Posted on May 25, 2011 by Tom Gilson
We’re ready to begin the discussion with John Wilkinson, author of No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith, that we’ve been preparing for. I wrote a review on the book a couple months ago, which I encourage you to read as you begin. The next word is John’s, and this is what he says to get us started:
A few years ago we had a series of atheists (which have come to be known as the New Atheists) that garnered a lot of media attention (and book sales) proclaiming that God is a delusion or that He is not good. The conventional wisdom that faith is a benign activity was being questioned with help from extreme religious groups both inside and outside Christianity. At the core of this movement was the very modernistic view that faith is not scientific and therefore absurd.
Despite the fact that Christians are beholden to the (by some accounts) now defunct era of postmodernity, defenders of the faith rolled out the big guns and began a volley of rationally-based counter-arguments. What this served to accomplish, however, was to engage the ‘us versus them’ mentality and saw a lot of un-Christianlike discourse in blogs, in print and in person.
And so bystanders watched all of this and shook their heads in dismay . . . “religion always divides” became the summary statement.
This is why I wrote a book called “No Argument for God” which is a novel way of engaging skeptics and atheists from the other side of reason (think Kant). I start off agreeing with those that would argue that faith is nonsense. Yes, creation from nothing, the presence of evil, a worldwide salvation plan that targets a small Bedouin tribe and a virgin teenager as well as someone being fully God and fully human are all outside reason. So yes, we have a faith that is not rational – but when did it ever claim to be?
If you look at the Old Testament you cannot help but notice that God purposefully thwarts the ‘wisdom’ of man. In the New Testament you have the same idea – God doesn’t just operate by nature outside the realm of reason, but by choice. The apparent purpose is so that God can hide these things from the wise and the learned. Which got me thinking . . . Why are we trying to make it ‘make sense?’
And on that note – what is reason other than a gift that God has given us to draw conclusions about the way things function based on passive observation? We get this strange notion that reason is embedded in the universe somewhere – that math or physics or astral behavior is encoded with reason and we are ‘discovering’ it. This is not true. We observe the way things act and then we assign arbitrary values on it so that we can draw conclusions or make predictions. We have invented a numbering system based on 10 digits because we have 10 fingers. Seconds come from the span of a heartbeat, liters from a wine bottle and so on. We have projected ourselves onto the universe around us and developed science by human-centered power of reason. And if reason is solely fed by the senses, then reason is a very limited power that cannot possibly answer the deepest questions of our hearts. Whereas science may tell us ‘what’ is out there, it cannot tell us ‘why’ it is there.
So when I say that there is No Argument for God, I am saying:
1. Arguments get us nowhere. It would be nice to imagine that people would be argued into a particular point, but currently, it is verbal trench warfare.
2. Arguments are rooted in the appearance of things – all reason is mediated by the senses and because we know that realism is naïve, we have to arrive at the conclusion that reason is limited, anthrocentric and pragmatic.
3. By agreeing with skeptics that faith is irrational, we are stepping in unison with Paul, essentially saying, “yes, it is crazy, now let me tell you what happened.”
Now of course this doens’t mean we throw reason out the window. What I just mentioned is reasoned – you can’t reason the end of reason. Reason has its place, but it is not the only place in knowing what is true. As a deconstructionist, I want to dismantle the façade of reason as the sole arbiter of truth. In order to do this, I must employ reason. Of course God has his own course of reason – outside the human-centered version. As such there is theological reason and there is scientific reason. My book seeks to dismantle the idea that human-centered reason is the final word on what is and what is not true.
Please read the first comment regarding ground rules before you enter into the discussion.