Here are some of my picks for keeping up to date with all the apologetic literature out there.
By Prof. Robert C. Koons at University of Texas at Austin
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote, “Philosophy begins with a sense of wonder,” and concluded that we cannot be satisfied until we have attained knowledge of the highest things. The mathematician Blaise Pascal claimed: “there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being,” and the French existentialist Albert Camus wrote, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, that of suicide. To judge that life is or is not worth the trouble of being lived, this is to reply to the fundamental question of philosophy.”1 Although Aristotle, Pascal and Camus represent very different points of view, their remarks point to the same basic human characteristic: we seek more than food, drink, and warmth to make us happy. Instead, we want answers to questions about the meaning of life. When we ask “Who am I?”, “What is my purpose?”, “Is there a God?”, and “If so, what is God like?” or “What does God have to do with me or my purpose?” we tip our hand: each of us is on a quest to make sense out of the fragmentary pieces of our existence.2 However, in today’s world, with so many voices offering conflicting answers to these questions, we are in constant danger of slipping into a deep pessimism about the very possibility of reaching real truth.
When we go about the task of making sense out of life, we always rely on a set of beliefs that we already hold. These beliefs act as a grid or filter: they help us figure out which experiences are more meaningful, important, or relevant than others. These basic beliefs, even if we are not consciously aware of them, are among the most important things about us. They determine which questions we will ask, and which answers to these questions we will consider. In this essay, I will present a two-part method for use in evaluating and revising one’s own basic beliefs, and I will apply that method to the evaluation of one particular belief system — that of historic Christianity. I will argue that, when we make use of all the available sources of information, it is reasonable to conclude that Christianity is uniquely true.
Knowledge through Inference to the Best Explanation
If we are to escape intellectual despair, we must find some source of knowledge that is widely shared and on which we can base our judgments. One time-honored and widely cited source is called “inductive inference”. An inference is a step or process of reasoning. In deductive inference, we make explicit what is already contained implicitly in our current stock of information. For example, if I know that all lawyers are overpaid, and that Paul is a lawyer, I can infer deductively that Paul must be overpaid. In contrast, inductive inference involves taking a step beyond what is contained in the data at hand. By inductive inference the mind is able to discern patterns in experience and use those patterns to form reasonable conjectures about unseen or not-yet-seen parts of the world.
Inductive inference often consists in discovering the underlying causes beneath the observed effects, e.g., gravity as the cause of falling apples and orbiting planets, germs as the cause of disease, money creation as the cause of inflation, etc.3 This process is sometimes called the “inference to the best explanation.” We conclude that a certain structure or entity really exists when the hypothesis that it does exist provides the best possible explanation for what we observe. For example, forensic scientists examine the evidence at the scene of a possible crime and then try to reconstruct the most plausible scenario — including the time and manner of the crime, and characteristics of the assailant — that can best account for all of the evidence. We humans have a natural disposition to push this process further and further, seeking the most fundamental and universal of all causes. Physicists, for example, conjecture that the entire observable universe is the effect of a catastrophic Big Bang event 18-20 billion years ago.4
As the process of discovery is pushed to its extreme limit, we find ourselves searching for the uncaused “First Cause” of all observed phenomena, the ultimate source of reality. From the time of the ancient Greeks until today5, and in many different cultures (Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Islamic, Christian and Hindu), scientists, philosophers and many others have found good reason to infer the existence of a necessary, eternal Being from which everything that is fleeting and tangible derives its existence.
We can try to infer additional characteristics of the First Cause by examining its effect, namely, the observable universe. For example, scientists have uncovered more and more evidence in recent years that the fundamental constants of physics and the basic features of the universe have been “fine-tuned” to make life possible. This apparent fine-tuning of these physical quantities gives support to the supposition that the First Cause is intelligent and purposeful, and that we ourselves (as intelligent, social creatures) are the intentional creation of this cosmic designer6. Moreover, recent work on information theory and the origin of life lends further support to the belief that such an intelligent designer was involved at some point or other in the history of our planet7.
Whenever I talk to people about the reliability of the New Testament, I sometimes hear the response, “But history is always written by the winners.” Do people really know what they mean when they say this? Not really. They generally mean that all history is unknowable.Therefore, we can’t possibly think the New Testament is reliable. I could approach this objection in several ways. But for now let me say this: If we posit that history is always written by the winners is to insinuate that we can’t know much of anything in history, then I have a question: How do we know who the winners are unless the history we are looking at is somewhat reliable enough to tell us who the winners were? Therefore, the entire premise is self-defeating. Please drop it! Also, remember, the first followers of Jesus were not the winners. See our post “The Embarrassment of a Crucified Messiah.“
In 2004, I started going to the Ohio State University and engaging students for the truth claims of Christianity. I did hundreds of surveys with students and certainly begin to see some of the objections people had to the Christian faith. Around 2006 I moved away from the survey approach and started using a variety of approaches to reach out to the students here. Anyway, it was 2009 when myself along with some OSU students planted a Ratio Christi chapter on the campus. This was done out of the necessity for a stronger apologetics presence on the campus. Since we planted the chapter we have had some very well-known speakers come such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown, Paul Nelson, Michael Licona and James Warner Wallace. We have also had some student debates with the skeptic group on the campus. Keep in mind that Ohio State is a very large campus (60,000) students. Therefore, I do not mean to stereotype anyone or act like I speak as an authority for the entire campus. There are plenty of other campus ministries and people who might share different experiences that they have seen on the campus.
