Using reason to establish a worldview, life-orientation, ‘religion’ or philosophy is like building a house with a wrecking ball. Or perhaps that’s too violent a metaphor. The point is reason is not a constructive tool but rather deconstructive. Reason does not construct, build or supply the thing itself: belief, idea, value, etc. Reason only deconstructs what is already constructed, built or supplied by another source. So then, using and trusting reason alone, you will not ‘get’ anywhere. More likely, you will critique and dismiss all views until you ‘get’ to the absence of a view, which is by definition agnosticism. Reason is very popular.
Assumptions, on the other hand, are not popular. When you ‘assume’, we chide, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Assumptions, however, should not be assumed to be all bad. They are not created equal. And actually, assumptions, which none of us can avoid (and I note that it is a particularly strong assumption that assumptions should be avoided!), are the sort of things that we can (and do) actually ‘build’ with. Assumptions are thus incredibly useful and impossibly unavoidable.
If reason is a wrecking ball, demolishing every constructed system of thought we could build, then assumptions are the ground that we always build upon.
Even given the doctrine of God’s self-disclosure or revelation, and given the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience)… You will never, in your lifetime, know everything about God.
Or… see the doctrine of ineffability.
A true swordsman is recognised not simply by ability to swing the largest of swords with great speed and strength, but by the skill and agility to wield any sword in the best way. Likewise, the vision of God in Christian Scripture (not only in the NT – explicitly in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 – but in the OT) is of a God who does not mindlessly brandish the sword of omnipotence around like a brute or side-show stuntman, but rather wisely wields it in ways that are not about mere strength but intent, skill and purpose.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that basically no Christian doctrine about God makes any sense at all if God’s omnipotence is not seen in this particular way. Just as a skilled swordsman most probably indeed could swing a sword quite fast and powerfully, but would only do so at rare occasions or perhaps only once, so also there are many things that an omnipotent God is able to do, but not willing.
The kenotic, or ‘self-emptying’, God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do. God both a) refrains from doing things he has capacity to do, as well as b) does things he does not need to do. God could have not created. It’s not as though there could be any force or person or will ‘above’ God that caused God to create. But create he did – and does. To venture into the conversation of sovereignty and process theology and ‘free will’, etc., God could have chosen to have a very deterministic and micro-managerial rule over the world. It’s not as though that would be un-fitting or impossible for omnipotence. But his sovereign rule is far more respecting of freedom, and what we have is a mixture of inability to do many things (i.e. breathe in space, fly, etc.), and ability to direct our own courses of action. We are dependent enough upon the world and each other such that the degree of indifference we can fall to has limits, yet we are also independent enough from it and others such that an annoyingly persistent responsibility for our actions is perpetually ensured.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9)
There is a lovely tension in Christian epistemology between our ‘knowing God’ and being known by God (both of which, to be clear, are about an interpersonal kind of knowledge, not about simply knowing an infinite quantity of ‘facts’ about God or us). One of the central announcements of the NT is that Jesus has revealed God in not only a fresh, unexpected way, but also in a full (and thus final) way. God can at last be known.
But this knowledge of God in the face of Christ does not catapult humans into a state of omniscience. “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”, asks Scripture elsewhere. And in the passage above, Paul suggests that the point is not our knowledge of God, but God’s knowledge of us that matters.
There is continuity and discontinuity here with the knowledge proper to the natural sciences. Continuity in that in both cases, reality often has to surprise us for us to ‘get it’. It’s often not what we expected it to be. Truth has that ring to it. But it also has discontinuity in the obvious sense that nature does not and cannot ‘know us’ as we know one another – let alone as we can be known by God.
Of all the theistic proofs, the cosmological argument is clearest and simplest:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The Universe began to exist.
- The Universe has a Cause.
A helpful deductive version is stated as follows:
- A contingent being (a being that if it exists can not-exist) exists.
- This contingent being has a cause of or explanation for its existence.
- The cause of or explanation for its existence is something other than the contingent being itself.
- What causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must either be solely other contingent beings or include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
- Contingent beings alone cannot provide an adequate causal account or explanation for the existence of a contingent being.
- Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must include a non-contingent (necessary) being.
- Therefore, a necessary being (a being that if it exists cannot not-exist) exists.
The key issue is whether or not the world (including concepts such as universe, multiverse, etc.) is a) self-caused, eternal and infinite or other-caused, temporal and finite – and I maintain that this is not an issue which science can determine.
The reason coin:
Theism has an idea of what a god is. It then turns to look at the world and finds its idea more or less confirmed. Atheism has an idea of what a god is. It looks at the world and finds its idea more or less unconfirmed. Theism and atheism are two sides of the same coin – matching up an idea of god with what is seen in the world.
The revealed Christ:
Rather than humans projecting an idea of what a god is like onto observations of the world ((natural theology – whether theistic or atheistic in conclusion)), in Christianity, God reveals himself to us fully and finally in Christ. This revelation is surprising. Our logical ideas of god (powerful, glorious, etc.) are shattered by the dying, bleeding, weak, self-sacrificing, humiliating, suffering-with-us God of Christ and His Cross.
“crux sola est nostra theologia” (the cross alone is our only theology) – Martin Luther
Just watched The Changeling with my wife (‘endured’ would be the term she’d use!), and really enjoyed it. There are some real gut-wrenching moments in there, which I won’t elaborate on here.
One thing I found interesting was the particular (and familiar) feeling of deep satisfaction and relief I (and my wife – and anyone with a pulse) when the ‘code 12’ women were freed from the mental hospital, and when the lawyer offered to defend her pro bono. It’s just that familiar, deep-seated, very human feeling we all get when the right thing is done – when a horrible injustice is righted. The opening scene of Amistad, where the slaves on the slave ship break loose and take over the ship, though violent and bloody, also provoked that same feeling – that kind of fist-pumping ‘yeah!’ feeling. Emotions aren’t infallible, and in terms of epistemology I don’t think any source of knowledge is (reason, logic, etc.); but sometimes they (emotions) can be very, very good conductors of Truth.
And I love how immediate, every-day, down-to-earth, and universal these kinds of emotions are. No philosophy degrees needed here, no deep pondering or reflection, just deep, gut-level ‘knowing’ that – though we don’t know everything – we know that we know that we know ‘this is right’.