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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label knowledge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label knowledge. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trusting in Science Alone will Starve Our Ability to Know

Every group has its biases. Enlightenment thinkers believed reason could provide the ultimate answer to all questions. The Victorians stressed common manners and proprieties. Both were helpful in some ways; manners provided a common framework for engaging with large populations pushed together as modern cities developed and reason is an appropriate way to seek understanding. But they shouldn't be practiced to the exclusion of other ways we understand.

Today, the dominant framework most people assume will provide answers and meaning is neither manners nor reason, but science. Atheists and "freethinkers" especially tend to hold to an over-confidence in science as the path to discovering truth. As an example, I wrote an article entitled "Three Intractable Problems for Atheism" where I pointed out that the origin of universe, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness are unexplainable if all that exists is matter following physical laws. One comment I received was "We don't know YET, because we've only just in the past century begun to seriously uncover the origins of the universe. If that day comes, and you don't like the answer, what will the next goalpost be?" What those who respond in such ways never say is why they think that science is even the right discipline to answering these questions at all.

Fingers and Forks

In fact, science will never be able to answer these questions because it isn't designed to do so. Let me offer an example. Early cultures primarily used their fingers to eat their food. They would pick and tear at a piece of meat or tear off a hunk of bread. Even in Jesus's day, this was pretty common. But using your fingers has some drawbacks, too. If your hands are dirty, they can contaminate the food. You can't touch things that are too hot, and the buildup of greasy food on your hands means you'll need to wash after a meal.

That's why the fork is such a great invention. It solves health issues that accompany eating only with one's fingers. But it does more than that. It allows one to keep an item from moving so it can be cut, adjusting the size of your bite to fit you individually. It skewers smaller food items, like individual beans, that would be hard to grasp with your hands. It also reflects proper manners, providing a symbol of separation from animals.

Forks have given human beings a great step forward in our culinary history, allowing us to eat in ways we couldn't have without it. However, if the chef places a bowl of tomato soup in front of me, the fork is no longer useful. The benefits that the fork conveys when consuming solid food are the very reason it fails when applied to liquids. To close the tines of the fork so it may hold liquid would rob the fork of its unique abilities to skewer other foods. I need a different tool.

Now imagine a person from "the fork is the only way to true nourishment" camp who seeks to eat the soup with his fork. He tries to eat the soup and quickly becomes frustrated. He can dip his utensil inn the soup for a long, long, time. He'll never get all the soup and probably burn more calories than he consumes trying. At this result, he may then conclude that soup isn't really food at all.

Choosing the Right Utensil When Searching for Truth

Science is like a fork in humanity's quest for knowledge. It can do a lot of things. It has improved our health and allowed us to create new polymers. It has shown us facts about the material universe and its laws. But from where that universe and its laws originate, science cannot answer because it simply isn't designed to do so. It cannot tell us about things like consciousness since consciousness is immaterial.

When pressed, atheists usually try to escape their dilemma in one of two ways: they either claim science will get there eventually (what I call a Science of the Gaps argument). But that's just wishful thinking and as they seriously consider what human consciousness entails—things like the capacity for free will on a purely materialist framework—they begin to deny things like consciousness and free will are real.

Science, like a fork, is useful in the hand of humanity. It can serve us well as we seek to cut into the mysteries of the universe and digest what we discover there. However, it shouldn't be the only tool on the table. To ignore other ways of consuming knowledge is to limit not expand our intellectual palate.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Science Cannot Ground All Knowledge

Is science the best, most assured way of learning about reality? In the minds of more and more people, the answer is "yes." Yesterday, I highlighted a quote from scientist Peter Atkins on how he relies upon science to inform him about the world, dismissing even the consideration of God's existence as "lazy." But, relying on science as the only arbiter for judging the verity of truth claims will never work, because science cannot function as one's starting point.

When explaining reality, everyone must have a starting point. For example, one may observe an event, such as a strike of lightning, and ask "what makes that happen?" A person may respond by describing how a storm cell moving across the land scrapes off electrons until the charge is to such a degree they rush back to the ground, which is reasonable scientific. The first person would be justified in asking "how do you know that?" More conversations could ensue about the structure of atoms, experimental testing and predictions, etc. But each tome, the questioner could ask for further justification for the facts being presented. Sooner or later, there must be a starting point for science.

Four Assumptions Scientist Must Hold

Assuming the questioner drives his respondent back further and further (i.e. "But, how do you know that?") one will quickly see the scientific method relies upon several assumptions. The first is the world will behave consistently. Scientists assume that because electrons have behaved in a certain way in the past, they will also do so tomorrow, and next week, and fifty billion years from now. Science cannot prove this; the scientist must assume it to make predictions.

Secondly, in order to draw any conclusions at all, scientists must assume logic takes us towards the truth. Without logic, one could never infer anything. How can one infer any electron in the universe will behave in the same manner as the electrons creating the lighting strike if one cannot build an argument? The scientific method is really a logical argument offering support for its premises by way of experimentation and concludes with its hypothesis either confirmed or denied. The scientist gives reasons for his conclusion!

Thirdly, the scientist must assume ethics are important. Much research today draws its conclusions not simply from its own findings but from prior research and publication. Falsifying data to arrive at the conclusion one wants is considered wrong. Even unintentional bias and flawed research methods can corrupt results. That's why there's a real concern that so much of what's being published in scientific journals is irreproducible.  Without assuming ethical standards of truth-telling and the importance of solid methodology, scientific endeavors would be a confusing mishmash of conflicting data, with everyone's opinion held as equally valuable.

