Tag Archive: atheism


2 Cor 10:5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christworking-1229720-1279x977

Previously, I took a great deal of time to show that not only does objective truths exist, but that we can reasonably approach and assess truth in many important areas of philosophy, theology, history, and science. Confidence in our knowledge in these areas can be gained and increased by careful reasoning and critical thinking through argumentation. Having laid the philosophical foundations to justify the use of these tools, I now want to apply them towards our knowledge of God.

Can Truths About God Be Known?

Rom. 1:20“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [unbelievers] are without excuse.”

But first, perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few words addressing the question, can truths about God be known? Is God too “other” for finite humans to comprehend or in any way grasp His properties? One agnostic trend makes the claim that this is impossible. Paul, in Romans 1 indicates that some amount of knowledge about God is indeed possible through observation and reflection. I think the agnostic claim itself fails philosophically as an absolute claim, as it claims to have knowledge of God, namely that knowledge about God is unattainable. So what is gained by the destruction of this claim? Well, we can escape the prison of ignorance concerning God; it seems that it is not logically impossible to know something about God (if He exists). This, of course, doesn’t take us very far towards positive knowledge claims about God, but it does make forward progress possible, at least in principle.

Baby Steps

In the posts that follow, I want to move, with slow and careful steps, through some arguments that have installed in me confidence that God exists and is accurately reflected in Christian theism as laid out in the Bible. Slow and careful, I say, because these are not philosophical word games, some smoke-and-mirrors rhetorical trick. I’m not going to try to take you all the way from skepticism to true believer all in one argument, as that seems an awful lot to ask from one argument [1]. Instead, I want to build a cumulative case for you that grows in stages from previous groups of arguments, as laid out in my earlier post about the goals of Christian case making. As a reminder, here is the model I’m following in this method.

                      | Has God spoken? |

                |        Has God acted?         |

     |                     Does God exist?                 |

|    Does Truth exist? Is Truth knowable?         |

We have completed step one, concerning Truth, and are now moving up to the next step, “Does God exist?” The arguments will not, as I said, make the full case in one step, but will move us forward, bit by bit, with evidence for God’s existence, His attributes, and how Christian theism seems to fit best with reality and history among other religions. I think this careful case-building strategy can be persuasive, as the Holy Spirit softens the heart and removes hostility towards God. Overthrowing one’s worldview in favor of one very different is no small matter, and one which I would expect not to happen quickly.

Please join me next time as we begin with arguments for God’s existence, and I hope that you will have your confidence and trust strengthened in the truth of the Bible as we see how reality truly is reflected, described, and prescribed. I certainly found it convincing, and I pray you will too.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] Although not impossible – the Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection strikes me as very persuasive, and implies much of content of Christian theism.

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Are faith and reason opposed? Clearly God expects us to have faith, but what is that, anyway? Is Mark Twain correct in his definition that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” or is there something more to it? Are the new atheists correct in their assessment that faith belongs to religious zealots and reason belongs to sensible atheists?

What is Faith?

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S. Lewis [1] CS-Lewis

Biblical faith is not blind, or in opposition to reason. Thus, “strong faith” is not upholding belief in spite of overwhelming evidence against belief.  Faith is different from belief.  Belief is mental assent to a set of propositions, which may not produce a significant change in the life of the believer.  Faith, in contrast, adds to belief trust, and involves an act of the will to commit to those beliefs in a way that does significantly impact the life of the believer.  Faith is similar in nature to the commitment of marriage: while dating, a man and woman may believe that the other partner would make a great spouse, but it is the wedding which demonstrates the commitment of the participants to change their lives for the belief.  There may not be complete certainty, but the weight of evidence is strong enough to responsibly bridge the gap.  As Christians, we have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, supported by reasonable propositions concerning his existence and miraculous works.

Reasonable Faith vs. Blind Faith vs. Certainty

(I heard this illustration many years ago from Richard Simmons III of The Center for Executive Leadership.)

