Can Your Christianity Be Disproven?

Are you open to the possibility of being wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me state it right at the start. I am not doubting Christianity. I am not writing from a position of doubt. I am convinced that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Despite that, I should always be open to being wrong. This hit home again for me reading Zondervan’s Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy.

Al Mohler has the first chapter and in it, he pretty much equates inerrancy with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or CSBI. For Mohler, it seems difficult to imagine inerrancy that does not conform to this statement and if Jesus and Paul or anyone else is an inerrantist, then they would have signed on entirely with the CSBI. That is too much of an assumption I think to make, but a major problem came when I read his response to problem passages that Zondervan asked each person to write on.

In the Kindle version at location 772, I read the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

Well, yes. This position is very radical. Naturally, if the Bible is inerrant and is true in all it claims and teaches, then if it says X, then X is true. Yet at the same time, if God is the God of reality and has written two books as it were with nature and Scripture, then we should expect that nothing outside of Scripture will contradict Scripture.

The problem is that this is the very claim under question. How do we know the Bible is inerrant? Do we start with that as a presupposition or do we reach it as a conclusion? If we say the former, why do this with the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

Let’s picture Al Mohler in a discussion with a Mormon. This Mormon holds to the position on the Book of Mormon that Mohler holds to on the Bible. Mohler goes and points out many archaeological difficulties with the Book of Mormon. The Mormon does not change his position. Why? Because he says he won’t allow any line of evidence from outside the Book of Mormon to conflict with the Book of Mormon.

Now Mohler goes to a Muslim. The Muslim is convinced that the Koran says that Jesus did not get crucified or die on a cross. Mohler goes to several lines of evidence to show that Jesus was crucified, but the Muslim is unconvinced. After all, no line of evidence outside of the Koran is allowed to contradict the Koran.

Are the Muslim and Mormon being unreasonable here? Yep. The sad thing is, so is Mohler. What is being said is a way of saying the double-theory of truth is true. By this, something could be true in the world outside of the Bible and something else contradictory true in the Bible. May it never be!

This is also one reason why I don’t say something like “Show me the bones of Jesus and I’ll abandon Christianity.” If we were to hypothetically say that Jesus never rose from the dead, it seems strange to think that not only would His bones be here, but that we could tell they were His bones. I instead ask people to give me a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that the church itself gave that explains the data agreed to by critical scholars.

If we want to evangelize people, it is disingenuous for us to tell them that they must be ready to abandon their worldview and accept ours upon conflicting evidence, but we are not doing the same. Some might think that that is a risk. It is only a risk if you think that Christianity could be false. If you are convinced you are right, it is not a risk. Even if you turned out to be wrong, you should be thankful. After all, who wants to believe something that is false?

I cannot go with the position of Mohler. I am convinced it is a blind faith and it makes inerrancy the central doctrine when the resurrection is. I believe in the Bible because I believe in the resurrection. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in the Bible.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Special Edition Deeper Waters Podcast: Sean McDowell

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Evidence. It’s a favorite word of the apologist. Many skeptics think we don’t want to talk about evidence, but in reality we do. We would love it if more conversations revolved around evidence. The question is, do we have the evidence that we need?

Josh McDowell’s books on Evidence That Demands A Verdict has long been a staple for many. Now, he has a new updated one out that he has done with his son Sean. Recognizing the need, I asked to be part of the launch team and so I have indeed gone through most of it and this Friday, in a special edition of the show, I will be interviewing one of the authors, Sean McDowell, on this book.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a Biblical worldview. Sean is an Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. And he is the Resident Scholar for Summit California.

Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps give him exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors, and parents alike. In 2008 he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, California. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities, and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism, and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times.

Sean is the author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015), A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016), The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour 2016), Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014), Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow, and Understanding Intelligent Design along with William A. DembskiSean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter, and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the General Editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker JournalDecision Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.

In April, 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean played college basketball at Biola University and was the captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

We’ll be having an hour-long discussion about this book, the impact the series has had through the years, and why you should get the new version. Sean has been a great guest before and I look forward to having him back on again. This will not cancel out the Saturday show. We will still have that. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Your Facebook Isn’t Helping My Skepticism

Is what you’re sharing making it harder for someone to come to Christ? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Why should you be cautious about what you share on Facebook? Could it affect someone long-term? What would someone say to us if they could speak to us about this?

“Dear Christian,

I have been your friend for awhile and I see you post sometimes on Facebook. I like you posting pictures of your family and such and some of those funny videos. I understand you will also post from time to time on things that we disagree on and that reasonable people can disagree on. You can post on politics for instance and even if I don’t share your views, I understand that someone can be reasonable and still have them.

I also understand that you have a right to be skeptical of claims as well. If you’re skeptical of evolution, well I don’t share that, but I can understand it. Yet at the same time, I worry that you claim skepticism here, but when it comes to something that agrees with you, you’re not skeptical. I also do not see you as really investigating claims.

Why? Because when I see you post something on Facebook sometimes, it’s something that I not only know is false, but I can readily demonstrate it’s false. I can tell that it’s a story that has been made up and has no factual basis. I can understand getting caught from time to time. We all make mistakes. I am talking about regularly doing this kind of thing. Why should I trust you to be posting the truth when I can see that what you shared is false in just a couple of minutes of looking it up?

You see, you make this claim that to me is incredibly bizarre. You claim that God lived among us as a man 2,000 years ago and died on a cross and rose from the dead. I’m sure you’d agree with me that that’s a strong claim. You say that you base your entire life on this claim. You say that this is the most important belief that you hold.

The problem is that this isn’t a belief that I can as easily check. I will have to do a lot of reading and study on the topic and decide what to believe. Yet when you share readily stories that are false that I know to be bogus or can easily show to be bogus, why should I trust you on the matters that I cannot reasonably check so easily? How do I know that you aren’t just as gullible when it comes to religion as you are when it comes to a story you read on the internet?

You see, I want to know that you check all the claims you make to the best of your ability. If you’re not, then maybe you’re not with this claim, and there are plenty of Christians out there I meet who give me no reason to believe their story beyond what they feel and their personal testimony. They have no idea whatsoever about historical research. Maybe you’re just like them.

