November 27, 2015 § 12 Comments
Noted author, lawyer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll, also known as “The Great Agnostic,” famously expresses his religious skepticism in his 1872 work, The Gods:
“We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year’s fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years.”
This same sentiment and challenge is echoed by many atheists and agnostics today in different forms, distillable to something like, If God is real, why doesn’t He show Himself? Why doesn’t He make Himself more obvious? They look to Old Testament examples of God physically manifested in a cloud, fire, an angel, or an audible voice. Or the New Testament miracles of Jesus and His apostles healing the lame and raising the dead. If only God demonstrated Himself in the same way today, we might believe the Bible and decide that God, in fact, exists!
The reality is, no, they probably would not believe, no matter what evidence they see. For the many who believed God from the evidence, or followed Jesus because of His miracles, there were also many who remained in unbelief. Jesus acknowledged this in His parable of a man in Hades wishing to have Abraham send someone to warn his brothers of the same fate. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
“Evidence” is always subject to interpretation through our worldview, the filter of what we already believe. Because of this, there were many atheists and agnostics despite living in a time of more “obvious” signs and miracles. And today, there are billions of theists living in a world with relatively far fewer “obvious” signs and miracles. Conclusion? Obviousness (and obliviousness) is relative.
Given the fact that most people in the world are theistic, is it more likely that most people are seeing something that isn’t there than the minority missing something that is there? Why is the reality the opposite of what we should expect if there is not some kind of God or supreme deity?
The problem isn’t lack of evidence, but lack of belief. There are plenty of good reasons to believe in God and ways to show that our faith is logical and coherent, that Christian Theism alone makes sense of the world(1). But if you’ve already determined there is no God or no way of knowing if He exists, nothing short of the power of God will open your eyes to the truth. Worldview always matters.
February 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
Yesterday the internet world found itself polarized by this viral photo of a dress that half the world identified as white and gold and the other half saw blue and black. Respecting no household, it split families where husbands who saw the opposite as their wives insisted each other were crazy or color-blind (our household included).
Another photo surfaced of what is apparently the same dress appeared, and it turns out, the dress—spoiler alert if you missed this meteor—was actually blue and black. What caused people to see two completely different color schemes? I think that the photo could be produced given two different lighting and camera exposure situations; a white and gold dress and a blue and black dress could theoretically both appear as this one did.
When I first saw the photo, I was convinced it was white and gold, because I assumed that what I was looking at was a dress in a dark part of a well-lit room. What I thought was white and gold looked as if it was cast in a light blue, which is often the case with subjects in the shade, as you can see in this picture of a golden retriever in the snow. The scene is in shade or under cloudy skies, and snow often looks blue in the shade. Wintery photos taken by a shooter who doesn’t compensate for the shade or adjust the photo for the proper “white balance” usually appear cool in color. It was conceivable that this dress was white and gold and catching a little indirect cool light from a dim source like a window.
Once most people saw it a certain way, they couldn’t see it the way others were seeing it, but I was determined. After trying for a long while to abandon my prior commitment to white and gold and see a blue and black dress, I finally did, and this view was reinforced by an experiment I did in my own closet. I found a medium blue shirt that was close to the color of the actual dress, and a solid black skirt belonging to my wife, and took a picture with my phone. I then took a second picture with increased exposure, which made the whole photo much lighter. Using my iPhone’s editing features, I increased the exposure a bit further. (Most camera phones have auto-exposure capabilities that will brighten dimly lit subjects like this dress even without manual adjustments later.) The blue shirt was much lighter, and black-turned-gray skirt now reflected the ambient yellow glow from the warm incandescent lighting in the room. The colors were very similar to the viral photo.
So that’s my theory, and others on the internet have surmised similar causes for how people saw the dress. But all this is a very good example of how we view things based on our initial assumptions, even for life’s bigger questions. Because I first assumed certain things about the original environment and lighting, I then assumed other things based on that. People who concluded different things about the dress had different assumptions. Likewise, we form our own particular worldview—the lens through which we view, evaluate and understand reality—based on starting assumptions about who we are, how we got here and where we’re going. As any big debate reveals, we can have wildly different views of God, the universe, human nature and the nature of truth. Like the dress, there is truth behind what it actually is regardless of what we believe it was and how ardently I insist that my view is correct.
