheism entails the ability to fully comprehend the universe.

Smith also claims that even theists who purport to rationally support their beliefs end up relying on faith. “Even those Christians who attempt to rationally demonstreate the existence of a supernatural being refuse to offer similar demonstrations of the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, and other essential Christian beliefs.”

This claim is simply false. Christ’s Resurrection is the foundation of many Christian apologetics for the faith. 3 These authors argue that Jesus’ divinity is evidenced by His radical claims in conjunction with the vindicating resurrection. The Trinity is also supported with reference to Christ’s resurrection and solid theology of things that Christ did and said in the New Testament.

What Smith fails to realize, I think, is that Christ’s resurrection sets the foundation for a rational demonstration of major Christian doctrine. Since Christ’s resurrection plausibly vindicates His radical self claims, we can place confidence in the truth of the things that Christ said. Thus, we can develop an extremely developed theology on a rational basis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Smith takes a shot at the Christian faith by recounting the Galileo incident and the evils of the church. He states, “The bloodstained history of Christianity is a dramatic testimony to the conflict between reason and faith, and it illustrates that many Christians, especially those in power, have themselves been aware of the deadly threat that reason poses to faith.” [114] But what is Smith trying to prove here? If he is trying to prove that Christians have made mistakes in the past, then I am in wholehearted agreement. However, this does nothing to undermine the epistemic status of Christian belief, any more than the evil actions of atheists throughout history undercuts the epistemic status of atheistic belief. 4 I think Smith’s aim is actually to show that, since Christians have sometimes opposed science due to purported conflicts with doctrine, that Christianity must be based on a type of faith that is opposed to reason. Yet, this does not follow at all. All that follows is that certain Christians in the past were misguided. On that Smith and I can agree.

Smith compiles a list of Biblical quotes which, purportedly, indicate that the Bible actually supports the irrational view of faith that Smith passionately objects to. However, his interpretation is just plain bad, and I can do no better than J.P. Holding to demonstrate this shortcoming (see his review of Smith’s book Here) Holding also addresses Smith’s claims concerning prophecies.

Throughout the chapter, and indeed, throughout the entire book, Smith expresses a bias against the possibility of miracles which he does not justify, but only smugly asserts. For example, he complains, “In judging the veracity of the Bilbe, we immediately confront the fact that it abounds with incredible stories and primitive superstitions. These elements aloone disqualify it as worthy of belief.” [196] No justification is offerred for this view. However, Smith’s claim that the Bible is not “worthy of belief” assumes the thesis it wishes to prove- which is that it is irrational to believe in miracles or revelation. Additionally, since Smith never deals in detail with the apologetics for Christ’s bodily resurrection, he forgoes an analysis of what most Christians would claim to be the best counter to Smith’s anti-miracle stance.

On the subject of miracles, Smith discusses three different ways to define a miracle, but denies that any theoretical find could justify belief in a miracle. I find this stance to be curious. How exactly, in theory, would God prove His existence to George H. Smith? If God constructed a glowing cross in front of Smith’s eyes, would this be enough to convince him? Apparently not, since miracles are irrational to believe. However, I doubt that most persons would consider Smith’s stubborn denial of evidence for the miraculous to be rational in any sense of the word.

Since Smith never discusses the evidence for the resurrection, not much more need be said with regards to miracle. There are the usual snide remarks about the supposed gullibility or lack of objectivity of the early Christians- these claims are of course completely unsubstantiated and once again put the cart before the horse, since the early Christians were rational to believe that miracles had occurred if they actually had, Smith’s disdain notwithstanding. Other than this, Smith merely parrots David Hume’s argument against miracles; for a corrective on this issue see my article here.


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NOTES:

1. Holding, J.P. “Fallacious Faith.” Found at http://www.tektonics.org/whatis/whatfaith.html

2. Examples include chaotic inflation, quantum gravity, and oscillating models (which are often hypothesized to undermine the Cosmological Argument) and other various multiverse theories (which are often hypothesized to undermine the Design Argument.)

3. For a small sampling, see Guthrie, Shandon. “Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.” Found at http://www.sguthrie.net/resurrection.htm William Lane Craig. “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” found at http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html Edwin Yamauchi. “Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History.” Found at http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html. This is only a sample of online articles; in addition a great number of books have been published in which Christ’s resurrection is either the sole or main focus of an apologetic for Christianity. See for example, my own book reviews of The Son Rises by Craig, and The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas.

4. See my article Here for a refutation of the supposed relevance of the Church’s past and current mistakes.




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  1. See what Michael Maartin has to say about miralcle in his Atheism…” You beg the question,sir as theists are so wont to do. Google skeptic griggsy to see my full remarks on your contentions indirectly. Thanks. you are a fair reviewer nontheless!


    Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth    Jan 23, 09:28 AM    #
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