In fact, I can tell you’re being objective if there’s an argument that would help your conclusion and you reject it because the argument just doesn’t work, even if you agree with the conclusion. It shows me you’re interested in more than just a goal. Truth is what matters to you.

If truth does matter to you, please show it. Take the time to look up a story before sharing it. If I cannot trust you with the stories that I can check, why should I trust you with the stories that are much harder to check?

Your skeptical friend.”

 

 

To be fair, there are far too many skeptics who will fall into this boat as well and many skeptics are just like Christians when it comes to this. My main problem is with Christians doing this since we are supposed to say that we are people of truth and committed to the truth. Many skeptics will not be as reasonable as the person that I have role-played and it is a rare exception when I meet one who is willing to read the literature.

I have said it many times but it often needs to be said. Please check on what you share Christian. Every time you share something easily shown to be false, you destroy your credibility in the eyes of unbelievers out there. Why should they trust you on the major things when they can’t trust you on the minor things?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Reply On Jesus’s Existence To World Future Fund

Is there evidence for Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, someone posted on Facebook asking about this article. It was material that they had never come across before. I can sympathize because people who don’t buy into conspiracy theories and such will ever come across Jesus mythicism. If all you read was the best scholarly literature on the historical Jesus, you’d never catch it.

Yes. I know so many atheist fanboys are screaming Richard Carrier, but no. He’s not the best. He doesn’t teach at an accredited university and his book he wanted to have an impact is hardly known anywhere. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s just reality.

We’re told that the time Jesus lived is one of the most heavily documented in ancient history. That could be debated, but let’s just go with it. What of it? We are told there are no contemporary records. Of course, this is excluding the New Testament because, you know, if it’s in the Bible it’s automatically thrown out, a rule not followed by critical non-Christian scholars of the New Testament, but hey, who cares about consistency?

Unrealized of course is that if you went by this standard, you would have to deny many figures in ancient history such as Hannibal or Queen Boudica or the German Arminius. Are we going to see any Hannibal mythicists who will tell us the Punic Wars were a story made up by Rome to increase their reputation of defeating a great opponent to show how awesome in battle they were? Doubtful, but it would be the consistent outcome.

We’re also told a reign of terror was started when Christianity seized power and Eusebius was asked to write a church history. Little problem. Christianity was only legalized under Constantine. It was over 60 years later before it “seized power” as it were. Naturally, we’re also told Christianity was responsible for the Library of Alexandria being destroyed. Oh! What sources are cited for this? Gibbon is in the sources, but there’s no correspondence above to the note. At any rate, I recommend someone like Tim O’Neill for this.

At this, I suspect some skeptics reading might say I’m referring to another Christian so why bother? Well let’s see what O’Neill says about himself in the article where he takes Gibbon to task.

As an atheist, I’m clearly no fan of fundamentalism – even the 1500 year old variety (though modern manifestations tend to be the ones to watch out for). And as an amateur historian of science I’m more than happy with the idea of a film that gets across the idea that, yes, there was a tradition of scientific thinking before Newton and Galileo. But Amenabar has taken the (actually, fascinating) story of what was going on in Alexandria in Hypatia’s time and turned it into a cartoon, distorting history in the process.

Also, how do these people think we have works from the pagan world at all? Do they want to take a guess who was copying them? Was all of it done secretly by closet pagans for well over a thousand years? Do they not realize it was Christians preserving all these works from being destroyed?

Of course, they don’t.

The next source we get is Josephus.

This brief piece of evidence which supposedly contributed the best “proof” of Jesus’s existence has actually been proven to be a fraud. It has been demonstrated continuously over the centuries that “Testamonium Flavium” was a forgery manufactured by the Catholic Church, and was inserted into Josephus’s works. The Testamonium Flavium account is so thoroughly refuted, that biblical scholars since the 19th century have refused to refer to it, unless to mention its false nature.

Odd. I read Bible scholars regularly and never do I hear them saying that this is a fraud. Note that World Future Fund. I read scholars. I don’t read people on the internet who like to claim to be scholars but aren’t. The Testimonium is no doubt said to have some parts that are interpolation, but much of it still stands as accurate. There is also the second reference to Jesus in Josephus which largely depends on the first. That isn’t even questioned by WFF. My friend James Hannam has looked at several of the scholarly works as well and written an article here.

We continue.

Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is said about the epistles which contain our earliest references to the historical Jesus. Naturally, WFF goes with a conspiracy theory of sorts. If they want to know why other Gospels weren’t included, there’s a good reason. For one thing, they didn’t have apostolic authority. A Gospel needed to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. The early church worked to trace the origins of the Gospels they had and found them to come from those in the Jesus tradition. This wasn’t so with the later Gospels. This is one topic I discussed with biblical scholar Charles Hill here.

As for dating, there’s no links here so we don’t know what scholars are being relied on. Decades later is hardly a problem in the ancient world. As for conflicting accounts, we also have two conflicting accounts on how Hannibal tried to conquer Rome. By the standard of these writers then, Hannibal never existed.

We go on.

There is widespread belief that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians; however, there are many holes in this theory.

This belief comes from the account of the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 CE) about how Emperor Nero (37 – 68 CE) blamed the burning of Rome on “those people who were abhorred for their crimes and commonly called Christians.” The passage then states that the fire agitators were followers of “Christus” who “was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The passage then also states that Christians constituted a “vast multitude at Rome” and goes on to discuss the ghastly ways in which they were persecuted.

However, there are many troubling details about the historical accuracy of this passage. Some critics call into question whether Tacitus wrote this account at all, or if it was yet another forgery. Around the date of Nero’s Fire, 64 AD, there were no “multitude of Christians” in Rome. At this time, there was not even a multitude of Christians in Judea. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that Nero would refer to Christians in this way.

It would be interesting to know who these critics are who say Tacitus is a forgery. Certainly no scholars of Tacitus. The text also speaks of Christians in such abhorrent terms that it’s nothing that the Christians themselves would make up. As for a multitude, the problem is that this is a term that is vague. A multitude does not have to have any set number of people. It just has to have a crowd that is deemed sizable enough to make a difference in some way. Again, this isn’t a problem for scholars in the field.

This is also the only mention of Christians in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes

This is also the only mention of Pontius Pilate in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes. What of it? I’m surprised frankly that Tacitus even mentioned Jesus once.

