Thinking Matters Forum at Auckland University

This March, Thinking Matters is coordinating two events at Auckland University with the Tertiary Student Christian Fellowship. We’re excited about the speakers that we’ve organized and are really looking forward to the discussion over two great nights. The events are open to both university students and the public, so if you’re in Auckland, come and join us.

Here are the details. We’ll announce the theatre locations this week.

The Thinking Matters Forum

Has Science Disproved God?

Time: 7pm, Thursday March 11
Location: OGGB4
Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road, The University of Auckland

Have the discoveries of modern science proved that belief in God is irrational and untenable? Does faith hinder or inspire scientific research? In this public Q and A event, several of New Zealand’s top scientists and Christian thinkers come together to examine the claims of popular atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, and explore the the credibility of God in the context of cosmology, biology, and physics.

Speakers:

  • Neil Broom (PhD) is Professor and Head of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at The University of Auckland. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2008 and is the author of the book How Blind Is the Watchmaker?: Nature’s Design & the Limits of Naturalistic Science.
  • Jeff Tallon (PhD) is Distinguished Scientist at Industrial Research Ltd and a former Professor of Physics at Victoria University. He is internationally known for his research in high-temperature superconductors, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2002 was awarded the Rutherford Medal, New Zealand’s highest science award.
  • Robert Mann (PhD) previously taught biochemistry and environmental studies at the UoA and and has been on the council of the NZ Association of Scientists.
  • Matthew Flannagan (PhD) lectures in the History of Philosophy at Laidlaw College and specializes in applied ethics and the interface between philosophy and theology. He is a prominent New Zealand Christian thinker, debater and blogger.

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Christianity On Trial

Time: 7pm, Tuesday March 16
Location: 260 – 098
Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road, The University of Auckland

Today, many best-selling atheists argue that belief in God is delusional and a roadblock to political, moral, and scientific progress. In this public Q and A event, several of New Zealand’s top Christian thinkers come together to consider popular arguments against Christianity and whether belief in God is merely a consequence of superstition and credulity.

Speakers:

  • Jeff Tallon (PhD) is Distinguished Scientist at Industrial Research Ltd and a former Professor of Physics at Victoria University. He is internationally known for his research in high-temperature superconductors, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2002 was awarded the Rutherford Medal, New Zealand’s highest science award.
  • Matthew Flannagan (PhD) lectures in the History of Philosophy at Laidlaw College and specializes in applied ethics and the interface between philosophy and theology. He is a prominent New Zealand Christian thinker, debater and blogger.
  • Michael Drake (DipTeach) is the principal of Carey College in Panmure and a pastor of the Tamaki Reformed Baptist Church. He has been involved in advocacy for Christian schools and in raising issues about race, education, and Christianity before Parliament. He is also a TSCF Associate Chaplain at the Manukau Institute of Technology.
  • Joe Fleener (MDiv) lectures in Old Testament, Church History, Christian Worldview, Apologetics, and Christian Ethics at The Shepherd’s Bible College.

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The Thinking Matters Forums are organised by an interdenominational group of Christians dedicated to addressing the difficult questions about faith, truth and life. Our website can be viewed at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz

UPDATE (1/03/2010): The location for the second lecture has been confirmed.

Free Resource – Study Guide to Biblical Doctrine

If you’re looking for a rigorous introduction to the doctrines of the Christian faith, there are few contemporary works as solid as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Published in 1995, the text continues to stand out as a resource for its clarity and refreshing doxological emphasis. However, for many, the 1,300-page book can be intimidating. To help lay people and new Christians, Wayne’s son Elliot has produced a guide to the essential Christian doctrines, based on Systematic Theology. Elliot’s book, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, canvasses subjects from the character of God to the nature of the church in a readable and non-technical way.

