Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker

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The writers at LiveScience.com tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.

The Christian and the Euthyphro Dilemma

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One of the arguments raised against God being the basis for morality is the age-old Euthyphro Dilemma. Socrates, in Plato’s dialogue, asks Euthyphro: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The modern adaptation raised against theism goes something like this: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

The Catch-22 for the theist is this:

  1. God could command any arbitrary thing that popped into his head – like killing kittens – and we’d be obligated to obey and call it good because God says so. Or
  2. God answers to some sort of higher moral standard outside of himself, thus he cannot be the basis for our morality.

Based on biblical teachings, I do not think the Euthyphro dilemma poses a real problem for the Christian at all. If the statements found in the Bible are even possibly true in what they say about God, then the Euthyphro dilemma is really a false dilemma.

  1. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (Referring to evil as darkness and light as good) (1 John 1:5)
  2. “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8)
  3. God is triune “And I (Jesus) will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16)
  4. God is eternal and necessary. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn. 1:1-3)
  5. God’s character is unchanging. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. “ (James 1:17)

So if God is light and he is unchanging, then He cannot on a whim become a “dark god” and command torture of little babies. If God is love, then what he commands will by necessity be loving. If God is triune, then his morality is not found outside himself, but within the persons of the Trinity. The persons who make up the Godhead relate to each other freely not out of law or arbitrary demands,  but out of perfect and maximal love for the other. “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:34-35)

So assuming the Bible is correct in what it says about the nature of God, God cannot have other traits then the ones that He possesses,  thus there is no arbitrariness. Furthermore, there is no higher moral good than love of the self-sacrificial, agape kind. God’s commands flow from his loving nature, and the New Testament command is to believe in Jesus Christ  love as Christ loved. (Jn. 13:34-35, 1 Jn. 3:22-24) There is no love standard that the triune God answers to outside of himself, He is necessarily a perfectly loving being by his very own nature.

Moreover, we read that whether we know God or not, He has “hard-wired” all humanity to recognize his commands. The commands aren’t imposed on us from the outside, but rather we recognize internally that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do love our neighbor as ourselves, then we won’t steal from them, sleep with their wife, kick their cat, throw fireworks at their dog, etc.

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” -Romans 2:14-15

The Christian has a special advantage. Not only does the Christian experience the benefit of having their sins forgiven, but they also God’s very own Spirit living within her, enabling her with divine grace to keep God’s commands.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

To close, if the Christian theology and anthropology is correct, then Euthyphro dilemma really is not a dilemma at all. Socrates may have stuck a pebble in Euthyphro’s shoe (or sandal, I should say) but for the Christian believer, there is no quandary.

The Christus Victor Theory of the Atonement

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In my last post I gave a quick outline on the nature of the atonement, particularly highlighting Robin Collins’ “Incarnational View”, which has its roots in Eastern Orthodox theology of theosis. Another view that I find particularly helpful is the Christus Victor model, which also has its roots in the E.O.C. and the early church fathers. Before we look at the Christus Victor model, I think it’s important to contrast it against the main model over the past few centuries, and that is the Satisfaction or Penal Substitution model.

Penal Substitution

For the sake of space I’ll present a rough sketch of this view and point out some of its deficiencies. Developed by St. Anselm in the 11th century, the picture is that Christ paid the debt of obedience that we owe God for our sins.  Out of this evolved the Penal theory by the Protestant Reformers, and it’s basically what you see today in a lot of Christian tracts. The basic claims are this: Our sins accumulated a debt so large no one can pay it. God is love, but his justice demands that sin should be punished, or a debt should be paid. Christ satisfied the demands of Divine Justice by accepting the punishment we deserved. Therefore, God no longer has to punish us but can legally bless us.

Objections to this view are as follows: It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense how justice be satisfied by one person accepting the punishment that another deserves, especially given that God the Son is the One who has been wronged, or sinned against. It also seems to turn the atonement into some sort of legal requirement. And if that is the case, how exactly does God pay God for the sins of men?

Christus Victor

Christus Victor is a more developed version of the Ransom Theory of the atonement. Various versions of it were expressed in the writings of the early church fathers, such as Origen, Irenaeus and Athanasius. C.S. Lewis is probably the most famous of its more modern proponents, and you see it especially expressed in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. In a nutshell, God makes a bargain with the devil. Jesus is the ransom price on Satan’s claim to humans, who became his through the fall. Satan is tricked, because he didn’t realize that Christ couldn’t be kept in the bondage of the grave.

