Implicit Contradictions

Well, I haven’t made much progress with the “Militant Atheist” I spoke of the other day, but I have gotten him to contradict himself. It happened in another part of the same discussion thread, where he and I were basically trading insults (yes, I know – I shouldn’t even bother). Here is how the conversation went (btw, I changed his handle to “MA” to protect his identity):

MA: “The only standard that needs to be considered is the scientific method. If you can’t do it, then just admit it so I can quit wasting my time.”

BK: “If this is a waste of time why do you continue to respond?”

MA: “Becuase I enjoy watching you avoid something we both know you can’t do. It is funny”

BK: “Well which is it? Do you want me to “admit” something and stop wasting your time, or do you want me to keep it up so you can “enjoy” yourself?”

Pointing out this implicit contradiction (that he wanted me to stop what I was doing as it was a waste of time, yet he really wanted me to keep doing it as he enjoyed it) really changes nothing in the overall discussion between us. However, pointing out such slip-ups helps keep us both on our toes.

— BK


Succinct

It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to reason about our presuppositions.

The most natural approach to reasoning, I believe, is to rest upon our presuppositions blindly, without thinking about them at all. This is apparent to me time and time again in discussions I have with unbelievers. A rather enormous challenge in presuppositional apologetics, therefore, is getting your opponent to see that they have presuppositions, and that they must give an account for them. This is no easy task, believe me! The discussion I had two days ago was no exception.

There is this discussion board that I literally “lived” on for the past 7 years, that I have only now begun to wean myself from. It hasn’t been all bad, actually – I learned a great deal about the beliefs of others, and about what I didn’t know about my own beliefs by spending time on that board. My skin grew thick from the constant abuse I took there, and my skills as an apologist grew greatly from what they were when I started out.

Two days ago I ventured back to that board, and entered into a discussion about prayer. Never one to give even an inch to Christianity, this individual latched on to one of my comments and immediately challenged me to prove that “my god” answers prayer. Seeing an opportunity to challenge his presuppositions, I responded – and we were off!

After a few exchanges, where he challenged me to prove the truth of the Bible, I said to him “I’m not trying to prove the authority of scripture – I am relying upon it“, realizing – hoping actually – that he would challenge me to account for what I was relying upon. Sure enough, he responded with “Well, before you can rely on it, you must prove it is valid“. After some more back and forth, he set the bar with the following – “The ONLY way to demonstrate that the bible is true is by hard evidence and facts“. This was the perfect lead-in to start to challenge him about his standard, which I proceeded to do.

I then asked him “what standard are you measuring [your standard] against” and “why should you use this standard, and not another?” His response? “The validity of my standard can be validated in every observation that that has ever been made that resulted in a hypothesis that was tested and validated (or not) since the beginning of history.

This was just what I was hoping for. I countered with “So your standard is validated by using the very thing your standard relies upon – evidence, reasoning, and the scientific method“, hoping that he would see the circular nature of his argument. He didn’t. It required another few rounds of back and forth before he finally realized he couldn’t simply assume that his standard was valid, and responded with “Okay then, how would you suggest demonstrating the validity of the scientific method?“.

I will likely return to the board in the next day or so to respond, at which point I have no idea how far I will get with him.

Regardless, this conversation got me thinking. There has to be a way to make presuppositionalism succinct. There has to be a way to get right to the heart of the matter, within just a few minutes, because there is so much time to spend after you reach that point. What is that “heart of the matter” of which I speak? Getting your opponent to realize that they are arguing from a standard – a worldview – that itself needs to be accounted for.

This is one of my goals to tackle – to figure out a “formula” (for lack of a better word) to accomplish this.

Thoughts?

— BK


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 3

So on Sunday the “Choosing Hats” study group met once again via Skype, and went through chapter 10 of “Always Ready”. We also recorded the study – or so we thought.

At this point, I am waiting on a return email from technical support for the developer of the plugin I used to record from within Skype. All of the tests we did worked fine, but the 5.5GB!!!! file that represents our hour-long discussion now seems to be corrupt. Hopefully (God willing) they will be able to assist me in removing the source of the corruption in the file.

So for those of you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next installment … don’t slide off!

— BK


More on the Free Will Defense

The article below on the Free Will Defense to the Problem of Evil has generated some interesting comments. Here is one that caught my attention:

Perhaps in heaven God’s immediate presence naturally produces the desire to remain as such, which consistently trumps any potential desire to sin.

I don’t think it is God’s presence so much as it is the fact that we have been changed from the inside out.

Chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith states the following:

Chapter IX

Of Free Will

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Supporting scripture …

[11] EPH 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. HEB 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 1JO 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. JUD 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

Thoughts?