Scott Thomas, of the Acts 29 Network, has just made available a study workbook that he has written to help people navigate Christian Beliefs. The workbook presents questions for review, essential Biblical texts, recommended reading, and references to Grudem’s original Systematic Theology. For small group facilitators and bible study leaders this is an incredibly valuable resource. There’s nothing more important than knowing God and thinking true thoughts about Him. Without a proper knowledge of who He is, our faith can quickly become emotionalism or worse. John Stott was right – as Christians we should neither seek to be loveless in our truth nor truthless in our love (Christ the Controversialist, page 19). This resource will be an enormous help to those who want to pursue a deeper knowledge of God and ground their affections for Him in the reality of who He is and what He has disclosed.

Thomas has released several versions of the workbook, in both black and white and in colour:

Theological Clarity and Application: Equipping Leaders in Biblical Doctrine

Debate: Women in the Bible and the Qur'an

The Acts 17 Apologetics blog, Answering Muslims, has uploaded and posted video from the recent debate between Mary Jo Sharp and Tabasum Hussain. The debate was held in Ontario, Canada and compared the Bible and the Qur’an’s views of women.

Mary Jo Sharp holds a M.A. in Christian Apologetics with honours from Biola University and is a Certified Apologetics Instructor with the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention). Check out her website Confident Christianity here and her blog here. Last year, she debated the topic “Was Jesus Crucified” with Ehteshaam Gulam.

The video for this debate is in four parts.

Opening Statements:

First Rebuttals:

Second Rebuttals and Q and A:

Final Statements:

(HT: Stand to Reason)

Closer to Truth Interviews William Lane Craig

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the show Closer to Truth, interviews Christian philosopher William Lane Craig about philosophical theology, cosmology, and other issues. Unfortunately the site doesn’t allow it’s videos to be embedded, but here are the links:

Arguing God from First Cause?

Can God Change?

Considering God’s Existence?

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 1 of 3)

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 2 of 3)

Did God Create From Nothing? (Part 3 of 3)

Did God Create Multiple Universes?

Did God Create Time?

How Could God Know the Future? (Part 1)

How Could God Know the Future? (Part 2)

How Free is God?

How is God the Creator? (Part 1 of 2)

How is God the Creator? (Part 2 of 2)

Is God All Knowing?

Is God Temporal or Timeless? (Part 1 of 2)

Is God Temporal or Timeless? (Part 2 of 2)

The site also has a useful summary of some of Craig’s scholarly contributions to the debates about the existence and nature of God here.

A Familiar Conversation: Part 2

In my previous post, I analyzed an argument for Atheism and discussed the hidden second premise that “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” Didymus is a pseudonym used for our familiar objector. Here I’ll look at three typical responses to my discussion and examine the reasonableness of each.

1:

“Well, if you reason like this then you can’t conclude that pink unicorns, trolls and hob-goblins don’t exist.” [1]

This is no insult or failing of my philosophy. I don’t make the claim that things like trolls don’t exist. Failing to be able to prove something does not exist is no slight. This is why soft agnosticism becomes the safe middle ground – an acceptably moderate position in the absence of evidence.

In similar fashion Didymus adds, if you reason like this you have to take seriously the existence of such things as Lucky Potions and Flying-Purple-People-Eaters. He alludes it is ridiculous to do so in the absence of evidence.

It is good to take such things seriously if there are some good reasons to believe these are credible. As there are none, I am under no such obligation. Thus, I do not have to take seriously things like trolls. Now in the case for God there is no comparison. There are good reasons to believe God is credible. There is philosophical evidence, which is backed up by my own experiential evidence, and without reasonable defeaters for each of these, I am completely rational in believing that God exists.

2:

“Well, there are many intelligent people on both sides of the debate who disagree with the philosophical arguments, and so philosophical arguments are not to be trusted.”

The assertion that many intelligent people would advocate Atheism is false. Most serious thinkers would prefer a soft form of Agnosticism if not Theism.

There is an assumption here that both sides are equally diligent and honest in their quest to find the truth. I make no claim here about motivations of either side (I can only know my own, and perhaps even that imperfectly). The point here is simply to say that to implicitly claim to know that the people on both sides of the debate are genuinely applying serious critical thought into this area of Philosophy of Religion is presumptuous.