Lastly, the scientist must assume that his or her own mind is reliable in reporting how the world works. This is a key component to the scientific process and it also poses the biggest problem in cutting God out of the picture. If your brain is the product of mutations whose only benefit to its host is that of survival, then why should you trust it? Survival is not the same thing as truth-telling. In fact, lying can make survival much easier in many circumstances. As long as survival is the outcome, it doesn't matter whether you believe you need to run from the tiger because you're in a race or because it may eat you. If you get away, the same result is achieved. So, if we evolved from some primate species, why trust our "monkey-brains" to tell us the truth? How could one argue that a mindless, random process would even act in an orderly way?

God Grounds the Starting Points

Going back to pour first point, one must assume some intentional ordering of universe in order to ground the assumption of a consistent universe. Christianity teaches that God is a consistent God. He would create his universe in such a way that it would be consistent as well. This gives us a reason to believe in the consistency of the universe, a reason which science cannot offer. Scientists certainly assume the universe is consistent in its laws, but they have no basis for doing so, other than that's what they've seen. But even our dreams have an air of consistency to them until we wake up. Then we realize how inconsistent they are. To assume

Secondly, in the assumption of logic, God also becomes the starting point. If God is the logos—that is Reason itself—then logic and reason are built into the universe as reflections of his nature. Logic works because God is a logical God and we, as rational creatures, bear his image. Thus, we can understand and use reason to discover truths about the created order.

Thirdly, morality must have its grounding in God. The concept of classifying things as right or classifying them as wrong is central to theology. One cannot have the absolute standards of right and wrong without appealing to a being who transcends all of creation. That is God.

Lastly, the fact that a God of reason created us with the capacity to reason gives us grounding for believing our capacity for reason itself. AS part of God's created order, we can experience it in meaningful ways.

Science is a wonderful tool that tells us much about a very small slice of reality: the natural world. But the world is much bigger than its mechanics. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, relationships, mathematics, abstract concepts, and spiritual realities also comprise our lives and our experiences. Not only can science not explain these things, it must assume them before it gets going. It cannot explain its own assumptions, and therefore shows its incapacity for being the proper starting point.

Image courtesy Longlivetheux - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is Wisdom and How Can I Find It?

If you ever want to see how people can assume certain concepts, just ask a friend if they understand what the concept of time. Most would quickly respond, "Of course! Everyone knows what time is." Then ask them to give a definition of time that doesn't refer back to itself in some way (i.e. "Time is hours, minutes, and seconds. What are those? Measurements of …time.") Most people find this task extremely difficult, not because they don't have any concept of time, but because they haven't reflected specifically on what time is.1

While the example of defining time may be interesting, there are other, more important concepts that we also assume we know but don't necessarily understand clearly. Wisdom certainly fits that category. Over and over in the Bible, we are instructed to seek out wisdom, such as the passage in Proverbs 3:13-18:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
This passage is indicative of how the scriptures encourage the gaining of wisdom. But there is a tendency among casual readers to assume that wisdom is the same thing as knowledge. Christians sometimes think that the command to get wisdom is basically becoming more familiar with the Bible. I don't think that's quite right. While knowledge is certainly a component of wisdom, the Bible seems to paint a fuller picture of wisdom than simply learning.

Making Wisdom Bigger than Knowledge

If one looks further in the book of Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly becomes clearer. Proverbs 5 begins, "My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." Notice the verbs the author uses: be attentive, keep, guard and incline. It isn't that the son doesn't know or realize relations with the forbidden woman is wrong. The proverbist is teaching knowledge isn't good on its own; it must be put into practice. The son needs to remind himself of what he knows and not deceive himself by acting on his feelings in a way contrary to knowledge.

Looking at it this way, I think we can get a much better idea of what wisdom really means. Wisdom is knowledge properly applied. It encompasses both informed thought and the outworking of that reasoning. It requires the student to understand not simply the commands of God, but his character. It means the student must develop his reasoning skills to make judgments on how to act in specific situations. It also means one must practice and develop discipline and self-control, just as the New Testament commands (1 Cor. 9:25, Gal. 5:23, 1 Pet. 4:7, 2 Pet. 1:6).

Wisdom Affects Your Walk

Once the Christian sees wisdom in this broader view, it will change his walk. Study and developing reasoning skills become as much an act of devotion as prayer and worship. These are necessary tools that the faithful believer must draw upon in his or her walk with Jesus. How can one properly apply the knowledge that has never been acquired?

As the proverbist counsels in Proverbs 4:7-9, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." The best way to be wise is to understand what wisdom is, and then go out and get it. You've just taken the first step. Now, keep waking towards that prize.


1. For those who may be wondering, one can define time as "the succession of moments." Also, any idea of change implies the concept of time, since change requires a before state and an after state. This is why when people like Lawrence Kraus tries to point to quantum fluctuations to explain the existence of something rather than nothing, they fail, since time is one of the things needing explaining.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Crippling to Believe Only in Science

I've written several times on how today's culture holds an over-inflated view of science. Science is a great tool that helps us to learn about one very specific subset of knowledge: the mechanics behind the natural world. It cannot tell us about other crucial pieces such as what constitutes knowledge, what constitutes a meaningful relationship, or how to stop people from being evil. Given its limited scope, therefore, science is of a certain limited value.

This isn't to say the study of science is of no value or marginal value. Some of our gravest problems do come from mechanical interactions. Illness would be one example. But it is wrong to think that because one can claim "science says so" and therefore the discussion should end. With politically contentious and highly complex issues like how modern humanity may be affecting climate, a large degree of caution is warranted.