Also, the supposed persecution of the Christians by Nero is not recorded by any other historian of Nero’s time. If the persecution of Christians were really that widespread, wouldn’t other historians be writing about it?

No. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was wide-known and killed 250,000 people and destroyed two cities yet for historians writing about it, you need to wait until Cassius Dio in the third century. You have allusions to it elsewhere and an off-the-cuff remark between Pliny and Tacitus, but no. Historians weren’t writing about it. Obviously, it was a myth. The Christians were more of a nuisance group. Why write about them?

In addition to the Testomonium Flavianum, there exists another tenuous piece of evidence that some have tried to use as proof for the existence of Jesus. The Roman Historian, Pliny The Younger (62-113CE), wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan in 110 CE requesting his assistance in the proper punishment of a group of “Christiani” who were causing trouble and would not bow to the image of the emperor. According to Pliny, these Christiani would meet before daylight and sing hymns with responses to “Christ as God.”

However, this letter does not provide concrete evidence for the existence of Jesus as a person since it makes no direct mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to his life. Also, there are many critics who have argued that this letter is a forgery.

It should be noted that the most oft given source here is Acharya S.’s Truth Be Known web site. Again, hardly a scholarly source and perhaps one should see the other myths Acharya has embraced before jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. At any rate, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Well if the WFF wants to name another Jesus that would seem to match the account in Pliny, they’re welcome to try! Also, I know of no scholar who thinks this letter is a forgery.

And finally,

The last piece of questionable historical evidence we’ll discuss here is the passage in Suetonius’s Life of Claudius, dating around 110 CE. There is a reference in this work to a figure named “Chresto” who caused the Jews to riot in Rome. First of all, if Jesus Christ did exist, it is not possible that he would have been in Rome at this time. Claudius reigned from 41-54 CE, this is at the time of Christ’s alleged crucifixion.

The reference is to Chrestus and some think Suetonius was just confused here. It doesn’t mean that the Chrestus was in Rome (Yes folks. Biblical scholars and historians had never figured out until now that Jesus never went to Rome.), but that the riots were about him. This is one source I would be more hesitant on using, but I still lean towards it being one to Jesus.

Naturally, we saw no scholarly evidence being cited in this reference and instead just speaking of conspiracy theories. Jesus mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists. I have to admit honestly I’m a bit thankful for it. The more mythicism spreads, the more Christians can build up real scholarship and corner a future market and the more atheists can destroy their own intellectual credibility. I know many atheists have not jumped on this bandwagon and are more open to evidence, but we see in mythicism that even atheism has a fundamentalism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is This Apologetics Stuff Really Necessary?

Does it really matter if we do apologetics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So we’ve been going over apologetics basics lately and some of you might think it sounds like a lot of work. Is this something we really need to do? Can’t we just take our children to church every Sunday and expect them to turn out okay? It’s good if you’re wondering that. Let’s talk about why it matters.

Would you really consider doing something like this in any other situation? Would you say that you take your child to the doctor so regularly health habits at home to take care of their body aren’t necessary? Would you say you have your child in school so their studying on their own isn’t really necessary? Would you say that you live with your spouse every day so working to maintain your marriage really isn’t necessary?

Why do you take care of all these things? You do so because you think they’re important and they require diligence to maintain. Why not treat faith the same way?

Next, let’s suppose you want people to believe in Christianity. Why? Do you want to believe in Jesus because that will make them into a good person? Do you want them to believe because you want them to go to Heaven? Do you want them to believe because they will avoid Hell? Those can be good reasons, but they are not the reasons. All those reasons depend on Christianity being true. The promise of Heaven and the warning of Hell only matter if Christianity is true. Being a good person is great, but would you want that goodness to be based on truth or not?

So let’s look at the main reason someone should believe in Christianity. In fact, it’s the reason that we should believe in anything. It’s true. What do we mean when we say it’s true? Do we mean it makes you a good person? No. Do we mean it’s a great moral system? No. Do we mean that it brings joy in life? No. Those could all be true, but none of those state what it means to say Christianity is true.

What it means is this. You believe that Jesus, a person who is fully man and fully God, came on Earth, proclaimed the Kingdom of God, worked miracles, was crucified, buried, and rose bodily again from the dead and that He calls for allegiance from everyone. You believe forgiveness is found only in Him. These are indeed amazing claims.

Let’s grant the new atheists something on this. When they say that if you were told your spouse was cheating on you, you’d want evidence, but when you’re told the above, you think it’s a virtue to blindly believe, they have a point. Unfortunately, that does describe many Christians. If you don’t have a reason that you should believe other than your personal feelings, then why should anyone else.

Would you want your marriage to be maintained on personal feelings? Would you want your employment to be based on personal feelings? Would you want your relationship with your children to be based on personal feelings? Of course not. These are good when they come, but one can’t make a steady diet out of them, because those feelings will fade from time to time for any number of reasons.

How about instead having another reason? How about having something historical? Now it could be you evangelize someone and your personal testimony is enough, but what if it isn’t? Do you want to be caught flat-footed? Do you want to tell people Jesus is the most important aspect of your life and not be prepared when people ask you for any evidence of the reality of this? Do you want to say you’ve never thought like this about the most important aspect of your life? Or what you say is the most important aspect?

This is especially so for parents. Often times, you’re sending your children to college with about a dozen years of Sunday School vs. a professor with twenty-five years of atheism. Do you really think this is a fair fight? Do you really think your children have a chance? Now sure, some who abandon the faith come back later, but look at all the time they spend away and some of their most important choices are made in that time, such as marriage and career choices. All this time they could be a testimony of Jesus. Instead, they’re a testimony against Christians as long as they’re apostate.

Not only that, but this will help you more to realize the importance of a holy life. This will be something you can say is a reality. This will give you confidence in your evangelism. There won’t be people you’re scared to evangelize because they might have questions. You can’t specialize in every worldview out there. You’re not going to be an expert on every religious group and non-religious group in the world. You can be someone who knows your own worldview at least so you can have something to talk about when you meet someone who doesn’t believe what you believe.

Of course, some of you could be wondering how you can fit this into your schedule. You don’t have time to be a scholar. What do you do?

