Monday, June 18, 2012

Exclusivity and Arrogance

In our postmodernist/relativist/pluralistic culture, much has been made about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity.  A common complaint about this claim is that Christians are arrogant to say that only they know the truth, and that only through their God can people go to heaven.  With this complaint, the implication is that Christianity is therefore untrue.

This criticism of Christianity's exclusivism is totally understandable, as exclusive claims do not sit well in our culture.  But at its core, this criticism completely lacks logical/reason-based support.

A summary of my points

Here are three reasons why this argument has no ground to stand on (note: the first two were inspired by a recent WLC podcast that I listened to, although I had heard these arguments before.  I claim the final argument as my own musings):
  1. It is a classic example of the logical fallacy called an "ad hominem" attack: whether or not someone is arrogant has nothing to do with whether their claims are true.
  2. It is a double-edged sword: people criticizing the claims of Christianity based on their exclusivity are often religious pluralists, and pluralism is itself an exclusive truth-claim.
  3. It is actually arrogant to deny God: when there is ample evidence that a creator-God made the universe and humanity itself, to claim that we have figured out there is no God (or that we don't need our creator-God) is quite an arrogant claim.
For the interested reader, below I go into more detail about each of these three points.

It is an ad hominem attack

The heart of this argument is that someone who is claiming Jesus is the only way is arrogant, and therefore, you can discount their claim.  However, put this way, this argument clearly holds no water.  Just because someone is arrogant is absolutely no reason to consider their claim to be false. I could be the most arrogant person in the world, but I could also be completely right about things.  There are probably plenty of really arrogant professors out there who know their own field of research really, really well.  The fact that they are arrogant does nothing to discredit the truth of what they say.

Another way to expose faulty thinking is to put the argument into a syllogistic form.  In such a form, fallacies become obvious.  Here is the implied syllogism:

(1) All claims made by arrogant people are false.
(2) Because Christians say Jesus is the only way, they are arrogant.
(3) Therefore: Their claim that Jesus is the only way is false.

The logic is correct, but clearly both premises (1) and (2) are false, making the conclusion completely unverified by this argument.

Rebuttal: "But the complaint is not that the person who makes the truth claim is arrogant, but that the truth claim itself is arrogant!"

Response: How could a claim, which is a proposition that can be either true or false, be arrogant?  This is a category error.  People are arrogant.  Truth claims are either true or false.  However, it is an exclusive truth claim, but this has nothing to do with whether that truth claim is true or false.  Its exclusivity may be unpalatable to our pluralistic culture, but that does not prove it to be false.

It is a double-edged sword

In my informal study of philosophical arguments for and against God, I've found that many times, false arguments are self-defeating.  That is also true of this particular criticism of Christianity's exclusivism.  To understand this, you have to realize that religious pluralism, the worldview from which this criticism originates, is itself an exclusive truth claim, and therefore, by this argument's own standards, originates from an arrogant person.

The religious pluralist, as I understand it, says that all religions are equally true (or equally false).  However, it cannot be the case that all religions are equally true, as the foundational beliefs of most religions are mutually exclusive.  Therefore, to claim that all religions are equally true is either demonstrably false, or it is watering down the world's religions beyond recognition.  In either case, you are taking a position that is either clearly false, or one that is making a claim that only the religious pluralist really knows what all the world religions are all about: that they are all the same.

On the other hand, claiming  that all religions are false is equally exclusive.  The biblical stance is that only Christianity is fully true.  Based on that, the Christian would take the point of view that all opposing religions, worldviews, and philosophies are false.  The pluralist is saying that only hard pluralism (that all religions are false) is true: but clearly this is an exclusive truth claim!  Therefore, the argument against Christianity's exclusivism is a double-edged sword, which can equally be applied to the critic of Christianity.

It is actually arrogant to deny God

If you have read this blog enough, you have probably encountered my writings that describe the scientific reasons for a belief in God.  In fact, I think the scientific data are so compelling that they really force the God of the bible as their only logical explanation.  In that case, then to deny the sovereignty of God is to basically put yourself as god of your own life: quite an arrogant maneuver if indeed you owe your existence to your Maker.  It reminds me of Isaiah 29:16, which says,
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
Look at it this way.  It would be quite self-centered for a teenage boy to say to his parents, "You never did anything for me!"  This is to his parents who brought him into the world, cared for him when he was completely dependent on them, gave him a place to live, clothed him, fed him, brought him up with love and discipline, etc.  For him to deny that would be ludicrous.

In the same way, there is ample scientific evidence that shows God created this universe specifically for us to live here on earth at this time.  The fine-tuning necessary for something resembling human life anywhere at any time in the universe's history is staggering.  This care and "effort" that God has invested in our lives through creation, not to mention through the incarnation and atonement, goes far beyond what any set of parents do for their children.

Now, you may or may not agree with me that there is ample evidence to believe in a God.  If not, then convincing you of that would be the subject for another time.  But at least understand this: if there is ample evidence that the God of the bible exists (and thus the universe was created by Him), then to specifically deny this evidence so you can deny his existence so you can be lord of your own life could be taken as highly arrogant.  This means that the argument against Christianity's exclusive truth claim can only be validated when first the critic examines and plausibly/reasonably rejects the implications of the scientific evidence for God.  And even then, the other two (above) defeaters of the argument still hold.

One more set of thoughts I'd like to leave you with.  You should keep in mind that most people do not specifically deny God for this reason (so they can be lord of their own lives), or at least, most do not admit as such.  But I think in light of this evidence that God exists, each person at least owes it to him or herself to examine that evidence very carefully, and with cautiously-guarded reasoning.