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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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jesus as the Paradigm of Logic and Reason

The thought that faith is somehow divorced from reason or logic has become far too prevalent in our society today. In fact, as I have written before, the very opposite is true for Christianity. The Christian faith has led the way in reasoning since its very inception. Not only did it produce some of the greatest thinkers the world has known, but its very founder, Jesus of Nazareth, was the epitome of intellect.  Dallas Willard explains:
Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person.

He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example—but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?
Willard sums up Jesus'value of the intellect thusly:
There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.

We need to understand that Jesus is a thinker, that this is not a dirty word but an essential work, and that his other attributes do not preclude thought, but only insure that he is certainly the greatest thinker of the human race: "the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth." He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind. Quite certainly it also played a role in his own growth in "wisdom." (Luke 2:52)
Willard, Dallas. "Jesus The Logician." Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard., 1999. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable

Naturalism is simply unbelievable. I don't mean unbelievable in the fantastical sense, although I do think there's a lot of hand-waving that goes on to try and excise any supernatural explanation as to why we exist. I mean, the viewpoint is unbelievable in that its own assumptions destroy itself. It is illogical to hold to naturalism.

The naturalist wants us to believe that the natural world is all that exists; we came about through evolutionary processes and our minds are one of the products of that process. Given the survival of the fittest paradigm that rives evolution, the naturalist must also assert "What your beliefs are don't matter nearly as much as what the survival value of your actions are." In fact, they do this when discussing religion all the time. Religion isn't true, they would assert, but it served an evolutionary purpose.

To use an example, picture an overweight man who is running. Now, the man may believe he has a better chance at survival if he runs because he puts his body in better shape, reduces the chances of heart attacks, and is generally more fit for the tasks of survival. However, the man may equally believe that running is an act of worship to the life-god and it drives out the fat demons that plague much of his tribe. Either belief produces the same result: the man runs and the man has an increased chance of longevity. Either belief helps him survive equally well. It doesn't matter which is true on an evolutionary worldview because evolution is all about survivability.

Reason Offers No Evolutionary Advantage

Because all evolution cares about is the survival of the individual, reason alone offers no evolutionary advantage. In fact, evolutionary theory proves this. According to all New-Darwinian models, there was a time on the earth where there existed no rational thought whatsoever! Animals were primitive and they had no capacity to reason, yet they survived just fine. They mere responded to external stimuli and adjusted their behavior. They don't know why the water is here and not somewhere else; they simply desire water.

This is why you can get a pet dog or cat to chase a flashlight beam or laser pointer on the floor. The dog bites at it and it isn't there, yet he will continue to chase the beam! Your pet is simply responding to stimuli. They aren't thinking abstractly. A dog never wonders what it's like to be a cat!

Knowing that the earth circles the sun as opposed to the sun circling the earth gives us no evolutionary advantage whatsoever. We gain nothing in terms of the advantage to put food in our stomachs or to shelter us from the cold nights. This is because reason and responses are categorically different kinds of things. There is a difference between neural stimulation and mental reflection. The naturalist will say "All reason is is a process of neural stimulation" but C.S. Lewis argued that natural selection only operates by eliminating biologically harmful responses and increasing responses linked to better survival. He writes:
It is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn [the animal's thoughts] into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relationship between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known.1

Beliefs Can be Counter-Intuitive

Sometimes we have to believe things that are completely counter-intuitive based on our stimulus. Exercise is a good example of this. For me, it is counter-intuitive when lying in my comfortable, warm bed to get up and put my body in a situation designed to cause strain and pain. So the desire to exercise doesn't come from external stimuli, but from our reasoning capabilities. We do the things that are counter intuitive to everything the body is telling us because we have a reasoned that that's a better way to go. It doesn't make sense evolutionary because the benefits are a long way off.

 Alvin Plantinga agrees when he writes:
Fleeing predators, finding food and mates — these things require cognitive devices that in some way track crucial features of the environment, and are appropriately connected with muscles; but they do not require true belief, or even belief at all.

The long-term survival of organisms of a certain species certainly makes it likely that its members enjoy cognitive devices that are successful in tracking those features of the environment — indicators, as I've been calling them. Indicators, however, need not involve beliefs (emphasis added).2
There are many of our beliefs that lie completely outside the realm of evolutionary advantage at all. The belief that evolution is true is one of these. The problem is the evolutionist doesn't have good grounds for holding to his own evolutionary tale, since the evolutionary framework gives no grounds for holding that any of his beliefs are true. If evolution is true, then reason isn't trustworthy. How does one escape that when every belief the naturalist has is a product of evolution? Assuming naturalism is to doubt the reliability of reason itself.


