An Extremely Enjoyable Apologetic Encounter

The debate was over but the air was still thick with tension. After shaking hands and chatting for a moment, my opponent and I attempted to step down from the platform we had been on but were blocked by a handful of people. After expressions of “thank you” and “you are welcome” to a few faculty members and an elderly lady asking us what we would do if the September 11th attacks were to happen where we lived my opponent and I parted company.

One of the first people to stop me on the floor to talk to me was a girl and her boyfriend. The girl claimed to believe in God, but did not like the way I had approached the debate. She expressed confusion over my claim that everyone knows God. While exhibiting a great deal of kindness and humility which was especially noticeable given the excessive number of angered attendees the young lady made it clear that she was not going to let go of her objection that easily.

Smiling, I started to open my thinline ESV to explain my view from Scripture. As soon as I did this, she interjected that she did not trust the Bible. “That is okay,” I assured her, “We can talk about that in just a moment. Is it alright if we look at why I said what I did?” The girl and her boyfriend agreed to this and I read the relevant portions of Romans 1 to them out loud and explained that I believed the Bible and so it would be silly for me to try and argue differently. They understood!

“Okay, that makes a lot more sense to me now. I can see what you mean now!”

“Yes,” I answered, “Now why is it that you do not trust what I just read?”

She replied, “Well, because it has been translated”.

“But I know some Greek. I can go back and check it to make sure it has been translated.”

She was not about to give up that easily. “Well I know Latin, but I still make mistakes!”

“You make mistakes in your translation?” I asked.

“Yes!”

“How do you know that you make mistakes in your translation?”

She began to grasp that her objection was failing and tried to explain that she knew because her language professor would tell her when she was mistaken. Of course, the language professor just knew Latin better. The point had been established. The translations of the Bible that we have are generally pretty good, and if they are not then they can be compared to the Greek and or corrected. Translation is not some impossible feat that destroys our trust in texts. For a moment the tension in the air around us dissipated. The couple looked as though a light had come on.

I spoke with the couple for a few more minutes and went through the Gospel with them. Smiling and shaking hands, we parted company.

Not all apologetic encounters are this easy or fruitful, but I dare say that many can be. I do not believe that they can be so if we forsake our ultimate presuppositions, however.


4 Comments

Jason Dulle

Just because the knowledge of God belongs to all men does not mean an evidential approach is not needed, or does not bring glory to God. As Paul noted, people suppress the truth. Some of them do it quite well! Given the abundance of (pseudo-) intellectual arguments leveled against Christian theism today, it is easy for some people to be deceived into thinking that Christian theism has been falsified, and thus they cannot rationally continue in their belief in God. Granted, some people latch onto these arguments simply to justify their own prior unbelief, but others are deceived by them into thinking that they force them to abandon theism if they wish to be intellectually honest.

For the latter group, an evidential approach to apologetics helps remove these intellectual barriers to the faith, allowing the individual to return to faith. Even for those who are using intellectual arguments to justify their prior unbelief, an evidential approach is not without its merits. The rational evidence for Christian theism exposes the unbelievers pseudo-intellectual arguments for what they are. Once the cover is removed by the evidence, the unbeliever is force to face the real reason for his unbelief–rebellion against God–square in the face.

My support of an evidential approach is not to say that this excludes a presuppositional method. I think both can be used. I just want to point out that an evidential approach should not be deemed worthless on the basis of Romans 1. Experience shows its validity as well. Think of the number of people who converted to Christianity as a result of an evidential approach. Why? Because it defeated the defeaters that had been erected against their prior theism.

C.L. Bolt

Jason,

Never in my post did I make a claim like, “[Since] the knowledge of God belongs to all men…an evidential approach is not needed [and] does not bring glory to God”. Your comment is therefore rather irrelevant to the content of the post.

