Thursday, June 18, 2009
Dawkins demonstrates that when one rejects the foundational truth of God existence, he is left with no answer for some of life’s important questions—such as “what is right and wrong?” and “How did life start?" By denying the One, from whom all things originate and are sustained, the individual is left with no reasonable explanations. On the contrary when the evident and obvious answers are not ruled a priori, then all evidence lead back to God. God has designed life this way for His glory—For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. The answers to significant life questions will inevitably lead to God. God has set eternity into the heart of man (Eccl. 4: 11).
Dawkins attempts to answer the question of what warrants morality in his atheistic worldview in his debate with Lennox. Dawkins acknowledges a universal acceptance of right and wrong by society. He senses it. He acknowledges it. But his a priori rejection of God, leaves him with no reasonable warrant to believe in right or wrong. He ends up giving the very unscientific and irrational warrant that our sense of morality is simply “in the air.” His statement in full is given below.
“How do I know what is moral? I don’t on the whole. But the point I want to make is that there does seem to be a kind of universal human acceptance that certain things are right and other things are not.. (after warranting our “lust to be good to be from our “Darwinian past” Dawkins goes on to say…) But it also comes from something less easy to define, but which is clearly there. I call it the shifting moral zeitgeist. It’s something that changes from decade to decade. Living as we do in 2007, there will be a broad consensus as to what is right and wrong… (Examples given) which characterize we who live in the early 21st century which would not necessarily have characterized our ancestors in this place 200 years ago. The consensus has moved on and I find this a very interesting and fascinating fact which suggests that there really is a kind of something in the air about what is regarded as moral and it clearly has nothing to do with religion because it doesn’t come from Scripture because Scripture doesn’t change over the decades in the way that our attitudes toward slavery, women, etc. do. There really does seem to be a powerful shifting zeitgeist effect which doesn’t tell you anything in itself but indicates that there is something in the air-- some other force, something which we can understand with sufficient sociological, psychological sophistication. Whatever else it is, it is not religion.” (Dawkins, BSD, emphasis added)
How is “In the air” a reasonable warrant for a universal sense of right and wrong? And why does he not give us an understanding with “sufficient sociological and psychological sophistication?” Dawkins does not have compelling reasons to believe why morality exists. He continues to manifest the dynamic I mentioned in my previous post—the suppression of the obviously evident.
While Dawkins’ God given sense of morality allows him to entertain a debate with Lennox about the origin of good and evil, in other remarks, Dawkins asserts that his worldview had no foundations for the concepts of good and evil.
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replications, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe we observe is precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good—Nothing but blind pettiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (Dawkins, A River out of Eden, emphasis added)
Dr. Greg Bahnsen dismantles this kind of irrationality in his humorous, classic response to atheist Dr. Stein in a “The Great Debate” in 1985 at Irvine, CA.
“I mean if there aren’t laws of morality, I can just take out a gun right now and say ‘Okay Dr. Stein, make my day. Is there a god or not?’ You see if he argues ‘oh no! You can’t murder me because there are laws of morality’, then of course he’s made my day because I win the debate. That shows that the atheist universe is not correct. But if he says ‘Oh no, there are no absolute standards; it’s all by convention and stipulation’ and that sort of thing, then I just pull the trigger and it’s all over and I win the debate anyway." [audience pause, then laughter and applause.] (Dr. Bahnsen, The Great Debate.)
The common universal ethic that Dawkins fumbles to explain warrants the Bible’s claim that that God has created mankind in His image as moral beings so that mankind “shows the work of the law written in their hearts” (Romans 2:15).
Finally, in one other demonstration that all paths lead back to God, Dawkins regularly admits in the discussion with Lennox that science has no answers for the origin of the cosmos/life. He regularly claims that science is “working on it” (BSD, OD). As I have mentioned before, when pressed Dawkins may be persuaded to postulate intelligent causation (alien origins or a deist type of god). But my point is that when an individual denies God, he leaves himself with no explanation for the origin of what he sees around him. Romans 1:19 states “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God has made it evident to them.” Thus, when an individual denies the obvious conclusions toward which the evidence leads, he leaves himself with no answers. This is demonstrated clearly with Dawkins.
The universal sense of morality and the fact that without God there is no explanation for the origin of the universal are two consistent warrants for primo fide in the existence of the God of Scripture.
Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things it is inevitable that all roads lead back to Him. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
In Lennox’s conclusion in BSD, he dismantles the Douglas Adam quote.
