The Reason Rally and Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World

The Reason Rally

On March 24, Richard Dawkins and a number of outspoken atheists plan to gather in Washington D.C. for what is being called “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history.” One of the goals of the Reason Rally  is to celebrate atheism and advance secularism in society.

Here’s what stands out to me: Underlying this movement seems to be the idea that science and reason ultimately support naturalism—that truly reasonable people reject a belief in God. But something about this seems kind of odd…

Atheism and Reason

It’s interesting that the new atheism has often caricatured Christian belief as “blind faith,” while using reason as a theme for their entire movement. Here’s what’s odd to me: If atheism is true, why should we trust our reason at all? Naturalistic evolution is all about survival-enhancing behaviors—not true beliefs. For example:

Imagine you were lost in a jungle and came upon a hungry lion. But for some odd reason, you thought the hungry lion was actually cute little bunny. Then, you said to yourself, “I’m gonna go pet that cute little bunny.” But for another odd reason, you had the false belief that the best way to pet the animal was to run into a cave and hide. So, every time you saw a hungry lion, you ran into a cave to hide. If false beliefs could promote a survival-enhancing behavior, it seems that using reason may not be a reliable way to arrive at truth within the naturalistic framework.

Here’s my point: If human reasoning was just the product of natural selection, why should we trust our reasoning? When it comes to celebrating reason, it seems to me that naturalism—as a worldview—isn’t the best fit.

Still, many atheists have been emotionally hurt by Christians. And I believe positive things can happen when reasonable people get together, honestly see each other as real people, and respectfully dialogue about worldview issues. I hope some of this can happen in Washington D.C.

The Christian Response in D.C.

Something you might not know is that I used to live in Maryland and spent a good amount of time playing tourist in Washington D.C. (Although I haven’t been back east since 2003). I just learned that some of my brothers and sisters from around the world—people who believe that Christianity is a reasonable worldview—also plan to gather in D.C. on March 24 to “demonstrate a humble, loving and thoughtful response to the Reason Rally.” They’re mobilizing people via a Web site called TrueReason.org

They plan to hang out in small groups, giving out  bottled water and talking with anyone who’s interested in discussing religion, faith, and reason. A special resource on atheism and Christianity is also in the works–a collaboration among professional apologists and members of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. More on this later.

But the Christian response isn’t limited to our nation’s capital. We’re presenting reasons to believe from coast to coast. And on March 24, I’ll be equipping believers to give a rational defense of our reasonable faith in my local area.

Defenders in California

Here on the West Coast, we’ve got a very cool apologetics training event happening the same weekend as the Reason Rally. To organize this, I’ve once again partnered with Biola University and Bridgeway Christian Church for Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World II.

We got such a great response last year, that I’ll once again be speaking alongside top defenders of the faith like J.P. Moreland, Craig Hazen, John Mark Reynolds, and Sean McDowell.

If you live within a couple of hours from the Greater Sacramento area, I’d like to invite you to join us for accessible apologetics training in Rocklin, California. This all happens on March 23 and 24.

 

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23 Responses to “The Reason Rally and Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World”

  1. Patrick February 24, 2012 8:37 AM
    #

    “If human reasoning was just the product of natural selection, why should we trust our reasoning?”

    Reasoning is not the product of evolution; it is the product of philosophy, and counteracts our intuitions. Most logical fallacies are those which arise from evolution’s grasp; the gambler’s fallacy, moving the goalpoasts, special pleading.

    Reason gives humans a tool to overcome the limits of our natural tendencies imposed on us by natural selection that otherwise lead to us making incorrect conclusions about reality. Ironically, your example necessitated the suspension of logic and reason to achieve your desired result.

    Your example of “for some odd reason” looks exactly like religion. For some odd reason (a book says so) its better to not eat pork, and for some odd reason, pork has fat in it. Whereas science and reason would arrive at the same conclusion about pork, fat, and running from lions without a supernatural (“odd”) reason.

    I think you proved why reason and logic are better than superstition and myth.

  2. Apologetics Guy February 24, 2012 12:45 PM
    #

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for taking the time to drop a comment on my blog. I’m open to discussion with honest people. All I ask is that we keep things on topic and respect each other as people, even as we might disagree on important issues.

