Embracing Scrutiny

Embracing Scrutiny

As a child I spent a lot of time in my backyard digging up rocks and looking underneath them for unseen worlds of bugs and worms. From the bug’s point of view, however, I’m sure that being thrown abruptly into the light of day involved a few moments of distress.

Exposing one’s worldview assumptions to the light of day is probably no less distressing. As we turn over our beliefs, examine them through the magnifying glass of reason, and consider whether we should lay aside some of our cherished dogmas, feelings of anguish have the potential to become quite intense.

Kenneth Samples explores the fascinating journey of one prominent atheistic philosopher, Thomas Nagel, as he examines the foundational assumptions of naturalism (see “Explaining the Mind-Related Features of the Cosmos“). Nagel’s candid admissions about the deficiencies of the materialist worldview are startling. It’s rare to find someone of Nagel’s academic caliber who’s willing to expose his foundational assumptions to the light of day and even admit that they lack sufficient rational justification. One difficulty of having beliefs is that people often take them for granted. Some don’t take a step back to reflect, “Where did I get these beliefs?” or even more importantly, “Are they true?” Asking these sorts of questions can be scary, especially for Christians. After all, our eternal destiny is at stake.

I remember taking a plane ride with my father several years ago. As we made small talk waiting for takeoff, he asked me, “Why are you a Christian?” I immediately responded with, “Because I believe it’s true. If Jesus rose from the dead, then it proves He’s God and if Jesus is God, then that changes everything.”

My answer was not what my father expected. His previous encounters with Christians had consistently resulted in discussions about their faith that resembled Bilbo’s fascination with the ring in The Hobbit. Christians often hold on to their faith like something to be cherished without scrutiny. Truth be told, submitting our faith for close inspection can certainly heighten our level of discomfort, but it can also yield great rewards.

One of the fascinating details about Nagel is that he went from being a materialist (the philosophical theory that the only thing that exists is matter or energy and that all things, including consciousness, are composed of material) to a belief in panpsychism (the philosophical theory that the mind or soul is a universal feature of all things). In a sense, these worldviews stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Even so, I think Christians would do well to follow Nagel’s courageous example. Shouldn’t Christians, of all people, be concerned with the search for truth? After all, Jesus calls himself the Truth. If Christianity is true and if the Bible is accurate, then we ought to embrace genuine inquiry. Looking for truth can appear daunting, testing truth can feel uncomfortable, but discovering truth can prove profoundly rewarding.