The greatest problem with this type of response when arguing for God’s existence is it commits the fallacy of argument ad populum. This is an appeal to the numbers of people who believe in order to prove ones point. What people believe about God’s existence or the arguments for God’s existence makes not a whiff of difference whatsoever about God’s existence. We know in other subject areas that the whole world can be wrong, yet this does nothing to effect the truth or falsehood of any belief.

Finally, the response itself is self-defeating. This is a philosophical argument that has engendered some difference of opinion from both sides of the debate, so by its own merit we should not trust this argument. In short, it is using philosophy to argue against the use of philosophy.

3:

“Well, the point is where there is no evidence it is foolish to believe in something, and it’s not foolish to believe in something if there is evidence.”

Of course, I think there is good evidence for God’s existence; so believing in God is not foolish by this axiom. But the objection holds water like a leaky bucket. If your trustworthy wife told you she spent the afternoon window-shopping, but she did not have any evidence of this, it would actually be foolish not to believe it.

The point of the illustration is not to make a comparison with belief in God, but to show the objection is not axiomatic. On further analysis, one wonders why it was not foolish to believe something in the absence of evidence? The answer is because your wife has proven herself trustworthy in the past and stands in as an expert witness to her afternoon activities. Expert witnesses, though not guaranteeing the truth or falsehood of a belief, nevertheless increase the credulity of the position they advocate. When a five-year old girl in pig-tails fresh out of kindergarten advocates an outlandish belief about her favourite rugby team, she might convince a few of her pairs, but not many others. When Hamish McKay agrees with her announcing on the News in all seriousness that the Chief’s have a good shot at winning the Super 14, this authoritative stamp of approval gives said belief considerable weight.

Christianity of course suffers from no lack of expert witness. Two billion[2] or so people worldwide can testify (with varying degrees of competency) to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Miracles are in abundance for anyone who is willing to open their eyes and look for them. A revolution in philosophy in the last 40 years, especially in the Anglophone world, has curtailed the atheistic dominance in the field. Today perhaps one quarter to one third of philosophy professors are theists, and of that mostly orthodox Christians.[3] And of course, God himself in his word, the Bible, provides the ultimate expert witnesses. There he has preserved with other powerful proofs[4] the testimony of the apostles, all eye witnesses to the risen Lord.

CONCLUSION

It seems to me that Didymus is right in that until evidence is found that would corroborate these types of beliefs then one is justified in remaining sceptical, even to the point of disbelief. However, this is where he is wrong. As soon as one claims something does not exist a burden is placed upon them to prove it. If one fails to bear this burden they have crossed the boundary of what is reasonable. Empirical evidence can verify that belief in P is reasonable, but lack of empirical evidence cannot prove that belief in not-P is reasonable.

Unfortunately, in forsaking philosophical evidence because he believes it hopelessly indeterminate, and by ardently requiring tangible evidence such as that which is delivered in a science lab, he has mired himself in a quagmire or illogic, unable to pull himself free from claims he so vehemently makes. These claims are explicit and implicit; respectively, that God does not exist, and that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.


[1] or “Toothfairy, Thor and water-divining,” See comment: # 11 February 2010 at 1:37 pm; Panel Discussion of Stephen Meyers Signature in the Cell

[2] How Many Christians are There Worldwide

[3] Quentin Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” Philo 4/2(2001): 3-4.

[4] Such as fulfilled prophecy

A Familiar Conversation: Part 1

Those familiar with past conversations on this blog will be familiar with the voice of our objector. In this article I shall refer to our objector as Didymus, in memory of the one who doubted the Apostles’ word, but came to believe when Christ appeared to him saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed.”

The following will seem like we’re treading familiar water. That’s because we will be. This is, as the title declares, a familiar conversation.[1] First, take note of few of Didymus’ statements;

Stuart: Failing to make an argument is failing to reason.

Didymus: I’m not failing to make an argument, I’m refusing to make a philosophical one. . . One argument of mine is that I just don’t see god. This is an evidentiary argument.