The fact is science doesn't always get it right. Thomas S. Kuhn explained scientific advancements do not come in a pattern of smooth upwards growth, but in a very herky-jerky set of fits and starts, as those holding to old paradigms are hesitant to give their particular views up. Even if there is a strong consensus of opinion on how some particular point, scientists are still people and people are capable of being wrong and being persuaded by others who are also wrong.

Here are just a few areas where claims based on accepted science were either rushed, fraudulent, or simply wrong:
  • AETHER: Aether was believed to be an element permeating the universe. The view was held by a consensus of scientists for many centuries, including names such as Issac Newton, Thomas Young, Maxwell, and Lord Kelvin. In the 19th century, more and more scientists held to the theory of luminiferous aether as the all-encompassing medium through which waves of light traveled. So strongly was the theory held that published student references works would claim: "The cumulative evidence for thinking space filled with a ponderable medium of exceedingly minute density grows stronger every day."1

    However, the entire enterprise and the many, many well-thought explanations of how our universe works were completely overthrown after an 1887 experiment couldn't detect the aether2 and Einstein showed the medium wasn't necessary. It is now considered scientifically obsolete, however it took decades for the theory to be completely abandoned as the 1914 student reference work demonstrates.
  • PILTDOWN MAN Palentologists in Britain announced Piltdown Man in1913 as a find of one of the "missing links" between ape and man. The general accepted it for years, but in 1953, Piltdown 'man' was exposed as a forgery. The skull was modern and the teeth on the ape's jaw had been filed down.3
  • ACADEMIC FRAUD: The US National Institutes of Health investigatory panel found the immunologist Thereza Imanishi-Kari had fabricated data in a 1986 research paper authored with the Nobel prize winner David Baltimore. The findings claimed in the paper promised a breakthrough for genetic modification of the immune system.4
  • N-RAYS: A French physicist, RenĂ© Blondlot, claimed to have discovered a new type of radiation, shortly after Roentgen had discovered X-rays. American physicist Robert Wood, however, revealed that N-rays were little more than a delusion. Wood removed the prism from the N-ray detection device, without which the machine couldn't work.5
None of these events show that all of science is corrupted or questionable, but it does illustrate that science has no claim on being the only way to really know something. That's why anyone who says they only believe in "science" has crippled him or herself from the truth before they've even begun to search for it.

Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould said "Scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution."6 I always take exception when in conversation an atheist will claim to "only believe in science."


1. Beach, Chandler Belden, Frank Morton McMurry, and Eleanor Atkinson. "Ether." The New Student's Reference Work: For Teachers, Students and Families. Vol. II. Chicago: F.E. Compton, 1914. Online.
2. "Michelson–Michelson–Morley ExperimentMorley Experiment." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
3. "Piltdown Man." Natural History Museum. The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
4. Research Integrity Adjudications Panel ."Thereza Imanishi-Kari, Ph.D., DAB No. 1582 (1996)." Departmental Appeals Board, Department of Health and Human Services, 21 June 1996. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
5. Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003. 63. Print..
6. Gould, Stephen Jay. "Nonoverlapping Magisteria." Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16-22; Reprinted by The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive. 1998. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. http:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Atheists, Evidence, and Unreasonable Demands

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to my article "Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?" The point of that article was that faith and reason are not contradictory. One reply to that was a tweet by The_Apistevist, who identifies himself as an atheist on Twitter. He asked: "how can belief without evidence be considered rational?" Now, I had never claimed Christianity had no evidence, nor did I argue that one should never seek evidence in matters of faith.  Belief without evidence was his assumption.

Because I've engaged in these kinds of conversations before, I didn't want to retread the evidence for Christianity.  It's well-documented on both the web site as well as this blog. Most of the time, atheists will simply reject the evidence I offer, stating it doesn't count for some arbitrary reason or another. For example, testimony is evidence, but such is usually dismissed out of hand because the content of that testimony is "religious."

So, I decided to take another route. Is it true that no one should believe anything without evidence other than a person's word? Could such a standard work in the real world? Below is the full conversation with The_Apistevist . You can see how his own criteria quickly devolve into an unworkable position.
Of course, at this point, The_Apistevist is caught in an intractable position. I am both demanding evidence AND I'm the one who rules whether or not whatever he offers me counts as evidence. This is exactly the game many Internet atheists play regarding the existence of God. He has no way of satisfying my criteria, so according to his own rules I am justified in stopping the conversation because I cannot believe him when he tells me he is honest.

How would the world worked if everyone took up this position? How could you drive if you couldn't trust other drivers to obey the traffic laws without first demanding evidence? How would commerce work?

I don't believe his claim that he demands evidence for every statement another makes. He simply couldn't function this way. However, he would rather be relegated to an unreasonable position than admit he holds beliefs where he has no evidence other than the word of the person to whom he's speaking. That truly is unreasonable.

Image courtesy and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Show You Have Truth...

View of the Salt Lake Temple from the East.
In Utah, I was able to speak to several sister missionaries, some young and some old. After watching "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a pair of sister missionaries and an older one asked me a few questions. I explained what I was doing there – that I had questions about the LDS faith and that I was there to find out more about the religion and discuss how it differs from Christianity.

I later found out the older sister missionary got reprimanded for "debating" with us, that "debating was not what they were here to do," and that "if she continued to do this, there would be problems." But the discussion we had was highly civil, respectful and mutually enjoyed – which the sisters themselves verbally acknowledged. This was not an isolated incident, however. Most of my experience with LDS leadership has been that of discouraging questions that are not easily answered via 1) pushing any serious questions to the faith towards the LDS church’s website or 2) by asserting that I needed to test what is true by means of prayer or 3) by simply brushing me off. Obviously, these could possibly be isolated incidents, but the sheer consistency of these responses makes me think this is how the LDS faith actually responds to those sincerely trying to seek truth that have difficult questions.

