Friday, March 28, 2008

An Evening With Reasons To Believe

This evening, we here in McPherson, KS had a special visit from an associate of the ministry Reasons to Believe. Reasons to Believe is an apologetics ministry specializing in astronomy and cosmology. I personally benefited from Reasons to Believe years ago as a high school student who was struggling with God's existence. I read a book by Hugh Ross entitled The Fingerprint of God which, for me, was the breaking point in my atheo/agnosticism. After finishing Ross' book, I felt compelled to hold to a generic belief in some kind of God (what kind of god or which god was something I dealt with later).

As I was saying, a fellow named John (his last name eludes me; sorry, John!) who is a doctoral student from Chicago came and talked for over two hours, answering questions any in attendance might have regarding the Old Earth/Day-Age perspectives on Genesis. I greatly enjoyed his discussion as I have always, from day one, tended towards the old-earth view. It's just always made sense to me and seems to most comport with the facts as best as we can know them. Anyway, this is all peripheral.

One person in attendance asked about String Theory, and he explained what String Theory [ST] is (he does not, incidentally, hold to ST). He sort of - in passing - referred to ST as an attempt by physicists to understand the universe as a simplistic place rather than a place governed by multiple complex laws. Somehow, the purpose of ST is to take the many complex laws (gravity, for example) of the universe and boil them all down to this one basic component: vibrating strings. Now, I am not really interested in ST so much as I am in the purpose of formulating of ST.

You see, as he was discussing this idea that Physicists regard the many laws of the universe as a problem it made me think of the implication of laws - namely that there must be a Creator. Why is it that in classical theology, we regard God's simplicity as utterly non-negotiable? It is because the implication of a complex (rather than Simple) god with many parts is that he would have his own creator. Is not ST doing the same thing that Aquinas and the classical theologians were doing? In both ST and classical theology, the ultimate source and reason for the universe's existence must be perfect and simple. Both are searching for an elegant and simple foundation for everything that is. For the String Theorist, the strings are the simplest, most perfect foundation of the universe. For the Classical Christian (or at least the Thomist) the perfectly Simple God is the perfect foundation of the universe.

Perhaps what I am really driving at is that I see ST as a backdoor answer to the complex laws of the universe without necessitating a God who must be that universe's foundation. So yeah... the parallel between the Thomist and the String Theorist really stuck out to me tonight. You all may or may not have thoughts about what I've said here. Actually, since most who read this blog tend towards the presuppositional perspective, I could totally see everyone accusing me of being a classical apologist. [For the record, I'm for practicality. I use presuppositional apologetics, but I also use classical apologetics if it gets the job done.]


  1. Adam,

    As Christians, are we to do any apologetics that "gets the job done," or are we to do apologetics as God has instructed us?

    In other words, are we to just do whatever we want, as long as it works, when doing apologetics, or are we to take our apologetic queue from God's Word?

  2. I believe that if you are talking to someone with a common sense worldview, you should not first turn them into an epistemological skeptic so you can explain to them why you think the cosmological argument isn't sound. That is a bad starting point. Now, perhaps this is because I don't see a Common Sense worldview as being a devastatingly egregious perspective to hold to in the first place.

    I think that presuppositional arguments are good. In fact, I do believe that the Transcendental Argument is the greatest argument I have ever heard for God's existence. It is a sure and certain argument, and I believe it to be almost flawless. Why almost? Because nobody understands it unless they've had an PHI 101 class. How do I know? Because it took me forever to finally grasp! I had to listen to sermon after sermon (hours of them; I'm just dumb!) by Bahnsen. I listened to numerous debates between Bahnsen and atheists so as to see the TAG in action, and even then I was trying to wrap my head around what was really being said. How can I expect someone to grasp the depth and beauty of the TAG when we are barely touching on these issues? Do you know how many times I heard Bahnsen (and even Doug Wilson) debate atheists who absolutely did not understand the argument that was being set forth? Can I ask too many rhetorical questions?

    This is why, if I'm talking to an unbeliever who holds a common sense worldview, I will meet them on that level. I am able to, so why not? After all, who has time to explain (in a casual setting) Hume's skepticism of causality, etc.? I certainly don't unless it's an extended discussion. Besides, as my philosophy days draw farther and farther away, I'm starting to forget everything I learned. For example, I can't remember what that thing is that Hume said we can't be sure of (you know; "we can't be sure that something will happen the same every time, we just assume it will be the same"). I need to stay in top form, but it's tough to stay sharp.

