It's Okay To Use Reason To Attack Christian Faith, But Not Defend It?

faith and reason

Since Jeff has invited further suggestions regarding “What’s Wrong with Apologetics,” I offer another (partly overlapping with Jeff’s third point) that has gained traction in recent decades. Some consider apologetics, with its emphasis on rational arguments and empirical evidence, a distinctly “modern” enterprise. Thus, however legitimate or useful it might once have been, now that we have taken an allegedly “postmodern” turn—now that we have entered an era suspicious of, if not explicitly hostile to, previously privileged notions of “reason” and “evidence”—apologetics has become a futile endeavor.

A couple of things might briefly be said about this point of view. The first is simply that it’s not entirely clear that claims about our living in a postmodern age haven’t been greatly exaggerated. I suspect we’re still a little too close to the subject to make any definitive judgment about whether this thing called postmodernism is going to have the staying power necessary to allow any talk about it being an “age” or “era.” It’s entirely possible that my children’s generation is going to smirk at references to the age of postmodernism the same way that my own smirks at references to the Age of Aquarius.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s grant that we are in a new era primarily defined by its negative reaction to the centuries that make up the modern. Even with this concession, it would probably be more accurate to speak of postmodernism not as a reaction to modernity, but simply as a reaction against some of its excesses. While some small minority of academics may indeed rail against the past privileging of logic and the empirical method, most would probably admit that what they’re really opposed to are unnecessarily reductive philosophies of rational-ism or empiric-ism.

They’d almost have to admit this for the very simple reason that reaching conclusions based upon sensory data and rational analysis is hardly a novel invention of the modern era. And even if they wouldn’t admit this, the manner in which virtually all “post-modern” individuals actually live their lives still gives the game away. Nobody refuses to fly because he rejects the “modern” scientific method which informed the invention of the airplane. Nobody—excepting employees of the federal government—consistently buys high and sells low because she rejects the presumptuous “logic” that says this can only lose money.

The average man on the street is not a radical relativist or subjectivist at heart. (And at least in the realm of the moral, Helen Rittelmeyer makes a convincing case that relativism is dead.)

Or, to move closer to our subject, we only have to ask: from what quarters have the most hostile attacks on religion in general, and Christian faith in particular, come in the last decade? Largely from those still deeply committed to and the empirical method of the sciences, those such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, who are themselves practicing scientists. Or, outside of committed atheism, from what quarters even within academic theology do most attempts to undermine orthodox Christianity come? In large part they come from the realm of the empirical method of history, as in the cases of Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and their colleagues attempting to rewrite the history of Jesus and the early church.

The fact that these authors have made quite a lot of money from quite a lot of people buying their books is indicative of the fact that there remain, even in this so-called postmodern age, an awful lot of people convinced that certain religious questions can (and perhaps even must) be answered by rational arguments based on empirical evidence. It would be a shame if the only people attempting to answer the questions in this manner were the Dennetts and Ehrmans of the world.

(For what it’s worth, William Lane Craig agrees.)