Archives For apologetics

Tonight was the long awaited first instalment of three public debates between Christian apologist Dr William Lane Craig and scientist-come-new-atheist Prof. Lawrence Krauss.

It confirmed most things that I thought about adversarial public debates between the religious and the irreligious – they aren’t very useful. Nuance is lost. People talk past one another. And everybody goes home more entrenched in their own position.

Except.

This time, unlike other debates I’ve watched, I felt like the atheist, Prof. Krauss, got the better of the Christian.

In the story of David and Goliath – an unlikely champion goes up against a big and powerful enemy and scores an unlikely win. He slays the powerful enemy.

In the gospel story an unlikely figure – a Jewish carpenter-come-Messianic figure – Jesus – goes up against the religious and political establishment and secures an unlikely win through the mechanism of a likely loss. The powerful enemy slays him. Only he is victorious in death. That’s the sublime paradox of the Gospel.

Tonight – William Lane Craig was trying to imitate David. He wanted to slay the giant. He brought some pretty impressive stones – his well-oiled set of philosophical axioms (though he certainly tried not to engage in the snark that Krauss brought to the table from the opening bell) – but he was the David you’d expect to see in most mismatches of this size. He was crushed. Blitzkriegged. Beaten from pillar to post.

The debate titled “Has Science Buried God” became, very quickly, “Krauss Buries Lane Craig.” Krauss barely touched on the debate topic, and when he did, it was to offer inane and debunked comparative cliches about Christianity in comparison with other ancient religions, or to over reach on science’s behalf – inconsistently attempting to suggest science is just a tool, but also suggesting that it is synonymous with rationality, rather than a tool for the rational. He was patronising, he treated the audience like children, he read his slides – word for word – he barely touched on his field of expertise. He also pretty constantly talked over the top of Lane Craig, relied on crass one liners like “forcing religion onto children is child abuse,” and was generally cantankerous. Despite a 10 minute opening plea from the moderator for a civil conversation between humans who held different opinions, Krauss was on the attack from beginning to end.

Where Krauss scored points, and where he took the argument away from Lane Craig, was on the unrelated question of Lane Craig’s moral theology, his account of the Canaanite genocide employing a Divine Command Theory argument – that God is always right to kill children, in judgment, on the basis that he also necessarily saves them in order to be a loving God.

Now. I’m not going to expand on why this argument is poor, theologically – except to say that both William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss need to reconsider what it means to read a passage in context, with a bit of literary and historical sensitivity. Why was the text written? What rhetorical purpose did it serve? Does it match the account of history found in subsequent parts of the narrative? Why did the text remain the way it did, not get edited, after the fact – when the Canaanite children (and adults) were intermingling with Israel and causing all sorts of domestic destabilisation? These are questions neither of these guys answers.

I’d suggest the violence in Canaan requires a fair amount of historical sensitivity, an understanding of where Israel was coming from – if they are fleeing slavery, a slavery where the king of Egypt slaughtered their male children on a cruel whim, if they were a people without a land in the Ancient Near East, and if they did believe, and had marked out previously, their own land that had since become occupied – then they were confronted with a bit of a dilemma. Then you’ve got to consider that similar commands to kill all the Canaanites are coupled with commands not to marry the Canaanites. Something complicated is going on.

Unpacking that sort of complication is probably out of the question in a format like this. Impossible even. That it took up so much of a debate that, by title, had nothing to do with the topic, is a failing of the debate – and especially a failing of William Lane Craig, who like a punch drunk boxer, decided to hang out on the ropes and let Krauss pummel him.

But William Lane Craig’s bigger failing. In my mind. Was that he didn’t ever really go beyond providing a philosophically cogent case for theism. Here he was as Christianity’s champion (it possibly didn’t help that the moderator kept including Islam and Judaism in the discussion – which was odd given the event was sponsored by the City Bible Forum). And instead of championing Christianity, a robust Christianity centred on the historical person of Jesus, he was championing abstract concepts of a loving God who can carry out genocide.

I’m not going to pretend the genocide question is easy. It’s not.

But Christian morality isn’t based on Divine Commands from Deuteronomy or a “developing morality through the New Testament and over the next thousand years” as moderator Scott Stephens put it. Christian morality and ethics are based on Divine Example. The life and death of Jesus Christ, historically, on behalf of his enemies. As an act of love.

And here’s where I think Lane Craig’s biggest failing came – and I think it’s the big failing most Christians fall into when we’re thrust into adversarial positions.

He tried to imitate David. Not Jesus. He set out to slay the giant. And he didn’t even do that right… In the story of David and Goliath, David rejects the conventional weapons of warfare and uses a sling. So ultimately David’s bizarre method of ancient near eastern giant slaying has more in common with Jesus taking it to the Roman establishment by being crucified than it has with playing a power game.

This might be a little simplistic – but giant slaying in improbable situations is nice in theory. But it’s not, I would argue, paradigmatic for Christ shaped interactions with the world, nor is it particularly conducive to presenting a gospel of weakness – the story of a king killed on a cross.

While I reckon God is capable of using small and inadequate people to win great victories – David didn’t beat Goliath by wearing armour and taking the fight to him. I don’t think we win people over by engaging in this sort of debate where you’re using the verbal equivalent of the Queensberry Rules and talking past one another, not to one another.

Lane Craig was gracious under fire. Don’t get me wrong. But didn’t really try to reach across the divide to Krauss in a particularly winsome way. He didn’t simply turn the other cheek and cop the flogging that Krauss dished out. And he certainly didn’t get to the cross – even when he was specifically asked about an ethic that cares for the vulnerable he went to Jesus’ words, not his actions at the cross.

I understand that I’m essentially advocating that Christians go into these situations to essentially deliberately lose the fight but win the war. With dignity. But that’s the only way to, I think, faithfully embody the gospel in an adversarial situation. You don’t imitate Jesus by landing the most telling blows on your opponent. You imitate Jesus by how you take the blows, while pointing people to the gospel.

