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A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial

Objectivist philosopher Andrew Bernstein accused Christianity of rejecting reason in his recent debate with apologist Dinesh D'Souza.

Walter Hudson


February 14, 2013 - 7:00 am
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Last Week’s article: 5 Common Accusations Leveled at Christianity

Christianity is profoundly bad. So argued philosophy professor Dr. Andrew Bernstein in a recent debate sponsored by The Objective Standard and the University of Texas Objectivism Society. Countering Bernstein was Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza. They discussed whether Christianity is “good or bad for mankind.”

They spent a majority of their time debating more fundamental philosophical questions. What is the nature of reality? Does God exist? What is the proper source of morality? While many attendees commenting during the livestream chat saw these questions as diversions from the advertised topic, they were actually the crux of the matter. In order to discern whether Christianity is good or bad for mankind, “good” must first be defined.

Bernstein primarily accused Christianity of being irrational. To be irrational is to be immoral according to Objectivism, a philosophy advocated by Bernstein and best articulated by Ayn Rand in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. As Rand saw it, a proper morality arises only from the application of reason. Rand saw any assertion of faith as a rejection of reason. By parsing through Bernstein’s points, we examine not only whether Christianity is a fool’s errand, but whether faith of any kind is profoundly bad.

We begin at the foundation by first asking what we know and how we know it. Those questions are answered in the branch of philosophy known as epistemology. Objectivism holds that reason is the only means toward acquiring knowledge. In her essay Philosophy: Who Needs It? Rand argues:

Reason is the faculty which… identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.

Objectivist author William R. Thomas explains further:

The basis of our knowledge is the awareness we have through our physical senses. We see reality, hear it, taste it, smell it, feel it through touch. As babies, we discover the world through our senses. As our mental abilities develop, we become able to recall memories and we can form images in our minds.

Strict adherence to this means of acquiring knowledge precludes entertaining the supernatural. Like all religion, Christianity is a faith-based belief system which Objectivism rejects as nonsense.

How may Christians answer this view of knowledge? If the object of philosophy is to understand reality and access the whole truth of existence, then objectivist epistemology has an obvious limitation. Surely, applying logic to our perceptions is a solid method for discerning what is true. However, the amount of truth we can know through that process is capped by our perception.

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Again, Bernstein's failure to articulate anything more than a riualistic approach to Objectivism in his debate is going to hurt the philosophy for a long time. He should admit his failure and retire.

Then, going to epistemology which you correctly identify as the crux of philosophy (along with the metaphyiscs upon which it is founded), a blind man can be given plenty of evidence about the existence of the color red that would allow him to effectively conceptualize it. Just like I can be given plenty of information about an atom to conceptualize it even though I may not ever see one in person.

This basically completely destroys your argument. But I will continue.

You said: "Consent lies at the heart of the Christian life, consent to an offer of salvation through grace, and consent to obey God’s commandments. It is impossible to spread Christianity by the sword. To the extent men have tried, they have succeeded only in compelling false conversion and distorting what Christianity is."

Uh, no. Christianity was the fountainhead of violence in the West for 1300 years. If you honestly believe that it would have the influence it has today without forced conversions, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Before the Roman legions started spreading your religion on the tips of their spears, it was just another crack pot attempt at explaining the universe by another iron age messiah.

Being a messiah was a very popular method of escaping the daily drudgery of life back then, you know. Sure, you were likely to be executed at some point but, hey, very few people lived past 25 back then. Might as well live it up if you can, right?
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
After the burning of the library we begin again with scraps and fragments and the little that we know.....

Hence, what is the rationality of reason? The faith in what you see and can take for granted as casuality. Reading the entry on wiki for 'reason' you can see that 'reason' cannot account for all the aspects of itself, either by explanation or justification......
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I think therefore I am. I have faith in God therefore I will be.

Oh, and am I the only one around here who is grateful for the Crusaders who fought back the Muslim hordes intent upon subjugating the known world?
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Nope. The Western/White Culture hating Leftists in Acadamia have given us a false narrative on the Crusades as persecution of the poor Muslims who only wanted to practice their "religion of peace".

The Crusades were a morally mixed bag, like almost every major event in human history.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Perhaps I missed the thrust of the argument, but if the discussion is about the rationality of Christianity, both Bernstein and the commentor, Hudson, miss an essential point. For most of Christian history, Faith and Reason were seen as complementary, (Faith seeking understanding- St. Augustine and Understanding seeking faith - St. Thomas) not as contraries. In St. Thomas' case, he believed it was through reason people came to faith (why do you think there are so many catholic institutions of higher learning, and have you ever gotten into a logic argument with a Jesuit?) His Cosmological argument for God is exactly a cause and effect argument positing a First Cause because the universe cannot be eternal because a) it is dependent (at least on a Big Bang, which would preclude the eternal part) and b) because of entropy, for if it were eternal it would have experienced a cold death by now.
St. Augustine's argument is even stronger in that he argues that without God there is no reason! How many random, chaotic, chance, irrational events must transpire before a reliable reason emerges and by what measure do you test it to know that it is a rational intellegence? Intelligence comes from intelligence and so Augustine says he believes so he might understand. By this definition, only believers are rational!
To put it into today's more snarky style, --"you say you believe in reason? What color is it, how much does it weigh, does it speak to you, from where does it come, where is it located, and does it tell you right from wrong? What--- you believe in an unseen force, that speaks to you in your own head that none of the rest of us can see that tells you an objective truth about the universe and morality? You expect us to believe that?"
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
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