Tag Archives: apologetics

Presuppositionalism, Science, and Faith

I know I’m probably going to take a beating for writing this, but here goes, anyway.

I suppose you could say that I’m a “pressuppositionalist”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositionalist – I tend to follow an apologetic approach that believes it is impossible to find “meaning in anything where man himself is at the center of the pursuit for truth and understanding”:http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa210.htm. I carry with me a “certain set of core beliefs and assumptions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2005/04/16/saturday-april-16-2005-at-0812-pm/ that guide and govern, not only those things that I do, but also the way I fit together all knowledge into a cohesive whole.

It’s interesting – when the evolutionist looks around him and witnesses nature, “he sees millions of years of natural selection at work”:http://highlyallochthonous.blogspot.com/2006/10/mountain-musings-2-whats-god-got-to-do.html; when I look around me, I can’t but believe that _something_ had to have put all this in place. This belief is based purely in logic and observation – I just find it impossible to think that chaos at the beginning of time could have somehow found its way into some sense of organization that just naturally progressed over billions and billions of years to what we have now. That, to me, requires a much greater leap of faith than believing in an intelligent creator. From everything I’ve seen and witnessed and studied, the natural state of the universe at large tends toward entropy. Everything that currently exists is moving steadily toward a state of decay and decline, not the other way around. This has ever been the way of things. So I find it much easier to believe that everything started in a state of perfect order that somehow began a downward spiral toward chaos.

Both of these viewpoints are based on a set of presuppositions. For the evolutionist, there is no God, no creator, no intelligent designer, merely a “long process of natural selection”:http://skatje.com/?p=103, with new species adapting to their environments until we have the diversity that we see today. And natural selection makes some amount of sense, since it _is_ directly observable in the world around us – the strongest of the herd survive while the slowest, sickest, and least able to adapt die off, thus strengthening the species as a whole. I just have trouble believing that natural selection could ever have, ultimately, brought humanity into existence from a single-celled bacterium – and I have yet to see compelling evidence that states such. For the creationist (or the IDist), there must have been something intelligent and powerful to have set all this in place, that there is no way for something like this universe in which we live to have come about by chance or some evolutionary process.

Consider this – what if the all that scientific data that has been collected on the origins of the universe and the evolutions of the species can’t be trusted? Secular scientists place a lot of faith in rationality. They place man at the very center of rationality itself by presupposing that systematic, scientific study will eventually unlock all the secrets of the universe – or at least that’s the goal and hope – and this methodology _does_ and has worked in a great many areas of study and research. But what if scientific study as it relates to these two macroscopic issues has been placed in the wrong context? What if, by placing man at the center, by assuming that if we only ask the right questions and study things in as unbiased a manner as possible, what if in doing science in this manner, we are getting it wrong? What if this basic assumption in secular science has led to a great many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the data we have?

I believe that faith and science _can_, indeed, “complement each other”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/. When “framed in the context of an intelligent designer”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/, the scientific data that seems to lend itself so strongly for evolution yields a very different picture. And contrary to popular belief, scientists who believe in intelligent design _are_ still scientists who work within the constraints of their field. The data I’ve seen on sites like Answers in Genesis is the same data I’ve seen shown on secular science sites, with the same explanations of what it means. The difference is that Christian scientists provide alternative solutions for why some of that data might be misleading. It is unfortunate, in a way, that many of these explanations can never be verified, as they are the result of “unreproducible events”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/#comment-8899. Similarly, neither can secular scientists prove their claims about the origins of the universe for the exact same reason. Despite objections from the secular community, Christian scientists _are_ able to provide a complete, unified response for their conclusions based on their presuppositions. And theirs is a response that makes _much_ more logical, rational sense to me than the origins answers that secular science sometimes provides.

