Faith and Reason

    One of the great challenges that Christians scholars face that wish to think Christianly 

about the academic disciplines, or for that matter Christian apologists face that wish to

defend Christian faith, is to properly characterize the relationship between faith and 

reason. However, it is not  hard to see that those two terms, “faith” and “reason” are 

loaded terms, and how we define them can determine the sort of answer at which we will 

arrive. This is important because how these terms have been historically parsed has played

 a role in shaping the history and “ideology" of the university.  

    That is, one’s position about this relationship becomes critical in the academic disciplines because it is at least thought that the deliverance's of reason conflicts in important ways with revealed religion (typically read Christianity) and the “success” of Reason in many ways presents a potentially serious problem for Christians who think about this relationship, in certain ways. Or so we allege.

    This tab is devoted to discussing some of the history and nature of the concern and

some possible solutions. It seems essential for the project of thinking Christianly, to get

to the bottom of this so that we might critically think about the underlying assumptions of 

each discipline, their particular methodology, and wonder how our Christian faith informs 

those sorts of things. To do that, we will first briefly highlight the practical importance 

current defintions of these terms play in culture, we will then try to reach a first 

approximation of the terms’ meaning and supplement that by considering in Part A, the

impact of logical postivism, in Part B, the impact of methodological conventions, 

naturalizing tendencies and problems with giving justication for metaphysics. Finally, in 

Part C we will discuss “science’s and the humanities' critique" of the Christian faith and a 

challenge to set the record straight.

                                                                       The Problem

    How do the terms “faith” and “reason,” as widely understood in academe, present an

 apologetic problem for Christians in the disciplines? We think mainly because what these

 terms have come to mean puts the term “faith” in the category of subjective, prejudicial

 and unworthy of concern; while the term “reason” is thought to be associated with things

 thought to be objective, neutral and worthy of consideration and reflection. These 

distinctions remain of critical importance for the credibility of the gospel in contemporary 

academe and that’s what this larger site is all about…both doing apologetics and thinking 

Christianly about the whole of academic life in the milieu of today’s academy.

    How this current view has come 

about is more the concern of the 

next section of this essay under the

title “Start.” However, the thing to 

see at this point is that issues

related to “faith,” on various 

grounds has largely come to be 

excluded from a position of 

authority in the great academies of the world. At the same time, things related to “reason”

are widely accepted as credible and as having authority. Surely not everything claimed to

be of “reason” gets a free pass; however, nearly everything related to “faith” is excluded.

    The university through its success and advances on many fronts has created substantial cultural credibility for itself...and for the most part, rightly so. As a result, the university plays a dominant role in forming what Leslie Newbigin has called a cultural “plausibility structure”--what a culture deems as worthy of consideration as a plausible explanation for phenomena and potentially worthy of granting the status of “authority”-- is of extreme importance. This prestige extends even to the law and allows it to pass judgment as to what it deems “reasonable,” and historically, in the long-run, has served to undermine the things of “faith.”  This cannot be of casual concern for contemporary defenders of the Christian faith, despite the fact that, currently there is majority of professors in the United States who have some religious affiliation.  

    So, to summarize what we are saying in this section, in the current academic world it is widely thought that the weight of reason is seen as having undermined the trustworthiness of the things of faith. And times being what they are, that’s considerable weight. Its general weight, but also the specific weight, discipline by discipline, comes to bear on the vast array of what can be studied and reflected upon and what becomes knowledge; the weight of that definitionally excludes faith perspectives. And when “reason” is focused on “faith” itself, it is portrayed in the least credible terms, perhaps at best tolerated because so many of the ignorant and recalcitrant masses believe it. These people are initially thought to be either in some way wired to believe it or indoctrinated in such a way that their bounded reason keeps them entrapped. Nonetheless, a very influential part of academe wishes to do a favor and liberate people of faith from their folkish, prejudiced and benighted religious faiths. How could Christian apologists who see this differently not take such an attack seriously? 

                                                          Approximation of the Problem

    We have suggested that defining terms like “faith” and “reason” are important to parsing out potential conflicts and harmonies between the two notions. We are not going to do that just yet, because we want to come at the issue after thinking about general parlance--and putative beliefs that are thought to define this subject.  

