Christianity Doesn't Make Sense? (Part I)
One claim I hear too often is the claim made by skeptics of various stripes that Christianity “doesn’t make sense.” Try searching the Internet with the search terms, “Christianity doesn’t make sense” and you will find a plethora of websites, blogs and discussion boards that make this statement. My Google search of these terms came up with more than six million results. (Of course, many of these are not people arguing that Christianity makes no sense, but enough of them deal with that topic that it shows that a lot of people hold the opinion that Christianity “makes no sense.”) My response is, “Of course Christianity makes sense,” but to determine who is correct, we need to define our terms.
Defining “doesn’t make sense.”
Saying that something “doesn’t make sense” is not a technical term of argumentation. The dictionary says that “doesn’t make sense” is an idiom which can be translated as being incomprehensible or unreasonable. It seems to me that there are two senses (pardon the pun) in which the phrase “doesn’t make sense” can be understood. Both can be illustrated by what happened to me when I attempted to put together a manufactured patio cover earlier this year. The instructions that came with the patio cover told me to take part “AA” and slot it into part “C”. Unfortunately, contrary to the instructions, no matter how hard I tried, I could not figure out any way that part AA could not be slotted slot “C.” The instructions didn’t make sense.
Now, I recognized that the real question that needed to be answered was “why is it that the instructions don’t make sense?” There were two possible reasons that came out of the example I set forth above. The first is that the instructions really didn’t make sense. Someone who wrote the instructions wrote a step into the instructions that couldn’t be accomplished. Perhaps the author of the instructions had made an error or maybe the company is run by sadists who want to torture people trying to put their products together. But regardless of the reason, perhaps it was the case that even if I correctly read and understood them, the instructions simply were nonsense in that if I followed them exactly and correctly I would not be able to put together the patio cover. This is one sense in which the instructions don’t make sense – they are internally flawed. Assuming that the instructions are accurate and following them, I would not be able to put the patio cover together.
The alternative reason that the instructions may not have made sense is that I was misreading the instructions. It wasn’t the case that the instructions didn’t make sense because the instructions were flawed; rather, the problem was with me and my inability to understand what was written. I read what the instructions stated, and I simply misunderstood the instructions or couldn’t follow them. It wasn’t that part AA couldn’t be put into slot “C”, it was the case that I was not able to figure out any way that part AA could be put into slot “C” even though others could. In other words, reading the instructions I did not understand what they were saying.
The same holds true with the Bible and the Christian belief. When various Internet atheists, the primary authors of these types of arguments, write that Christianity doesn’t make sense, the first question to ask is whether the lack of “sense” is because Christianity is internally flawed or whether the problem is in the person’s level of understanding. It is my contention that Christianity is not internally flawed, and most of the objections that I have read complaining the Christianity doesn’t make sense are actually the failure of the Internet atheist to understand (or even to take the time to try to understand) what Christianity teaches.
Like the patio cover instructions, I cannot know whether the Biblical teachings are internally flawed unless I accept them as accurate and see whether part “AA” can fit into slot “C”. In doing so, I have to assume that there is really a part “AA” and a slot “C”. I cannot start by saying “I don’t believe that part ‘AA’ exists.” I cannot start by saying, “No rational person would try to put part ‘AA’ into slot ‘C’. “ I have to search and find the parts and try to understand how they could fit together. If they can fit together, even if it isn’t immediately obvious as to how they fit together, then the instructions “make sense.”
What the Christian faith teaches is much more complex than putting part “AA” into slot “C.” Yet, the only legitimate way the main Christian teaching “doesn’t make sense” is if the teaching is internally inconsistent or self-referentially absurd. In other words, when examining a belief for incomprehensibility, the truth of the facts claimed is not the question. The facts are accepted as true and the only question is whether the view point is internally consistent (i.e., “makes sense”) if the facts upon which the viewpoint depends are taken as true.
Thus, for example, one of the central claims of the Christian faith is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Whether Jesus really rose from the dead is not a question of “making sense” but rather one of whether Jesus’ resurrection fits into an internally consistent view. One cannot say that a dead man rising does not make sense. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense in a particular worldview – one that says that miracles cannot happen because the universe is a closed system which allows for no tampering from the outside. But to determine whether a dead man rising makes sense, one has to ask the question within the Christian view which says that an omnipotent God exists and is capable of acting within our universe. In the Christian worldview, there is nothing internally inconsistent or unreasonable in an omnipotent God using his power to raise a man from the dead. Thus, if a person complains that raising a man from the dead doesn’t make sense, that person is really saying only that he/she does not comprehend the Christian teaching. The failure of the person to understand is not because the story is flawed – it is the person’s failure or unwillingness to understand the teaching.