As someone that reads a lot of apologetic literature, I was delighted to read this latest offering by Gregory Ganssle, Greg Ganssle is a philosopher with the Rivendell Institute and a lecturer in the philosophy department at Yale University. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Syracuse University and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Rhode Island.
Ganssle’s book takes a different direction than many apologetic materials. This book isn’t about factual evidence for Christianity. Instead, Ganssle takes more of an existential approach. Ganssle seems to be onto something: some people aren’t asking whether Christianity is true? Now you may say “No way!” Isn’t truth the most important thing? Why believe something that is false? But as Ganssle explains:
“It is important for me to make it clear that I shall not argue that Christianity is true. I believe it is true, but for most people, the question of whether it is true is not the most important question. My suspicion is that there are many people who think something like the following: “I am pretty sure that Christianity is not true, and it is a good thing that it is not.” I want to challenge the second part of this thought. I hope to persuade readers that it would be a good thing if Christianity turned out to be true. For this reason, I will explore elements of our experience that we care deeply about, and I will point out how the Christian picture of reality makes sense of these elements. The assumptions by which we navigate our lives include more than what we believe. They include our desires or our loves. It is not only what I think is true that will affect how I pursue the best life. It is also what I most want.”- pgs 11-12.
So what are these assumptions by which we people navigate their lives? And what explains these assumptions that people navigate their lives by? Christianity or another worldview? Ganssle discusses issues like goodness, beauty, freedom, and why people matter so much. After all, most people invest in activities that promote the kind of world they want. They want a world of justice, equality, and for humans to be viewed with dignity and respect. But how do we know what the world should look like unless we have some standard as to what is just and unjust? People who fight for justice know how things ought to be, but alas, they are not. They assume a standard of justice and goodness. On a secular worldview, however, things happen either by chance, or by the laws of nature. On this line of thinking, there is no grand plan or purpose behind the evil and injustice we observe. If there is no God, evil is just a social construct, and merely an illusion. What explains these features of reality? When people stop and actually try to explain the reason they adhere to these desires they have and ask whether they can be attributed to God or something else, cognitive dissonance arises. As Ganssle says:
“Cognitive dissonance is tension that arises when our beliefs come into conflict with each other. I often experience this tension when I try to find my keys. I believe I left them on the counter next to my wallet, but they are not there. I have one belief based on my memory and another based on the fact that I don’t see them where I expect to see them. These beliefs conflict with each other. I want to find my keys, but I also want to find an explanation for the dissonance. Why were the keys not where I thought they would be? I keep looking for a resolution. If I figure out the problem, I feel a sense of relief. Finding my keys is a simple case. Cognitive dissonance in other cases can be deep and persistent. Scholars sifting through complex evidence face a deeper kind of cognitive dissonance. It often takes a great deal of time to work out their ideas and find resolution. When we experience dissonance, we strive for resolution. We want to remove the tension. We cannot remain in a state of conflict for significant periods of time. We achieve resolution by revising either the content of our beliefs and desires or by revising the ordering of our beliefs and desires. We will often change our beliefs to fit our loves. We are less ready to change our loves to fit our beliefs.”- pgs 5-6.
In regards to these comments by Ganssle, I have been told religious people are the ones who have to struggle with cognitive dissonance. This happens when Christians are given objections by atheists or people from other faiths. Well, guess what? All people deal with issues of cognitive dissonance. It is part of life. Yes, atheists have to deal with this as well.
If someone is a skeptic and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible and they are challenged with dissonance, in many cases, they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis and dismiss evidence that might overturn their position. Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist or comes to the conclusion that God does exist by their own investigation, when challenged, they will seek evidence to continually support such a claim as well. Thus, we tend to fill in the dissonance by looking for evidence that confirms our beliefs. But what about Ganssle’s comments about the fact that we tend to want to cling to what we love more than what is true? Keep in mind, when we say something is true, we mean it matches reality. But yes, in many cases, we do pick what we love and desire over what is true. I have seen this happen quite frequently. Ganssle also quotes the famous atheist Bertrand Russell who said:
“Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”-Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3. This essay was originally published in 1903.
Ganssle makes a compelling case for why the the Christian faith is the best explanation for people’s deepest desires. And that’s why the Christian faith is not only true, but “good” for the world.
You can see Ganssle interviewed on Sean McDowell’s show here. They discuss the book.