It would be cliched and anti-intellectual for me to just run to 1 Corinthians 1 at this point…

“18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

I think philosophical thinking, and being prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, is important. I’m not suggesting we abandon the field of apologetics – there just has to be a way to shape the way we do apologetics through the example of the cross, and with the message of the cross. I guess I am suggesting that in some sense, our philosophy, for it to be properly Christian, not simply defending theism, monotheism even, we do need to take the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 seriously…

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

It’s hard to do this in a debate. But Paul managed in similar setting throughout Acts – and he paid the penalty for his refusal to play Corinthian debate/oratory games – we see that in the way he defends his approach to public speaking in 2 Corinthians. It’d be nice for those engaging in discussions with the New Atheists, or even just with run of the mill atheists, to be trying to present God’s wisdom. Not man’s.

Two pieces have piqued my interest today. Unrelated, but related. The first, from Overthinking It, questions whether video games, by their nature, inspire belief in a creator.

Now, I’ve given up on taking part in apologetics debates online, and mostly on the need to convince people of God’s existence using science and philosophy. It’s not that I don’t find the arguments convincing, it’s just that I think that the gospel is more than fancy logic, and people aren’t going to be argued into believing it (though such arguments might be part of conversion).

Anyway. This is interesting because it considers Christian apologetics from the perspective of a video gamer, who seems to be more interested in philosophy than religion.

Here’s a longish extract.

““It was incredible,” you say. “I mean, if anything had been just a little different – if those question blocks hadn’t been exactly where they were, or if there hadn’t been those Piranha Plants and that Propeller Cap inside but, let’s say, a Fire Flower instead, I’d never have been able to get those star coins! Everything was arranged so perfectly, so precisely. It really makes you think it was all put there on purpose, you know? Like it was designed.”

Luigi, ever the skeptic, replies: “But if things weren’t the way that they are, they’d just be some other way instead. Maybe in that case you’d be raving about how unlikely that was. Or you wouldn’t have known there was any star coin there at all and you would have just kept on going.”

The argument Mario and Luigi are having here is what’s known in philosophy as the Anthropic Principle. In one certain formulation, the Anthropic Principle puts forth the idea that the laws of the universe and the particular circumstances of our place in it seem so precisely modeled to bring about the necessary conditions for intelligent life – so fine-tuned that if any one element had been just a little different it would be impossible for human beings to exist – that it indicates a Creator who intentionally made things this way in order to bring us about in the way that we are. Basically, it’s an argument for the existence of God. That’s what Mario is proposing and it’s often referred to as the Strong Anthropic Principle. Luigi’s point is that the appearance of design is no proof of design, because if things were different enough that we couldn’t exist to observe them, we wouldn’t be around to notice. So we don’t exist “on purpose,” but since the universe happens to be the way that it is, it just happens to be possible that we exist too.”

The article goes in pretty interesting directions after that. It’s worth reading.

The second article was from a Christian gamer, writing at Christ and Pop Culture, reflecting on the Skyrim experience, and the treatment of “theology” present in the latest, greatest, RPG.

“As I was exploring Skyrim, I was attacked by a band of cultists dedicated to the god “Boethiah.” Upon defeating them, I learned of the location of their cult and out of curiousity, decided to go investigate it. When I found the priestess of Boethiah, I learned that the cultists had been luring innocent people to their shrine and killing them in worship of their god.

There was no option to report the cult to the governing authorities, so I decided it was time to bring some vigilante justice to these murderers. I carefully planned out each of my attacks and took out each of the 6 cultists who were stationed near the shrine. Just as I took down the last one and was beginning to feel as though I had done something good to protect the innocent citizens of Skyrim, my screen blurred and I heard a voice from the heavens shouting, ”WHY HAVE YOU KILLED MY SERVANTS!”

It was disturbing to say the least. In a moment, a god, who in my mind only existed as a cultural artifact, came to life. I couldn’t have a detached relationship to Boethia because in the world of Skyrim, he actually exists and I found myself face to face with him.”

Fun stuff. But ignore all this, because video games are stupid (at least according to some).

Like the rest of evangelical Australia I’m a bit of a John Lennox fan at the moment. His turn on Q&A last week was a masterful attempt at presenting the gospel graciously in a relatively combative adversarial format. Those critical of his content (and I’ve seen a couple of Christians suggesting he could have answered a couple of questions better) should pay heed to the format, and the way both Eva Cox and the ABC’s moderator Virginia Trioli were keen to jump in on him before he could finish answering their questions. He articulated the need for forgiveness and the intellectual legitimacy of a God who intervenes in creation in a personal and relational way. I thought he did a stellar job. I thought Virginia Trioli’s banging on about circular reasoning was a little bit annoying because truth will essentially be self authenticating and circular, circular reasoning is a fallacy, but it’s not a defeater.

Anyway. Here’s John Lennox on a topic I wrote an essay about this semester.

Answering Ehrman

Nathan Campbell —  January 26, 2011

The Ehrman Project is a good little site dedicated to answering the arguments Dr Bart Ehrman’s objections to the Biblical text.

It features video clips from prominent Christian scholars putting Ehrman’s research, and popular writings, in an appropriate place.

Here’s philosophy guru Alvin Plantinga on the question of evil:

Each of his books gets a thorough rebuttal. Here’s video number one in answer to Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus featuring BW3.

So Paul’s speech at the Areopagus is an opportunity to introduce a new Gdo to Athens. The God. And it’s not an opportunity he lets slip. He grasps wit with both hands and uses it as a chance to preach the gospel, and in doing so he demonstrates more than a passing familiarity with the philosophy and practices of those he engages with. Bruce says he did this because he had found common ground between inconsistencies in Stoic and Epicurean thought and practice, and similarities between their doctrines and the Old Testament.

