Friday, July 6, 2007

Faith, Reason and Science, Part VII: Are Christian Claims Falsifiable?

I posted earlier my view that several key features of the Christian faith are claims of historical truth (such as the resurrection), and therefore the Christian faith, if it is not to become a mere metaphoric philosophy, is indeed subject to empirical examination.

My orthodox Catholic friends at First Things agree. In an otherwise positive review of Stanley Fish's attack of the "New Atheists", Father Richard Neuhaus takes issue with Fish's claim that faith is not subject to empirical challenge:

But then Fish goes off the rails. Is it possible that the claims of the Christians or of the atheists could be falsified? Fish answers: “As it is usually posed, the question imagines disconfirming evidence coming from outside the faith, be it science or religion. But a system of assumptions and protocols (and that is what a faith is) will recognize only evidence internal to its basic presuppositions. Asking that religious faith consider itself falsified by empirical evidence is as foolish as asking that natural selection tremble before the assertion of deity and design. Falsification, if it occurs, always occurs from the inside.” The difference between Dawkins and Saint Paul, says Fish, is that they are each enmeshed in different “structures” of reason and faith that “speak to different needs and different purposes.”

Not quite. In fact, not at all. The reasons that Christians give for their faith are not an inside job, so to speak. See, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” That is a “structure of reason” shared with Dawkins et al., and indeed with all reasonable people.

Christians can imagine the hypothetical possibility that the remains of the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth will be found buried in the Holy Land and scientifically identified beyond reasonable doubt, with foundation-shaking consequences for Christian faith. That is because Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason that Fish refuses to acknowledge. (Impressive statements of the convincing case for the physical resurrection of Jesus are Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus—God and Man and, more recently, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

Read it all here.

For what it worth, I have read N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, and agree that it offers a convincing and reasoned case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.


Steven Carr said...

James Crossley smacks Wright down Here

And the comments are pretty good as well.

Nobody can defend the resurrection using Wright's arguments.

In fact, we know that early Christian converts to Jesus-worship simply scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse.

Wright cannot explain why they converted to Jesus-worship.

Alice MacArthur said...

To actually see James Crossley's critique you will have to right click the "Here," get the link and paste it to your browser. It is well worth reading.

James Crossley is a scholar of Early Christianity and his latest book is entitled "Why Christianity Happened: A Sociological Account of Christian Origins (26-50CE.)" Available at

Chuck Blanchard said...


Thanks for the link. If Alice says it is worth reading that it must be so. I amhoping that it can be cause for a future post!