I appreciate that in following Christ, critical thinking, testing, and transparency is not only a righteous ideal, but a command. The whole worldview of Christianity is strong enough to withstand testing and to be put through the ringer of reason and evidence. If it really is true, shouldn’t that be the case?  Would we really have anything to hide? Had the situation been in reverse, if they sought us for questions about Christianity, I can GUARANTEE we would have been there as long as possible.

It has once been said that, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That same person did not say truth would be known by feeling, but by reading the word of God. And it is true: in Christianity, testing important truths is not really about feeling; it’s about reading the words of God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, IF you continue in my word, THEN are you my disciples indeed; AND you shall know the truth, AND the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (and essentially Psalm 119).

If you are truly serious about telling me you have truth, then please be intellectually honest: do not discourage sincere questions or stifle the gift of rational, critical thought.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting Until You Feel Your Faith is Dangerous

It's no secret that we live in an age of instant gratification. Crave Mexican food? Restaurants are minutes away. Wondering what other films you've seen that celebrity has starred in? Simply pull out your phone and Google his name. How is your investment portfolio doing? You can log in anytime to check your stocks. I can even use the Internet to see how much electricity my house uses hour by the hour.

While there are clear advantages in living in an age where our wants can be met with ease, there are also dangers. Of course, many have written on the problem of distraction in our wired world, and how much more kids expect to attain a level of notoriety than in the past. But what concerns me more is the expectation of immediate satisfaction as the measure of truth. As our technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to having our desires accommodated immediately. We now expect to satisfy even the feelings of longing or relationship. Facebook provides the illusion of connection. So, what happens when someone seeking a relationship with God but doesn't feel him?

That is exactly the question I was asked a couple of days ago. One of the ministry opportunities I have is serving with the Harvest Crusade, a large evangelistic outreach that just wrapped up a three day event in Southern California. People watching the event online have the ability to request a chat with an online counselor. Some of those requests come to me and I will answer whatever questions or concerns they voice.

This last weekend, I was talking with a young viewer from Japan. He wrote that he was very disturbed because he felt his "troubled heart keeps me in dark" and that he couldn't see God or receive any good news. He basically explained that he couldn't know God because he couldn't feel Him. The idea that one must feel in order to believe is becoming more common; I'm hearing more of it all the time. But to limit one's understanding of truth to only that which one can feel is not only foolhardy, but dangerous! I may feel like I haven't spent much money this month, but if I go by my feelings, I'll soon be overdrawn.

As an illustration, I asked this young man if he was familiar with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that happens when people allow their bodies to overheat due to weather and activity. Mostly occurring during summer, folks will be busy participating in outdoor activities and forget to drink enough water or to cool down. They may not feel thirsty, but their body temperature rises to a point where their organs can be permanently damaged.Doctors will instruct athletes and others outdoors to drink plenty of water even if they don't feel thirsty. It isn't the feeling that matters; the body needs to cool down and consuming liquids is how it accomplishes that. Similarly, no one should rely only of feeling God's presence as a way to determine if they may be accepted by him. You can know that God cares for you because of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. We have the evidence to know that the resurrection is a real event in history. By looking at the facts that the Bible offers instead of your feelings, you can get a better picture of the truth.
Photo courtesy Markus Schoepke. Licenced by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beyond Science: Understanding Real Knowledge

In previous articles, I looked at how many people make the mistake of assuming that science is the only way we can know something is true. We showed how this view, known as scientism, must be false since it is self-refuting. This time, I thought we'd look at the idea of how we know that we know anything at all and how to better understand the differences between knowledge and beliefs.

Types of Knowledge

Philosophers have spent a lot of time on understanding what it means when we say we know this or that. In their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig identify three basic types of knowing. The most basic type is knowledge by acquaintance which is simply that you have had some type of direct experience with an object or idea and therefore know it to be true. The authors offer an example of "I know the ball is in front of me." Because the ball is directly present in your conscious experience, you can confidently know that statement to be true. 1

A more debated aspect of this type of knowledge is basic mathematic statements and logical deductions. Some philosophers argue that we know 2+2=4 in the same sense that we know a ball is in front of us. It is directly perceived as true. You don't have to go out and observe 2+2 in different environments around the world or around the universe to confidently hold that he product will always turn out to be 4. We understand that it just is that way. Similarly, we experience the same type of understanding when we argue in this way: All men are born. Socrates was a man; therefore Socrates must have been born. That is a logical argument, but we know it to be true directly.

A second way we know something is through know-how. Know-how defines certain skills or abilities one may possess. When someone claims "I know how to play golf", they are expressing knowledge of ability. Moreland and Craig point out that knowledge of the laws or mechanics is not necessary to hold this type of knowledge. They write "For example, one can know how to adjust one's swing for a curve ball without consciously being aware that one's stride is changing or without knowing any background theory of hitting technique." 2

The third type of knowledge is what is usually debated the most. Known as propositional knowledge this type of knowledge deals with statements that make some kind of claim to fact. Statements such as "I know Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States", "I know our Sun is 93 million mionles away" or "I know humans evolved from apes" are all propositional statements.