1. Lewis, C. S. "Miracles." 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 317. Print.

2. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 329. Print.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Absurdity of Describing Oneself as an Agnostic Atheist

Imagine meeting a man who traveled to your town from a far country after his nation was destroyed by a war. All the records of civil ceremonies had been wiped out. In talking with this gentleman, you ask if he has a wife. He answers, "I don't know if I am currently married, but I know that I'm a bachelor!"

You'd probably look at them with more than a bit of confusion. "How can that be?" you ask.

He replies, "Well, I may or may not have gone through a marriage ceremony in my home country. However, there's no way to tell, since all the records are destroyed. However, you don't see me with a wife now, I like to date a lot, and I don't want to answer to a wife or have to check in every night. Therefore, I've chosen to be a bachelor, but I may be married, too."

"But you don't understand," you reply. "The very concept of being a bachelor precludes you from being married. You are either married or you aren't, regardless of what records exist. Therefore, if you don't know whether you're married, then you don't know whether you're a bachelor. Conversely, if you know that you're a bachelor, you then know that you aren't married. "

He replies, "No, I am a bachelor who is open to the fact that I may also be married."

 You try to persist. "The word 'bachelor' refers to whether or not you have committed to another person in marriage. That either happened or it didn't. Claiming that you may be a married bachelor is just as absurd as saying you may have found a triangle with only two sides! I can tell you right now that such a triangle doesn't exist and neither does a married bachelor. Your standing regarding marriage defines whether or not you're a bachelor."

Defining Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism

While the above conversation seems farcical, I have been running into a similar issue recently with people who describe themselves as "agnostic atheists." As a Christian, I describe myself as a theist. A theist is someone who believes in God. There are many types of theists (Jews, Muslims, Deists, etc.) They all fall within the category of someone who holds that God exists. Being a theist doesn't mean the person can argue for or even prove that God exists; it simply defines the fact that they believe God exists.

On the other end of the spectrum are atheists. The word means "One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God" and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, came from combining the word theist (belief in God) with the negative prefix "a-" meaning without1. So, "without " + "belief in God" = atheist. Simple, right?

But there is a third term that can be used to describe ones relation to a belief in God, and that's the word "agnostic." That word derives from the same "a-" (without) but the second word is gnosis, which is a Greek word for knowledge. So an agnostic means someone who is without knowledge on a topic or issue. If you don't know whether there's a God (or perhaps you don't care), you would be considered an agnostic.

Because the word agnostic simply means one who doesn't know, it is used in contexts other than God's existence. For example, as a hockey fan, I am agnostic towards which teams will play in the Super Bowl this year. I am not rooting for one over another, and I don't have any knowledge as to which ones stand the better chance. If my wife asks whether she should buy chicken sausage or turkey sausage at the store, I would tell her "it doesn't matter at all; I'm agnostic on that issue." However, if I have even a slight leaning towards one choice over the other, then I am no longer agnostic. My indifference is gone and I do have a belief, albeit a small one.

Thus the Oxford English Dictionary's primary definition of agnosticism reads, "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of immaterial things, especially of the existence or nature of God. Distinguished from atheist."2

Notice that even the OED states that the term agnostic is to distinguish lack of knowledge as to whether God exist as opposed to atheist which says one disbelieves in God's existence.  While I don't believe the OED is the end authority on this matter, philosophers have been using these terms in a similar way for many years as well. (The irony here is that Huxley coined the term agnostic by borrowing from Paul's speech about God in Acts 17:23)3.

So as more and more atheists describe themselves as "agnostic atheists," they are simply trying to claim too much.  Each of these terms describes a single state of belief: whether one believes in God, one doesn't believe in God, or one simply doesn't know whether God exists. It doesn't matter whether you can prove His existence or if you even care to. To be agnostic is to make a claim that distinguishes one from an atheist. It is just as incoherent to claim to be an agnostic atheist as it is to be a married bachelor or finding a two-sided triangle. Such contradictions don't demonstrate a value for rationalism but quite the reverse.


1. "Atheist." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
2. "Agnostic." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.
3. Smart, J. J. C. "Atheism and Agnosticism." Stanford University. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2004. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #5 - Look for Logical Fallacies

When I was in sixth grade, some of my friends and I played an elaborate hoax on the second graders in our neighborhood. We took some ViewMaster projector and some slides of the Apollo missions, a sound effects record, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and some flashing Christmas lights that we taped t the back of a panel and convinced these kids we were taking them up in space. We tried to think of everything; we even sewed some dime-store space patches on our clothing to simulate uniforms.

I don't know just how much the little kids really bought, but they sure seemed to swallow the story hook, line, and sinker. The main reason was we had all the trappings right. It looked and sounded like a space launch in their limited experience.

When you are talking about faith and opposing worldviews, many Christians can be just as gullible as the second graders in my story above. They will hear an objection or an argument and because it sounds like a real objection, they assume it is a serious issue. However, the mature Christian will be able to identify what are known as logical fallacies. Fallacies are not real arguments. They're smoke-and mirrors tricks that are not evidence of someone's position. I've reviewed a couple of these before, but I'd like to quickly go through some of the more common ones below.