Suppose I reach in my pocket and pull out something in my closed fist. What is in there? My father, who has known me all my life, says, “It’s a quarter.” I ask if he is willing to bet $100 that it is a quarter. Logically, it could be a quarter, but if he is willing to bet on it at that point, he is exercising blind faith.

Now, let’s say I tell him it is a 1921 silver dollar in good condition. If he believes and bets on that, it demonstrates reasonable faith, based on his belief in my trustworthiness.

Finally, I open my hand and give him the silver dollar so he can inspect it and verify all the information about it. At this point, he has certainty concerning his knowledge about it, and no faith is required.

Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Gailey on faith in Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.” Sam Harris [2] samharris

Time for a New Word

All too often in our modern parlance, when people hear the word “faith,” they mentally attach extra words in front of it, such as “blind” and “leap of,” and so “faith” comes to be incorrectly defined as in the quote above from Miracle on 34th Street. When a word comes to mean something in the popular usage different from the concept that it originally conveyed, it is time to use a different word that is more accurate. In the same way that we don’t anymore use the words “gay” to mean “happy” or “gentleman” to mean “an upper-class landed aristocrat,” the word “faith” has come too much to mean belief in something in opposition to evidence and reason. Therefore, I more often want to use the word “trust” to express how Christians hold belief.

And not just Christians. I am referring to a tool we use all the time. In my last post, I explored a bit the depths of skepticism that a bit of reflection can raise, and showed how few things we have actual certainty about. This means that we must exercise “faith” (trust) about pretty much everything in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. This includes Sam Harris and the other New Atheists!

Whether it’s life’s more philosophical questions – the reality of our conscious experience, why science works, the existence of other minds – or whether it’s just the mundane everyday realities of life – flying on a plane, undergoing a medical procedure, sipping a latte, using my credit card – every day I exercise faith in numerous little ways.” – Andy Bannister [3] andybannister

What About Child-Like Faith?

Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

As I have laid out in previous posts, the Bible models and expects a faith based on reason and evidences. In light of this clear teaching, any ambiguity of this Matthew 18 passage should be resolvable not as a guide on the definition of faith, but of the commitment based on that faith. After all, children place trust on the reasons and evidence they have available, just as adults do. Their faith is no more blind than anyone else’s. No, what is being instructed here is not blind faith, but a fearless and confident trust that our justified beliefs are truths that should be acted upon.

Next up, I’ll define reason and describe how we use it to arrive at truth.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 125.

[2] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 65.

[3] Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2015), 196.

Continuing from the prior post, here are some more objections to apologetics often given from within the church.teen-talk-1438715

“You can’t ‘prove’ that God exists.”

Most apologists are not trying to “prove” the existence of God. Indeed, proof is too strong a word; it seems to me that proof lies in the eye of the beholder, and so can be influenced by or resisted for any number of reasons. Apologists’ goals are more modest. We provide evidence that belief in God and the Christian faith is reasonable and rational. We want to give them reasons to take the gospel seriously and give it consideration for their lives. As Greg Koukl says, we are trying to put a stone in their shoe, to help them see that Christianity is worth thinking about.

“Apologetics is just about arguing with unbelievers.”

I think people get a bit over excited about this one simply due to an imprecise use of the words, and often I am guilty of this too. When my kids start getting loud bickering with each other, what comes out of my mouth is “Stop arguing and get along!” But arguing is not what they are doing; they are quarrelling, fighting, and/or name-calling. This is not what an apologist does, though (or shouldn’t be!). Instead, we use arguments and good evidence to show reasonable conclusions supporting Christian ideas. As I will discuss further in a future post, argumentation is the gift that God has given us to discover truth.

“Apologetics doesn’t work.”