In response, making an argument, but not making a philosophical argument is impossible. All arguments require and use in some way philosophy, even if it’s just the basic laws of logic (rules of right-thinking) that are employed. Logic is a sub-discipline of philosophy, and because logic must be used in an argument, refusing to make a philosophical argument is refusing to make an argument.

An evidentiary argument is one that provides evidence. Evidence by itself tells us nothing until reason is applied. Good reason requires good philosophy, and bad reasoning uses bad philosophy. So evidence is always used in philosophical arguments, and this is the case for the cosmological, teleological, moral and historical arguments for God’s existence. Because I look favourably on the use of such arguments, I am an evidentialist apologist. The ontological argument is supposed to only use premises that can be derived purely from inside the mind instead of tangible evidence from the world of sight and sound. Still, one could construe this argument to be evidentiary in the sense that it, as a purely philosophical argument can be used as evidence in the case for God’s existence (that is, if one thinks it is a good argument).

Also take note of Didymus’ response to this question.

Stuart: What arguments for Atheism[2] do you find convincing?

Didymus: I see no evidence for god.

“I see no evidence for god” is supposed to be taken as a serious argument for Atheism.[2] Witness the implied syllogism.

Step (1) I see no evidence for god.
Step (2) Therefore, God does not exist.

Clearly this is not an argument. Arguments need at least two premises to reach a conclusion. There is no logical law of inference that would conclude (2) – that God does not exist – from (1) – I see no evidence for God. In order to conclude atheism one would have to add an extra premise between (1) and (2), bumping the conclusion to step (3). Let us presume that the lack of Didymus finding evidence is reason enough to conclude that there is no evidence for God.

Step 1) There is no evidence for god.
Step 2) The absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Step 3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Now this is a logically valid argument. That is the argument breaks no formal or informal rules of inference. The argument though is far from sound. For an argument to be sound it needs to be logically valid and have true premises.

The evidence for God is vast. There are two broad categories each with a diverse variety: philosophical evidence and experiential evidence. The philosophical evidence is listed above, and frequently discussed here at the Thinking Matters website. The experiential evidence can be everything from a full-blown Christophany[3] to the quiet witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Other experiential evidence might include miracles of healing, signs and wonders, deliverance from demonic activity, the functioning of spiritual gifts such as prophecy or words of knowledge and wisdom.

So as there is evidence for God, premise (1) is false. Nothing more is needed to invalidate the argument. However, you will recall that we were operating under Didymus’ belief that there is no evidence for God. So more important for my purpose here is to point out that premise (2) is also false. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

When there is an absence of evidence for belief P it may be reasonable to remain sceptical or doubtful about belief P, but to conclude from only this that there is an actual absence of P is to overstep the boundary of what one can rationally claim. There are many cases where the failure to provide evidence does not mean said occurrence did not happen, or said entity does not exist. Four examples shall suffice.

(A)

A body is found. Investigators are able to deduce a time and cause of death, and come to suspect that it took place in a well-known haunt where other illegal activity often occurs. As it happens, the murder did occur there and their suspicions are correct, though they do not know it. The problem is the place they suspect is clean of all the expected bloodstains and bullet casings. They find no evidence that the crime was committed there. This is because the murder scene was scrubbed clean and put in perfect order by an expert team, who then fled the country leaving no witnesses. Scenarios like this make “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” an axiom in forensic science.

(B)

Prior to the advent of heliocentricism,[4] championed by Copernicus and Galileo, it was thought by more than a few that the earth was the centre of the Solar System and that the sun revolved around the earth. Suppose heliocentricism was proposed before any of the evidence for it was found. One would understandably be sceptical, as this new idea would be totally different from what had always been taught and previously believed by everyone else. The people who ask for evidence get no reply – none yet has been discovered. They conclude then that geocentricism[5] is better because there is no evidence for heliocentricism. In this case the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(C)

Take the moral claim “cannibalism (to eat another human’s flesh) while the person is still alive is wrong.” When asked to prove this moral assertion, the person making the claim is not able to do it. One argues that is wrong to knowingly inflict harm on someone else, and thus this case of cannibalism is wrong, but this response itself relies on other unproven and un-evidenced moral assertions. The point here is you can know something is wrong, without knowing how something is wrong. Morality is very much an instinctual process, and one grasps that something is wrong without necessarily reasoning out the “why?” beforehand. So here you have a moral claim that is true but is unable to be shown to be true, yet it remains reasonable to believe true. Again, the inability to prove something was not proof that that something was false.

