Rethinking Modern Apologetics

I recently read Eric Metaxas’s article “Science Increasingly Makes the Case For God.” If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage it. Metaxas always has an interesting way of writing in a simplistic manner that the common layperson can understand. As it turns out, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns was not so thrilled with the conclusions Metaxas came to. I enjoy Enns’s writings (if you have not read The Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it), but I do have my fair share of disagreements with him. I found Enns’s response compelling, but I feel there is a greater issue at hand that is often unaddressed.

My Analysis of the Discussion

Metaxas simply reinstates the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. This is a more modern rendition of the teleological argument (argument from design). The physical constants of the universe have to be incredibly precise in order to bring about life on any given planet. To sum it up, the universe looks designed. Not only that, but the universe looks so incredibly designed that it could have ONLY come about by a designer, and there is no way that sheer chance could have formed the universe the way it is. Our existence is evidence of this. Metaxas is not an expert in this field, but he is certainly not the only one making such a claim. Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, and Christian philosopher Robin Collins have elaborated on such ideas. The teleological argument is a strong driving force in philosophy of religion, but Enns is not so fond of it.

In his response, Enns accuses Metaxas of possibly committing a God-of-the-gaps fallacy. This fallacy is committed when one assumes that just because modern science does not address a “gap” of knowledge of the physical world, we should assume God is the source of it. The problem with this fallacy is people who commit it set themselves up for failure when modern science does fill this gap (Galileo kicked God out of His home, Darwin put God out of a job, etc.). This is definitely a fallacy Christians should do their best to avoid. Enns asserts that we should recognize that God is the ground of being, that God is what makes existence itself possible. This is the Paul Tillich theory, that God is the philosophical Absolute, apart from which nothing can exist.

These discussions are healthy and Christians ought to be having them. I find most of natural theology compelling, and it is a topic of interest. Personally, I do not feel inclined to pick a side and decide whether Enns is right or Metaxas is right. It just doesn’t matter to me that much. Metaxas makes some good points, and he sites findings in modern theoretical physics that do present a big problem for the naturalist. At the same time, Enns makes a solid point that we should be careful to avoid God-of-the-gaps arguments, and there have been many times when properties in the physical world were assumed to be the result of divine intervention and later a natural cause was discovered. Both of them make good points. I think both of them are right in certain ways. They may both be wrong. Who knows? Who cares? The truth of the Christian faith runs much deeper.

 

Never Apologize For Good Apologetics

 

My purpose for analyzing the Metaxas/Enns discussion is it is a fairly recent example of modern apologetic discussion. Again, it is not a bad discussion to have. It becomes bad when we focus too much energy on it. I feel I have good reason to believe God exists and He knew humanity would encounter the scientific discoveries we have thus far and those we will continue to encounter. I also believe He knows that human inquiry about the natural world will change, continue to change, and cause certain arguments for God’s existence to not hold the same amount of weight they do at other time periods. My final “this I believe” statement is I believe God expects myself as well as all other Christians to adhere to Scripture as one of our primary methods of understanding who God is.

“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”

Psalm 62:6 (NRSV)

Faith built on philosophical arguments and natural theology is shaky. It directly contradicts the verse above. One day it is clear that God exists, the next His tracks are covered by science. This tends to be the goal of many Christians, that intellects on “the other side” can be reached if we can just reason with them. This is bad apologetics. The arguments themselves are not bad, but the motivation behind them is harmful. Give up, Christian. It is not going to work in our reason-driven culture. Christians who are not philosophically driven like others do not possess an inferior faith than those who are. In order to live out a proper Christian life, one must do exactly that: live it out! This is ultimately the most useful Christian apologetic, your life. Use it unapologetically.

Salvation and Communion With God

 

I understand this line of thought may not seem very promising for some.   It is easy to want reason to be on your side when it comes to religious topics. Once again, apologetics and forming arguments are not bad things (they are useful methods under many circumstances). 1 Peter 3:15 does make it clear that we are to give reason for the faith we have. The whole purpose of this post comes down to two points:

  1. Apologetics are only a problem when we expect them to win someone over to Christ. God doesn’t save someone because they realize the universe is designed. He saves them when they recognize He is God. It doesn’t matter how they get there, as long as they do. I didn’t accept Christ because of an apologetic argument (I was only six), I did because I acknowledged who He is as the Son of God. Pure reason will not bring someone to recognize who exactly God is. He has to reveal that Himself. The Christian’s job is to recognize that God is powerful enough and, more importantly, WILLING enough to do this. Be ready to give a defense, but do not bet on that being the driving factor behind one’s salvation. Pray for them, do what you can, and ask for God’s ultimate revelation in their lives.
  2. If you are a Christian, be careful where you ground your faith. If you ground it in apologetics that are susceptible to change, you are standing on shaky ground. This is not to say that you will not have doubts. Plenty of those will present themselves. Be ready to resort to the knowledge that you have of who Christ is and what He has done in your life already, and be careful about using pure philosophy to ease those doubts.