“I think the book The God Delusion gives the game away in the dedication at the front of the book to Douglas Adams where he says, 'Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?' Now you (Dawkins) do a brilliant job of getting rid of the fairies. Though it must be said that most of them didn’t believe in them anyway (i.e. Dawkins has constructed a straw man). But when you see the beauty of a garden, say in new college at Oxford, do you believe there is no gardener or no owner that its sublime beauty has come about from raw nature by pure chance? Of course not. For gardens are to be distinguished from raw nature by the operation of intelligence.” (Lennox, BSD)
In response, Dawkins will agree that the most “obvious”, “natural” explanation is that there is a gardener behind the garden. He will agree that even “fools” would believe this. But then Dawkins will reject the obvious and opt for the seemingly impossible –that which is “staggering counterintuitive.” Then after exercising his faith in Darwin’s interpretations of the evidences he will assert that his new explanation is “comprehensible” and “rational”, and the original design argument which he had previously asserted as“obvious” is now “counterintuitive” and goes against "common sense." Do I hear “new speak” anybody - for you Orwellian fans? Read the entirety of Dawkins statement now with my emphasis added.
“When we go into a garden and we see how beautiful it is…and we see colored flowers and we see the butterflies and the bees…of course it’s natural to think there must be a gardener. Any fool is likely to think there must be a gardener. The huge achievement of Darwin was to show that that didn’t have to be true. Of course it’s difficult. Of course it would have to wait until the mid-19th century before anybody thought of it. It seems so obvious that if you got a garden, there must be a gardener who created it and all that goes with that. What Darwin did was to show these staggering counterintuitive fact that this not only can be explained by an undirected process (excursion for a moment). He showed not only a garden but everything in the living world and in principle not just on this earth but on any other planet wherever you see the organized complexity that we understand that we call life that it has an explanation which can derive it from simple beginnings by comprehensible rational means. That is possibly the greatest achievement that any human mind has ever accomplished.
Not only did he show that it could be done but I believe that we can argue that the alternative is so unparsimonious and so counterintuitive to the laws of common sense that as reluctant as we might be because it might be unpleasant to admit it—although we can’t disprove that there is a God, it is very very unlikely indeed.” (Dawkins, BSD)
By what magic does Dawkins change that which is evident even to a fool into that which is very "unlikely indeed" and defies "common sense?" By what magic does Dawkins change that which is “staggering, counterintuitive” into “comprehensible, rational?” –his magical faith in Darwin’s’ interpretations of the evidence.
This exhanged between Lennox and Dawkins was stimulated by Douglas Adams’ quote. Would Adam's quote have been as popularly poignant and useful to the Atheists’ cause if he had said, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there is a gardener behind it all?” No! When the deceptive, straw man of “fairies” is exposed for what it is, and the real issue of “intelligence” is substituted, then the statement is seen as foolishness because it denies the obvious.
Although Dr. Dawkins efforts to supress the truth are heroic, he cannot completely extinguish his own "common sense." Notice Dr. Dawkins astonishing concessions…
“The deist god would be one that I think.. it would be….one could make a reasonably respectable case for that…not a case that I would accept. But I think it is a serious discussion we could have.” (OD 4:30)
“You could possibly persuade me there was some kind of creative force in the universe with some kind of physical mathematical genius who created everything—the expanding universe, devised quantum theory, relativity, and all that. You could possibly persuade me of that. But that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of god who cares about sin, the sort of god who cares about what you do with your genitals, the sort of god who is interested, who has the slightest interest in your private thoughts and your wickedness. Surely you can see that a god who is grand enough to make the universe is not going to give a (undecipherable ) cuss about what you are thinking about and your sins and things like that. (Dawkins, OD 37:00 minute mark, emphasis added)
So, after Dawkins went to great lengths to suggest that a garden does not imply an intelligent gardener, when pressed on origins, what is Dawkins willing to entertain as to why there is something and not nothing? He is willing to entertain some form of intelligence! He does this again when he is willing to entertain the possibility of alien intelligence as an explanation of how life was started on earth. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa55s9Gs_Eg&feature=PlayList&p=381BB86DA989935D&index=4). Dr. Dawkins, when pressed, allows for the possibility of intelligence causation. Is Richard Dawkins evolving?