A couple things started me doubting my first conclusion for a gold and white dress in the shade included some inconsistencies in what I saw after closer examination. The highlights and shadows that were evident in the dress made me wonder how much shadow I should see in the shadow that was supposed to be the entire front of the dress. The evidence didn’t make sense of a gold and white dress. Could I be wrong? What would happen if I challenge my assumptions and step into the possibility that this was an overexposed picture of a blue and black dress? Are there experiments that might show that the alternative actually makes more sense? These type of questions led me from one conclusion to its opposite, and worldviews are sometimes torn down and rebuilt the same way.
The other factor that prompted me to question my presuppositions was the people who saw the dress differently. The folks who saw the dress as blue and black were more caring and consistent and demonstrated an unearthly love to me. Lol! I jest. 🙂 Simply the fact that there are so many people that seemed just as convinced of their position on the dress color as I was gave me some cause to explore. Ultimately, we want to hang onto the view of truth that makes sense of the world.
What we ultimately put our faith in shapes our worldview, and worldview determines how we talk about identity, what value we put on human life, how marriage is supposed to work, where rights, morality and reason come from, whether or not we think Jon Stewart is funny, and how much time we spend analyzing internet memes. I thought this meme in particular demonstrated pretty well how our basic assumptions steer our belief.
September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The last of a three part series, this post dissects 1 Peter 3:15 and relates a framework for what I consider to be the ultimate goal in doing apologetics.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord…”
Regardless of the approach we use (see previous post), we should keep the goal of apologetics in mind and follow a blueprint that will get us there. With the goal of presenting the Gospel in mind, there are often courses and directions that will take us there efficiently. I think the best way is the introduction of the sin problem. It’s something that everyone has in common and so many relevant arguments about current issues and common questions that lead there quite naturally. There would be no need for the Gospel without the reality of sin. Get people talking about sin and present the Solution that is the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Our calling seems to be continual (“Always…”). The primary method of being continually prepared to give an answer about Biblical Christianity is to study the Bible. There are great books and resources available to help with that. Some are pretty deep in philosophy but others are not.
Know what you believe, but avoid being ignorant of other beliefs. Take the time study the doctrine of other religions and worldviews if that’s who you are having a dialog with.
Another great way to get into defending your faith is to simply practice it. Engage in a conversation with that friend, neighbor, family member, co-worker or classmate, and you know who they are. There are many more opportunities online for apologetic debate that aren’t as nerve-wracking as face to face debate. Online discussion forums or the comment area beneath most news articles are great venues to do apologetics for two reasons. Firstly, you have opportunity to research your answers before you give them (it’s natural to feel unprepared going into any conversation). And secondly, your discussion often remains public for many to see and perhaps be persuaded.
Lastly, Paul encourages gentleness and respect in our discourse with unbelievers. NEVER engage in personal attacks, excess sarcasm or course language. Christians argue that our faith is set apart from the world’s, so we should be set apart from the world’s way of debate. G. K. Chesterton notes that many people quarrel because they don’t know how to argue. An argument is a statement of a position that doesn’t require it to be heated or angry, and reasonable arguments follow civil guidelines. Do it with gentleness and respect!
By the way, you don’t rob anyone of respect if you politely get out of what Proverbs 26:4 considers “foolish arguments” (Don’t Waste Time on Apologetics).
Follow these guidelines and there will be NO guarantee that an unbeliever will see the truth. God can and does use apologetic arguments to open darkened eyes, but ultimately this responsibility is the work of the Holy Spirit (Let the Spirit Do His Thing). Do apologetics, pray as you go, and leave the rest to Him.
September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
A recent dialog.
I agree with you that we need to make some basic assumptions to be able to argue anything. Or else we are left with nihilism or we are living in a computer simulation or something…haha. But your argument just adds unnecessary assumptions. You said that your authority for using reason is because a god created us and he has reason. We are still left with the same question, just on a larger scale now. Who created god, or where did his reason come from? Did god create reason, or is reason something outside of god that he simply conforms to? Let’s keep things simple, and using Occam’s razor cut out the unnecessary assumptions.