— BK


The Problem of Evil – Part 3

The Common Solution

Given the fact that the Problem of Evil has been around for centuries, it should be no surprise that Christians have come up with (what they believe to be) solutions to the problem. And although many different approaches to solving this have been attempted, one approach in particular stands out as the most common. This is typically termed the Free Will Defense.

As the name implies, the Free Will Defense starts with the assumption that people have free will, and therefore have the ability to choose to do either good or evil. According to this view, God didn’t create robots (that would not be a loving God, after all), and so the existence of evil is therefore a potential situation. Since people have the freedom to choose to do good acts or evil acts, it is ultimately their freedom of will that brings about these evil deeds.

There is, however, a large problem with this particular line of defense. All the unbeliever need do is bring up the subject of Heaven, and the free will defense completely collapses. Why is this the case? Well, consider that there will be no sin (i.e. evil) in Heaven, but there will be people there who purportedly still have free will.

The unbeliever may point out that since the inhabitants of Heaven have free will, and free will can lead to evil (the very basis of the free will defense), then what is to guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven? It seems that the Christian must either give up free will, or the existence of evil in Heaven, or he must rethink his defense.

Now, in response to this challenge, the Christian might claim that God actually keeps people from sinning in Heaven[1], as that is the only way to be certain sin will never enter his presence. In other words, God actively works in people in order to keep them from sinning. However, the unbeliever can simply point out that God could also do the same thing on earth. If God is able to suppress people’s ability to sin in Heaven, then he certainly could do so here on earth. He is an all-powerful God, after all.

The Christian might instead claim that the inhabitants of Heaven will be able to sin, but that God knows that they will not sin. In other words, the claim that there will be no sin in Heaven is purely prophetic, rather than decretive[2]. For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

But the unbeliever is bound to ask some questions. For instance, how many variations of creation did God “test drive” (by looking ahead at an eternity of people’s choices) before creating the world he did, in order to guarantee that none of the people who end up in heaven will ever sin? Besides, the fact that God chose to create a universe where he knew people would sin (at least on earth) still makes God the ultimate cause of sin, it seems.

In addition, and more to the point, why didn’t God simply create earth just like heaven in the first place? Didn’t God know ahead of time how people would act? Didn’t he know that they would sin and do evil deeds? Doesn’t the fact that God could create a place free from sin (even if it partially owes to man’s free will), and yet he didn’t, mean that he is not all-loving? Doesn’t the fact that God knows there is evil going on right here and now mean he is also to blame for not stopping it by using the same “fix” he uses in Heaven?

The fact is, no matter what tack this Christian takes in using the free will defense, he must be able to provide an answer to the Heaven Test. The existence of a sin-free Heaven is a real problem for the Christian that chooses to use the free will defense.

In addition to the free will defense, there are a variety of other approaches that Christians use, each of which ultimately fails the “Heaven Test”. If God could have created earth just like Heaven (or just skipped earth altogether), then he is either not all loving for being unwilling to do so, or he is not all-powerful, for being unable to do so.

Next time we’ll look at what I believe to be the Biblical (and only possible) answer to the Problem of Evil.

— BK

[1] Of course, it should be obvious that this answer presents a real problem for anyone presenting the free will defense in the first place, as it would seem that God is messing around with the will of people, in order to keep them from sinning.

[2] A purely prophetic claim means God “looks ahead” at the choices his creatures will make, and realizes that none of them will sin in Heaven. A decretive claim indicates that God, in some sense, is in control of Heaven and does not allow any sin.


Is it sinful to call evidentialism…sinful?

Recently I was directed toward a blog post found here:

http://calvindude.com/dude/blog/2008/08/on-the-%E2%80%9Cappropriate%E2%80%9D-apologetic-method/

I must confess that I am unfortunately not familiar with this particular writer.

In his post Calvin Dude presents a number of arguments against the use of the presuppositionalist method in certain contexts. The arguments look as though they are almost wholly based upon misunderstandings of the presuppositional method. As best I can tell this writer’s concerns are dealt with directly in most presuppositionalist literature.

The author of the entry begins by taking issue with an apologist who claims that presuppositionalism is the only valid method of apologetics, which leaves me completely confused since the author appears to have actually read a great deal about the subject of presuppositionalism. Are there any presuppositionalists who believe that other methods are valid? Perhaps there are, but I am not so concerned with this question as I am with what follows.

The more pertinent question here is whether or not it is actually sinful to approach apologetics from something other than presuppositionalism. As radical as it appears, and as “mean” as it may sometimes sound, those of us at Choosing Hats recognize other methods as being sinful. We are not the only ones. In fact Bahnsen did as well.