    There are a number of ways one hears this subject linguistically broached in both the academic and non-academic setting. One hears things like, “faith and reason are like oil and water, they don’t mix.” Faith is sometimes described in terms of believing and “reason” is spoken of in terms of knowing. Some atheists say that faith is believing what you know to be false. Other, slightly more charitable atheists say it is believing without any evidence and still more charitably, some say, it is believing without GOOD evidence. And there is stream among some Christian theists called fideists who would go along with some of that--perhaps Tertulian would fit into that category. However, there are other Christians like Augustine who have thought about the relationship in terms of “faith seeking understanding.” Here the idea “seeking understanding” is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun is risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 

    Still others that say that the Christian and the naturalist (brand) of atheism are in similar epistemic boats--to get things off the ground they have to believe certain things without being able to provide sound buttressing arguments. All starting points are alleged to require some epistemic circularity and thus all need some sort of “faith” to get things off the ground. However, we think you can see that all definitional characterizations along those lines are potentially tendentious. Further, the conversation is rife with definitional ambiguities because those terms can mean several things besides an explicit technical definitional use. 

    There are two groups of Christians who have problems with understanding the term “faith” merely as gratuitous believing. There are many Christian theists who think their faith is grounded in good evidence or at least on the preponderance of evidence. There is also a very distinguished and sophisticated band of Christian philosophers who hold that theism is rational without any need of propositional arguments! They do not, however, hold that theistic belief is arbitrary or gratuitous (as apparently the fideists do) because they also claim there needs to be sufficient (non-propositional) grounding, and that it occurs in certain widely experienced situations. Thus, they refuse the label of fideists.  

    The second case makes a weaker claim than the former. The latter alleges that she is within her epistemic rights (rational) to believe based on how her beliefs were formed, by a properly functioning brain, in a environment conducive to forming true beliefs; however, the former more strongly claims that all rational people should be persuaded by her propositional evidence (arguments).  

    Therefore, it is useful to note and remember besides the fideist Christians there is always these two big streams (broad categories) in Christian apologetics: the evidentialists and the presuppositionalists with regard to getting knowledge off the ground. Both of these groups hold that theism is rational, but have different grounds for thinking it to be so and different understandings to what degree they are rational.

    Each of these two big streams also have within those broad streams certain individualized nuanced views and close cousins. For example, among the evidentialists there are those apologists who distinguish various means and kinds of arguments to provide support for Christianity that differ from others in the stream. The same is true for the presuppositional stream; that is, there are those who think of themselves as entitled to hold whatever presuppositions they choose because it is alleged no one can argue to their starting assumptions--only from them. If that scenario is the case, they argue, how can you regulate what presuppositions you cannot properly believe? Yet, there are others within that particular stream (mentioned above) who think holding “properly basic beliefs” or “warranted Christian beliefs” needs certain grounding situations that are necessary for holding the starting point belief to think they are epistemically justified. So, an important thing to see is that these two main schools of thought also have nuanced differences within their streams.

    Still, even with these details and distinctions it is challenging to try to unpack this disputation in completely apologetically neutral terms, so it may be helpful to get some sense of the received tradition and from there see where we might want to agree or depart.  We shouldn’t be too surprised that this discussion about faith and reason emerged or was at least sharpened in focus as far back as when the medieval consensus began to break down due in part to the impact of the Renaissance and especially spurred on by the Enlightenment’s emerging influence.  

    We’re not intending in this introduction to identify where exactly all this started. What we wish to do is understand the received tradition with enough clarity to be sure we understand what it is saying, to determine if what it is saying is credible and then, if so, to what degree. Our experience and intuitions brought into the quest are that developments in the period of modern philosophy, along with the advancements of modern science beginning in the late 16th century put Christian faith on the defensive. Nonetheless, were these developments always understood properly and could mistakes have been made in our Western tradition?  

    We think so, especially in places where it came to be believed that only “science” (understood as the scientific method or the results of that method) were the ONLY things that were worth discussing in terms as being either true or false. This position known as logical positivism is self-referentiall incoherent, 20th century philosophers have thus properly placed it in the dustbin of failed philosophical ideas. The error of excluding the non-empirical from the discussion regarding truth was extended when it was also thought that what science said on any topic or domain was to be the authoritative explanation--a position that is known as “scientism.”