1. Genetic Fallacy

The genetic fallacy is any argument that draws a conclusion due to an irrelevant aspect of the source. An example I've often used is of an elementary school teacher who taught children their multiplication tables. Imagine that later this teacher was convicted of perjury. Since the teacher is a proven liar, does that mean the children should now not believe that 2x2=4? Just because the source of that fact has been shown to be flawed, it doesn't mean that the particular point you are arguing is flawed, too. Here are some examples of the genetic fallacy:
  • "You are a Christian because you were raised in a Christian country."
  • "Because the Bible is an ancient document, it can't be relevant to today."
  • "Too many Christian hypocrites have told me the same thing that you're saying."

2. Argumentum ad Populum

Argumentum ad Populum, or arguing to the people is saying because an opinion or position is the popular one, it should therefore be believed. However, the popularity of a position doesn't make the position true. Slavery was accepted in the early period of the United States, but that doesn't mean it was right or moral. Here are some examples of argumentum ad populum:
  • "Everyone believes evolution is true."
  • "The vast majority of scientists don't believe in God."

3. Argumentum ad Hominem

Argumentum ad Hominem means arguing to the man, and it happens when a person attacks the person for some inconsequential reason.  While the most well-known version of the fallacy would include an insult ("You're too stupid for me to believe that!"), many times the ad Hominem argument is more subtle. For example, a Democrat that rejects any statement offered by a Republican because of his party affiliation is committing a type of the ad Hominem fallacy. Here are a couple more:
  • "I can't listen to you about abortion. How can you possibly know how a woman feels since you're a man?"
  • "Christianity can't be believed. I mean, look at what the Christians did in the Crusades!"

4. False Dilemma

A false dilemma is when you are offered two choices as the only two possibilities, while more really exist.
  • "Either you accept outdated beliefs or you hold to reason."
  • "I would rather place my trust in science than faith."

5. Straw Man

Sometimes people will either oversimplify Christian beliefs or completely misstate what Christians believe. Just as a scarecrow stuffed with straw is easier to knock over than a real man, some will construct a straw man of the Christian's beliefs just to more easily knock them down.  (For a fuller explanation of a straw man, see this.) Here are a few straw men that you may recognize:
  • "All you Bible-believing nuts want to be slain in the spirit and protest against homosexuals"
  • "Everything needs a cause. God is a thing, so what caused him?"

6. Appeal to Pity

Appeals to pity are simply trying to not argue on the reasons for a position but rather on making someone feel bad. It tries to play on people's emotions rather than the facts of the matter. You can see this used all the time in political campaigns, where candidates will offer one or two anecdotes of a person who is in a tough spot and then argue that certain policies need to be adopted "to help her out of this difficult time." It's a tug on the heartstrings instead of looking at the argument itself. Here are some more examples:
  • "If abortion is not legalized, then only the rich will be able to get abortions."
  • "Accepting Christianity would mean that there are more people in Hell than in Heaven. That's a monstrous belief."
To see all the posts in this series, click here.
Photo courtesy edgeplot and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why The Trinity Is Not a Contradiction (video)

One of the main criticisms of Christianity is it's description of God as a Triune being. Others have charged that the concept of three-in-one is a contradiction, but most don't understand just what the doctrine of the Trinity entails. Here, in this short video, Lenny offers a deductive argument to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Difference Between God Being Understandable and Illogical

I recently received a question from a Ethan, who had read my article answering the question "Who Created God?" Ethan wasn't satisfied with my answer that God is a being who is eternal; he has no beginning. He wrote:
How can you say that it is reasonable that something has existed for eternity? Existence for eternity is incomprehensible; just as incomprehensible as something coming from nothing.
What Ethan failed to understand is that there's a difference between something being fully understandable, such as an eternally existing being, and something being logically incoherent, such as something coming from nothing. There are a lot of things we don't fully understand yet we accept as true. For example, there are certain properties of quantum mechanics that just don't seem to make sense to us, but when we use the calculations based on those principles, they produces very accurate results. Because we don't know all there is to know about quantum laws, it is understandable that we would find things mysterious, yet we trust the results because they are reliable.

The second class of ideas, those that are logically incoherent, are completely different. These are things that are not simply misunderstood, but impossible to ever achieve because they violate the laws of logic. For example, if I were to ask if the number two smells worse than the number four, you would immediately tell me that such a question is preposterous. Numbers are abstract object, they aren't physical and scent is a physical characteristic. To try to compare physical characteristics of non-physical entities is simply silly. It cannot work. This is known as a category error in logic.

