Non-Christians Have “Reason Enough” (163)

This is the second episode in a three-part miniseries where Gregg offers his views on the Whitehorse Inn podcast, “Do all paths lead to God?”  Specifically, Gregg is replying to the claim that this podcast is an example of how Christians “engage well” with outsiders—how they engage thoughtfully, on point, and respectfully with non-Christians and interact with non-Christian views from the perspective of (and on the terms of) non-Christians.

Gregg begins by explaining that he finds the priorities for the investigation that the speakers did carry out to be worrying.  So at 3:15 mark the speaker first notes their intention to determine if the idea that “All paths lead to God” is consistent with Christ’s teachings, and next to determine if the idea is “reasonable” to begin with.

So where the Whitehorse Inn podcast apparently aim to help Christians engage well with non-Christians on the question of whether “all paths lead to God,” yet does so by prioritizing conformity with Christ’s teachings ahead of conformity with reason, this implies one of two things.  Either that Christianity is obviously reasonable—and expects non-Christians to accept this as a foregone conclusion (which clearly they would dispute) or this ordering assumes that Christianity is in some way “outside of” or “above” the criteria of reasonableness.  Both perspectives are problematic when presenting Christianity to non-Christians.

Focusing on the notion that Christianity is in some way “outside of” or “above” the criteria of reasonableness, Gregg is particularly critical of the strong fideist perspective that argues that “human sin has so damaged human reason as to make it impossible for human reason to evaluate religious truth claims properly.”  (C. Stephan Evans, 1998 Faith Beyond Reason, 16).

Gregg identifies several deficiencies with this view.

First, it overstates the implications of sin for non-Christians, both theologically and experientially.  So Calvin’s notion of “total depravity” overstates the matter in believing that God’s image in humanity was completely shattered as of Genesis 3.  The evidence?  Biblically, both Genesis 5 and 9 make references to God’s image in humanity that cannot be restricted to a historical reference.  More compellingly, look around you!  Everyday you will see non-Christians making choices and using their reason to do truly valuable and morally good things.  Not all the time, and not entirely (although interestingly, that’s the same with Christians).  But they do so enough, in my view, to discredit Calvin’s conclusion.

Second, the strong form of the argument under-states or even ignores the necessary interplay between life and faith.  It does so in two ways.

The first way concerns how the strong version typically characterizes reason (or better, the philosophical view of reason that it typically holds).  Called philosophical modernism, Gregg argues that this view drastically overstates the power and scope of human reason.  For example, Modernism maintains that humans can achieve objective knowledge (i.e., that they can be certain that what they know is true) and that all rational people will arrive at the same understandings (because all people have the same faculty of reason).

The second way concerns how a number of key, Christian truth claims can only be evaluated experientially (such as the human pre-disposition to self-deceit or the reality of God’s love for human beings).  So, where non-Christians deny Christianity because, for example, they have been presented with no “real life” evidence for the claim that “God loves us”—or no “content” appropriate to prove its truthfulness—this clearly shows that non-Christians have understood the claim just fine!

Further, while faith is always involved in embracing Christianity, Gregg argues that the notion that non-Christians cannot “evaluate religious truth claims properly” is nearly impossible to assess, because most Christians are either unable properly to situate such claims and present evidence for them or they do not believe that such evidence is even required (because non-Christians can’t competently evaluate it)!  In other words, this view is self-fulfilling but then blames the other party—then non-Christians—for the outcome!

Gregg finishes by explaining how the Whitehorse Inn podcasters have essentially been dishonest by constructed a “straw man” argument.

So Gregg summarizes the Whitehorse Inn podcast episode like this:

  • Many—and maybe most—non-Christians believe that “all paths lead to God,”
  • The view that “all paths lead to God” is confused, contradictory, and ultimately mistaken,
  • Therefore many—and maybe most—non-Christians are therefore confused, illogical, and ultimately mistaken when it comes to their beliefs,
  • Christians can use a few simple tips and tactics to present the truth to Non-Christians.

Very simple, very straightforward.  The problem is that this summary is not true.

So Gregg’s argument that the presenters have essentially created—and then gone on easily to defeat—a “strawman.”  A strawman argument is an argument that supposedly represents an opponent’s view but in actual fact represents an argument that is weaker and usually simpler (and potentially unrelated to the actual argument.

So by choosing the weakest possible manifestation of an anti-Christian argument and then showing it (surprise, surprise) to be invalid, the presenters give the impression of:

  1. Really understanding non-Christian views,
  2. Sincerely engaging with non-Christian views,
  3. Decisively defeating non-Christian views,
  4. Clearly showing other Christians how to do the same.

Yet this approach is not only inaccurate (and even dishonest), but is actually self-defeating.  In other words, by choosing the weakest possible opponent and then claiming victory, 1) Christians fool themselves into thinking that their position is strong when in fact it is weak (or even *irrelevant* to stronger versions non-Christian arguments), 2) Christians simply reinforce the prevailing, non-Christian view that Christians are out-of-touch with reality, 3) Christians likewise reinforce the prevailing, non-Christian view that Christian claims about loving others and respecting their viewpoints are simply, well, bogus.

The point is that none of the non-Christians that I know believe the view that “all roads lead to God” is even sensible, let alone poses any reason for holding an agnostic or atheistic viewpoint.  No self-respecting agnostic or atheist that I know or am aware actually holds this view!  The only people I am aware of that hold it are Baha’i!

 

 

 

One thought on “Non-Christians Have “Reason Enough” (163)

  1. Pingback: Christians Go Back to Kindergarten (164) | Untangling Christianity

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