Rationality does not necessarily need proof
Rationality does not necessarily need proof. Weird it may sound. But this is one of important things discussed in the book Faith and Reason. Our belief in God is rational, even if we do not have any arguments to prove it.
In his introduction, Nash says that Faith and Reason was written to introduce readers to important questions related to philosophy and religion, while at the same time attempt to answer them. Among these questions are: Is Christian faith rational? Can we answer challenges directed towards Christian faith? How do we help others to see that Christian faith is a rational faith?
Nash emphasizes the importance of approaching apologetics from the perspective of worldviews. He says that Christianity should be seen as a system, as a total world and lifeview. Of course there are reasons behind his words. “Once people understand that both Christianity and its competitors are world-views, they will be in a better position to judge the relative merits of all the systems” (p.25). He continues, “The reason why many people reject Christianity is not due to their problems with one or two isolated issues; it results rather for the simple reason that their anti-Christian conceptual scheme leads them to reject information and arguments that for believers provide support for the Christian world-view” (p. 26). That is why the first part of the book is written to discuss world-view: what is world-view, what is Christian world-view, and how to choose a world-view. It is highly recommended that reader reads the first part carefully, and if possible, several times, to avoid unnecessary confusion later.
Nash differentiates positive and negative apologetics. Closely related with this, Nash also underlines the importance of understanding the burden of proof in apologetics. He writes, “Surprisingly, many Christian apologists in the past have agreed to play the atheologian’s game, and they have played it according to the atheologian’s rules… that the only proper way to begin the task of apologetics is… to prove that God exists” (p. 84), or in other words, it is theists who have to bear the burden of proof. Nash and a number of other Reformed thinkers believe that Christians are not supposed to follow the atheists’ rule of play. “The sensible person will reject the claim that theism should be presumed guilty until proven innocent” (p. 18). The task of negative apologetics is to challenge the view that Christian faith has to be declared irrational if there are no proofs to support it. It is these important concepts, such as world-view, positive and negative apologetics, and burden of proof, that underline the following parts of the book. Part two to five consecutively deals with the rationality of religious belief, some arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, and miracles.
From the first part, the reader should have had the hints why belief in God is rational. But Nash elaborates this further in the second part. One important term that appears a number of times in this part is basic belief, which he defines as belief that does not depend on any other beliefs. It is in relation to its basicality that Christian faith does not depend on any arguments. From here Nash concludes with the Reformed view on natural theology (the effort to prove the existence of God without relying on special revelation).
Although natural theology is not needed, Nash, who has more than 40 years of teaching experience, dedicates the third part of the book to discuss some famous arguments of natural theology. In his opinion, even if natural theology is not needed to support the rationality of Christian faith, Reformed epistemology has made it possible for us to see natural theology with different functions. “… consideration of a theistic argument may present [humans] with information or lead them to experiences that, in conjunction with God-implanted dispositions, will help trigger belief in God…” (p. 102). Part three to five present various arguments, sophisticated yet interesting, which argue for the existence of God, each with its strength and weakness, as well as various objections which so far have not had enough to undermine the rationality of Christian faith. In these parts, Nash delicately weaves the ideas of many thinkers from all ages. Ideas of classic thinkers like Plato, Augustine, Descartes, and Kierkegaard, as well as well-known contemporary Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, George Mavrodes, and William Alston, colour the pages of the book.
The reader will also find questions so basic such that they are unthinkable, such as Plato’s question on Equality, “What must be the case before any person can judge that one thing is equal to another” (p. 171)? According to Plato, one cannot know that a is equal to b unless he knows the standard, that is The Equal itself. In Plato’s definition, universals, such as equality, truth, and goodness cannot be found in earthly particulars. “It is impossible, for example, to obtain an idea of the perfect circle by contemplating examples of imperfect circles” (p. 172). But then, what is the connection between Plato’s idea and the existence of God? Plato’s idea is similar to Descartes’ argument to prove that God has placed the idea of God as a part of human nature. “For how would it be possible that I should know… that I am not quite perfect, unless I had within me some idea of a Being more perfect than myself, in comparison with which I should recognize the deficiencies of my nature” (pp. 172-173)?
For beginners, the book is not hard to digest. Nash, who has written and edited more than 30 books, often uses illustrations from daily life. To illustrate that beliefs evident to the senses are basic, Nash writes, “Anyone crossing a street hearing the warning, “Look out for the taxi!” (a proposition evident to the senses) who demanded proof before acting might well encounter problems of a different kind” (p. 84). The reader’s understanding of a particular topic is also enhanced by convenient repetitions through different point of views, although at times the reader needs to turn to previous pages. Conclusions in the end of every chapter help the reader to pause, and see how far the discussion has progressed. Each chapter also provides questions for further exploration, which make the book suitable for group discussion. Nash also recommends books for topics that need more elaborate discussions.
For laymen, Faith and Reason offers a truly comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of religion and apologetics.
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- April 29, 2005 / 10:40