Monday, March 31, 2014

What does my blog have in common with God?

Neither is dead! Hahaha, I'm so funny.

Anyway, as I'm sure you are aware, a movie recently came out that has set the internet ablaze with haters and defenders alike. I am here to revive my blog add my voice to the fray, because I am the only reasonable person on the internet.

Ok, seriously.

I have to admit, I haven't yet seen "God's Not Dead", so instead of commenting on the film directly, I'm going to comment on an actual atheist philosophy professor's take on it. Why, you might ask? Well the film set itself up as an apology of the Christian faith specifically to atheists. So, their opinion of it can be extremely informative. After all, if they are not convinced, then the film has failed at its main premise.

As far as the blog post I'll be critiquing, its rather long, ~12000 words long. My critique will only focus on a few statements, but the whole post is worth reading. If you do though, be sure to give it a fair reading. Really listen to what Dr. Fincke is trying to say. Some of what he says is wrong. Much of it is right. Some of what he says is born of a legitimate observation but is exaggerated. Its easy to dismiss his good ideas because you don't agree with his worldview. I challenge you not to do that.

Anyway, shall we begin?

I wrote so much is because I hope that there are some Christians out there who really genuinely want to understand whether common evangelical Christian ways of thinking hold up philosophically and whether philosophy is really like what’s shown in the movie God’s Not Dead.
I quote this just to show that Dr. Fincke is on our side here. We seek understanding, he seeks to be understood. Our goals are aligned. Also note that he mentions Evangelicals specifically. This will be important later.
All of us should be interested to make sure our ideas stand up against the strongest challenges. Not just the weakest. It’s not enough to have a witty comeback or see some vague possibility for reconciling your faith with science and philosophy or have some fun seeing the people you feel persecuted by get humiliated in the movies. If you want to be right, you need to figure out that the picture of the world you have is actually the best one when tested against competitors.
Amen!  This, by and large, is my biggest problem with a lot of Christian "apologetics." Its not robust enough, and non-believers are right to point out when that is the case. But enough intro, lets get into some of the actual critiques.

For example, if you were like me, you were troubled by the idea of Professor Radisson’s desire to have his students sign a statement of belief that “God is Dead” with threats of failure if they do not do so. He was forcing them to agree to a conclusion without any debate. He was being closed minded and dogmatic.

In the real world it is Christian universities that alone in America require of students and faculty that they sign faith statements to attend or teach. If Professor Radisson’s actions bothered you, in reality you should be bothered by these Christian universities’ behavior.
This is a tricky one, but its a valid point, especially from an academic viewpoint. Honest and open study is impossible if there are entire fields that are off limits. Christian universities walk a fine line by requiring professors to sign a statement of faith, let alone students. It is understandable that academics would be very suspicious of this practice. It is no wonder he says:
But there is, nonetheless, something completely contradictory to the spirit of true inquiry to have college students, in advance of their higher education, commit to believing things on pain of having to leave the school if they stop believing them. How is that open minded? How is that interested in really proving and testing one’s beliefs?
The other issue here is Professor Radisson's requirement that his students sign the "God is Dead" statement. Dr. Fincke rightly points out that this just doesn't happen! Already, the movie is setting itself up with a straw man, and one that isn't very flattering to the very people the movie purports to reach out to!

Jumping ahead:
And this gets to the other issue where religious students might wrongly feel persecuted. It’s not persecution when you are forced to give reasons for your positions. When I ask for philosophical justifications and argue that faith is an invalid form of reasoning, you have to either defend faith as a valid form of reasoning or stop making faith-based assertions.  The standards of logic, empiricism, and rational standards of consistency, conceptual clarity, and coherence still apply in looking at God and religion related questions as they do in all the other philosophical areas of inquiry.
This is largely true and is entirely fair. It is not persecution to defend your beliefs! Peter says to "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." Dr. Fincke is in the right to challenge his student's beliefs. If they are unable to answer in an academically rigorous manner, then their parents and their churches are to blame for not preparing them sufficiently.

And make no mistake, the Christian faith can be defended rigorously, without reliance on blind faith! Aquinas proved as much, as have many other great philosopher theologians throughout her history. That we don't teach them in Sunday School is a damn shame.