When someone offers this objection, I want to ask them, “What exactly are your expectations?” Are they assuming it is being offered as a silver-bullet approach that should work every time it is used? Remember Romans 1:18 says that unbelievers suppress the truth; the Holy Spirit does the work inside their hearts. We obey by offering the gospel persuasively. Also, how are they gauging success or failure in this endeavor? Is it a failure if they do not convert immediately? Must they do so on the spot for it to be considered a successful or useful tool? Most people don’t make the important decisions of their lives in an instant or without serious and careful contemplation.

“You can’t argue someone into the kingdom.”

This is true. Also true is that you cannot love, preach, or lifestyle-witness anyone into the kingdom, either. Our job is to love, preach, live, and give a defense, all in such a way that will show the truth of the message we bring. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to turn the hearts of the hearer towards what has been heard. Without the Spirit’s work, nothing works, and even though He could do it all without our help, God has commanded Christians to spread this good news in a partnership with Him to reach the world. Apologetics is one of the tools we use in doing our part.

Are there other objections you have heard or thought of? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

Having previously given several examples of Jesus’ and Paul’s use of persuasion and careful reasoning approaches to evangelism, let me now show you how God, through His inspired authors,studying-2-1475294 has given us the commission to each be careful and considered Christian case-makers.

Let me start by reminding you of Paul’s instruction to the church in 2 Corinthians 10:5

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Through careful reasoning and persuasion we are to destroy the arguments raised against the knowledge of God, not through empty rhetoric, intimidating personality, abusive use of Scripture, or threat of force.

Over in Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul writes concerning the Christian’s gifts and design:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. [NASB, emphasis mine]

Does the thought of evangelism make your palms sweat? Relax, that may not be your gifting. Paul says that some, not all, received the gifts of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. However, no such qualifiers are given in 1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

This command is not issued to “some” of the believers, but seems to have the expectation that all believers should be ready to make a persuasive defense (apologia) of their faith. God expects all Christians to engage in apologetic study; this should not be simply a niche, academics club within the church, or a peripheral topic relegated to a specialist teacher or occasional special guest lecturer, but a discipline in which all Christians ought to apply themselves. As J. Warner Wallace puts it, “Christianity does not need another million-dollar apologist, we need a million one-dollar apologists.” We need people studying, getting into the game, engaging and improving their interaction skills as they do so.

Move down towards the end of the New Testament into the book of Jude, in which we will find this verse in Jude 1:3

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

We are to stand up for and contend for the faith! Not just as “true for me,” or a private experiential and subjective faith, but as a public, objectively true reflection of reality. Repeatedly we are called to a convinced and reasonable trust in Christ:

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 – Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Romans 14:5b…Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

2 Timothy 3:14 – But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.

You are probably familiar with the passage in Matthew 5:13-16 in which Jesus tells us to be salt and light in the world:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I believe that these verses instruct us to provide cultural correctives towards Biblical truth and morality as it goes astray, and do so by confronting ideas and arguments. If Christianity truly reflects reality as it is, even apparent contradictions between it and contemporary thought can be shown to be faulty. We need to approach each situation with care, tact, and discernment, using the right tool for the job at hand; use “gentleness and respect,” as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15 above. This tactical approach is summarized in Colossians 4:5-6:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

In the next post, I will give you some practical reasons why you as a Christian should study apologetics (if the previous posts haven’t yet convinced you!).

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)

The evidence for Christian theism is superior in exhaustive scope, explanatory power, and internal consistency than competing worldviews offer.  Scott Smith, in his blog T.C. Apologetics writes in his post So, would you ever leave your carfaith? on the unique and holistic way in which the Christian view of God answers many diverse questions in life:

In the rest of life, we typically exhaust simple answers before turning to the extravagant. Why not in metaphysical questions as well? Smart people have examined the evidence and come to different conclusions. I realize that. But if you haven’t pondered the issue, you would do well to consider it. Given the shape of reality, what is the most plausible explanation – one cause or an infinite number of causes?