(D)

Before the Seventeenth Century it was supposedly thought that there was no such thing as a black swan. However, during the expansion of Europe people traveled widely and, lo and behold, some black swans were discovered. Prior to this there was an absence of evidence for black swans, but this did not mean that there were no such things as black swans.

Next time in Part 2 we shall continue with this familiar conversation, and see how Didymus generally responds to this.


[1] My reason for posting here is so when this argument again pops up, as it inevitably will, I can simply refer said proponent to this post.

[2] Atheism is the idea that God does not exist

[3] An appearance of Christ in the flesh, such as to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.

[4] The belief that the earth revolves around the sun.

[5] The belief that the earth is in the centre of the universe, and all revolves around it.

Genesis, Myth and History

Wright makes some good points here. The Genesis 1-3 debate is stalked by generalizations and false antitheses. There is always a real danger in distorting and domesticating the Bible via the preoccupations of our own modern situation. As much as possible, we should start with Scripture and the priorities and structures within the text itself, instead of those of our own context. We should always seek to faithfully and accurately embed the text in its own literary, historical, and canonical context.

Understanding the genre is crucial. Just as, today, different literary genres have different means of making rhetorical effects and of taking about reality, so do the varied Biblical genres. And this diversity of literary forms means we must sensitive to the fact that the Bible contains more (though not less) than propositional truth. This isn’t to say that all literary genres convey truth plus something else but that some genres shape their purposes and priorities differently. Wright is correct to point out that if we reduce a passage (say, a narrative passage) to a number of propositions or single notes we miss the way the (narrative) genre can speak through themes, character development, plot, etc.

Furthermore, the ancient literary categories do not neatly overlap with ours and that is why we must be careful when we talk about biblical genres (I think this cuts against the the current definition of “myth” invented by modern anthropologists as much as it does against a scientific reading). Whatever category we do use for the opening chapters, a fair amount of nuance is necessary.

Even if we do understand the purpose of Genesis 1-3 as primarily theological/mythical, we haven’t escaped the question of whether it belongs to a matrix of thought that implies or is undergirded by historical events and characters (the “primal pair” that Wright affirms). Just because the message is theological, this does not mean that it is not also historical (or that it can be disentangled from the historical). Take some examples in the New Testament (some borrowed from D. A. Carson), where, although the writer is making a theological point, in each case the argument is grounded in and inseparable from a historical claim:

– In Galatians 3, Paul’s theological argument is made via appeal to the order of events in redemptive history. He argues that the law is relativised by the fact that both the giving of the promises to Abraham and his justification by faith preceded the giving of the law.

– In Romans 4, Paul makes an argument about the relation between faith and circumcision that again depends on the historical sequence of which came first.

– In Hebrews 3:7-4:13, the author argues that entering God’s rest must mean something more than merely entering the Promised Land because of the fact that Psalm 95 (which is still calling for God’s people to enter into God’s rest) is written after they were already in the land.

– Again in Hebrews, the theological point of chapter 7 is that because Psalm 110 promises a further priesthood and is written after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, the Levitical priesthood is therefore obsolete.

-Paul’s argument about the reality of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:12-19.