    We think it is proper, and that it is NOT at all anti-science, to call into question these positivistic strains of thought, but before we get into that and get ahead of ourselves we want to explore how these ideas came to be a part of the received tradition.

    Having said that by way of introduction, here’s what we wish to do in this section: 1) one of the ways we think the received tradition went astray was to accept a logical positivist approach to knowledge. In Part A we will sketch some of the proximate roots of that movement in the history of ideas. In Part B we will move from a discussion of the roots of logical positivism to some of its subsequent shoots (influences) in the sciences and humanities. This will include 1) discussing what is typically called “scientism”--the attempt to universalize the scientific method for all domains of knowledge, 2) discussing the contemporary tendency to naturalize all explanations of phenomena and why that can be problematic and 3) some discussion of a couple forms of post-modernism. In the summary we will pull together the main ideas to take away from of our assessment. We think our assessment can be of value for Christian scholars who wish to do Christian scholarship, and especially for Christian apologists who wish to defend our faith in the academic setting.

    All this will prepare us for the next section where we will look at what Christian scholars and Christian apologists might do to take the next steps.

Part A - An Influential Moment: The Roots and Rise of Logical Positivism

    So let’s begin by trying to get a sense of what has been meant about the term “reason.”  Entering the conversation at the beginning of the modern period in philosophy--a period that eschewed the authorities from the ancient world and urged people to think for themselves--were people like Descartes, Locke, Hume and especially Kant to name a few.  This period overlaps some of the Renaissance but it mainly played a determinative role in shaping the Enlightenment period.  

    We also think the development of the received tradition was significantly affected by the rise of modern science, through the thought and achievements of people like Francis Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, and Einstein, to name a few. It is an influence that continues to shape the dialogue about this up to today. Thus, it is helpful to see that the two developments (philosophers eschewing traditional authorities--especially Aristotle’s science and the Church’s adoption of it--along with the progress and success of modern science), not completely independent of each other, were major factors working to affect the outcome of the conversation up to the present.

    As you might imagine there are a great number of details to this narrative, too many to  enumerate and enter into here, but we need to make a gesture or at least a sketch in that direction that can be filled in through the many resources we provide and intend to provide. 

    For instance, Descartes--widely considered the first modern philosopher because he

 attempted to separate himself from tradition and establish his systematic thinking on

 reason alone—was interested in getting to the bottom how we know what we claim to

 know and he thought such an explanation might resemble in important ways what the 

model of mathematical knowledge was thought to be like. That is, we would begin with

 something we obviously know (in mathematics they are called axioms) and build 

deductively from there.  Descartes wanted to find such “axioms” through reasoning—not

from experience—but by merely thinking “about it”; and, by that method arrive at what he

called “clear and distinct ideas” from which he could build.

    Descartes thought he discovered such a clear and distinct idea: his skeptical reasoning led him to the conclusion he was not able to deny his own existence...he felt he couldn’t be wrong about that because even if he thought he was wrong about that, there would still be a “him” that was making the mistake! He wanted to begin with that certainty and see what he could build upon that by means of deduction.  You will likely recognize this was a common strategy of the “rationalist” school of thought; it is an epistemic program that held that we know things by thinking about things rather than through fallible means of our experience. Innate ideas played a major explanatory role for getting things off the ground. 

    On the other hand, epistemic representatives of the empirical school of thought, like Locke and Hume, held that what we know through self-evident definitions was very little at all...logical entailments and maybe our own existence, but not even the nature of our existence. Instead they thought one should develop a knowledge of the world through the probable means of our experience and reflection on that experience. They generally eschewed, for various reasons, confidence in innate ideas.

    However, the analysis of l’enfant terrible David Hume, even though he leaned toward a nuanced empiricist understanding in many ways, may have undercut the theoretical underpinnings of both schools of thought. His kernel idea that impacts our discussion was roughly that while rationalism and strict empiricism succumbed to skepticism, at least the empirical world practically impinged on us in a greater way--and we were forced to pay more attention to that.  

    Hume built upon this to suggest that what we know (if we know anything) is the empirical world and thus things like religion and morality were to be considered subjective, prejudicial and not knowledge. The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that he was “awakened from his dogmatic slumber” by Hume’s analysis and subsequently began to develop a rather complicated pragmatic or instrumental understanding of empirical knowledge where we would not know the things of reality in themselves, but only know the things as they appeared to us.