Oh what sophisticated lengths mankind goes through to suppress the truth and escape their accountability to their Maker. Romans 1:18-19 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”
1) 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness”
When Lennox makes his closing statements, he mentions the centrality of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. Dawkins then ridicules,
“Yes, well that concluding bit rather gives the game away doesn’t it? If all that stuff about science and physics and the complications of physics and things...what it all really comes down to is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the sort of sophisticated scientist which we hear part of the time from John Lennox and its impressive and we are interested in the arguments about multi-verses (as opposed to uni-verse) and things. And then having produced some sort of a case for some sort of deistic god; perhaps some god like the great physicist who adjusted the laws of the constants of the universe…that’s all very grand and wonderful and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty. It’s so trivial. It’s so local. It’s so earthbound. It’s so unworthy of the universe.” —Dawkins (BSD, emphasis added)
When Dawkins brings up the topic of Jesus again, he sticks to the word “petty” (OD 5:00-7:00 mark). Later, sneering, he chides Lennox,
“Do you really think that the creator of this magnificent edifice of the universe, these expanding universe, the galaxies…do you really think He couldn’t think of a better way than to get rid of the sins on this one little speck of dust than to have himself tortured? He’s the one who is doing the forgiving after all. Could he have just forgiven?” —Dawkins (OD, 32:00 mark).
Two thousand years ago, the debate was the same. Scriptures describe precisely this response from those who reject God’s wisdom for their own. When Paul preached in Athens notice the response in Acts 17:32, "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer.." The relatively recent and "new" assertions of Darwin, and subsequently, Dawkins, are actually old and expected from those who reject God. Note, the correlation of Dawkins’ condescending reaction to God’s Gospel with Paul’s claim, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chose, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27-29).
1. Birmingham Structured Debate (BSD): http://www.dawkinslennoxdebate.com/
2. Informal office discussion (IOD): http://richarddawkins.net/article,2834,Conversation-between-Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox-Fixed-Point
3. Oxford Discussion (OD): http://richarddawkins.net/article,3911,Richard-Dawkins-and-John-Lennox-at-the-Oxford-University-Museum,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox
I found Dawkins to be a highly skilled orator, certainly passionate, and persuasive in regard to what he believes. I also concur with Dawkins’ concerns about a lack of critical thinking among many religious folks (the same could be said of most people in general, secular or religious). I do assert that Lennox, while an equally skilled, orator was logically superior. Lennox was able to articulate a more comprehensive, consistent, and coherent worldview while pointing out the deficiencies of Dawkins’ worldview. Obviously I’m biased, but Dawkins cannot logically account for certain elements in his professed worldview. One weakness with Lennox is that he hedges when pressed by Dawkins as to whether or not he believes in any form of evolution (which I assume they are speaking about macro-evolution, OD). He could have easily pressed Dawkins with “scientific” evidences from secular scientists that dispute the evolution hypothesis. Another weakness I observed with Lennox was that he did not compellingly demonstrate that Dr. Dawkins also has a “faith” stance. Dawkins sees himself as a man of “science” while Lennox is a man of "faith.” Thus, Dr. Dawkins would seemingly say that he is absque fide without any primo fide. Although Lennox attempts to address Dawkins’ “faith,” the effort is not convincing. Being without initial, starting point, faith assertions is philosophically indefensible and impossible. For Dawkins, his primo fide is his belief that realtity consists of only matter and therefore all things can be explain in a naturalistic way. This assertion can not be proven. Thus it is "faith." The question, now for Dawkins is what warrants his belief that reality is only matter and science can explain everything?
Nevertheless, as I watched and listened, I am reminded of certain truths that stood out to me from the Scriptures. This debate is certainly not new. It is millinia old. In the next posts I will make three observations about these discussions.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Brett quotes Sir Francis Bacon…
However, in my worldview, there is a supernatural dynamic apparently taking place as well. This dynamic sheds light on Brett’s inability to find “reasons to believe”—his inability to “see” God. From Brett’s own account he does not “see” God in life or creation. A lack of “seeing” can also be termed as “blindness.” This dynamic is associated with the Biblical concept of idolatry.
Brett proclaims when he was searching for answers that his motivation was the fear of losing Janna. He states, “I was more worried about losing Janna than I was about losing God.” The scriptures proclaim that the words we speak come from our heart. Thus, Brett’s words reveal what Brett’s god was in his heart.