What About Skepticism?
Sure, skepticism has always been an issue on college campuses. But what kind of skepticism do I see? All kinds of skepticism! But as you will see in the objections below, I also see alot of pragmatism and some post-modernism, mysticism, etc. I will also provide some resources to the objections I have heard over the last several years.
The more I have talked to hundreds of students about spiritual beliefs, the more I realize there is one objection that comes up more than any other. Now I realize this may not be the same for everyone else. But when the discussion turns to the question “How do we know God exists?” I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, If God exists, how should God show people he is real? Now when I say “God,” I am referring to the God of the Bible.
But the reason I tend to slow down and ask the person what God should do to convince them He is real is directly related to common statements about God’s existence such as:
- “There’s no proof for God.”
- “There’s no evidence for God.”
- “We can’t really know if God exists.”
The Most Common Objection: “Why Won’t God Show Me A Sign?”
Yes, over the last several years, this is the most common objection that I hear. The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him. Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. The first question as to why won’t God just write it in the sky that He exists or make Himself known in an unmistakable way, leads to the response, “What do you mean by God?” If someone is referring to the God of the Bible, they might want to reconsider the demand for such a thing. Remember, God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation. Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel.
But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Furthermore, perhaps the demand for such a sign assumes the individual is certain as to how they would respond to such a sign. After all, any assumption that a clear sign will lead to a full surrender of one’s autonomy over to their Creator is quite presumptuous.
In this clip, you will see the issue of the demand for a sign or direct testimony will come up.
Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there.
When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. The pattern for miracles is the following:
Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation
In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God should show them a miracle. It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue. At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37).
This is why we need to remember the following. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say there are three components to faith:
- Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
- Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
- Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.
Craig Kenner has written a two volume set called Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Naturally, some skeptics aren’t satisfied with Keener’s work. They complain that it is not enough to appeal to religious texts that contain miracle accounts. Also, Keener doesn’t give enough documented cases of miracles in our present day. The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them.
In the end, this may seem like a silly objection. But the reality is that many people simply know very little about the nature of God. Perhaps we need to get back to Theology 101.
Some say that there is no relationship between the discipline of logic how this relates to the God of the Bible. So here are some of the common objections and responses:
Objection: There are no laws of logic that are absolutely certain.
Response: The laws of logic are undeniable and self-evident. When attempting to deny them as one actually affirms them. For example, the statement “There are no laws of logic” assumes the very principles the statement seeks to deny, namely, it employs the laws to makes a distinction between the existence and non-existence of law of logic.
Objection: Logic is only man’s reasoning and does not apply to God.
Answer: This objection is self-defeating since it utilizes “man’s reasoning” and is a logical statement about God. Either the objection is logical or it is not. If it is logical, then the objection defeats itself. If the objection is not logical, then it is illogical, with no reason for anyone to believe the objection is true.
Objection: Using logic makes God subject to human logic.
Response: This objection confuses the source of logic. Logic flows from the nature of God, not from humans. God determined logic; humans only discovered it. Theology and apologetics do not scrutinize God with logic. Only our statements about God are evaluated with logic. Since logic comes from God, we are not testing our statements about God by a standard outside Himself.
Objection: God can and often does work against logic (Isaiah 55:8-9) and human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:19-2:16).
Response: God may- and indeed does- often act and think beyond the human ability to understand, but never contrary to local laws (Isaiah 1:18; Philippians 4:8, Romans 12:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:20). The objection fails to make the distinction between human wisdom that is “of this world” and godly wisdom that derives its source from heaven (1 Corinthians 1:20-21; Proverbs 1:7; 8:10-11).
Objection: God violates the laws of nature through miracles; he therefore can violate the laws of logic.
Response: Although God does break or suspend the laws of nature on occasion through miraculous acts, natural laws are of a different kind from the laws of logic. Natural laws are descriptive and, as such, only describe the way nature operates, not how it must operate. Laws of logic are prescriptive, directing the way people should think, not how they do think.
Objection: If God can do the impossible (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37), he can break the laws of logic.
Response: It is true that God can do the “impossible” if one is speaking of doing, what is humanly impossible. But God cannot do what is actually impossible, such as creating a triangular square, lying (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18), changing (Malachi 3:6) or denying himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Objection: Logic cannot save anyone, so why bother using it?
Response: The purpose of logic is not salvific, though thinking logically may cause one to perceive better claims of the gospel. Much of that is truth is not directly related to the fact of redemption, but is important for living and thinking correctly about God and His truth. Logic, knowledge, or wisdom cannot save anyone. Nether can moral conduct, since it is only through faith that a spiritual rebirth takes place (John 3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). But does this mean people should abolish moral living? No.
Objection: People do not always think logically, so why bother utilizing logic?
Response: Since people do not always act morally, should we give up living a moral lifestyle? No.
Info adapted from Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences by H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden. Copyright 2006 by H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden. Used by permission of Zondervan. To find out more info about Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences, see http://www.Zondervan.com. ISBN# 031021937X
If you have never seen this clip from Michael Denton’s website, it is quite interesting. You will notice the comments here by atheists about their view of humans.
This article was from a couple of years back. But I found some of it’s points to be spot on. However, the issue becomes why is the Church so “dumbed down” as well. See the article here called The Tragedy of the Dumb Church and my own post called “Why Christians Don’t Think.”