It’s not at all controversial to suggest that, if you’re going to create something, it should achieve the purpose for which it is intended when you set out to create it. This holds true whether you’re talking about airplanes, software, bowling balls or chairs. A chair needs to hold your weight, or else it isn’t worth sitting on. If software doesn’t provide the functionality you’re looking for, it gets uninstalled. No one is going to buy a ticket to get on a plane that doesn’t fly. The principle also holds true for faith systems. A true faith system should work in a way that significantly outshines all of the other options because it is true; it reflects and coincides with reality in a way that none of the alternatives do. It should do everything it claims to do. It should answer the important questions in a satisfactory manner. It should provide what it claims to provide. If it doesn’t do that, then it should be thrown out like a square bowling ball.
So what then does a faith system need to do? What answers does it need to provide?
There are many ways to formulate and categorize these questions. In his book, The Universe Next Door, James W. Sire presents seven specific questions that every worldview must answer, covering things like the nature of the external world, the nature of what he calls “Prime Reality”, morality and consciousness. Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace, presents only three: How did we get here, why is everything so messed up, and how do we fix it? Both approaches are valid, I think, since Sire’s approach is more academic and concerned with what is required for something to qualify as a “complete” worldview, whereas Wallace’s approach is intended for popular audiences and personal apologetics. Not many people are going to discuss the nature of “Prime Reality” in a conversation on the street, but we will talk about the existence of God and the fallen nature of humanity.
Since I’m pretending to be a scholar, I’m going to go with Sire’s approach. His questions are these:
As an example, we’ll run these questions through both traditional Christianity and atheism.
According to Christianity:
According to atheism:
For the sake of clarity, this view of atheism is the standard Neo-Darwinian, naturalistic, deterministic view of atheism championed by the so-called “New Atheists”. We could call it the “Richard Dawkins” brand of atheism.
I want to point out some of the problems with the atheistic worldview that I’ve laid out above:
I want to be clear that many of the objections I’ve laid out above cannot be considered “evidences” against atheism in any significant way. “Human experience” and “instinctive understandings” are not exactly scientific. However, they do show ways in which atheism as a worldview does not fully make sense of the data. In contrast, I believe that objections (1) and (5) do represent significant problems rather than just insufficiencies. These also don’t even account for things that, on atheism, should be impossible. Miracles, near-death or out-of-body experiences from multiple religions are well documented and too commonplace to simply write off as hallucinations, fabrications or delusions.
It’s worth noting that there are many atheists of many different stripes who will affirm concepts typically reserved for a theistic world view, such as the existence of souls or the existence of objective morals and duties. I believe that these atheists are being inconsistent, and that brings me to my last criterion which I will address next time.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.