The Limits of Apologetics and Reasonable Faith


The Limits of Apologetics

Can the Christian Faith be "proven"?

The Christian apologist, and especially those of the Catholic Faith, can only demonstrate that beliefs are reasonable and show why the objections against them are unreasonable. However, it cannot be proven by reason that articles of Faith are true.

The reason (no pun intended) for this is that doctrines of the Christian Faith are revealed by God, and as such, cannot be proven by reason, but can only be shown to be reasonable. Debates between Protestants and Catholics, in particular, can be kept in the proper perspective if this thought is kept in mind. Even if a Catholic might agree on what the Bible is with a Sola Scriptura Christian, the Catholic cannot "prove" the total necessity of Catholic doctrines, since they are not founded on the Bible alone. If a non-Catholic Christian accepts the scope of divine Revelation that the Catholic does, which not only includes Scripture, but also Tradition, with the Magisterium as the teacher, then perhaps the Catholic can prove with satisfaction why dogmatic Catholic distinctives must be believed to be a good Christian.

Since those who have a Sola Scriptura hermeneutic do not accept Tradition and the Magisterium, before it can be shown that the Immaculate Conception, for example, is necessary to be believed, the Catholic must first show why the claims of Catholic authority are reasonable. While justifying the Immaculate Conception based on an appeal to the Magisterium can save time, it would appear fallacious to one who uses Sola Scriptura. Thus, apart from showing the reasonableness of believing in Catholic authority, it is only possible to show why the belief in the Immaculate Conception and all other Catholic doctrines are reasonable and are not in contradiction to the Bible, which alone is accepted by those who employ the standard of Sola Scriptura.

It is not a waste of time, however, if the Catholic can only show why Catholic beliefs are reasonable.

Reason and Faith do not conflict, and while reason cannot prove the articles of faith, reason is able to bring one to the point where one could see that belief is not an irrational decision.

As Peter Kreeft writes, the arguments in favor of Christianity and Catholicism, in particular, can lead one to the water's edge, but Faith is necessary to jump into the the sea of God.

This might be uncompelling to non-Catholics, but compelling non-Catholics to believe why the Bible "proves" the Catholic faith is not the immediate goal of a Catholic apologist, if proving the Faith can be done at all. The Catholic faith can only be shown to be reasonable, and that once it is captured with Faith, the theological necessity of what Catholics believe can be understood.

The Integrality of Evidence in a Faith that is Reasonable

When dialoguing with non-Christians, a Christian apologist may encounter individuals who place the primacy of an internal witness or subjective feeling over external, objective evidence. For example, a non-Christian may say that he feels X to be true, even though he intellectually recognizes the reasonability of evidences for the Christian faith.

The strengths of the Christian claim is that while the truth that God reveals cannot be proven by reason alone, far from being unreasonable, when tested with reason, the Christian faith is extremely reasonable and makes sense when examined. From the standpoint of reasonableness, the objectivity of the Christian claim stands quite well.

Certain religions, on the other hand, seem to suffer in the reasonability department and tend to reduce themselves to mere subjective experience that is detached from the objective reality in which the experience finds its meaning. In other words, it is like getting to the top of a high wall and kicking off the ladder that one was given to get there. That ladder is the evidences by which one's intellect used to get to the point of seeing the reasonableness of making a leap of faith from the top of the ladder to the top of the wall, which is much higher than the ladder itself.

Of course, "Nothing is impossible with God," and a non-Christian may use that Scriptural phrase to justify an irrational position. However, in saying that "nothing is impossible with God" it presupposes that God does not contradict Himself. As Catholic apologist Frank Sheed wrote, a self-contradiction is just that -- nothing. And "nothing" is impossible with God.

Rejecting evidence and embracing self-contradiction on the basis of "I feel it to be true" falls into the range of irrationality. Such an epistemology is self-defeating since to say that an internal testimony is the only reliable indicator of truth is to imply that one recognizes the evidence of the the reliability of an internal testimony. To categorically reject all evidence would mean to reject the very experience by which one knows that an internal testimony is reliable.

One way to dialogue with those who hold an irrational position, which may reject the objective evidence for the Christian faith, is to mutually examine the nature of truth -- what it is, how one comes to know it and so on. Once two parties have a consensus on truth, the Christian can proceed to show how rejecting all evidence is a self-referential inconsistency (i.e. a circular argument).

In summary, to say that the internal testimony of a supernatural mover is the overruling standard is to presuppose the inescapable fact that evidence is necessary to be able to recognize truth. For example, if a person accepts the Bible as a product of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time trumps the Bible with a private revelation of the Holy Spirit, he would have to show how such a conclusion can be reconciled. If the answer is unreasonable, then there is a contradiction, which to reiterate, is "nothing". And "nothing" is impossible to God.

_______________________

For us and our salvation,
Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose again
so we would believe, repent and be forgiven of our sins.

Vincent Arong


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