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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 logic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label logic. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pro-Abortion Argument of Saving Children vs. Saving Embryos

Is a fertilized egg a new human being at its very first stages of life? The answer, of course, is yes. Left to its natural course, a fertilized egg will grow and mature into a fetus, an infant, a child, and ultimately an adult. Each stage adds complexity and capabilities, but they are all stages in the development of the same referent—a human being.

However, pro-abortion folks don't like the idea that a fetus is a human being. They want to deny that the developing baby in utero is really a baby. This morning I saw a series of tweets from New York Times Op-Ed writer Patrick S. Tomlinson posting what he thinks is the ultimate defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception. There, he offers what he thinks is a knock-down argument against the position that a fertilized egg is a human being. The original thread begins here, but I've reproduced it below to make it easier for you:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. 1/

It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. 2/

Here it is. You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. 3/

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 4/

Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die.

In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. 5/

They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. 6/

This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true.

No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. 7/

They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency.

No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. 8/

Don't let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don't, slap that big ol' Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them.

The end. 9/9

Choices Don't Determine Essence

Is Tomlinson right? Is his thought experiment the death-knell for the concept that life begins at conception?

Spoiler alert: no.

Tomlinson has made a big mistake in his thinking as he believes choosing to save the five year old somehow denies the humanity of the embryos. How does that follow? How does one's choice determine the essence of the thing that is not chosen? It is a classic non-sequitor.

Now, I agree that almost all people would grab the child first, but that doesn't prove the point that the embryos are not humans who hold intrinsic worth, too. To demonstrate this, let me offer a counter-scenario:

The set-up is basically the same as Tomlinson's, except you're in a hospital not a fertility clinic. On one side you have the five year old child. On the other, a series of ten beds, each with a geriatric patient in a vegetative state. Because the hospital had built safety precautions into their building for evacuations,hazards, the comatose group are positioned on top of an elevator platform. You can either A) save the screaming child or B) you can run to the other side of the room and pull the lever, lowering yourself and the ten comatose patients to safety. There is no C. Which do you choose?

Again, I think most people would choose A. Some may choose B and let the child experience the agony of burning alive. But for most of us, it is as Tomlinson said: instinctively we go for the child. This in no way means the others have somehow lost their humanity. It only means that rational people weigh various criteria, including consciousness and the ability to feel pain when making such decisions.

Like the comatose patients, embryos in test tubes are handicapped. Their ability to naturally grow and develop has been artificially halted, and they have been denied the womb. Just because they have yet developed cognition or the capability to feel pain doesn't make them any less human than my patients in comas. If it were true that those patients were no longer human, then we wouldn't mind at all harvesting their organs as we desire for transplants. (If you shudder at that, then maybe destroying embryos for scientific research should give you pause.)

Ultimately, Tomlinson's thought experiment fails to prove his point. I've answered his scenario honestly. Should I "call him out" and "demand he answer" and admit this doesn't prove what he's hoping it will?

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Atheists Dragging God Down to Our Level

The Christian God is a God who expects worship. I don't think that point is controversial. However, many atheists have offered this fact as some kind of flaw or as an example of a contradiction within the Christian view of God. They see God as some kind of egomaniac since he demands his creation worship him.

One good example is this quote from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry supposedly gave Paramount a script for a Star Trek treatment whereby he sought to tease out the fallibility of the traditional concept of God:
One of the Vulcans on board, in a very logical way, says, 'If this is your God, he's not very impressive. He's got so many psychological problems; he's so insecure. He demands worship every seven days. He goes out and creates faulty humans and then blames them for his own mistakes. He's a pretty poor excuse for a supreme being.1
I've sourced this story back to a 1994 book by Edward Gross, but I cannot find a hard copy to confirm the quote. Still, regardless of whether an actual script was offered, the quote has since turned into a meme promoted by atheists online as one way to show how the biblical God doesn't make sense. But does it show a God who demands worship is insecure? If so, he is hardly worthy to be worshipped as God.

Is God Insecure in Asking for Worship?

I think the objection says a lot more about the objector than it does about God. Firstly, the meme ignores the fact that God is not on the same level as man. Certainly one man demanding worship from another would demonstrate a psychological imbalance, but that's because we recognize the equality of human beings. We also recognize that all human beings are flawed. It is the fact that that other person is not God as to why we their demand for worship as wrong.

On the other hand, God holds certain unique attributes that make it sensible for humans to worship him. One of these is the fact that God is the very essence of goodness. We certainly see the value in acknowledging the good in people. That's why we name streets and celebrate a holiday in Martin Luther King's honor. We don't worship King, but parents will tell their children that it's important to uphold applaud the good that people do. The concept of good should be held in the highest regard. Thus if God is the locus of the good, then he is rightfully exalted for his nature.

Secondly as creator and provider, God should be worshipped. We see this in a smaller way within human relationships, too. Children should honor and respect their loving parents. This is appropriate and children who are defiant of parents who only have their best interests at heart are considered spoiled.

While each of us is indebted to our parents, our indebtedness to God as our creator is of a greater kind. As the author of all life, it was God who not only gave us life, but shaped us into the very individuals we are. He didn't simply stop there, either. He sustains us, blessing us with the ability to breathe moment by moment, gives us the very food we eat, and a rational mind to know Him.

The atheist who claims God is being egomaniacal or insecure by demanding worship has a woefully underdeveloped view of God. God is not simply a bigger, more powerful human. God is different in kind from us, not simply different in degree. Given that even within our own humanity, we see it as logical and right to honor someone for upholding the good and appropriate to give deference to parents and those in authority, then is certainly would be logical to worship a being from whom all goodness derives and by whom we owe every aspect of our existence. If a parent demands such respect from a child (and not demanding such is actually detrimental to the child by spoiling her), then I cannot see the supposed logic of the Vulcan's statement. In fact, it strikes me as illogical to treat a being like God as just another human creature. It's simply one more attempt to drag God down to the atheist's level.


1. Gross, Edward, and Mark A. Altman. Great Birds of the Galaxy: Gene Roddenberry & the Creators of Trek. London: Boxtree, 1994. Print. 27.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Demanding Scientific Proof for the Soul is Like Valuing a Sunset by Its Price Tag

I recently had a discussion with an atheist on where we debated the reality of the soul. During a Twitter exchange, I had mentioned the soul as a real entity. Here’s the first part of that exchange:

@comereason: Never discount the witness of the soul.