    This distinction between knowing the phenomena (the thing to me) and not knowing the nature of the noumena (the reality of the thing in itself) has had an enormous influence on the evolution of thinking about these issues of “faith” and “knowledge.” Roughly in this period, the perceived successes of the empirical sciences--Galilean and Newtonian science, for example--lent gravitas to the empiricist intuitions.  At the same time as science was advancing, conflicts between the literal readings of the Bible (not necessarily all construals of  theism, but a version of theism) and the purported deliverances of science began to surface. Especially crucial in this narrative is the impact of Darwin’s theory of non-guided evolution and the literal reading of the Biblical’s special creation account in Genesis. 

    [This general narrative is even more complicated because some philosophers of this time construed what we knew as being had its being merely “inside of our head” and not necessarily connected to an external world. We could know what our mind held, but the external world was another thing. However, this philosophic “idealism” (everything is really an idea) was largely left behind and doesn’t muster much contemporary enthusiasm even though arguably it was not rigorously refuted. Many  influenced mainly by John Locke’s analysis, have tended to view experience in terms of a common sense apprehension of an external world to us. This is a sort of common sense realist picture of knowledge, which engendered either a naive realism or a critical realism view, remains today as a “man in the street” view of things.]

    The difficulty focused in on by Kant was in determining how much of the ideas we held in our minds were of our mind’s construction (or “wiring”) through which we “knew” the world and how much of it was of the external world as it was. That was a difficult speculative problem which he worked on in some detail; but he held that the degree of coherence of our experience allowed for a practical “knowledge” of this world as it appeared to us. This was despite the fact that even though we could not compare those appearances to the things in themselves without begging the question (assuming what was to be proved), we could still treat it as “knowledge.” Compared to Descartes vision of knowledge, this was obviously a deflationary view.

    The “workability” of Kant’s analysis, in spite of its profound agnosticism of the nature of things we experience led to a radical departure from the common sense knowledge of an external world, to a view whose gravitas depended on our common experience that fortunately in practice had a great deal of coherence. (Here we use the term “workability” describing Kant’s analysis because it was an instrumental form of knowing.)  

    It was just difficult to explain whether the coherence that we find among the experience of individuals was due to our common “wiring” or programing (presumably a result of guided or unguided evolution) through which we accessed the world or due to the coherence of the external world in itself. Nonetheless, the presence of enough coherence, for whatever reason, and the scientific success of this instrumental knowing allowed for a workable solution to the problem of “knowledge.”

    Implicit in Kant’s analysis of pure and practical reason is a pragmatic, instrumental view of knowledge that “worked” in the sense that it enabled us to predict to a very precise degree where planets would show up in the future, make useful gadgets  and the like of that. As a matter of historical fact, the basic Kantian linguistic legacy that we can know the phenomena (the thing to me) but not the noumena, remains today deeply imbedded in the way we speak and think about what constitutes “reason.” However, implicit in this language is a pragmatic and instrumental knowledge of the empirical world, which not to make too fine a point of it, is a non-realist view.

    That was Kant’s view, but there are quite a few latter day dissenters to this interpretation of the Kantian picture, who hold that the extent of coherence that science gives us, along with the ability to predict things to a very high of accuracy, provides sufficient justification for thinking that our knowledge of the phenomenal world is closing in on the truth--the truth of the nounenal world. Despite this ubiquitous intuition shared by many bench scientists, the philosophical received tradition concedes that the coherence found among many of our experiences provides insufficient justification for concluding that; but instead it holds that it merely provides justification for calling this instrumental knowledge--a kind of fallible knowledge.  

    This is not a Cartesian vision of indubitable knowledge derived from even more basic indubitables, but rather a vision of a fallible and correctable knowledge that isn’t necessarily giving us a knowledge of the real world as it is independent of our minds. Its claim to fame was that its coherence could be improved when inconsistencies were identified within theories of our experiences by either falsifying the old theory, or by suggesting and then verifying new theories by repeatable empirical experiments.

    So, herein lies part of the problem of parsing out the terms of “faith” and “reason.” There is a somewhat torturous and complicated narrative to understand how it has come to mean what it has come to mean today. However, an important thing to see was the trend to take the systematic study of the empirical with all of its phenomenal warts seriously to the extent it has authority and is a main constituent of “reason” and to eschew (and we think unjustifiably eschew) morality and religion. Why were they excluded? It's because they were thought not to be derived from any empirical experience--the line of demarcation--and thus in their eyes only had an appearance of truth and authority.  