    I agree that reason and logic are better than superstition. One thing I appreciate about Christianity is that I’m actually commanded by God use my intellect and reasoning.

    How is reasoning the product of philosophy? Don’t you have to use reason to engage in any sort of philosophical introspection or dialogue? So how could philosophy cause reason? Wouldn’t consciousness have to first be present?

    On the Christian view, it’s not surprising to find consciousness in the universe, because the universe began with consciousness. How does atheism account for colorless, tasteless, odorless, unconscious molecules (or subatomic particles or whatever) giving rise to consciousness and secondary properties by mere rearrangement?

    I still think naturalism isn’t the best fit for a celebration of reason. If you want to get philosophical about it, how can organizers of the Reason Rally have goals for the event when naturalism replaces teleology with mere efficient causation?

    -Mikel

  3. Nick February 24, 2012 2:39 PM
    #

    Actually, our own Bible condemns superstition and in fact, I’d say in a few places in there, even makes fun of superstition. You example doesn’t really follow. Do you think the dietary laws were really for scientific reasons? They were for purity to remind the Israelites to not mix different spheres, mainly those of air, land, and water together, but to have purity in all things.

  4. Scott M February 25, 2012 12:50 PM
    #

    You really think Christianity isn’t superstition? A book filled with demons, talking animals, people rising from the dead, and other impossibilities is somehow “reasonable”? You somehow imagine that “spiritual purity” isn’t a superstitious concept? Your book is filled to the brim with magic and mythology, and you imagine your pet deity is somehow commanding you to use reason? Especially when so many Christian philosophers openly admit that faith is anathema to reason? Really?

    You’re there in intrude and try to convince people that your superstitions are better than anyone else’s. No amount of dressing up is going to change that reality. I can guarantee that if a group of atheists attended in a similar gathering anywhere near a Christian one, the response would be very, very different.

    • Nick February 25, 2012 2:32 PM
      #

      Yeah. I don’t include that in superstition because superstition is the belief that if you do X, the spiritual world must do Y. None of my beliefs are about controlling the spiritual world.

      What would my response be to a group of atheists wanting to come to a Christian event I had?

      Probably me sitting by the door rubbing my hands expectantly waiting for them to show up.

    • Apologetics Guy February 25, 2012 2:33 PM
      #

      Hi Scott,

      Welcome to my blog, Scott. I’m happy to talk with anyone who’s got questions, but I sense a lot of anger in this post. How can you be certain that it’s impossible for Jesus to have risen from the dead?

      -Mikel

  5. Nathaniel February 26, 2012 3:19 PM
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    “If human reasoning was just the product of natural selection, why should we trust our reasoning?”

    I’d be curious of several things:
    1. What is your definition of reason?
    2. Why do you think that we shouldn’t trust if it didn’t have a supernatural cause?
    3. What is the record of success between natural explanations of various phenomenon in our universe verses supernatural ones?
    4. If God gave us our reasoning capacity, how do you know we can trust it?

  6. Tom Gilson February 26, 2012 7:20 PM
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    Nathaniel, you’ve asked four good question. It takes longer to answer than it does to ask, so I’ll tackle just one of them: “What is the record of success between natural explanations of various phenomenon in our universe verses supernatural ones?”‘

    The answer of course is that natural explanations have been incredibly successful, in the case of natural phenomena. Science is very powerful, especially in being able to build progress upon progress, and in being able to produce consensus that stands virtually regardless of one’s politics, religion, or ideology. There’s no question about that.

    But what does that tell us about the reality of the spiritual world? Not much. Science is very competent where it is competent, but if there is a spiritual side to reality, what could science tell us about that? It’s outside science’s scope. The fact that science is very successful for studying one kind of thing does not mean there only is one kind of thing.

    As for supernatural explanations, I find that Christianity provides explanations that equally as successful as those of science. It explains humans’ unique place in creation, our worth and dignity, the reason we are (as Pascal said it so aptly) so great and so miserable at the same time, the solution to that problem, and the ultimate direction we are heading. It provides a foundation for understanding why the created order exists and why it is rational. The teachings of the Bible provide moral direction, an explanation of how to live. Science has done none of that.

