Many skeptics are open to the possibility that God exists, but they’re uncomfortable affirming it on the basis of biblical authority or faith alone. The good news, says Azusa Pacific University philosophy professor Joshua Rasmussen, is that they don’t have to. In How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith, Rasmussen shows how human reason and experience lay down a pathway to theistic belief, revealing a divine being very much like the God of the Bible. Lydia McGrew, analytic philosopher and author of Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, spoke with Rasmussen about shepherding nonbelievers along this “bridge of reason.”
You describe your book, in the subtitle, as “a philosopher’s bridge to faith.” Are non-philosophers supposed to be part of your intended audience?
I want this book to touch—and even transform—everyone who seeks truth about God. As I wrote, I imagined different characters stepping onto a bridge. Some characters come to the bridge as young seekers, while others are seasoned professionals. I call this “the bridge of reason.” Every step on this bridge is composed of common experience and universal principles of reason. You can think of each step as foundational to a kind of argument for an aspect of God. For example, the chapter “Foundation of Mind” is about arguments for God’s mind. I use plain terms: No technical jargon, no appeals to authority. Every step is about something you can test for yourself.
Yet the bridge goes past the edges of my field. Philosophers will recognize pieces that add to current conversations. I’ve also included a special argument at the end, in which I propose a new way to deduce God’s existence from God’s nature. This is one example of what we can see on the other side of the bridge.
Is there one big lesson that a non-philosophical specialist should take away?
The most important takeaway is that reason can reveal God. Many people think there is a conflict between reason and God. They fear reason, or they flee God. I want people to see there is nothing to fear. By the light of reason, you can discover that reason is a majestic part of the most majestic being. True reason is God’s light within your mind. Shine reason on anything, and you can see more about anything. Shine reason on God, and you can discover the depths and riches of God’s nature. God is greater than we all imagined.
Why, for most of your book, do you refer to “the foundation” rather than to “God” (who isn’t mentioned explicitly until Chapter 11)?
I wanted to invite readers into a fresh inquiry, which is why I didn’t bring God in until every step of the argument was in place. Everyone has a certain impression of the meaning of “God,” and this impression can present obstacles to discovering the real God.
On some level, we all have limiting conceptions of God. Sometimes these conceptions prevent skeptics from taking arguments for God seriously. Rather than begin with any preconceptions, I simply begin with reason. Reason reveals characteristics of the foundation of reality. Once the full picture is in place, I use the term “God” to describe the reality revealed by reason. This reality, it turns out, is the most awesome God imaginable.
In debates about theism, sometimes we encounter a distinction between God as “a person” and God as “personal.” Would you agree with this distinction? And how does conceiving of God as a person (as opposed to, say, a cosmic force) inform the way you think about him?
I would say that God is more than a mere person. When we think of individual persons, we typically think of beings with particular boundaries, like shape or size. God, by contrast, is ultimate. God cannot be just another person among the many, because God is the foundation for all persons and all possible personalities. Without God, no persons are possible. It is more helpful, then, to think of personhood as a bedrock feature of reality. Personhood infuses the foundation. Thus, God is personal.
Seeing God as personal is very inspiring. Personhood includes reason, emotion, and moral agency. So, if the foundation is personal, then reason, emotion, and moral agency are part of the foundation of everything. That gives our lives context. It provides a reason for great hope. It also gives me excitement as an author. It gives my writing a higher purpose: to help people see their value in a greater light. If the foundation is perfect and personal, then there is every reason to think that God loves us and created us for everlasting purposes. You can’t get that from impersonal forces.
How do your arguments for God’s existence relate to Christianity and the Incarnation more specifically?
This book provides a prelude for investigating God’s specific works in history. I hint at the connection to Christianity in my discussion of the problem of evil. I tell a story of a world we could expect to unfold if God exists. I suggest that the greatest being would be interested in the greatest, truest story of love and adventure. In this story, we can expect the greatest Character—God—to enter the scene and display a sacrifice of love. Since Christianity describes precisely such an event, my argument for God implicitly points readers to this central event in human history.
In the closing chapters, you refer frequently to “kingly creatures,” your term for beings with rationality and free will who have the power to influence the world. How can this image motivate those seeking to investigate God’s existence?
This gets at the central point of the book. I don’t want merely to tickle someone’s mind. I want readers to see—feel—the value of their lives. The purpose of the bridge of reason is to help people see the roots of their own eternal worth. Often, academic books get bogged down in abstract moves, and it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
I want readers to come away feeling excited. The foundation of the world is greater than we have understood, and so is the significance of our lives. Seeing the greatness of the foundation of the world helps you better appreciate the value of your own life.
Have you known or interacted with people who moved from atheism or agnosticism to belief in God on the basis of arguments like yours?
I have many, many stories. First, there’s me. In the book, I share my own story of descending into doubt and then discovering arguments that transformed my thinking. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see many people come to believe in God after discussing these arguments with me or finding my work.
I’ll share one more story that typifies many. A few years ago, I received an email from someone who said he didn’t believe in God but was struggling to better understand an argument from cause and effect. We corresponded for about a year, and in each exchange, I never once treated him as a skeptic. I only thought of him as someone who would love to know that God exists, if reason allows. Then, one day, I received a special email of thanks for helping him come to believe in God.
In my experience, reason-based arguments help seekers unlock their own internal power to see. Once seekers feel free, respected, and encouraged, sight of God comes more easily.
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