Can Reason Lead Us To A Relationship With God?

By Al Serrato

 

Most atheists feel confident that they have “reason” on their side. As a result, many are surprised when a Christian apologist takes an evidentialist, or reason-based, approach to matters of “faith.” Not long ago, the issue arose in a conversation I was having with a skeptic. I had been laying out the basic philosophical arguments for the existence of a supreme, uncaused being.

Reason Relationship God

Accepting the logic of these arguments, she shifted her challenge, saying: “You want me to use reason to get me to agree that God exists, but then stop using it as soon as I get to that point.” In other words, despite hearing rational arguments about the existence of God in general, she could not fathom that a belief in God in particular – the God of the Bible, for instance – could be based on anything other than wishful thinking. Faith, after all, was simply not rational.

My response went something like this: “Hopefully by now, you see that I am not asking you to abandon reason. The types of argument may vary, and the level of certainty about particular conclusions might also differ, but for everything that historic Christianity affirms, there are good reasons to believe what we believe.” She shook her head in, well, disbelief.

“As it applies to Christianity,” I persisted, “some of what we know about God can be inferred from observations. This is referred to as ‘general revelation.’ Consider what we see of the universe: it is spatially and temporally immense, beyond our ability to understand and grasp; it is well-ordered and predictable, with set laws such as logic and math, physics and chemistry, all operating flawlessly, consistently and seamlessly. It contains examples of breath-taking beauty, such as the inherent beauty of music and nature, and heart-pounding emotion, such as the joy of first love or the miracle of birth. But it is also quite deadly, or at the very least quite inhospitable to humans. Despite its immense size, it appears that we can live only in a sliver of air on a remote planet, and even there, most of the planet is exceedingly dangerous to us. You see, my ability to reason can lead me to some generalities: God must be immensely powerful and intelligent; he must be artistic and love order. He must be capable of great love. But is he … harsh? Uncaring? Why is this creation so dangerous? And, most importantly, what comes next? Reason cannot lead us to any answers here. We see a glimpse of God, but not the full picture.”

She wasn’t sure where I was going, and in a way, neither was I. The next step, to a rational reliance on the words of the Bible, is a big step; in fact, for many, it has been, and remains, too big a step for them to take.

I resumed. “To move to a personal relationship with God – in the specific, not general sense – requires more; it cannot be based completely and exclusively on reason. It does in fact depend also on faith, but it is a faith that stems from, and finds support in, reason.”

“You want it both ways,” she countered. “You want to call it reason when it is simply wishful thinking.”

I knew what she meant, and I acknowledged that I was struggling with putting these thoughts into words. “No, there is a difference that you’re not seeing. Believing in unicorns is a function of faith; there is no evidence for them, and no good reason to believe they exist. But if you had actual evidence – from trusted sources – that such animals existed, your “faith” in them might eventually become reasonable. The problem isn’t that believing in exotic animals is irrational; the problem is that believing in such animals when there is no evidence – no reason – to support that belief is irrational.”

I shifted gears a bit, wanting to get on to the point while there was time.

“Now, put yourself for a moment in the position of the creator-God. You want to give people true free will, so that they are not mere automatons, and you want them to choose a relationship with you without forcing them to do so. Your problem is twofold: if you make your presence too intrusive, they will believe because they have no real choice, but if you reveal nothing of yourself, they will have no basis to know you. So, what you do is reveal enough of yourself so that they will see your presence. Then you choose a messenger who will convey your intentions. It must be fined tuned this way so that those who respond do so freely and not under coercion. Those who do respond freely will eventually be made perfect; he will work on them to free them from their fallen nature and to remove some of what separates them from him. Those who reject him get what they are seeking – separation from him.”