And this is where faith bonds with science. We believe, based on a record given in the Bible, that the Earth looked a certain way during its beginning. Framing scientific data into this context provides an explanation why, for instance, “carbon dating may not be as accurate”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/carbon_dating.asp as is generally assumed by the secular scientific community. Because none of these events that various groups believe in – Creation, Big Bang, Great Flood, evolution – can actually be reproduced and examined first-hand, certain things must, by necessity, be taken with a certain measure of faith. This does not stop scientific study itself, nor should it. Mankind is, by his very nature, curious and so there is a great deal of worth to be derived from such pursuits. But the scientific community, no matter what camp, should bear in mind that personal presuppositions are going to greatly influence the way the collected data is interpreted.

So does secular rationality actually fail when faced with its own presuppositions? We can only wait and see, but I would posit that, yes, it does. Mankind is a “limited”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/09/05/finite-to-infinite-2/, “finite”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/04/05/finite-to-infinite/ creature, and as such our abilities to know and understand will always be subject to that limitation. If science, by itself, reveals anything to us with regard to the origins of everything that is, it will be that we can never know everything and that some ‘secrets’, like how the universe began or where mankind came from, will never be answered by science alone.

But don’t mind me – those’re just my presuppositions talking.

Ever At Odds

I’ve been grappling with my feelings about an ongoing conversations I’ve been watching for the past few days. Long-time readers of this site know that I strive to always be respectful of the beliefs and opinions of everyone who comes here, even when those opinions are very different from my own. As a result I have won some unlikely friends and subscribers, and we have had some lively and engaging discussions, as a result. What I have struggled with lately is the debate between three particular groups that seems to have soured all parties involved.

I believe that apologetics are important. Generally, when one thinks of apologetics, they think of the formal defense of the Christian faith, but technically anyone who engages in the formal defense of their faith, whether they believe in God or not, is engaging in apologetics. The reason that I believe apologetics are important is because I think it is crucial that a person know what it is they believe and the fundamental reasons behind that knowledge. I mean, how else can a person stand on their faith and beliefs if they do not know the ‘why’ of said beliefs?

I’ve been watching a virtual apologetic slug-fest for a few days now. The three groups I have seen thus far are: 1) atheists intent on breaking down the Christian faith by showing its logical leaps and fallacies; 2) Christians reacting to said atheist arguments; and 3) other Christians in conflict with the former group of Christians over various issues, including the proper approach to apologetics and whether apologetics are even necessary. What I see is a lot of sarcasm, cynicism, and derision; snide remarks, caustic questions, and critical allegations. What I see is a debate that is merely spinning its wheels in the mud, with any headway in the argument being completely stalled because everyone is pushing against each other in a reactionary manner rather than working and talking together to gain a better understanding of one another and of Truth. As you might imagine, it’s frustrating to watch. I’ve been tempted to chime in a time or two, add my own viewpoint and perspective, but I really wonder if it would even make a difference. I think it probably would not, and so I have not.

I’m all for firmly standing on what one believes. I don’t like dealing with wishy-washy people ((So, when I’m wishy-washy about something because I don’t completely what I believe myself, I’m usually pretty frustated with myself.)), so I have a great deal of respect for an individual who knows what he believes and can back that belief up with reasonable, rational arguments. ((And yes, even statements of faith can be rational, contrary to what some might tell you.)) What I can’t abide is that same individual having a condescending and arrogant attitude about his beliefs, arguing with you about your beliefs simply for the sake of having conflict and with no intention of coming to an understanding with each other.

It’s difficult to determine attitude on the Internet. All we have are words to read. There is little to no inflection added to indicate tone or soften a seemingly harsh turn of phrase. So, something that reads like sarcasm or arrogance may not actually be so. Yet given enough time with the dialogue, one should be able to pick up from the response of the opposing party that one’s own words are being taken as sarcastic and arrogant, and one should then make an effort to couch one’s words from that point onward in softer language that conveys respect and humility. It’s tough, I know, but it’s well worth the effort in the longrun and greater strides are made at mutually beneficial discussion.

I’m watching harsh words be flung about haphazardly, words that contain bitterness and cold resentment, words that strike out with anger, and I think to myself, This ought not be. But I am helpless to do anything about it.