“He [Paul] was not borrowing his theology from the philosophical schools for pragmatic purposes.”

Bruce sees his speech before the Areopagus (as do I, as a pretty masterful piece of apologetics, for an article to that effect rather than my notes on his lecture on apologetics see Introducing Athens to God: Paul’s failed apologetic in Acts 17? (PDF), J.D Charles agrees in this article Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics (PDF)). Other scholars think it’s an apologetic model Paul tried and gave up, feeling a bit disillusioned (this view was made popular by a guy named Ramsay in St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1895)), or that Paul was actually on criminal trial to determine if his teaching was subversive (see this Google Books reference from Stanley Porter). I think Bruce’s reading actually makes the most sense, only Porter’s criminal trial theory explains the presence in the narrative of Acts, the idea that Paul gave up this sort of apologetic falls over a bit when you observe Paul’s continued engagement with Greek philosophy (see his quote from Epimendes in Acts 17:28 and his other Cretans quote in Titus and the Epimenedes Paradox), and Roman law and culture in his subsequent trials. Plus the narrative of Acts 17 reports converts (so it’s hardly a failure). Some suggest Paul’s resolving to know nothing but Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2) was Paul’s general approach to apologetics and not one particular to Corinth in the light of their issues with idolising gospel preachers as though they were first century orators.

Paul’s Apologetic Method (and the introduction of new Gods)

Paul opens with observations about the culture, and at the same time, points out that the God he is talking about is not a new God, but an Old God…

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Then he addresses specific questions the Areopagus sought to answer regarding new gods

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

He begins to look at what divine honours might be appropriate or required for such a God (what do you give the God who has everything?).

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Then he demonstrates his familiarity with their culture and thinking

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

This verse actually contains a quote from Epimendes and another from a Aratus, a Stoic philosopher.

Then he again turns to the question of temples and statues

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

And finally, he turns back to the question of what God requires from converts and the proof of God’s epiphany (in this case Jesus and the Resurrection, the gospel he had been preaching)

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Bruce suggests Paul makes five affirmations about the knowable God – that he made the world, determined the boundaries of the nations, that he can be sought through general revelation, that idols don’t represent him since we are his offspring, and that all people are called to turn to him or face judgment.

The Stoics, in De Natura Deorum had a sequence to be met in the presentation of new gods: first: prove God exists, second: explain their nature, third: show that the world is governed by them, fourth: show that they care for mankind.

Bruce says:

“The summary in Acts 17 assumes their belief in God‘s existences and His role as the creator of the world who is Lord of heaven and earth, (v. 24a). It affirms He gives life and all things to all his creation, (v. 25b). His providential care is intrinsically bound up with the needs of all mankind, (v. 26). Paul developed his theme on the nature of the known God thus.”

Paul also tackles issues of divine providence, from Bruce:

…in the Athenian speech there are important resonances with the Stoic view of providence. This may well have been Paul‘s most important bridge with that segment of his audience. Balbus sets out what he sees as the Stoic thesis that the world is ruled by divine providence…of the gods‘, only familiarity blinds us to nature‘s marvels.‘ For him providential government of the world can be inferred firstly, from divine wisdom and power,  secondly, from the nature of the world, thirdly from a detailed review of the wonders of nature,  and fourthly from the care of man.

Also, Bruce points out that Paul’s use of the singular “God” rather than “gods” was right down the alley of the Stoics and Epicureans – and elements of his speech to the Areopagus directly attack their understanding of theology.

The Stoics and Epicureans would have had no difficulty with the use of the singular ‘god’, for in one sentence they used the singular and plural interchangeably. For example, Diogenes Laertius speaks of ‘worshippers of god’ as those who ‘have acquaintance with the rites of the gods’ and who know ‘how to serve the gods’.

Much of Paul’s argument also plays on tensions between Stoic and Epicurean thought, in the same way that his argument before the Pharisees and the Sadducees played on tensions between those two groups.

Epicureans believed that God was living, immortal, and blessed – terminology Paul often uses to describe God in his letters. The Epicureans would have found common ground on that point, and further on the point that God could be discovered (and that an unknown God could be made known) because they believed God was knowable and clear to all. They also, importantly, dismissed the idea of God(s) living in temples – they didn’t like anything that looked like superstition, and both agreed that God had no need for human resources.

But the notion of an afterlife was completely foreign to Epicurus (the founder of the Epicureans) who said:

“Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling and that which has no feelings is nothing to us”

Which is probably why the crowd reacted like they did when Paul mentioned the resurrection (in much the same way that the Sadducees reacted in his audience with the Jews).

Bruce thinks Paul was actually calling the Stoics and Epicureans out on social compromise on their philosophies – and offering a better way.

“The Stoic self-contradiction, as Plutarch pointed out, was that they  attend the mysteries in the temples, go up to the Acropolis, do reverence to statues, and place wreaths upon the shrines, though these were the works of builders and mechanics”

Epicurus himself had believed that popular piety was not correct—‘For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions,‘

Some final thoughts from Bruce:

“Stoicism and Epicureanism in the imperial period had to endorse religious pluralism if they were to maintain their following, given participation in the imperial cult as one of the ways of affirming their loyalty to the empire.”

“No dialogue can be called  Christian‘ that does not possess the five elements expressed in Acts 17. So Paul‘s sermon in Athens was highly pleasing to Almighty God and these essential elements are to be repeated if we are to win the hearts and the minds of our contemporaries who need to believe the gospel.”