If you are arguing in favor of an evidential approach to apologetics then the burden is upon you to show that it is needed and glorifying to God given that everyone already knows God. I cannot see how you might satisfy this burden, as every part of the universe is evidence of God and hence it is not especially worthwhile to “present” any of it to the unbeliever, it having already been presented by God. Take into consideration that if this is the case, then anyone who would attempt to set evidence forth as susceptible to evaluation that might lead to a different interpretation of it than what God has is in fact not acting in a manner which is glorifying to God. The trouble with evidentialism is that it is not evidential enough; its definition of “evidence” having been restricted to traditional proofs of empiricism.

“…it is easy for some people to be deceived into thinking that Christian theism has been falsified, and thus they cannot rationally continue in their belief in God.”

As already noted, everyone knows that God exists, and if God exists, then it is rational to continue to believe in Him.

“Granted, some people latch onto these arguments simply to justify their own prior unbelief,”

I would agree with this if it was qualified to state “attempt to justify” and “alleged prior unbelief”.

“For the latter group, an evidential approach to apologetics helps remove these intellectual barriers to the faith, allowing the individual to return to faith.”

The term “evidential” is not to be equated with “evidentialist”. Presuppositionalism is more evidential than evidentialism. I do not believe that people gain and lose faith in God in either an epistemological or a salvific way as Scripture bears no witness to such a position.

“My support of an evidential approach is not to say that this excludes a presuppositional method. I think both can be used. I just want to point out that an evidential approach should not be deemed worthless on the basis of Romans 1.”

I am in complete agreement with you, but not if you are here equating “evidential” with “evidentialist”. As I already mentioned, there is really no reason for you to “point out that an evidential approach should not be deemed worthless on the basis of Romans 1” in your comment on this post, as the post does not include any claim to the contrary.

“Think of the number of people who converted to Christianity as a result of an evidential approach.”

Better yet, think of the number of people who would convert to Christianity if they were forced to via some physical means! Of course, it would not follow that such a method would be glorifying to God.

“Why? Because it defeated the defeaters that had been erected against their prior theism.”

Either people know that God exists or they do not. To say that a knowledge of God is at any point defeated is to say that people do not know that God exists, and this is found to be inconsistent with Scripture. Also, you have not convinced me that you are not presenting a correlation and assuming it to be causation.

If you are interested in a more formal debate concerning apologetic methodology one can be arranged. I cannot guarantee that it would be with me.

Thanks for the comment!

Jason Dulle

I know you did not make that claim in that post, but that is the claim that presuppositionalists make. Your response seems to affirm this, given that you said the burden of proof is on me to show that an evidential apologetic is needed and that it brings glory to God. Most people don’t ask others to meet a burden of proof for something they agree with them on already.

I gave you at least one reason to think an evidential approach is needed, even if the knowledge of God belongs to all men already: it removes defeaters that serve as barriers to the faith. There are a number of Christians who stopped believing in Christ when they were presented with reasons to think that Christianity cannot be true because it contradicts rationality and the available evidence. For example, they found the evidence for evolution compelling and incompatible with theism, or they found moral relativism to be compelling, and thus could not longer believe in sin. So the reason for their rejection of Christianity was primarily intellectual, not volitional. For such people, once those intellectual barriers have been removed by an evidential apologetic, their faith can flower again.

And I gave you at least one reason for thinking an evidential approach brings glory to God: through a presentation of the evidence the atheist is forced to recognize that rationality is on the side of theism, and that his appeal to rationality as justification for his atheism is just a front for the real reason he rejects God—moral rebellion. Even if he does not convert or admit that he is wrong, he will have to face squarely the reason for his atheism, and God will use that to judge him on the day of judgment.

As many of your comments bear out, the biggest issue separating presuppositionalism from evidentialism is our estimation of the extent of noetic effects of sin, and our doctrine of salvation.

I find it hard to believe that “presuppositionalism is more evidential than evidentialism.” I have not seen this to be the case.

I would like to know how you define the difference between “evidentialism” and “evidential.”

