By Ben Swift
Just how reasonable are human beings? Are human beings even capable of true reason, or is their ability to reason with others always tainted by their own view of the world; a view based on their personal experience, worldview and desire for a particular version of truth?
John Calvin once suggested that, “the fantasy of the human being is a factory that works ceaselessly to make idols.” While there are endless idols to be created and as we continue to see their evolution correlate with the culture of the day, ultimately it is human reason in the absence of Christ that drives all idols into being.
With this in mind, is it possible for individuals holding to particular differing worldviews to effectively debate their differences of opinion based on reason at all? It does seem highly improbable for example, that debaters bringing specific presuppositions to an argument could ever alter their opponents view based on reason alone. For surely their reasoning would stand in contradiction to a mind encased by a differing set of presuppositions?
So why do Christians, atheists, philosophers and scientists bother at all about presenting their reason-based opinions to those whom from the outset will unlikely shift their stance at all? For Christians who base their reasoning on the reality that God exists and of Christ being who he claimed to be, any argument founded on alternative reasoning will be seen as one built on false foundations. Alternatively, for humanists in denial of the existence of a divine creator, any reasoning based on Scriptures will be tossed aside as unauthoritative delusion. Surely you can see the problem here?
Some of the greatest debates that have occurred in recent history have been between the new atheists and Christians, particularly those holding solid scientific credentials to prop up their credibility in the halls of academia. Debates between respected minds such as Hitchens, Dawkins, McGrath and Lennox spring to mind. But if you take a step back, standing on the outside looking in so to speak, what you will find is not an open-minded battle for the most reasonable argument but rather a host of people seeking confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is a powerful force in the development of our personal worldviews. As we enter life’s many arenas of competing versions of truth and the many reasons given to support these truths, we human beings prove to be highly capable creatures when it comes to opening our eyes and ears to whatever reason confirms our already predetermined points of view.
But is this a bad thing?
The answer to this question can only be answered in the positive if the bias being confirmed is based on a truth that aligns with reality. Sadly, and contrary to popular postmodern opinion, truth by its very definition cannot be one thing for me and another for you. Truth is exclusive and leaves no wriggle room for subjective individualism.
As Christians seeking maturity in our quest for knowledge and understanding; solid food beyond the milk of our early Christian life, engaging with reason-based arguments will only serve to deepen the reasonableness of our faith. We have nothing to fear in regard to losing our faith through such discussions as the faith and truth we have received has been and continues to be revealed to us by the spirit of God Himself.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
For like Paul, the truth of the gospel that we preach is not something we have made up.
“I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:12)
The evidence we present and the reasons we use in our arguments for truth have no standing therefore with those who have not had their hearts and minds illuminated by Christ, particularly for those who adamantly reject Christ; self-ordained kings and queens holding firmly to their self-constructed versions of truth.
Professor Henry Van Til once proposed that faith, being a gift from God through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, acts as a wedge that divides humanity. Van Til makes an important point in that humanity continues to and will continue to be divided until the last day, where upon the shroud will finally be lifted and truth will be seen in all its glory. On that great day all debates on reason and truth will be eternally put to rest.
Until that day arrives, however, as long as we have a mind to learn and a mouth to speak, we are called to give a reason for what we believe.
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
As apologists for the Christian Faith we must listen and learn from what others have to say, even if only to understand where they are coming from and of our own ignorance and lack of humility. Importantly, as we come to grips with the reasonableness of our Christian Faith, we must not fall into the trap of believing that we, through our own perceived cleverness in arguing for what we believe, have the ability to convince anyone of God’s truth. That ability belongs solely to Christ alone.
And so we must pray that we will continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ’s truth and that it may always be on our lips, so that by his power and authority, those that oppose his truth may miraculously come to embrace it.