J.D Charles agrees (though he spends his time pondering the philosophical nature of Athens):

“Summing up Paul’s rhetorical strategy in Athens, we may note that the Apostle was knowledgeable, dialectical, well-read, relevant, and rhetorically skillful. What particularly strikes the reader is his ability to accommodate himself to the knowledge-base of most Athenians. Viewing Paul’s encounter with Athenian culture as such, we may conclude that his ministry was not a “failure.” Nor is it necessary to assume that his not-too-distant reflections about the power of the cross, recorded in 1 Corinthians 1–2, were penned with a wrong apologetic model (i.e., Athens) in mind.
To the contrary, a more accurate assessment of Paul’s ministry in Athens may be summed up by his own testimony to the Corinthians: “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more. To the Jews I became a Jew … ; to those without the law, I became like those without the law … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:19–22).”

Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is our guest today. He’s looking at apologetics from the vantage point of the scriptures… He called this “The Study of Scripture as a Scientific Pursuit” – it’s actually more accurately “an introduction to presupposition apologetics.”

These are my notes.

Knowledge is a great challenge and a philosophical question – “how do you know what you know” – that’s the beginning of the study of the Bible. When we’re defending the faith through the scriptures we’re claiming to know something both of the Bible and of God.

The study of religion is useful in apologetics.

What is religion – from the Latin roots – “the tying/binding together of things that are separate.”

Scientism: I only know what I can know by the scientific empirical method. This is the form of religious skepticism that we know today. How do you put God into the test tube? You can’t. So taking this approach to religion doesn’t work.

The science of religion is different to the religion of science.

The science of religion – how do we know what we know? The study of the binding together of things (man and man, man and God) through religion…

This uses science in the broad sense of the word – it’s analogous to what a linguist, anthropologist or other pursuit of knowledge does (outside of the material sciences).

Think about religion in its broad sense – the way Paul Tillich considers it – “religion is that thing or person that is beyond everything else that we engage. It is that absolute transcendent reality or ultimate concern that defines us.”

Everybody has that ultimate concern that defines us. How do we really know what that ultimate concern is in our life? What is it?

Some of Lillback’s basic presuppositions:

  1. Everyone is religious – we all have an “ultimate” concern or a transcendent reality.
  2. Because all human beings are finite we all believe something – we’re limited, we’re not omni-anything, so some of our knowledge comes from belief or trust in something external. This is how we know, or think we know, what we know. The phrase “people of faith” applies universally – we all have a transcendent concern and a faith that comes out of that. These presuppositions come cf Abraham Kuyper. They necessarily therefore live their lives in faith flowing from that presupposition.
  3. Nobody is objective. We can not look at the world objectively. We all have these presuppositions that get in the way of seeing the “facts” – we all look at things and define them via our bias. Nobody is ultimately objective. Cornelius Van Til: “imagine a man of water living in a world of water who builds a ladder of water to climb out of the water so that he can see what is not water” – we can not escape what we have perceived and defined our world to be. If we bring materialistic assumptions to the world we can not help but find materialistic conclusions (that by nature exclude God).

These presuppositions must be engaged with the people we encounter. People try to engage the world in the following ways:

  • Deduction: logical inference based upon the presuppositions in which we operate. The logic we use is like a refrigerator – if you put good meat into the freezer two days later it’ll still be good. If you put rotten meat in it won’t come out good. Logic is a capable tool, but not magical.
  • Induction: gathering data together to draw conclusions.
  • Intuition: instinctive knowledge based on our suppositions.
  • Revelation – we can not know God by our own investigations, we will only know God if he reveals himself to us. The daring claim of the science of religion as a Christian is that it is impossible to know God without revelation.

As Christians we too are finite, and not objective (in fact our subjectivity is moderated by the Holy Spirit – not just our bias) – we put our faith in revelation.

Our framework is exactly the same as the non-Christians. Our presuppositions are the same. Our treatment of ourselves is consistent with our treatment of others.

We all have this transcendent point from which we operate. Everybody starts with preconditions born out of their presuppositions. Ours is “I believe that God has spoken through the Scriptures…” Following this presupposition we can stand on the word of the Lord. Taking this stance removes the ability for culture to pull us in ebbs and flows and beat us with erudite arguments.

Philosophers in the realm of epistemology suggest we know certain things to be true regardless of our experience (eg. if I took two apples from one side of the room and two from the other and put them in the bag then we’ll all agree that two and two makes four. We intuitively know this). We also have knowledge by experience (a posteriori). The Christian says we have that knowledge through our experience with the Bible. We also have internalised knowledge through the work of the Spirit (a priori). The Holy Spirit is part of our presupposition (ED Note: which provides interesting ramifications re: confirmation bias). Scripture is self-authenticating to those with the spirit (ED Note: which also has some interesting ramifications re: circular reasoning).

We are called as gospel preachers and teachers to ask people to experience for themselves rather than understand our descriptions, “taste and see that the Lord is good” – Millbank used Edward’s honey analogy.

The Science of Religion is the knowledge of our ultimate concerns. These ultimate concerns come with presuppositions. We all interpret our world through our presuppositions. Christians believe that the knowledge of God is only possible through revelation. We believe the Spirit gives us an a posteriori and a priori basis for trusting the revelation of God through the Scriptures. The Christian therefore is called to study the scriptures “scientifically” – this is a Christian epistemology of the study of scriptures… we talked about definition, presuppositions and method… which leads us to the scriptures.

Kuyper: There are two types of science in the world because there are two types of people. Those who are born from above by the Spirit and those who have not. These types of people will look at the world and the Bible very differently.

We look at the Bible as though it is God speaking to us – other “biblical scholars” study the words on the page very differently. Even when the Bible is open it’s a closed book to the second category of people.

Bible bits that support this view:

1 Corinthians 2: An extraordinary passage on the epistemology of religion from a Christian perspective. This is a rough paraphrase (Peter read from an NIV, I had my ESV in front of me)… starting from verse 10.

“But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit… only by those who have been touched by God can know these things… we have not received the Spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God… The natural person does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him…”

Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17): he declares his worldview and declares the need for repentance – Van Til said the greatest apologetic is to preach the Gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

“We thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.”

