I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christian Skepticism?

You’re standing in the check-out line at the grocery when you look over and read the headline, “Woman Gives Birth To Her Own Father!” We naturally doubt many things, some by intuition, like this headline, and some by reason. Right reasoning—acquiring as many true beliefs as possible while avoiding false ones—requires a good dose of skepticism.

This, of course, begs the question, “How are we to distinguish true beliefs from false ones?” This area of study is known as epistemology. Simply put, epistemology asks, How do we know the stuff we think we know? Take away the option of answering, “I just do!” and what is left is epistemology. Consciously or not, everyone has an epistemology; everyone has some final point in his or her thinking made up of basic beliefs that determine which ideas warrant being believed as true and which don’t.

When those skeptical of Christianity announce unargued assumptions like “Well, seeing is believing” or “Science has proven the Bible ain’t true,” etc., their skepticism reflects a very particular epistemology, namely empiricism. Empiricism holds that all our knowledge is reducible to sense experience; truth is verified by the “facts” of physical observations or conclusions from them. Obviously, if one concedes these criteria for defining truth, the objections are daunting.

Impulsively, Christians often feel compelled to try to “prove” their belief in Christ and the Scriptures according to the skeptic’s ultimate epistemological standard of empirical “facts.” However, granting the skeptic’s ultimate—“Seeing is believing”—is to contradict our Ultimate, Who states, “Believing is seeing” (John 11:40). We should not allow the skeptic’s skepticism a free pass.

Sure, science has its place: it helps us get along, cure diseases, predict weather and other phenomena, and leads to helpful technologies. But how does the fact that science functions in these ways crown it as the final standard in matters of ultimate truth?

Further still, if we affirm that the Self-attesting Christ speaking with absolute authority in the Scriptures is the ultimate standard of truth, but we then seek to establish Christ’s authority by means of another authority, we’ve conceded the debate. This is impossible for us, since it would be granting empiricism and human reason the ultimacy that we argue is Christ’s alone. This is to shoot our defense, not in the foot, but the very heart (1 Peter 3:15; Col 2:3—8)!

I suggest, therefore, that we no longer grant the skeptic this free pass. When our Ultimate is contradicted by Worldly Wiseman, we have every reason to be skeptical. If we develop a healthy Christian skepticism, it becomes obvious that the basis for the doubts that unbelieving skeptics challenge our faith with are not “facts” but assumptions taken on an ungrounded faith principle.

Here are a couple reasons why we should be highly skeptical of the skeptic’s empirical methods.

First, the idea that all our knowledge comes through observation isn’t itself something proven by observation. Strictly speaking, we could never know that empiricism were true, since it’s not something we observe. Empiricism is an idea taken on faith before one ever comes to the “facts” of experience. The skeptics’ criteria cannot even meet its own demands of “proof.” Empiricism is ultimately self-refuting.

Closely related is the problem of induction. The grounds for all empirical science is the principle of induction; i.e., that the future will resemble the past. This depends on the world operating with great regularity and constancy; not Chance. When we approach unbelieving epistemologies with deserving skepticism, therefore, we discover that they have no rational, “scientific” answer to the problem that undermines the very foundations of their anti-Christian skepticism.

When asked why the world displays order and regularity, assuming the atheists’ view is correct, one Harvard biologist and atheist evangelist responded, “Regularity is an inherent property of matter.” This not only contradicts much of our understanding about behavior of subatomic particles, it’s to completely beg the question at hand—it’s circular reasoning, it’s assuming the truth of the very thing under question.

Healthy skepticism is good; Christian skepticism is always good. Christian skepticism helps to reveal that what unbelievers challenge the faith with rest solely on illogical, self-refuting ideas and circular reasoning. If, therefore, the unbelieving skeptics should doubt anything, it’s the epistemological foundation that their doubt rests upon—autonomous human reason. When the skeptics want to invoke science and empiricism to discredit the faith, we discover that with their ultimate “They’ve dug a pit in our way, but they have fallen in it themselves” (Ps 57:6; cf. 7:15).

The next time an unbeliever tries to challenge your faith by announcing the slogan, “seeing is believing,” don’t give them a free pass. Christians should be skeptical of unbelieving skepticism, intuitively and rationally; but above all, because it contradicts the ultimate epistemological authority, Jesus Christ!

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