Thus I find it a bit odd that we (not directly, obviously) should be compared to Dr. White’s “cage stage” Calvinists – those who are new to Calvinism and, lifted with pride in newfound knowledge, attempt to force it upon everyone they can. None of us here have just now read Bahnsen for the first time. Nevertheless it is apparent that we find other methods of apologetics to fall short in many ways. I am not sure I understand how Bahnsen himself could be used in this supposed parallel either. He certainly was not reading his own work for only the first time while he was going about calling other methods of apologetics sinful!

Does Scripture ever use evidentialist arguments? No. Rather evidences are always offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Read that again. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism. Does Scripture warrant evidentialism? No. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 state that God is known to exist. God is clearly seen through what has been made, so much so that people are without excuse. God is known and God is seen. Clearly. So much for traditional arguments! An especially relevant example here is the teleological argument, but there are many other syllogisms which essentially (I mean that literally) deny that God is known and clearly seen through creation.

Presuppositionalism involves a higher view of evidences than does evidentialism. Both evidences and unbelieving responses to them are to be understood in terms of God’s revelation, not in terms of would-be autonomous thought. God’s glory is manifest in nature. I can honestly say that I have never run across a single presuppositionalist who denies this. That God’s glory is manifest in nature is not an evidentialist argument in the sense of Scripture using an evidentialist as opposed to a presuppositionalist method. Presuppositionalists do not deny evidence or its use. How many volumes need be written on this misunderstanding before it is cleared up?

Presuppositionalists are at fault for not addressing other-than-atheist manifestations of the non-Christian worldview with the same rigor and thoroughness as they do atheism. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Presuppositionalists are at fault for keeping their material largely inaccessible, often using philosophical language and argumentation that the vast majority of people would not be able to understand. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Every non-Christian, whether Muslim, Mormon, Atheist or whatever else; is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. We do not therefore treat them as though we can agree upon certain assumptions and evidences. We cannot. Evidences do not speak for themselves. Assumptions which are necessary for intelligibility can only be accounted for if one presupposes Christianity. That’s the argument. It is biblical and it is cogent.

God converts people, not presuppositionalism or evidentialism. Apologetics are a means to an end ordained by God. No one amongst us is disputing this; it is an obvious truth. God uses means to accomplish ends. For example, God uses the preaching of His Word to bring about repentance and faith. God uses even terrible preaching to bring people to Christ. Terrible preaching is nevertheless a sin. Utilizing preaching methods which go against those prescribed in Scripture is sinful, even though it may be a means by which God chooses to save someone. Likewise in the case of apologetic method. If presuppositionalism is prescribed by Scripture, as I argue that it is, and if evidentialism is warned against by Scripture, as I argue that it is; then evidentialism is sinful. I do not think this evidence of presuppositional cage-stageism on my part or on Dr. Bahnsen’s part. I distinctly remember thinking that Bahnsen was a bit off his rocker and harsh the first time I ran across his work. I thank God that I nevertheless returned to his writing and saw more clearly what it is that this man gave his life to.

Calvin Dude’s post reveals some places where presuppositionalists could really clean up their acts; I am not excluded. I touched on a few of these above. I do not believe these weaknesses to be found in the method itself. He is correct that the context of the apologetic encounter, involving such factors as the person in opposition to the truth, bears heavily upon the way in which we use our method. However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 2

waYesterday afternoon, three of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our second Study of the book “Always Ready” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. This time we kept it under an hour!

Click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

— BK


A Study In The Nature Of God’s Word (Authority) – Part 3

The foundations of knowledge

Philosophers have been debating the foundations of knowledge for centuries. And we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t all agree on just what it means when we say we “know” something! One thing they do agree upon, however, is that our process of knowing things must have a foundation – a starting point, if you will.

Let me illustrate.

I could make the claim that there is a UFO hovering overhead at this very moment. Some of you would probably question my sanity if I said this. But let’s say I claimed to know this – say I became very adamant about this. What is it that you and everyone would do in order to verify my claim?

If you had any interest in finding out whether my claim was true, you would no doubt walk directly outside and look up in the sky yourself, right? And why is that? Well, it is because the primary way we verify what someone is saying is by trying to “see it” for ourselves. Of course we can’t always see what it is someone is claiming, sometimes we smell it, hear it, touch it, etc.

The point is this – we humans rely greatly upon our senses in order to determine whether a claim is true or not, right? In other words, the assumption that our senses are reliable is foundational to process of knowing. Just stop for a moment and think about all the things you claim to know that are ultimately dependent upon an assumption that your senses are reliable.