That’s for another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: An Atheist Defends Religion

What do I think of Bruce Sheiman’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s hard to know what to think when you see a title of An Atheist Defends Religion. You might think a similar title could be A Jew defends Adolf Hitler or A Christian defends Muslim terrorists. The two seem so antithetical. Why on Earth would an atheist want to defend religion? Isn’t religion the bane of the atheist’s existence? Unfortunately, if we start thinking out that way, we start thinking out wrong. In fact, we are thinking in a fundamentalist way that Sheiman in his book condemns that has created an us vs. them climate. Ironically, as Sheiman argues, this only makes the situation worse for atheism and in turn for science (Which is not to be equated with atheism either) since generally, for most of the public, if they’re asked to choose between religion and science, they’ll go with religion.

Sheiman does not hold back in saying he is an atheist in the book, but he also considers himself an aspiring theist. He does not like the worldview presented by atheism. I do appreciate greatly his honesty at this point. Sheiman wants to follow the evidence where it leads and while he would like to believe in God, he says he just cannot bring himself to do it now. I do not know what is holding him back and that could be another conversation some day to have, but I do know that belief is not a lightswitch that you can just turn off and on. We need to have people believe because they think something is more likely than not to be true.

Sheiman also does not see atheism as a form of intellectual triumphalism. I find this to be an excellent point to make as well. There are intelligent people on both sides, but I find way too often that the atheists I meet have the attitude that if you don’t believe in God, you’re automatically rational. My wife saw yesterday as we were leaving church a billboard for rationalists.org saying that if you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone. Now I have no problem with unbelievers getting together and discussing atheism and agnosticism. I have a problem with that being labeled as rational, as if if you are a theist, you are automatically irrational. This mindset I have come to call presuppositional atheism.

That having been said, if you’re interested in the God debate, you won’t find much in the book. Sheiman is not going to take you through the arguments pro or con and weigh them out. Instead, he’s going to defend religion as a cultural phenomenon. God might not be around in Sheiman’s world to do us good, but the belief in God is doing good. This will come out in ethics, in giving to charity, in the health of people who are religious, and even in the advancement of civilization and science. Atheism does not have this. It is bankrupt as an ideology. It does not inspire like religion does and it has a gloomy picture of the world, despite what many atheists say.

At this point, atheists might want to trot out the evils done in religion, but on location 186, Sheiman has an answer:

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

It’s easy to speak about all the evils brought about by theism if you just ignore all the good things and look at only what you think is evil (And much of that is misunderstood!). The same atheists who often do this tend to ignore the millions killed by atheist leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot, all of which must boil down to a coincidence. When atheists want to see the real legacy of theism, they too often want to exclude any possibility that the Dark Ages idea is a myth, Christianity did nothing to bring about civilization, and want to happily ignore that as they drive down the street they can pass so many hospitals with religious terminology in their names. Have theists many times done evil? Absolutely. That is not because theism is evil, though it could be, but because of another belief we all have strong empirical evidence for. Humans are very prone to doing evil.

As we go through, the start is that religion gives some people meaning to life. Sheiman admits this saying he thinks religion is false and therefore he cannot embrace that meaning. He believes science is true, but it lacks that meaning. Science can tell us many fascinating and wonderful things, and then what? We can also learn that all that we have is going to die in the cold death of a universe that neither knows nor cares. As Bertrand Russell said

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

(A Free Man’s Worship)

The caveat I have at this point, which will be expanded on later, is to say “Could not both stories be true?” As a Christian, I have no problem saying that science gives us loads of factual information about the world. On the other hand, I have no problem saying God has revealed Himself in Scripture, in Christ, in creation, and in morality. I just wish readers to keep this in their mind as we will discuss it later.

Sheiman also argues that religion leads to greater care of humanity. This is not because religious people want a “Get out of Hell free card” or want to earn bonus points with God. We know God would see right through such things after all. We do this because they see the ultimate example in God. This is especially so for Christians like myself who believe in the incarnation and see the way God lived among us. Who after all would be foolish enough to deny the impetus to good living that the life of Jesus has left on this world? (Unfortunately, I know many who would I think be foolish enough to do just that.)

Sheiman considers it a shame that while religion could motivate some people to do evil, that that is emphasized while all the simple small deeds done in the name of religion are ignored. Most of these will in fact go unnoticed because a lot of religious people who do them do not like to claim recognition for their good deeds. I myself have made it a point often to do a kind act for someone when they can’t see it and then to get away as soon as I can before they find out that I did it for them. It’s nice to be praised for something, but you should not do something because you will be praised for it.

Sheiman also argues that religious people give far more and he has the data to back it up. He gives an example of a Methodist bishop asking for $10 donations to help African children facing malaria. They wanted to buy nets to protect them from mosquitoes. Within minutes, $14,000 had been raised. Atheists can argue that they can give just as much, and no doubt they can, but the same incentive and motivation is not there. Sheiman humorously says on page 40 that militant atheists want the benefits of religion without religion, just like wanting the taste of chocolate without wanting to have the calories.

If someone wants to point to science here, Sheiman has no reason to listen to them. Science paints a dismal picture of selfish genes and the survival of the fittest and that we come from a blind evolutionary process that did not see us coming. The thinking of Harris and Dawkins that morality can be derived from science escapes Sheiman. He is not the only one it escapes. In fact, his chief example of this kind of thinking is Peter Singer. Sheiman says in response to Singer that while he likes the idea of treating animals more like humans, he just can’t have the enthusiasm for the idea of treating humans more like animals.

The next chapter is about religion being union with the divine. I do not have much to say here as I do not really have experience with mystical experiences.

Next we move to mental happiness and health. Those who are religious according to Sheiman tend to be healthier. They also tend to have better marriages. Both of these can be seen to fit because religious belief can often be optimistic. (Despite still many of my fellow Christians who I think are pessimists when it comes to prophecy.) Many of us believe the most awesome being of all loves us unconditionally. With our marriages, if we’re Christians, we believe that we have an example in Jesus Christ. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives love their husbands as the church loves Christ.

Of course, there will be people who struggle in their marriages and who struggle with issues like depression who are theists, but the odds of being one are less if you are a theist. In fact, if you do struggle in these areas, your struggle could be made easier because of your theistic beliefs. You can always have someone to fall back on, namely God. Recently I started reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. He points out that if you enter marriage expecting your spouse to provide what only God can provide, you’re going to have a marriage that suffers. Those who look to God to be their savior instead of their spouse will have happier marriages. Overall, theism will mean a better life with marriage and health.