Brett’s god was not Yahweh, who had provided his own Son, Jesus Christ, for Brett’s salvation. Brett’s god was not the eternal creator God who spins galaxies in His hands and sovereignly reigns over the heavens and earth. Brett’s god was not the God who can satisfy the alienated emptiness of mankind. Brett’s god was not the God of C.S. Lewis who claimed that, like the sun, it is by God that he “sees all things.” Brett’s god seemed to be the temporary companionship of spouse and apparently the companionship of friends and family. These entities are great blessings from God and are to be cherished, but they are not the incomparable God of the universe who alone satisfies. Now, when what I live for is boiled down to pleasures in life, then life is really all about pleasing myself—In pride, I become the exalted one for whom all things exist and by which all things are measured and judged (with my unaided reason, my unaided logic, my intuition, and my experiences).
Brett’s realization that he feared losing his fiance more than he feared losing God is significant. Is it possible that these declarations demonstrated that he had already cultivated his first love to be his future spouse and the affection of people rather than God? If so, Brett’s moment of realization then, was not the beginning of the road to apostasy, it may have been the end of the path he was traveling. Individuals wonder sometimes, “How did I get here?” The answer is simply, “Because that was the end of path in which you were traveling.”
The Biblical worldview describes a particular dynamic in regard to pursuing other gods than the one true God, Yahweh. The fundamental heart problem of human beings is idolatry—setting other gods before the one true God. When human beings set non-real gods, non-living gods, non-illuminating gods in front of their eyes, as if to worship them, then they become blinded to reality. Because the false gods they worship are dead, blind, and deaf, they become like their gods - blind and deaf. There will be no rational warrants or "reasons to believe."
Psalm 135:14-21 (NASB95)
14 For the Lord will judge His people
And will have compassion on His servants.
15 The idols of the nations are but silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
16 They have mouths, but they do not speak;
They have eyes, but they do not see;
17 They have ears, but they do not hear,
Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
Yes, everyone who trusts in them.
19 O house of Israel, bless the Lord;
O house of Aaron, bless the Lord;
20 O house of Levi, bless the Lord;
You who revere the Lord, bless the Lord.
21 Blessed be the Lord from Zion,
Who dwells in Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
In an idolatry context, answerable questions can naturally turn into severe doubts when one is entertaining the worship of other gods. These severe doubts are the “blind and deaf” fruit that begins to ripen. Then, these seemingly irresolvable doubts become the easy justification for the jettison of the one true God which really had really already been forsaken. The increasing severity of the doubts can be a natural result of the slow blinding process of cultivating a love for a different god.
Since Brett speaks of his own experience much to corroborate his assertions, I will speak of mine as well to corroborate Biblical truth. I worked with another young man that regularly began to doubt Christianity and God whenever he made a particular young lady the source of his pleasure—to the eventual extent of participating in immoral behavior. When this young man was finding his satisfaction in her, he would regularly begin to doubt. I could always tell when he had been struggling with making this young lady an idol of his heart because he would be struggling with doubts. After probing deeper, I would begin to realize that this man had been making his lady friend the idol of his heart in multiple ways including inappropriate sexual pleasure. When we dealt with the real issue of finding his pleasure in God alone, he had no immobilizing doubts—questions yes, but no apostatizing or throwing the baby out with the bathwater kinds of decisions.
Matthew 10:37 speaks of the individual who loves family and friends more than God. Christ rebukes them as “not being worthy" of Him. This rebuke comes not because the individuals had an appropriate love for the family but, because individuals had misplaced priorities. Sadly, Christ describes the consequence of this in verse 39, “He who has found his life shall loose it and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Inevitably, those who have found what they are living for other than God (idolatry) will experience the loss of that which is idolized. God will not bless his competition. Nor will He share his unique glory as the one incomparable God. In contrast God promises in Matthew 19:29 that those who have left all (including family and friends) for His sake will receive a one-hundred fold return of the same plus more.
The lesson in one sentence? Doubts may be an indication of contemporaneous idolatry.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
At the heart of this assertion (warranted by his experience) is again the inability to discern between the supernatural and natural. Brett has observed that his own success and even business men who are successful are no different than Christian ministries that are successful but claim supernatural causation. Thus, everybody’s successes can naturally be explained in terms of good leadership. In Brett’s second year of ministry in PBF, he developed in his people skills, management skills, and leadership skills. Is this natural or supernatural? Yes.
