The Bias of Skeptics

Black-Swan-900

Most skeptics I talk to think they operate completely without bias in their skepticism and agnosticism. They often demonstrate a startling lack of self-awareness of their assumptions. One hundred years ago, the British essayist G. K. Chesterton noted the frustrating contradiction of the skeptics arguments:

“I remember once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to him (such as the quite unproved proposition of the independence of matter and the quite improbable proposition of its power to originate mind), and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: “Well, can you tell me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted the miraculous?” I said, “With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton, Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere—as many more as you please.” To which that quite admirable and idealistic young man made this astonishing reply—’Oh, but of course they had to say that; they were Christians.’

“First he challenged me to find a black swan, and then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or other a proof either that they were not great intellects or that they had not really come to that view. The argument thus stood in a charmingly convenient form: ‘All men that count have come to my conclusion; for if they come to your conclusion they do not count.’

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Is the Best Defense a Good Offense in Apologetic Encounters?

Offense_DefenseGuest Post by Jeff Mindler

[Jeff graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 2014 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies, as well as an M.A. in Counseling. He currently works as the Event Coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Lancaster, PA. His wife, Joe’l, and he worship at Grace Baptist Church of Millersville in Millersville, PA where they both serve as members. He enjoys studying several different disciplines including Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Church History, and Practical Theology, while having a keen and passionate love for Apologetics and Systematic Theology in particular.]

Biblical apologetics is at its most basic level a defense of the Christian faith, giving a reason for the hope that is within us, just as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. While knowing what we believe and why we believe it and being able to defend it is critical to our apologetic, it is also important to go on the offensive while engaging in apologetics, challenging the unbeliever to explain what he believes and why. We don’t often think of apologetics as an offensive enterprise, mainly due to the very meaning of the word apologetics, to give a defense but going on the offensive is simply the flip side of the coin of apologetic defense. This does not mean we attack the person we are dialoguing with directly, rather it is challenging them to make sense of the world around us according to their own worldview. We must press the unbeliever to rationally account for things such as logic, morality, and the scientific principle according to what their own worldview says about reality and help them to see how their own worldview and any worldview aside from the Christian worldview cannot account for such things. Jeffrey Johnson helpfully explains this further when he writes,

“Because the Christian worldview is the only system of thought that is cohesively consistent with itself, all other possible worldviews are inherently incoherent. It is not sufficient for an atheist or any other skeptic to simply attack the walls of the Christian worldview. They must also defend their own ground. They must protect their own presuppositions and belief systems.”[1]

One of the best ways to go on the offensive is to ask questions of the unbeliever. By listening carefully and asking good questions to the unbeliever our goal is to help them see that their own worldview cannot give them the very things they want in a worldview. Ask them to show you where human dignity arises from their worldview and press them to be consistent with their own presuppositions and you will quickly find that apart from the God of the Bible, they will not be able to account for such things and will actually borrow from the Christian worldview in order to hold theirs up. For example, when talking with someone who holds to a naturalistic worldview, that all that exists is matter in motion, ask them on their own worldview how things like the immaterial laws of logic can exist. I personally have heard all sorts of answers to this question but at bottom they cannot account for laws of logic in their worldview. Only the Christian worldview can account for these.

This is where the apologetic task becomes so critical, once we have pressed the unbeliever to account for these things and have shown that they cannot in their own worldview, we must not leave them there. How cruel it would be of us if we simply tore down the unbeliever’s worldview and then left them in their despair! We must never leave them in that state but must always give them the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apologetics and evangelism go hand in hand and must never be separated. We must call the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ as that is the only hope for their salvation as well as accounting for logic, morality, and science in this life.

By defending our own position and going on the offensive with the unbeliever, showing them how their own worldview leads to futility, we call people to turn from their sin and trust in Christ as their only means of salvation, trusting that God will call His people to Himself and use His people along the way. May God be glorified in our apologetic!

 

[1] Johnson, Jeffrey, The Absurdity of Unbelief, 11.

Atheism Cannot Logically Argue for Morality

Image result for good samaritan

Atheists insist that they can have morality without God. The standard for right and wrong, they tell us, is human flourishing, or empathy, or usefulness, or some other such vague idea. But then they are faced with the problem of defining those concepts, and applying them to real, difficult, sticky human situations. People judge ideas and actions quite differently, so expecting consensus about much is unrealistic. Argument then turns to force, for someone must enforce this morality. Political power is needed to enforce the judgments of some people over others for the good of all. So, might makes right, and we are right back where we started.