We next move to religion being a force for progress. In our day and age on the internet, it’s common to see the graph that is meant to indicate the hole left by the “Dark Ages.”

stupidchart

An atheist like Tim O’Neill has thankfully helped to shatter this into a million pieces. Despite what atheists think, science was on the rise in that period. I really do not think the Enlightenment contributed much new to the situation. Do we have any reason to think Christian scientists would have stopped studying creation? In fact, if religion has been a driving force in the world, then that we are here now and got to the point where science was possible should show that religion has not been the impediment it is said to be.

Sheiman also attributes to this the rise in the belief in equality of humanity and the abolition of slavery. The reason these came to be accepted was because of a religious belief in the equality of humanity, including passages like Galatians 3:28. If all mankind is in the image of God, should we not treat each person that we meet as if they were indeed someone who bore the image of God?

The sixth chapter is on fundamentalism and violence, and this is quite an amusing one as I contend there are fundamentalist atheists just as much as there are fundamentalist Christians. When it comes to the violence, Sheiman argues that much of the violence is political in nature rather than religious. It could use religion to push it further, but it could just as easily use, say, belief in evolution to push it further. This would not argue that evolution is false, so why should religion being used to promote violence be seen as an indicator that religious beliefs are false? Those stand or fall on other grounds. As Sheiman says on page 117:

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

Sheiman also argues that those who are violent and we would think psychotic tend to be some of the most normal people. The difference is they’re just constantly surrounded by like-minded people. Keep in mind the 9/11 terrorists blended in quite successfully with the American culture they were hiding in. Unfortunately, when these people get together, they tend to reinforce each other’s own radical ideas. This is not just the area of religion. Atheists can do the exact same thing. Atheists can even have their own Messiahs, such as a Utopian idea brought about through fascism, or the idea that science is the guiding light that is going to save us all. Consider these statements as well, On page 124 we read:

“Recent research cited by Cass Sunstein, for example, has shown that people with a particular political orientation who join a like-minded group emerge from that group with stronger political leanings than they started with. “In almost every group,” Sunstein writes, “people ended up with more extreme positions …. The result is group polarization, which occurs when like-minded people interact and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations.” And with the Internet added to the fundamentalist equation, it is now easier than ever for extremists of all types to find their ideological soul mates and reinforce their radical thinking.”

Consider this with one of my favorite groups to show as an example, Jesus mythicists. It’s on the internet that you get this crazy idea being popularized that Jesus never existed and it relies on some of the worst conspiracy theory thinking. I put these people in the same group as 9-11 truthers or anti-vaccination people. Still, internet atheists can get together and applaud themselves as being rational people who see past the smoke and mirrors. Interestingly, these people who are often opposed to Intelligent Design (And I am not advocating that) because it is “on the fringe” do not realize that their belief systems are even more on the fringe. At least with ID, you have a number of PH.D.s in the field who hold to this, though definitely a great minority. In the field of mythicism, you could count them on one hand.

In fact, Sheiman in speaking of these fundamentalists say they’re often just as closed-minded as their counterparts. One difference is that I have met many conservative Christians, like myself, who actually read the other side and seek to understand it. I do not meet many atheists who have done likewise. (Sheiman is obviously an exception.) In fact, one question I usually ask is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship in this field that disagreed with you?” Usually, I get just crickets and in fact if any such work is recommended, it is discounted immediately because the author has “bias.”

For now, let’s move on to science. I am interested in the philosophy of science and the history of science, but I do not speak about science as science. I could not, for instance, give you an argument that would show you should believe in evolution, nor would I give much of one that would show you shouldn’t. I choose to debate on questions that I know. If I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said “SBC all agrees macroevolution is a fact,” I would say “Cool” and move on. If I saw instead “National Academy of Sciences says evolution is proven false,” I would say “Cool” and move on. It doesn’t matter to me. My interpretation of Genesis does not hang on evolution.

In fact, I like the description I heard best of science and religion this way. Science and religion are opposed, much like a thumb and a finger are opposed, so that they can grasp everything between them. Unfortunately, if they are made opponents, atheists will only lower themselves. After all, if you say you cannot be a scientist if you are a religious person, then people will see science as the enemy. Sadly, there are a lot of great minds who are religious and these people will be excluded from the discussion of science and who knows what they could contribute to the field?

I am one of those who thinks science cannot offer the final proof on theism. It cannot prove or disprove theism. Hence, my wondering with what Sheiman says earlier. Could you not believe in both stories? There are many Christian scientists who do. Could not you not say both stories give truth about reality instead of having this idea perhaps unknowingly that the two stories are opposed? Science on its own would tell you that we will die in a cold death, but that’s assuming there is no outside interference. A religious person can believe that if God does not interfere, this will happen. (Note I am not using the term supernatural. I do not use it as I find it inaccurate.)

One response to this could be the one one often finds on the internet of science being either the only way to truth or the best way to truth. Sheiman says that this is scientism and not science, and rightfully so, and that this is just atheism masquerading as science. I agree wholeheartedly and such people do a disservice to science and religion both. It is as indicated earlier a belief in the salvation of science. Such people often treat scientific conclusions the way their Christian counterparts treat the Bible. I often refer to such people as not daring to question the words of prophets Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett, and anyone else who comes along. The new atheists have spoken. The case is closed.

Many atheists look at the world of science and speak of wonder, but for those of us who are religious, science alone does not bring that wonder. It is wonderful what we see, but we consider it all the more wonderful to think about the mind behind this creation. I can drive down the road and think “Wow. God made all of this.” I am amazed at that point. In reality, we are often looking at the same data. It is the belief that we bring to the data that is changing matters.

As we go on looking at this topic, I do see Sheiman talk about the literal interpretation of Scripture. This is a term I do wish many times would just die. The word “literal” has come to be in some ways meaningless. Literal often refers to a hard wooden interpretation of a text instead of a look at the text as the author intended. I happen to agree with John Walton and think that the text should not be read in light of modern scientific understanding when it comes to Genesis 1-3, but should rather be read in light of the way ancient Israelites saw the world around them.

