Reason for Hope Within Essay

Murray, M. J. (ed.). (1999). Reason for Hope Within. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Following in the footsteps of St. Thomas Aquinas and his likes, all contributing authors of Reason for Hope Within would like unbelievers to believe in the Christian doctrine through reason.  Essentially a book on apologetics, Reason for Hope Within does not vow to make converts.  Rather, the sole reason why sixteen Church-led philosophers seem to have put together this volume is to make a contribution to Christian philosophy.

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After all, believers may or may not have easy lives. The prophets of the Bible faced excruciating difficulties that ordinary men may not have to confront.  Still, believers continue to trust the Christian doctrine.  All of them do not bother to understand the problem of wickedness, how miracles are possible, and why God must exist.  At the same time, unbelievers may continue to doubt the Christian doctrine because they realize that believers do not necessarily have the most beautiful lives to admire and emulate.

     Thus, the contributors to Reason for Hope Within would like to make converts of atheistic philosophers in particular.  After all, laymen do not necessarily aspire to understand what relativism must refer to in philosophy.  According to Murray, this term implies that whatever “worldview one selects depends on the assumptions one makes in inferring the best explanation, [where] which assumptions one adopts is sometimes a matter of mere preference” (p. 16).  The author adds that relativism could also mean that whatever “worldview is true depends on the assumptions one makes in inferring the best explanation, [where] which assumptions one adopts is sometimes a matter of mere preference” (p. 16).  In layman terms, Murray states that it is not the task of the Christian philosopher to claim that other faiths cannot be reconciled with reason.  To put it another way, even Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists may read Reason for Hope Within without belittling their respective faiths in their minds.

     William C. Davis, author of “Theistic Arguments,” explains why God must necessarily exist.  But, his argument is not unique.  Many have already stated that everything is dependent on something else, so therefore there must be Something or Someone that is independent of everything.  Because this argument has already met its opponents, Davis is clever to add that atheists will find loopholes in his philosophy.  After all, the statement that ‘everything is dependent on something else, so therefore there must be Something or Someone that is independent of everything’ – does not prove anything to an unbeliever.

     So, Robin Collins arrives to offer better defense to God.  The author’s scientific arguments for intelligent design have also been refuted by unbelievers.  Nevertheless, Collins writes, “the ‘many-universes generator’ seems like it would need to be designed” (p. 61).  To answer why, he states, “the ‘many-universes generator’ would need to select the laws of physics” (p. 62).  God selects in order to design, but that is not all.  According to Collins, the elegance and cleverness behind the science of physics must definitely prove that God exists.

     Daniel Howard Snyder’s chapter on “God, Evil, and Suffering” is another attempt to convince the atheistic philosopher that God exists.  Snyder would like to disprove the hypothesis that it is the absence of God that allows evil and pain to exist.  The author states that it is not for ordinary people to know the goodness of God behind evil.  An easier way to disprove the hypothesis would have been to assert that God would like to prove that evil can be crushed by the presence of believers who are taught by Him to struggle against it so as to reform the world.  Because unbelievers have not experienced God’s presence in their lives, for example, the fact that people change when they start believing in Him and that prayers are answered, John O’Leary Hawthorne, the author of “Arguments for Atheism,” writes:

         Many contemporary philosophers–including Christian philosophers–are pretty convinced

         that one cannot reasonably expect people to come to believe Christian doctrine on the basis

         of its explanatory power….  Those who agree with me that [the standard theistic arguments]

         do not, on their own, make belief in Christianity reasonable will hold that if someone has

         no compelling religious experiences and lacks the gift of faith then he is indeed poorly

         placed to reasonably treat anything as evidence for theism. (p. 129)

Of course, even though believers are constantly struggling on the side of God against evil, the atheist neither believes that good overpowers evil nor does he want to know how this is possible.  Believers, on the contrary, realize that God cannot be known by reason alone.  Scientists cannot determine how God came into existence.  Hence, Caleb Miller writes:

         It would … be a serious mistake to insist that the Christian faith is defensible by arguments

         that would convince any intelligent person….  The Christian faith, moreover, does not give

         us any reason to think that there are any such arguments.  In fact, it gives us reason to think

         that there are no such arguments precisely because of the truth of Christian beliefs about

         the direct and indirect noetic effects of sin, even on intelligent people. (p. 161)

Believers may suppose that they have arrived at the truth when they experience the response of God.  Yet, Timothy O’Conner’s chapter on “Religious Pluralism” may fill them with despair.  According to the author, “None of us can say to what extent our supposed experiences of God are the result of self-delusion or of some unreliable source” (p. 170).  What if believers have tested and proved true to themselves the formula of Jesus Christ – ‘if you believe and do not doubt, you can make a mountain move’?  Atheists do not believe in this formula; to them the New Testament is an untrue source.  If believers were to trust O’Conner’s argument, would they ever find the truth?

