Alvinizing and planting on the issue of rationality

In first year in college I came across the maths of Bertrand Russell. Then I came across his book “Why I Am Not A Christian” in the philosophy shelves of the library. I probably didn’t spend enough time in the library and what time I squandered there was in Philosophy and Theology and Literature instead of Programming, Maths and the Studying Things That Lead To CAREERS. Russell’s position can be summed up as evidential. When asked what he would say if confronted by God upon his death he responded with, “I’d say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”

This is one of the most common objections that people hold against faith in Christianity. Many feel that without due evidence faith is irrational or unreasonable. Skeptics of this sort will nod approvingly as I quote John Locke when he says a mark of a rational person is “the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proof it is built upon will warrant”. Interestingly, this objection is often phrased in terms of an intellectual duty. Christians whose belief in Jesus is apparently unfounded are somehow failing themselves and also in a more general sense humanity, with their soft-headedness.

The evidentialist tends to look at the Christian as suffering from some critical fault in their critical faculties that has left them susceptible to these false ideas about reality. This is most explicitly the case with Richard Dawkins who dismisses religious faith as a byproduct of memes, which problematically have to be accepted on faith. But Freud was another one of these guys who thought that Christians were suffering a kind of brain sickness. He famously described religous beliefs as, “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind”. Marx is another one of these lads and as anyone who has ever participated in a debate on a university campus knows, he called religion the opium of the people. The cause of this insidious effect on people, for Marx, was an insidious world. A perverted social order has produced a perverted perspective. Marx thinks the Christian believes as he does only because of the power of this unreal perspective, this perverted neurotic condition. His intellect isn’t functioning as it ought to. It isn’t facing up to the cold hard reality that we are on our own and that there is no loving Father taking care over us.

For most people reading this site, the view of evidentialist viewpoint will be something they are familiar with. Only a few will realise that a mirror of this argument is held by Christianity. John Calvin probably wouldn’t have been too impressed with you if you told him his brain was broken and if he didn’t throw Marx or Freud in prison, he might have taken the time to explain to them that they were not only broken, but infected too. See for Calvin, all people are born with an inherent knowledge of God. The Bible also supports this view. The Christian counter-point to the evidentialist is that their disbelief is an illusion that is part of a large tapestry of distraction and distortion woven by the deceiver to supress the truth in unrighteousness. Christians got in there first with this “You’re not just wrong, you are stupid. You are not just stupid, you are sick” argument. For Calvin, “a sense of deity is inscribed in the hearts of all”. This nisus, this tendency, is warped and then concealed by the reverberating effects of sin and so he would view Marx and Freud, Dawkins and Hume as the soft-headed ones. Without sin, Calvin feels we would trust in the existence of God in the same way we trust in the existence of our girlfriend or boyfriend, in gravity or in yesterday. Put another way, Calvin thinks that Marx is as crazy in denying the existence of God as someone who denies the existence of their spouse.

So who is right? Is Calvin hallucinating? Or is Freud infected? Alvin Plantinga is a philosopher of religion who thinks both arguments can be summed up in the same way. They both say to the other, “Your brain is not working properly”. And this is where I think the theist has the upper hand. This idea of proper functioning is troublesome. What does it mean for my intellect to be working properly? What does it mean for an organism to function properly? When is a dog broken? A cow is functioning properly when she gives milk (presuming of course she is part of a dairy herd). My garden will be functioning properly when my oak saplings start to thrive. Our definition of “working properly” is based on our aims and intentions for the thing being discussed. To quote Plantinga, “So far as nature herself goes, isn’t a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows?”

So what does it mean for my intellect to be working properly? It seems pretty clear that “working properly” is a grid we create and apply to things depending on what we want to get out of them. For the Christian, this problem folds out simply and elegantly. As we can assess the proper functioning of my mp3 player based on its intended purpose, we can assess the intellect based on its intended purpose. For the Christian, the mind is working properly when it is working as it was intended by God. Here, the argument from the atheist evidentialist begins to flounder. If my mind is flawed in its faith assertions, then how is that measured? How can you claim that a mind is not working as it should if the mind is a byproduct of blind forces with no specific purpose at all?

When the common claim is made that faith is irrational, the claimant must explain on what basis do they claim their rationale to be rational. Without a means of assessment, no one can claim that a mind has gone astray, or is flawed, or is irrational. Without a Creator, the claimant flounders to find solid ground on which to discern what is rational and what is not. Freud would say I was suffering from an illusion with my Christianity. But as an atheist, he must hold that his mind and all its thoughts are off-shoots of directionless forces. Where then does rationality arise from? There is much more evidence for the Christian faith than is commonly thought. But for many, the work involved in reading the theology and the archeology and the historical context is too much. For those people we can bypass specifics and get right down to the roots of the problem where we see that the irrational thing is the claim that true rationality could be discoverd in a Godless world.

Your Correspondent, Has a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right

10 Responses to “Alvinizing and planting on the issue of rationality”

  1. OG says:

    Interesting. I spent most of my time researching Programming and Maths when I should have been reading up on theology and literature. Maybe we should have swapped degrees?

  2. (just helping stigmund to finish what he started)

  3. Incidentally, why is Stigmund applauding an argument against his theories on men wanting to have sex with their children’s mother’s being the reason that we believe in God? It is Stigmund Freud isn’t it?

  4. morfo says:

    Unrelated to this blog but seeing as one of your planned books is by Jim Henderson, I presume you have read about him buying an atheist’s soul on e-bay? If not check out this link


  5. morfo says:

    Sometimes it’s worth pleading insanity as a reason for being a christian though…in Afghanistan for example…

    morfo-not martyr material…

  6. zoomtard says:

    Morfo, I had seen both the ebay Atheist and the Afghan case. The Christianity Today Weblog keeps me up to date on these things. But thanks for the heads-up on both. 🙂

    Jimlad, you are a genius.

    OG, I would swap degrees with you but for the fact you went to a hole. I value my real university. 😉

  7. […] In the spirit of the last post and in an attempt to show in a different way, how the question is a kind of category mistake. Let me rip off a book I am reading at the moment by Zoomtard Hero #4, Tom Wright, called Simply Christian. Imagine being in an isolated house out in the countryside. You are on your own. Don’t worry about why your here and don’t worry about whether this plot set up will lead to some horror movie starring Famke Janssen or worse, an erotic thriller starring Sharon Stone. Trust your narrator. You are better off trusting him anyway because you, as the character are at his will. In many ways he is like God. Therefore, God exists. Q.E.D. […]

  8. […] The more I obey this odd command, to stop trying to understand everything, the more I understand it’s purpose. This is yet another example of the trend I have seen in my life: Faith generally comes before full understanding. It is like being raised in a room with no windows, with your mentor explaining that there is a sun. You can believe in the sun as being like the lightbulb, but until you actually take a step of faith and go outside the room to experience the sunlight, you don’t really know what the sun is (This analogy is a copyright of Zoomtard: Speaking of Zoomtard, I remember writing a response to a blog he wrote, before I was a licenced thinker on this site. I was expecting to be given a password soon at the time, which didn’t happen but I wrote this on paper so that I could copy it onto the internet later. […]