God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Monday, January 14, 2013

Internal Debates and Apologetics

Internal Debates Versus Apologetics
Not too long ago I was in a discussion with a fellow apologist. We were discussing several different controversial topics in Christianity (age of the universe, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and God's attributes). After a while he made a very strange statement. He told me that these discussions about science, philosophy, and theology weren't really important to apologists and only served to divide and cause unbelievers to run from Christ.

He took the position that apologists really only needed to defend the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to establish the truth of Christianity. His main support for that claim was that no other worldview can accommodate the resurrection of Jesus, so if it can be shown to be an historical event, all other worldviews are eliminated from the possibility of being true.

All Eggs In The Resurrection Basket
While I do understand the force behind that argument and agree that no other worldview can make sense of the resurrection of Jesus, I also know that people are very willing to accept any possible explanation (versus reasonable explanation: see Chapter 2 of Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace) of the evidences to avoid accepting the truth of something they don't want to acknowledge is true. Naturalistic explanations for the evidence related to the resurrection are possible, so that does give a person a way out and does not solidify the case, on its own, as tightly as my friend believes.

I mean, any particular event seems quite improbable until we look at the background information. If any other worldview is correct, we can't get around the reality that the naturalistic explanations for the evidence we use for the resurrection of Jesus is actually more probable than the Christian's explanation. If we have the background of atheism, then the idea that God resurrected anyone from the dead is not only improbable, it is impossible; and any other explanation is more probable than impossible.

By choosing to focus solely on defending the resurrection, I think he is missing out on the cumulative case and counting on the idea that the skeptic cannot provide an alternative explanation for the evidences.

That said, I do want to switch gears for a moment from his claim about simply defending the resurrection to the idea that the other discussions are not useful for the apologist and actually work against the apologist and, worse, Christ.

Defeaters for Christianity
The purpose of the apologist is to demonstrate the truth of Christianity to the skeptic via reason and evidences. The challenges arise when a person sees something in the Christian worldview and understands it to not comport with reality. This is the foundational way to test worldviews; for if a worldview does not agree with reality, then it does not accurately reflect reality; in other words, it is false.

There are any number of teachings in Christianity that may be put to the test against reality. But this is the danger: if the teaching that is being tested is not actually taught by Christianity, then the skeptic has "tested" Christianity and found that it fails; thus they would reject Christianity as being true because they have found a defeater for the worldview. The apologist needs to engage in discussions on different teachings within the Church to ensure that they hold views that are actually taught by Christianity and do reflect reality.

If we believe and defend something taught by Christians that is actually false, then the skeptic is justified in rejecting our claim that Christianity is true, based on the demonstration that what the apologist is defending does not reflect reality.

Some Truth
Every worldview attempts to make sense of reality. Every worldview holds that what it believes is true. Every worldview does contain some truth, and some worldviews contain a lot of truth. People know intuitively that there is a danger in this reality of worldviews. The fact that they contain truth that we recognize is what makes them attractive, and deceptively so. What allows someone to believe a false worldview is not found in what it denies about reality, but what it affirms about reality.

If we detect that a worldview has truth about reality, it is attractive as being possibly true and warrants further investigation. However, if we detect something false in the same worldview, we are pushed away from it because of our understanding that a true worldview cannot deny reality. If someone is telling us that a worldview teaches "X", yet we see that reality contains "non-X", we understand that that worldview is not true because of the contradiction between it and reality that it claims to be explaining accurately. (More on this in the post "Is Your View Falsifiable?")

As Christians, we are not omniscient, and what "knowledge" we do possess may even be wrong. As apologists, we need to make sure that what beliefs we hold as Christians are accurate (including the very theology, soteriology, and anthropology required for the foundation of this blog post). We need to have serious and humble discussions and debates with those who disagree with us on controversial issues, because we may very well be wrong and may be driving people away from Christ by defending something false.

Changing Our Views
We cannot be afraid to change our views. Everyone believes certain doctrines because they understand them to be true. In many cases, we have very powerful reasons. But sometimes, those reasons can be demonstrated to be false indicators (for instances, emotions are reactions to perceptions which are not always necessarily accurate; and our reasoning is not always sound). We need to be tentative enough in our beliefs to recognize when we have a false one and adjust it to reflect reality. But we don't need to be so tentative that we do not allow it to change our lives and/or cannot confidently and persuasively argue for our view.

There is nothing wrong with changing a view that we have held very passionately for a long time. But it is difficult to change cherished beliefs due to our pride. We don't want to think that we have dedicated much time and energy to something false, neither do we want to recognize that we may be the stumbling block that prevented someone from accepting Christ. To change a long-held view is to damage one's ego. We must remind ourselves in our discussions that life is not about us. It is about finding the Truth and leading others to the Truth.

We may also resist changing a cherished view because we fear what such a change might bring. Will it bring "compromise"? That is the most common concern. But, we have to remember that if we change our view to reflect reality, the only thing that is compromised is falsehood. Which is exactly what we want to compromise. When we change our view to what is true, we are brought closer to God; we get to understand Him more accurately. Personal relationships with people are built on what we know about the person.

If my relationship to my brother was based on the idea that he was a Dallas Cowboys' cheerleader, then our relationship is not going to go any deeper than the surface of my false idea. Having a correct understanding of who my brother is allows me to have a deep relationship with him. Not to mention that no one would believe me if I tried defending the idea that my brother is any kind of cheerleader. The same goes for God. If we believe something false about Him (bad theology) or what He has done (e.g. creation), then our relationship will be limited by that false understanding. Not to mention, the issues that come with defending the false belief. There is no reason to fear changing our views. Rather, we should embrace change, IF we have done our homework (via research, discussion and debate) and are confident that our change is correct.

If Christianity is true (and I believe that it is), then there are eternal ramifications for ourselves and others for refusing to change our views when confronted with reality. If atheism is true, then its not that big of a deal, but that is a topic for another post.

Having said all that, I believe that it is crucial to our job as apologists and Christians to have cordial discussions on controversial topics with each other with the purpose of making our views conform to reality (not reality conform to our views). On this blog, along with providing a case for the Christian worldview, in general, I will continue to challenge theology, science, and philosophy of fellow Christians that I believe is false. I will make a case for my view in some posts, argue against other views in other posts, and do both in still others. I welcome critique in the comments with the understanding that I will counter-critique and defend my view, but that doesn't mean that I'm not open to a sound thrashing of a view. I have no desire to stand in the way of someone and their Savior, neither do I want to stifle my knowledge, understanding, and relationship with my Creator and Redeemer.

While it is important to engage in internal debates for the reason of defending the correct worldview, it is important that we do not obsess about these discussions. J. Warner Wallace explains why obsession is unnecessary and unwise in his article Why I Try Not To Obsess Over The Genesis Debate.

I have written several posts to help guide people in discussions inside the Church and outside the Church. Here are just a few (others are linked throughout this post and in the following posts):

Zombies of Christianity (specific to internal debates)
Positive and Negative Arguments (offer defense and offense [the good kind])
Your Challenge Does Not Apply- The Strawman (a liability with negative arguments)
Avoid Over-Stating Your Case (a liability with positive arguments)
Consistency Among Disciplines (testing specific doctrines and worldviews in general)
Can You Argue Someone Into The Kingdom? (specific to evangelism via apologetics)

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