@chipsalonna: True. One should discount the soul itself until such time as its existence is proven.

@comereason: Just what do you mean when you say "proof"?

@chipsalonna: Actual evidence. Hard data. Good, peer-reviewed scientific efforts. That kind of thing. Not anecdotes. Not stories. Not feelings.

@comereason: So you want to only use materialistic tests to prove the existence of an immaterial object. And you think that's rational?

@chipsalonna: If you have verified procedures/tests for proving immaterial things exist, I'm all ears. If you don't, why should I believe the soul exists?

As you can see, my interlocutor didn’t see the inherent problem with his criteria for proof of the soul. If the soul is an immaterial entity, asking for material proof helps you in no way at all. He wants "verified procedures/tests" as proof. But what does that mean? The phrase implies that he’s still looking for some kind of scientific way to prove the soul’s existence. But science is a discipline that only informs us about the material universe. It can never test for things like good and evil, whether someone is in love, what the experience of the color blue is, or whether immaterial entities exist.

One way to think about this is to remember the premise of the film The Matrix. There, people were unknowingly trapped inside what would be considered an incredible virtual reality world. They believed they were free, experiencing the sun on their faces or walking down the street when in reality electrodes were feeding their brains with stimulus from a computer program to make them believe their experiences were real.

If we were to see the scientists trapped in the Matrix, we’d see them doing experiments and obtaining results. They would be drawing conclusions from these verified procedures and tests. But the tests themselves weren’t real because the world the scientists believe they inhabit isn’t real. The test results are part of that virtual reality program, and as anyone who has played video games can attest, the laws written in the program can violate those of the real world but still make sense within the program itself.

This does not mean there are not convincing forms of evidence for the existence of the soul. The fact that we have thoughts prove that immaterial things like minds exist and we can know that our minds are not our brains. We can show the soul’s existence through both logical argument and direct experience. Asking for scientific proof for the soul or for other immaterial things like God’s existence is a clear category error, akin to asking for the monetary value of a sunset. The sublime experience of a sunset is not something one can measure in financial terms. Economics is simply not the right discipline regarding the nature of beauty. If your criteria for believing in the immaterial is to be shown material proof, then your criteria is irrational.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

How to Prove the Nonexistence of Something

Atheists commonly claim that they bear no burden of proof since one cannot prove a negative. A couple of years ago, I debated Richard Carrier on the question "Does God Exist?" Given this was a question and not a proposition, each party bears an equal burden of proof in asserting his claim; I must provide evidence for why I believe God exists and Carrier must provide evidence for why he believes God does not. Yet, a lot of atheists felt that I should shoulder the burden is such a debate. "How do you prove the non-existence of something? That's ridiculous" exclaimed one commenter. In fact, proving universal negatives is important, and something we do all the time in other contexts.

The idea that a universal negative is unprovable is what Steven D. Hales calls "a principle of folk logic," not rigorous thinking. Hale writes:
Among professional logicians, guess how many think that you can't prove a negative? That's right: zero. Yes, Virginia, you can prove a negative, and it's easy, too. For one thing, a real, actual law of logic is a negative, namely the law of non-contradiction. This law states that that a proposition cannot be both true and not true. Nothing is both true and false. Furthermore, you can prove this law. It can be formally derived from the empty set using provably valid rules of inference. (I'll spare you the boring details). One of the laws of logic is a provable negative. Wait… this means we've just proven that it is not the case that one of the laws of logic is that you can't prove a negative. So we've proven yet another negative! In fact, ‘you can't prove a negative' is a negative—so if you could prove it true, it wouldn't be true! Uh-oh.1
Hale goes on to explain that any proposition that is stated as a positive (i.e. "God exists") can also be restated as a negative ("it is not true that God doesn't exist.")

Understanding What We Mean by Prove

I agree with Hale that a lot of misunderstanding isn't in what counts for or against evidence, but a misunderstanding of what the word prove actually means. It seems that a lot of atheists mean prove in an incontrovertible sense, meaning something that is 100% certain. But assuming one must provide complete certainty before believing a proposition is itself illogical. Imagine you have a nasty infection but refuse to receive penicillin because no one can prove with 100% certainty it will be effective for you. Is such a stance rational? Of course not.

Hale offers the example that when we eat our lunch, we assume it will be nourishing and not deadly. We use our inductive reasoning to make that conclusion and we are justified in calling it knowledge, even if there are outlier examples of people being poisoned.

Because Christians argue inductively for God, this is the kind of proof they offer. One can similarly argue inductively for the non-existence of God, just as one can for the non-existence of invisible pink unicorns, like I've done here. So, asking for proof of God's non-existence is not ridiculous. It is actually very rational.


1. Hales, Steven D. "Thinking Tools: You Can Prove a Negative." Think 4.10 (2005): 109. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why Believing in Miracles is Not Illogical

When Christians believe in miracles, are they being irrational? A recent Pew Research article entitled "Why America's 'nones' left religion behind" held this interesting quote:
About half of current religious "nones" who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention "science" as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said "I'm a scientist now, and I don't believe in miracles." Others reference "common sense," "logic" or a "lack of evidence" – or simply say they do not believe in God.1
There's a whole lot in that paragraph to unpack. However, the claim that faith is somehow against logic caught my eye. Just how would Christianity be illogical? One claim made by atheists is that believing in miracle accounts like those presented in the Bible is itself illogical.

The charge that believing in miracles is illogical as a long history, and most will point to David Hume's famous essay "On Miracles" in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. There, he makes this charge:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.2

What is a Miracle?

I think Hume makes two mistakes in his assertion above. First, his definition of a miracle, while widely repeated, is simply wrong. It isn't what Christians believe. Miracles are not violations of the laws of nature, but God's direct interaction to suspend his natural laws, which is a big difference.

To clarify, one must understand what we mean when we use the term natural law to begin with. A natural law is simply the way certain portions of the material world work. For example, any two objects will be attracted to one another and that attraction multiplies based on how much mass the objects have and is inversely proportionate to how far away they are. The bigger the objects and the closer they are, the greater the attraction. This is what is known as the law of gravity. If I drop a rock, it will fall towards the earth, because the mass of the earth is so big it pulls on the rock more than the rock pulls on it.