“Christianity affirms that God chose a particular people to convey this message. He used prophets to speak for him, then sent his son. Much of what I trust in about God comes from the words of that son, Jesus. If Jesus is a reliable source (i.e. that he has a basis to know what he claims to know and that he is honest), then I am justified in trusting what he says. If so, then he is a good source of information about God. If he says that God has offered us salvation and prepared a place for us to spend eternity, I can trust that information if I can trust Jesus. I acknowledge that my confidence that there is a heaven is pure faith – I believe it because Jesus says it. But my trust in Jesus is not based on faith. That would be mere wishful thinking. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead not because the Bible says it, but because the evidence of it is very strong, and the evidence against it is not. I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because I have faith, or because the Bible said it; I have faith that what Jesus said was true, and that the Bible is trustworthy, because I first had proof that Jesus did what he claimed he would do. He fulfilled the prophecies of centuries before, died for us and then rose from the dead.”

“But,” she began, again shaking her head ….

Enough for one day, I concluded. The next step would be to show why what we know about Jesus is reliable. But I had places to go, and she needed more time to think about what we had covered so far.

Notes

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2z0YOHc

 


 

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24 replies
  1. bob says:

    “Those who reject him get what they are seeking – separation from him.”
    I am not rejecting God – I don’t believe God exists. Now, if he were to show up and offer me some kind of relationship, it is at that point that I would either accept, reject, or tell him to let me think about it for a day or two. But, at this point, my lack of belief in your god is not a rejection. I don’t believe he exists.
    .
    For the umpteen thousandth time – I am not rejecting your God – I am rejecting your claim that your God is real. I am rejecting your claim that the bible is true. I am rejecting your claim that prayer works.
    .
    People don’t have a “relationship” with an invisible, unresponsive entity, they just believe they do.
    People come to believe in God because of the emotional appeals of those around them.
    No reasoning is involved.
    .
    r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

    Reply
  2. Simon Paulus Messah says:

    You are rejecting his claims that prayer works, seems to be in opposition with what Jeff levin has ever explored the spirituality healing connections, in his book God, Faith, and Health (2001). In its foreword Larry Dossey, M.D pointing out Sir Isaac Newton proposed the existence of universal gravity condemned by his colleagues such a radical idea but Newton stuck to his guns – data, evidence, experiments — and universal gravity was eventually vindicated and accepted. The same process is taking place today regarding the role of religion and spirituality in health.

    Reply
    • bob says:

      …and yet, I was a bible believing Christian for 25 years, and affirmed then as I do now, that I could not then and can not now point to a single one of my many thousands of prayers that obviously was answered by a supreme being (God).
      Also, I have asked dozens of Christians who claim that God answers prayer, to provide me with their BEST example of answered prayer, yet I have never been presented a single verifiable instance where a specific prayer was obviously answered by their God.
      .
      r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

      Reply
      • John says:

        Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want because it’s not what we need. In my very limited experience I’ve seen several people w/ a terminal diagnosis astonish doctors. Personally I’ve had prayers to not be bitter and wrathful anymore, and nothing about my situation changed and I certainly didn’t do it on my own. If you were a bible-believing Christian and your Christianity failed you, was that your fault or God’s? If you don’t believe there is a creator of creation what evidence is there that there was/is not an uncaused cause? God reveals Himself through creation and the Word. The proof you seek happened over 2000 y/a and that is one of the best documented and most scrutinized events of eternity. Also, if God is who God says He is, why would he throw pearls before swine? God is a wasteless God. The smaller the faith, the less aware of God’s presence. Truth, forgiveness, humility, and compassion are great places to start in the search for God

        Reply
        • toby says:

          In my very limited experience I’ve seen several people w/ a terminal diagnosis astonish doctors.
          And what of atheists who don’t pray that have an unexpected remission? Or muslims? Or Buddhists? We know that unexpected remissions occur. How do you differentiate between a natural remission and miraculous one?