The Scriptures claim that God has given mankind abilities in accordance with man’s purpose on this world. Mankind is to grow in their use of their skills and abilities. As one example, the original tabernacle of God was built by supreme craftsmen who were “successful.” Proverbs states that a man skilled in what he does shall stand before kings, not obscure men (Prov. 22:29). There is no inherent dilemma in the Christian worldview that strong leadership has the potential to be the causation of some measure of “success” in this world. The Scriptures continue to exhort men and women to be good stewards of their skills and humbly employ them. Believers or unbelievers who develop their skills may obtain a measure of temporal success (“success”measured by followers, numbers, resources, influence, etc). In Jim Collins’ secular best selling business management book entitled Good to Great, Collins analyzes the key characteristics of 11 “successful” companies that had been painstakingly selected from a list of 1500. There are several intriguing conclusions of his analysis. One of the most intriguing is how leadership in these top companies tended to be described. The leaders were characterized in terms of modest, humble, having concern not for personal fame, but rather the well being of their successors and the company’s longevity. What a secular book corroborated is Christ’s claim that the greatest among you shall be the humblest and look not only to one's own interests. Is this natural or supernatural?
Having said this, the Christian worldview does not promise automatic success temporally because of certain leadership skills. Because of a world plagued by the curse of sin, ultimate “success” for God’s people (which I will define as the perpetual blessing of God) is guaranteed when the new creation is free from the curse of sin.
So when Brett observes that he has seen churches struggle because of a lack of strong leaders, I will say I have as well. I have experienced my share of churches that had weak leaders who did not preach the full counsel of God and who were not being good stewards of their skills. And, I believe now I am in a ministry where the staff is seeking to develop their ministry skills in accordance with God’s desires for His people. Is there a measure of success? Yes. Is this miraculous? No--by the standard definition of miracles. When a pastor says “We could not have done this without God,” Brett would be wise to press the pastor to clarify what he means. Maybe the pastor is attempting to express thanksgiving and praise for good things that have happened. Maybe the pastor is humbly recognizing that any gifts and abilities he DOES have are from God as well. In the Christian worldview, however, God has promised to build HIS church. He has not promised to build the USA, Google, GM or any other entity.
So again, the accurate Christian worldview can handle Brett’s concern without jeopardizing the integrity of the core web of Christian beliefs.
From here I will begin to address Brett's posts, "My Deconversion Story - Part 4" and "Life after God."
Brett reports on a common practice that I encouraged him to do regularly at our PBF Friday night meetings—ask the students “What is God doing in your life recently?” Brett is correct in that many students arbitrarily single out “happy” things for which they give credit to God. This observation leads Brett to the assertion that one cannot discern supernatural activity in one’s life and therefore there must not be any. The logic that goes from the arbitrariness of human ascriptions to the lack of supernaturalism cannot be sustained. In other words, just because humans claim or don’t claim supernatural activity in their lives does not prove the existence or absence of the supernatural.
However, there is something more important here. Perhaps Brett is right in that my Friday night question is misleading in one sense. It may lead one to focus on the “happy” things and a false dichotomy that God is working sometimes and not at other times. Upon careful reflection of my intent for the question, I am attempting to elicit from the students recognition of the sovereign hand of God in all of their life and cultivate a level of thanksgiving and praise for that. My intent was never to lead students to attempt to discern what specific events of which God was a part versus specific events of which God was not a part.
The Biblical worldview claims that God is sovereign and is orchestrating all things. Thus, every moment of one’s life is “what God is doing in your life.” In the Joseph account in Genesis, which Brett knows well, the narrative story claims that God is working in the small details of life. Through these seemingly random events, God directs the events for the ultimate good of His people. Though, however, His people may not even recognize His divine activity in the mundane and seeming random events of life (good and bad). It is the mature individual that acknowledges the sovereign, supernatural hand of God in the “happy” things as well as the “bad” things (Gen 50:20; Hab. 3:17-19; Roman 8:28).
It is not surprising to me that among relatively immature college students on Friday night that arbitrariness would abound. Brett’s observation is more about the nature of humans than the existence of the supernatural. And, the arbitrary and inconsistent nature of humans precisely corroborates the Biblical worldview! Furthermore, the Christian worldview does not demand that its followers seek to distinguish between the “natural and the supernatural.” Again, the actual claim of Scripture is that the natural is constantly and perpetually sustained by the supernatural activity of God (Col 1:17). So I grant that my question may have implied a false distinction.