To violate the law of gravity, one should see a rock not fall to the earth even though there is nothing impeding its fall. A violation means all things were the same, but the outcome is different. But that isn't what's happening in a miracle, because with miracles we have an additional actor: God. It isn't the case that all things are the same.

This is why miracles shouldn't be considered a violation of a natural law, but God suspending natural law by his power. God is in some way defeating the natural outcome by inserting himself into the mix, just as I can defeat the natural outcome of the falling rock by sticking out my hand and catching it before it hits the ground. Philosopher Richard Purtill agrees. He defines a miracle as "an event in which God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things."3 

Given that understanding of what a miracle is, we can create the following argument:

P1: Miracles are not violations of nature's law, but suspensions of nature's laws.
P2: If God created nature's laws, God can suspend nature's laws.
P3: God created nature's laws.

C1: Therefore, God can suspend nature's laws.
C2: Therefore, God can perform miracles.
So, miracles are not in themselves illogical if God exists and he created the universe with its natural laws. For miracles to be illogical, the premise that such a God exists must be shown to be false. That means those who reject God because of the illogic of miracles are actually begging the question! They are assuming God doesn't exist to prove God doesn't exist. That's the truly illogical position to take.


1. Lipka, Michael. "Why America's 'nones' Left Religion behind." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 24 Aug. 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
2. Hume, David. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding." The Harvard Classics: English Philosophers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. New York: P.F. Collier & Sons, 1910. 1909–14
3. Purtrill, Richard L. "Defining Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 62. Print.
Image courtesy Ghost of Kuji and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (podcast)

If you were asked to choose the most intelligent person in history, who would it be? Einstein? Newton? Socrates? What about Jesus? We often think of Jesus as many things, but rarely do we think of him as an intellectual, using reason and logic skillfully. Yet, he did so frequently. In this four-part podcast, you'll hear Lenny explain just how Jesus out-thought his detractors and you'll learn about a underappreciated aspect of his ministry: how he wants us to engage our minds as much as much as our hearts.

Subscribe to Come Reason's Podcast via iTunes or RSS feed.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Intellectual Cowardice behind 'Agnostic Atheists'

For certain questions, the answer seems so obvious they feel ridiculous to ask. Questions like: "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" Or (usually asked after you've rammed into something and are doubled over in pain) did that hurt? The answers for each are pretty evident.

What about the question "How Just how much meat do vegetarians eat?" This question strikes one to be much like the others, with the answer being "None, of course!" But in reality that isn't the case. A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that two thirds of those who self-identified as vegetarians ate meat, fish, or poultry on at least one of the two specific days they were polled on.1A Daily Beast article cites other studies with similar findings.2

It may seem bizarre those who eat meat on a semi-regular basis would identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, but as the author of the Daily Beast article, himself a vegan , states: "some vegetarians like the taste of meat, and we sometimes do things we want to do even when we know we shouldn't."3

This is all nonsense. As I've explained before, the term agnostic atheist is self-contradictory. The theist believes in some type of God, the atheist does not believe in some type of God, and the agnostic makes no claim either way; he neither believes nor denies God's existence. His answer is a simple "I don't know." The so-called agnostic atheists try to claim that while the term atheist describes the beliefs of a person, the term agnostic describes the knowledge claim of the person. They do this by abusing the term agnostic by breaking it down to its Greek gnosis which translates into the English knowledge. I've explained all of this in my article.

I bring this up to prove a point; sometimes people will use labels for themselves that are not true to reality but as a way of expressing what they would like the facts to be. That's what I'm finding with a relatively recent movement with the atheist community. Within the last five years or so there has been a growing number of people who define themselves as "agnostic atheists." They claim to be agnostic in that they don't know if a God exists but an atheist because they don't believe a God exists. They even use cute little drawings to demonstrate their point.

Dodging the Need to Support a Belief

So, why would atheists begin to try and change the meaning of agnosticism and atheism to be somehow compatible? What is the advantage? Simply put, the so-called agnostic atheists don't want to bear the burden of proving what they believe. By claiming that they believe in no God but they don't know whether or not He exists, they think they have removed themselves from having to justify their non-belief. "I can lack a belief in God, but I don't claim to have any knowledge of a god or Gods' existence" is the way many would frame it.

Such statements are intellectually cowardly. If anyone claims any kind of believe and also claims he or she has no basis for that belief is to say the belief is entirely ungrounded and may be disregarded. The so-called agnostic atheist will quickly respond "I didn't claim a belief, I said I lacked belief." Ah, but that's a poor attempt at dodging the question. As I argue here, any reasonable aware person understands the concept of God, the concept of ultimate beginnings, and the fact that effects have causes. By claiming to be an atheist, they are negating the claim that God does exist. They aren't neutral but they are saying "I have heard of this concept of God and my belief holds it isn't true." Thus they are making a claim of their own and they need to provide evidence for why they disbelieve the theist's claim.

An intellectually honest person who has no knowledge of something would say he doesn't believe one way or another. For example, I don't follow baseball, so if two baseball fans who disagreed asked me who I think was going to win the World Series next season, I would be agnostic on the question; I have no belief on the subject. But if they both provided me with relevant information and their reasoning, I can make a decision based on that knowledge. It may not be a great decision due to my lack of experience, but I can at least tell them which in my mind is the more likely conclusion based on what I now know. At that point, I am no longer agnostic. I have reasons upon which to base my belief. This is all explained in my article "If You Want to be Reasonable, Then You May Have to Believe."

To be a true vegan and shun the consumption of all animal products is really tough. It requires dedication and sacrifice. You can't honestly call yourself a vegan if once a week you indulge in a juicy In-n-Out Double Double. Similarly, the person who uses the term "agnostic atheist" is trying to have it both ways. He or she wants to deny God's existence, but doesn't want to bear any burden for the justification of that disbelief. The so-called agnostic atheist is hoping push all of the work onto the theist. But that isn't reasonable. Any moderately intelligent person understands the concept of God and at least some of the reasons for why people believe he exists. They should have the intellectual honesty to at least stand up for their own non-belief.


