Is This the Normal Christian Life? Part 5

We have seen how various philosophies and mindsets of the times served to erode the Christian’s biblically-based confidence that God wants to be intimate with us. On top of them, after Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection broke onto the scene, many began to think Christianity wasn’t needed even to explain our origins.

However, about 70 years before Darwin, Kant had given science even greater prestige. With his theory of knowledge, Kant thought we cannot know things in themselves (as they really are) but only as they appear to us. He concluded that all knowledge comes by the five senses. So, the “realm” about which we have knowledge is the empirical realm, which science investigates. It has the position of giving us knowledge. While his own views differed somewhat, his legacy is that the things in the realm of things as they really are, apart from our experience, are matters of opinion, preference, and our constructs. These include ethics, religion, and more. Today, we call this divide the “fact-value split,” which has its roots in the earlier primary-secondary qualities distinction.

Now, Darwin’s theory was developed in explicitly naturalistic ways – there are no supernatural, immaterial things; only the natural is real. Thus, we are just bodies without souls. Notice how this view of reality was not that much different than had been accepted previously under the influences of nominalism and mechanical atomism.

In hindsight, evangelicals largely were caught unprepared. They thought good science was a study of fixed laws. Moreover, they did not see a need to integrate science with Scripture due to their belief that Scripture’s veracity was just common sense. However, the definition of science had changed to a study of development. All that evangelicals could say was that evolution was not good science (on the older definition). But, that did not carry much weight in a time in which science enjoyed such success and prestige.

Now, let’s think of the fact-value split’s implications. First, it’s hard to grow deeply as a disciple if you don’t believe that we can have religious knowledge. Second, if ethics and religion are up to us, it will be hard to be convinced that we need to obey God, for sin is up to us too (Gen 3:5). Third, it’s hard to see why we really need to seek Him for wisdom and knowledge when we can have it by science. 

Also, while we preach that Jesus is to be Lord of all of our lives, often we don’t see connections between our “spiritual” lives and the rest (work, fun, finances, politics, etc.) – except maybe ethics. Often, we don’t teach about their integration, except maybe at schools. Moreover, “faith” and knowledge become divorced. Some Christians think it’s a virtue to “just have faith,” being afraid that “knowledge” (from naturalistic science) may undermine our faith.

Naturalism has many implications, too, some of which we have seen earlier. Here, though we preach Jesus arose from the dead, that can become hard to believe, because science tells us otherwise. Maybe that belief becomes just a punt to “faith.” We also say that our souls will be with Jesus when we die, but our confidence can be eroded when science tells us we are just made of matter.

In short, it is hard to trust God and be intimate with Him if these influences have shaped us deeply enough. However, notice again how these claims raised up against the knowledge of God depend upon the philosophies behind them, and not scientific, empirical observation. So much of how people interpret things (creation, e.g.) depends upon their assumptions. So, we should test them, and that is something our MA Apologetics program helps equip you to do.

There remains another key shaping influence to survey, one that also tends to reduce our expectations that God would be intimate and personal with us. I’ll approach it in the upcoming blog.

Scott Smith is keenly interested in our abilities to have knowledge of reality, particularly in the areas of ethics and religion. He also is very interested in the needed ontology to have knowledge. He addresses “constructivism,” the fact-value split, and issues with our being able to have knowledge on the basis of naturalism, postmodernism and nominalism. He also has written on the emergent church, as well as a knowledge argument and the moral argument for God’s existence. Currently, he is working on exposing and addressing the many, even subtle, influences of naturalism on western churches. He also serves as secretary-treasurer for the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Scott Smith has earned a Ph.D. from University of Southern California, M.A., University of Southern California, M.A., Talbot Theological Seminary and a B.A. from California State University, Hayward.

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