I also disagree with Sheiman that if theism and atheism was a matter of evidence, people would be converted all the time. I think there are many other factors that influence why people believe what they believe. People in cults, for instance, are given a mindset by the cult that affects how they view and interpret evidence, including counter-evidence to their position. We could look at many Christians who get such emotional solace from their beliefs that they really cannot handle anything that goes against them. We could look at atheists who would face a social stigma if they went against their atheism or even some who would not want to abandon atheism because a belief like Christianity has something to say about their sexual lifestyles. We all know people who believe what they believe for less than intellectual reasons. Pascal years ago said that if you take the most astute philosopher and put him on a plank of sufficient size and suspend that plank over a large chasm, watch and see how quickly his emotions overtake his reason.

I did find myself disappointed by Sheiman’s argument of “Who created God?” as a question he often asks. I hold to a Thomistic view which in essence sees this as asking “What created existence?” To ask who created God becomes a question that doesn’t make sense on that since God’s nature is to be.

I also did not find the last chapter convincing with Sheiman’s way on getting the universe we have that seems to have some design without God. I kept wondering in it why this should be the case, but to be fair, I will not claim to understand all the science involved.

If there’s one thing that would definitely improve this book, it would be seeing where the quotes can be found that Sheiman gives. Many times he can give a quote and give just an author who said it without being able to know where the quote can be found. If a book is given, many times a page number is not given. I saw a number of quotes I would like to have been able to look up, but I would not be as easily able to.

Still, this is a fascinating read and one that I wish more atheists would read. We could probably have better debates if we did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

There’s No Evidence

What should you do if you meet someone who says there’s no evidence for a claim? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Twice recently I’ve seen this claim and I know I’ve seen it umpteen times before. It is the claim that there is no evidence for something like say, God. When you meet mythicists, you will be told that there is no evidence for Jesus. Of course, we all make statements like this at times, but if you meet someone who says something like that, what are you to say in response?

To start off, it would be good if you really did have something that could be considered evidence. Unfortunately, as many of us know, many times you will tell what your reasons are and you will be told that that does not count as evidence. What’s the problem here?

The problem is there is a false understanding of evidence as if evidence meant proof. You can have evidence for a claim that is false, for instance. Go watch a mystery show sometime or read a mystery novel. You can have evidence that makes you think Smith is a murderer, and in the end, you find out that Jones is the murderer. It wasn’t that the evidence was faulty or untrue. It was that it was being misunderstood in some way. The facts were all the same in the case.

There can also be such a thing as insufficient evidence for a claim. A knife that Smith owns is found at the murder scene with blood on it. Could that be evidence Smith committed the crime? Sure. It’s hardly going to be enough in itself to get a jury to find Smith guilty. Still, that can be considered evidence.

What are some other reasons people might give as evidence for believing a claim? Suppose you grew up in a Muslim community. You saw Islam your whole life. Your parents raised you as a Muslim. Every intelligent person you met was a Muslim. Would you have evidence that Islam is true? Yes. Would this be sufficient evidence? No. It might be enough to give you justification for your belief at the time, but it is not enough to convince someone outside. We could say the same for someone who was raised an atheist and we could in fact say the same for someone who was raised a Christian.

Could we even say there is evidence outside for other claims? Sure. We could say there is evidence for atheism in the problem of evil. Do I think this is sufficient evidence? Not at all. If someone pointed to a miracle with a Muslim man being healed after prayer, and I have met such, then assuming it wasn’t a Christian praying in the name of Jesus, we could say that is evidence for Islam. The key is that we have to look at all the claims that people bring to the table when they have a discussion. If we take what a person believes and just say “no evidence” we are in fact saying that they and everyone else who believes the claim believes blindly.

Now even if you’re an atheist reading this, really think about that. Do you really want to say that every single person who holds to any theistic belief whatsoever is doing so blindly without any reason whatsoever? That is indeed a huge claim and one that needs to be backed. It would be nice if such a person had evidence that they talked to everyone on the planet who holds to theism and determined this.

I suspect that they don’t.

Of course, it can’t hurt to ask for their evidence. The person has made the claim. Let them back it. If not, you can just kindly tell them you don’t believe a claim that they can’t back.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Joseph Mattera

Is “God’s Not Dead” built on a faulty foundation? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Now it’s not a secret that I did like the movie “God’s Not Dead.” In fact, I wrote a positive review of it that can be found here. Does that mean the movie was perfect? Absolutely not! Does it mean it uses the arguments that I would use? Absolutely not! If I had been the one doing the writing, I would have used different approaches and arguments. For instance, I would not use science but I would use metaphysics and I would make the emphasis also be on the resurrection of Christ.

Still, as I said in my review, I am thankful that the conversation got started. Some people have critiqued the movie, but one critique that really points to a problem not in the movie but in some of the apologetics community is that of Joseph Mattera, the overseeing bishop of resurrection church in Brooklyn. His review can be found here.

Let’s go through and see what is said.

“The problem with this movie is that it bases the defense of Christianity on the false modern (Enlightenment) assumption that human reason is the final and highest arbiter of truth, thus setting it above God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures. Hence, this movie illustrates how the basic assumption of contemporary apologetics is faulty, because if our faith is upheld and proven by human reason, then unlearned Christian students attempting to use the arguments in this movie are also vulnerable in the future to an atheistic professor who could easily take advantage of their scientific and philosophical ignorance and poke holes through these basic arguments.”

Already, I hope many readers are realizing that there is a presuppositional bent here that is going to be more strongly seen as we go through this piece. So how does it start? It is the claim that human reason is the final arbiter of truth.

This is false. To begin with, what is meant by human reason? There is simply reasoning. Now someone might say “but God says that His thoughts are not ours nor are His ways our ways.” Yes. Do you know what that passage is about? It is about how God does forgive the wicked and love them, which is not the way that we do. It’s contrasting moral behavior. It’s not making a claim about knowledge.

