Monday, July 16, 2012

Is Christianity Intellectually Defensible?

Twenty five years ago I tried to share the gospel with a business friend. He politely responded that, given all the evil in the world, he could not possibly believe in a good God. This was the first time that I was confronted with the problem of evil, and I didn't know how to answer him.

I Just finished a delightful new book titled A Shot of Faith to the Head by Dr. Mitch Stokes. Had I read it thirty years ago, I would have had an intelligent, unanswerable response to my my friend.

The author received his doctorate in philosophy at Notre Dame under tutelage of the world's foremost Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga. He now teaches at New Saint Andrews in Moscow, Idaho. Plantinga's thought has single-handedly turned many secular departments of philosophy into bations of theism. This book gives the layman a clear, easy to understand, tour of Plantinga's thought.

Stokes devotes the first third  to foundational ideas. Then he attacks two of the "new atheists" major "defeaters" of the Christian worldview.  The first is the conflict between religion and science. Stokes shows that there really is no conflict. Science does not disprove theism. Rather, science, properly understood,  aggresively points to the evidence of a designer.

The last third of the book tackles the problem of evil. The problem of evil suggests that, because their is evil, pain, and suffering in the world, God can't be both good and soveriegn.  Therefore, God must be either good but not sovereign, i.e. he cannot stop evil. Or, he is sovereign but not good. He can stop evil, but he does not choose to do so.

Stokes first answer is the cross. What if evil turns out to be inherently productive? What if ultimately, the good that comes from evil turns out to greatly outweight the pain and suffering? That must be true. Why? Because God sent his Son into the world to endure incomprehensible suffering. He did it to acheive a greater good than there would have existed without that suffering.

In addition, if there is no God there cannot possibly be any such thing as either "good" or "evil," and without "evil" the problem of evil disappears. Stokes shows that atheists cannot argue for the existence of evil from their world-view.

In fact, Stokes conclude, it is atheism, not theism, that is irrational. “The notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, in the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards—of which there must be many—their worldview would entirely collapse. And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape.” Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are. But if the Christian story is true, then there is such a thing as irrationality. And as we saw, those who don’t believe in God are suffering from it.”  [1]

I reccomend this book highly.

[1] Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith to the Head, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012) Kindle Edition, location 3629


  1. Ravi Zacharias has an interesting approach to the question, "If there is a God, how can there be so much evil in the world?" It goes something like:
    1. If you assume that there is such a thing as good, aren't you assuming that there is such a thing as evil ?
    2. If you assume that there is good and there is evil, aren't you assuming that there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil ?
    3. If you posit such a thing as a moral law, you must posit such a thing as a moral law giver.
    4. However that is what you are trying to disprove.
    5. Now, if there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law.
    6. If there is no moral law, there is no good.
    7. If there is no good, there is no evil. What is your question ?
    Point 3 is a bit of a problem to some people but it must be remembered that a moral law that applies to all must come from a source external to ourselves otherwise it is not a moral law valid to all which is necessary to provide a basis for the orignal question.

    1. There is a problem with this because someone could simply say that the society established what good and evil. It wouldn't assure the need of one external moral law giver.

  2. Good post, but please read through it again and fix some of the typos...

  3. Chad: Thanks for your critique. However, please have mercy on the typos. Don't have time to spend hours correcting copy.

  4. Edward Webber2/12/13, 7:06 AM

    A widely held agreement is not the same as a law in science. You commit a tired ambiguity fallacy. If your example were to be read as stated there would, nor could, be any federal laws, as humans would be incapable of enacting their own laws. Yet we do, because morality is what we agree it is not what some on high says it is. What is moral in the USA may not be moral in Sudan.

    As for "absolute standards ".. It's in quotes for a reason, because it's a nonsense phrase. A standard only becomes a standard when it is widely utilized. It was once the standard for priests to own a concubine. Does that mean it should always be the case? Any rational person is able to see how standards evolve over time.

    As for atheism being the irrational stance.. following that logic would require every disbelief to be irrational. Say hello to the tooth fairy and Santa Claus when you see them, as not believing in them must also be irrational. In fact, say hello to Zeus, Osiris, Apollo, Ra and every other deity ever dreamed up as well, seeing as disbelief in those must also be irrational.

    It all comes down to the same point, until there is positive evidence there is no rational reason to believe a claim. Arguments from ignorance do nothing but highlight ignorance, they don't create new knowledge.

    You would do well to educate yourself in logic and logical fallacies, as without such knowledge you are doomed to believe everything presented to you, no matter how silly and harmful.


  5. Edward:

    Do deeply appreciate your thoughts, but they don't make sense. Sorry. Help me out...