Justified True Beliefs

One of the reasons propositional knowledge has been debated is because it has been more difficult than other types of knowledge to define completely and accurately. One of the most foundational definitions of propositional knowledge is the concept of "justified true beliefs" that Plato offered in his writing "Theaetetus". Plato said that if we claim to know something, then what we claim must indeed be true. If a claim is not true, then we didn't really know it; we were mistaken. Further, if we claim to know something we must actually believe the claim to be true. It makes no sense to know something but not to believe it. If I say, "I know the ball is on the floor, but I don't believe the ball is on the floor" I've spoken nonsense.

So truth and belief are what we would call necessary conditions for knowledge. For knowledge to exist, they must both be present. However, they are not sufficient conditions for knowing. Many people believe things, and those beliefs may in fact be true, but that doesn't mean they know those things. Take the statement "I know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night." Now, it may be the case that Jones did indeed have roast beef for dinner, and it may be the case that I truly believe Jones had roast beef for dinner, but by making that assertion without any basis, I've just guessed the right answerand thus cannot be taken as knowledge.

In order to truly know something, there must be some acceptable reason to hold that belief. Justified true belief is believing something that is true with good reason. If I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because it's a Monday and he always has roast beef on Mondays, and I smelled roast beef coming from his home, I have good reasons to believe Jones in fact had roast beef. That is a justified belief that can be counted as knowledge. If, however, I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because I consulted my Magic 8 Ball, that's not knowledge since the reasons I've given are spurious. It becomes the same as guessing.

Knowledge and the Limits of Science

So why does all of this knowledge stuff matter? Because it helps us understand what is real knowledge and what isn't. When looking at scientific propositions, we understand we can know certain things like the speed at which an object falls or what chemical reaction is necessary to produce nitro-glycerin. Science deals with observations of the material world, so these are justified beliefs; we can say we can know such things through science. However, for other claims, such as whether God exists or whether DNA is the proper basis for measuring the similarities between humans and other animals, science has no justification to make claims of knowledge.

You see, science can only tell us facts about the material world. By definition, science has no way of meaningfully commenting on the many other ways we know things. Science can tell us whether a person's heart is beating faster and he is sweating, but it must fall silent as to whether the cause of that reaction is lying or love. Similarly, science cannot tell us about the most unique aspect of humanity, that is the human soul. When looking at propositions such as the existence of God, science has no way of "testing for God-ness". However, I can know through reasoning that universe began to exist and whatever begins to exist must have a cause. 3 I can therefore conclude that if whatever exists must have a cause and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause: God. That is a belief that has strong justification for it. It is knowledge that is outside the scope of science, but it is probably a more authoritative basis for knowing.

So, even though popular culture looks to the scientist to tell them "the facts" about all things, science is really woefully inadequate to explain many aspects of reality. Scientists may presupposes certain things like miracles cannot happen or there is no God, and then formulate other theories. But that's not knowledge, that's presupposition. Personal experience, emotions, reason, logic, and revelation all address truth-claims and all can be justifiable in their proper instances. To limit one's self to science in order to gain knowledge is like trying to build a house with only a hammer. A hammer can pound nails, but you wouldn't want to use it to drive a screw and it would be completely useless to cut wood.


1.Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
(Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 2003). 72.
2. Ibid. 73.
3. See my article "What the Kalam tells us about God's existence"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scientism tries to Turn Man into a Monkey

Many Christians are familiar with the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. For those of you who aren't, it's an allegory of growing in Christian faith where the protagonist named Christian meets some friends (such as Evangelist and Faithful) as well as many unsavory characters like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Hypocrisy, and Talkative in his walk down the narrow path. While Bunyan wrote in the mid 1600's,the book is amazingly poignant for today.

One particularly striking section dealt with a character named Shame. Christian's friend Faithful recounts to him Shame's accusations against believers. Specifically, Shame claims the religious are basically weak-minded individuals, not living in the real world. He goes on to point out how successful and intelligent people don't believe in such things and how believing in Christianity forces one to ignore the scientific advancements and knowledge of the day. "He moreover objected to the base and low estate and condition of those who were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also in their want of understanding in the natural sciences." 1 So, Shame accuses the Christians of being willfully ignorant. Ignoring what he holds to be the true knowledge of science, Shame charges Christian with substituting the crutch of religion to salve his wounds.

Our Popular Conception of Science

Today, we are even more apt to hear such objections to believing the biblical message. This is in large part due to the over-emphasized view science is given in our modern culture. Science is understood in today's world to be the only reliable source of truth. One has only to look at the advertisements we use to sell products to see how much we esteem the concept of scientific veracity. If you really want to make your case for the potency of a product, just have your spokesman wear a white lab coat, begin his name with Dr., or explain how "tests have shown" the item to be more effective. If science has shown something to be true, then it must be true. And if there is a conflict between beliefs and what science has shown, then most people will assume that it is our beliefs that are in error, not science.

These assumptions are unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising. As I've said before, science has helped humanity in incredible ways. Our lifespan have been extended by decades, we can modify our environment if we're too hot or too cold, and technology has made our daily chores easier. Our learning has also increased exponentially; we better understand the way the world works, we can predict certain phenomena and we've even visited the moon! So with all science has proven it can do, how could it not be real way to know truth?

Scientism's Claim to Truth

There are two problems we run into when discussing science and the way we know things to be true. The more egregious error is the one the easier to identify and argue against. That is the belief that only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable and everything else is opinion and conjecture. This view is known a Scientism, and has had proponents such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. Noted skeptic Michael Shermer defined Scientism as "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural or paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an age of science." 2

The proponents of Scientism hold that "only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable", is a true and knowable statement. However, that statement is itself unverifiable scientifically. One cannot construct a hypothesis to test for the statement's veracity. There's no way to go into a laboratory and run this idea through a battery of tests to see whether it can be falsified. Scientism, by setting a standard that cannot itself meets, undercuts its own existence. It becomes what we call a self-refuting statement. Because it does so, Scientism should rightfully be rejected as illogical.