Wright is correct to say that we must read Genesis for all its worth. And to do this, sooner or later we are going to need to ask what the ancient readers (and other Biblical writers) themselves thought about the correspondence between the Biblical account of creation and what actually happened. It won’t fly to say that the ancient Biblical writers weren’t concerned with history or couldn’t distinguish between fable and reality (observe how much Judges 9 stands out from the rest of that passage). The early chapters of Genesis are certainly not a scientific treatise, but even if we understand that the point of these chapters is explain that all of creation is God’s tabernacle and that creation itself is finite and not divine, are we completely off the hook? We need to ask if the writer is telling us true things about God, and about real people and events that took place in history.

moreland

Audio Resources from J. P. Moreland

I’ve been updating the audio resources page on our home site and I came across some new talks by J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. The topical sermons were given at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, between 2007 and January 2010. Moreland is a great speaker and while I don’t agree with all his theology, some of these talks include a good dose of apologetics.

Crowns Rolling in the Dust

“Now can this really be, as the media so continuously insist, what life is about—this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets and props litter the world? Surely not. Was it to provide a location for so ribald and repetitive a production as this that the universe was created and man—or homo sapiens, as he likes to call himself, heaven knows why—came into existence? I cannot believe it.

If this were all, then the cynics, the hedonists, the suicides are right. The most we can hope for from life is amusement, gratification of our senses, and death. But of course it is not all. Thanks to the great mercy and marvel of the incarnation, the cosmic scene is resolved into a human drama. God reaches down to become a man, and man reaches up to relate himself to God. Time looks into eternity and eternity into time, making now always and always now. If this Christian revelation was ever true, then it must be true for all time and in all circumstances. Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the way the world is going, its truth remains intact and inviolate. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” our Lord said, “but my words shall not pass away.” Our western civilization, like all others before it, must some time or other decompose and disappear. The world’s way of regarding intimations that this is happening is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand, some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government, a common market, North Sea oil, revolution or counter-revolution. On the other hand, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down, communism take over, or vice versa; fuel will run out, atomic wastes will kill us all, plutonium will lay us low, overpopulation will suffocate us.

In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust, and that every earthly kingdom must some time founder. As Christians, too, we acknowledge a King men did not crown and cannot destroy, just as we are citizens of a city men did not build and cannot destroy. It was in these terms that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and in Corinth, living as they did in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours—under a ruler, the emperor Nero, who makes even some of our rulers seem positively enlightened—with the games, which, like television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism: “Be steadfast, unmoveable,” he exhorted them, “always abounding in God’s work and concerning yourselves with the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born, and now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and is eternal—the reality of Christ. In this reality we see our only hope, our only prospect in a darkening world.”

Malcolm Muggeridge in Christ and the Media, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 21/3, September 1978.

Introducing Thinking Matters

In a culture that is increasingly indifferent and ignorant of Christianity, it is not only important for Christians to understand what we believe but also why. We must see it necessary to reclaim the importance of the intellectual life, not only to safeguard the witness of the New Zealand church but also its health and identity. Without diminishing a passion for lives that demonstrate radical love and conformity to the Gospel, we must yet take seriously the biblical call to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and to thoroughly refute secular arguments that are raised against it (2 Corinthians 10:5).

With this conclusion as our frame and impetus, a group of us have launched Thinking Matters. We are an interdenominational network of professional and lay people throughout New Zealand, together resolute in the belief that the Christian God is rationally warranted and that the proclamation of the Gospel is the only hope for a lost and dying world. Our vision is to see the gospel effectively communicated and our mission is to encourage this by  (1) equipping Christians to see that the claims of the Bible can stand tall in the public marketplace of ideas and (2) connecting and resourcing Christians that are already involved in apologetics.

The retreat from biblical Christianity at the centers of New Zealand culture continues to remind us not only of the importance of minds that are illumined, sharpened and submitted to God’s word but also knees bent before Him in intercession. We stand together with other Christians, aware of the responsibility to confirm the Gospel in the marketplace of ideas and in the hearts of those who hunger for a Saviour.

Start a Thinking Matters Group

We encourage people to create their own apologetic discussion groups in their churches. If you would like to start up a Thinking Matters group in your area, we can provide you with suggestions of book studies, DVDs, lectures, and guest speakers. Local Thinking Matters groups have the flexibility and freedom to develop programs suited to their local needs and interests, but we do ask that the group leader is evangelical in theology (outlined in our statement of faith here). We can also connect you with some of our groups that are currently running.