    These Christian explanations do not enjoy the same level of consensus that scientific ones can. That’s one level on which science has been more successful than Christianity. But then science studies such predictable, observable, controllable entities. Its success, says Polkinghorne, can be attributed in part to its modest ambitions. Its answers are very little dependent on human values.

    And science shows progress in a more tangible way than Christian knowledge does; but why should that be a sign of superiority? God gave us his revelation at a point in time many years ago. Is it better to learn later than earlier? As a sign of superiority, that would be odd indeed.

    So the upshot of your question is, what difference does it make? It sets up a fairly uninteresting dichotomy. Science is very good at one thing, but that says nothing whatever about whether supernatural explanations may or may not be good at something else. Science is very poor at explaining other important things. That’s why we need other kinds of knowledge, other kinds of explanations, besides those of science.

  7. Apologetics Guy February 26, 2012 7:21 PM
    #

    Welcome back Nathaniel.

    You might want to take a look at a previous conversation I’ve had with Patrick on 2/24. How would answer my questions to him?

    Here are my quick responses to yours.

    1. Dictionary.com, primarily entry #3.
    2. The alternative is that reason is merely a product of naturalistic evolution and random processes according to law. See my post.
    3. Relevance?
    4. If Christianity is true, God is trustworthy.

    -Mikel

  8. Nick February 26, 2012 8:23 PM
    #

    Perhaps one of the atheists could determine what it is that makes something natural or supernatual.

  9. Nathaniel February 27, 2012 7:59 PM
    #

    @Tom
    I agree with you that not everything is “measurable” in the scientific sense of the word (e.g. love, hate, fear, boredom, surprise), but I’m not sure why you call those things “spiritual”.

    I’m also not sure about the things you said Christianity explains. Things like “special creation” and “created order” and “God/man separation” are explained by Christianity because they are Christian doctrines. So the fact that Christianity can explain these doctrines is evidence that Christianity is true and these doctrines are true because they are explained by Christianity? Maybe I just misunderstood you.

    “The teachings of the Bible provide moral direction, an explanation of how to live. Science has done none of that.”
    I agree. I don’t agree with most of the morality in the Bible but I don’t deny that it does have a moral code, whereas science doesn’t, outside of following the scientific method honestly. But I don’t think that people actually measure their ethics based on the Bible, nor do I think the Bible provides answers to every moral question. Our ability to deduce, accurately, the consequences of a particular decision is a powerful tool but it comes from experience, not a conglomeration of books.

    @Mikel
    Hey Mikel! Well, let me see… I don’t agree with Patrick that reasoning is the product of philosophy so I’ll let him answer that one. How does atheism account for colorless, tasteless, odorless, unconscious molecules (or subatomic particles or whatever) giving rise to consciousness and secondary properties by mere rearrangement? Well, I’m not sure atheism is equipped to answer that one because it only answers one question. But how would I answer it? Honestly, I don’t know how it works, only that it does. Consciousness seems to begin when the brain is developed enough to sustain memory and everything that happens to the brain thereafter seems to affect consciousness. I know that I don’t know enough about what consciousness is or how it works to be confident in any answer. It could be as simple as “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” or it could be far more complex or it could be…any number of things really, including your answer.

    Now your answers to my questions:
    #1. Okay
    #2. Two things:
    a. what’s wrong with the alternative?
    b. does negative evidence against an alternative explanation really translate into positive evidence of your view?
    #3. Relevance? The pursuit of truth. Based on their track record, natural explanations are much more reliable than supernatural ones.
    #4. Circular reasoning
    a. We can trust our reasoning abilities because Christianity is true
    b. Christianity is true because we have reasoning abilities

    Peace,
    Nathaniel

  10. Nathaniel February 28, 2012 10:00 AM
    #

    Sorry, I left a couple questions unanswered. If reason is the result of evolutionary processes rather than being God-given, why should we trust it? Because it works. That simple. It’s not perfect but it works.

    @Nick
    I would personally define supernatural as “non-existent”. Really the idea of something supernatural is a bit of a conundrum for me. Most people think of it as something outside of our universe or whatnot, but the word “universe” is supposed to represent everything that exists. But it’s become a big mess for me: you have physicists hypothesizing multiple universes, you have religious folk claiming that the universe does not contain God but God is within the universe at the same time. It’s a lot to wrap the mind around. Some people would define supernatural as something beyond the grasp of science or the laws of nature; that idea blows my mind too. How would you know such a thing exists? Anyways, I guess that would be a working definition of supernatural for this blog.