Brett goes on to say that there was nothing miraculous (i.e. supernatural) about his church, his life, his college ministry, etc. However, I would begin to push Brett to examine his apparent naturalistic worldview assertion. Let’s just take his “life” as one example--or any of our own lives. What explanation is there in the naturalistic worldview for what keeps the brain sending a signal to the heart to keep pumping the blood for “life”? What keeps the atoms that make up the material world bound together? Brett on the surface sees the natural causes of the heart and the brain signals and the atoms but he does not go beyond to ask what keeps them going? Or does he? Brett still acknowledges wrestling with the question even now of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Precisely! His new naturalism cannot answer this. Brett has no answer. But he a priori asserts that the hypothesis of God is not the answer. Well then, what is? His worldview now precludes the possibility of God; but, his worldview will not give him an answer to his question. –Such a limiting worldview is naturalism.
Brett launches his blog with the quote from Douglas Adams. Douglas Adams died in 2001 and was the author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Douglas Adams was a committed naturalist. Richard Dawkins, the famous apologist for evolution/naturalism, gave the eulogy at the funeral of Douglas Adams. When pressed on the possibility of why there is life at all, Richard Dawkins entertains the possibility that aliens seeded earth with life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa55s9Gs_Eg&feature=PlayList&p=381BB86DA989935D&index=4
So as Brett stated,
"Why can't you choose to believe in Santa Claus? "
"Why can't you choose to believe that fairies exist? "
"Why can't you choose to believe that the moon is made of cheese? "
"Why can't you choose to believe [insert anything you do not believe here]"
When pressed, the naturalist does not have an answer in his worldview for why is there something and not nothing. Sometimes he resorts to “aliens.” But this begs the question. Then, we can easily ask, "Where did the aliens come from?"
The Scriptural worldview asserts that God supernaturally sustains the natural. Is this miraculous? I don’t want to redefine miraculous but God’s sustaining power is supernatural. Furthermore, the Christian worldview asserts that the God who set up the natural and sustains its order occasionally changes the natural order as a demonstration of His authority for those present to witness this display—miracles.
So the Scriptural worldview can rightly handle Brett’s faulty conclusions from accurate observations about the arbitrariness of human’s ascribing divine work to God. Brett does not need to throw out the core of Christian belief, he needs to do the hard work of studying and seeing of what precisely does the Christian worldview consist. Then he can discard his faulty assertions derived from accurate observations.
First, I want to agree with Brett’s stated concern that apologetics tends to be more for believers. “Apologetics” comes from terminology that means, “defense.” As believers we are to be ready to give a defense for our faith (I Peter 3:15). Furthermore, ultimately, showing the coherence, consistency, congruency, and comprehensiveness of one’s own worldview does strengthen the commitment to one’s worldview. The justification of belief is important. Why? Unjustified beliefs are easily swayed. Let’s say that we believe the groundhog can predict the delay of spring. What grounds are there for this belief? What warrants it? Unless I justified it with reasons you could “neither help me discover my mistakes nor come to share my way of seeing things (Wolfe, p. 16).” Some assertions/beliefs are more warranted than others. And, as David Wolfe states, “Only when we have provided warrant for our beliefs can we avoid changing our minds irrationally or believing irresponsibly (Wolfe, p. 15).” So Christian apologetics is an exercise in providing warrant for the assertions of the Christian worldview. Please note that the purpose is not first to persuade others but it is a “defense/justification.” So Brett’s observation about apologetics being more helpful to believers is an accurate observation. And to the degree that the Christian worldview’s justification is coherent, consistent, congruent, and comprehensive in regard to reality then the primo fide (initial assertion/belief of the Christian’s core assertions) is warranted.