1. And, Ella H Haddad. " What Do Vegetarians in the United States Eat?" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 01 Sept. 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
2. Chituc, Vlad. "Why Drunk Vegetarians Eat Meat." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
3. Chituc, Vlad. 2015.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (video)

If you were asked to choose the most intelligent person in history, who would it be? Einstein? Newton? Socrates? What about Jesus? Jesus valued the life of the mind and it showed as he confronted his critics.

Last month, I had the privilege to give two talks for the Speaking The Truth in Love Conference. Here's my talk entitled "Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived, "explaining  how Jesus wants to engage our minds as much as our hearts.

To watch the other video from the conference, click here.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Making Good Arguments for the Faith (podcast)

Christianity is a faith that is as logical as it is life-transforming. But how do we demonstrate that to a secular world? Christians must learn how to argue better. In this recent podcast series, Lenny explains  how to share your faith using persuasive, rational arguments that powerfully defend the Christian worldview.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Illogic of Atheist Christmas Billboards

It's that time of year again; Christmas is coming. You will see all kinds of people decorating their homes, shopping for presents, and attending company parties as they do every year. Another yearly event now seems to be the anti-theist billboards put up by groups like the American Atheists. Fox 21 reported on the billboards appearing on Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs. They carry the message "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness sake. Happy holidays!"1 Here's an example:

What should Christians make of these billboards? Is it an attack on Christianity? It clearly holds a message contrary to Christian teaching, but the American Atheists claim they aren't trying to undermine Christmas. According to the channel, American Atheists spokesman Randy Gotovich said "We're trying to be inclusive of everyone in Christmas and saying that anyone can celebrate it. It shouldn't be viewed strictly as a Christian holiday."2


Perhaps Gotovich missed the common referent in the words Christ mas and Christian—the word Christ. While people who are not devout or even Christians may celebrate Christmas, the concept of Christmas falls apart without Christ. The holiday makes no sense. The refrain of "Peace on earth, good will toward men" is a call for every human being to replicate the selflessness and mercy that God showed by sending his son to save sinners. That's why taking the entire quote of Luke 2:14 is important: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (ESV). Only in the Christian worldview does this kind of selflessness make sense. It certainly doesn't work in a world based on survival of the fittest.

Gotovich's statement unwittingly displays something. Atheists ideals cannot exist on their own. Imagine if the American Atheists were more honest and sought to abolish Christmas entirely. Why not say, "We don't need this holiday infused at every turn with religious implications and mythicism. We have Darwin Day. Let's celebrate that instead." How many followers do you think they would attract?

The Confused Message of "Be Good for Goodness' Sake"

Instead of promoting atheism by its own virtues, the American Atheists want to keep Christmas, but corrupt it. AA President David Silverman tried to redefine the holiday on their website by saying "The things that are most important during the holiday season—spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry—have nothing to do with religion."3 Again, what? Where did he get that from?

First off, ideas like spending time with loved ones should not be seasonal. Charity and altruism are good things. But atheists don't think so if the altruism carries religious implications. In instances such as those, they'd rather shut down food pantries than allow a church the freedom to help the needy.

But the biggest problem with the billboard is whose idea of "being good" is being adopted here? What standard or scale are the atheists using to weigh whether an action is in itself good or bad? They obviously believe that skipping church is a good thing and going to church is a bad thing. But what if they're wrong on that point? Then how can they "be good for goodness' sake" when telling someone to skip church, which is bad?

When the atheists borrowed that line from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," they misrepresented it. The line is using "for goodness' sake" as an emphatic device, just as you might hear a mother say while scolding her son, "Why do you have to take your brother's toys? For goodness' sake, you have plenty of your own to play with!" By changing the meaning to try and make it say that goodness has its own ontology, that is that goodness exists outside of anything else, they beg the question.

One cannot be good for goodness' sake without knowing first what defines goodness. And therein lies the problem. Atheism has no grounding for goodness. There is nothing to give their pronouncements about what is good or bad any value at all. Everything becomes subjective, like Silverman's claim that "being merry" is an important holiday value. Being merry is nice, I guess, but it isn't a virtue. All it takes to be merry is an open bar at the company Christmas party.

Without the transcendent source of God to anchor goodness, there is no way anyone can be good for the sake of goodness alone. Where does one start? By seeking to leverage the inherently religious principles of Christmas (in which God establishes the foundation of sacrificial love) to try and undermine the practice of religion, the American Atheists have set up a contradiction.

Let them present their own worldview. Let them hold their own holidays. For goodness' sake, why do they keep trying to take the Christian ones? That's simply naughty.


1. Fisher, Kody. "Controversial Billboards along I-25." FOX21Newscom. KXRM-TV, 07 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.
2. Fisher, 2015.
3. "Santa Says ‘Just Skip Church' in Atheists' Holiday Billboards." American Atheists. American Atheists, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Absolute Irrationality of Expecting Absolute Proof for God

In a recent blog post, Sean McDowell interviewed atheist-turned-theologian Guillaume Bignon about his path to Christianity and some of the pieces that contributed to his conversion. There are many good pieces to the interview, especially the concept of clarifying what the Gospel is and what it is that Christians actually believe. I've written before about why this is crucial since we live in a post-Christian culture.

Another point Guillaume made is that he first became more sensitive to the concept of God when he gave up the idea of absolute proof being essential to believe. He explains:
An important piece I came to understand prior to my conversion was that my standard of proof was completely unrealistic. I wanted airtight proof before I could believe in God, and I came to realize almost none of the things I knew in life enjoyed this kind of support: my name, my date of birth, the reality of the outside world, the existence of other people, and a multitude of other things I was yet fully rational in believing. So my expectations about God suffered from a double standard.1
Guillaume's demand for proof of God is a common theme in the many atheists I've spoken with over the years. They really expect God to do things like make limbs grow back or write his name in flaming letters across the moon. Yet, even miraculous signs like the resurrection of a decomposing corpse have been dismissed by those whose hearts are sufficiently hardened.

How Much Proof is Reasonable?

The bigger point Guillaume made is most of the things we believe and believe reasonably are not the things we demand such proof of. For example, most people believe they know who their biological father is or was. They believe this without running paternity tests to have scientific proof that the man listed on their birth certificate contributed 50% of their DNA. However, we also know it isn't a stretch for a woman to be unfaithful, get pregnant, and then pass the child off as her spouse's progeny. We don't know exactly how many children such as this exist, but the odds are strong it‘s much more than a handful.

