Faith, Reason, and the Ascension

We celebrate the Ascension 40 days after Easter.  It was the day Christ ascended into the heavens, following His resurrection.  In doing so He gave us a literal and figurative image of the bridge from this physical reality, to a Beyond whence He came, and to which we go.

This image is helpful to understanding the materialist point of view:  that there is no Beyond at all.  To counter the religious point of view that there is, Materialists frequently assert that faith means belief despite a lack of evidence.  That is not true.  It is a misapprehension of what evidence is, and what constitutes sound reason from evidence.

Faith is not a repudiation of evidence, but rather a call to accept the evidence, and to act upon it.  It is different than other kinds of belief in that the subject matter of the belief is the existence of supernatural reality.  The evidence is therefore more than merely evidence concerning the natural reality we experience day-to-day.

The evidence of supernatural reality pertinent here is of two kinds:  that which is the product of our reason, only; and that which is the result of revelation which transcends natural reality.

Without the intervention of God in history, evidence of the supernatural lies in our powers of reason.  That is, it is the product of human ratiocination, rather than external, physical proofs.  We can understand that evidence to be, for example, the “God of the philosophers;” the majority conclusion of sages down through the ages, quite apart from divine revelation of some sort, that there is one omniscient uncaused cause that exists beyond the natural world, and therefore a reality that transcends the natural world.  This is evidence from reason.

With the intervention of God in history, there is additional evidence, which takes the form of natural phenomena, so that those alive to the natural world can look to natural evidence, and follow that natural evidence directly back to supernatural reality.  One needn’t be an Aristotle or a Plato to experience the reality of a man like us who, before our very eyes, demonstrates another, more profound, existence, on a plane beyond the everyday natural world.  For Christians, that is the Christ, who drew man’s eyes, literally and figuratively, from the natural world here and now, to the supernatural reality which exists both within and apart from the natural world.  This is evidence from revelation.

The Bible expresses much about faith, to get us to believe something that is true but which transcends the natural order.  God’s revelation is essentially to the effect:  “here is positive evidence of heaven transcending the natural world.  Now believe.”  Far from being asked to disregard the evidence, we’re asked to accept as true the evidence set plainly before us, and not to disregard it just because it points beyond the natural world.

The natural world is more than our milieu.  It forms the boundary of our sense impressions.  It is what water is to fish.  We would understand the skepticism of a fish about the existence of some environment apart from water.  But there is reality beyond the water, for the fish, and there is reality beyond the natural world, for us.  God has spoken to us to say:  accept from the evidence that this “Beyond” reality is true.

Imagine you were there on the day of the Ascension.  It is easy to do, because we have a trustworthy written narrative of the event, along with the deep explanatory back-story, which reaches back to the very fact of existence.  That back story shows us that the One ascended is a man like us, but, unlike us, is also one with that uncaused cause.  Upon completing an essential part of His mission here, he recedes back into the great beyond whence He came, leaving us an intangible Helper.  His sojourn with us, and Ascension, reveal the reality beyond the time- and space-bound physical reality that is our temporary home.

If we open our eyes to see, that is.  Materialists perforce reject this evidence from revelation, and at the same time ignore the evidence from reason.  It is a scandal that they do so in the name of reason.



26 thoughts on “Faith, Reason, and the Ascension”

  1. I understand what Is being said here, however, I feel like it touches on the circular argument that “I believe the bible because the bible says so?”.. in other words, the bible says there was an ascension and therefore your narrative makes sense. Within itself, this is very logical, and can be very convincing to your average christian. I’m not sure how this make sense given a different holy book that has different ideas and history like the Koran for example, that so many people would literally die for.. this is one point where the logic falls away for me… ​

    1. Thanks for posting. I think you’re quite right that the Bible is not somehow self-proving. But consider that it doesn’t exist all by itself. The real backdrop for it is a philosophical point of view that there must be a transcendent reality of some kind — hence the “God of the philosophers” reference. That evidence from reason developed quite apart from the compiling of the books concerning the Hebrews’ personal God. If there is a crossing-over from that place “beyond” (call it “heaven”) then we have something more than just reason, as evidence. If we reject the story of the Ascension as evidence, or the entire Bible, for that matter, we’re still not left with materialism. We should still be at the conclusion based on reason that some ultimate reality must exist beyond that which is physical only.

