The Christian Illusion of Rational Superiority

Many Christians assume a certain kind of rational superiority over any other system of belief and thought, especially atheism. According to them, their beliefs are rationally superior in the sense that Christianity wins hands down in the marketplace of ideas. They claim that a compelling case can be made for believing in Christianity over any other system of belief and thought.

This way of thinking about the Christian faith is due to what my friend and Christian scholar, Dr. James Sennett calls, “The Illusion of Rational Superiority,” in his forthcoming book: This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic.

Dr. James Sennett argues against the idea that people who reject Christianity do so because they are either “ignorant,” “stupid” or “dishonest with the facts.” That is, he argues against the idea that a “fully rational rejection of Christianity is impossible.” Dr. Sennett calls this objection the Christian “Illusion of Rational Superiority." It's simply an illusion, he claims. [Although, as a Christian philosopher he argues it is an unnecessary illusion due to the fact that even though he has a reasonable faith, it is “not rationally compelling to all.”]

As an example of this illusion, Sennett quotes from Bill Bright, the late founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, who wrote: “During my fifty-five years of sharing the good news of the Savior … I have met very few individuals who have honestly considered the evidence and yet deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of men. To me, the evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker after truth.”

As another milder example of this illusion, I want you to consider Os Guinness’s book, titled: In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It (IVP, 1976) Guinness discusses the main reasons why people, including Christians themselves, have doubts about Christianity: there is doubt from a faulty view of God; doubt from weak (intellectual) foundations; doubt from a lack of commitment; doubt from lack of growth; doubt from unruly emotions; doubt from fearing to believe; doubt from insistent inquisitiveness; and doubt from impatience or giving up.

Since Guinness was arguing on behalf of his Christian faith, he doesn’t mention one other reason to doubt: doubt from a lack of adequate reasons. And he fails to note that in the above list of reasons to doubt one could just as well reverse them: believing from the need to be grateful to someone; believing from the need for a God; believing from weak (intellectual) foundations; believing from the need to be committed; believing in hopes of personal growth; believing because of unruly emotions; believing because of the fear of doubting; believing from not being inquisitive enough; and believing from giving up too soon. While Guiness isn’t as blatant as others about this, we still find it here with him. There are some very solid reasons to believe, we’re told, so if you doubt, it’s because of some fault within you.

But Sennett argues that the Christian cannot overlook “one simple but powerful fact: most of the truly brilliant, deepest thinking, most profoundly influential movers and shakers of the last two hundred years have not been Christians. Neither Albert Einstein nor Bertrand Russell nor Sigmund Freud nor Stephen Hawking nor Karl Marx professed Jesus as lord. And the list goes on. To suggest that these people failed to believe because of ignorance or some rational defect is ludicrous.” [Of course, the illusion runs both ways, Sennett claims. There is no rational superiority for unbelief, either. Atheist Thomas Nagel is quoted as saying he was made uneasy “by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.”]

Sennett informs us that “if there is one lesson that modern epistemology has taught us, it is that almost nothing is as rationally certain as 'the illusion' claims Christianity to be. In other words, almost nothing is so obvious that one could never rationally reject it.” Furthermore, it seems possible that “one could rationally deny almost any claim, even if that claim is true.” There are plenty of philosophical reasons for Sennett’s argument, and many historical examples. The fact is, many scholars have indeed examined the historical evidence for Christianity and they regard that evidence as flawed.

This Blog will present a strong case against this illusion. It’s simply an illusion that Christians have a rationally superior faith. I hope to further demonstrate that Christianity is actually the opposite. It is rationally inferior.


Anonymous said...

Good post. The fact remains childhood indoctrination is a tough thing for many to overcome.

I personally have never heard the people who don't believe are rationally inferior argument. Quite the opposite actually most people I've met argue that of course religion is irrational and illogical-thats why they call it faith.

Never once have I heard people aren't rational for being atheist. But it's a big world.

Anonymous said...

I was going to make the same point as the first comment. Most of the Christian intellectual work that I've encountered was aimed at showing that Christianity is reasonable, not that it is beyond doubt or debate, or that Christians are "smarter" than unbelievers. I've found it much more common to find atheists or agnostics who are looking down their noses at those who believe, who believe that belief is a sign of intellectual inferiority or childishness. Indeed, my impression is that a lot of outspoken atheists/agnostics think they have arrived intellectually by shunning belief in God. So for my part, we can save some time. I'll grant that you have a substantial IQ and that you have thought about the subject matter a lot. I'll grant that you have rational parity with the believers of the world! Still, we differ in our ontology don't we?

Bruce said...

Nice read. I would tend to agree. Nothing is more arrogant to me than some born again nutcase telling me they will pray for my soul. Or that they somehow know something I don't.

I do believe in faith hope and love as being important forces to make oneself happy. I just think they work regardless of who you believe in. Personally, I believe I am God. The reason? Well, to the best of my knowlege I am the only one I REALLY know for sure exists (through my senses, and thought experience). Without me, you wouldn't exist--according to me which is the only thing that matters cuz we live and die alone.

Anyways, isn't science coming to some of these almost metaphysical ideas through the study of subatomic particles? Energy is GOD to science. It makes sense really, it is infinite and cannot be created or destroyed.

The problem with most people is they can't percieve something with no beginning or end. Everything and Nothing at the same time.

I was recently in Taiwan. Most of the people there are Taoists. Many beautiful temples all over. My point is that they are from a different part of the world where Christianity is not that big. They could care less about it. They exist on this Earth too, and a Christian would argue that somehow they are wrong?? That is so dumb, coming from people who believe a book written when they thought the Earth was flat.

I would love to see one of those people's faces if you told them they were getting an operation, but the prodedure was going to be done the way they did it 2000 years ago. Somehow I think thier faith would run out..

So why do people still believe in a book that was written by ignorant men? Dogma, indoctrination. Without this at an early age, the liklihood that a person would adopt these veiwpoints later in life are very slim.

I am sorry but I have never talked to a Christian that could back anything up. None of them know how to debate, thats why they actually get coached by people on what to say to a skeptic.

But even still, they never have answers for even the most basic questions like, "what happened to all the Jewish children who died in the Holocaust?" I mean we all know they went to Hell right? I mean according to the Bible.

Also what about this:

"Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved." Jesus

Seems very convenient he doesn't scorn slavery but yet tells slaves to remain meek to their masters. I wonder if thats why so many Christians owned slaves for 400 years in the southern US??

Nobody ever mentions the idea that religion and politics were intertwined from day one. They don't think that influenced the Bible--the most influential book of all time??

Hmmn, that would be a first. But they would rather think that the Bible is truly the word of God and that Man obeyed him and wrote every single word. And that the Church was never corrupt or out of control with its contradictory policies...

The US is in trouble if we keep churning out these people. The rest of the modern world thinks we are a bunch of religious weirdos. Not to mention that we have somehow managed to mix church with state AGAIN! Something we were taught from a young age that the original settlers tried to AVOID...