August 15, 2015

In Their Own Words XXXV: Belief in God Relies On Circular Reasoning

Drawing Hands 
M.C. Escher
I've heard it said that a Christian relies on circular reasoning to believe in God. The logic goes something like this:

(1a) God Exists.
(1b) Why should I believe that?
(2a) The Bible says He exists.
(2b) Why should I believe Bible?
(3) The Bible is  Inspired word of God.
(4) God Exists

Does the Christian rely on circular logic to maintain their belief? This is my take one this accusation by atheists, skeptics and non-believers. It is important to realize and understand all philosophical systems start with axioms (presuppositions).  They start with non-provable propositions accepted as true, and deduce theorems from them. Therefore Christians should not be faulted for having axioms as well, which are the propositions of Scripture (a proposition is a fact about a thing, e.g. God is truth). So the question for any axiom based system is whether it is internally consistent or consistent with the real world. This means that the axioms can't contradict each other and still be valid.

Christian axioms provide the basis for a coherent worldview, a map that can guide us throughout all aspects of life. Non-Christian axioms fail these tests, as do the axioms of other ‘holy books'. Additionally, Christian axioms provide a basis for objective right and wrong. This argument really begins to point the way clear of circular logic accusations. We appeal to an independent source of truth outside of ourselves. I’ll also go as far as to claim that without God as the absolute moral authority and maintainer of order, reason and logic, skeptics wouldn’t even be able to think rationally and appeal to a concept of circular reasoning to attack Christians and the existence of God to begin with. By skeptics going after God in this way it is biting the hand that feeds them.

Christian axioms also provide a basis for voluntary choice, since we are made in the image of God. But evolutionists believe that we are just machines or anima with no choice or soul. If we really want to further undercut the accusations of circular reasoning it is clear that independent historical evidence breaks the circle. Archaeology. Archaeology corroborates the Bible. If skeptics and critics want non-Biblical “proof”. Therein it lies. Millions of changed lives are another evidence (more on this later). As a Christian I verify Scripture’s veracity with Jesus Himself. Although I need the Bible to do so, this has become a moot point based on the statement above. Jesus affirmed the legitimacy of Scripture many times. A person only needs to read the four gospels to see this.

Since we sort of mentioned the coherence of worldviews let us now bounce the same argument of relevancy and logical coherence back to the source of many arguments against Christianity. Let's use the same accusation against
evolutionary theory and see if it will pass muster.

Daniel Dennett renowned militant atheist has argued in the past that religion is inexplicable in evolutionary terms. In other words, by our inborn human inclination, at one time in the past we should have never found religion necessary and valuable for our survival on the African plains. According to Dennett there seems to be no reason to attribute active religion or metaphysical belief to threatening events. Dennett is saying we just didn’t need belief in God to survive. He said it seems irrational (I beg to differ for other reasons).

Dennett is called to task by social commentator Dr. Theodore Dalrymple. Dalrymple is an English writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist. It is also interesting to note that he is a devout atheist. He is viewed as skeptical, rational and and strictly empiricist. He is not exactly the first place you would go to look for a defense of Christian faith and a criticism of atheism. From him we get this gem of a quote:

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true. - Dr. Theodore Dalrymple ~ What the New Atheists Don’t See, City Journal, Autumn 2007

What did Dalrymple just say? He said Dennett’s reasoning for believing in evolutionary theory is, well, circular. Read it again, “...all beliefs [Dennett's belief that religion for survival is irrational], including this one, are the products of evolution.” Additionally, he points out that Dennett’s belief in evolution for survival is irrational. Dennett is being illogical and hypocritical to boot. Not a very enviable position to be in to try and be taken credibly and seriously. Caught in his own line of faulty reasoning.

Furthermore, this circular logic argument still might hold weight if it wasn't for one thing. Jesus Christ. Jesus' actual entry into history throws the causality issue embedded (assumed) in the circular logic argument out the window. What do I mean? In the syllogism above the cognitive glue that holds it together is assumed causality. In other words, God inspired the Bible and the Bible validates God's existence. God whom people claim cannot exist inspired the Bible (the cause) rather than men in the absence of God. A simple illustration of cause and effect. That tight logic loop becomes moot if God also entered the physical universe. We would then have something outside Scripture and outside the supposed circular loop of logic that came in physicality/physically. Which is exactly what Jesus did in the Incarnation. 

The circular logic loop assumes God (being spirit) is not provable, non-existent and cannot be proven via tangible a posteriori knowledge. I do not believe this is true and I'm about to prove it. If something can assert or prove even remotely that God physically entered into the world that would mean God becomes empirical or observable in history if only for a moment. The idea that God could become flesh is discounted from the circular logic reasoning. It is therefore ironic that one of the main claims of Christianity is that Jesus did indeed enter time and space, die and was resurrected. PHYSICALLY. This is exactly why many non-believers and atheist try so desperately to deny Jesus even existed as a human.

Jesus, in essence is separate from the line of direct reasoning (of the provability of God) in the circular logic accusations. As I said, if it can be proven through extra-biblical sources that Jesus existed in this world, the circular logic argument is dead in the water. In some cases this can be done through historical writings. Some of the writings were even done by those hostile to Christianity and were written within decades of Christ's death. We can read the writings of: Thallus (52AD), Tacitus (56-120AD), Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD), Phlegon (80-140AD), Pliny the Younger (61-113AD), Suetonius (69-140AD), Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.), Celsus (175AD), Josephus (37-101AD), The Jewish Talmud (400-700AD). 

So in a nutshell...

If Jesus was God entering history He represents a causal dead end going backwards in time. Jesus would be a new causal force in history that cannot be reduced to or traced back to anything prior. Jesus, then, is causally unique and outside of the writing of Scripture. Even more fascinating is the fact that He appears to have written nothing. He was written about but never wrote any Scripture in actuality. This means that the "effects" of the "cause and effect" are the sole documenters of His existence. It is one thing to write your own story and pass yourself off as God. It is a totally mind-blowing thing to have others do it for you because they are convinced you are God.

Jesus, once He is "inserted" into human history, once that Strange Loop takes up its place in the causal line of begins to affect things, causally speaking. Like a rock thrown in a pond which sends out ripples in all directions. It creates a posteriori knowledge and/or physical evidences. All those effects, all those ripples of the Incarnation afterwards are, in a strict sense, supernaturally created empirical evidence. All subsequent effected actions become supernaturally empirical or have supernatural impetus because they originate from a supernatural source. This negates the entire argument of those that will disclaim the existence of a supernatural God or supernatural events in general... like miracles! 

All events after Jesus "regress" or "trace back" to the Causal Dead End which began in the conception of the Holy Spirit in Mary and became Jesus, God in the flesh. In short, if Jesus is the cause of the "Christian" chain, God is doing it outside the Bible. Think of it like a Time Machine. If I, today, give a free meal to the homeless in the name of Jesus, then, in a very miraculous way (and I mean that literally), Jesus is doing it in the Spirit. He is literally transported into the present by my actions. It is a string or line of events for Christians stemming from Jesus which is separate but concurring with Scripture. My changed life is a supernatural loop that goes all the way back to Jesus. In the Bible it tells me I do so through the Holy Spirit.

In essence, due to Jesus being the ultimate cause of Christianity, Jesus is essentially causing things to happen in the world (through the Spirit) even today. He is doing it through His disciples...who are Christian. It isn't therefore circular becomes linear and time-bound in space and time both in Jesus' earthly ministry and mine.

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