In my first year of college, where students join the real world of ideas, I was greeted with what seemed to be a unanimous consensus that God was dead, a mere human invention, and that faith was irrational. It appeared to be more than a just strong case; on the contrary, I got the impression from its proponents that God had been so undeniably proven to be false that it was beyond dispute, and I was very late to the party. I wondered whether my faith was in fact a lie.
But as I examined the arguments against God, I did not find what I expected. Instead of undeniable facts, I found arguments whose main force was found in their underlying assumptions: Assumptions which largely determined the conclusion. What’s more, it seemed for most people who held them, those assumptions went unchallenged.
Take for example the argument from science — one I have discussed in recent posts: If one begins with the premise that science, a discipline limited to the physical universe, alone can establish truth, the argument that science has “proven” that neither God nor anything else exists beyond the physical universe is not only not that forceful but inevitable.
Or the argument from anthropology: If one begins with the premise that man evolved from lower life forms, the conclusion that religion evolved with it is inevitable as well.
More than undeniable facts then, what we find in the case against God are finely-tuned arguments resting on unchallenged assumptions, assumptions pertaining to how we unconsciously view — or perhaps have consciously chosen to view — the world.
The critic will be quick to point out that this is exactly what the God-believer is guilty of. I agree. But in my opinion, this only serves to promote the cause of faith, for two reasons. The first is that the accusation against the believer is not a new one; it has been around forever, and for the most part, it has been levied squarely at the believer exclusively. But if the case against God is no more in essence than commission of the same error, then this only serves to strengthen the case for God, by weakening the case against Him.
The second is that from a Christian perspective, no matter how intellectually compelling the case for God may be, the main force for Christian belief has been personal transformation facilitated by personal testimony. Christianity did not spread in the first few centuries because people found the arguments for the Christian God intellectually compelling. Nor, I would argue, has it continued to spread to this today. To acknowledge then that the arguments for faith rests on assumptions, as do all arguments, is to both invite Christianity onto an even playing field and also acknowledge its source. This can only help its cause.
In a commencement speech at Kenyon College, critically acclaimed author David Foster Wallace asserted to its graduates that the goal of higher education is not simply to learn how to think but to challenge ourselves to see the world differently. This is both true and a very tall order, for it does not involve the mind but the heart. After all, seeing the world differently might mean that we must change.
I welcome your comments.