Is Christianity rational?
When most people are asked that question its not coming from a neutral standpoint; it’s a loaded question. In our day and age the question is loaded towards the “NO” side. A lot of people have done hard work over the years to show that the answer to that question is actually “YES!” One such person who has worked towards explaining that rationality of Christian belief is Claremont philosopher Stephen Davis. In his new book, Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity, Davis tackles some important questions that have been leveled at Christians in order to show the irrationality of faith.
Consider for instance:
- Can we believe in God?
- Isn’t truth relative?
- Is the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus actually reliable?
- Doesn’t evolution disprove Christianity?
- Can’t religious experiences be explained by neuroscience?
- Aren’t other religions as valid as Christianity?
Aimed at college students (and supposedly Christian professors as well), Davis tackles these sorts of questions and more.
For the sake of the review I won’t go into detail about how he answers these questions, rather I’ll point you to a few chapters that are especially pertinent in our cultural moment, the chapters on Cognitive Science and Religious Pluralism. Most Christians interested in Apologetics will be used to reading about truth/pluralism, the problem of evil, belief in God, gospel reliability, and the resurrection; but the two chapters on Cognitive Science and Religious Pluralism bring something unique to the table.
Neuroscientists have attempted to argue that religion is “natural.” In other words humans have a tendency to believe in a god or gods or at least supernatural beings who provide moral guidance and also issue rewards and punishments to humans. What Davis does which is quite unique to the subject is that he doesn’t examine the findings of Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) rather he distinguishes between meanings of the term “natural.” Natural can mean explainable, easy, or appropriate. Davis argues that Christian belief (unlike many other forms of religion) is not natural in the first or second sense. Here’s why: If critics of religion are correct in saying we created God rather than vice versa then the Christian God is not the sort of god we would create. A “god” made in our image would be legalistic, performance based, ritual based, maximally accepting and non-accusatory. However Christianity is neither of these, in fact Christianity is very costly, which has no evolutionary advantages that it bestows to its adherents. Davis argues that it is only natural in the third sense, i.e. it is appropriate, in the sense that it is rational.
What should Christians make of other religions? Davis points out three views Christians have taken over the years: 1)Exclusivism, 2)Inclusivism, and 3)Pluralism. He goes on to point out some major flaws with (a John Hick inspired) pluralism. Davis then develops his own view which can best be described as a tolerant, non-imperialist exclusivism. His position is grounded in the concept that God loves all persons and wants all to be saved and that God is a God of justice. Davis says of holding these two points that we ought to hold them in eentions and “trust that God will be fair.” However what makes this chapter unique is that his criterion for a Christian view on religious pluralism is actually a very practical one, it is “evangelism.” He then makes a bold claim (which I applaud):
Any theory that in effect minimizes, belittles, discourages or rules out evangelism is to be rejected.
I have never heard this point made in a philosophical essay and I truly applaud Davis for making it. Given the fact that the Christian faith is evangelistic and grounded in Christ’s words in the great commission its surprising that such a simple criterion has been overlooked in many discussions of religious pluralism.
I teach undergraduates at a bible college and work in a college ministry so I’m always on the lookout for interesting books covering objections to Christianity. Though I’m not a huge proponent of Apologetics in the modernistic sense, I think apologetics is an important subject for Christians to cover mainly as a way to boost their faith. I.e. Apologetics is less for non-Christians and more for Christians. For that reason I recommend this book to most college students. Its filled with answers to questions they will likely hear in their General Education sociology, psychology, anthropology courses.
Congrats to Stephen Davis because he’s given us a book undergrads will find useful in many of their GE classes!