    The historical trajectory of this way of thinking was to try and identify a criteria of meaningfulness that put what they considered idle speculation where it belonged--committed to the flames or at least the dust bin of philosophical ideas. Thus, through the ideas of Hume and Kant, which were picked up by the Vienna Circle of philosophers and perhaps best expressed by 20th century philosopher A.J. Ayer, emerged a position that has come to be known as “logical positivism.” In the next part of this series we will explicitly discuss the decisive arguments against positivism. Its collapse is certainly the most important philosophical development of the 20th century. The short story is that the dreaded principle of verification when clarified, failed to pass its own test for meaningfulness--it was unhappily hoisted on its own petard.  

    We think this ill fated “move” (either implicitly or explicitly employed in academe) to embrace positivism was a huge philosophical mistake of the first order and it had enormous negative affects on the development of the university that lingers to this day. Its results were to encourage a logical positivist view where only what empirical science had to say qualified as either true or false, the rest was literally nonsense. It also encouraged a hubristic “scientism” where it was alleged that the scientific method had universal application to all domains. We hold both of these moves are demonstrably false conclusions and Christian apologists need to master the deconstructive arguments against both. We also hold that in critiquing this we are not anti-science, but rather critical of some of exclusivists claims made by some philosophers and some scientists about science.

Part B - Methodological Conventions, Naturalizing Tendencies and Justification for Metaphysics

     Another serious part of this “modern” legacy of “thinking for ourselves” without the benefit taking into account the existence of God (metaphysics) in our knowing (epistemology) was that the methodology adopted in academic inquiry produced a “naturalizing” tendency in our explanations of the world. That way of thinking produced a culture that eventually thought we have no need for and left no place for the metaphysics of theism. That is, whether one thinks as a metaphysical naturalist or uses the convention of methodological naturalism, the results seem to focus our attention only on the possibility of empirical causes such that there is no room for any theistic activity in our world. Plus the scientific success of this project came to be seen a means for increasing confidence that its results provided succor for the philosophical naturalist and undermined metaphysical theism.  

    We do think that some naturalizing tendencies are good and have had good consequences--for instance, we check maps for directions and see doctors for cures to illnesses we have been fortunate enough to find a cure for. However, we think this naturalizing tendency can and has gone too far. Despite Hume and his followers, there are no good reasons to think that all causes in nature are natural; and at the same time there are good reasons to think it is possible for things (actually persons like God) outside of physical nature that have the capacity to cause things in the world to be or to change. That is to say, the maxim that nature is a causally closed system is either false or is at least a widely held self-referentially incoherent belief, held by many naturalistic atheists.

    The scientific convention of methodological naturalism assumes that nature is a closed system of empirical causes and effects, and we recognize that conventional assumption has “worked” rather spectacularly. In fact, it worked to the degree that it seemed plausible to think that gaps in our knowledge would eventually be filled in, leaving no room for theistic activity in the world. The success of science at finding solutions to these gaps suggested there was only this empirical world, which was thought to support metaphysical naturalism. But, does that success of that convention tell us anything as to whether God can act in the world? We think not.  

     The supposed support for naturalism that has been inferred from this convention remains subject to a Kantian criticism. He argued that strictly speaking it is a category error to reason from the phenomena to the noumena--presenting an especially difficult problem for those who think there was no “intelligent designer” who wished us to also also claim they know things as they are. How do you compare what appears to us to the way things are, without knowing the way things are to begin with?  (For further discussion of the Christian scholarship aspects of these developments--as opposed to the apologetic implications that we are looking at in this apologetic section, use this link to access our Faith and Scholarship Portal.)

    As apologists for Christian theism our job is to continue to parse out the details of this narrative and the implications of this state of affairs in the history of ideas, providing nuances where it is justified. For instance, we can ask is it possible to rigorously justify the claim that nature is a closed system and that no external causes can act upon her?  

