Review of Faith & Reason by Ronald H. Nash

Faith & Reason, Searching for a Rational Faith by Ronald H. Nash, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988, 285 pp.

This seems to be the book wherein the philosophical and apologetical views of Ronald H. Nash are most thoroughly exhibited. In other volumes of his that I’ve read (The Concept of God, The Gospel and the Greeks, The Light of the Mind, and Life’s Ultimate Questions) Nash shows himself a very capable philosopher in explaining the history of philosophy and ideas. Here in Faith & Reason he does this as well, but also provides more insight into his own thinking than perhaps anywhere else.

I was somewhat surprised throughout the volume to see Nash’s general alignment with the school of thinkers known as “Reformed Epistemologists.” (The school of Plantinga, Alston, Wolterstorff, etc.) This school, I believe, can be thought of more as a school of “philosophy” than of “theology.” That is, they, and Nash with them, rarely argue from the Scriptures or provide any Biblical exegesis. Reformed Epistemologists don’t seem to be seeking truth per se but are primary concerned with whether beliefs are “rational.” I’ve never found much distinctly “Reformed” in Reformed Epistemology. Nash’s scripture-lacking approach lends him to seek to “prove” God’s existence rather than assume it, and to deny a young-earth creation. (p. 55)

Nash’s critique of Gordon Clark’s “deductive presuppositionalism” is that Clark “uses the word knowledge in a very idiosyncratic way.” (p. 61) This is really just saying he doesn’t like Clark’s view; Nash does not provide an argument against it. Nash’s contention is that “one major difficulty with Clark’s theory is its obviously incompatibility with all kinds of human knowledge not attainable in the way he describes.” (p. 61) This, of course, is not an argument; it is merely begging the question.

Nash calls his own view “inductive presuppositionalism” though he never seems to give any reason as to why it is presuppositional. You might call his view a cumulative case apologetic or a stacked leaky bucket approach. While admitting that the proofs for the existence of God have problems, he yet believes that they are valuable. His theory relies on the cumulative “probability” of these arguments. Nash, however, never once puts a single number to an individual argument’s probability nor does he put a number to the cumulative probability of all of the arguments. He doesn’t even attempt a qualitative analysis that might allow one to conclude that the existence of God is more probable than improbable. And, as the proofs have admitted problems, Nash changes the nature of “proof” to be “subjective” or “person-relative” (p. 109) so that their value is found not in whether they are sound but in whether they convince some people. I contend that this is, in fact, “idiosyncratic.”

Nash quotes “atheologian Anthony Flew” arguing against the view he takes in saying, “A failed proof cannot serve as a pointer to anything, save perhaps to the weaknesses of those who have accepted it. Nor, for the same reason can it be put to work along with other throw outs as part of the accumulation of evidences. If one leaky bucket will not hold water that is no reason to think that ten can.” (p.117) To address Flew’s argument Nash quotes Richard Swinburne saying, “if you jam ten leaky buckets together in such a way that holes in the bottom of each bucket are squashed close to solid parts of the bottom of neighboring buckets, you will get a container that holds water.” (p. 118) But what is there to not think that the entire bottoms are missing out of each of the buckets? Stack as many bottomless buckets as you wish and not an ounce of water will cease to fall right through.

The book then has chapters on each of Nash’s leaky buckets including the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, religious experience, and “a potpourri of other arguments.” In each of these Nash admits the leaks. Maybe he needs a bucket that does not leak? Maybe he needs to assume the truth of the Scriptures.

1 thought on “Review of Faith & Reason by Ronald H. Nash”

  1. Interesting, even ironic, that it fell to Nash to arrange the Clark Festschrift fifty years ago.

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