See the whole article here: http://tcapologetics.org/so-would-you-ever-leave-your-faith/

The Because It’s True blog posts a great letter to an atheist friend, and I agree with its message and want to share it with you.

Plus, it has this super Jabba meme picture. jabba

Dear atheist friend,

I think we want the same thing. Or, at least we both claim to want the same thing. Think about it. Why are you on the internet talking about all of the problems with religion? I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is because you are convinced that atheism is true, correct, and represents the way things really are. What is more, you want people to know the truth. You believe people’s lives will be greatly enriched by aligning their views with reality rather than delusion. Now, suppose you asked me the same question: why am I on the internet talking about my religion? My answer would be the same: because  I am convinced that Christianity is true, correct, and represents the way things really are! If you are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, as I have given you, then you will have to conclude that we want the same thing. Like you, I want people to know the truth. I believe people’s lives will be greatly enriched by aligning their views with reality rather than delusion.

See the rest of the letter at the Because It’s True blog site here: http://www.becauseitstrue.com/blogarticles/dear-atheist-friend-i-think-we-want-the-same-thing

(picture from Because It’s True blog here)

Jason Wisdom, in his blog Because Its True, takes on a meme, captured in the image on the right: Picture

I have recently come across several different incarnations of the image shown at right. The message is the same, but the pictures vary: “What Christians say: ‘I’ll pray for you.’ What I hear: ‘I’ve got magic thinking powers.'” I chose this particular one because I liked the wizard. Anyway, it popped up enough times in my web-browsing last week that I thought I would make it a journal topic for my 11th grade students on Friday. I simply attached the image and asked the students to respond. After giving them a few minutes to think about it, I asked, “What would you say if one of your friends posted this on Facebook?” None of my students really knew what to say. I don’t really blame them. After all, it isn’t really an argument or an assertion, but a just sort of existential observation. One could simply respond by saying, “Good to know. So what about this weather lately?”  Why then do many atheists find it so appealing and many Christians find it so intimidating? I think there are a few reasons.

And then further down:

While I think the main issue shown in the original image is the rejection of belief in God, and the basic claims of Christianity, I don’t think that we can fully escape at least some blame for the perceived silliness. Many, if not the majority of atheists that I interact with come from Christian backgrounds. I think it is fair attribute at least a portion of the sentiment they are expressing in memes like this one to a flippant, and even sometimes un-biblical approach to prayer in many Christian circles.

See the rest of his thoughtful article here: http://www.becauseitstrue.com/blogarticles/the-silliness-of-prayer-and-how-to-use-conditional-agreement

 

Natasha Crain is the author of the blog Christian Mom Thoughts, a terrific, practical journal by a Christian mother interested in teaching her children not only what to believe, but why, in order that they can have confidence based on knowledge and certainty, and not blind faith.  In the two-part blog series listed below, she discusses why and how to teach our children about atheism.choice

Atheism is not just one more possible challenge to our kids’ faith. It is THE most likely challenge today.

With this post, I’d like to raise awareness of why Christian parents should care so much about understanding atheist views and why we should proactively address these specific challenges to Christianity with our kids.

Read more here: 4 Reasons Christian Parents Need to Care More About Atheism

[W]e can no longer teach our kids about Christianity in a silo and expect them to automatically stand spiritually strong. The challenges today are too great. As I discussed in my last post, the atheist worldview in particular is a threat to the faith of young people.

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism.

Read more here: 14 Ways for Christian Parents to Teach Kids about Atheism

What is the only good reason to hold a belief?  Because it is true; any other reason (pragmatism, comfort, tradition, experience) is secondary, at best.  I am a Christian because I believe that the truth claims of Christianity are evidentially supported.  This blog is primarily about showing those evidences and applying the discovered truth of Christianity to daily life.  As such, in this post, I won’t go into these evidences in detail.  Instead, I want to talk about how I came to believe that the Christian worldview reflects reality the way it truly is.