C. S. Lewis opined on something similar 65 years ago:

If we ask: “Why ought I to be unselfish?” and you reply “Because it is good for society,” we may then ask, “Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?” and then you will have to say, “Because you ought to be unselfish”–which simply brings us back to where we started.

I am not saying that atheists are not or cannot be moral. There is just no compelling reason to be moral rather than immoral.

Is there value in apologetics if it does not lead to evangelism?

I wonder if “apologetics” which does not lead people to Christ as Savior, and then on to their living under the Lordship of Christ in the whole of life, really is Christian apologetics. There certainly is a place for an academic study of a subject called “apologetics,” as the defense and the credibility of Christianity, but if it does not lead the students to use that material to lead people to Christ as Savior, one can ask its value.

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer; Crossway, 1982), 1:186-7.

Worldview Flows from Heart and Mind

heart-mind

Philosopher James Sire defines worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”[1]

Notice some of the components of this definition:

  1. A worldview is a commitment of the heart

Sire notes that a worldview goes beyond the intellect to the heart. It is a spiritual orientation that involves the soul. A worldview springs from a person’s inner being and reflects what she loves and values as much as what she has come to believe intellectually. In this sense, a worldview is a commitment. A person tends to interpret everything she experiences through this grid, even if it does not provide satisfactory answers for every question. Only when another worldview proves itself to have much better answers to many questions will a person abandon her original worldview for the new one.

When Sire speaks of the heart, he is referring to more than what many in the modern Western world think of the heart. His definition bears much more similarity to the biblical concept of heart than anything else, which is “the central defining element of the human person.”[2] While a person’s worldview involves emotion, it also involves wisdom, desire and will, intellect, and spirituality.

  1. A worldview involves presuppositions

A presupposition is a belief that serves as a foundation for all other beliefs. A worldview is not the same as a presupposition, but a worldview is developed from presuppositions. Since presuppositions are often held unconsciously, the foundations of a person’s worldview are often unexamined. Their worldview is usually consciously considered, but the presuppositions behind it are not always so.

When speaking with an unbeliever, we want to ask questions that reveal his presuppositions, such as, “Why do you believe that?” and “What do you base that on?” Once we discover on what he bases his beliefs, his worldview begins to become apparent. For example, if all his beliefs are based on his own rationality, then it becomes clear that he has either a rationalist or existentialist worldview. Worldviews tend to have clear implications for many of the areas of concern, so if you identify a person’s worldview, you can discover quickly what they will most likely believe about significant philosophical questions, such as the origin, purpose, identity, and destiny of the human race.

  1. A worldview has to do with what we think the world is

One of the most important aspects of a worldview is its view on metaphysics, that is the nature of the world. Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality. It asks and answers questions such as, “What does it mean to exist? What is the nature of the divine? What is man? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are things the way they are?” All these questions have a bearing on the rest of a person’s beliefs. For example, if someone believes that all of life is an illusion, then there is no logical reason to help anyone or do good, because the other person and “good” would also be an illusion.

On the contrary, if we believe that this world is created by God and man is unique in all of creation because he is made in the image of God, then we will value human life and seek to treat others with the dignity inherent in the image of God.

  1. A worldview determines how we live

What I think of the world will have a direct impact on how I live every day. If I believe that life is pointless, meaningless, and absurd, I may lead a life of responsibility and compassion for others, trying to make the world a better place, but there would be no logical reason for me to do so. If life is absurd, and I truly believe that, then most likely I will not seek out anything that normally provides people a sense of purpose.

As Christians our belief that there is a holy God to whom we are accountable, and in whose grace we stand, should motivate us to live pure, humble, thankful lives. Not all Christians do live this way, but they should.

The discrepancy between a person’s worldview and his daily life is best explained by the difference between profession and possession. I may claim to have a Christian worldview, but if my life is marked by squandering my resources, practicing immorality, being cruel to others, and living for myself, then I am merely professing Christianity. The Apostle John compares those who merely profess the right beliefs without truly being possessed by them. Those who truly possesses saving faith in Christ will live a life marked by light (truth, purity, and obedience—1 John 1:6-7), admit that they have sinned (1 John 1:8), confess their sins (1 John 1:9-10), live in obedience (1 John 2:4-5), and love other believers (1 John 2:9-10).

Discerning a person’s worldview is key to being able to challenge her unbelief or answer her challenges to the Christian faith. Having a well-developed Christian worldview helps us hold our faith consistently and confidently, and consequently engage unbelievers effectively.

