Is Atheism Irrational?

The New York Times has begun a series of articles in which journalist and Professor of Philosophy, Gary Gutting, interviews prominent religious thinkers and philosophers.   I am intrigued to see how the series progresses, but this first interview with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is excellent and well worth a read.

There are many aspects to the interview that are worth dwelling on; you will enjoy learning about (and dismissing) the idea of ‘teapot-ism’ and ‘a-moonism’ I’m sure!  But Plantinga’s response to the so-called ‘problem of evil’ is particularly striking.  Asked if the concept of a perfect (divine) being is necessary in an imperfect world, Plantinga responds as follows:

I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.

Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.

Do you want the Christian faith to be true?

Whilst leading a Christianity Explored course recently, I was asked if I believed Christianity to be true because I wanted it to be true.

It’s a good question.  I said that I did indeed want Christianity to be true and that I wasn’t alone in that.  I had a computer nearby and together we watched the short clip below of David Mitchell, an agnostic, explaining why he disliked militant atheism and how he wanted there to be an all-knowing, benevolent God:

Of course, wanting the claims of the Christian faith to be true is only part of the picture.  I do want them to be true, but that doesn’t mean they are.  And, as the Apostle Paul explained to the church in Corinth, the Christian faith is genuinely worthless if it is shown that its claims, most notably of the physical resurrection of Christ, are untrue:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15)

There are many things to which we might point to demonstrate the truthfulness of the Christian message, but the resurrection of Christ remains perhaps the most important event.  Certainly, Jesus himself was concerned to establish the veracity of his resurrection for his first disciples:

3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1)

And when it came to establishing the truth of Christianity, the historical reality of the resurrection was central in the Apostle’s preaching:

29 ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17)

The answer I gave to the question posed in the Christianity Explored group was that, yes, I do want the Christian faith to be true, but, more than that, I am convinced that it is.

 

 

Why You Can Trust the Bible

Here is a useful conversation between Michael Kruger and Mark Mellinger in the US on the Canon of Scripture.  In a very accessible way, they deal with issues such as dating the NT documents, textual criticism (differences between early manuscripts of the NT documents), and ‘self-authentification’.  Thanks to the Gospel Coalition for making this video available.

Why You Can Rely On the Canon from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.