Whenever we ask a question about what one should believe about reality, we’re asking a moral question, because that initial response to the question ultimately defines everything that flows downstream from it. Presuppositions are definitional to a coherent worldview. Every work of literature is presuppositional and every thought expressed in that works either flows with that worldview or against it. There are ultimately two worldviews, the theistic worldview and the atheistic worldview, and wherever a person stands in them determines what should follow.
It is always interesting to see theistic expectations flow from someone who claims to be atheistic in their worldview. Such we find in Neil Carter’s post on his blog that is titled, “When Things Don’t Have to Make Sense”.
Now, I have to preface this with one provision because I do not want to confuse two realities: there is what is known and what is unknown. If you have been following this blog for a long time you will notice an evolution of thought and presentation because as knowledge of various facts have increased the interrelatedness of those facts have become more apparent. I recognize that there are things that I don’t know but can know, can know but don’t want to know, want to know but will never know in any applicable sense, and those things that I will never know but will know the one that knows. I’m using the term “know” in the sense of understanding. But there’s a realization that some things are not required to make sense to me because they have no direct effect on me, and even when they do I recognize that, in my creatureliness, that they don’t have to. But those things that can be grasped, that do make sense, I have a responsibility to live in light of. Neil takes a different perspective, writing,
I think one of the most detrimental things my faith did to me, and to everyone else like me, was to convince me that things don’t have to make sense.
First of all, who says that anything has to make sense to anyone? The belief that a complete understanding of certain facts or actions is necessary is deceiving themselves because so much of human experience is rooted, not in understanding, but action. Fire did not have to make sense in order to be useful for survival, only knowledge of what it could do. He continues,
Imagine what that would do to a person’s ability to discern fact from fiction.
The ability to imagine such a condition is dependent upon one having made sense of such a distinction. Even the most disturbed schizophrenic can recognize that there is a difference between reality and his delusions, once they have been identified, even though the distinction may get blurred. But this goes back to presuppositions which provide a basis for making such determinations.
Neil goes on,
Imagine how this could be used to influence an entire voting bloc prone to follow instructions because they believe those who are leading them are representing The Voice of God in their lives. Just imagine.
It’s not that difficult, because we have some really good, recent historical examples. But that’s the problem: people believe what they want to believe, and they often believe them without examining their beliefs for consistency or their interaction with reality. People do not want to have to think about their beliefs or the actions that those beliefs permits, usually because they have a false anthropology.
Under the heading, “The roots of biblical anti-intellectualism”, Neil writes,
It starts with verses like [Isaiah 55:8-9], repeated over and over again throughout a person’s lifetime…
And lest you protest that this notion is restricted to the Old Testament alone, the apostle Paul reiterates the same sentiments in more prosaic language when writing [in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14] to one of the earliest Christian communities…The consistent message we hear from both testaments of the Christian Bible informs us that things don’t have to make sense.
First, I encourage you, the reader to go look at the context of both of the linked passages because any honest, contextual reading of both passages cannot help but recognize that they’re about distinction, a distinction about the things of God and the things of men, contrasting the Creator from the creation, the believer from the unbeliever. What’s funny is that one of the passages that he quotes, directly answers his charge:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
The reason why they don’t “make sense” to Neil is because he’s an unregenerate sinner. Paul’s point, even Isaiah’s point, is that the things of God don’t make sense until God acts, and the Spirit regenerates a person. The “natural person,” to use Paul’s language, cannot even begin to wrap his mind around the thoughts and plans of the One who is infinite and eternal unless God enables it through the residing presence of the Spirit of God made possible by the atoning work of Christ. Both passages make the opposite claim.
Neil goes on though,
I’m pretty sure I read C.S. Lewis and a number of others making this very point, namely that it only serves to reinforce a tenet of the Christian faith if it doesn’t make sense at all:
That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. (Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 2)
Let’s give the full context of Lewis’ comment emphasizing the quoted portion:
Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match—all at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go further from the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies—these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.