Who Chooses the Standard of Comparison?

The main problem with our popular view of science, though, is more subtle and it therefore takes more care to identify. Because science has taken such a high role in our society, statements that are couched in a scientific approach are thought to hold more weight than other types of assertions. However, many who are purporting to advance a scientific view are really making philosophic statements - and they're making a lot of assumptions along the way.

A good example of this is one that Christian philosopher Francis J. Beckwith related to me at dinner one evening. He told of how he had become engaged in a discussion on origins through an Internet bulletin board whose members were primarily biologists and other scientists. One member was asserting the fact of evolution by noting how science has shown human DNA and chimpanzee DNA to be 98% identical. The biologist then concluded that this proves humans and chimps share an evolutionary ancestor.

Dr. Beckwith countered this claim by asking a simple question: Why do you choose genetics be your basis of comparison? It seems an arbitrary choice. Why not any other field of science, say quantum mechanics? Dr. Beckwith went on to explain that if you examine humans and chimpanzees at the quantum level, why then we're 100% identical! Our atoms move and act in exactly the same way as the atoms of the chimp! Of course, human atoms and the atoms of the table where I'm writing this also act identically. How about if we examine each via physics? Again, we're identical: each species will remain in motion unless enacted upon by an outside force, for example.

The scientists had a very difficult time understanding Dr. Beckwith's point, but it was simply this: one cannot start with science to understand the world. Science relies on certain philosophical rules in order to work at all. What was happening is the biologist was making philosophical assumptions and then using science to try and support them. The assumption in the claim above is that all life can be reduced to its genetic make-up, and everything you need to know about any living thing can be deduced from its DNA. It's this assumption that's flawed. It doesn't follow that if humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps that evolution is therefore a fact. But the scientists today aren't trained in logic or philosophy, so they have a lot of difficulty understanding that they are making flawed philosophical arguments and packing them in scientific facts.


1. Bunyan, John The Pilgrim's Progress
Baker Book house, Grand Rapids, MI 1984 p.89
. Shermer, Michael "The Shamans of Scientism" Scientific American June 2002
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Friday, January 03, 2014

Christians Cannot be Intellectual Slackers

C. S. Lewis had a great quote when talking about the followers of Christ. He said, "God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of being a Christian, I warn you: you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all."

I completely agree. Christians today have accepted the secular world's idea that somehow faith and reason inhabit separate spheres. The two are sitting on opposite ends of a spectrum and the more one applies tools such as logic and philosophy to his or her beliefs, the less and less they will be considered faithful or pleasing to God. A bumper sticker that used to be fairly popular summed up this kind of attitude: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

But nowhere in scripture are we commanded to approach our beliefs blindly. In fact, we are commanded to do just the opposite. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was he replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Tellingly, although Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He added the phrase "and with all your mind." Jesus said that loving God must include developing the life of the mind.

This makes a lot of sense, given how Jesus identified Himself. In John 14:6 He said, "I am the Way the truth and the Life." Well, if we think about Jesus as truth, then we should be applying reason and logic to our beliefs. Logic is simply a tool that we use to find truth.

Part of our difficulty in seeing logic and critical thinking as ways we can better love God may be because we think that such tasks are only human enterprises, while Jesus is divine. Logic means works, while He is grace. But if Jesus is truth and we can use logic to discern truth, then we can use logic to see the reality of Jesus.

You may be surprised to find that out that the implementation of logic is actually found throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament. Jesus used logic and argumentation many times. For example, just before He gave the command to love God with your mind, the Sadducees tried to test Him with a question about a woman who was married and widowed seven times. They used a technique in logic known as reductio ad absurdum to show that their views on the afterlife were correct. However, Jesus capably destroyed their argument and chided them, saying "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" He then give the command that we must love God with all our minds.

The Sadducees were unprepared. They hadn't done their homework and as a result had a mistaken view of God. As faithful followers of Christ, let us not shy away from some of the harder work of learning and developing our minds so we can more completely love our God with all that we are.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Are Beliefs Separate From Knowledge?

Are beliefs separate from knowledge? In my time as an apologist, I've heard many people try to dismiss beliefs as silly or meaningless while claiming to only rest in knowleldge. Usually, it's voiced something like "Well, you may rely on your beliefs, but I rely on facts like those that science gives." But this kind of separation make a crucial mistake. You see, beliefs are necessary for knowledge to exist.

First, we must understand that beliefs in and of themselves don't normally exist without any precursor. We don't make things up out of thin air and then say we believe them. For example, imagine we're sitting in a house of a friend.  I cannot ask you to believe that there is a Rodent of Unusual Size in the next room just because it would be fun to believe in such a thing. You wouldn't really believe the claim. Even if I offered you a $1 million prize for believing in the ROUS and you tell me you believe, I don't think you really hold that the claim is true—you just assent to the claim to get the money.

However, if I provide some background for my claim (e.g. our friend's father is a bio-chemist working on the effects of growth hormone on rats and he uses the next room as a laboratory) your beliefs may change.  You have some additional information that supplements your belief and it gives further justification for you to actually believe the claim. Therefore, your beliefs become established on prior evidence or they have some other justification attached to them.