[1] James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (InterVarsity, 2009), 20.

[2] David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002), 267-74.

Understanding the concept of “Worldview”

world_view-eyesWorldview is a concept that has become more common over the last few decades. One of the reasons for the growth of its use in intellectual and religious conversations is that it allows us to understand why people believe the things they do. Understanding a person’s worldview allows you to trace the logical outcome of their heart commitments, and to discern inconsistencies and contradictions when people don’t remain coherent in their beliefs.

Coherence is a significant part of thinking rationally, and the nature of worldviews allows us to test the rationality of a belief system. This is essentially what you are doing when you are asking the type of questions we discussed in earlier chapters. Coherence means internal consistency, and a coherent position is one in which all the beliefs fit together. If, for example, I believe that man is nothing more than an animal, and with no more significance or value than an animal, it would be inconsistent for me to argue that humans have dignity or rights that animals don’t have. If I believe that this world came about by chance and mindless forces, it would be incoherent to talk about meaning in life.

Surprisingly, then, many worldviews contain internally incoherent elements. One way to become a better apologist is to familiarize yourself with various worldviews and learn to identify the logical implications for them. When you are able to do this, you will find that your ability to tear down strongholds and undermine the unbelief of the non-Christian grows significantly.

Definition and Explanation of a Worldview

Worldview is a complex concept that encompasses a person’s intellectual, emotional, religious, and psychological beliefs. Philosopher James Sire captures the heart of the concept in his definition. He writes that a worldview is “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”[1]

Sire’s definition helps us see the personal nature of worldviews. They go beyond the head to the heart. The depth at which a person holds his worldview helps us see how radical it is for someone to change his worldview. This is why salvation must be a work of the Holy Spirit to internally regenerate a person so he can, in one moment, jettison his unbelieving worldview and embrace the gospel. Evangelism and apologetics, then, must happen prayerfully in the power of the Spirit for genuine conversion to happen.

In the next post we will look at the component parts of Sire’s definition.

[1] James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (InterVarsity, 2009), 20.

Affirmations for Evangelism and Apologetics

positive-affirmation-quotes-for-lifeSometimes in the midst of an encounter with an unbeliever our confidence in the gospel that we felt even one hour before dissipates quickly. We suddenly doubt that our conversation partner really needs the gospel, or that the gospel makes sense, or that unbelief is contradictory and irrational, or a thousand other things.

To avoid the loss of clarity and courage I have found that prayerfully meditating on a few apologetic truths on a regular basis keeps the fear and doubt at bay. Here are twelve affirmations I keep posted on my office bulletin board to review as often as I can. They help me boldly commend and defend the truth, so I am ready for any encounter with someone who needs Christ. This list originated from a reading of Cornelius Van Til’s My Credo, written many years ago as a summary of his apologetic method.

  1. Every person I encounter has a knowledge of God implanted in his heart that he is suppressing. This knowledge is clear and obvious to him because God has made it plain.
  1. God pursues sinners every day by every means. Everything in nature and in life is revelatory of God and man’s need to be reconciled to him.
  1. The key to effective evangelism and apologetics is to ask questions to reveal the unbeliever’s belief system and his ways of suppressing the truth.
  1. God has called me to be an ambassador of reconciliation between God and sinners. I have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and my training to do this.
  1. I will find supreme delight in glorifying God through sharing Christ. The joy that I will experience by speaking up for the gospel will eclipse any fear or discomfort I feel in the apologetic encounter.
  1. The good news of Jesus Christ is the answer for and the greatest need of the unbeliever. If the unbeliever comes to salvation, they will be forever grateful I addressed their greatest need.
  1. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of regeneration and transformation as I share Christ and defend the Christian faith. In the apologetic encounter, I am joining the conversation already going on as the Holy Spirit is drawing the unbeliever to Christ.
  1. The Word of God is living and powerful to expose and dismantle false systems of belief and stubborn opposition to the truth. I will incorporate as much biblical truth as is strategic in any conversation.
  1. Because unbelievers worship false and counterfeit gods, they experience guilt, lack of peace and joy, hopelessness, fear of death, and meaninglessness, among other results of the Fall. I will contrast these experiences with what is found in Christ.

10. Because unbelievers cannot consistently find meaning and truth in their unbelief, they borrow ideas and concepts from Christianity. I need to identify and challenge that borrowed capital.