The word of God isn’t clever exegesis and stirring oratory but the way the Spirit works through the Bible.

Luther: I don’t defend the Bible, I preach the Bible. The Bible defends itself…

Apologetics from a Christian perspective is a declaration of the Bible’s truth from the Bible. And this is legitimate because everybody comes at the world with their own presuppositions.

Another analogy: an explorer visits a lost valley and discovers a lost people – a tribe where every person was blind. None of them had any idea what seeing was. And the explorer tried to explain to them what seeing was. Nobody believed him. They couldn’t fathom the existence of seeing. He spent time alongside them, becoming part of their community – one day they asked if he wanted to join the tribe – on the condition that he pluck out his eyes…

This is, apparently, an analogy for apologetics. Let the reader understand.

Kim Dale is a Pressy minister in Queensland, he does a fair bit of thinking on apologetics, and in particular the issue of worldviews. He was essentially converted through apologetic dialogue with a Christian. He’s our guest lecturer today. These are my notes – unless indicated they are rough or direct quotes from Kim.

Apologetics: The written and spoken defense of the Gospel where there is opposition, and it’s done in love.

This definition prevents apologetics just being “argument” for argument’s sake. There may be times when it might seem like that.

On Walk Up Evangelism: One of the drawbacks is that you don’t actually want to get engaged for a long time – we need to think about the relationship between apologetics and evangelism. There’s an organic relationship between apologetics and evangelism.

We have to be ready and prepared to give answers – but we need to be doing that in a loving way.

Francis Schaeffer, in The Mark of the Christian calls love “the final apologetic” – if we aren’t demonstrating love then we may get really frustrated in the attempt of sharing the Gospel. Schaeffer says we need to be able to give the message of the gospel and be prepared to actually give it when the situation arrives. Schaeffer uses John 17.

Apologetics needs to take place, where possible, in a community of Christians – there needs to be some exposure to the nature of Christian relationships and Christian people in order to see the genuineness of Christian love. That’s part of the deal of apologetics. Sometimes it may seem artificial to get people involved. Even if it seems that way at first they need to see the genuine love of God – which is often beyond us as individuals.

There can be situations where we don’t want to bring anybody to our churches – because of the presence of hypocrisy – where all our arguments will, as a general rule, fail on the basis of love.

There might be times where what you’re going to do, so far as apologetics is concerned, is just show love. Rather than rehashing old arguments. Getting to know people and where they’re coming from is a good move. We can get overly defensive or offensive when it comes to the gospel.

Where do we do it?

Normally we would think of apologetics as something we do outside the church, with non-believers. But we have to defend the gospel in the church. It has an important place inside the church. The overwhelming amount of information available in modern culture can be overpowering. We have to expose ourselves to this information, and it can be enjoyable. But we have to be prepared to take a break.

The religious and philosophical scheme is so diverse that it’s inevitable that the church is effected on the inside by what is happening on the outside. We need to defend the faith from the pulpit – people within the life of the church will doubtless call on you to make such a defense.

We’re to be “on guard,” but it’s not just defense – we need to be prepared to correct or destroy ideas (in love) to dismantle and break down harmful ideas both within and without. There’s “knowledge” that sets itself up against God. And that has to be dealt with. Sometimes these moves should be in public (and we see books published addressing anti-God arguments). There is an offensive strategy that we need to embrace.

Part of apologetics is clarifying other people’s thinking for them – asking “how can you make the judgment?” and “on what basis?” Get people to question basic assumptions.

Areas where having thought about apologetics have helped Kim.

  1. Going through the membership vows – and the person says “I believe that, but I also believe in reincarnation”… where do you go from there?
  2. Some people wanting to become members said “we used to belong to the Presbyterian Church, my wife taught Sunday School”… and in going through things like the divinity of Christ and they say “yes, in the same way that I’m divine too, as a son of God.” Where do you go if they’re not going to change on those positions. You explain the faith, and you deal with the consequences.
  3. When receiving an email after a sermon that said “when you were preaching there was a halo around you and three angels standing behind you” and then went on with a bunch of numerology stuff…
  4. God can’t act until we pray” said from the pulpit when doing prayer in the morning.

What if he’d said “yes” to all of those – you need to make sense and be doctrinally consistent. That’s the necessity of apologetics inside the church. We need to have some interactions with the other ideas that are out there.

How do you deal with people when you know they have odd ideas?

Try to get to know them, outside of the Sunday morning context, get them in a situation where they’re learning (eg a Growth Group), it can, for individuals, take a tragedy or difficulty and you being there pastorally.

We’re doing a bit of a mini-subject on apologetics this semester as part of a weekly “preparations for ministry” session.

Yesterday’s session featured Bruce Winter sharing some insights on the important discipline of apologetics garnered from his extensive studies on Paul and his culture, and from his experience as an apologist in Singapore and while working as an academic in England (Cambridge).

Here are my notes:

Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason to the hope that lies within them.

It’s interesting that the word there – apologia – goes beyond the idea of giving some answer. Stoic philosophers used apologia to argue their case while interacting in a substantial way with the mindset of the people they’re addressing.

How are we going to engage in apologia with people in the 21st century? Two Ways To Live isn’t going to work for everybody. We see from the way that Paul tackles apologetics that he engages the culture around him.

We need to engage the audience and move around their world – Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great apologia that removes objections to the gospel – objections that come from the mindset of people living in first century Rome.

Paul argues that we need to pull down every argument against God both within and outside the church – he talks about demolishing the stronghold of people’s ideas contrary to God, he distinguishes between the argument and the person. Paul demolishes and reconstructs these arguments “captive to Christ.

Acts 17 is a good example, and a good paradigm, of Paul connecting with the audience and their expectations and producing converts. This is the parliament of Athens.

