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Monday, April 22, 2013

Convenient Explanations

A Convenient Explanation Offered
As a defender of Christianity I want to be sure that I am engaging with the most powerful evidence for opposing worldviews. Engaging with weak evidence tends to show that I am unaware of the more powerful evidence or simply cannot answer the more powerful evidence- both of which often would result in my arguing against a straw man. In so many of my discussions with fellow Christians about different worldviews I like to play "devil's advocate." This is my effort to inform them of the stronger evidence for opposing worldviews and give them some pointers for responding to what skeptics will use to show their worldview as true.

The other day I was in discussion with several friends about naturalism. We were discussing some of the weaknesses of the view from a scientific perspective. One person confidently offered a challenge and explained that there was no way for naturalism to explain the observations he cited. Now, I'm no supporter of naturalism; however, I explained to him how a naturalist could not only explain the observations, but that their models even predict the observation he cited. His response was a dismissive, "well, how convenient."

Christians Do It Too
The first thing I want to point out is that there is nothing wrong with having a "convenient" belief in a worldview. In Christianity it is quite convenient that God is concerned with building the character of His people. This addresses the logical problem of evil. It is convenient that God is a God of justice as well as love. This addresses the problem with the existence of eternal punishment. It is convenient that God is not merely an engineer, but also an artist. This can address the challenges to "superfluous" or "bad" designs in nature. All three of these "convenient" beliefs are used to address common challenges to Christianity. We should not dismiss "convenient" beliefs in other worldviews just because it addresses one of our critiques.

Being A "Sore Loser" In Discussion
Second, if this response had been offered to someone who actually holds the position I was defending, it would have been taken as very disrespectful, illogical, anti-scientific and likely would have closed off further conversation, not only on the scientific issues, but also salvific issues. I am very glad that my friend was in the company of people who hold similar views. In the "safe" environment of Christian friends, it can be shown why such a response as that one is actually quite detrimental to conversations of science and faith, and what a more productive response may sound like.

Be Gentle and Respectful
So, how should we respond when someone offers an explanation that addresses our critique consistently in their worldview? The first thing that we need to do is grant that they have made a very good point and you can see how what they have offered makes sense from their perspective (this should be done even if you can offer a counter-response). Second, if you are aware of how their response is inconsistent with another part of the worldview, you should then point out that difficulty and see how they respond. However, if you are not familiar with how to respond, you should either let them know that you will look into their response further, or you may grant that it is a valid response and move on to something else.

Now, one of the hardest, yet most influential reactions that we can have in this situation is that we grant that the response is valid. Not only can we move on to other critiques, but it lets the person know that we are open to being wrong- we do not believe that we know everything or have all the answers. This humility goes a long way for those who have had bad experiences (perhaps someone who simply dismissed them with, "How conveeeenient!").

If we follow these two simple steps, we can keep conversation open, not only during that specific discussion but also for future encounters with the same person. Using this method will also prepare us for similar situations with others in the future. Any time that we offer a critique, and someone offers a valid response, that is an opportunity to refine our critique and understand more about the details of the worldview we are critiquing. This allows us to prevent arguing against straw men and thus be taken more seriously when we are offering critique.

In Internal Debates
Of course this not only applies to discussions of worldviews outside the one we hold, but it also holds true for internal debates. But there is one major advantage in these discussions. We can not only grant that the other person may have a good point, but we can also grant that they might just be right, and we are wrong. Granting that a challenge to a particular view within Christianity has been overcome does not mean that Christianity is not true; it just means that we do not currently know everything and that it is time to leave behind what is incorrect and embrace what is correct. As a bonus, as we discuss Christianity with those outside the faith, we can eliminate false beliefs that we hold, which also removes possible points of critique for them to offer against us (see more on that in Internal Debates and Apologetics).

If Christians would adopt a more humble approach to people (Christian or not) they debate about what is true, the emotional reasons for rejecting a view (the character of the person presenting it) won't be in the way. For Christians this will bring us closer to God (we can know Him more accurately) and for non-Christians it will bring them to Him. It also refines our knowledge of reality and strengthens our arguments for the truth of Christianity.

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