Why Apologetics Matters

Aside from the biblical injunctions to refute objections to our faith (2 Corinthians 10:5) and be ready to give a reasoned defense for it (1 Peter 3:15), there other excellent reasons for all Christians to get involved in apologetics. A strong emphasis on apologetics yields enormous benefits both to Christians personally, for the church generally, and for society at large.

So then, what are some of the benefits of apologetics? Here are three:

1. It encourages believers

Apologetics enhances the boldness and self-image of the Christian community. John G Hager writes of the early church,

Whether or not the apologists persuaded pagan critics to revise their view of Christians as illiterate fools, they succeeded in projecting for the group as a whole a favorable image of itself as the embodiment of true wisdom and piety […] Whatever we may say about the expressed purpose of these apologies, their latent function was not so much to change the pagan image of Christians as to prevent that image from being internalized by Christians themselves.1

Historically, theology was the crowning glory of a university education. The first universities in Europe and America were all Christian institutions, founded by Christians on biblical principles for the express purpose of honoring God. Thus the interface between Christianity and secular society was one of rich philosophical sophistication. Today, theology—the queen of the sciences—has been cast from court. As a result, the church has progressively become culturally insular.

However, the queen is not without her allies. Philosophy is her handmaid; and as a second-order discipline which discovers the presuppositions and ramifications of every other discipline, it is uniquely positioned to act in her stead while she is exiled from western universities. Philosophy’s sub-disciplines include logic (principles of right reasoning), epistemology (the study of knowledge), metaphysics (the study of reality) and value theory (ethics and aesthetics), which can all aid in fostering an environment where Christianity can once again be held in high esteem. The self-image of Christians in a philosophically sophisticated environment will be enhanced, and the relationship between the church and society elevated.

It is well known that a group, especially one in the minority, will be vital and active only if it feels good about itself in comparison with outsiders. Further, there will be more tolerance of internal group differences, and thus more harmony, when a group feels comfortable with outsiders.2

If Christianity has a self-image problem today, the solution is clear. It is time for seminaries and Bible colleges to offer more than a mere paper, here or there, on philosophy or apologetics. It is time for churches to foster the intellectual lives of their people, and offer more than simpering devotional thoughts.

Confidence in personal witnessing

The greatest hindrance to evangelism is fear of disgracing the faith. We dread not knowing what to say, or being unable to answer some objection. The study of apologetics is training in not merely overcoming this problem, but in tackling it with confidence and enthusiasm. It is therefore a valuable tool for evangelism.

Answers in personal intellectual struggles

A growing faith is an enquiring faith. A Christian enlarged by his commitment to study is the beneficiary of a faith that is built on solid rock. Christianity is not meant to be brain-dead or vapid, but alive and engaging with the world of ideas.

In fact, the Christian faith is a unique religion—the only one truly unafraid of questions. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), and surely God’s truth is larger than our small doubts. We are encouraged to ask questions, to subject the received word to intellectual rigor (see Acts 17:11), and to study profoundly. This is a way to obey the greatest commandment, loving the Lord with all our minds (Mark 12:30). As Christian philosophers and apologists William Lane Craig and J P Moreland put it,

Study is itself a spiritual discipline, and the very act of study can change the self. One who undergoes the discipline of study lives through certain types of experiences where certain skills are developed through habitual study: framing an issue, solving problems, learning how to weigh evidence and eliminate irrelevant factors, cultivating the ability to see important distinctions instead of blurring them, and so on. The discipline of study also aids in the development of certain virtues and values; for example, a desire for the truth, honesty with data, an openness to criticism, self-reflection and an ability to get along nondefensively with those who differ with one.”3

Assurance in times of trouble

[The seed that fell] on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away (Luke 8:13, NIV).

When tragedy strikes, what is it that keeps a believer believing? What is it that keeps a tree unmoved in a gale? The answer is the same for both: roots.

