Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Real Life Apologetic Exchange with Stephen

The dialogue below is a real dialogue I had with an individual named Stephen on Google+ over at one of the atheist communities. Enjoy and please feel free to leave your comments.

Stephen says: If your god is real (which I doubt) let him tell me ! I'm waiting!!

Christian response: Psalm 19:1The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 
Romans 2:15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. 
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

God has spoken to you and made himself know to you both through external creation and your internal conscience. This fact best explains your emotion-laden arguments against God.

Stephen: Tell me if you can when did god actually create the earth?

Christian response: all the evidence we have points to around 6k years ago give or take. But since God created the universe instantly, the usual scientific approach is incapable of fixing an age to the universe because it assumes natural processes, not supernatural, instantaneous creation. For instance, Adam was created a man rather than having been conceived and then naturally growing into a man over a number of years. Looking at Adam and assuming natural processes we would date him at 30 years old or so...even though he looked the same when he was 30 seconds old. Apply that to how science measures the age of the universe and you see, in probably overly simplistic terms, the flaw in how science dates the universe.

Stephen: Why do you pander to a deity who created evil just so you could pray to him for forgiveness for the sins he created? Sounds like an egomaniac to me.

Christian response: First, Stephen will have to justify his belief in absolute evil in a universe that is the product of pure contingency. This he cannot do. His objection collapses. Second, God did not create evil. All that God created was good. Christianity would say that God is not the immediate cause of evil in the world even though he is the ultimate cause. Nevertheless, that God would be the ultimate cause of evil is not an indictment against God for the reason which I will outline below. The atheist has no weapon to launch a sustainable attack because he is unable to justify his belief in absolute evil (something most atheists deny by the way). Now, that evil is in the world and that God's plan is the ultimate cause of evil is still not a contradiction. The arguments look like this:
If God were all powerful he could prevent evil.
If God were all good, he would want to prevent evil.
Evil Exists.
Therefore, God is either not all good or not all powerful.

From this it follows that the Christian God is a contradiction and hence, cannot exist. But the Christian frames the argument differently.

If God were all powerful he could prevent evil.
If God were all good, he would want to prevent evil.
Evil Exists
Therefore, God has a morally sufficient reason for evil.

God's standard is Himself, not some puny human pretending to know something about God and about reality apart from the very God that created both him and his reality. Additionally, logically speaking, it does not follow that just because we do not like it, that the conclusion must be false. The standard for the second argument is Scripture. Scripture testifies that the premises in the second argument are true. Scripture tells us that God has a morally sufficient reason for evil even though it limits the information it provides about that reason. We are left to take God at His word, and that is, after all, what being a Christian is about. Stephen's objection fails because it attempts to hold God to an external, arbitrary standard that he claims is absolute, even though his entire worldview depends on the idea of pure contingency. 

Stephen says: Your religion is so full of contradictions.

Christian response: In order for laws of logic to make sense, they must rely on an ordered structure within human thought. But in a contingent universe, belief in such a structure is without justification. You cannot get laws of nature or logic from pure contingency. So, in order for Stephen to justify his belief in contradictions, he must justify his belief in structure, design, order, regularity, and uniformity. He must claim that uniformity comes from contingency. But such a claim is entirely unwarranted and epistemically indefensible. The laws of logic are necessary laws and necessary laws do not follow from pure contingency. Thus, Stephen uses logic to object to Christian theism but is unable, in his own worldview, to justify his belief in the laws of logic. Without such justification, he cannot use those laws to sustain his objection.

Stephen: And you still hav'nt explained to me if all the other thousands of gods being worshipped are real and if not what makes your god real and nobody else's? 

Christian response: Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player of his time. There were hundreds of basketball plays that MJ competed against. One could ask the question, how can MJ be the best if he has not individually played and beaten every other competitor one on one? Well, we could settle that argument by bringing them on, one at a time and see how it goes. Stephen could offer up whatever religion he wishes and we can subject it to an internal and external criticism and see how it goes. But there are millions of them, in fact, hundreds of millions of them. The fact is that we could never work through all the hundreds of millions of competing religions. (SIDEBAR: I am convinced that all religions and belief systems reduce down to one worldview: the non-Christian worldview.) There is a better way. We can examine Christian theism to see if it is defeasible or not. The argument would look like this:
p --> q

If p is true then q is true. In this case p happens to be true. Therefore q is also true. To bring this into our discussion would look like this:
If Christianity is true, then all other religions are false.
Christianity is in fact true.
Therefore, all other religions are false.
This means that if we prove that Christianity is indeed true, we do not have to focus on all the other religions and false gods in existence or their claims. All we have to focus on is the truth of Christianity. Sadly, Stephen seems uninterested in taking the conversation in such a serious direction. He seems far more satisfied waving his hand and imagining that this is ground enough for him to ignore Christian theism and more importantly, God's claim and demand on his life. More sadly, he is dreadfully wrong.

This concludes our apologetic interaction with Stephen.

One final comment: when I say that all we need to focus on is the truth claim of Christian theism one might be tempted to consider that I am moving in the direction of subjecting Christianity to autonomous human reason or the idolatrous dictates of science. Nothing could be further from the truth. How we go about justifying the truth of Christian theism is profoundly important to our overall apologetic approach. Our method for such a project must be faithful to Scripture and our standard must be consistent with the message we preach. Scripture, being self-attesting will serve as our standard for how we justify our claim that Christianity and Christianity alone is the one true system for how man should understand himself, his world, and his God.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Epistemology of Immanuel Kant

Kant, like every other philosopher of his time, was attempting to answer the question regarding how we should understand our world. What are the necessary conditions for the intelligibility of human experience? In his critique of pure reason, Kant was interested in understanding what reason could know without aid from the other faculties. Essentially, Kant was seeking to outline the limitations and boundaries of the faculty of reason. Specifically, Kant wanted to know just how much understanding and reason can know apart from all experience. To outline his project then, Kant wanted to solve two very specific problems: first, how can we know synthetic a priori truths? How can we know things like the laws of causation? The second problem Kant wanted to solve was how a scientific view of the world could be reconciled with our religious view of the world. If all knowledge is reduced to sense data, then what are we to do with our religious views of immaterial ideas like the soul, eternality, and God?
In his earlier career, Kant was a rationalist. He believed the mind was capable of possessing empirical knowledge of the world apart from sense experience. But then Kant was introduced to the work of David Hume. As Kant puts it, “I was awakened from my dogmatic slumber.” As a result, Kant was set on the path toward what would become known as his “Copernican Revolution” in epistemology. Just as Copernicus had thought, like everyone else, that the sun moved around the earth until he realized it was the other way around, Kant believed that philosophy had it just as backwards when it came to the mind-object relationship. Rather than objects impressing themselves on the human mind, it seemed to Kant that the mind was actually the agent impressing and imposing itself on the objects of sense experience. Kant believed that knowledge is a due to the inherent nature and structure of the mind. The mind of man is not the passive wax like that in an old-fashioned phonograph, being written upon by sense data. Instead, the mind is active in organizing the sense data into categories of the understanding. Essentially then, Kant believed that the human mind is active in constructing human knowledge. Contrary to empiricism, the mind is not a blank sheet of paper filling up with sense data through our experience.
Kant then believed that the mind does not revolved around sense experience. Instead he suggested that knowledge is the conformance of objects to the mind. This would seem then to explain how we could know laws of nature. If they are located in the mind, and we can know the mind, then it follows that we can know such laws. Kant divides reality into two realms: the noumenal and the phenomenal. Noumenal things are things that trigger our sense experience but they are unknowable in themselves. The phenomenal world is the world as we experience it through the structure and organizing activity of our minds. They are intelligible, rational, structured, and knowable. We see how Kant solves the problem of possessing knowledge of synthetic a priori truth. But how does this solve for the reconciliation between scientific knowledge and our religious view of the world. Kant says that we cannot know things like the immaterial soul or God or eternality. Instead, we believe them on faith.
Kant’s program we call Transcendental Idealism. It is called ‘transcendental’ because it is not occupied with objects, but rather with how we can possibly know things about objects even before we experience them. The knowledge transcends experience. It is called idealism because quite frankly, we cannot know objects as they are in themselves. We only know the appearances of objects as they are experienced by the senses. And these objects are merely representations of things, they are not the things in themselves. The human mind denies access to the things in themselves in that it actively structures the sense experience into categories we know a priori.
The implications of Kant's Transcendental Idealism on Christian theology are significant. For starters, knowledge of God is destroyed along with knowledge of self and of anything that is not part of the physical universe. To say we take it on faith is viewed as somehow not enough to qualify as knowledge. But that is not the sort of faith we mean when we talk about Christian faith. Modern Christians are about to be confronted more and more with this sort philosophical speculation as the shift in thought moves away from the Bible as God's Word and more brazenly toward man as the measure of all things. This has been the case for some time now but lets just say the pretense of American Christianity is evaporating before our eyes and it is only prudent for us to prepare ourselves to enter these conversations. Over the next several weeks I will provide fodder for evangelizing the many types of skeptics Christians encounter or will begin to encounter in their near future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Stuttering, Stammering Elder