    Do the results of science provide decisive support for metaphysical naturalism? Again, we think not, because coherence is only a necessary condition, but is not a sufficient condition for metaphysical truth. Is Hume’s skepticism of rationalism and empiricism defendable? Strictly speaking, on the one hand, in a metaphysical naturalist world-view we think there are serious epistemic defeaters (really undefeated defeaters) for trusting our cognitive faculties. On the other hand, we think theism has the metaphysical resources to overcome this doubt. So we think an apt conclusion to draw from this is that our metaphysics influence the epistemic explanations we form. Thus our epistemology is only as good as our metaphysics.  

    Christian apologists need to look closely at both the theoretical and de facto metaphysics and epistemology of our colleagues and even of our own inquiries. We need to ask are there  problems--internal and external--with doing business the way our received tradition says we properly should. If one takes the metaphysical naturalism as assumed or as properly basic, we think there remains looming undefeated defeaters.  

    For example, if metaphysical naturalism is held in conjunction with unguided evolution,

there are good reasons to be skeptical of the reliability of our cognitive faculties--that they

are reliable in forming mostly true beliefs. That’s because unguided evolution if it is 

“aimed” at all is aimed at getting our genetic material “into" the next generation and not 

necessarily at forming true beliefs. Unfortunately for the metaphysical naturalist, there are

many false beliefs that are adaptive and will still allow us to be genetically successful—but 

this should at least leave us in doubt our faculties are producing mostly true beliefs. That’s

a serious epistemic problem for the metaphysical naturalist. Then we need to take those

carefully crafted analyses to the intellectual public square and get into the conversation. 

See Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.

    In summary we think 1) methodological naturalism is a convention whose results does

not and cannot confirm metaphysical naturalism--even if a large number of intelligent 

people fail to see why and incorrectly thinks it does; 2) Logical positivism (still) flourishes 

in the academy except where it is exposed. It is important for Christian apologists to 

understand the roots and shoots of positivism and make use of decisive arguments 

wherever this approach raises its ugly head. Scientism flourishes in the academy largely

because of the “success” of science where it works in the domain of empirical things—and 

when some wish to extrapolate the success of that project to other domains for which the 

methodology is not properly fitted. That, too, needs to be exposed. And finally, we also 

think Christian apologists should engage in uncovering “bad” science where it occurred 

and occurs--for example, broad generalizations from too little data and the like of that.

Part C - The Science (and Humanities) Critique of Christianity

    What we’ve talked about above regarding the development of the received tradition led, we believe uncritically led us to the general impression that Christianity--Christian theism and theism, in general--is somehow intellectually subpar and below epistemic standards for any minimally self-respecting academic institution or discipline. As a consequence it became a secular project and duty to expose any influence Christian theism has on academe, to be sure that influence is done away with. It is alleged the basic ideas of theism come into conflict with academic sensibilities, not because theism holds that there is an empirical world independent of minds (as it typically does), but because it doesn’t limit itself only to that empirical and natural world and its properties as the all in all.  

    However, theists and Christians theists in particular hold that not only is there something beyond and transcendent to the physical world, but that this something (really someone) has the power to interfere with the physical world and its processes if it so chooses. This something is also thought to have an essential nature such that there are objective moral requirements and obligations for human beings that flow from that Being. However, for now, we will turn from the sciences to the humanities part of the university to weight what it says.

    The humanities in various ways has made use of the skepticism engendered by the Humean/Kantian critique that we do not know the noumena and the skepticism of the positivists to maintain the implicit view that “man is the measure of all thing.” This autonomy and subjectivism is rife in the humanities so much so that it is fashionable today for part of it to think of itself as post-modern. That is, many prominent thinkers in the humanities think of their domain as free from the antiquated constraints of a quest for an ahistorical truth of essences and especially the truth claims in religion.   

    The most skeptical brands of postmodernism holds that science itself is not immune to skepticism, that is it is not without the subjective influence of one’s culture and time and thus its results are not ahistorical or without some prejudice. This sort of epistemic skepticism, however, is sometimes extended to a metaphysical skepticism where it is held that we not only construct the words and symbols in an attempt to give a representation of the world, but that our words and symbols actually construct the entirety of reality. This latter view, we think, is a much more virulent post-modern strain and is not sustainable if it claims (as we think it does) that this PM analysis is not itself biased, not historically conditioned and at the same time, not an attempt to grab power.  