  11. Eric Burton February 29, 2012 2:21 AM
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    @Nathaniel: Well said.

  12. Tom Gilson February 29, 2012 8:44 AM
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    Nathaniel, you ask,

    Things like “special creation” and “created order” and “God/man separation” are explained by Christianity because they are Christian doctrines. So the fact that Christianity can explain these doctrines is evidence that Christianity is true and these doctrines are true because they are explained by Christianity? Maybe I just misunderstood you.

    I think you might have even misread me. I wrote,

    It explains humans’ unique place in creation, our worth and dignity, the reason we are (as Pascal said it so aptly) so great and so miserable at the same time, the solution to that problem, and the ultimate direction we are heading. It provides a foundation for understanding why the created order exists and why it is rational. The teachings of the Bible provide moral direction, an explanation of how to live. Science has done none of that.

    Obviously it’s no big deal if only Christianity can explain problems that only Christianity poses. But these are not that sort of problems; they are universally acknowledged.

    Further:

    I don’t agree with most of the morality in the Bible but I don’t deny that it does have a moral code, whereas science doesn’t, outside of following the scientific method honestly. But I don’t think that people actually measure their ethics based on the Bible, nor do I think the Bible provides answers to every moral question. Our ability to deduce, accurately, the consequences of a particular decision is a powerful tool but it comes from experience, not a conglomeration of books.

    The moral code you allude to for science is one that rules science, not one that science produces.

    I measure my ethics according to the Bible. A whole lot of us Christians do. Not that we think the Bible specifically answers every moral question. It never addresses animal-to-human heart transplants, for some reason. It provides direction on a principle level instead. Experience certainly plays into our interpretation of biblical principles, so I will agree with you to an extent on that, but it’s not an either-or, Bible-or-experience thing. It’s both.

  13. Nathaniel February 29, 2012 11:18 PM
    #

    @Eric
    Thanks!

    @Tom
    So here are the phenomenon you’ve listed explained by Christianity:
    1. Special Creation (human uniqueness)
    2. The value of human beings
    3. The dual nature of human beings
    4. The redemption of human nature’s evil
    5. Our future
    6. Created order
    7. Rationality
    8. Morality

    Why couldn’t you just list three? Ugh…jk
    So “Special Creation” is obviously a Christian doctrine, but the idea of the uniqueness of humanity is justified I suppose. As far as we can tell, we are the smartest and most aware of any creatures on this planet (though not the most successful in a survival sense) and we are far better at imitating than any other animals we know of. And if the Christian God made us then the reason for all this is very clear. But your last statement that science doesn’t explain that is not entirely true. Science doesn’t assign value or purpose to our uniqueness like Christianity does, but it does have a working explanation of “how” it happened. I can elaborate if you wish.

    The value of human beings. This one is, I think, a Christian doctrine at its core. To me another human being (in particular, one that I am related to) is the most valuable thing on the planet; but that is only because I am a human being. It’s interesting to observe, though not necessarily relevant, that we tend to value creatures more based on how they relate to us biologically. For example, most people’s hearts will get torn if they see a picture of a dead puppy. But that same person probably has no qualms with killing a spider, or snake, or a fish, or anything non-mammalian.

    The dual nature of human beings. I’m not sure about this one. We all have tendencies towards behaviors that are accepted and towards tendencies that are unaccepted, but I don’t think that this is because we have a good/evil clash going on in us.

    Redemption. This one I really don’t buy. Don’t get me wrong, I wish that we could all randomly start loving each other and have world peace, but that isn’t achievable. Christianity doesn’t, at least in the present, cure this problem at all.

    Our future. How do we know Christianity answers that question?

    Created order. Define?

    Rationality. Science explains that one too, to some degree. But again, only the “how” not the “why”.

    Morality. I already addressed this one, but I’ll reiterate. Science doesn’t give us a moral code. We do that collectively; our various rules and principles arise for a huge variety of reasons, and some are better than others in terms of being effective as a social glue. What science does do is give us a working explanation of how morality arises; why certain morals are successful and others are not; why having morals is advantageous to us; etc. While this isn’t a picture of a perfect moral code, it provides useful insight. It is interesting to note, though not necessarily relevant, that only mammals experience what we call “empathy” and empathy has been at the core of so many of our morals.

