More Than Deep Feelings
Imagine that after a routine checkup, your doctor says, "My hunch is that you have cancer and must undergo extensive surgery." Would you feel confident going under the knife based on a hunch? Would your confidence grow if the doctor said he had a "strong feeling" or "believed" you had cancer? Obviously not. When the bodily stakes are high, we want to be guided by knowledge—not belief, opinion, or conjecture. Only knowledge gives the doctor's counsel authority.
Why, then, in matters of the soul are we content to be guided by a faith consisting of deep feelings or inner experiences? Why should we be surprised when nonbelievers politely decline to change their lives because we have pious opinions and strong sentiments?
Sadly, says Dallas Willard, those outside the church (and many within it) have ceased to see the Christian religion as a source of knowledge, as a system of claims that successfully tracks the truth and by which we can be guided confidently. So too, says Willard, has the longstanding tradition of objectively true moral knowledge given way to talk about one's feelings and preferences. Willard's Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne) calls on Christians to recover their faith—and the moral claims that accompany it—as a body of knowledge that can withstand appropriate testing and be proclaimed with confidence.
At the heart of our faith is a belief in a personal God, perfect in wisdom, power, and goodness, the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth. How do we know (as opposed to merely believe or opine) that such a being exists? In answer, Willard offers the standard first-cause argument.
The universe couldn't have popped into existence from absolutely nothing, nor could it be the cause of itself. So, there must be a non-physical cause. And whatever caused the universe to exist must have had great power, intelligence, and will. The mind, will, and power to initiate activity without oneself having been caused—to be an unmoved mover—is precisely the trait we ascribe to the God of theism. Willard follows the cosmological argument with a teleological (design) argument to explain how the universe came to enjoy its remarkable order.
Willard thinks the causal argument provides a firm basis for knowing that God exists, which no one can gainsay without losing oneself in "a maze of empty logical possibilities and imaginings." And he claims the design argument has no "remotely plausible" alternatives. Yet many thoughtful Christians, not to mention nonbelievers, find these arguments less than sufficient to say we know that God exists. Willard mentions but does not discuss that there are alternatives. For example, philosopher Robin Collins cogently argues that our universe is but one of perhaps an infinite number of universes. Whether his or other alternative theories are right is not the point. But we can hardly say that there are no "remotely plausible" alternatives.