  1. I will not wander into vain discussions and speculation about unimportant matters. I will stay focused on proclaiming the wisdom and glory of Jesus Christ. I will seek to get them to consider the person and work of Christ, and to read the Bible.
  1. As much as the Holy Spirit is moving, and the unbeliever is willing, I will seek to lead the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ. No matter how far I get, however, I will consider any progress to be successful planting and watering of gospel seeds.

Why Worldview Training Is not Enough for Godliness or Apologetics

not enoughWhen most people who are familiar with apologetics hear the term, they think of worldviews. While the concept of worldview is important, teaching it does not guarantee that a) students will automatically grow deeper in their faith and resist unbelief, and b) that they will equipped to engage unbelievers effectively with the gospel. Stephen Altrogge hits the nail on the head in this article, A Solid Worldview Won’t Save My Kids.

I’ve seen too many of my childhood friends grow up to reject the biblical worldview that was so furiously drummed into them as children. I’ve seen too many people make choices that they know are in direct contradiction to the worldview they embraced for so many years. I’ve seen too many train wrecks to think that worldview alone is enough.

Read the whole thing!

Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 4

suffering childrenA Christian Answer to the Problem of Evil and Suffering

The Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering begins with God himself. When we have a proper view of God, the apparent problems begin to melt away.

God’s Nature

First, God is the standard for his actions—whatever he does defines concepts of justice, goodness, love, and mercy. Too many times the supposed problem of the justice of God begins when we mistakenly believe that there is some standard of justice that stands above God and to which God’s actions must conform. Such a view reflects the philosophy of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. In reality, however, God is ultimate and his character sets the standard for what justice is. We can’t do all that God does, because of our limited knowledge and creatureliness, but God can do as he pleases and whatever he does is just.

Second, some people believe that God needs to justify certain actions recorded in Scripture. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not need to defend his actions to us. He does not defend himself for giving Adam a wife who led him into sin (Gen. 3:12), or when he tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22), or when Job wants answers for his apparent unjust suffering (Job 23:1-7; 31:35ff; 40:4-42:6). God is the sovereign Almighty Lord who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Eccl. 8:3) and owes no one an explanation (Rom. 9:19-21).

Third, as fallen, finite, and created beings we cannot understand the reasons of a perfect, infinite, and uncreated God (Ezek. 18:25). Like a two-year old can’t understand the reasons a parent insists on a necessary medical procedure for the child, so we do not have the capacity to understand all that God ordains in this world. To assume that God does not have a good reason for something he allows is to presume that because we do not understand God’s reasons, He could not possibly have any.

Finally, God is not obligated to show kindness or mercy to anyone, or to deliver anyone from human evil or suffering (Exod. 33:19). Sometimes there is an underlying assumption in objections to God’s existence that fallen humans deserve mercy and a trouble-free life. In reality, fallen human beings deserve nothing but God’s wrath. The fact that God allows anyone to live and experience good in this life is purely by his own benevolent kindness.

God’s Reasons

An even better Christian answer is that God may have a perfectly good reason for allowing evil and suffering that we cannot know or comprehend. The standard atheistic view assumes that God could not possibly have a good reason for allowing evil and suffering, yet cannot prove that assertion in any way. The Christian answer says that with man’s limited understanding, he cannot possibly know whether or not God has good reasons for allowing suffering.

The Christian response to the standard atheistic view might look like this:

  1. Premise 1: If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
  2. Premise 2: If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil.
  3. Premise 3: But there is evil.
  4. Premise 4: God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil that we don’t know about
  5. Conclusion: Therefore, God may allow evil for reasons we don’t know, and still be all-powerful, all-good

We understand this in real life. If you see a man standing over a child slicing open the child’s body with a sharp knife, you might assume that what he is doing is evil. But then if you see that the man is a doctor and is performing surgery, your view of the situation changes. You begin to see that the man is actually being good and merciful, even though he is causing pain to the child. In the same way, humans can only see the evil and suffering that God allows from a limited viewpoint. Only God knows the ultimate, eternal plan for evil and suffering that will end in good.

Taking Evil Seriously

Ultimately only the Christian worldview validates that suffering is genuine, yet not meaningless. Unlike worldviews that deny evil and suffering, the Bible fully acknowledges that such things truly exist. Further, the universal human longing to find meaning in suffering is fulfilled only in the Christian faith. Evil and suffering do have a purpose, and they are guided and limited by the all-powerful God of the Bible. Some worldviews, especially those that believe in the evolutionary progress of man tend to minimize evil so they can claim that the world is evolving into paradise.

