Why A Pragmatic Gospel Won’t Work: Richard Dawkins on Bill O’ Reilly

A ways back, Jim Wallace posted an article called One Important Reason the Church Will Continue to Compromise. In it, he discusses the impact on pragmatism on the Church.  Recently, I was told by an atheist that he didn’t even care if Christianity was true. As long as it ‘works’ for me and makes a difference, it doesn’t need to be based in reality. And when we had Wallace here to speak last week at our Ratio Christi chapter, he said he isn’t a Christian because it ‘works’ for him. Rather, he is a Christian because it is true. Sadly, it is not only atheists and others that fall prey to pragmatism.

Christians fall into pragmatism  as well! In this clip, Richard Dawkins and others have no problem in saying religion is fine if you think it works for you. But that doesn’t make it true!

As you watch the clip, while I do respect Bill O’ Reilly, I never considered him to be a Christian apologist. When I watch this exchange about how Bill’s faith helps him, I am reminded of J.P. Moreland’s comments:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.

One thing for sure is that Richard and many atheists have been publishing books to try to demonstrate that Christianity is not based in reality. Hence, Christianity is false and simply a delusion. Anyway, what is truth?

The Nature of Truth

Truth can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not. Furthermore, we must differentiate between the nature (definition) of truth and a test (defense) of truth, or from not distinguishing the result from the rule.

Truth by its very nature is absolute or relative. To say there is no absolute truth is self-defeating. Also, even though our grasp of truth is not absolute, it doesn’t mean there is no absolute truth.

Tests for Truth:

The Pragmatic Test

As Wallace points out, this is very popular view today. And this was what Bill tried to use when he spoke about his faith in this clip. This view says Truth is “what works.” According to William James, “Truth is the expedient in the way of knowing. A statement is known to be true if it brings the right results. It is the expedient as confirmed by future experience.” There is alot of merit to this view. But most people forget that just cause something works doesn’t make it true. Lies can work very well for many people. The correct view is what is true should work and produce results, not the other way around. With this in mind, historically speaking, Christianity has produced amazing results. Sure it has some black spots on its record. But overall, the world would be a much different place apart from the Christian faith.

A Coherence Test:

Some thinkers have suggested that truth is what is internally consistent; it is coherent and self-consistent. But this too is an inadequate definition. Empty statements hang together, even though they are devoid of truth content. “All wives are married women” is internally consistent, but it is empty. It tells us nothing about reality. The statement would be so, even if there were no wives. It really means, “If there is a wife, then she must be married.” But it does not inform us that there is a wife anywhere in the universe. A set of false statements also can be internally consistent. If several witnesses conspire to misrepresent the facts, their story may cohere better than if they were honestly trying to reconstruct the truth. But it still is a lie. At best, coherence is a negative test of truth. Statements are wrong if they are inconsistent, but not necessarily true if they are.

The Intention Test:

Some find truth in intentions, rather than affirmations. A statement is true if the author intends it to be true and false if he does not intend it to be true. But many statements agree with the intention of the author, even when the author is mistaken. “Slips of the tongue” occur, communicating a falsehood or misleading idea the communicator did not intend. If something is true because someone intended it to be true, then all sincere statements ever uttered are true—even those that are patently absurd. Sincere people are often sincerely wrong.

A Comprehensive Test:

Another idea is that the view that explains the most data is true. The comprehensive test is very relevant to developing a worldview. Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

•Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
•Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
•Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
•Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
•History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
•Death: What happens to a person at death?
•Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
•Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
•Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world?

Certainly a true worldview will be comprehensive. However, this is only a negative test of whether it is true. The affirmations of that view must still correspond with the real state of affairs. If a view was true simply because it was more encyclopedic, then a comprehensive statement of error would be true and a digested presentation of truth automatically would be in error. Not all long-winded presentations are true and concise ones are not all false. One can have a comprehensive view of what is false or a superficial or incomplete view of what is true.

An Existential Test:

Following Soren Kierkegaard and other existential philosophers, some have insisted that truth is what is relevant to our existence or life and false if it is not. Truth is not simply propositional but personal as well. While an existential test is very relevant, there are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical. But if truth by its very nature is found only subjectively in existential relevance, then none of these could be truth. What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true nor the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.

The Subjectivism Test:

The popular subjective view is that truth gives a satisfying feeling, and error feels bad. Truth is found in our subjective feelings. Many mystics and new age enthusiasts hold versions of this faulty view, though it also has a strong influence among some experientially oriented Christian groups. It is evident that bad news can be true. But if what feels good is always true, then we would not have to believe anything unpleasant. Bad report cards do not make a student feel good, but the student refuses to believe them at his or her academic peril. They are true. Feelings are also relevant to individual personalities. What feels good to one may feel bad to another. If so, then truth would be highly relative. But, as will be seen in some detail in the next article, truth cannot be relative.Even if truth makes us feel good—at least in the long run—this does not mean that what feels good is true. The nature of truth does not depend on the result of truth.

The Correspondence Test:

The correspondence theory of truth has dominated most of Western philosophy for quite some time. It is also the way the majority of people live their lives on a daily basis. This happens to match up with the Biblical data as well. Both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony.

Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as actual ones. There are mathematical truths. There are also truths about ideas. In each case there is a reality, and truth accurately expresses it. Falsehood, then is what does not correspond. It tells it like it is not, misrepresenting the way things are. The intent behind the statement is irrelevant. If it lacks proper correspondence, it is false.

For example, in John 14:6, when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” there is a correspondence to reality. Since He is the full revelation of God, Jesus is showing us who God is in actual reality.

The nature of truth is absolute. However, there are many tests for truth. They all have some strengths and weaknesses. The Christian worldview does pass a comprehensive test. It is able to answer several of the worldview questions. Because it is true, in a pragmatic sense, it does work. But most importantly, it corresponds to reality. I have no problem if the Church wants to talk about the pragmatic aspects of the faith. But first and foremost we should teach why Christianity is true. If we don’t do that, the issues that Wallace mentions will continue! Wake up Church!


Some of the material here was adapted from Norman L. Geisler’s Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2007, as well as J.P. Moreland’s and W.L. Craig’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132. I have added a few points of my own.