Now this approach seems to serve us quite well. But when it comes right down to it, is it really sufficient for us to claim we know something just because of what our senses tell us? Our senses aren’t always accurate are they? It doesn’t take too much to fool someone into thinking they see something that isn’t really there. In fact, all of our senses can be fooled. We can make a recording of someone’s voice and play it back with such fidelity that we would swear that person is actually in the next room.

Now, my point is not to get you to start doubting everything you see or hear! My point is simply to demonstrate that our senses are not 100% accurate every single time, meaning we could be wrong about something we claim to know at any given point in time.

And so what does that mean from the standpoint of knowledge? It means that our claims to know something begin with a great big assumption! Basically, we have faith in the reliability of our senses. In that regard, one part of our foundation of knowing things is faith. Let me state this now, because this is another one of those catch phrases that is so crucial.

Knowledge begins with faith.

Augustine said it this way:

I believe so that I may know

Our ability to know is ultimately grounded in one or more faith commitments that we make. Probably one of the strongest faith commitments is our belief that our senses are accurately telling us what is happening around us.

So why is it I say that relying upon our senses as the basis for knowledge is a “faith commitment”? It is the fallible nature of our senses. Although reliable, our senses are not perfect, meaning that they can be wrong at any given time. Relying upon our senses therefore takes a certain measure of faith – a faith that they are accurate.

Look at it from the opposite standpoint – if the nature of our senses was that they were infallible then they would be the perfect starting point, right? Infallible senses would be a most excellent foundation for knowing things just because we would be assured that every time we saw something we would know with 100% certainty that it was really there.

So what does this faith in our senses do to our ability to know things? We’ll tackle that next time.

— BK


The Problem of Evil – Part 2

The Argument Formalized

Sometimes it is useful to formalize an argument in order to work through it. The argument we have presented already can easily be placed in such a form as follows:

a) God is all powerful
b) God is all loving
c) God knows that evil exists
d) Evil does exist
e) Therefore, God does not exist

What we can see here is that the first three premises seem to describe a being that knows evil exists, wants it to go away, and is able to make it disappear. Therefore, the introduction of the fourth premise, that evil actually exists, seems to form a contradictory state of affairs. That is, the seeming conclusion is that if evil does exist then it is logically impossible for a being described by the first three premises to exist. If this is the case then it is indeed a problem for Christians!

The Weight of the Problem

Although it should be apparent it is worth clarifying that the Problem of Evil does not simply claim that it is most likely the case that the Christian God does not exist based on the preponderance of evil. Rather, it boldly asserts that such a God as described in the Bible cannot and does not exist. In other words, since God and evil cannot both exist, and evil does exist, then God does not exist.

It is at this point that the average Christian may simply write this problem off as irrelevant. After all, for him it is clear that God does exist and so any argument which seems to dispute God’s existence must be invalid and isn’t worthy of discussion. Furthermore, this Christian may be quick to remind the unbeliever that we believe in God based on faith[1], not on logical arguments. For as God transcends everything, even our understanding, any argument that disproves God’s existence can simply be ignored as coming up short in relationship to God’s transcendent nature.[2]

What is particularly ironic about this situation is that the Christian in this example has made use of a very specific logical truth (that a contradictory state of affairs cannot exist) in order to justify a dismissal of the claim that the existence of the God of the Bible (along with evil) is a contradictory state of affairs! He has made a practical use of logic in ignoring this problem thereby implying that logic is necessary in some situations but unnecessary in others. To be consistent, the Christian must confront this issue head on in a logical manner.

Furthermore, although this Christian may be able to satisfy himself that no problem exists, it is the unbeliever (who doesn’t already believe in God) who is presenting this challenge to the Christian. Therefore, it is the unbeliever who can rightly[3] say that God logically cannot exist, based on this line of argumentation. In fact, it is very possible that the Problem of Evil, if not properly dealt with, may be all it ever takes to keep an unbeliever from coming to Christ.

Next time we will look at the most common solution to the Problem of Evil and see why it fails.

— BK

[1] It is indeed the case that our belief in God is one that is based upon faith – the Bible itself is very clear about this. However, Christians must pay attention to and deal with claims that even a faith-based belief in God is illogical.

[2] I recall a slogan that a local Christian College used to tout. It said “Don’t Think Logically, Think Theologically”. Now although there is benefit in some sense to this catchy phrase, there are too many believers today that take it literally, choosing to ignore reason entirely, and cling to the Bible purely on faith alone (something the Bible doesn’t even tell us to do.)

[3] By way of clarification, I do not mean that the unbeliever is objectively warranted in continuing in his or her disbelief based on this argument. Rather, I am saying that this argument makes sense to the unbeliever, based on their existing assumption that God does not exist. It provides them with enough reason to cease from adopting a belief in God.