My faith is important to me, and it is important to me to be able to defend it to those who might call it into question. But I find it unreasonable to defend it with sarcasm and arrogance because in doing so, I validate the point of my challenger and forever turn him or her off to the message of Hope that I carry with me. Why do so few see the damaging affect that their words have on the hearts and minds of others? And when faced with the truth of what their words do, why do they then shrug that revelation off so that they may continue as before?

Hard are men’s hearts and blind are men’s eyes when they are confronted by Truth yet do not recognize nor heed it.

To all who come here, to all who read my words, know that you are welcome here and that you are welcome to present and discuss your beliefs in this forum. I cannot do anything about the others who do not seem to be truly open to discussion, but I can continue to assure that this will be a place of sanctuary, where people are free to believe as they will and are free to talk about their beliefs without animosity or rancor. I welcome you with arms wide open and hope that you will choose to stay awhile.

Apologetics

I used to think, as a kid, that apologetics was a method for apologizing for something. When I learned about it in the context of religious faith, I kind of figured that apology was not really what apologetics was all about, since I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to apologize for their faith. It took me a while to understand that apologetics is really just the act of studying religious beliefs with the intent to defend and prove them.

Over the years, apologetics has taken on an important role in the Christian faith. In some circles it has acquired an almost fanatical undertone, with believers arguing over every trivial detail of their respective theologies. In the process apologetics has, in some ways, almost replaced sacred text itself, with more emphasis being placed on the “teacher of a particular belief system”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=317 than on the God whom we all (supposedly) serve. I have said it many times, and will continue to say, that beyond the basic Gospel message itself, the rest of the theological details are, to some extent, far more trivial and thus far less important. This means that apologetics should not, in all likelihood, be taken quite as seriously as some Christians would like to believe.

On the other hand, I have seen it taken too far to the other extreme, with apologetics being almost ignored. Again, I think this is a product of a post-modern culture, where so few people, relatively speaking, are sure that truth can ever really be known. As a result we have many Christians, both young and old alike, who are almost completely unable to give an answer for the beliefs that they hold. This is an unfortunate situation. If an individual does not know the reasons for their beliefs, then their beliefs are not and cannot be central in their lives. Their beliefs cannot serve as that guiding light of righteous living that is so important in the daily Christian walk.

I’ve watched many Christians my age stumble and falter when challenged about their beliefs. And sadly, I’ve watched many of them change their beliefs to ones that are counter to Scripture, simply on the basis that they do not know enough to defend their stances. I don’t think that we are doing enough to teach new Christians the beliefs of our faith, let alone how to defend them. The Bible _does_ have all the answers, and those answers _can_ be known. But we seem to have taken a carefree, lackadaisical approach to teaching the doctrine of the Christian faith, and so when faced with the fire of secularism, many Christians buckle and either recant their faith and accept beliefs that contradict the very teachings of their own faith.

Apologetics can be overdone to the point of being divisive, but at the same time, I do think that they are so very important and foundational to being able to stand strong in the face of opposition. I’m not an expert in apologetics, and I find it sad and somewhat discouraging that, compared to so many of my peers, I _am_ viewed as an expert in Christian beliefs. My goal, then, is to do my part to train both my generation and the next in apologetics of our faith so that we _will_ always “be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us”:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=67&chapter=3&verse=15&version=31&context=verse.

Erroneous Assumptions

I’ve enjoyed reading “The Banana Republican”:http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com. Every single one of his entries is short yet extremely intellectually stimulating. Naturally, most of the thoughts expressed there are based on certain assumptions and presuppositions, and as a result, some of the logical steps look a little ‘leapish’, but it is enough to get the ol’ mental juices flowing. ((The only thing I wish he would do is allow commenting on his site. I love being able to leave feedback.))