Given this fact, is it unreasonable for you to believe that the man you believe is your father is actually not your biological parent? Should everyone run DNA tests before claiming their heritage? Of course not; such a demand would be unrealistic, unnecessary, and irrational. Imagine a friend kept saying "But you don't KNOW that man is your father without proper proof! You're just taking their word for it and it is in their best interest to cover up that embarrassing indiscretion!" None of those statements are false, so why dismiss the friend?

The demand of the friend is unreasonable because we include all we know and experience in our beliefs. You don't only look at the fact that some chance exists your father isn't really yours. You also consider the character of your parents, what their relationship to each other is like, and your interaction with them. None of these things prove paternity, but that doesn't make it unreasonable of you to hold to your belief.

Being reasonable doesn't require airtight proof. As Guillaume said, there are millions of beliefs we hold where we would never demand such a level of evidence before believing in something. On the contrary, demanding airtight proof is usually a sign of being unreasonable. I pray more atheists will follow Guillaume's lead and realize that point.


1. McDowell, Sean. "Former French Atheist Becomes a Christian: An Interview." Sean Sean McDowell, 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.
Image courtesy Charles Knowles and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Witnessing Tips: Identifying Logical Fallacies (video)

Christians can sometimes get intimidated when others throw out objections to the Gospel message. However, many times the objections offered are a result of bad reasoning or biased thinking.

In this short video clip, Lenny identifies several logical fallacies that are frequently volleyed against Christians and provides ways to show how to defeat flawed logic.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Atheism and the Illogic of Rejecting All Possible Gods

In one of my previous articles, I posted an anecdote Ken Samples recounts in his book A World of Difference. There, Ken engages with an atheist who agrees that the atheist position is "no god or gods are real" or that "no god or gods actually exist." That led Ken to ask, "doesn't the atheist, for his claim to be real, have to know all about reality and existence to rightly exclude any and every god. For example, to claim with any validity that there are no entities of a particular type (gods) in a given circle or set (reality), doesn't a person need a complete, comprehensive knowledge of that circle or set (reality)?"

The implication is that the claims of this kind of atheism are very grand indeed. However, not even all Christians are convinced of this line of argumentation. There were several comments left on the original post that you can read here and most were from atheists. Yet, one comment I received from a Christian, Daniel Wynn, told how he believed Samples overreached on this issue. He writes:
I like Ken Samples, but I have to disagree with him here. He says, In other words, as a point of logic, "doesn't the atheist, for his claim to be real, have to know all about reality and existence to rightly exclude any and every god?"

I don't think this is the case. If the atheist wanted to prove beyond doubt his belief was true he would have to do this, but since his belief is that no god or gods exist, he need only think what he sees as the lack of evidence or reasons are sufficient to warrant his beliefs. If he were to then claim no such evidence or reasons exist, he would then take on the burden Samples claims.

It would be similar to saying that as Christian theists we would have to know all of reality to show that none of the competing god ideas in the world are true. I don't think so. I think if we have warrant for belief in YHWH, then we can rest in the logical entailment that competing worldviews are false. Evidence for our view is by default evidence against the competing views.
That's a thoughtful objection worthy of consideration. I asked Ken to respond to Daniel's objection. Here is his reply:
Some thoughtful Christians have disagreed with the point of my argument (which was drawn from a real story but was used primarily to provoke thought as the logic chapter begins in chapter 3 of my book A World of Difference).

Here' why I think my point stands up logically:

In the categorical proposition E (Universal Negative): "No S are P." both the subject term (S) and the predicate term (P) are distributed. A term is said to be distributed if the statement or proposition "makes an assertion about every member of the class denoted by the term." (Patrick Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 11th ed., p. 202.)

In the E proposition both the subject term and the predicate term are both distributed—meaning that both terms make a claim about all members of a class.

So logically [No S are P.] can be translated in terms of distribution to mean in non-standard form "All of S are excluded from All of P."

Let's now plug in the statement taken from my story in chapter 3.

No S are P. = No Gods are real.

It means All of S (Gods) are excluded from All of P (reality). So if atheism is correctly defined in the proposition [No Gods are Real.], then the atheist claim is making a logical claim about all members of a class—reality. So, all Gods are excluded from all reality. Thus I think the designated definition of atheism is making a necessary claim about all reality that it cannot justify. Thus as I write in the story: "To claim with any validity that there are no entities of a particular type (gods) in a given circle or set (reality), doesn't a person need a complete, comprehensive knowledge of that circle or set (reality)?"

If my logical analysis is correct, I think it is epistemologically significant that the rules of logic indicate the atheist proposition to be unjustified.

The alternative propositional affirmation "No Gods are existent." also for the same reasons makes a logical claim about all existence.

As to the stated objection, the point of the story is not whether an individual atheist thinks he or she is personally warranted in disbelieving in God because of an apparent lack of evidence, but whether the knowledge claim of atheism itself as defined above is logically justified. Moreover, my personal experience is that many atheists are comfortable affirming a strong claim that No Gods are real. But if the atheist affirms a weaker claim of mere epistemological warrant, then why not ask if the atheist is in the best position to make judgments about reality and existence as a whole. So in an apologetics discussion you could consider critiquing the stronger atheist claim and then transition if necessary to the more modest atheist claim.

Regarding knowing all gods are false but Yahweh (the Triune God of Christianity), my thought is that it seems there is a difference between how the Christian theist's knowledge claim is justified as opposed to the atheist. Namely the Christian appeals to revelation from a transcendent God whereas in some sense the atheist relies on his own limited investigation. Yet I can also attempt to show that other concepts of God appear to be incoherent. However, that's just a quick thought.

But as I said, I know some Christian thinkers disagree with my argument. There may be no universal way of knocking down all atheist claims. But in terms of a story in a book taken from real life that is intended to make a student think, maybe I have succeeded quite well.

In closing let me say that I appreciate Come Reason Ministries very much.
I liked this quote because it shows that the claims we make about the nature of reality must be based on proper warrant. I see God as the best explanation of all the evidence we have as to why the universe exists and why it is the way it is. To me, Ken's approach removes some of the dogmatism of atheism, and when those presuppositions are removed, a more thoughtful examination of the evidence can take place. It opens conversations.

