Here’s a wonderful paragraph that I read in the book: The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism:
[Editor’s Note: this paragraph appears on page 155 of the book, and refers back to much of the previously stated text.] The case for the resurrection of Christ doesn’t exist in a vacuum, then; it presupposes this philosophical background. For without that philosophical background in place, the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection might seem inconclusive at best, since any miracle will obviously seem less likely a priori if you don’t already know that there is a God who might produce one. But when interpreted in light of that background as it should be, the evidence for Christ’s resurrection can be seen to be overwhelming. That, at any rate, is what the mainstream Christian theological tradition has always claimed. And if it is overwhelming, then there are by the same token conclusive rational grounds for believing what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified. The overall chain of argument, then, goes something like this: Pure reason proves through philosophical arguments that there is a God and that we have immortal souls. This by itself entails that a miracle like a resurrection from the dead is possible. Now the historical evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead is overwhelming when interpreted in light of that background knowledge. Hence pure reason also shows that Jesus really was raised from the dead. But Jesus claimed to be divine, and claimed that the authority of his teaching would be confirmed by His being resurrected. So the fact that He was resurrected provides divine authentication of His claims. Hence reason shows that He really was divine. But He was also obviously distinct from the Father to whom He prayed and the Holy Spirit whom He sent. Since this entails the doctrine of the Trinity, reason shows that doctrine must be true as well. And so forth. At every step, evidence and rational argumentation — not “blind faith” or a “will to believe” — are taken to justify our acceptance of certain teachings. Of course some of those teachings are taken on the basis of authority, but the point is that the trustworthiness of that authority is something that, it is claimed, can be established by reason. We can know that such-and-such a teaching is true because Christ taught it; we can know that He is an authority to be trusted because His miraculous resurrection puts a divine seal of approval on what He said, including His claim to be divine, and a divine being cannot be in error; we can know that He really was resurrected because of such-and-such historical evidence together with our background knowledge that God exists and that the soul is immortal; we can know that God exists and that the soul is immortal because of such-and-such philosophical proofs; and so on. Every link in the chain is supported by arguments.
Here are some nuggets from this delightful summation of what the book’s author, Edward Feser, has written:
- …any miracle will obviously seem less likely a priori if you don’t already know that there is a God who might produce one.
Yep. Nicely said. If you believe in miracles, you need to be able to say also that you believe in Someone who might produce such a miracle. It’s not like what I’ve occasionally mischaracterized as the “Miracle of the Rain.”(1) In sum: the odds against any one raindrop hitting you are astronomically high, yet in any rainstorm you get soaked if you walk out in it. That was my attempt to convince others that people shouldn’t be skeptical of the occurrence of things and events whose occurrence or existence are unlikely in the extreme. Such things are actually extremely common.
- And if it [the evidence for Jesus Christ’s resurrection] is overwhelming, then there are by the same token conclusive rational grounds for believing what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified. [red emphasis added]
Or as we’ve said it numerous times: The belief that there there is not a God is deeply unscientific, even anti-scientific. Because science — real science — is supposed to be based upon rationality. And: Since science has never disproven the existence of God, then to profess that God doesn’t exist is, by definition, an act of faith. For where an honest scientist must conclude that science has clearly demonstrated its limitation, the atheist who claims to embrace science for his conclusions must, therefore, commit an act of faith to conclude what science is unable to show.
- …we can know that He really was resurrected because of such-and-such historical evidence together with our background knowledge that God exists.
Again, the basis of rational argumentation providing the foundation for a rational belief in God and in the miracles that show that the God of Christianity is He who created the universe. Not just any old deity.
There is a very rational, reasonable question: “why is there anything, and not nothing?”
It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and it’s posed because we observe that there is something.
Already, you, the skeptic, are saying: “But our observations can be faulty.” Indeed, but the observation that there is something is common to every person who has ever existed. Why do I say that? Simple: every person who has ever existed has acted as if he assumes that he exists. If, for example, you believe fervently that you don’t exist, why should you go to work, why should you eat, why wear a warm jacket in the cold, why do anything at all except lie on the ground somewhere and wait for your autonomic functions finally cease?
We can therefore conclude, quite reasonably and rationally, that the belief in our own existence is the basis for all other reasoning. An assumption, if you will, whose opposite, if you were to argue it, renders the possibility of any further discussion of anything null and void. What’s the point, after all, of discussing anything with someone whose base premise is that nothing, including himself, exists? The moment he argues with you, is the moment he either #1 admits that he’s lying about his core belief, or #2 disproves his own core belief.
Feser draws from Aristotle’s thoughts, as built upon by Aquinas. He finds persuasive the Aristotelian notion that we do exist, and that our existence has purpose, and that such purpose doesn’t simply appear, it must come from, for lack of a better term, a purpose giver, and again notes that if we don’t exist then — as Pascal might say — oh well.(2)
It’s a wonderful book, and entertainingly written for being on kind of a lofty topic. In it, Feser gleefully skewers those like Richard Dawkins, who argue that the Earth would be like heaven if only there were no belief in God.
When asked in an interview what the world might be like of children were raised without religion, he [Dawkins] answered, “‘It would be paradise on earth… a world ruled by enlightened rationality… a much better chance of no more war… less hatred…,” indeed even “less waste of time…” … That Dawkins is capable of spouting such tosh should be enough to discredit him with all serious people, including serious atheists.
And more. As you can probably tell, I recommend this book highly. You can obtain it here.
Faith and reason are not conflicting things, but rather each fundamentally supports the other.
(1) Important: I use the example of my so-called “Miracle of the Rain” merely to demonstrate that occurrences that seem, by themselves, to be astronomically improbable occur all the time. In fact, they’re probably the most common occurrence there is, since all occurrences of all events and things are incomprehensibly unlikely.
In fact, if you drill down a bit deeper and imagine the odds against the coming together of all those atoms and molecules that currently comprise you, or that tree over there, or your cat, or that rock, goose, stream, car, etc… the numbers are incomprehensible. None of those things are remotely possible — the odds against those particular things coming together are vastly, astronomically too high — yet there they are, and we look upon these things with the most blasé of expressions. Sometimes even of annoyance, as, say, one particular car coming toward us strays too close to the center line, or some such.
Someone once said that every breath you take contains molecules that were once breathed by Jesus Christ Himself. And it’s true.
Why, then, should we be surprised that there might be miracles. Miracles are, after all, things that seem only wildly improbable. But, really, they’re only as improbable as, say… you.
(2) Important Note: Feser’s book doesn’t mention Pascal’s argument that if you believe in God and are wrong, then you have lost nothing, but if you don’t believe in God and are wrong, then you’ve lost everything. I suspect Feser would find it an interesting, if not particularly useful, statement of the obvious. Needless to say, Pascal said more than that about belief in God.