Five things to learn from Paul to connect and engage with people’s world. This message needs to engage the thought world of the people around it.

  1. We have to connect our message with the audience we’re speaking to – Paul connects – he makes the connections the audience required (in introducing a new God to the council – eg the building of a temple, holy days/sacrifices), he also uses their culture (eg the statue of the unknown god) to engage.
  2. We have to structure our message in a way that provides a hearing for the gospel - The framework we present the gospel in changes based on the audience – talking to sciency people requires a different presentation to talking to people from different religious backgrounds. The main aim is that people hear the gospel connected to their world.
  3. Know how to connect the message, and know what it needs to correct – Paul knows that people need the gospel, but he also knows what the objections to it are, and he addresses them with the correction of the gospel.
  4. Converse with their world – it’s remarkable when you read historical sources talking about the nature of God and compare it to the way Paul quotes their arguments and poets/philosophers in his apologia. He understands their world, their language, and their issues. Paul is even able to point out inconsistencies in their current thinking and actions (they talk about the nature of Gods not living in temples made by man, but visit temples – Paul points out they aren’t living up to their basic beliefs and teachings.) He’s read the literature. He knows their teaching. He is well able to bring them to that point through the quotations of their poets.
  5. He confronts his audience - Paul doesn’t steer clear of the topic of God’s judgment and the predicament that places his audience in. God’s judgment coupled with God’s amnesty (he calls on all people, everywhere, to repent). Paul doesn’t compromise. He’s not prepared to negotiate on the fixed points that his audience was bound to be opposed to. It’s a different worldview.  Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 converts people from those opposing points of view and philosophy.

Some questions to ask regarding our approach:

  • How are we going to talk to different audiences?
  • How do we talk to those dealing with the certain uncertainty of death?
  • How do we connect with their views and preconceptions about Christianity and the world?
  • How can we talk to them about their world?
  • How do we talk to affluent people who think they have everything? Their question is different – “what’s missing?” – “what is it?” How do we raise the issue of the gospel in a way that articulates this need in a way they might never have considered?

A question to prompt thought in others is: If you had your life over again how would you do things differently? Everybody is fundamentally aware that they do the wrong thing at least occasionally.

We’re not dealing with blanks slates but people who have spent their lives deliberately ignoring (and justifying ignoring) general revelation. Romans 2 suggests that it’s our conscience that judges us as we face God at judgment day – so the question “how can God…” is irrelevant.

Thanks to RodeoClown, in the comments of that last monkey theorem quote, I now know the magnitude of improbability involved in a monkey creating the works of Shakespeare (or, even just one line from Hamlet).

The balance of probability is so incredibly weighted against a monkey even getting the right sequence of letters in order (every time the monkey strikes a letter there are 31 other keys he might press rather than getting the next stroke right that it is only the constraints of logic that mean we can’t call the situation impossible.

Which kind of makes you think. One of the arguments against God is broken down into two similar questions of probability (which seem a bit like a paradox to me) – those suggesting the idea of the God of the Bible occurring is so improbable that it’s impossible are, at the same time, suggesting that the improbability of the universe must, by definition, have occurred given infinite time and space. To me, both seem equally improbable. In any moment prior to the world (as we know it) existing it was much more likely not to start existing than it was to start existing. That little conundrum seems to be pretty easy to resolve to me – if one is true, then both can be true, but if one is false then both must be false. Wouldn’t an infinite universe over infinite time inevitably produce each possible permutation of God until it produced one able to control the parameters? Namely, the infinite space part? I think at this point it’s more logical that something pre-existed the nothing. That skews the probability pretty dramatically. Am I getting something wrong with my logic here? Now that I’ve read the math guy’s answer right to the end I can see that he agrees with me. He also wrote a follow up piece in which he answers my conundrum from the previous post.

“So what happens if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing away? Do we get a script for Hamlet as Mr Adams suggests? Yes, we do! In point of fact, we get every combination of letters possible with the given typewriter, and that in infinite quantities. So not only do we get Hamlet, we get Shakespeare’s complete works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this document, and incomprehensibly vast quantities of random garbage. (Note that this document may also qualify as garbage, but I object to it being described as “random”.) An infinite number of monkeys typing randomly will rapidly produce every possible written work. “

The Math

Each time it presses a key, there is a one in 32 chance that it will be correct. To get our little snippet of Hamlet, it will need a total of 41 consecutive “correct” keystrokes. This means that the chances are one in 32 to the power of 41. Let’s look at a table of values.

Keys Chances (one in…)
————————————
1 32
2 32*32 = 1024
3 32*32*32 = 32768
4 32*32*32*32 = 1048576
5 32^5 = 33554432
6 32^6 = 1073741824
7 32^7 = 34359738368
8 32^8 = 1099511627776
9 32^9 = 3.518437208883e+013
10 32^10 = 1.125899906843e+015

20 32^20 = 1.267650600228e+030

30 32^30 = 1.427247692706e+045

41 32^41 = 5.142201741629e+061

204 32^204 = 1.123558209289e+307

The last figure is included only because it is the largest value that the MS Windows calculator can handle — it’s doing better than my hand-held Casio (old faithful!) which only goes up to 1e+99. Okay, so these figures are pretty vast, but we have a lot of monkeys and they can type fast. So how long will it take, on average, for one of my monkeys to type a line matching that sentence? Hard question. Let’s get an idea of how long we are talking here. How many lines can my monkey type in a year, given that it types at a rate of one line per second?

1 line per second
* 60 seconds per minute = 60 lines per minute
* 60 minutes per hour = 3600 lines per hour
* 24 hours per day = 86400 lines per day
* 365.24 days per year = 31556736 lines per year

If you have access to Unix, you can calculate this with the dc command, but be warned that it may take quite a while to calculate and annoy other users because the computer is so slow. Use of the nice command is suggested. The syntax, should you care to try, is as follows. Type the dc command, then type the following lines.

