A Heuristic Approach to Christianity
The heuristic argument for Christianity is flawed, but I think it may provide a stronger angle for the faith than any classical approach.
Heuristic solutions are used in problem solving when traditional, methodical approaches are limited by time or resource. A heuristic solution trades comprehensive logical process, epistemological perfection, and precision for speed. In essence, a heuristic approach is a practical, functional shortcut.
A heuristic solution may not be exact, but it does approximate exact solutions. It’s generally more instinctive, experiential, and applicational. Sometimes bias can influence a heuristic conclusion because these do not exist in a sanitary mind lab, but up close to life—with quite a bit of the dirt of reality mixed in.
So, why use a heuristic approach?
Well, sometimes in problem solving, a classical methodology proves too slow to be useful. Other times, a classical approach fails to find an exact solution due to missing elements in a mental equation.
Though some objective, historical, and rational arguments for the Christian faith exist, they are not watertight. For centuries, scholars have been digging around in the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument—and some have made good points. But ultimately, if there were no room for doubt, there would be no role for faith—which is (according to its own claim) an essential element of the Christian religion.
As I’ve been mulling over this for the past few months, I’ve grown more and more enthralled by this perspective. It seems to fit the way confirmation works in real life for most people, and it connects with other epistemological concepts I’ve loved in the past, a few of which I will scatter randomly below.
1. The pragmatic approach to truth has always seemed more humble and realistic to me than the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, and other formal theories.
2. The deep biases of Platonic/Socratic secularism/humanism are reduced whenever the mind and the body are forced to operate in real time as one.
3. The claims of Jesus regularly seem experimental instead of simply cognitive, incorporating motion, active trust, posture, and even truth as a living being “The I am.”
4. Fighting empiricism with empiricism deifies an inherently flawed epistemology. And I don’t like bowing to idols.
A heuristic approach isn’t perfect, but it never claims to be. It simply offers to be helpful. It leans into real life and asks, “Does this work?” Is this uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be. So many proofs of the New Testament seem to appeal to this very question. Does the church reflect the love of Christ? What fruit is growing on your tree? Is your life abundant? Has something changed?
The Bible is big on this sort of boots-on-the-ground evidence. Sure, it spends a little time constructing arguments, but it spends much more space saying, “Walk in this. Follow this. Trust this. See how it works.”
I understand why this is terrifying for a lot of evangelicals. It’s much easier to sit in a quiet room trying to derive proofs, making lists of all the reasons we are right and they are wrong and making battle plans accordingly, than it is to live out faith in real time. But a heuristic approach recognizes that life is short and that information is limited. It holds the classical information we have been given with respect and gratitude. Then it moves forward in faith, discovering.
I like that a lot. It’s scary but exciting. In fact, it reminds me of this quote by C.S. Lewis:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”