Secondly, Brett’s assertion that apologetics is ineffective in converting those who don’t believe is entirely true. However, the Christian worldview never claims that apologetics would be effective. Preachers may claim so. Imprecise teachers may (I will gladly lump myself into this category). Brett apparently had a strand in his web of Christian belief systems that asserted that “well reasoned arguments would convert somebody.” Where did this assertion come from? Possibly under my ministry in which we were not careful to clearly delineate the purpose of apologetics. Perhaps it came from his own misunderstanding of Christian teaching. Inevitably, Brett experienced a time where he tried apologetics and it did not work as he believed it would. Instead of abandoning or refining his assertion, he calls into question the entire Christian worldview. His experience of reality does not warrant this leap. His experience should cause him to examine his assertion about apologetics. Alternatively, his experience is entirely consistent with what the Scriptures claim to be true about apologetics. Christian doctrine states that well reasoned arguments are not the vehicle for conversion (1 Cor 1-2). Brett’s experience of reality when he failed to get a convert while using apologetics is consistent with Christian truth claims.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Brett commendably acknowledges his inability to know a lot of things. This is good. We need more humility in this world and among self-righteous and seemingly all-knowing Christians. I sense to some degree from Brett’s writings, that he is reacting (as the postmodern culture has) to the optimistic claims of modernism (in the secular & Christian ranks) that exhaustive and certain knowledge is possible. Modernism did not bring in utopia or establish a consensus of all truth. Thus the postmodern era in which we now live burst forth with its skepticism and asserts that truth is unknowable. Postmodernism has dealt a good dose of humility to all. But the postmodernism climate goes too far. The inability to know exhaustively does not mean we cannot know partially. There are perpetual mysteries that the Christian worldview will not illumine for me (Deut 29:29). However, the Christian worldview will give me an understanding of my inability to not understand everything—I am finite and there is an infinite God. I will necessarily have limitations on my understanding. The Christian worldview claims this. I must humbly accept this. So, I welcome Brett’s refreshing humility of saying, “I would be fooling myself to think that I had the answers all worked out. I didn't have the answers, but was that such a bad thing?” No. But partial truth and sufficient truth for what we need in this life is available.
Careful analysis of Brett’s troubling initial concerns will show that a true Christian worldview constructed from the Scriptures is more than adequate to handle them. Compared to the often-cited “problem of evil” of the Christian worldview, Brett’s concerns, while legitimate, are relatively minor in comparison. Furthermore, it would seem that Brett’s initial issues did not arise from a true Christian worldview, but from false perceptions about what he thought was included in a Christian worldview. And, upon realization that these conclusions in his mind were not justified, he abandoned the core of the Christian worldview instead of abandoning/refining the assertions. This seems to be consistent with the metaphor of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” There was no warrant for abandoning the worldview based upon the initial unresolved doubts.
Using another metaphor, a worldview can be pictured as a “web.” A spider’s web holds together because of the central core strands of fiber. The strands of the web on the extremities are less essential to hold the web together than its core strands. If one of the outer strands is broken the spider can repair it and strengthen it. If on the other hand, the core of the web has been found to be lacking integrity THEN the entire web needs to be discarded. A worldview is like a web in the sense of a system of interrelating beliefs and assertions about reality. The core assertions of our worldview form the inner part of the web. However, all of us have perceptions about reality incorporated into our worldview that would be akin to the outer extremity of a spider’s web that is easy broken (and sometimes need to be). Sometimes, the beliefs are not essential, nor even consistent or congruent with our core. The realization of the inconsistency/incongruence is the beginning of the doubting process. However, the testing/breaking/then strengthening of these flimsy outer extremities is necessary to continue to refine our beliefs. The refining of the outer extremities does not necessitate the jettison of the core web. What Brett has apparently done is akin to a spider throwing away the core of the web when only a few outer strands failed. And, instead of strengthening or refining the outer strands, the spider simply abandons the web. There is no warrant for the spider to do this and there was no warrant for Brett to do this.
Brett makes clear what his three major concerns were that seemed to lead to a state of disillusionment with Christianity.
- The ineffectiveness of apologetics and its role of only being significant to believers
- The inability to discern supernatural activity in daily experiences
- Ministries thrive because of people not because of supernatural intercession by God.
I plan to deal with each of these concerns in the upcoming blog posts.
Recently I returned to Oklahoma where I had the joy of reuniting with my college mentor. I attribute my abandonment of a promising career in Aerospace Engineering and embracing full time ministry for Christ to God working through my mentor. Now, after 15 years of satisfying Christian ministry, I reflected on the origins of my journey. I asked him what he had seen in me that justified his recommendation that I pursue ministry. He reminded me that he was looking for F.A.T. men. Far from being an insult, FAT was his acronym for Faithful, Available, and Teachable.
Fast forward many years from that time and reverse the roles. Now I would be somewhat of a mentor to Brett Bavar. Although never using the acronym F.A.T. with those I was discipling, the characteristics fit Brett in the context of Christian ministry. Because of these demonstrated qualities, I appointed him president of our Purdue Student ministries (PBF). Brett was rather quiet and did not have as engaging a personality as our previous president. But I would rather train F.A.T., quiet men than engaging S.T.U.D. men (Self Absorbed, Troubled, Unavailable, and Dense). As Brett states, his first year as PBF president was challenging. But, because of his learner’s spirit, he grew in maturity and leadership. The second year was much better. The climax of his ministry at Purdue was when his leadership around a new ministry initiative called FaithWorks temporarily unified the often-fragmented Christian community on campus. Like my mentor had challenged me, I certainly thought Brett had the qualities for full-time Christian service and he was considering this.