  2. The idea that there “must be” a transcendent reality is very easily placed in our “spirit” if you will, when we simply open our eyes to the incredible complexity of the universe and we conclude that “all this” had to have a creator, so we believe that a creator exists in a reality that we do not understand and hope to see when we “pass on”. Of course, this would open up a different argument about “who made the creator”, because he/it must be even more complex then what he/it created…etc…etc..etc…but forget about that for now.. my point is the bible itself should be thrown out and maybe then we could begin to have a better understanding of the universe without the “stories”.

    1. Well obviously I wouldn’t say throw out the Bible, for a bunch of reasons I would be happy to go into sometime. But I think you’re right in one respect, and that is that today, in the rapidly secularizing culture in which we live, it’s necessary to go to first principles. Or, as George Orwell was credited as saying, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” If we were to roll back mankind’s understanding of supernatural reality, we wouldn’t get to the materialism that is dominant today. We’d still be left with some sense of the supernatural, and with an understanding that there is necessarily a God; perhaps many gods; or that perhaps there is a flow of godliness extant in the world, and man is a node in that flow. As I say, we wouldn’t get materialism, which holds that there is nothing beyond the physical. The problem with that thesis–well, there are many problems–but one problem is that it falls apart as soon as we consider truth, justice, and perhaps more than anything else, beauty–these are “things,” but they’re certainly not material. Another problem with materialism, perhaps more fundamentally, is that it just entirely ignores the “beingness” of that physical reality. Not just that there’s a question about where it came from, but the fact that it exists at all. Nothing can come from nothing. A Something had to have caused that big bang (or whatever). Your comment about the infinite regress is not beside the point at all. It is the way materialists like Richard Dawkins convince themselves that there is no God. But actually it proves the necessity of God. All physical reality is “contingent,” meaning that it was caused by something else. For there to be anything, there had to be an non-contingent first cause; an “uncaused cause.” And that is the “God of the philosophers,” people like Plato and Aristotle who reasoned from the evidence (the fact of being) that there had to be a God.

  3. Here’s an interesting analogy from a tv show I saw last night called “the middle” goes to campground with lake. The youngest boy is a bookworm.. all he cares about is what’s in books.. so the father takes his son to the lake for fishing and the boy brings along his book. It’s a travel book that advertises the lake and campground.. ok so he and his father are sitting on the edge of the lake and the boy is reading his book., says to his father “it says right here that the lake is so and so big and has so and so fish”. The father says, “what color is the water?” and the boy says “it’s kind of grayish, the best I can see in this picture”.. then the father says, “Brick, (boy’s name is Brick) put the book down and look at the lake right in front of you.. what color is it?” Brick says, with awe in his voice, “oh, it’s blue, and silvery and shiny”. The reality could not come from that page, it had to be seen and experienced.. and the book did not depict it accurately.. he could have gone on to say “this book says that sea dragons occupy the lake and show themselves at dusk and fly about above the water”.. the father would clearly have to say to his son, “brick, do you really believe that?” “no sir, of course not”

    1. That’s a fantastic analogy, about the book and the actual lake. I think it’s a perfect picture of what I think is going on in the world. What materialists describe pejoratively as a “disenchantment” of the world is the loss of faith in a fiction that seemed to lend “enchantment” to the quotidian. But suppose the sense of somethiing behind the sensory impressions is there because there is in fact something beyond? What if it’s not fictional, like “magic” based on illusion, but real? If there is a reality beyond (let’s call it, oh, “heaven”) then it’s a crying shame that we would let it slip away. It would be criminal. So many analogies spring to mind. Collapsing from three dimensions to two. Witnessing the color leached out of our world to be replaced by only black and white. And now yours (from the show you watched): the “enchantment” of blue, silvery and shiny water replaced by a photo and text. The enchantment of the world thrown out because it is falsely suspected of not being real. That’s the whole point of this blog, btw.