99k
1 1 32 41 ^ / – 60 ^ 60 ^ 24 ^ 365 ^
p

The figure that is eventually printed will be the probability (expressed as a value between zero and one) of our monkey not typing our little phrase from Hamlet in the space of one year’s worth of continuous attempts. The answer that it prints looks like this:

0.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999938
6721844366784484760952487499968756116464000

Notice all the nines? Even to fifty or more significant figures, this reads 100%. Okay, so realistically, there is no way that our monkey can do its job in a year. Maybe we should start talking centuries? Millenia? As I understand it, common scientific wisdom suggests that the universe is about 15 billion years old (although they may have revised their dating since I last heard about it). We can easily extend our current figure of one year to count many years. Our calculator will be much faster if we break the calculation down to powers of two and just use the “square” operation, so let’s choose a nice even power of two like 2^34, which is about 17 billion (17,179,869,184 to be precise). The new figure is:

0.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999998946
3961512816564762914005246488858434168051444149065728

So, although I’m (possibly temporarily) retired from arguing with atheists, I’ve been nominated to present a little seminar at college on things not to say to atheists.

I reckon I’m pretty good at saying things they don’t like – some right, some wrong…

Here are some things I think you shouldn’t say:

  1. Don’t say anything about how Hitler was both an atheist and evil – as though atheism necessitates evil. I’ve broken Godwin’s law plenty of times – but mainly to suggest that atheists arguing from Christian extremities is about as consistent as Christians arguing using Hitler. This context is often lost. Hitler is like a red rag to a bull in these discussions.
  2. Don’t say anything about how atheists can’t possibly be moral or good as a result of rejecting God. This is silly, it’s not even Biblical. If we’re right and God exists, and he’s the God of the Bible, then atheists are capable of “moral” actions even if they reject him. They don’t put off imago dei just because they don’t believe in the second part of the Latin equation.
  3. Pretty much don’t say anything negative about science. Science is a good thing. Acknowledge that. Move on. Stick to the philosophical and reject “naturalism” that’s much sager ground because there’s no proof that it actually is how things work, just that it’s an observably feasible method of understanding things.
  4. Don’t suggest that atheists should be governed by laws set by Christians just because they’re in the minority. This again is pretty dumb. It’s like we expect people to live like they have the Holy Spirit when they don’t. This is mostly relevant when talking about politics, but also has some bearing on talking about personal choices. It’s fine to say that something is wrong if you’re a Christian, and fine to say that someone is doing the wrong thing according to God, but unless there’s a third party innocent victim to protect (like there is in abortion) I’d be keeping that powder dry.
  5. Don’t quote Psalm 14:1 out of context (“the fool says in their heart there’s no God”) unless you want to be lumped in with every other proof texting Bible bashing redneck who wants to beat up homosexuals while eating lobster. We need to make sure that we use the Bible well. In fact, don’t quote the Bible out of context at all. Ever.

But I’d love to hear from you, dear readers (especially any atheists hanging around) about what us Christians shouldn’t say to atheists (within reason – we’re allowed to say “you’re wrong, and it’s not very nice to call our beliefs a crazy delusion”).

Any pointers from your experience – otherwise I’m just going to be rehashing things from this post and this one (and the comments therein) – and possibly these ones from Pharyngula and the Friendly Atheist.

Warranted Belief

Nathan Campbell —  January 14, 2010

Mikey keeps posting quotes from this philosopher guy Al Plantinga (wiki). It turns out the book he’s quoting from – Warranted Christian Belief – is available in its entirety online. And free.

Might be worth a read if, like me, you keep getting in over your head in philosophical arguments with atheists. It’ll save you reaching out for the succor offered by a quick Google. And it’ll give you an intelligent “scholar” to quote…

Here’s a (long) quote on historical criticism – particularly on why it’s hard to argue with people who presuppose that the miraculous accounts in the Bible are mythical because they are miraculous, and why this shouldn’t be convincing:

The Troeltschian scripture scholar accepts Troeltsch’s principles for historical research, under an interpretation according to which they rule out the occurrence of miracles and the divine inspiration of the Bible (along with the corollary that the latter enjoys the sort of unity accruing to a book that has one principal author). But then it is not at all surprising that the Troeltschian tends to come up with conclusions wildly at variance with those accepted by the traditional Christian. As Gilkey says, “Suddenly a vast panoply of divine deeds and events recorded in scripture are no longer regarded as having actually happened.” Now if (instead of tendentious claims about our inability to do otherwise) the Troeltschian offered some good reasons to think that, in fact, these Troeltschian principles are true, then traditional Christians would have to pay attention; then they might be obliged to take the skeptical claims of historical critics seriously. Troeltschians, however, apparently don’t offer any such good reasons. They simply declare that nowadays we can’t think in any other way, or (following Harvey) that it is immoral to believe in, for example, Christ’s resurrection on other than historical grounds.

Neither of these is remotely persuasive as a reason for modifying traditional Christian belief in the light of Troeltschian results. As for the first, of course, the traditional Christian knows that it is quite false: she herself and many of her friends nowadays (and hundreds of millions of others) do think in precisely that proscribed way. And as far as the implicit claims for the superiority of these Troeltschian ways of thinking go, she won’t be impressed by them unless some decent arguments of one sort or another are forthcoming, or some other good reason for adopting that opinion is presented. The mere claim that this is what many contemporary experts think will not and should not intimidate her.

Things science can’t do

Nathan Campbell —  November 22, 2009

William Lane Craig on science and its limitations…

Driscoll’s apologetic

Nathan Campbell —  October 16, 2009

Mark Driscoll has been invited to write occasional columns for the Washington Post. In his first he was asked how to best present the gospel to atheists and skeptics.