Most beliefs work this way.  It is very rare that someone believes in something with no prior background or reasoning at all. Humans are rational creatures and it's in our nature to seek some kind of support for our beliefs.  When that support is sufficiently justified and the belief is true, we can say that we have knowledge. That's how knowledge is defined; knowledge is only possessed if someone has a belief that is both justified and true.

Beliefs and Knowledge

Realize not all beliefs, even with justification, are true beliefs. For example, one can make the claim that if you run for several miles daily, you will lose weight. The person begins running and, sure enough, he loses weight. Do his beliefs count as knowledge? Not necessarily, since it depends on what the belief is. When you ask why he believes that running causes one to lose weight he may say, "I believe that running every day is performing an exorcism of the fat-demons. When you run, they are expelled and they can't catch up to you. So you lose weight." So, while his claim does in fact prove to be true, he does lose weight, his justification for the claim is lacking and he doesn't know that he will lose weight.

There are many beliefs that science holds where the claims produce a true response. Quantum theories produce some very good, highly accurate predictive results. But we don't yet know that these quantum theories are correct. We simply know they give us an accurate outcome.  Like the runner who loses weight, the reason why he loses weight may be wrong, even though the end result is just as he predicted. There are several different and competing quantum theories; which demonstrates that we simply don't know.  It's not knowledge yet. 

So, to separate the concept of knowledge and belief into different realms is, I think, itself unwarranted.  Yes, some beliefs are less justified than others. But beliefs are a necessary requirement for knowledge. Without a belief you cannot know anything. And this shows that just because a belief happens to be a scientific belief, it is not necessarily any more justified than any other.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #1 Love Your God With All Your Mind

Love Your God with All Your MindI've been taking some time to create a list of top books that I feel are very valuable for Christian apologists or anyone who finds themselves defending the Christian faith—which means every Christian who takes his faith seriously today. Most of these titles have been less visible publications by known authors or books that people really haven’t heard about.  So, why would I make the #1 book in my list one of the most noted titles by a well-recognized name like Dr. J.P. Moreland?  Simply because Love Your God with All Your Mind actually is neglected more than many realize.

As an apologist, from time to time I have had friends or church members approach me and ask what would be a good book to help them better defend their faith. Usually, this is prompted by some recent conversation where they've received some criticism on Christianity. They are usually looking for a "silver bullet" book, i.e. a single title that will address the specific issue with a quick comeback their interlocutors cannot refute. Such books do exist to some extent; Paul Copan’s True For You But Not For Me and Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties are immediate examples that come to mind. But I am hesitant on just tossing out a couple of titles and walking away.

You see, in dealing with atheists, skeptics, and those in aberrant religious movements, one sees the scripture abused in many different ways.  I am constantly confronted by arguments that use poor reasoning, passages taken out of context, or modern meanings forced onto ancient texts. Unfortunately, too many times I’ve seen Christians who try to defend their faith become guilty of these exact same abuses. Sometimes, it feels like you are giving a power tool to a toddler; while the tool is the right one for the job, in immature hands it can damage the project and possible hurt the operator! This is where Love your God with All Your Mind plays a pivotal role.  The book doesn’t tell you what to say, but it helps you better understand the fact that Christianity has always been a faith of the intellect as much as one of the heart.  It doesn’t teach you apologetics as much as it teaches you that a disciplined, thoughtful approach to how we develop our intellect is as much an act of worship as raising our hands on Sunday morning or dropping money in a plate.

The book is clear and accessible. It’s not overly large. J.P.’s chapters include titles such as “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation”, “Harassing the Hobgoblins of the Christian Mind”, and “Clearing the Cobwebs from My Mental Attic”. Each chapter helps take the man or woman in the pew from being a passive or even anti-intellectual Christian to a mature and thoughtful believer. J.P. shows how Jesus Himself modeled a strong intellectual capacity when dealing with questions from the Pharisees or Sadducees. He notes that charges of faith and reason being opposed to one another are actually lies that the enemies of Christianity promulgated. Somehow the church swallowed these lies and now believes that faith and reason live in separate spheres. With no intellectual stimulation or the ability of even their pastors to take on the difficult objections so common today, it’s no wonder that kids going off to college quickly drop out of church for what they see as a more satisfying combination of secular scholarship and morally loose living.

 NavPress has this month released a completely new edition of the book for its fifteenth anniversary, and it has been revised and expanded with a lot of new content. Specifically, chapters seven through nine have been completely replaced. They now contain a more direct apologetics message and present J.P.’s case for the existence of God and why the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry, message, and resurrection are reliable. On top of that, J.P. and Joseph Gorra have produced a great study guide to accompany the book that can be downloaded from J.P.’s web site for free.

I think that Love your God with All Your Mind needs to be read by every Christian. The challenges believers will face will not be easier in the future.  In fact, given the popularity of books by the New Atheists as well as the more prominent chatter found on the Internet and social media, Christians are being pressed harder for real answers for their faith. That is why I usually put it on the top three books that I would recommend to any Christian. The Christian mind affects all aspects of Christian life, and the modern church has by and large abandoned its responsibility for nurturing that mind to maturity.

Even the fundamental Christian activity of evangelism relies heavily on the life of the mind. One of the quotations that J.P. offers in the book is from one of the early leaders of evangelicalism, J. Gresham Machen:

God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.1

If you are only going to own one book from this list, this is the one to buy. If you are involved in apologetics at your church, create a study group to go over its content with others. You should recommend it to everyone and anyone. Christians needs to reclaim the mind as a necessary part of worshipping and loving God.  In so doing, they will strengthen their evangelism, their youth ministries, and their own ability to withstand the fiery darts of the evil one.