          Reply
        • bob says:

          “If you were a bible-believing Christian and your Christianity failed you, was that your fault or God’s?”
          Neither – it was the fault of Christianity. My Christianity failed me because it is faulty. My good reasoning overcame my faulty reasoning – it’s that simple.
          Your question is as faulty as your Christianity – it presupposes your God exists. Since I have concluded he doesn’t, how could I assign fault to him for my lack of belief…?
          .
          “…if God is who God says He is, why would he throw pearls before swine?”
          Because it would be fun…?
          Since God has never SAID who “he is”, neither pearls nor swine matter much.
          .
          r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

          Reply
      • Brian says:

        Bob, may I ask what you mean by prayers “that obviously was answered by a supreme being (God).” I’m particularly focusing on the word “obviously”. I’m curious, because I don’t believe that there is any “obvious” evidence for macro evolution. And what I mean by “obvious” is definitive – the final solution with all other explanations have been exhausted.

        Reply
        • bob says:

          Obvious – meaning that it would or should not be easy to ascribe the supposed “answered prayer” to coincidence or human action. Can I assume that you agree with me? If not, please offer me one single OBVIOUS supernatural answer to prayer that you have experienced…
          And why introduce macro evolution into this? Are you a biologist?
          .
          r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

          Reply
          • Brian says:

            Bob, thanks for your reply which clearly explains how you are using the word “obvious”. May I ask another question? Why do you think that a god (let’s just focus on the Christian understanding of God) is obligated to answer prayer in an obvious fashion?

            I wasn’t trying to introduce macro evolution into the conversation per se. I was simply trying to amplify a point that “obvious” is a subjective standard. What may seem obvious to you, may not see obvious to me. And yes, I am a biologists.

          • bob says:

            Brian – I can’t figure out how to reply below your last response. Oh well…
            .
            “Why do you think that a god (let’s just focus on the Christian understanding of God) is obligated to answer prayer in an obvious fashion?”
            I guess he wouldn’t be obligated…being God and all…
            From my perspective – if it’s not OBVIOUS, why would anyone claim it as an answer FROM GOD to their prayer request? Isn’t the logical retort “where’s your evidence, what’s your proof?” How are you and I supposed to tell the actual answers to prayer from the ones that are not true – or are Christians just supposed to accept every claim of answered prayer? Do you exercise any kind of judgment when a claim is made – and if so, what is your tools? Are there fake claims of answered prayer? If so, do you care?
            I could go on and on…
            .
            I wish I was a biologist.
            .
            r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

      • Scott says:

        Bob,

        You are full of it.

        If you were a ‘bible believing Christian for 25 years’ then you have rejected God if you don’t believe (regardless of the ‘umpteen thousandth time’ you’ve said otherwise).

        Everyone can see this despite your attempt at equivocation.

        Reply
        • TGM says:

          Well I don’t see it. Suppose you’ve believed in underwear gnomes for 25 years and then one day you stop believing in them. Have you really rejected underwear gnomes? No. Bob has simply rejected belief in god, not the actual god itself.
          .
          Your presupposition about god is blurring your distinction between belief and the object of that belief.

          Reply
          • Scott says:

            No. You’re wrong.

            Where is the evidence for underwear gnomes? You’re trying to equate underwear gnomes to God. It’s foolish and disingenuous. (and you talk about my presuppositions) Clearly you didn’t’ even read the essay.

            There is evidence for God which you reject. Fine. That will be between you and God. Your comments show you’re not on this website to find the truth anyway.

            Bob claims that that he was a ‘bible believing Christian’. If that is so then he knows exactly what God promises and is rejecting it. He is rejecting it simply by claiming he no longer believes in God.

            You can equivocate if you’d like, but it is a rejection of God regardless of how you justify it in your own mind.