God does not stand aloof from evil and suffering. Instead, he enters the creaturely experience by taking on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus experiences every kind of trial and temptation that can be experienced by human beings, yet without sinning (Heb. 4:14-16). He willingly subjected himself to the frustration and sorrow of life in a sin-cursed world, and grieved it passionately. God grieves over evil and suffering (John 11:35). In order to make sure that evil and suffering would not be the final chapter of the story of creation, God himself experienced the greatest suffering in order to ensure an end to suffering. Jesus suffered the ultimate evil and pain by taking our hell on the cross in order to offer redemption and rescue from sin and the curse.

Hope for Deliverance from Evil and Suffering

Ultimately only the Christian worldview has grounds to call evil what it is, to see evil as destructive and awful as it really is, and to provide hope for future judgment on those who perpetrate evil. The Bible tells us that God hates evil and has nothing to do with it (Hab. 1:12; Jam. 1:13-17). Evil is the enemy of God and all he has made. When God brings all things to an end, the devil, Death and Hell are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10, 14). This speaks of the absolute end of death, evil, and suffering.

Non-Christian views minimize evil, fail to recognize it as such, or are unable to give distinctions between good and evil. The Christian worldview sees evil in all its complexity. First, evil is individual—there is evil in each individual. Second, evil is collective—societies can do evil, such as Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, or the murderous tyranny of ISIS in the Middle East. Finally, evil is structural—such as international sex slavery or government corruption. Christianity has a thorough view of evil that considers any failure to keep God’s commands as sinful, rebellious, and mutinous.

The Christian worldview, however, provides a decisive answer for good and evil. God ultimately overcame evil by the death of his Son, Jesus, who conquered the consequences of sin and death by his resurrection (John 16:33). He makes it possible for us to overcome evil by copying his example (Rom. 12:17-21; John 11:25). By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we are now victorious over sin and already enjoying the benefit (1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4).

Conclusion

The very difficult challenge of the problem of evil and suffering in the world is turned into a positive argument for the Christian God once we see the biblical answer to this objection in all its richness and complexity. Apart from the Christian faith, there is no meaning and purpose in suffering. Human evil will go unpunished and most people in the world are destined for a lifetime of hopeless victimization at the hands of others and cruel nature.

In the Christian worldview, however, we have answer, meaning, purpose, and most importantly, a loving, sovereign God who guides all things for his own glory and the good of his children. Rather than this objection being an insurmountable wall, it is a doorway into fruitful evangelistic and apologetic conversations.

Answering Objections About the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 3

good and evilNon-Christian Answers to the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Several other attempts have been made to address evil and suffering in our world.

  1. Non-Reality of Evil View—Some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, deny that evil and suffering are any more than an illusion. By denying that evil and suffering are real, they attempt to avoid any dilemma between the deities in charge of the world and the way the world is. The problem for this view, however, is that the experience of suffering is universal and undeniable. Additionally, these same Eastern religions seek to end oppression and alleviate the very suffering that they deny exists. This is clearly self-refuting.
  2. Weakness of God View—This view argues that God does not overcome all evil because he cannot, even though he wants to. The advantage of this approach is that God cannot be held responsible for what happens in the world. The disadvantage is that it eliminates any possibility of God finally overcoming evil. If God cannot do anything to stop evil now, we should not assume that he can ever do anything to end evil. God becomes impotent to deliver us from the endless cycle of suffering.
  3. Free Will View—This view argues that man has free will, and therefore, God has nothing to do with evil because he cannot interfere without impinging on man’s free will. The advantage of this view is that God is not responsible for human acts of evil. The disadvantages are numerous. First, suffering still happens through natural disasters, illness, and the general brokenness of the world. Second, this view puts shackles on God’s ability to act, because man’s freedom becomes primary. If God cannot impinge on man’s free will, how do we know he can fulfill his promises? Third, Scripture repeatedly speaks of God determining our free choices (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23, 4:27; Rom. 9). Any way you look at it, this view fails to answer the tough questions.
  4. “Christian” Fatalism—This view simply says, “God is in control, and therefore you cannot avoid suffering. Don’t let it get you upset. Just stoically accept it, because all things work together for good. So, actually it’s a blessing. It’s nothing to cry over.” The obvious problem with this view is that it distorts the sovereignty of God and eliminates genuine emotion, contra the biblical affirmation of grief and crying out to God.

So, how should a Christian deal with the problem of evil and suffering? Are there any answers to this seeming contradiction?

In the next post we will begin to present a Christian view.