Thinking

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective: Revelation and Reason

Read the series so far.

Having brought into the discussion the necessity of divine revelation as the presupposition of faith, we are faced with the question of how reason relates to this revelation. My answer to this question will have to be provisional for now. I hope to post separately on this subject in the future.

If faith truly appropriates the truth about God then it is clear that it can have no proper function apart from divine revelation. As “faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), it responds to matters above the reach of the inductive sciences (1 Cor. 2:10, etc). Hence, from a Christian point of view, it is essential for man to have proper faith if he is to know his creational environment fully.

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Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective: Definitions

It appears to me that one of the first things a faithful theologian needs to do is to straighten out the confusion brought about by the world’s separation of faith and reason. This relationship is so vital to a biblically fastened worldview that to neglect it will involve the believer in a host of conflicting beliefs and practices. For it is just here that the negligent Christian theologue will be attacked.1 To the average man in the street, “faith” is that “I really hope so” attitude that many people employ when their circumstances get tough. It is that blind trust that things will turn out all right in the end. Faith thus defined is the opposite of reason. “Reason” deals with the cold hard facts, so it goes, and is what we have to use in the “real world”—in business, in science, in education.

One Christian writer has put the matter in the form of a question: “Is it rational for us to believe in God? Is it rational for us to place our confidence in Him and his revelation to man? Can a person believe in God without performing a sacrifice of his intellect?”2

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How to Blast an Innocent Christian Brother...and Have at Least Some Think You're a Hero

Got a case of “certain Christian brother must be a cad, but I just can’t find any real evidence of that”? The good news is that despite that minor inconvenience you can blast him and build yourself a following at the same time—all without breaking a sweat. Here’s ten easy steps.

  1. Start by declaring that your assertion is obvious and indisputable. That way you don’t have to actually provide any evidence. People will either believe it or keep silent because nobody wants to risk being the dolt who can’t see the obvious. (By the way, that Emperor’s New Clothes tale—it’s rubbish. There’s no way people would have believed that kid!)
  2. Point out that nobody has disproved your claim. Most of the people you want to reel in are not aware of the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy. To these, it makes perfect sense to say, “That sap at Duller Lead is obviously trichophobic. I’ve dared him to prove otherwise, and he hasn’t provided a scrap of proof.”
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Toward Arguing Better: A Trusty Tool

Read Part 1.

Teachers are supposed to discover things ahead of time and then share them with students. But sometimes the discoveries come during the teaching. It’s part of the compensation package.

A month or so ago, I experienced one of these moments of discovery during the 9th grade class I teach three days a week—a class in formal logic. (Yes, logic. I dare you to read a short essay about formal logic. What are you afraid of?)

My light bulb moment was not the discovery that evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity are desperate for more constituents capable of thinking clearly about hard questions. That reality struck home a couple of years ago, and I’m reminded almost daily. (Often enough, the guy in the mirror is the evidence.) Nor was my light bulb moment the realization that if we start teaching kids logic again, as in the good old days, we might see a generation of better Christian thinkers succeed the “this feels true to me” generations we’ve raised up in America over the last century or so. I already believed that. It’s why I’m teaching the class.

The light bulb came on when an idea I’d accepted as true in theory became “real” by experience. The students and I were working through some exercises sixteen chapters or so into our textbook1 when we arrived at this question:

Smith said, “Pro-lifers don’t care about children who are already born. All they care about is their stupid political agenda.” Jones disagreed by saying, “No, there are many pro-lifers who are involved in caring for children.”

The assigned task was to analyze the paragraph, “isolate the related statements, and put them into categorical form. Assign abbreviations to the terms, place them on the square of opposition, and determine their relationship.” In this case, the available relationships were contradiction, contrariety or subcontrariety.

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Toward Arguing Better, Part 1

Fundamentalism—and conservative Christianity in general—needs more people who argue well. It does not need more people who quarrel well!

Scripture opposes quarreling, along with the behaviors the KJV renders as “strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings” and “tumults” (2 Cor. 12:20). But arguing is something else. Scripture calls us to argue and to do it well. Every Christian is obligated to develop and exercise the skill of thinking and communicating clearly with the goal of persuasion.

With that as a working definition of argue, let’s consider a few basics for arguing better.

Argue for the right reasons.

Why do people argue? Unflattering reasons come quickly to mind. As sinners, we often argue to gain the esteem of others, to defeat someone we don’t like, or to try to win an imagined (or real) competition for loyal supporters. Sometimes people argue because they have a contrarian disposition and enjoy the challenge and repartee. (For these, the question is not “Why argue?” but “Why not argue?”)

But for Christians, the proper goal of argument is to establish the truth or rightness of ideas or actions.

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Please Don't Believe This Post

I’m dead serious about the title of this little essay. I’ll explain later. The focus of this piece is the need for more and better critical thinking (some of you probably already see the connection to the title).

Interacting on the Web for the last three years—culminating in the last three days—has revealed a severe lack of critical thinking. By “lack of critical thinking,” I do not mean lack of criticism! (As a college friend of mine would say “Nay, verily!”) What I mean by critical thinking here is the discipline of looking at a highly emotional situation and intentionally subjecting claims on all sides to healthy skepticism and—above all—vigorously questioning our own “gut feelings” and reasoning.

I’ve found myself repeatedly wondering, doesn’t anybody believe in critical thinking anymore? I fear our culture has slipped deeply into a tyranny of sentiment. Feelings rule. Calm reflection is for—I don’t know—“elites”? Maybe it’s just for “bad people who don’t care.”

I laughed when the thought occurred to me to write a piece telling people how to think critically. It’s like a guy who heats hotdogs in a microwave telling people how to cook. But the sort of rhetoric flooding the Web (and TV) lately suggests we’ve sunk so low that I may actually be a pretty good source of expertise on the subject. So here it is.

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