    2. I replied already about the analogy, but I want to say something about your last observation. Sure, the book could go on to say something not real about the lake, and the father could have told the son to disregard it because he, the father, knows about lakes, and they don’t have dragons. But that makes sense to us only because we have already concluded from our physical world that there are no dragons. A creature already known to be fictional is inserted into the story, a priori, as it were. Then we’re to conclude that it’s obvious that the dragon doesn’t belong. But wait. It’s only obvious because we already know there are no dragons. Using the fictional creature overstretches the analogy, which means that the story no longer serves as an analogy at all. Suppose instead that the boy reads that there are rainbow trout in the lake, and says so to his father. The father thinks he knows the lake, but not everything below its surface is apparent to him. He says “no there aren’t.” Then they catch a rainbow trout. The father is proven wrong. There ARE rainbow trout in the lake. The book was right. The father was mistaken, because he only knew what he had seen of the lake, without the book to aid him. If you’ll allow me to go a step further with this, you could say that the boy has “faith” in the book, because he has become persuaded that it is authoritative. He trusts the book more than he trust’s his father’s conclusions based only on sense impressions. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1.

      1. This is a really great exchange!! I won’t keep dragging it out.. anxious to read more of your posts on religion etc. but I wanted to say that as I was writing that analogy, it occurred to me that this argument, based on the analogy, could go either way and, in fact, I could have been arguing for the existence of a god…. also, very interesting about the “uncaused cause”.. .. a quick comment about the bible, .. great literature, holds a lot of valuable principals etc.. but this subscriber does not believe that it was inspired by a god. . when I say “throw it out”, I simply mean that as a symbol of “religion”, which I won’t comment on right now except to say that “religion” is a completely separate issue for me then weather a god exists..
        the latter I can almost wrap my head around…

        1. I’m curious. What do you mean when you say “religion?” I think of it as a set of beliefs about supernatural reality. I know that it is used (sometimes with distaste) to refer also to collective rituals in service to those beliefs, like church and everything that goes with it. Do you find that off-putting? I promise I’m not picking a fight, I’m just curious, I think a lot of people (more and more, apparently) feel about “religion” the same way you do. I have a similar question about your attitude toward the Bible, if you don’t mind serving as bellwether. Do you think it’s not inspired by “a god” because of its content, or because you think it implausible that God (if He exists) would inspire messages in this way?

          1. Not sure if I qualify as a bellweather but I’ll try..
            I think it’s very off putting anymore.. a religion to me is an organized “club” that believes in a revealed god that has rules about your behavior and demands that you pray to him and worship him or suffer the consequences.. that’s the short answer.. the more I get to know the bible, the more I realize it’s clearly written from a period when people did not have answers and chalked things up to god.. a bush with talking fire summoned Moses and told him to take his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground? Then Moses goes down to the people and reveals this? and they believed it? This is just not reasonable.

          2. I hear you. Can I ask about the flip side of the decision to reject the organized club and the Bible? If you reject Christianity, you necessarily embrace something else. What is it, and why do you believe it to be true?

  4. I believe in a natural world thats 4.5 billion years old, evolved to where we are now… Possibly created by a supernatural being (this is a only because of the something from nothing argument, otherwise I would say nah to that too) I believe our morality comes from an evolved necessity. I believe it not because I want to but because that where the evidence (proof) takes me..also I believe the gaps in history have been filled with barbaric conclusions about gods but now we understand that’s it’s not about gods but natural science… This makes sense to me.. It’s logical.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this last comment. A couple of things about it are bothersome. One, it seems you would prefer to deny any kind of God altogether. The “something from nothing” argument leaves you only grudgingly admitting there might be something beyond nature. It’s a good thing that you follow the evidence where it leads, but if that’s what you’re doing, why the reluctance?