My morality is not a list of 10 (or however many) black and white rules that were given by an outside source. It’s basically grounded on the assumption that all humans are equal and should be treated with the dignity that I myself would desire (unless they do something to violate another in some way). Basically the old golden rule and common sense. It is circumstantial, subjective and not set in stone.
I think I do understand that atheism is another belief system. Instead of God, the atheist worships something like human reasoning. It seems as if you would like to portray atheism as passive non-belief, but non-belief requires belief in something, as you plainly reveal in your statements: “Atheism is X” is a claim, and so is “We are making no claims.” I don’t deny that “we need to make some basic assumptions to be able to argue anything,” that’s absolutely true. What can’t be done on atheism however, is explaining WHY we make the assumptions. You unknowingly borrow from Christianity.
If I had made the claim that a Creator God requires an endless regress of Creators, I would most definitely be multiplying assumptions. But I haven’t made that claim, you have. The God of the Bible is the eternal first cause, which is by nature a necessary being that is uncaused. God didn’t create reason nor did He adopt reason, but reason is a part of His nature. That is by far the more simple and parsimonious answer.
You say your morality is grounded in certain assumptions; How does that put atheism on firmer ground than theism? What you assume is that all humans are equal, should be treated with dignity, and how we would want to be treated. I agree, as those happen to be Biblical principals! Do you not assume that these rules are objective and should be relevant to everyone else? You label them subjective in speech but not practice. And why do you assume them in the first place? I don’t suggest that you necessarily get them from reading the Bible, but I do suggest that they are moral values that we can’t NOT know because we are made in the image of a moral God, another Biblical principal. To explain our real world experience of reason and morality on a worldview of origins in mere matter and motion is to multiply assumptions far beyond what is necessary.
July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Presuppositional apologetics acknowledges that its arguments (and ultimately every argument) are circular. At its most basic and foundational level, every belief is taken on faith. Starting with this fact, here’s how a defense of Christianity might move on to account for the “preconditions of intelligibility” while exposing that contrary worldviews cannot, and then lead into an evangelistic opportunity.
Skeptic: Any argument for the truth of Christianity is a circular argument. Instead of appealing to reason, you are appealing to your own conclusion as your premise. You are saying the Bible is true because the Bible is true.
Believer: Arguing for the existence of God is a circular argument, that much is true. But any argument for ultimate commitment is circular.
Skeptic: But I argue using reason.
Believer: So do I, but reason is your ultimate commitment. Your defense of reason by reason is circular. You and I both hold to circular arguments in supporting our ultimate commitments. The difference is that Christianity provides a basis for the reason we both use in the argument. The eternal and all-knowing God described in the Bible is a God of reason, who created man in His image. We can reason because God endowed us with it and invites us to use it. But without appealing to God, you can’t account for your use of reason.
Skeptic: I can account for reason by the fact that there is knowledge.
Believer: If the universe is basically matter in motion, how can your worldview account for knowledge? If knowledge is your ultimate commitment, your ultimate authority, then your use of knowledge to explain knowledge is still circular. What can knowledge appeal to? God has a mind and we’re made in His image, according to the Bible. Christians can actually make sense of knowledge.
Skeptic: I don’t have to explain why there is knowledge and reason. There are plenty of phenomenon left for us to discover, but it will be discovered through science, not religion.
Believer: In order to do science, we presuppose predictability and uniformity in nature. Why do you assume that you can expect certain results from experiments based on what happened in the past? There’s no scientific basis for uniformity that other than past experience of uniformity, but the Bible explains uniformity and predictability (for example, see Genesis 8:22).
Skeptic: That is simply a bad explanation. Science is and always has been the right way to figure out the universe.
Believer: When you talk about good and bad and the right and wrong way to do something, you are presupposing universal and objective moral absolutes that determine good and bad, and right and wrong. Moral sensibilities can’t be accounted for on any belief system that excludes a moral law giver. All that can be said is that rightness is justified on the virtue of rightness. (or “Be good because it’s good to be good.”) The God of the Bible is a moral Being, and “good” is a part of His very nature. His moral law is written on the hearts of His creation (Romans 2:15), and He offers a solution for our falling short of the requirements of the law in the atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.