Christianity and Circular Reasoning

By Dawson Bethrick

 

The following letter was sent to the webmaster of the Who Is Jesus? website in response to an article located at the following address:

http://www.jesuswho.org/resources/toughquestions/tq6/default.htm

I have published my letter here on Katholon for readers to consider.

 

 

Dear Webmaster,

I stumbled upon one of your articles this morning and read it with great amazement. The title of the article is What if Christians are guilty of circular reasoning?

Apparently this article is supposed to answer questions (the subtitle of the section in which this article appears is "Answers to Tough Questions"), even though the essay closes with a number of questions which, presumably, the reader is supposed to answer. It is the questions in the final paragraph that have prompted me to write to you, for in thinking about them they've given me some questions.

The final paragraph states the following:

On the other hand, if faced with such evidence you continue to create reasons not to believe, are you guilty of your own circular reasoning? This begins with an attitude, "The Bible cannot be true!" Then, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, one develops reasons not to believe. Are you being intellectually dishonest with yourself and others? Further, what fear is motivating you to turn from facing the truth about Christ? What do you fear giving up?

To address these questions, I must refer to earlier portions of the essay. What strikes me immediately here is that the author of the essay seems to be treating the claims made in the bible as evidence for their supposed truth. For just three paragraphs before the closing paragraph, the author writes "we examine the evidence for the resurrection contained in this historic document and find that the arguments overwhelmingly support the contention that Christ has risen from the dead." This is a blatant confusion: it treats as "evidence" the very claims which are called to be proved, namely: that there was a man in 1st century Palestine named Jesus who was born of a virgin, performed miracles, healed the sick just by touching (or curing blindness by spitting into their eyes), was put to death by crucifixion and a couple days later was resurrected from the dead. The bible claims that these things happened, but to use those claims as their own proof is clearly circular. If this is how Christians try to validate their religious beliefs, it's no wonder why they are accused of begging the question. So the question leading the last paragraph of the essay should be corrected to read: "If faced with the fact that Christians confuse the claims of the bible for evidence supporting those claims, aren't skeptics justified in recognizing that Christians are guilty of circular reasoning?"

The author of the essay does the reader a bit of service by providing evidence to support the charge of circular reasoning. He writes:

Jesus considered the Old Testament to be the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-4; 5:17-18). Furthermore, He promised His disciples, who either wrote or had control over the writing of the New Testament books, that the Holy Spirit would bring all things back to their remembrance (John 14:26). Therefore, we can insist, with sound and accurate logic, that the Bible is Godís Word.

This paragraph should be corrected to read as follows (if circularity is to be avoided):

It is claimed in the bible that Jesus considered the Old Testament to be the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-4; 5:17-18). Furthermore, it is also claimed in the bible that He promised His disciples, who either wrote or had control over the writing of the New Testament books, that the Holy Spirit would bring all things back to their remembrance (John 14:26). Therefore, skeptics who are asked to believe these claims should insist, and rightly so, that believers present good (i.e., non-circular) arguments for their claim that the contents of the bible are true.

If truth is one's concern, I don't see how anyone would have a problem with this suggested revision.

Next, the author wrote:

This is not circular reasoning. It is establishing certain facts and basing conclusions on the sound, logical outcome of these facts. The case for Christianity can be established by ordinary means of historical investigation.

Here are some questions which immediately come to mind:

  1. What "certain facts" were established, and by what means were they established? Please show your work. (Caution: watch the circular reasoning!)
  2. What are the "ordinary means of historical investigation," and are they conducted without prejudice (i.e., without the contamination of a confessional investment) in order to render an objective analysis? For instance, how do the "ordinary means of historical investigation" establish that a man in 1st century Palestine was born of a virgin (as claimed in the bible), while at the same time those same means fail to establish that the miracles attributed to Doaist adepts by more than 1500 Daoist texts dating from prior to the Current Era actually happened as claimed in those texts? (See The Christ of Daoist Alchemy) Claiming that there are more copies of the New Testament in existence than of the Daoist literature, even if true, is unproductive: the number of copies of a text does not serve to establish or refute the truth value of the claims made in those texts. Nor does the supposed accuracy of copies of earlier documents tell us whether their content is true or the result of legendary development. I have known several former Christians who, while believers, made serious attempt to answer such questions as this... and now they are former Christians.

Returning to the final paragraph, the author writes:

This begins with an attitude, "The Bible cannot be true!"

Similarly, it appears that the Christian begins with a comparable attitude: "The Bible cannot fail to be true!" This attitude has a name: "faith." It is, as Richard Robinson described, "the determination to believe that a god exists no matter what the evidence suggests" (paraphrased; _An Atheist's Values_, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964), p. 118).

The author then writes:

Then, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, one develops reasons not to believe.

Suggested correction: "Then, in spite of the overwhelming lack of supporting evidence, one conjures up pseudo-reasons to rationalize belief."

The author then asks following question:

Are you being intellectually dishonest with yourself and others?

To be sure, I would have to be dishonest to myself if I wanted to claim that a god exists. All the arguments for the existence of a god which I have examined have been shown to be unsound. Moreover, the descriptions of god claimed by those who say it exists cannot be integrated with the sum of knowledge which I have validated without contradicting it. Is it desired by the Christian that I accept the claim that there is a god even though a) I would have to be dishonest to myself, and b) the claim that a god exists contradicts what I do know?

The author seems to think that the non-believer's non-belief in the Christian belief program is motivated by "fear." For he asks:

Further, what fear is motivating you to turn from facing the truth about Christ?

I can only speak for myself (though the author seems to want to speak for me). Indeed, it is not fear which compels me to judge the Christian religion wholly invalid. Rather, it is my commitment to Reason which compels this, given the knowledge that I do have.

The author closes with the final question:

What do you fear giving up?

What do I fear giving up? What specifically am I being asked to give up? I will not give up my honesty, nor will I give up my commitment to Reason. Is there something else which Christianity wants me to give up in addition to these?

Your answers to these "tough questions" would be most appreciated.

Best regards,

Dawson Bethrick

sortion@hotmail.com

Back to Katholon