      Why it matters is that if you would otherwise incline to a purely materialist point of view, but have to reluctantly cede the possibility of a supernatural creator, then it puts you in the position of drawing a line in the sand, so to speak. This far and no further. And that would cause you to be purposely incurious about the character of this supernatural being to which the evidence leads you.

      Two, I kept thinking “system,” as in systematic theology. Systematic theology is the study of how the various doctrines of Christianity fit together to make a coherent whole. Materialism and deism must each stand as coherent systems, too. It seems to me that there has be a belief “system,” not merely a collection of beliefs, otherwise the beliefs may be literally incoherent. In your case, you arrive at deism, I think. We may differ about whether deism is more or less coherent than pure materialism or Christianity. If you believe there is a Creator (which is necessarily greater than creation) why would he flip the switch and just step back? What is the nature of that supernatural being?

      It seems from your comment that you get to deism because you accept evolution as an explanation for origins of human and other life. Is it correct that you believe evolution (as an explanation of origins) to be true, and to be inconsistent with the Bible, and therefore conclude that the Bible is false?

  5. I don’t write good… Two things.. One: a creator of the universe, I’m inclined to think no there is not one, I would only say maybe there is because I cannot argue the contrary.
    Two: religion for me is a completely different subject… Religion and worshipping to me seems barbaric/primitive anymore. It is not a degree of belief as you suggest, it’s totally separate issues… The bible, God, Jesus, Muhammad, Allah, Zeus , Thor, Hindu, Buddhist… On and on… This is what I think is false and made up according to primitive culture and a need for filling the gaps.. I.e… If we don’t know, let’s just say God.

    1. I follow you, the “God of the gaps” is not sound thinking, and it certainly has been true that people ascribe otherwise unexplained phenomena to a god. Like when a volcano erupts. We have a scientific explanation for it, but in times past, they didn’t, and they thought the gods were angry. But I think that leaves out a whole array of evidences for God that are not merely “gaps” in our understanding of natural phenomena. Like, just for starters, the fact of existence of volcanoes and people to begin with.

  6. That fact that it doesn’t make sense for s creator to flip a switch and sit back is one reason I dont believe he/ exist… because that would be stupid, I’m trying to find philosophical reasons for the sake of the discussion but instead I blundered it with attempting to back my thoughts up with the something from nothing stand…

    1. I don’t see a “blunder.” I think you said before that it’s difficult to refute the no-something-from-nothing argument, so you leave open the possibility that there might be a supernatural creator. But this last comment (that it doesn’t make sense to flip a switch and step back) is intriguing. If (a) there could be a creator; (b) there is a creator; and (c) he didn’t just create and step back from his creation, then doesn’t that mean there is a God who is in some way active in the world? That’s classical theism.

  7. I wasn’t suggesting that I thought a creator flipped a switch and stepped back, I was suggesting that given the idea that it doesn’t make sense for that to occur, it’s even more likely that a creator does not exist…no switches flipped…

    1. Yeah, that’s how I understood it. Here’s what I was getting at. From what you’re saying, I’m hearing three possibilities. A: there is no supernatural creator. B: there is, but he only flipped a switch. C: there is, and he is active in the world. The problem with A is that it would mean something came from nothing. The problem with B is that it makes no sense that a creator would flip a switch and step back. That leaves C.

  8. Ok now I understand what you mean.. here’s the rub in our conversation.. I think.. you are a thinker (that’s a compliment), and we are not discussing with two sides of an argument, at least not on an equal level.. in other words., I am not a philosopher, I’m not a thinker, nor a poet or writer .. I’m the layman, even if that, since all I have is myself and what I think and what makes sense to me.. I can’t recall the philosophy of thinkers like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle., etc.. I do know this though, and that is philosophy is not truth and a person can philosophically “come up” with answers to “universal” questions regarding the origins of life and god but that is not evidence or proof of anything except possibly the desires of mankind to understand life and the meaning of it. In the words of Lawrence Kraus, “only the universe has the answers”, we cannot get answers from reaching up to the sky for a revelation, or praying to a god. I seemed to have “painted myself” into an interesting corner, ironically, helping me to realize that, instead of trying (very badly I might add) to leave open the possibility of a deity, in my mind, I can now say that I believe that something came from nothing. It was all by accident and the universe is so much more amazing then a biblical god.