A culture of political correctness
There can be no reasonable denial that those of us who live in America live in arguably the most politically correct society on earth. One example is the young man who was not allowed to fill out his profile on Xbox as being from Fort Gay, WV. Yes, it is a real place. I am from Chapmanville WV. But according to Microsoft, the name is offensive. In Sydney Australia there was a dust up over the Santa Clause laugh, “ho ho ho” because it could frighten children and offend women. The Maine Human Rights Act banned ANY gender division in public schools because it offended a 12 year old boy who wanted to be a girl. In 2008, a Carmel, Indiana, school bus driver, Betty Campbell, overheard little Rachel Zimmer saying that she couldn’t vote for presidential candidate Barak Obama because of his positions on abortion and gay marriage. That led to unsubstantiated allegations that she said that other students would go to Hell, which Zimmer strongly denies. When Campbell heard the allegations (again, unsubstantiated) she stopped the bus and delivered a politically correct sermon on tolerance to her captive audience, who probably just wanted to go home and play Xbox before their moms and dads came home.  The security camera caught it all on tape, including Campbell’s conversations with another student. She probed this student for racist allegations, threatening to “eat Zimmer alive” and calling her “a stupid little bigot”. It gets worse. After dropping Zimmer at home, Campbell completed her route and then RETURNED to the Zimmer home, ordering Zimmer and her sister back into the EMPTY school bus (without parental knowledge or consent) for more browbeating. She again lectured Zimmer about her opinions on gay marriage and reduced the girl to tears. After seeing the tape, Zimmer’s parents went ballistic, saying: “That’s not someone looking out for someone. That’s someone out to get somebody.” Carmel Clay Schools refused to fire or even discipline Campbell, stating that she was working within “the scope of her employment.” The family has since filed a civil lawsuit.

The new way to hate is to speak things that are offensive
As it turns out, the most common way to hate people, even in evangelical churches in our hyper-politically correct culture is to tell them the truth. In other words, professing Christians are accusing other professing Christians that they are guilty of hate just for believing and quoting the Bible. For example, oppose gay sex, and even to many professing Christians, you are a hater and a bigot. Embrace male leadership in the church and oppose female leadership and you are a misogynist. The same is true if you dare affirm the biblical teaching of wives submitting to their husbands. If you dare to identify heresy for what it is, the heretic is likely to call you a hater. Political correctness empowers autonomy by rejecting the idea that we should ever be called to give an account for our behavior or our beliefs. The way to love people is simply to accept them for who and what they are. Anything less than that, and you are a hater. Now, I want you to think about how such thinking might impact the Christian doctrine of repentance. Not so funny is it! What bugs me the most about this is how some of leaders are unwittingly influenced by this behavior. It is indeed the product of the fear and intimidation of man. I will say more about that in a moment.

What is an elder
The elder is an overseer of the church. The elder is charged with the care and spiritual well-being of his community. His interest is solely focused on the spiritual health of his people. This interest is driven by his greater concern to please God by faithfully executing his calling. 1 Peter 5:2 commands the elders to lead, guide, care for, and assist the flock of God among you. Then he adds, exercising oversight, or, in other words, taking responsibility for the flock. Moreover, Peter says that elder is to take do these things according to God, or to the will of God. In other words, the care and oversight is to be carried out with a single eye to the will of God for that flock. God’s concern, God’s will, God’s word, God’s directive must be the single driving consideration for the elder.

What is truth
Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus also said that God’s word is truth. God’s word is our only source of spiritual nutrition. If we are to be healthy, we must desire the sincere milk and eventually, meat of the Word of God. The Word of God sanctifies the believer. The Word of God frees the believer. The Word of God brings true knowledge so that the believer is transformed more and more into one who honors and glorifies God with every part of his life. The elder is to dispense the Word of God so that our souls might be rich, nurtured, strong, vibrant. This raises the question why would an elder have trouble being direct and honest when it comes to basic doctrines of the church and of his local community? The Word of God is a light unto our path, a lamp for our feet. It provides the Christian with precise what we need in order to be the light God has called us to be. Why do some pastors/elders feel like they have to walk on eggshells when it comes to certain biblical truths? For example, why would an elder stammer in his attempt to defend particular redemption, or total depravity, or predestination? Why would he stammer when he is asked a question about submission and male leadership? Part of the reason can be blamed on the fact that we are influenced, to one degree or another, by our culture. Part of the process of being transformed into the image of Christ means that we become less and less like the culture, less and less influenced by cultural thinking. Christian dogma needs no apologies. Christian dogma is not embarrassing. Christian dogma, is however, offensive. It is inherently offensive. It is naturally offensive. It is necessarily offensive to any unregenerate mind. Scripture is, by its very nature, offensive to an unregenerate mind because of what it is by its very nature. So, Mr. Elder, please stop stammering around issues that you know the world finds offensive. Show us that you have some backbone. Demonstrate for us that you are not influenced by the culture. Thunder God’s truth without reservation, without trepidation, and without apology.

Why this matters
The reason this matters is because God matters. The reason this matters is because Christian truth matters. God has purposely chosen the passionate, convicted preaching of the gospel without apology, to save the lost. The Word of Lord needs no softening. God’s truth needs no chaser. God’s medicine works its miracle of regeneration just as it is. We need men who are more concerned with what God thinks than with what men think. We need men who are not afraid if certain types of people leave his church, or reject his leadership. We need men who follow God and His truth without reservation and who rally the rest of us to do the same. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”

It matters because what God has to say about us, to us, and through us ALWAYS MATTERS. And it matters more than all the opinions on this earth matter. It matters more than what these God-hating, arrogant, materialistic, narcissistic Americans think. Thunder away, Pastor!

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