I extend a big than you to Ken Samples for taking the time to offer his response. If you don't yet own A World of Difference, you can get that book here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is Methodological Naturalism Question-Begging?

Metaphysical naturalists may be inclined to suggest that they cannot be accused of question-begging in endorsing methodological naturalism, since this methodology is simply a logical extension of their metaphysical views. If one has good reason to believe there exist no nonnatural entities, then one can hardly be faulted for adopting a methodology which refuses to countenance nonnatural causes.

What this suggestion ignores is that metaphysical naturalists typically assert the truth of naturalism on the basis of Ockham's Razor. Very few naturalists are willing to argue that it can be demonstrated that the existence of nonnatural entities is logically impossible. Rather, they assert that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of such entities and that one should, therefore, refuse to posit them.

It seems, however, that the existence of physical events which are best explained on the hypothesis of a nonnatural cause would meet the requirements of Ockham's Razor and thus constitute evidence for a nonnatural entity. For the metaphysical naturalist to adopt a methodology which holds that it is never, even in principle, legitimate to posit a nonnatural cause for a physical event, is to guarantee that the requirements of Ockham's Razor will not be met. This begs the question of whether there exists sufficient evidence to justify belief in nonnatural entities and thus disbelief in metaphysical naturalism, since what is being proposed is a methodology that, by its refusal to countenance the legitimacy of ever postulating a nonnatural cause for a physical event, precludes any marshaling of evidence in favor of nonnatural causes.1

-Robert Larmer
Larmer, Robert A. "Is Methodological Naturalism Question-Begging?" Philosophia Christi 5.1 (2003): 113. Print.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Discovering God the Way Sherlock Holmes Would

I recently received a comment on my post on how the origin of life creates a significant problem for the naturalist. I was charged with making a "God of the gaps" argument. While a reading of the actual article displays no such breech in logic, it did begin an exchange with my critic that proves all too familiar: any logical argument that ends by inferring a supernatural actor as the best explanation of the facts at hand is easily dismissed as "God of the gaps" while any assumption that "science will one day figure it out" is supposedly rational.

This is an old canard that I've dealt with before (here and here), but I tried to take a different tact in this engagement. I wanted to place the burden on my objector, so I asked "Can you tell me the distinction between a valid inference for God and what you would classify as a God of the Gaps argument?" His reply is telling:
I'm not sure there is one. Abduction seems to be little more than a guess until a better explanation comes along. Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future. (Which is something we may conclude through induction, a much stronger epistemology than abduction.)
There's so much wrong with this statement that it's hard to know where to being. First, let's unpack some terms. There are two ways we can draw conclusions based on reasoning, known as deductive reasoning and inferential reasoning. In deductive reasoning, the conclusion is inescapable from the facts presented. The oft-used example is given the facts that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, one is forced to conclude that Socrates is mortal.

Understanding Inferences

While Sherlock Holmes is well known for what's Doyle's books called "the science of deuction," he actually didn't deduce things. He used inferential reasoning. An inferential argument takes what is generally understood to be the case and applies it to the greater whole. For example, people have observed that like electrical charges repel each other and opposite charges attract. Thus, when English physicist Joseph John Thomson saw that cathode rays would bend certain ways based on whether a positive or negative magnet was placed near it, he inferred that the cathode ray was made up of negatively charged particles. The electron was discovered.1

The argument that Thompson used is known as abduction, which simply means reasoning to the best explanation. We take the facts that we know and try to get at the truth. Usually, that means applying a rule we already understand, such as the laws of magnetism, and seeing if it does a good job of explaining the specific circumstance we see. Your doctor does this all the time, such as when he prescribes penicillin for your bacterial infection. Prescribing penicillin isn't "little more than a guess" but is based on what is most likely, though not necessarily the case.

Abductive Arguments Drive Science

Because deductive arguments are few and far between in the real world, most of science is built on inference to the best explanation. Ironically, my critic got induction and abduction kind of backwards; induction in this sense is actually the weaker of the two. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clarifies the difference:
You may have observed many gray elephants and no non-gray ones, and infer from this that all elephants are gray, because that would provide the best explanation for why you have observed so many gray elephants and no non-gray ones. This would be an instance of an abductive inference. It suggests that the best way to distinguish between induction and abduction is this: both are ampliative, meaning that the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises (which is why they are non-necessary inferences), but in abduction there is an implicit or explicit appeal to explanatory considerations, whereas in induction there is not; in induction, there is only an appeal to observed frequencies or statistics. 2

Closed to the Best Explanations

I explain all this to make sure you understand that the arguments like the one inferring God from the origin of life are not merely guesses or "God of the gaps" claims. They are just like those abduction arguments that are the cornerstone of scientific and medical research. Human beings have observed life throughout our history. Never once in all of that time observing life have we ever seen life come from non-life. In fact, Louis Pasteur's science shows life doesn't spontaneously arise from non-living material. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that all life comes from other living beings and therefore the first life came from a living being. That's abduction.

Notice that when asked for a distinction as to what would make a valid inference for God's existence, my critic replied "I'm not sure there is one." That answer is as telling as the rest of the conversation. He has rejected any argument that leads to the conclusion that God exists at the outset. That's his prerogative, but doing so is anti-logic, anti-science, and inconsistent.


1. Douven, Igor. "Abduction." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Aug. 2015.
2. Douven, 2011.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Must You Be an Expert to Criticize Evolution?

Who's allowed to comment on a topic like evolution? Are only those who are professionals in the field capable of drawing conclusions given the neo-Darwinian framework that drives modern evolutionary theory? That was basically the question poised to me after I received some feedback via Twitter on my article "Is the Origin of Life Part of the Evolution Discussion?" The article makes the case that the problem of how life begins cannot be separated from the evolution question and those who offer Blind Watchmaker-type solutions need to account for this issue in their theories.

Instead of responding to the arguments raised in that piece and its companion, I received several tweets by atheists who criticized the article on wholly unrelated grounds. One was from godFreeWorld who tweeted:
This kind of reply staggers me. It reminds me of people like pro-abortion Wendy Davis saying men cannot comment on abortion because they can't get pregnant and it's equally as much nonsense. I answered his tweet with one of my own stating that not being a biologist is completely irrelevant and it's an inherently biased position to dismiss God as an explanation a priori. He responded by stating:

Is Experience Always Necessary?

So, godFreeWord claims that I must be a biologist to comment on evolution. Does this make sense? Of course not, and for several reasons. First, there are many very good biologists who dismiss the Blind Watchmaker hypothesis as untenable. Michael Behe and Fazale Rana are just two of those, but it's obvious that this person rejects these biologists' conclusions. More importantly, though, to hold a criterion of expertise as the bar one must meet before commenting on any facet of an issue is ridiculous.

Even if his claim is that one must be an expert in a particular scientific field to comment on that field is demonstrably false. Unless the question at hand is one of a technical nature, well-informed people who are rational can draw rational conclusions without being experts. For example, I don't have to be an expert in biology to know that in the entire history of human existence we don't have a single observable instance of life coming from non-life. Thus the claim that such has happened before demands some kind of evidence. I don't have to be a biologist to know that consciousness has never been observed to spontaneously appear from non-conscious material. Because I know these events have no observable evidence behind them, it is well within my purview as a rational being to ask for a model of just how these things came to be. Without them, one leaves a gaping hole—a science of the gaps if you will—in one's theory.

The Demand for Expertise is Illogical

But there's a bigger problem with his objection. The demand for expertise as a criteria for commenting on evolution undercuts its own standards. On his Twitter profile, godFreeWorld claims to be a professor of biology. I will take him at his word. Perhaps that's why he feels that he can demand anyone speaking about evolution be so credentialed. Given that, I simply asked him:

You see, when godFreeWorld to objects to my argument, he is criticizing my philosophy on the subject. But according to his own standards, only experts are allowed to do that. As a biologist, he would be attacking a field he "has no experience in" to use his own words. The critique is self-defeating.Therefore, it cannot be taken seriously and be ignored.

Image courtesy Martin Pilote and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Answering "You'd be Muslim if You Were Born in Morocco"

Have you ever tried to argue for the truth of Christianity and had a person object that "The only reason you're a Christian is because you were born in a Christian country. If you were born in a Muslim nation, you'd be Muslim"? It's a common charge that sounds like it makes sense, but as Alvin Plantinga shows below, nothing follows from it. Plantinga writes:
There is an oft-repeated pluralistic argument that seems to be designed to appeal to reliabilist intuitions. The conclusion of this argument is not always clear, but here is its premise, in Hick's words:
For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.
As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right. Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo. But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it? Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more 100m; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

For suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't believe that I was born in Michigan.) The same goes for the pluralist. Pluralism isn't and hasn't been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn't have been a pluralist. Does it follow that he shouldn't be a pluralist or that his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process? I doubt it. 1
Plantinga clearly points out the propensity to identify with a belief because one is born into a certain culture does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of that belief. Sure, if I were to  be born in aboriginal Australia five thousand years ago, I probably wouldn't believe men could ever construct flying machines, but such a belief would be untrue.

Further, it doesn't even follow that I would continue to be a Muslim if I was born into a Muslim culture. I have several friends who were born and raised Muslim, and yet they converted to Christianity when they saw its truthfulness. Thus, the objection falls flat on every point.


1. Plantinga, Alvin. "A Defense of Religious Exclusivism." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1987. 651. Print.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Jesus and Logical Fallacies: Answering Absurd Claims

Not many people think about Jesus and his intellect, but Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He wasnt a philosopher, but he could argue logically and philosophically when the need arose. For example, in one passage of scripture, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by asking him if the faithful Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or if they should rather choose to love God. Jesus unraveled their trap by pointing out the logical fallacy hidden in their question.

The Pharisees weren't the only ones, though, that tried to trap Jesus. The Sadducees, who were another group within first century Judaism and the sect that had the primary control over the Temple in Jerusalem, also tried to catch Jesus by asking him a question. In Mark 12:19:27, they offer a thought experiment, one that was designed to prove their belief that once people die, they cease to exist.They asked Jesus to imagine a man who has six brothers. He married a woman, but then died, leaving the wife childless. They then said that the mans brother took the woman for his wife, but he also died, and so did all the brothers, each after taking the woman as his own wife. (One must wonder what kind of a scary cook such a woman would be!) Finally the woman dies. The Sadducees then inquire "In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife. (Mark 12:23)"

Trying To Leverage the Reductio

In this example, the Sadducees are using as tactic from logic known as arguing from absurdity or the more formal Latin title of reductio ad absurdum. Basically, the tactic is to take whatever proposition one is arguing against and follow it even in an extreme situation to see if the proposition still makes sense.  Parents are famous for this tactic. After asking to stay home alone because your friend Johnny is allowed, you may have heard them respond, "If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?"

Reducing an argument to absurdity is in itself not a fallacy; in fact it can be very effective in clarifying the points of someones position. I've used it myself in arguing against abortion.  But, the problem with this attempt is the Sadducees were committing another fallacy in their argument. They assumed that because people experience marriage in one way on this earth, that experience will continue to be true in heaven. This is known as the fallacy of composition or the part-to-whole fallacy. Simply because a man and a woman are properly joined in the covenant of marriage on this earth, doesnt mean that that bond will extend beyond the grave. Jesus makes this clear when he corrects them, saying "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:24-25, ESV).

The Fallacy of Composition

Jesus makes it clear that marriage is as we say ion our vows today: until death do us part. The Sadducees assumed that such a union made no sense with the wife and the seven brothers in heaven, and they tried to use this argument to dismiss the idea of an afterlife at all. But all our relationships will be different in eternity.

Not only did Jesus point out this problem with the Sadducees argument, but he also turned the argument around on them! The Sadducees were very strict in the way they read the Torah and they would not accept the traditions and teachings of many Jewish scholars who came before them.2But, because the Torah played such a high view in the theology of the Sadducees, Jesus chooses to quote from one of its defining verses, Exodus 3:6 where God declares himself to Moses. Jesus answered them, "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong" (Mark 12:26-27, ESV).

Jesus emphasized the fact that the verb used is "am" not "was," thus proving that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all conscious souls who still relate to God. Given the Sadducees strict adherence to the written Torah, they had no way to answer this, for to deny that scripture would make their entire belief system crumble. It was a master stroke that demonstrated again just how knowledgeable Jesus was and how he could draw upon logic as he needed to make his point and silence his critics.