    1. I’m not a philosopher engaged in philosophizing. I’m a human being engaged in reasoning.

      The statement that you attributed to Kraus, “only the universe has the answers,” is only a restatement of the materialist position. It is an assertion only, not an explanation. “The universe” is material reality, and he’s just saying that this purportedly closed system of material reality can somehow prove the absence of something outside the system.

      There are so many ironies in what you’re saying here. You’re saying “philosophy is not truth.” You’re right, philosophy is not truth. Neither is science. Both are processes of reasoning, which may yield truth. I urge you not to abandon the search for truth because “it’s only philosophy,” or “it’s only science.”

      Another irony: this quintessentially anti-intellectual (anti-reasoning) approach is exactly what atheists routinely accuse theists of doing. How is your statement of faith more reliable than a theist’s?

      “Something from nothing.” You don’t say how something can come from nothing, you just say it does. Let me suggest this. To say that material things can come from the absence of material things is incoherent. It is not a matter of explaining something from science. It is just a matter of bending words to mean something they don’t mean. “Nothing” means the total absence of material things. “Something” means the presence of material things. You would have a rock materialize (literally) not from space or from emptiness or from far away, but truly from the complete absence of material things.

      You’re not the first person to say such a thing, however. When people defy the law of non-contradiction so blatantly, what are they really doing? I suggest that when they say “nothing,” they don’t really mean “nothing.” They implicitly give the word “nothing” a new meaning. Without acknowledging it, they make the word “nothing” mean “something.” It is a peculiar feature of post-modern thinking, that people come to believe in “nothingness as such,” which really means that they impute substance to “nothingness.” Well if you do that, it’s no longer really “nothing.” This slippery thinking just has the effect of eliminating the very concept of “nothing.” Atheists manage to say things like “something can come from nothing” only by dumbing-down ideas, concepts, and words.

  9. The Atheist Perspective by Richard Carrier

    If God can be an uncaused cause, then so can the universe. If anything as complex as God (with his remarkably great intelligence and detailed personal qualities and convenient powers) can exist without explanation, then so can something as simple as a singular undifferentiated quantum state, which gave rise to the Big Bang (or a Big Bang, eventually giving rise to ours).

    1. “If God can be an uncaused cause, then so can the universe.” This statement is a classic non-sequitur. The universe is material reality. It had to have come into being somehow. It had to have been caused. It cannot be uncaused.

      Now if you say that something had to cause that cause, then you get into the infinite regress, where you’re only chasing back to the cause of the cause, and the cause of that cause, and so on. I’m only saying that at the beginning of that series, there had to be Something that was not already caused. A material something cannot come from the absence of material. The first Something that caused some material existence had to be immaterial. That is God. We’re a long way from the God of the Hebrews, with this simple logic, but it’s irrefutable that some non-material something had to both precede and be the reason for existence of material reality.

      Carrier is just doing what atheist apologists routinely do: he’s avoiding the argument by redefining concepts to suit his conclusion. He’s just trying to sweep aside the necessity of some non-material agency to explain the first material thing.

      The second statement there is just an expanded version of the first. It also is a non-sequitur. How does it make any sense that “If a complex God can exist without explanation, so can a simple physical phenomenon.” The truth is that the universe (or any simple physical thing within it) cannot exist without explanation, unless by “explanation” you mean man’s finite ability to figure it out. “God” is defined (in part) as that non-material thing that logically had to cause the first material thing.

    1. Well I guess the format of our discussion amounted to a debate, but I thought of it as a mutual effort to get at the truth, rather argument for the exercise of arguing. I’m genuinely interested in your point of view. I’ve been studying atheist writers in depth to try to understand it, in fact many of the books I’ve read are or will be reviewed on this site. I hope you keep reading and make comments in the future, they’re valuable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *