The Christian Illusion of Rational Superiority

Many Christians assume a certain kind of rational superiority over any other system of belief and thought, especially atheism. According to them, their beliefs are rationally superior in the sense that Christianity wins hands down in the marketplace of ideas. They claim that a compelling case can be made for believing in Christianity over any other system of belief and thought.

This way of thinking about the Christian faith is due to what my friend and Christian scholar, Dr. James Sennett calls, “The Illusion of Rational Superiority,” in his forthcoming book: This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic.

Dr. James Sennett argues against the idea that people who reject Christianity do so because they are either “ignorant,” “stupid” or “dishonest with the facts.” That is, he argues against the idea that a “fully rational rejection of Christianity is impossible.” Dr. Sennett calls this objection the Christian “Illusion of Rational Superiority." It's simply an illusion, he claims. [Although, as a Christian philosopher he argues it is an unnecessary illusion due to the fact that even though he has a reasonable faith, it is “not rationally compelling to all.”]

As an example of this illusion, Sennett quotes from Bill Bright, the late founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, who wrote: “During my fifty-five years of sharing the good news of the Savior … I have met very few individuals who have honestly considered the evidence and yet deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of men. To me, the evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker after truth.”

As another milder example of this illusion, I want you to consider Os Guinness’s book, titled: In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It (IVP, 1976) Guinness discusses the main reasons why people, including Christians themselves, have doubts about Christianity: there is doubt from a faulty view of God; doubt from weak (intellectual) foundations; doubt from a lack of commitment; doubt from lack of growth; doubt from unruly emotions; doubt from fearing to believe; doubt from insistent inquisitiveness; and doubt from impatience or giving up.

Since Guinness was arguing on behalf of his Christian faith, he doesn’t mention one other reason to doubt: doubt from a lack of adequate reasons. And he fails to note that in the above list of reasons to doubt one could just as well reverse them: believing from the need to be grateful to someone; believing from the need for a God; believing from weak (intellectual) foundations; believing from the need to be committed; believing in hopes of personal growth; believing because of unruly emotions; believing because of the fear of doubting; believing from not being inquisitive enough; and believing from giving up too soon. While Guiness isn’t as blatant as others about this, we still find it here with him. There are some very solid reasons to believe, we’re told, so if you doubt, it’s because of some fault within you.

But Sennett argues that the Christian cannot overlook “one simple but powerful fact: most of the truly brilliant, deepest thinking, most profoundly influential movers and shakers of the last two hundred years have not been Christians. Neither Albert Einstein nor Bertrand Russell nor Sigmund Freud nor Stephen Hawking nor Karl Marx professed Jesus as lord. And the list goes on. To suggest that these people failed to believe because of ignorance or some rational defect is ludicrous.” [Of course, the illusion runs both ways, Sennett claims. There is no rational superiority for unbelief, either. Atheist Thomas Nagel is quoted as saying he was made uneasy “by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.”]

Sennett informs us that “if there is one lesson that modern epistemology has taught us, it is that almost nothing is as rationally certain as 'the illusion' claims Christianity to be. In other words, almost nothing is so obvious that one could never rationally reject it.” Furthermore, it seems possible that “one could rationally deny almost any claim, even if that claim is true.” There are plenty of philosophical reasons for Sennett’s argument, and many historical examples. The fact is, many scholars have indeed examined the historical evidence for Christianity and they regard that evidence as flawed.

This Blog will present a strong case against this illusion. It’s simply an illusion that Christians have a rationally superior faith. I hope to further demonstrate that Christianity is actually the opposite. It is rationally inferior.