The Christus Victory theory doesn’t really say that Jesus’ death on the cross paid off either God or the devil, rather it was just God doing whatever it took to release us from the Satanic bondage of sin and death. St. Anselm – who thought much in the Latin legal terms of his day – argued that as an outlaw, Satan could hold no such claim on humanity and questioned why God would set up such a world in which Satan could ever gain such legal rights over humanity. Thus the Ransom view became less popular.

In spite of Anselm’s qualms, the scriptural data for the Christus Victor view is strong. The New Testament is replete with warfare terminology and descriptors of Satan. Paul calls him the “god of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air”.  John says that “the world is held under the sway of the wicked one”. Jesus calls Satan the “thief” who has come to “steal, kill and destroy” as well as “the prince of this world”. In the temptation of Christ, Satan offers him “all the kingdoms of the world” if he bowed and worshiped him.  Jesus did not deny this point, but rather quoted a passage from the Pentateuch to show his refusal to give. Christ also depicts Satan as the “strong man”, but depicts himself as the “one stronger” who can bind the strong man and plunder his goods. In forgiving sins, healing the sick, exorcizing demons, working miracles, criticizing legalistic religious leaders,  Jesus sees himself as tearing down the demonically inspired social constructs that have devoured men and women for centuries.

Redemption is spoken of as Christ “delivering those who were under he who had the power of death, that is the devil”. It speaks of Jesus as being manifest “to destroy the works of the devil”. Paul tells us “the Father…delivered us from the kingdom of darkness” and Christ as “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in Him.”

Nowhere in scripture do we see God making some sort of deal with the devil to ransom men, and we should rightfully reject along with Anselm the idea of God being deceptive when dealing with Satan. These were all blanks the early fathers sought to fill in, but a further look at the scriptural data found in the NT give us some clues that allow us not to appeal to mythology.

The NT continually speaks of the mystery of God’s eternal purpose. Peter tells us that the prophets didn’t understand what they were prophesying as it pertained to the Messiah, and the angels themselves longed to look into such matters. Paul speaks of the a mystery that was hidden in God but now has been revealed, that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now revealed to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms. Moreover, he also speaks of a “mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” It is plain that Satan instigated the betrayal and arrest of Jesus through Judas, the Roman government and the Jewish Sanhedrin. We see from Daniel 10, Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 the idea of a “double-kingdom”, where there are government heads who are subject to an evil power above them which God wars against.

Thus Satan plays right into God’s hands, instigating the murder of Christ whom he could not hold in death. Jesus said the command he received from the Father was the power to lay down his life, only to take it up again. (Jn. 10:18). Unable to understand this, (as was Jesus’ own disciples until the resurrection, for that matter) Satan is defeated. Quoting Romans 5:17

For if, through the transgression of the one individual, Death made use of the one individual to seize the sovereignty, all the more shall those who receive God’s overflowing grace and gift of righteousness reign as kings in Life through the one individual, Jesus Christ.

Satan – who had the power of death – no longer holds the sovereignty, but now those who are in Christ have been put back in their rightful place as viceroys over God’s creation. (Gen. 1:26-28). In Adam we are slaves, but in Christ we are more than conquerors, and seated with Christ at God’s own right hand. (Rom. 8:37, Eph. 2:6)

As our substitute, Christ willingly allows himself to be overcome by the full force of Satan’s kingdom to be our substitute, thus taking what we deserved and erasing the Law, which gave Satan access to accuse us and lord it over us.

A common critique of this view is that it doesn’t take sin seriously enough. That by embracing Christus Victor, we are seeing ourselves merely as victims and not having accountability with God. I agree that Flip Wilson Christianity is not something we should eagerly embrace. But I think that critique falls flat because it is sin and an overall lack of spiritual awareness that “gives place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27, 1 Peter 5:8-9). We are to stay vigilant of the serpent’s cunning, so that our minds are “somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ”. In other words, we’re not seeing ourselves merely as rescued casualties of war, but militant soldiers who treasure the freedom that has been won and will fight at all costs “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  (Phil 3:12) We do not want to repeat Adam’s folly, even if the consequences cannot be as great.

The Christus Victor model seems to me to present a more congruous and holistic model of the atonement, and it’s one that doesn’t ignore the enemy of our souls, and it presents the redeemed as not just forgiven sinners, but viceroys in God’s kingdom. It seems like the modern evangelical church doesn’t take Satan seriously enough, and all too often when evil happens God’s mysterious purposes are appealed to. On the other hand, this view does not necessitate one to see a devil on every doorknob, but it rather provides a worldview that see the evils in this world as a spiritual, rather than merely a natural enemy, while also seeing oneself as being loved by God enough to be rescued, and furthermore, made victorious with Christ. (1 Jn. 5:4, Jn. 16:27-33)