Your response to my claims about the effectiveness of an evidential apologetic was less than convincing. For one, force cannot cause a true conversion. I am talking about real conversions. Secondly, to say that it is mere correlation rather than causation could be said even of your method. Someone could say that of the Gospel itself! Maybe it’s just a correlation that when someone hears the Gospel they get saved. If people come to faith in God after hearing the evidence for God’s existence, I take that to be causation (obviously none of our apologetics in and of themselves are causing this, but the Spirit is using them to bring about the intended effect, just like He uses the Gospel to bring about the intended effect).

C.L. Bolt

“I know you did not make that claim in that post, but that is the claim that presuppositionalists make.”

Like I already wrote, this means that your comment was irrelevant to the post. Please cite or quote for me the presuppositionalists who have made the claim that an evidential approach is not needed.

“Your response seems to affirm this, given that you said the burden of proof is on me to show that an evidential apologetic is needed and that it brings glory to God. Most people don’t ask others to meet a burden of proof for something they agree with them on already.”

The burden of proof has nothing to do with who agrees or disagrees with a claim. If you make some claim that I agree with, you still carry the burden of proof for that claim, not me. As I already wrote, if you are arguing in favor of an “evidential” approach to apologetics then the burden is upon you to show that it is needed and glorifying to God given that everyone already knows God.

“I gave you at least one reason to think an evidential approach is needed, even if the knowledge of God belongs to all men already: it removes defeaters that serve as barriers to the faith.”

Please try to avoid reposting arguments that I already dealt with. As I already wrote, I do not believe that people gain and lose faith in God in either an epistemological or a salvific way as Scripture bears no witness to such a position. You need to deal with my responses rather than just repeating yourself.

“There are a number of Christians who stopped believing in Christ…”

As I already mentioned, this is not supported by Scripture. It actually contradicts Scripture.

“…when they were presented with reasons to think that Christianity cannot be true because it contradicts rationality and the available evidence.”

There are no such reasons.

“For example, they found the evidence for evolution compelling and incompatible with theism,”

There is no such thing as evidence for evolution which is incompatible with theism.

Your following two statements are at odds with one another:

“So the reason for their rejection of Christianity was primarily intellectual, not volitional.”

“…the atheist is forced to recognize that rationality is on the side of theism, and that his appeal to rationality as justification for his atheism is just a front for the real reason he rejects God—moral rebellion.”

“…through a presentation of the evidence the atheist is forced to recognize that rationality is on the side of theism…”

Is God so incompetent when it comes to presenting evidence that he needs your little brain to put it into uncertain syllogisms? Again, you are limiting “evidence” to Aristotelian puzzles. I do not know how many ways I can put this. The evidence is abundant and plain. People reject it because they are sinners.

“I find it hard to believe that ‘presuppositionalism is more evidential than evidentialism.’ I have not seen this to be the case.”

See directly above. From what you have written, especially for example in your comment regarding evidence for an evolution which is incompatible with Christian theism, you believe there to be some lack in the area of evidence whereas I do not.

“I would like to know how you define the difference between ‘evidentialism’ and ‘evidential.'”

In this context “evidentialism” is a method of apologetics whereas “evidential” is a characteristic of an apologetic. I believe my apologetic to be extremely evidential, but it is not to be confused with evidentialism. I do not speak of evidence for and against the existence of God because there is no such thing as evidence against the existence of God, nor do I limit my definition of “evidence” to traditional theistic proofs whereas evidentialism consists of presenting “evidences” so narrowly defined.

“For one, force cannot cause a true conversion.”

I disagree.

“I am talking about real conversions.”

As am I.

“Secondly, to say that it is mere correlation rather than causation could be said even of your method.”

Tu quoque fallacy.

“Someone could say that of the Gospel itself! Maybe it’s just a correlation that when someone hears the Gospel they get saved.”

Given your rather unbiblical statements thus far, I could certainly see you saying something like this, but such a claim would be, as your other statements are, inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.

“If people come to faith in God after hearing the evidence for God’s existence, I take that to be causation…”

Well yes I know, this is why you are guilty of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Compelling evidence for the existence of God is with every person from conception.


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