I know a number of things that God knows. So do you. I know 2 + 2 = 4. So does God. I know that the world exists. So does God. I know that Jesus rose from the dead. So does God. I know that God exists. So does God. If God does not know these things, then we certainly cannot say that they are true for if they are not true in the mind of God, they are not true period. Truth seeking is ultimately just thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

Note also the irony here. The whole piece is in fact then saying “Your human reason cannot be the arbiter of truth and I am going to make a case that I want you to examine with your reasoning to see if it is true.” Now of course, there will be Scriptures presented, but how does one study the Scriptures? Does one study them reasonably or unreasonably? You cannot escape reason under any circumstances! Reason is not the enemy! Bad reasoning is the enemy!

Furthermore, we are not the arbiter of truth. If I reach the conclusion “God does not exist”, that does not mean that I have made it the case that God does not exist. It means I have made it the case that as far as I’m concerned, God does not exist. I do not determine truth, but I do determine what I will believe to be true.

Now could an atheistic professor poke holes through some philosophical and scientific arguments. Sure. Yet notice this. Any argument that is true cannot truly have a hole poked through it. A bad argument for that position could, but not a true argument. It could be of course that the person cannot defend the argument well or does not understand it, but the problem is not with the argument, but it is with the presenter and the critic of the argument.

What does that mean then? That we give up on arguments? Not at all! It means that we better study our arguments and that means that yes, we critique our own arguments. We who are apologists need to point out arguments that do not work. I don’t want to send someone out into the evangelism field with an argument that I think is faulty. That embarrasses the Gospel. I want to send them with an argument I think works.

“However, even more troubling is that even if a Christian wins a debate in apologetics, they really lost in the realm of ultimate truth, since they placed the foundation of the Bible upon modern empirical science, which means their presuppositions are actually the same as atheistic humanists. Christians who try to prove their faith by human reason have fallen into the false modern assumption that ultimate truth can be proven empirically by the five senses. Can you picture Jesus, the apostle Paul or the Old Testament prophets trying to bring conversions about by making a case for God based on contemporary human reason and science?”

Well actually, yes. Yes I can. Mattera’s inability to do so I think only shows a lack of imagination on his part. Jesus used parables and the events of the weather to talk about His generation and convey truths to them. He used truths they understood to explain truths they didn’t understand. Paul used the illustration of a seed in the ground to explain the resurrection. Rudimentary science of the day to be sure, but science nonetheless.

In fact, we can go further with Paul. Paul says the existence of God is made clear and how is that so? By the things that are seen. How do you get the knowledge of things that are seen? That’s done empirically, meaning with your five senses. One of the big mistakes of our age is assuming that empirical means scientific. All scientific thinking is empirical, but not all empirical thinking is scientific.

I also do think some ultimate truths can be known through the five senses. I think the existence of God can be known that way, such as through the five ways of Aquinas. Yet even Aquinas himself said that if it were not for special revelation, few would reach this knowledge and even then they would have it mixed with many errors. Practically the only one who got really close was Aristotle.

Yet Aquinas was an empiricist in the same tradition as Aristotle. He believed human reason could reach these truths, but he did not for a second discount the role of special revelation. His first section in the Summa is in fact on sacred science. Now Mattera is free to say he does not find the five ways convincing. He is also free to try to give a reason why and I am free to respond.

However, there are things that Aquinas would also agree could not be known through human reason and I would agree with him. Aquinas said human reason alone could not tell you that the universe had a beginning. While I might be iffy on that one, we would both agree that human reason could not tell you that God is a Trinity or that Jesus died for you. I may look historically and know Jesus died on the cross. History alone cannot tell me He died on that cross for my sins. I need God to say that to me.

It is part of Mattera’s mistaken dichotomy to think all knowledge of God comes through human reason or it comes through special revelation. I think the case of Paul in Romans 1 and 2 clearly rule out the latter position. Some knowledge comes through both places.

As for our presuppositions, my presupposition is that there is a world outside of my mind that exists and that human reason is generally reliable. If you doubt any of these, there is no other place to go for escape. You can never establish the material world exists if you start with being doubtful that it does. You can try to claim special revelation to say that it does, but why choose one revelation over another? If you deny reason right at the start, then you have no means by which to examine any case whatsoever. These must be granted or there can be no discussion. These are the same truths that are made clear to an atheistic thinker as much as a theist thinker.

“The innate and creational evidence for God is so great that the Bible never even attempts to prove His existence but starts the Scriptures by saying “In the beginning, God …” Psalm 14 says that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. Romans 1:21 teaches us that all professed unbelievers are really secret believers. The prophets of the Old Testament, along with the New Testament apostles, were able to spread faith due to the incredible power they had with God, due to earnestly seeking His face and speaking to people with prophetic power and conviction (1 Thess. 1:4-5). When Paul spoke at the Areopagus in Acts 17, he didn’t bother debating with his audience on their own philosophical grounds but assumed the biblical worldview, preached the risen Christ, and disparaged their prevailing polytheistic assumptions. Even when he quoted their poets, he quoted them in the context of the vortex of the biblical story without subsuming the biblical story to Greek philosophy!”

Much of this is true, but what if Paul had encountered a Richard Dawkins in his day. Are we to assume he would have just got out the Bible and preached to him from it? I suspect Paul would do what he did at Mars Hill. He would speak the language of Dawkins. Paul in speaking at the Areopagus never claims his audience is in denial. He instead makes a case based on evidence that they could see (Empirical) and leaves it to them to decide. (Human reason.)

Yes. The Bible never makes an argument for God’s existence, but technically, it never makes an argument for the resurrection, which is the central doctrine of Christianity. The Gospels are written to record that which was already known about Jesus for the church to have. They were meant to provide further certainty and not new information. 1 Cor. 15 starts off with the resurrection not to convince the Corinthians who already believed Jesus was risen, but rather to start off with the common ground in authorities that were trusted.

Nowhere in Paul do we find that people are suppressing the truth about the resurrection of Christ. That is not part of common knowledge and it would be bizarre to say the ancient Amalekites were suppressing the truth that Christ would rise from the dead.

“Furthermore, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that the world through its own wisdom cannot know God. When we, as Christians, try to borrow from modernity and science to prove our faith, we actually lose the ultimate debate even if we win the temporary debate! At the end of the day, apologetics and science are OK as long as they are limited in their scope and their purpose is to understand the language of Babylon and inform our bridge-building conversations with humanists and atheists.”