Dr Fincke also asks "why d
o Christians say Atheists disbelieve for emotional reasons?"
[Amy] caves in and converts on the spot not because of reason but because of hopelessness. It is evangelical Christians who exploit people’s irrational, emotional weaknesses with a disgusting shamelessness in order to manipulate them into conversions that don’t make senseWhy is the desire for a supernatural source of hope a reason to believe in one? It’s not.
 This is a huge deal. What he's complaining here is how Christians don't take atheists seriously. Instead of engaging their intellectual objections, Christians tend to assume atheists are merely in rebellion to God for some sort of emotional reason. Or they assume that anyone who is not a Christian must secretly be miserable.

Christians, we need to show *everyone* respect. And part of that is listening to them and taking them seriously.
The assumption of the film is that all the real action is in science. So there are no interesting philosophical discussions at all.
Our problem in this culture is not a failure to do good science, it’s a failure of the populace to understand philosophy so that it knows what to make of what science is telling it.
This, oh gosh so much this. We don't even teach philosophy anymore! Yet it is so essential. Philosophy teaches people *how* to think. It challenges you to test the limits of your own understanding.

So what do we make of this?

Overall, I think Dr. Fincke is making valid points. Clearly "God's Not Dead" failed to engage him on an intellectual level, and thus failed as an apologetic movie. More importantly, Fincke is indicting the culture that produced this movie. I have yet to encounter an evangelical Christian that knows how to talk to an atheist. Honestly, this is one of the reasons I was pushed away from evangelical Christianity, there was such poor intellectual rigor and too much emphasis on emotions.

Of course, the good professor makes mistakes too, but this is the only one I will address:
Theological answers are just ancient guesses with no magic plausibility just because better scientific ones don’t yet exist.
Dr Fincke, we start with philosophy, we figure things out about God. We determine that if God wants us to know him, revelation is necessary. We conclude from history (reading Gospels as history first) that Jesus was actually who he says he is, and therefore the Church he established is true, and that Church safeguarded revelation for us. Thus, we take philosophy, reason, logic, as our foundation. There is a reason Aquinas borrows so much from Aristotle, Aristotle's philosophy was practically Christian! He figured out the entire basis for the Christian faith, but he never had the necessary data to fill in the picture that he outlined. That came later.

Christian, when was the last time you heard a defense of the faith that sounded like that? Why didn't "God's Not Dead" make use of the rich history of Christian philosophy? I posit that it is because the evangelical Christian sub-culture is incapable of doing so. It doesn't know how. It hasn't been trained in philosophy, and so it has to rely on emotion and stereotypes.

What can we do about it? Well, *I* converted to Catholicism. Though this post is long enough so I won't beat you over the head with my crucifix tonight. What I would really love to see from evangelicals, and all Christians really, is a renewed commitment to intellectual rigor, at least from those people who intend to interact with atheists. After all, Christ commanded us: "
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

We too often for get that last part.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good article.

    I have a slightly different take on your conclusion, obviously - I think what you identify as a flaw of "the evangelical Christian sub-culture" is basically a flaw of all Christian cultures - Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic, whatever - because it's rooted in a truth of most people: they aren't trained in logical argument.

    There are exceptions on all sides here; while I don't think Aristotle landed particularly near the mark (and that Aquinas was misled by his dependence on Aristotelian thinking), one certainly can't dismiss Aquinas or Augustine as non-serious thinkers. Likewise, Protestantism offers its fair share: whether one agrees with him or not, it's hard to read Calvin without recognizing a well-developed logical philosophy there. (For that matter, one of the driving impetuses of the Reformation was a call for greater intellectual understanding of their faith among Christians in general.)

    And there certainly are voices still pushing for a more rational Christianity today - to name just one, Lee Strobel, I think, does a good job of urging logical analysis of the evidence for faith.

    But it's definitely something we could use more of. And we certainly should do those who disagree with us - the very folks we're trying to reach - the courtesy of portraying their beliefs with all the respect and fairness that we'd prefer they show to ours.