Mark Middleberg On The Evidential Path to Faith: "Truth is What Logic and Evidence Point To"

If there's one thing to be known about about Randal Rauser it's his desire to approach apologetics in new ways, which can be seen in his essay, The Top 5 Problems with Contemporary Apologetics. I think what Rauser is looking for can be found, to a large degree, in Mark Middleberg's book, Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Belief. Middleberg doesn't just regurgitate the methods of apologetics, (i.e., evidentialism, classical, presup...), and he's not in debate mode. Instead, he writes in a winsome conversational manner. He even shares his personal story. However, Middleberg seems to be a tribalist, and he's definately a fundamentalist, something Rauser is against. Anyway, 3 out of 5 ain't bad! Even though I disagree vehemently with Middelberg, I find him to be refreshing.

In chapter eight Middleberg defends logic and evidence as a means to gain a confident faith. He argues for the judicial standard of proving one's faith "beyond a reasonable doubt." I have no disagreement with him on the use of logic and evidence. It best describes an agnostic, an atheist, who has no faith. That agreement aside, if logic and evidence lead us to truth then faith is superfluous, unnecessary, and even contrary to the goal of truth. It hinders truth-seeking at every step along the way, based largely on one's religious indoctrination in a given tribal culture.

Then in chapter nine Middleberg sums up Part 1 of his book. In that chapter he defends logic and evidence over the other "paths of faith." There we read the progression of his apologetics:
1) "Use logic and evidence to test truth claims, including the claim that the Bible is God's revelation."
2) "Discover that the Bible alone passes the tests of truth--and accept it as the central authority for your life."
3) "Then use the teaching of the Bible to measure and test all other truth claims by making sound conclusions." (p. 149)
Again, I have no disagreement with him on the use of logic and evidence to test truth claims. But if he does that in step one, it will end his quest to discover truth in the Bible. Let's just consider Richard Carrier's excellent case against a solar eclipse at the death of Jesus. Start there, okay?

The Bogeyman of Scientism.

While Middleberg agrees with the need for logic and evidence, he is against scientism, which he describes as "The belief that the scientific method is the only method for discovering truth" which by definition means, "God and all other things spiritual are ruled out, in advance, from even being considered." (p. 139) He says, "this is the pinnacle of closed-mindedness," and additionally that it "fails by its own standard" because it "cannot be proven scientifically." By contrast he argues we "must remain open to all the possible answers to the biggest and most profound questions of our day." (p. 142-144).

I've already documented Mittelberg's low view of science at the end of an earlier post of mine.

Christian apologists declare their faith victorious because atheists and skeptics think science can test everything, which is a self-refuting claim they argue. But it’s only a self-refuting claim if we say we’re certain science can test everything. For if we leave room for reasonable doubt then it’s not self-defeating to say science can probably test everything, or even that science can test almost everything. For otherwise, how can we test whether or not science can test everything? What kind of experiment could test that? It wouldn’t be an empirical one, as far as we can speculate. Such a conclusion must come from probabilistic reasoning. So I admit there is at least one claim that cannot be tested by empirical science. I don’t know how many others there are, nor does anyone else, but there are probably a few more. What does it feel like to be a bat? What are the contents of someone's subconscious mind? What does an empirical investigation of an event in the historical past tell us? Science probably can't perform tests to answer those questions, at least, I find it hard to think it can. But maybe in the future scientists will be able to do so, by creating a virtual reality bat-like simulator, or finding a way to know the contents of subconscious minds, or by time-travel back into the past. Some say empirical science cannot test conceptual questions like whether or not square circles can exist, for they are known merely by reflecting on the terms involved. But this just means some questions can be answered independently of science. It doesn’t mean science cannot answer them. Scientists can always try making such an object!

Mittelberg discusses skepticism and the trustworthiness of historical knowledge in chapter eight. His answer to historical skepticism is that historians are the ones "who helped to straighten out the historical record", that "it is often the further application of the same disipline that brings us the more accurate answers." (p. 136). But if this applies to historians then surely he should see it equally applies to scientists. Almost by definition science is a self-corrective discipline. Scientists are always double-checking on the previous work of other scientists, since that's what they do. So if any scientific conclusions are to be over-turned they will over-turned by other scienists.

Since the requirement for logic and reason should be taken for granted by anyone who thinks and reasons, the only distinction that matters is between evidential reasoning and non-evidential reasoning, that is, reasoning based on objective evidence and reasoning based on insufficient objective evidence (or none at all). So evidence, objective evidence, is paramount. The more of it the better. Beliefs that are based on insufficient evidence about the nature of nature, its workings, and/or its origins are to be rejected. The conclusions we accept must be based on the strength of the evidence. Period.

Other resources on scientism:

My blog essay Enough of This Utter Nonsense, On Knowing the Supernatural.

My blog essay Don't Be Close-Minded to Science in my anthology Christianity in the Light of Science.

Evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne.

British philosopher Stephen Law essay Scientism!

Stephen Law podcast LINK.

Maarten Boudry's 320 page book, Science Unlimited?: The Challenges of Scientism, is an important one.

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John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. Thank you so much!

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