As Brett served in the college ministry, he communicated our purpose many times to the students, “to connect students to compelling life answers through meaningful relationships and establish them with a distinctly Biblical worldview to live out a Christ pleasing, fulfilling life.” A little ironic that a two-term PBF president is rejecting this worldview because of doubts that have apparently blossomed into full-fledged atheism/agnosticism. I had no knowledge of the doubts that he expressed in his blog Absque Fide (without Faith) which led him down this path. Had the doubts been expressed at the time of my ministry with Brett, they would not have greatly concerned me. The doubts would have been the means by which a compelling worldview could be tested and strengthened as Wolfe stated in my previous blog entry. Carefully dealt with doubts provide great opportunities for the justification of belief.
I want to acknowledge at the outset of this response that I empathize with Brett’s fear/pain/anxiety through the process of wrestling with these doubts. Many times through my seminary career I entertained assertions that would begin to rock my worldview. If I could not ultimately justify the assertion or reject it in my worldview, or, instead refine my worldview in some way, then I knew the assertion would lead to abandonment of traditionally held views. Any serious thinker has experienced this and it is scary! Sometimes we do need to abandon certain unwarranted beliefs that we have or refine them. The process is not easy and the disorientation/pain/fear/anxiety can be great. Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for him (1 Sam 12:23).
Brett couches his journey in terms of primarily three initial observations he made from his experience. From these observations he drew certain conclusions. Because Brett spends the majority of the report of his journey on the initial observations and subsequent assertions, I will spend a significant portion of my response addressing these. I understand these assertions led him to think deeply about the question, “Why do I really believe Christianity?” However, Brett does not speak much about any specific reasons as to why Christianity was unwarranted in his estimation. Therefore, I really cannot address any warranting “reasons to believe” Christianity that he deemed unsatisfactory.
I have started this blog as an open response to Brett Bavar’s Absque Fide. Outside of Facebook, I do not normally involve myself in public discussions or blogs. However in this case I have decided to do so for several reasons. Brett was highly influential and known in our Christian ministry. Now, since he has publicly renounced his belief in Christ and God, I respond publicly. I have spoken with Brett and we are not adversaries. I am committed to Brett as a friend. Brett served under my ministry for four years and was the president of our campus student organization for two years. Also, I have already privately shared with him much of my response. I have committed to him that at any point in which he believes I am factually inaccurate with my recollections, or if have spoken inappropriately, that I would take the specific comments offline.
Furthermore, this opportunity is one by which the Christian worldview can continue to “display its claim to truth” as David L. Wolfe states.
"Only to the extent that a scheme remains open to continued testing is it able to display its credentials. Only then can it show the strength of its internal structure and its ability to illuminate experience. Far from being a favor, to protect one’s interpretive scheme from criticism is to rob it of the only way it can display its claim to truth” (Wolfe, The Justification of Belief, 65)
So, I not only write to Brett because I love him, but also to those who know and were influenced by his service. These individuals may now have questions and may wonder about my response.
I have entitled my blog Primo Fide (first faith) in direct counterpoint to Brett’s Absque Fide (without faith). All knowledge begins with a commitment to some form of a faith stance.
"The warranting process is the same for the Christian and the naturalist. Both involve the same interplay of faith and reason. Faith in this sense is not the private property of the religious person. Indeed the attempt to test for truth, given that it will eventually involve the wider context of beliefs and assumptions, turns out to be an essentially religious enterprise. The crucial criticism of a belief system is not whether it involves faith, but if it can survive testing." (Wolfe, 71-72)
The naturalist asserts a priori that there is no supernatural. The supernaturalist asserts a priori that there is. The warranting process will determine which faith stance will actually survive in light of reality-the truth. Brett is not without faith. His faith has changed.
My goal is to glorify my God, the one true God of the Scriptures and strengthen God’s people. My goal is not to convert anybody because I do not claim to have that ability. However, I do have the ability to provide warrant for my beliefs and the Christian worldview.
With these goals in mind I will be posting fairly regularly (daily, like Brett did) until my response is complete.