As a child, I was raised in a very Christian environment.  Born in the buckle of the Bible belt, I grew up in a Christian home with two Christian parents, studied at a Christian school from K5-12th grade, and regularly attended Sundays and Wednesday night services at a Christian church.  But, “God doesn’t have grand-children,” as my father once told me.  My Christian upbringing did not itself guarantee that I would place my trust in Christ, although it did ensure that the knowledge of the Bible was in my head.  The “fear of God” (and parents) kept me, no doubt, from getting into serious trouble as well, so don’t misunderstand me: I don’t disparage my Christian upbringing.  I (and every one of us) needed to take ownership of the things I claimed to believe for it to “stick.”

In hindsight, I believe the process of my taking ownership began around age eighteen, when I began college.  I never had classes with aggressive anti-Christian professors or belligerent atheist student groups.  What I had was a new freedom of schedule, action, and disposable income (as I was working off and on during that time) that I did not have in the more rigidly controlled high-school days.  This time of new choices was exhilarating and intoxicating.  However, at the same time, very slowly, a cloud of depression began to form around me, one that would continue to grow over the next decade.  I finished college, began a career, married a wonderful woman, began a family, and took on a mortgage.  There I was, living the American Dream, but I had days of terrible depression and desperation, and I did not know why.

tired

Selfie, around the time of my worst depression

I was for a short while under the care of a very attentive psychiatrist, who prescribed some anti-depressants.  These did not seem to have any effect, and after a while, I stopped taking the meds and seeing the psychiatrist.  My depression reached its peak shortly before my 30th birthday.  I wanted a change.  I had to have a change.  I considered options, some very desperate indeed.  I did not know what was wrong, though, so I could not decide the proper application of a solution.  A counselor at my church recommended a Christian psychologist, and I began to attend regular counseling sessions at her office, which has led to a long, and sometimes painful process of recovery.

Through a process of self-reflection and discovery, led by skillful questions and insights from my doctor, I began to recognize in myself a lot of emotional repression and unasked questions.  My understanding of the Christian life needed an overhaul as well.  For one thing, I had a deep mistrust of emotion and experience in the life of the Christian.  My perception was that a whole lot, if not all of it, was manufactured in the mind of the believer, or manipulated by the man behind the pulpit.  For another, my evaluation of my own poor spiritual state was because I was not praying enough or reading my Bible enough, but I had no particular desire to do either.  It began to be clear to me that I had not allowed myself to consider questions about the truth of the Bible and Christianity, silencing the doubts when they would begin to surface.  While I have no memory of anyone saying so explicitly, the impression I had grown up with was that doubt was sin and questioning the claims of Christianity showed a lack of faith, which was also sin.  These things which were repressed were not eliminated though, and were now coming back in strength, demanding to be dealt with.

I gave serious and lengthy consideration to both atheism and deism, the two alternative worldviews that seemed the most likely contenders with Christianity.  However, there were in my life a handful of Christian men, in particular, my father and a couple of pastors, whom I respected.  These were men who I knew to be intelligent and thoughtful, and I could not easily dismiss the fact that they held to a Christian worldview.  I felt I owed it to them and myself to find out if the Christian worldview could withstand scrutiny, or if it was inferior to other views.

Next up, Why I Am a Christian.

 

BSS research

The more I personally experience the nature of internet atheism, the more I realize this is an aspect of our kids’ spiritual environment that we need to prepare them to engage with. They may only occasionally encounter vocal atheists in their personal lives, but they’ll almost certainly encounter atheists with regularity online – through social media posts/conversations, comments on news stories, blogs and more.

As I reflect on my experiences to date, I believe there are six key things kids need to understand before they face the online battle of worldviews. [Click the link below to learn those six things – JW]

 

– Natasha Crain of Christian Mom Thoughts via Cold Case Christianity

 

http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/preparing-kids-to-encounter-atheism-online/