          • TGM says:

            “You’re trying to equate underwear gnomes to God. It’s foolish and disingenuous. ”
            To be more accurate, I’m equating two items for which belief can be claimed and which subsequently can be disbelieved. Whether they actually exist is irrelevant to my illustration.
            .
            “Clearly you didn’t’ even read the essay.”
            I don’t need to read the essay to respond to the personal experience of a commentator who is not the subject of the article. But I still read it.
            .
            “Your comments show you’re not on this website to find the truth anyway.”
            Um… so what? You come here for your reasons, I’ll come here for my own. Incidentally, these are… 1) I like the conversations, 2) Frank Turek is mildly entertaining to me, and 3) maybe I can contribute to making the world a better place for non-believers. Incidentally, why is finding truth the proper reason to visit this website? Who made that decision? This is hardly the place I would come for truth were I to seek it.
            .
            “If that is so then he knows exactly what God promises and is rejecting it.”
            Bob said it himself in his very first comment: that he is rejecting the claims of people and claims in the bible. What’s foolish to me is that you would claim to know better than Bob himself about what is going on in Bob’s mind.
            .
            By the way, there is a phenomenal amount of evidence for underwear gnomes. I’ve seen them on tv and many other people can also attest to having seen them. I don’t know the names of these people, but there were at least 500 of them. Plus, the story of the gnomes’ appearance is documented in numerous independent sources, including several that have been written by non-believers. Importantly, these stories were written within only a few years of the gnomes’ appearance, far too early to be legendary.

  3. toby says:

    I believe that Jesus rose from the dead not because the Bible says it, but because the evidence of it is very strong, and the evidence against it is not.
    .
    But the evidence you’re citing is the BIBLE! You believe that he rose from the dead because the bible says so! You have no way to judge the quality of the character of ANYONE that wrote that book. They are nearly dead for 2000 years and their motives are unknown. You know practically nothing about anyone mentioned in the book at all!
    .
    Here’s something to think on. There’s a guy running for senator in Alabama who people have accused of being a sexually aggressive pervert. Several of the women have spoken out, have been on TV. They’re alive and able to be interviewed. They are eye witnesses—the things apologists love to throw around in discussions about the veracity of the bible. Do you believe those women speaking out? If not, why not? They said it happened. It’s too embarrassing not to be true, right?
    .
    I simply cannot believe how people twist themselves into knots defending a book that was largely written anonymously by using what’s in the book to show that the book is true. It boils down to “the book says so, so it is so.” It’s pure gullibility. And it’s biased apologetics to believe situations and accounts in the bible that you wouldn’t believe if they were right in your face.
    .
    The icing on the cake is some people have outright said they’d still vote for the guy even if it were all true! The conservative religious of America are showing their disgusting bias.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      Funnily enough, evangelicals are now more likely than the average American to say the personal morality of a politician isn’t so important. A few years ago they all acted furious with Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions. But all it took for them to change their tune is a few morally reprehensible politicians who wear the evangelical cloak, even ones who fit the cloak as badly as Trump. Likewise, the ones who claim to love the constitution still support Moore despite him frequently being found guilty of unconstitutional acts. It’s strange times we live in. At least we now know their true colors.

      Reply
      • Scott says:

        You are a liar!

        Lie #1
        ‘evangelicals are now more likely than the average American to say the personal morality of a politician isn’t so important’

        Lie #2
        ‘they all acted furious with Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions’

        Lie #3
        ‘it took for them to change their tune is a few morally reprehensible politicians who wear the evangelical cloak’

        Lie #4
        ‘Likewise, the ones who claim to love the constitution still support Moore despite him frequently being found guilty of unconstitutional acts’

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          No, they’re all true. Funnily enough, you calling them lies makes you yourself… well I’ll be polite and say it makes you deeply mistaken. I’ll leave the slurs to you.

          Reply
          • Scott says:

            You’ve done what all liars do. Double down on your assertions.

            Since you’re not smart enough to figure out any of your lies, I’ll help you out with just the first one.

            #1
            Evangelicals NEVER looked to a politician for moral leadership. They have Jesus for that. So the personal morality of any politician compared to Jesus is always lacking, some more than others. However, your whole assertion is wrong – evangelicals do not vote for a person just because they have good morals. And, this is even funnier when your morals are on a sliding scale.

