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VI. Concluding Coda
But isn’t all of this just a bit too sunny? Isn’t it a recipe for avoiding hard questions, for hanging onto belief no matter what, for guaranteeing that you will never have to face negative results, even if there are some? “HBC is either Troeltschian or non-Troeltschian: in the first case, it proceeds from assumptions I reject; in the second, it fails to take account of all of what I take to be the evidence; either way, therefore, I needn’t pay attention to it.” Couldn’t I say this a priori, without even examining the results of HBC? But then there must be something defective in the line of thought in question. Isn’t it clearly possible that historians should discover facts that put Christian belief into serious question, count heavily against it? Well, maybe so. How could this happen? As follows: HBC limits itself to the deliverances of reason; it is possible, at any rate in the broadly logical sense, that just by following ordinary historical reason, using the methods of historical investigation endorsed or enjoined by the deliverances of reason, someone should find powerful evidence against central elements of the Christian faith;534534 Or, less crucially, evidence against what appears to be the teaching of Scripture. For example, archaeological evidence could undermine the traditional belief that there was such a city as Jericho. if this happened, Christians would face a genuine faith-reason clash. A series of letters could be discovered, letters circulated among Peter, James, John, and Paul, in which the necessity for the hoax and the means of its perpetration are carefully and seriously discussed; these letters might direct workers to archaeological sites in which still more material of the same sort is discovered. . . .535535 The example is Bas van Fraassen’s; see his “Three-Sided Scholarship: Comments on the Paper of John R. Donahue, S. J.,” in Hermes and Athena, p. 322. “Finish it yourself, if you have the heart to do it,” says van Fraassen. The Christian faith is a historical faith, in the sense that it essentially depends upon what did in fact happen: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). It could certainly happen that by the exercise of reason we come up with powerful evidence536536 Or think we come up with it; even if we are mistaken about the evidence in question, it could still precipitate this sort of problem for us. against something we take or took to be a deliverance of the faith. It is conceivable that the assured results of HBC should include such evidence. Then Christians would have a problem, a sort of conflict between faith and reason.
However, nothing at all like this has emerged from HBC, whether Troeltschian or non-Troeltschian; indeed, there is little of any kind that can be considered ‘assured results’, if only because of the wide-ranging disagreement among those who practice HBC. We don’t have anything like assured results (or even reasonably well-attested results) that conflict with traditional Christian belief in such a way that belief of that sort can continue to be accepted only at considerable cost; nothing at all like this has happened. What would be the appropriate response if it did happen or, rather, if I came to be convinced that it had happened? Would I have to give up Christian faith, or else give up the life of the mind? What would be the appropriate response? Well, what would be the appropriate response if I came to be convinced that someone had given a wholly rigorous, ineluctable disproof of the existence of God, perhaps something along the lines of J. N. Findlay’s alleged ontological disproof?537537 “Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?” Mind (April 1948). Or what if, with Reid’s Hume (above, pp. 218–19), I come to think that my cognitive faculties are probably not reliable, and go on to note that I form this very belief on the basis of the very faculties whose reliability this belief impugns? If I did, what would or should I do—stop thinking about these things, immerse myself in practical activity (maybe play a lot of backgammon, maybe volunteer to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity), commit intellectual suicide? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. There is no need to borrow trouble, however: we can think about crossing these bridges when (more likely, if) we come to them.
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