Hmmm. Kinda changes the way that Neil presented things, doesn’t it? Especially since Lewis is making an analogy between expectations and reality in one sphere (the natural world) and another (the religious world). Lewis is directly responding to the false comparisons of Christianity with other religions. The fuller context of the Lewis’ quote seems to be a direct refutation of Neil’s next statement,
It’s like they can’t make up their minds. One minute they are telling us that the we should accept the Christian faith because it is “a well-reasoned faith,” as if this particular religion were what everyone would naturally conclude upon using their God-given intellects to properly perceive the world around them.
It’s like Neil has a problem with taking a quote out of its context in order to pad his argument. Now, that point alone is enough to refute everything else Neil says from that point on, but there’s more that needs to be responded to, like the next point.
[In] the very next breath they insist that we have to suspend our need for logical consistency whenever we are told that our Object of Worship is somehow three persons but still one entity, all at the same time, and is capable of forsaking…himself… in order to appease…himself. Then he must turn around and become a sort of legal advocate for us in order to appeal to…himself… on our behalf.
Well, given what Lewis says, it is logically consistent to understand that the reality of a Being that is not like us should be different from us. That it is not only possible for three persons to share one being, but is logically necessary, given the revelation that has been made. Remember what Lewis said, “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.” If God is, in his Being, tri-personal, we can rightly say, that it makes complete sense to say that God, “[…]is capable of forsaking…himself… in order to appease…himself. Then he must turn around and become a sort of legal advocate for us in order to appeal to…himself… on our behalf,” because that is just what he has done. The only way that it doesn’t make sense or becomes anti-intellectual is if we start with presuppositions that preclude such. The problem is that those same presuppositions necessarily preclude other elements of reality that have to be accounted for.
Under the heading, “Numbing our senses.” Neil writes,
Imagine how [Neil’s understanding of passages like Isaiah 55:8-9] could impact your ability to detect internal inconsistencies within a belief system. Or within a political party’s platform and public policies. Imagine how short your memory for facts would become, or how powerless you would become to distinguish “fake news” from legitimate sources of information.
That assumes that, apart from the consistent revelation of God in time, which requires one to actively reflect upon with the entirety of their faculties engaged, that one could rationally expect their memory or reasoning to be valid in order to make such judgments. What is the standard for judging consistency within a belief system, even political beliefs, or to judge news as “fake”. As I demonstrated, Neil has to engage in misrepresentation of a position in order to make his argument. My standard for making that judgment was the full context of Lewis’ statement. My standard for judging my religious beliefs is the full context of Scripture. My standard for judging a political platform flows from a philosophy determined by the revelation of God. It’s like Neil believes that God’s differentiation from his creation somehow undermines those facts.
Neil goes on to complain about the state of Christian comedy, apparently he isn’t watching what I’m watching, because it’s hilarious. I’ll admit it’s sometimes tame, even elementary, but it says a lot about someone in what they find funny. But his biggest complaint is a lack of irony, which is ironic.
Under the heading, “Let us reason together,” Neil writes,
Oh, and one more thing. Right about now, someone is gearing up to brandish a single prooftext in which God speaks through the prophet [in] Isaiah [1:18ff]…
Divorced from its context, this gets used as evidence that the Christian God is a fan of the life of the mind, of reason, and of logical argument.
Now, I’ll agree that Christians have often quoted this particular text without citing its context in the proclamation of judgment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the face of its destruction by the Assyrians. But I’m looking for the point.
The verse immediately preceding it chastises Israel for becoming obsessed with sacrifices and ritual purity rather than tending to the needy, which negates the usefulness of the nation from God’s point of view.
So he can read in context, I was beginning to wonder, which is ironic. He’s now concerned about reading in context. Do you think if Neil had done that sooner that he could have saved time and energy writing his post? I would rather be working on my Deuteronomy series or catching up on the stack of papers that I have to read, and not interacting with bad arguments like these. It’s post like these, coming from people who claimed to have been raised in the church that make me wonder what it is we’re teaching people, not only about the Bible, but about who God is and what he expects from his creatures.
From the false nature of the argumentation used in it, one commandment in particular comes to mind.