The crucial job for Christians right now is for us to recognize our tendencies to fall into the trap that a reason-driven culture is pulling us into. God is not a puzzle to be solved. If He were, Christ would not have put such a high value on faith. Our primary calling is to recognize the one task Christ has given us: spread the Gospel. Whether that is through door-to-door evangelism or even some philosophical discussions, we are to do it. The ultimate turning point for one’s salvation is God’s intervention and revelation in their life.

Atheists Can Be Pseudoscientists, Too

A few years ago, Ben Stein released a documentary called Expelled. In this documentary, Stein advocates Intelligent Design as an alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory. At one point in the documentary, Stein interviews popular atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, being sort of a poster-child for modern day atheism, made the point that he believes a rational explanation to the origin of life on earth was that it was planted by aliens. “Aliens? Really? And this is coming from a guy who is supposed to advocate reason?”

That’s what most theists would say if a comment like this were made. I, however, don’t find anything inherently irrational about what Dawkins said. He may be right. Personally, I don’t think he is, but he did propose an explanation of some kind in order to solve the ongoing problem of abiogenesis. My beef with Dawkins doesn’t lie in exactly what he said but the entirety of Dawkins’ argument as a whole. You see, Richard Dawkins is one of those guys who advocates an atheistic worldview because he believes that theists are making radical pseudoscientific God-of-the-Gaps assumptions and taking away from the good work of science. To Dawkins, science is the key. To a degree, I think he’s right. I don’t advocate young earth creationism or Intelligent Design, as I see evolutionary theory to hold a lot of weight to it. But, it seems that Dawkins is committing the same crime that he is accusing theists of doing. He’s advocating pseudoscience. There’s nothing scientific at all about assuming that aliens planted life on earth around 3.9 billion years ago. Even if he’s right, there’s no testable hypothesis to assume this. And even if there was, there’s still the problem of abiogenesis occurring on another planet. And even if this could occur on another planet, you still have to weigh the mathematical probabilities of evolution successfully taking place on another planet as it has done on ours. (I am no expert on this stuff, so I’m trying not to go into it much. My point is that Dawkins has simply raised more questions that he seems to be answering with the same pseudoscientific principles that he is accusing theists of using.)

A recent study has indicated that more people in Britain believe in ghosts and aliens than in God. But so what? Does this matter? Only if you take into consideration that most atheists accuse Christians/theists/etc. of holding pseudoscientific beliefs. But creationists and ID proponents are not the only Christians/theists accused of pseudoscience. In an article he wrote on Karl Giberson, Jerry Coyne says:

“I gave the answer above to why the middle ground is losing: accommodationism doesn’t work, nor does converting naturalists into theistic evolutionists. So there’s no reason that middle ground should increase. The reason it’s decreasing is palpably obvious: America is becoming less religious as young people either lose their faith or fail to embrace any. Further, as they become less religious, they become more pro-science (being religious is a barrier to accepting science). And if you’re pro-science and a “none,” theistic evolution simply isn’t credible.”

It’s not that he blatantly says anything against the theistic evolutionist camp as being a group of pseudoscientists, but he does make his point very clear that embracing modern science will diminish one’s faith in a deity. This is demonstrably false. Coyne doesn’t seem to take into account that there are MANY scientists who do believe in God, and, while many young people do lose their faith, many young people also grow in their faith by embracing a love and understanding of science.

Another pressing issue in the whole “Science and Religion” discussion is the multiverse theory. Does the existence of multiple universes exclude the need for a creator? Possibly, but let’s think about what we’re dealing with here. The principle of uniformity states that all natural laws that operate in the universe now have always operated in the same way, and they also operate in the same way all the way across the whole of the universe. This is a totally reasonable principle, and there are scientific reasons to accept it (pretty much everyone accepts this principle). The problem is that when you start throwing multiple universes into the mix, you lose the uniformity principle. Why? Because there is no reason, especially no scientific reason, to assume that the same uniformity that exists in our own universe (the only realm of existence that we can actually study, I might add) exists in other universes. The multiverse may not, in fact probably doesn’t, have the same natural laws that exist in our own universe. If they don’t, then the laws of the multiverse may not be natural. They may be supernatural. My point: there is no way to make scientific claims about the multiverse. It is unobservable, it cannot be experimented on, and it may not even behave under natural law. It’s all pseudoscience.

(Just for the record, I personally do not believe in the multiverse. There are Christians who do, however.)