  3. Adam,

    I guess that is a long way of saying "A". :)

    So to answer your question, "so why not?"

    We are to glorify God in everything we do. This includes our apologetic approach. Further, the only way to glorify God (in this regard) is to use the apologetic method that he sets forth in his Word.

    Now, we can discuss whether or not this is the presup. approach, but at least as Christians we must answer "B" to my first post. And this means we have to let God set our apologetical agenda.

  4. Most presuppositionalists take the position I know you take, Josh, and say that the presup approach is the only approach that Christians should use, and though I see that apologetic methodology being used in scripture, I do not think that means that it is the exclusively Christian apologetic approach. "Paul uses approach A" does not necessarily entail "We should not use A and also B." (With A, of course, being the TAG and B being Classical arguments.) As best as I can tell, it simply doesn't follow.

    I would also argue that although the presuppositional approach is the best approach, I do not feel that it is the only approach which glorifies God. After all, I personally came to faith in Jesus Christ and recognized Him as Lord because I first changed my worldview away from atheism. I then, upon reflection and study (and through the teaching and debates of classical apologists such as William Lane Craig) came to recognize Jesus as risen and, indeed, as God. Finally, upon reading Scripture, I bowed my knee to Him and yielded my life and all my soul up to him. This happened in stages, and to argue that this journey which I went on from atheism to full-blown Christianity did not glorify God simply does not comport. You may (and I don't know that you will) simply say that God was not glorified by my discovery that His Son had, indeed, risen from the grave through historical research, but that simply wouldn't make any sense to me or match my own experience.

    After all, Jesus is the Truth. To discover the Truth (regardless the method) should be glorifying to Him. Again, I suppose I differ from most presups in that I do not use the TAG because I feel I am commanded to use it exclusively, but rather, because it is a powerful argument (when fully and properly understood). But I would also say that my wife, for example, would probably never get the TAG. That's not a shot at her (at ALL), it's just that not everyone has this cold, hard, precise intellect that can get some of this tougher stuff.

  5. Adam,

    I want to make sure I am understanding your point. Are you saying that any apologetical method is alright, so long as people get saved? Is this right? After all God gets glory whenever someone is saved, so any method that brings about salvation is God glorifying.

  6. No, I'm not saying that in the broad terms you used. Any apologetic methodology? It doesn't sound right, but are there any other methodologies besides Classical and Presuppositional? I don't know. Could there be anything sinful about a method? I would find that difficult to believe. I suppose a method could be sinful if it were dishonest and only gave people the information we wanted them to hear, but I see nothing sinful or dishonest about the classical approach, specifically.

    It has many good features and answers alot of unbelievers' questions. It answered alot of my questions, anyway ("does God even exist at all?" "Did Jesus rise from the dead?"). As ambassadors for Christ, are we not to answer challenges and questions of unbelievers? I think we are. I've been in several situations where I am fairly certain using the TAG would have made things even more confusing. Again, I don't think that everyone is ready to wrap their head around the Transcendental argument. Heck, most people can't even pronounce "transcendental"!

    Now, I also did not argue that any apologetic which gets someone saved is an okay apologetic. Rather, my point in offering my own anecdotal story was to give an example of the classical apologetic at work, showing on a case by case basis how it played out for me. Ultimately, my story should end with the rhetorical question, "What is sinful about the way I was saved?" If it is not sinful, then I would argue it is okay. Simply because the presuppositional method is better (which I personally believe) is not enough of an impetus to throw out or condemn the classical approach, wholesale. That was the point of my anecdote. Though the Classical method is weak in some places, there's still good stuff there.

    Your restatement is sort of on the right track, but it turns things just enough to make it sound like I approve of the classical approach on different grounds than is actually the case. Just to be clear, I believe the classical approach is acceptable because (A) It is not sinful (it is not endorsed [some may disagree with this, but I'm still biased towards presuppositionalism] or condemned in Scripture), and (B) It does offer a truthful apologetic, albeit one which is neither complete (it is not the one-stop-shop that presuppositionalism offers) or perfect. Those are the grounds upon which I approve of an apologetic methodology. Perhaps there are other features which I would require of a good methodology, but these are the only two which come to mind at the moment.


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