        • jcb says:

          Scott, it seems you changed issues mid-discussion.
          Issue # 1: Is it true that “evangelicals are now more likely than the average American to say the personal morality of a politician isn’t so important”?
          Issue # 2: Have Evangelicals every looked to a politician for moral leadership?
          These are not the same issue, yet you treat Issue # 1 as if it is Issue # 2. That’s a mistake.
          From what I can see, Andy Ryan never discussed issue # 2, but only issue # 1. Responding to Issue # 2 does not respond to issue # 1 (but your reply suggests that you think otherwise).

          Reply
          • KR says:

            Good point, JCB. Furthermore, i suspect Andy’s claim is based on the study done by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) where they asked people if an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.
            .
            Surveys were made in 2011 and 2016 and the results were compared. It turns out that in 2011, white evangelical protestants were a lot less likely than the average American to accept personal immorality in elected officials (30% as compared to 44%) while in 2016 the situation was reversed. Five years after the first survey, white evangelical protestants were significantly more likely than the average American to accept personal immorality in elected officials (72% as compared to 61%).
            .
            So, not only is Andy’s statement not a lie – it is in fact supported by actual data. I believe an apology is in order – I mean, that would be the moral thing to do, right?
            .
            Let’s see if Scott can offer up a better defense of his other accusations of lying.

        • Andy Ryan says:

          “Evangelicals NEVER looked to a politician for moral leadership”
          .
          Non sequitur. My claim was ‘‘evangelicals are now more likely than the average American to say the personal morality of a politician isn’t so important’. You’ve not addressed that at all. Whether or not evangelicals look to a politician for moral leadership is a completely different question.
          .
          “your whole assertion is wrong”
          .
          Then point me to data to support that. To show that I’m lying you need data showing that evangelicals are NOT more likely than the average American to say the personal morality of a politician isn’t important. Until you do that, my claim stands.

          Reply
  4. jcb says:

    Just a few points:
    I have found many theists who do use reason and science to prove some things about the Bible, and then go on to prove things by citing the Bible that are not supported by science. That is, they use reason, and then stop using reason and replace reason with the Bible. This is unwise. One should not abandon reason. Reason/science should be the final filter that claims must go through to determine if they are true (for virtually all matters).
    But no, there are not good reasons for all the beliefs of Christianity. (The belief that Jesus was resurrected is not supported by good reasons/science/probability).
    That the universe is immense does nothing to prove that god, a perfect being exist. Yes, it leads to many questions, but not to many specific answers, like god. That there is music, or things we prefer, doesn’t prove god, nor that a being outside of this world that “must be immensely powerful and intelligent; he must be artistic and love order.” None of that follows.

    trusted sources – that such animals existed, your “faith” in them might eventually become reasonable. The problem isn’t that believing in exotic animals is irrational; the problem is that believing in such animals when there is no evidence – no reason – to support that belief is irrational.”
    A perfect being could easily make itself more known without turning us into robots. The Bible claims that some people stood before god (Adam and Eve, for example) without losing their free will. The claim that if god gave us more evidence, we would be robots (or worse off) is largely false. It’s also funny that many theists tell atheists, pray to god! Talk to god! Ask god!, implying that if the atheist tried, god could give more evidence to them. Yes, a perfect being could and would do more. It doesn’t do more, thus there probably isn’t a perfect being.
    There are no known cases of people actually knowing god exists and then rejecting him.
    Jesus can be trusted (mostly) when he says he walked down the street. Jesus cannot be trusted when he claims he is god/all powerful, etc. That’s the trick: Jesus told the truth here, so he probably is telling the truth there. No, not in this case. Not when the “there” is “I can do anything because I am all powerful”.
    The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is not strong. The probability that it didn’t happen is much greater than that it did.

    Reply

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