Here’s one from today:

bq. Negative Bible critics wrongly assume that the unexplained is unexplainable, forget the Bible’s human characteristics, assume the Bible is guilty of error unless proven innocent, confuse interpretations with revelation, assume a partial report is a false report, fail to understand the context, presume that the Bible approves of everything it records, neglect to note literary devices, assume divergent accounts are false, forget that only the original text is inerrant, assume round numbers are false, confuse general statements with universal statements, and forget that later revelation supersedes earlier revelation. “#”:http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com/2006/02/negative-bible-critics-wrongly-assume.html

Several excellent points raised here, very adequately and succinctly stated:

bq. Negative Bible critics wrongly assume that the unexplained is unexplainable…

Try, for instance, the Trinity. How is it possible to have one Being that is actually three separate Beings and still have them be perfectly united as one. How can they maintain their separateness if they are the same? Or, the God-manhood of Jesus. How do you have an individual that is at the same time 100% God and 100% man. It doesn’t logically compute, yet the Bible states that it is, in fact, truth. It is not explained, but that does not necessarily mean it is unexplainable.

bq. …forget the Bible’s human characteristics…

Except where it is convenient to do so. Critics of the Bible are quick to point out the supposed contradictions in the Bible and claim that it is demonstrative of an inconsistent God. Or they want to point out that the Bible was written by men and therefore it is impossible for it to be truthful or accurate.

bq. …assume the Bible is guilty of error unless proven innocent…

Easy assumption to make, since every other book in existence has errors of some kind. ((Or tends to develop errors over time.)) But yes, they are quick to accuse and never allow the chance for supporters of the Bible to demonstrate how it is in no way guilty of error.

bq. …confuse interpretations with revelation…

Bingo. This is a biggie. Every single English translation has some error contained within it. That’s the nature of translation and why Biblical scholars place such heavy emphasis on the original manuscripts.

bq. …assume a partial report is a false report…

How true. Many places in the Bible only a partial record of events is given. Critics claim that this means the stories much be false, which is a logical fallacy. ‘A’ does not necessarily beget ‘B’, or ‘A partial record does not necessarily mean that the event did not occur.’

bq. …fail to understand the context…

Context is, in fact, often ignored. It’s actually a problem even within Christian circles. It’s easy to quote something as support for your arguments, only to find that, upon close examination of the original context, the passage does not actually say what you are trying to get it to say. Context is of tantamount importance.

bq. …presume that the Bible approves of everything it records…

How often have I heard someone accuse God of being unjust or unrighteous because of something they read in the Bible? ((Especially if someone else did it.)) Just because God allowed someone in the Bible to get away with an unjust crime does not mean that He endorsed it. The Bible is pretty clear, in fact, that in the end, justice will be leveled to all men and crimes will be punished once and for all.

bq. …neglect to note literary devices…

Another biggie. Literacy devices populate the Bible just as much as any other literary work. ((More, in some places.))

bq. …assume divergent accounts are false…

Psychology has shown that three people can see the same event and report that event in three different ways. Does that mean that any or all of the accounts are false? Not necessarily, since different perspectives provide unique lessons.

bq. …forget that only the original text is inerrant…

This being the original Hebrew for the Old Testament and the original Greek for the New. Even Christians forget that sometimes, and find themselve embroiled in bitter battles over which English translation ((KJV, anyone?)) is inspired. ((Answer: none.))

bq. …assume round numbers are false…

Ah, yes. Don’t we see this even in our news media? Numbers are often rounded up or down for the sake of ease of reporting? In such cases, the numbers are not what is important; it is the events that actually took place that are. The same goes for the Bible. In the cases where the numbers are important, they are precise. In the cases where they aren’t, they’re rounded.

bq. …confuse general statements with universal statements…

General statements are subject to some debate. If A happens, then B generally happens as a result. With universal statements there is no room for debate. If A happens, then B will always, absolutely happen. A little bit of study and discernment helps elucidate which statements in the Bible are general ((e.g. Proverbs)) and which are universal. ((e.g. the Gospel))

bq. …and forget that later revelation supersedes earlier revelation.

Absolutely. That’s the beauty of “understanding the Bible in its entire context”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=218. You get to see the progression of God’s relationship with mankind throughout time. Part of that progression is seeing how Christ’s work on the cross gave us new revelation that allows us greater access and deeper fellowship with the Father.

Great, thought-provoking thoughts, Will.