His answer, as his answers always are, was beautifully Christocentric.

Q: What makes the best ‘case for God’ to a skeptic or non-believer, an open-minded seeker, and to a person of faith and Why?

Answer
Jesus.

Christianity is not first and foremost about a sacred place to pilgrimage to, a philosophical system to ponder, a moral code to live, a religious tradition to honor, or an impersonal god to experience. Rather, Christianity is about a person who claimed to be the only God and said he would prove his unprecedented claim by living without sin, dying for sinners, and conquering death through resurrection.

It’s a nice opener. The gospel in a nutshell. And he doesn’t shy away from addressing other areas, but he starts with Jesus. And that’s worthy of respect. More respect than others who like to sit on their blogs and throw stones because they don’t like his sense of humour…

His conclusion is helpful too…

“And so while there is no “best case” for presenting God, there are false ways of presenting God: as anyone in addition to or other than Jesus Christ. As Christians, our goal is never to lie to people by only telling them what they want to hear, or manipulating them to feel what they want to feel. Instead, we want to respect them enough to tell them the truth, and love them enough to do so in a way that is compassionate. We care more about the truth and the love than having the “best case.”

I’ve been wondering, given recent experiences with atheists right here, how to move the debate away from discussing theism/atheism towards Christianity/atheism. It’s a great tactic the atheists have adopted to avoid dealing with Christianity specifically. It’s much easier to dismiss a non-specific deity on the basis of dismissing all deities (Christians do something similar all the time, by rejecting all other Gods) than it is to actually dismiss the specifics of the deity people are actually putting faith in. But it’s a case of moving the goal posts to suit the game you want to win.

The temptation, when discussing the existence of God in the theism/atheism paradigm is to throw our lot in with other theists (Muslims, Hindus, Mormons etc) and see them as allies – when a better, more Biblically consistent model is the one Driscoll advocates. Using an apologetic based on Jesus.

That’s why I’m a Driscoll fanboy. That, and the description he gives himself in his byline on the article.

“A nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.”

Let there be light

Nathan Campbell —  August 21, 2009

I often feel discouraged when talking to my atheist friends. Not because their arguments are compelling, but because I love them and believe Christianity is true and offers hope.

It’s hard. It’s like talking to a brick wall. But this long quote gives me a fair bit of hope that all is not lost.

“My commitment to atheism essentially came in three steps. The first was when I was in junior high school and began asking Christians uncomfortable questions, like, “How can there be a loving God with so much suffering in the world?” And, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” And, “How can Jesus be the only way to God?” Rather than engage with me, they basically told me to keep my questions to myself. I quickly concluded that the reason they didn’t want to discuss these matters was because there were no good answers from the Christian perspective.

The second step came when I began studying neo-Darwinism in high school. I was particularly struck by Stanley Miller’s 1959 experiment in which he recreated what he thought was the original atmosphere of the primitive Earth, shot electricity through it to simulate lightning, and discovered the creation of some amino acids, the building blocks of life. I naively concluded that Miller had proven that life could have emerged in a purely naturalistic way. To me, that meant God was out of a job!”

That’s Lee Strobel – American author of a number of books of Christian apologetics. He said it in answers to a series of questions from the Friendly Atheist back in January.

You can find them here, here, here, and here. It’s a great example of respectful dialogue between two opposing camps.

And here’s the encouraging rub.

For nearly two years, I investigated science, philosophy, and history. I read literature (both pro and con), quizzed experts, and studied archaeology. On November 8th, 1981, alone in my room, I took a yellow legal pad and began summarizing the evidence I had encountered. In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I came to the conclusion that it would have required more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.

Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection (and, hence, his divinity). In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.

I’ve been reading a bit of the back catalogue of the Friendly Atheist, who is in fact a friendly atheist – it’s a same about his lunatic band of followers who deface every moderate post with comments about why Christianity should not exist… I’ve been doing this because I think engaging with just one or two posts from this sort of blog and getting all preachy in the comments is harmful. I like to understand context before I go off disagreeing (yes my specific atheist friends this is important to Christians…).

The Friendly Atheist, Hermant Mehta, achieved some fame ebaying off his time with a promise to visit churches identified by the winning bidder. He turned it into a book – which would no doubt be informative reading for anybody wanting to look at church practices from the outside. He also used his experience to write a couple of reflective posts – one about things about church that are annoying (and I agree with most of them) – as do many Christian commenters on the post (which is still getting comments almost 2 years later)… and this one – ten things Christians do better than atheists – which is a bit less friendly. I guess because both target the fringe parts of Christianity that I personally have struggles with… Which in itself is interesting. I think the “rational” evangelical arm of Christianity probably spends a lot of time agreeing with atheists and throwing stones at Christian brothers rather than focusing on the unity we have with our “irrational” fellow Christians. Which is pretty challenging. Especially in the light of passages like 1 Corinthians 1 (incidentally if you google the phrase: 1 Corinthians 1 biblegateway esv – the third result down is a page on the MPC website (dad’s church for the uninitiated))…

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The more I grapple with, and try to convince my atheist friends of the rationality of the gospel the more I am convinced that this is the case – they’re going to read this and tell me I’m copping out for falling back on a proof text written in order to justify just this criticism – but that’s where I guess our “doctrine” of Scripture disagrees. If it’s a true representation of God’s intentions why wouldn’t the Bible say it?

Craig linked to the article from the Friendly Atheist I posted the other day, with a wise disclaimer encouraging Christians to be sensitive when posting – advice I perhaps failed to heed with my own comments – lest we give more ammunition to the disdain these atheists show for Christianity. It’s particularly pertinent advice given some of the “drive by” evangelism that happens in the comments on that blog – evangelism without relationship is pretty futile. As perhaps best expressed by this Friendly Atheist post of advice for Christians as they evangelise to atheists