Saturday, February 27, 2016
Apologetic Method Matters
I recently joined Christian Apologetics Alliance (CAA) over on FB. It is a very interesting site with lots of interesting subjects, personalities, and apologetic methods. You may talk about all sorts of claims in the group. You may claim that Bayesian Probability Theorem is a good tool for defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are allowed talk about how we can believe the Bible is reliable because of all the external historical evidence in its favor, not to mention its logical coherence. You may even affirm that man is the ultimate starting point for human prediction. You are permitted to pontificate for pages on the merits of Molinism and the brilliance of William Lane Craig. You can even submit the supernatural, infinite claims of Scripture to the finite, fallen, sinful, ignorant intellects of human reasons and everyone approves and applauds.
While you may be permitted to talk about everything under the sun at CAA, there is one thing you cannot talk about at CAA: You cannot talk about dead-end topics. And specifically, you cannot talk about apologetic method. So here is the question: is there any link between apologetic method and Biblical Christianity? Moreover, is there a link between Christian philosophy and Christian apologetic method? By Christian philosophy, I mean sound philosophy that is the product of Christian belief. Sound philosophy is exclusively, philosophy that is derived from Christian theology, and biblical exegesis. That is to say, sound philosophy is that philosophy which articulates and affirms a worldview that is derived from a proper interpretation of the divine revelation of Scripture.
Now, apologetic method is not an island unto itself. Apologetic method is supposed to defend a very specific set of beliefs. I refer to this set of beliefs as Christian belief. If Christian apologetics is aimed at defending Christian belief, then it only stands to reason that just any method will not do. The reason we cannot choose apologetic method like we choose hats is precisely because apologetic method is set to defend an entire worldview. Hence, since apologetic method is interested in defending an entire worldview, it is only logical that apologetic method itself must be informed by the worldview it seeks to defend. Otherwise we may be accused of being inconsistent and worse, unable to defend the worldview upon which our apologetic method is supposed to rest. You see, when your apologetic method departs or strays from your philosophy at any point, the reasons are few. You may be lacking in skill. You may not understand apologetics or philosophy or both. In many cases, however, when apologetic method displays an inconsistency with the philosophy it is supposed to defend, it is because the philosophy is indefensible. In that case, the philosophy in question will eventually reduce to absurdity, and hence, irrational. I am going to take one argument from the CAA page, and demonstrate my point.
Click this link to watch Calum Miller’s short ~18-minute presentation on “Probability and the Resurrection” workshop. Miller claims that the Baysian Probability is an excellent tool for the defense of the proposition that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. No conscientious apologist could ever allow such a claim stand without scrutiny. Method matters.
It is claimed that Baysian confirmation theory is the most influential attempt in the logical positivist tradition to provide a uniform, general account of scientific knowledge. Bayes theorem seeks to understand the probability of a hypothesis or theory given the evidence at hand and our background knowledge of the world.
The question is asked, how probable is the resurrection of Jesus Christ given the evidence we have and our background knowledge of things like resurrections? Before I say anything about whether or not such an approach to the resurrection event adds any value to the conversation, I have to ask if the sort of knowledge we are talking about is the kind of knowledge to which Bayes’ theorem applies. When Christian belief claims that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, should its claim be understood as saying that the hearers of that message should believe that it is probably true that Jesus rose from the dead? To be very clear about this event, here is what Paul said the resurrection meant to the entire system of Christianity: and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17) Not for nothing, but it doesn’t sound like Paul would entertain, even for a second, the slightest possibility that Christ did not raise from the dead. Greg Bahnsen wrote, “However, a serious difficulty arises when the epistemological significance of the resurrection is separated from its soteriological function.” The most striking evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is witnessed by Christian through the work of the Holy Spirit as He appropriates the work of that resurrection on the heart of the individual. There is no greater evidence for the resurrection of Christ for the Christian that the Holy Spirit witnessing to this revealed fact as He applies the Word of God to the human heart. Faith knows that Christ rose from the dead.
To begin with, to find Bayes’ theorem useful in defending the resurrection of Christ demonstrates that the apologist is not yet submitting his mind to the Lordship of Christ. The manner in which I interpret the evidence and how the unbeliever approaches the evidence for the resurrection is remarkable different. Bayes’ theorem requires neutral ground in human reasoning. And the problem with that is that the unregenerate mind is anything but neutral where spiritual matters are concerned. Without this neutrality, the theorem is useless. And to pretend there is such a neutrality, the Christian apologist must ignore Scripture’s denial of it.
A second problem is that the miracle of the resurrection depends upon the presupposition of the uniformity of nature. But an honest skeptic will reject the principle of uniformity. And when he does, the resurrection is no longer a miracle. It is just something that happened. This means that in order for BT to have any strength, the Christian paradigm must already be presupposed. This also applies to the idea that one must believe in the possibility of miracles from the start. If they do not, it naturally follows that any explanation, no matter how small, has a greater probability for explaining the resurrection event than the evidence presented by the evidential apologist.
A third problem, and one that is philosophical in nature, is the assigning of numbers to the probability of the resurrection. One has to ask the question if Bayes' Theorem can be applied to a one-time event like the resurrection of the God-man. There seems to be no plausible way for one to come up with a way to assign numbers to the evidence and then defend those numbers against accusation of a subjective arbitrariness. And if we cannot agree on how numbers ought to be assigned, BT seems to me to rather a waste of time in the apologetic project. Moreover, even if we could assign numbers, we would then be left defending the method and theory for why we used this or that criteria as opposed to another. The problem seems unfeasible.
Finally, the objection of the unregenerate mind is not just epistemic. It isn’t even primarily epistemic. It is first and foremost, metaphysical. And that is seen in the fact that the objection to the resurrection is moral. Man’s mind is wicked. It is corrupted by sin, desires sin, loves darkness rather than light, and hates God. That is the straight truth where the minds of sinful men are concerned.
In conclusion, apologetic method matters. If you pretend that the minds of men have not been corrupted by sin, you are essentially pretending that Christian belief is false. If your apologetic method depends upon the neutrality of the human intellect when it comes to truth claims, and especially the truths of Christianity, then you must deny the doctrine of original sin and human depravity. You must surely deny total depravity. You must affirm that man can operate intellectually without any dependence on God whatsoever. You must reject the Bible’s description of the sinful intellect as: “futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, ignorant, blind, hardness of heart, callous.” And if that is true, then Christian theism is denied. If the Christian apologist is not careful, by adopting just any apologetic method, he could place himself in the position of actually denying the very philosophy is claims to defend. That is why apologetic method matters. The forum over at CAA could not be more wrong in its desire to maintain neutrality in apologetic method, calling it a dead-end subject. Nothing could more important that constructing a defense of Christian philosophy that is itself a derivative of the very system it seeks to defend. I will hold out hope that over time, things will change for the better.