    Ugh…that was too long. And I’m not going to check anything I wrote so if I made some huge mistakes you’ll know why.

    On to the Bible and morality.
    Okay, I was wrong on this one. What I said was how I WISH people would form their morality: deducing, accurately, the consequences of one’s decisions as based on logic or experience. But even conceding that people do use the Bible as a source for morality, morality obviously existed prior to any of the Bible, so there is clearly a process of forming cultural moralities that doesn’t involve reading a conglomeration of old books. I guess that’s what I was trying to get at.

    Anyways, cheers.

  14. Eric Burton March 1, 2012 2:21 AM
    #

    @Tom:

    You wrote:

    “As for supernatural explanations, I find that Christianity provides explanations that equally as successful as those of science. It explains humans’ unique place in creation, our worth and dignity, the reason we are (as Pascal said it so aptly) so great and so miserable at the same time, the solution to that problem, and the ultimate direction we are heading.”

    I have a few questions on that, if I may.

    1) When you said, “Christianity provides explanations that equally as successful as those of science…”, what do you mean by that?

    2) How do you judge how successful these explanations are? How is this type of success verified or ascertained?

    You wrote:
    “humans’ unique place in creation, our worth and dignity, the reason we are (as Pascal said it so aptly) so great and so miserable at the same time, the solution to that problem, and the ultimate direction we are heading. It provides a foundation for understanding why the created order exists and why it is rational.“

    Every religious system I can think of covers the same theological ground, and comes up with different answers. They all have a claim in the supernatural answers market, and are direct competitors with christianity. Each group claims to have the better product, but all of these products at least aim to do the same “job.”

    Which brings me to my third question.

    3) What measurable benefit or advantage does christianity have over every other worldview (religious, or otherwise) in regards to the explanations of the things you mentioned?

    You wrote:
    “I measure my ethics according to the Bible….It provides direction on a principle level instead. Experience certainly plays into our interpretation of biblical principles…but it’s not an either-or, Bible-or-experience thing. It’s both.”

    4) What, precisely, do you mean by this? How do you go about doing this? Could you be specific and explain the method you would use in a bit more detail?

    -Eric

  15. Nathaniel March 1, 2012 5:47 PM
    #

    @Tom
    Okay, the only things you listed that don’t seem to be exclusively religious doctrines that are explained by Christianity are rationality and morality. But science does have working explanations of how both of those arise and the purpose they serve; granted it’s a work in progress but I don’t see the value in a religious explanation of either phenomenon.

    “The teachings of the Bible provide moral direction, an explanation of how to live”
    Which teachings specifically? I mean, you can follow principles like loving God, loving each other and loving ourselves; but then you also have to lovingly execute anyone who doesn’t follow Moses’ law.

    “The moral code you allude to for science is one that rules science, not one that science produces.”
    I think we’re using the term science a little too loosely. Science is only a methodology for understanding the “what’s” and “how’s” of our universe. It isn’t ruled by morality nor does it provide a moral code because morality is based on value, and there isn’t a working scientific or other universal method of placing value on things.

    Okay, you might get a lot of your moral ideas from the Bible. But obviously morality was around long before any of the Bible was written, so there must be a method determining acceptable social behaviors that doesn’t involve reading really old books.

  16. Jacqulene March 19, 2012 9:47 AM
    #

    Stumbling across this board and observing the number of (hopefully) honest skeptics, makes me that much more sure I’m going in the right direction. See you in Sac, Mikel :)

  17. machinephilosophy March 23, 2012 4:49 PM
    #

    Mikel, The $5 rf audio was a blazin steal. Kicking off with the Franklin Graham thing was jaw-dropping. I’ll report back once I’ve listened to the entire thing.

    Someone should get LOTS of audio/video of discussions at that thing. A logistical gold mine for documenting actual conversations en masse. For anyone there and interested in analyzing the discussions later, quality 35-hour-or-more digital audio recorders are only about $30 these days. Pack several sets of batteries, and you’re good for an entire day. lol

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