Mattera unfortunately is unaware that Paul is using rhetoric very well in this passage to counter the claims of his opponents. What where those claims? They were the claims that a true Messiah would not be crucified and a true king would not be crucified. This is foolishness, but Paul says God uses what is foolish to instead shame the world and says Jesus is the Wisdom of God. (Which is quite a bit more since Jesus would be seen in Paul’s theology as the figure in Proverbs 8.)

Note also that I do not see the text as saying the world through its wisdom cannot know God but rather does not know God. It is not claiming knowledge of the existence of God can be known, but knowledge of the plan of God. With this, there would be no disagreement. If all you had was reason, you would not know God’s plan. That requires special revelation. Mattera is mistakenly thinking this passage is talking about the existence of God.

It’s nice to know that Mattera says apologetics and science are okay, but only as bridge builders. Now in part, I would say science cannot by itself get to the ultimate truth about God, because God is a metaphysical claim and not a physical one. Science can provide information, but the final gap is bridged by metaphysics. Apologetics can help get you there and that would be philosophical apologetics in this case. Yet keep in mind with the resurrection, apologetics is in fact defending what it is that God has already revealed. No historical apologist would say that by history alone, you could know the plan of God. You would need information from God’s side as well.

“If our faith rests upon ungodly Enlightenment presuppositions, we could be robbed of our prophetic power and could end up losing our faith since we are framing our beliefs on human reason, which assumes that logic has more weight than divine revelation. This also perpetuates human autonomy, which is the antithesis of both our faith and the biblical worldview.”

It presupposes nothing of the sort. With my metaphysical backing, I realize that my very existing lies in the hands of God. I cannot exist apart from Him. Without Him, I am nothing. In saying this, I am not saying logic has more weight than divine revelation. I am saying that divine revelation is logical and that if we use logic properly, we can understand it better. Note that logic by itself cannot get you truth. Logic can point out what is false, but it does not determine what is true. You need knowledge from the senses for logic to act on.

Mattera also says we could be in danger of losing our faith. If we do things wrongly, yes. If we also assume a presuppositional stance, we could be in just as much danger. Why not be a presuppositional Mormon? Why not be a presuppositional Muslim? Both groups would point to their Scriptures and could use analogous arguments.

“Lest anyone think I am promoting a form of fideism (faith without reason), I believe Christianity has a worldview that is the most logical and rational of all other worldviews. (Even an atheist has to assume theism when attempting to prove atheism since they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to function and even to debate, which is why some atheists admit they are “cultural Christians.”) One of the greatest proofs of the Bible is the impossibility of the contrary—that is to say, biblical Christianity makes the most sense in this world because it comports the closest to reality.”

And as anyone in the field knows, impossibility of the contrary is a code term that indicates a presuppositional approach. The problem is how many contraries are there? There is a potentially infinite number. He also says Christianity makes more sense because it comports the closest to reality. To this, I agree, but why should the atheist? The atheist obviously holds his view because he thinks it comports closer to reality. Doesn’t everyone? Who holds a worldview and would say “Yes. I am a Christian, but I do think the Koran has a better explanation of reality.” That would be bizarre.

But the question is, why should the atheist think this? The impossibility of the contrary? The atheist sees several several contraries and all of them have religion in common so hey, why not just chuck religion and go and be an atheist?

Furthermore, how does Mattera know this? He knows it by looking at reality and comparing it to the Bible, which is using reason and an empirical approach. How does he know his Bible is accurate? Using reason and textual criticism. How does he answer the objections the Bible is inaccurate? Using reason and historical criticism. In the end, I would say that Mattera actually uses my approach far more than he realizes.

Do I also agree the atheist has to borrow from the Christian worldview? Absolutely. Do I think that they do so knowingly? That would be nonsense. Contrary to what might be though, presuppositions do play a part in thinking. We must always watch ours. The problem with the presuppositional approach is it makes this central. Presuppositions are changed by evidence, which is why I take a more evidence-based approach.

“In spite of this, at the end of the day, all of our logic is circular since human reasoning is finite and subjective. (Only God is absolutely objective.) Thus, no one can prove or disprove the existence of God; the best a Christian can do is show probabilities. (God cannot be proved empirically. However the arguments for design and the supernatural make Christianity’s teachings the most likely to be true of all competing religions and humanistic beliefs.)”

And with this, Mattera shoots himself in the foot big time. If all our logic is circular, then his whole argument is circular and why should I care about it? Of course, this is also presuppositionalism at work. I do not at all hold that logic is circular. You are not using logic to prove logic. You are starting with logic because that is where we all must start.

And by the way, I do not think all a Christian can do is show probabilities. The five ways of Aquinas, for instance, are deductive arguments that if the premises are followed through will end in certainty. Historically, the arguments are probable, but if Christianity is true, the best research will end with Christian cases being far more likely.

“At the end of the day, if a person can be talked into becoming a Christian by clever logic-based apologetics, then someone else (e.g., an atheist) with more knowledge and skill in logic could come along and talk the new Christian out of their faith. This is why, according to John 3:3-5 and John 6:44, all humans need a personal/experiential encounter with the risen Lord Jesus in order to be truly converted!”

Yes. That is a danger. What is the solution? To abandon logical arguments? No. The solution is the Scriptural command to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The solution is serious discipleship. If Christianity is true, a true look at evidence will support that. If someone reasons me out of it because it is false, I owe them my thanks and gratitude.

Ultimately also, Mattera’s position rests on something I cannot provide for myself. I cannot make Jesus act in an encounter with me. I cannot make myself have a grand experience with Jesus. I can however reason to the conclusion. I can assure Mattera there was a day and time I did confess to Christ my need for forgiveness and ask Him to be my savior. My certainty of that encounter however was greatly enriched by my study of philosophy and history. Could someone have talked me out of it in that time? Perhaps, and I can show him many ex-Christians who have been talked out of it. (And I consider it a cop-out that all of those Christians were conveniently never Christian to begin with. By that standard, I don’t think any of us could know we’re Christians today.)

I conclude that the problem with Mattera lies in his approach that is really contrary to Scripture and would be fine at convincing people who agree with him, but will not work outside of that. I find that presuppositionalism too often spends more time defending itself than Christianity. I certainly hope one day Mattera realizes this and goes for a more classical approach that has served the church well for centuries.

In Christ,
Nick Peters