1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Sadducee." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 1111. Print.
2. Unger, 1110.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jesus and Logical Fallacies: The False Dilemma

There have been many times where I've been speaking to a non-believer who tells me that he would rather place his trust in science and reason than in faith. Versions of this include "facts rather than religion" or "knowledge over ancient belief."

Such objections are certainly not uncommon today, even though they are completely illogical. Each one exercises a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. A false dilemma tries to limit one's choice between only two options when there may be more options available. To use a popular example, imagine a man on trial. As he sits in the witness stand, the prosecutor comes to him and asks, "Is this the first time you've beaten your wife, yes or no?" Of course, either answer to such a question immediately incriminated the man. The third choice of "I have never beaten my wife" is never offered by the prosecutor, which sets the defendant up with only two options, each of which places him in a bad light.

Why Faith Versus Reason is a False Dilemma

In the objections above, the ideas of faith, religion, and belief are all positioned as incompatible with science, facts, and knowledge. But the assumption that these are incompatible is itself not true. For example, the multiverse theory is based on certain mathematical beliefs and assumptions. There exists no observational data for other universes, nor will there be given that our universe is a closed system. Therefore, scientists who hold to the multiverse theory are doing so based on certain beliefs and a faith in the models they have constructed. Does that disqualify the multiverse theory from being classified as science? Will those skeptics disavow it because they would rather place their trust in reason? Of course not.

Similarly, Christianity is based on certain facts, such as Jesus' resurrection from the dead, based on the historical accounts. Christians use arguments to show that the existence of God is a reasonable position to hold. Reason and evidence are the foundation of Christianity, which just like the multiverse model shows that faith and reason are not exclusive but work in concert.

How Jesus Answered the False Dilemma

Sometimes people offer false dilemmas intentionally as a strategy, such as our lawyer example above. However, it's probably more common for a person to not realize there are more choices than the two presented when he or she is presenting the argument. Still, it is important to highlight the dilemma and show it to be false.

The Gospel of Luke provides us with an example of how Jesus faced a false dilemma. In Luke 20:19-26, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into incriminating himself. Luke tells us that they asked him "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" This was cunning, because if Jesus replied that paying taxes was wrong, he'd be considered a traitor to Rome, but if he said it was OK according to the Jewish law (that is the Old Testament commands) to give a tribute to Caesar, then the would be sanctioning support for a Gentile ruler when Israel's only allegiance should be to God alone.

However, Jesus didn't fall for it. Luke reports:
But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
In Jesus' answer, he brilliantly splits the horns of the dilemma. There are more than the two options of allegiance to God or allegiance to Caesar. One can be a good citizen of the state while disagreeing with some of its positions. The Pharisees weren't offended at the graven image of Caesar so much that they refused Roman money. They simply didn't want to give it back in taxes. Thus Jesus's answer shows that one can be a good citizen and not offend God. In fact, he may have thought of Malachi 6:8, which teaches that all believers should seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Paying for the services of Rome is part of doing justice.

In highlighting the false dilemma the Pharisees offer, Jesus gives us one example of how to better defend our faith. Jesus' use of logic had the effect of silencing his detractors while teaching new truths to his audience. This is just one example of Jesus using logic and reasoning in his interaction with others. We need to prepare ourselves to do likewise.

Monday, December 22, 2014

To Witness Like Jesus, Use Logic and Reason

Christians will many times hear atheists make the claim that faith is somehow opposed to reason.  Most people of faith that I talk with reject that idea. They don't believe that one must choose either faith or reason. However, there are quite a few Christians who think that faith and reason are separate realms that may coexist, but they don't touch. For some Christians, think this idea is comforting. They have taken certain slogans of "bumper-sticker" Christianity such as "Jesus is all I need" and think that such a position is powerful enough to ward off objections. Worse, they think that the same approach works with evangelism.

This is not only a travesty, it is antithetical to who Jesus is and how he evangelized. Jesus was an intellect. In fact, Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived and reason is at the core of who he was. We can see that clearly when the scriptures identify him as The Logos (John 1:1). The Greek word logos is usually translated "The Word" in our English Bibles, but it has a richer meaning. "The Word" is a concept of knowledge. As Merrill F. Unger puts it, "Words are the vehicle for the revelation of the thoughts and intents of the mind to others."1 In fact, logos is where we get the English word "logic."  The word holds the concept of "consideration or evaluation, reflection, or in philosophy, ground or reason."2

Because Jesus is the Logos, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Jesus used logic in his efforts to evangelize others. Jesus' aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to impart understanding or insight in the minds and hearts of his audience. Dallas Willard writes:
 (Jesus) typically aims at real inward change of view that would enable his hearers to become significantly different as people through the workings of their own intellect. They will have, unless they are strongly resistant to the point of blindness, the famous ‘eureka' experience, not the experience of being outdone or beaten down.3
We read of clear examples of this in scripture, such as Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 and the different exchanges with both the Pharisees and the Sadducees in Mathew 22.

Jesus even rebuked His disciples for not thinking rationally. In Matthew 16, Jesus is warning his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." However, they miss his point, and instead begin worrying that he was going to get mad at them because they didn't bring enough bread for the trip.  Jesus replies:
You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?4

Stronger Minds Mean Stronger Convictions

Reason is part of the model Jesus gave us to learn, to discern, and to share our faith with others. As disciples of His, it makes sense that we should follow his example. However, there are some real benefits to incorporating logic and reason into our witnessing efforts. By allowing others to "discover" these spiritual truths, they would become more convinced of the reality of Christ and Christianity than those looking for a feel-good faith. Rational believers are much stronger in their convictions and their faith. They are also less likely to be swayed from contradictory teaching since they know that their faith is not "blind" or transitory, but anchored in the truth of the Logos. They know that their beliefs have their origin in history and they provide real answers for a world in need. So, let's think a little harder and incorporate rationality into our efforts to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Jesus would have us do nothing less.


1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Logos." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 780. Print.
2. Bromeley, Geoffery W. "Logos." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 510. Print
3. Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.
4. "Matthew 16:5-11." New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, for the Lockman Foundation, 1971. N. pag. Print.

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