The bottom line is this: embracing science is not a one-way street to atheism. There are many Christians, most notably Francis Collins and Alister McGrath, who converted to Christianity from an atheistic perspective and now believe that God gives much more beauty to their scientific endeavors.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize the fact that not all atheists believe in pseudoscience. At the same time, neither do all theists. There are rational theist perspectives and there are rational atheist perspectives as well. My point of writing this post is to simply show that atheism should not be conflated with science.

Theism and Atheism: Where the Burden of Proof Really Lies

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Do we really need much of a reason to believe in God at all? Reformed epistemology is the idea that God is a “properly basic belief.” God does not need to be inferred from other truths to be reasonable. The most notable advocate for this field is Alvin Plantinga. This particularly has to do with the burden of proof. Where does it lie? Many people will assert that theists have the burden of proof because they have to prove the existence of something, not the other way around. This, of course, is under the assumption that God is a physical being that can produce empirical evidence for Himself, and if He can’t, there is no good reason to believe in Him at all.

 

I will first bring up the old watchmaker analogy. I know, it’s old and overused, but I think it definitely applies to this situation in many ways. Firstly, if you were to find a watch, it would be proper to assume that someone created the watch. This is a properly basic belief. There is no physical evidence that a watchmaker exists. The watchmaker cannot be be sensed by any of the five senses and there is no empirical data. However, it would be absolutely absurd to assume that the watch did not have a creator. This is a good example of how the burden of proof is not on the one who assumes that a watchmaker exists, but on the person who assumes that there is no watchmaker.

 

Plantinga first proposed his version of the idea in his 1967 book God and Other Minds. In this book, he gives the idea that believing in other minds is completely unsupported by argument, yet we still see reason to believe in them; likewise believing in God is unsupported by argument, yet it may still be rational to do so. The argument against this claim goes like this:

 

1.  It is irrational or unacceptable to accept theistic belief without sufficient or appropriate evidence or reason.

2.  There is not sufficient/appropriate evidence or reason for theistic belief.

3.  Belief in God is irrational.

 

Many Christian apologists deny the second premise. I agree, I don’t think the second premise holds any weight at all. However, reformed epistemologists will deny the first premise. What we have to figure out is if anything can exist at all without the existence of a supreme being. There are a few things we know that we do not have evidence for:

1.  The external world exists.

2.  The past exists.

3.  Other minds exist.

 

These are all properly basic beliefs. Essentially there becomes a point where we have to trust our own cognitive faculties to create a basis for belief; otherwise it would not be reasonable on any level to believe that the external world exists. We all have to realize that reasoning starts somewhere. So, the question is: Does God fall into this category?

 

Here’s the kind of knowledge that I’m getting at. Belief in God is a lot like belief in other persons, and not belief in scientific properties. Scientific method and properties, which seems to be the only source of knowledge for the naturalist, is incredibly deficient when it comes to personal relations with other people. In this sense, it is absurd to assume that the scientific method is essential for ALL parts of human behavior and knowledge. If this were the case, we’d all be sitting in labs doing experiments, cut off from society and unable to have proper relationships. This is the sense that we know God. Not in an empirical sense, but in a relational one. Can this be counted as “knowledge.” It certainly does with other people. Why not something greater? This is why God counts as a properly basic belief, and the burden of proof is not on the theist.

Does Reason Trump Faith?

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Recently in our society there has been a big conflation with the word “reason” and secularism.  The common idea is that reason leads to the conclusion that there is no God, where as some sort of blind step of faith leads to belief in God.  This kind of thinking is, in it of itself, irrational.  But, in order for me to make my argument for this issue, I must first define both “reason” and “faith.”

 

The simple definition of “reason” in the context I am using it in is “to think logically.”  Easy enough, but why on earth does this exclude the use for God?  This is something that I have yet to even understand at all.  Many people might make the argument that if it can’t be proven with scientific, empirical evidence, then there is no reason to believe in it.  This may be true for some cases, but when you ask questions such as “Is there a God?”, “What happens when we die?”, and “Is morality objective or relative?” you can’t even begin to answer these with empirical evidence.  So, should these questions be excluded from all forms of logic?  NO!  To do so would be to avoid the issue at hand by simply ignoring it, and that is extremely irrational.  One must open their mind to other ways of gaining knowledge, other than just scientific evidence.

 

So, where does faith come into play?  The simple definition of “faith” is “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”  Why this has been misconstrued into meaning some blind, mindless assertion of something, I do not know.  Faith is simply making a confident statement BASED on reasonable data that we already have.  This may sound cliche, but everybody, including the naturalist, uses faith.  To claim that you know with 100% hard evidence that God is not real, is a false claim in every way, and that is not based on reason alone, but a step of faith.

 

So, faith is simply a claim that is based off of reason.  I don’t think whoever came up with the idea that atheists and naturalists are the only rational and free thinkers out there thought through the implications of that very well.  So, in conclusion, while faith is definitely essential for the Christian doctrine, it is also essential for every other part of knowledge.