1. Machen, John Gresham. What Is Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdman's,  1951. 162. As cited from Moreland, J.P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1997. 63.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Becoming an Effective Apologist by Forgetting All You Know

Apologetics is an interesting discipline. To be properly equipped, we spend years in study, learning theology, philosophy, worldview, ethic, reason, argumentation, and science.  I continue to read books and articles by both classic authors (Plato, Pascal, Augustine,  Aquinas, etc.) and popular authors today—both  Christian and non-Christian. We take seriously the command that we should study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim.  2:15) and that we should "always be ready to make a defense" (1 Pet. 3:15). But as important as all that preparation is, I think it's equally important to know how to chuck it all and a recent experience I had solidified that concept to me.

A few weeks ago I engaged in a conversation with a man who was seeking to know God. "John" said he was seeking to know the evidence for God's existence.  He told me he "was desperate to believe" that God is real. After a few minutes of conversation, I learned some facts about John: he claims to be agnostic, he's read Bart Ehrman and feels his arguments are strong, he feels the problem of evil argues against the existence of God.  John holds a PhD in Philosophy.

Given that John has an expertise in philosophy, I began to engage him in the arguments for God's existence – how the Bible cannot be considered circular given that it isn't one source but a collection of 66 different books written by many authors over a 1500 year period, how the Kalam shows that everything that has a beginning must have a cause, how moral theory shows that for evil to exist we must have an absolute standard against which to measure what counter with others. However, with each exchange John was becoming more combative and entrenched in his position.

I couldn't figure out at first why he was becoming so argumentative.  He had originally sounded so desperate to find out reasons to know that God is there, but the more I provided, the more he fought me. It was at this point that God opened my eyes to something - my approach was all wrong. John was a trained philosopher since most of that training was from an atheistic perspective, he had been trained to think about philosophy in a particular way.  In arguing with him intellectually, he would merely fall back on what he had learned and react almost as a reflex.  The more I engaged philosophically, the more he was unplugging from weighing the evidence.  Instead he reacting with stock responses that he was taught.

It was at this point that I asked him, “Wait, you came to me and said you want to believe.  What about your desire?” When I switched from head issues to heart issues, his tone and demeanor immediately changed and he basically said "Yes, please pray for me.  I want to believe but my heart and my mind are disconnected."  And this is where true communication began to happen.

You see, many people need to understand reasons why their objections against God are not valid, so we should know those reasons. However, by only engaging people intellectually, you limit the ways God can reach individuals.  I got to pray with this man -an agnostic  - who had all the answers to arguments for the existence of Go d except one, he could feel God’s presence pulling on his heart.

It’s important for the apologist to understand that we must not rely on only our arguments as our sole apologetic.  The real motivation here is to allow people to see the truth – that God exists and that Jesus offers salvation. If we confine ourselves to only head knowledge, we may miss the most powerful evidence for God’s reality we have - the self-attesting witness of the Holy Spirit. When I pushed hard on answering intellectual objections with John, it entrenched him more deeply in his agnosticism.  In holding a PhD, he didn’t want to be shown his extensive years of study have lead to wrong conclusions. But he couldn’t deny that there was a yearning to know God. In forgetting my head knowledge for a bit, I was able to at least talk to him about how he feels and I was able to pray that God would continue to make himself real to John, as I still pray.

Next time you have a witnessing opportunity, think a minute before you answer.  See where the person you’re talking with has needs.  Meet him or her there.  Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to stop being smart and start feeling.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Theology That Makes a Difference

Last time, I told you about an opportunity I had to talk to a Mormon who was seeking answers after a lecture I had delivered on the problems in The Da Vinci Code. (If you are interested in that talk, you may purchase a copy on CD or DVD video from the Come Reason Store.)

As I said, she had been having a lot of difficulty digesting the concept of the Trinity. This is not unexpected. The Trinity is a difficult concept to grasp, even for Christians. I don't believe we'll ever fully understand it, even after we're with the Lord. However, that doesn't mean we should dismiss the idea as incomprehensible. The woman I spoke with told me that she had been asking Christians to better explain the Trinity for over eight years, and no one had ever been able to give her a satisfactory answer. Eight Years! Most, including pastors, when pressed for an explanation of the Trinity simply responded that "some things are just a mystery". Obviously, that wasn't good enough for her, but to her credit, she kept seeking.

Now, as I said, we don't fully comprehend the Trinity. But I believe we can apprehend the basic concepts and show that they aren't contradictory. In my talk with her, I highlighted the fact that a being is a single entity – something that has an essence. A being is a separate idea from personhood, which entails a center of consciousness. I also offered Frank Beckwith's example: a plant is a being with no personhood, a human is a being with one personhood and God is a being with three personhoods. God is single entity, but has three centers of consciousness – which is why the Son could pray to the Father and talk with the Spirit.

All of this is to exemplify my point that diligent study of the tough issues in theology is necessary for our evangelism. I haven't yet heard back from my discussion partner, but she said after our talk that for the first time she had received a response she felt gave her some answers. Because I had some credibility, I was also able to share God's plan of salvation with her. Now, she has a more informed view of two aspects of Christianity that she can think about and weigh more carefully. I will pray for her to come to that saving knowledge of Christ.

Knowing something about the Trinity allowed me to remove a stumbling block and witness more effectively. I pray that as you continue your studies, you will dig into the tough questions and not shy away from them because they are hard work. There can be much fruit gained from plowing rocky soil.

Photo courtesy CollegeDegrees360 and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
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