Apologetics is one way a person can develop a strong root system. Such a person is not easily swayed by the arguments of others or the winds of doubt. They have developed an assurance and deep source of nourishment that was hard won out of persistence and dedication to study.

2. It vindicates Christianity in the world

From these personal factors in the lives of believers, apologetics works as a force which can shape and maintain a cultural milieu in which Christianity can be heard as an intellectually viable option. It is clear that the most influential culture shaping institution in today’s western world is no longer the church. In New Zealand the university and the media stand out as the prominent cultural movers. Unless Christians rise up and become the deans and professors, the executive producers and directors, these institutions will lead society into a deeply entrenched secularism.

Why does this matter? Because the gospel is never heard in isolation, but always against the backdrop of the cultural milieu in which it is proclaimed. The eminent Princeton theologian J Gresham Machen says:

God usually exerts [his regenerative] power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.4

It is the broader task of apologetics to accomplish this.

There’s an anecdotal account of several secular humanists who met in a backyard in the 1970s. These promising young talents were to become the movers and the shakers in later decades. Together, with warm fruit punch in hand, they discussed how they might rid America of Christianity. They outlined a plan that included politics, education, and media; then outlined objectives for ten years, then twenty, then thirty. Meanwhile, over the fence, a group of Christians met together for a Bible study.

Today we live in a culture that is the result of that meeting. Whether true or not, the story serves as powerful warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The illustration points out the detrimental effects of being so culturally insular one is unaware of, and unable to respond to, those “over the fence.” While there is nothing with holding a Bible study, the Christians here should have also been strategizing as to how they might win the culture for Christ.

It is our responsibility to think well, hard and deep about this issue. Any effective strategy will be long-term, multi-faceted and collaborative. Lord, help us in this most important task!

3. It provides double-warrant for belief

Christianity is chiefly an experiential faith. One feels the Spirit of God within, and senses His prompting and the deep inner peace that only he can give. We intuitively recognize when the drive for transcendence is completely satisfied by Christ. This existential need and fulfillment comprises sufficient warrant for belief.

However, there are many other religions and people—even atheists—who claim similar conversion experiences sufficient to warrant their beliefs as well. It may be these are due to psychological and physiological factors. Radical changes in lifestyles and well-being can be attributed to sociological factors, and association with new people.

Now, these experiences and sociological factors do not invalidate the Christian’s own spiritual experience. A believer in Christ still has sufficient warrant to justify his belief on experience alone. But what these similar claims do accomplish is to give a seeming parity of warrant for other beliefs, making it hard to argue against them. For example, a Mormon will claim a “burning in the bosom”—Mormon experiences and Christian experiences, from an external point of view, are matched equally. There is a deadlock in determining which beliefs are true.

Enter apologetics. The subjective experience, when resting upon other objectively truthful propositions, will tower over other rival worldviews, casting a shadow of doubt upon them. This second justification, or double-warrant, provides clear comparative superiority for Christian truth-claims. Apologetics makes the step up to double warrant possible by giving good reasons to believe the Bible, and good reasons to not believe opposing points of view.

The emotions and the intellect can and should be united in the purpose of confirming and recommending the faith. Failure to integrate the emotional and experiential aspects of Christianity with the rational and intellectual apprehension of the truth of Scripture will lead to falling away from that truth. When I was fifteen I knew at once and for sure that I was right to believe that Christianity was good and true. A familiar quiet whisper: the sound of the God’s voice, confirmed it to me. But I also came to realize then, and was gratified to learn later, that there are certain facts of the world that stand out as clear evidence for Christianity’s truth-claims apart from my own internal experiences.

Apologetics is a strong arm for the church. It is commanded in scripture, and as seen above it is useful for the encouragement and self-image of the church, to shape and maintain a cultural milieu so that Christianity can be heard as an intellectually viable option, and to provide a double-warrant for belief. It is time for Christians to rise up and become familiar with apologetics. Can we afford otherwise?

This article (“The Broader Task of Apologetics”) appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Stuart McEwing, holds a Bachelor of Design and is currently studying theology at Laidlaw College in Henderson. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.