     Robbins presents a chapter on “Eastern Religions” next, without resolving the above mentioned doubt.  According to him, the doctrines of Hindus and Buddhists cannot replace Christianity.  Scott A. Davison, in his chapter on the relationship between human freedom and predestination, tries to answer a fundamental question on the Christian doctrine that Hindus and Buddhists convinced by Robbins may pose.  Unfortunately, however, Davison cannot make up his mind about whether human beings are granted absolute freedom or if it is God who controls everything.  The author states, “Probably the controversies surrounding these issues will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction because the issues are so complicated, deep, and hard to assess” (p. 237).  Perhaps if the author had given equal attention to the other scriptures of Abrahamic faiths, he would have been in the position to answer this question coherently.  Then again, even God has not answered this question coherently for believers in Abrahamic doctrines.  He is ‘I am;’ what are people?

     Thomas D. Senor endeavors to solve this puzzle by describing Jesus Christ as ‘I am.’  Trenton Merricks, in his chapter about the afterlife, writes that Christians only believe what they believe because they have divine revelation in the form of a scripture available to them.  There is no way to prove beyond this that life exists after death.  Michael J. Murray takes Merricks’ thoughts further to explicate why God, who is both good and loving, must be cruel enough to create Hellfire for those who indulge in evil.  Nobody on earth claims to have seen Hellfire, and yet Christians have learned about it from the scripture.  Then again, Murray cannot make converts of unbelievers either.  They have never seen Hell.

     Christopher Stewart’s chapter on “Religion and Science” adds to arguments of the other Christian philosophers.  The author maintains that scriptural veracity in the minds of believers does not require scientific backing.    J. A. Cover, in his chapter following Stewart’s, makes a similar statement on behalf of Christianity: that, in fact, Christians do not have to prove that their beliefs are correct.  Moreover, Cover writes that miracles or unusual occurrences may or may not back arguments on the existence of God.

     If Reason for Hope Within has managed to make converts of unbelieving readers by the time they have finished perusing Cover’s chapter, Frances Howard-Snyder would like to explain Christian ethics to them.  The author explains the divine command theory, but the bulk of her chapter revolves around essential Christian teachings and how they relate to morality, for example, the two chief commandments delivered by Jesus Christ must generate love on earth.  Douglas Blount’s chapter, “The Authority of Scripture,” makes a final statement to confirm the new beliefs of the atheistic reader.  According to the author, it is perfectly reasonable to believe in the scripture and consider it flawless.  In other words, those that believe that two plus two makes four are as correct in their belief as those who trust the scriptures as the word of God that mortals have no authority to tamper with.

     Still, unbelievers or existentialists who refuse to convert to Christianity after perusing Reason for Hope Within are not going to consider the Bible the authoritative word of God.  It is mainly for this reason that Christian philosophers took the time to write Reason for Hope Within.  Those who convert do not need to read anything beyond the Bible to confirm their faith.  Apologetics are nonetheless composed.  After all, Christians must show that they have known God by reason even though He is a Reason beyond reason.  Those who refuse to believe in Christian morality may commit acts of evil nevertheless.  Then again, believers are there to reveal God’s work on earth.  The fact that everybody does not agree with unethical behavior shows God’s goodness in human lives.  If everybody were to agree with people who do not see the difference between moral and immoral behavior, there would be no ‘reason for hope within.’  The book, Reason for Hope Within, gets the reader to dwell on such differences in thought patterns between believers and unbelievers, and this is its greatest strength.  Although unbelievers may write countless volumes to refute believers’ arguments in this book, and the authors have left unanswered questions, this book is an important contribution to Christian literature for philosophers.  Even ministers would find it useful as they reach out to diverse crowds that may or may not be interested enough in philosophy to read it by themselves.

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