    There was another important problem lurking in the nearby bushes that also lends itself to confusing things. Assertions of some religious folk that the Bible should be read as literal text everywhere (or nearly everywhere), has in light of strongly supported science, led to serious contradictions. As more and more of these contradictions between a literal reading of parts of the Bible and strongly supported science appeared, it began to foster a sense that religion and science were in serious conflict.  

    The creation narrative and the flood 

narrative in the book of Genesis 

seemed more and more unlikely given 

widely supported scientific discovery—

or in the case of the universal flood

because of the lack evidence thereof 

where one would expect it. Instead of 

the earth being a few thousand years

old, empirical evidence suggested it was on the order of billions of years old. As revelation

and the scientific evidence conflicted, it seemed more and more that the claims of 

revelation were being rolled back. What’s a Christian apologist or serious Christian

scholar whose seeks coherence to do about that?

    Perhaps it can help to consider that in much earlier times some Biblical literalists took it for granted the earth was flat and that Aristotle’s view that the earth was at the center of the heavens were what amounted to as scientific facts. It turns out both were false.  Did we all give up our faith as a result? Perhaps some did, but others began to rethink how they were reading parts of the Bible and wondered if it was possible they had earlier read it wrong. Is it possible that stubborn, pretty easily identified facts can change our minds about how to read certain parts of the Bible? We think there are precious few (if any) Biblical literalists who today hold the earth is flat or would deny heliocentricity.  

    (We do want to make clear that we think that vast portions of the Bible can be read and believed literally--but some ways we decide as to whether or not this should be done has to do with the literary genre of the book of the Bible, what the author most likely meant to communicate to the audience to whom he was writing and, in some cases, when chastened by strongly supported scientific observations wonder if maybe the author wasn’t teaching what we thought he was teaching. This cannot always be done no matter the problem because one of Christianity’s virtues is that it, or at least parts of it and especially our conceptions of it, can in principle be falsified.)    

    So, scientific discovery has given some plenary Biblical literalists, to be distinguished from a plenary Biblical inspiration view, a very hard time and from that there was a tendency then to think (uncritically) that the whole of Christian theism and science were deeply and fundamentally at odds with one another. But is this the case?  

    The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued strenuously that this view is mistaken and just the opposite. That is, he has argued that there is a deep and fundamental compatibility with Christian theism and science and only a superficial (but mistaken) compatibility between metaphysical naturalism and science. We refer you to his extended argument for that with this link, but in short he argues that historically modern science has progressed in the Christian west where it hasn’t elsewhere, encouraged as it was that the world God created was rational and understandable, while at the same time, when one considers unguided evolution and metaphysical naturalism together, they subtly (and perhaps sadly) undercut each other. That is, if unguided Darwinian evolution is true, and if there is good reason to think or cognitive faculties were not designed by anybody who cared that we know some important truths about the empirical world, it follows our cognitive faculties were not designed or necessarily aimed at obtaining truth. That’s because if unguided evolution is aimed at anything it is not aimed at truth, per se, but rather at adaptability to the environment.   

    And, unfortunately, as we asserted earlier, there is a huge number of beliefs, that we hold that could be or are false, but still be adaptable. Further, if evolution is blind to the content of our beliefs (as it is in materialist reductionism) and only “pays attention” to our behavior, we have a further reason to draw the conclusion that the content of our beliefs does not contributes to truth conduciveness. This state of affairs presents an epistemic defeater for the truth content of all the beliefs we might form in that scenario, including the beliefs we might form about the truth of metaphysical naturalism.  


    In summary, it is important to see that these developments in the history of ideas led to increasing skepticism as to what we could properly claim to know--Hume thought that such “faith” claims should be confined to the flames and that view seemed to carry the day in academe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Instead, what was preferred was the way of knowing through our common experience of what could only be grounded in nature and derived from our experience of it.  

    Thus, the non-empirical--ethics, value judgments and religion--was without that grounding and amounted to merely subjective prejudices. This bifurcation would lead the nineteenth century intelligentsia and eventually the universities at the time to want to distance themselves from religious and moral claims to knowledge. That development eventually would produce a real crisis of authority for Christian faith and their relation to the academic disciplines. Additionally the drum beat of new empirical findings that seemed to contradict and undermine the credibility of a literal reading of scripture--especially Genesis--led to the sense that science and religion were at war with each other and religion, to understate things a bit, wasn’t very doing well. The record about that needs to be set straight.

-Editor © Academic Connections, International