Similarly, to say a something came from a nothing is to endow the nothingness with the power of creation. But, just like the numbers issue, you have a problem. Nothing by definition has zero properties. IT cannot create because it doesn't have the property of creative ability. Nothing simply means "no thing". That's why the idea of "out of nothing nothing comes" has been recognized as true as long as it has.

Since we as human beings have always existed inside time and we all have a beginning, the idea of an eternal being is definitely a hard one to wrap one's mind around. But an eternal being isn't any more incoherent than the numbers two and four being eternally even. There we never a time where two or four could ever be considered indivisible by two. God's eternal existence isn't a contradiction, it simply is a bigger idea than we can fully comprehend.

One last point. Since we know that something cannot come from nothing, and the universe is a something that indeed have a beginning, then that should tell you at the very minimum there has to be something else out there and that something needs to be eternal. Whatever begins to exist must have some type of cause for its existence. So, if an eternally exiting thing is impossible, then the universe itself can not have existed from eternity past. Therefore, Ethan is now faced with a real dilemma: where did the universe come from?

Monday, November 03, 2014

What If You Can't Be Reasonable Without Faith?

Sam Harris, one of the new atheists, in his book The End Of Faith defines faith this way:
The truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern—specifically in propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death. Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse—constraints that you're leaving like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility, and candor. 1
Of courses, Harris is completely wrong in his view of faith. Some aspects, such as his attempt to divorce faith from civility are a bit laughable—especially when it is the "reasonableness" of Harris that tries to label any person of faith as lost in outer space.

Sam Harris is a master at creating straw men when discussing religious belief, and that's just what this is. But the misconception has been around a lot longer than Harris. It was probably expressed most succinctly by Mark Twain who said, "Faith is believing in what you know it ain't so." But people of reason can be also people of faith, in fact the Christian practice of apologetics is designed to give reasons and evidence for faith. Part of the confusion is polemical; atheists like Harris have a desire to make people of faith look as bad as possible, so he writes that the faithful are uncivil and deceitful. But Harris isn't being reasonable here. I've written before about  Harris's misdefinition of faith; you may read articles here and here. I think another key problem with Harris; view is that he misunderstands the concept of reason as well.

What is Reason?

Everyone assumes they know what reason is, but reason involves thinking rightly about the world around us. Ultimately when we talk about reason we talk about a rational enterprise (using our minds) to aim at an objective criterion. We avail ourselves of what we know to try and make sense of ourselves, the world and our experiences. Basically, being reasonable means we are looking for truth by thinking well.

Since reason involves looking for truth, it then becomes important to realize that reason includes going beyond ourselves. Truth is an objective thing; it's something "out there" not just something subjective. Any truth claim lies outside of the individual. Truth may stand in contrast to the experience that an individual has, including even empirical/sensory experience

For example, your senses may tell you that the Sun circles the Earth. If we look up, we watch it; we can see it with our eyes. Isn't that enough proof? No, it isn't. Isn't that empirical evidence? Yes, but just a bit of empirical evidence alone may lead you astray. Just because we see something with our eyes it is not necessarily the end of the matter. How do we know that our eyes are not telling us the truth? We have to find new facts and we then use our reason to compare different sets of data.

When Copernicus offered his model of the solar system where the earth circles the sun, part of the driving nature to his belief is that the Creator of the world would prefer simpler and more beautifully designed way to arrange the planets' motion:

For Copernicus as for many ancient philosophers the sky is the visible God; therefore the study of the movement of the celestial bodies is the most excellent way to the invisible God. The Creator is the great architect of all things; in the cognition of the mathematically simple structure of the universe man will become united with Him. It is suggested that these theological ideas gave Copernicus the pertinacy to work out his heliocentric system despite the misgivings of contemporary Aristotelian physicists.2

Copernicus, then, sought to explain the universe that was as satisfying to his faith as it was to his eye. He dedicated the book containing his findings to Pope Paul III and said:
I am not so much in love with my conclusions as not to weigh what others will think about them, and although I know that the meditations of a philosopher are far removed from the judgment of the laity, because his endeavor is to seek out the truth in all things, so far as this is permitted by God to the human reason, I still believe that one must avoid theories altogether foreign to orthodoxy.3
 There was no way to deduce Copernicus' view using sense data alone. Copernicus showed mathematically why his model made more sense, and part of the attractiveness of his model was its simplicity and beauty. But Copernicus says that he wished to remain orthodox in his understanding of the world and it was his use of reason as given by God that led him to his view of a sun-centered solar system. Metaphysical faith helped propel the Copernican model forward.

When one seeks to be reasonable, it means that he must weigh all the information at his disposal. That may include considering ideas that are not based in empirical observation alone, but ones that have a basis outside of nature. If God's existence makes more sense out of things like the emergence of life from nonlife, the emergence of consciousness and the orderly nature of the universe, then, barring actual evidence to the contrary, it would be unreasonable for us to believe there is no God.

I wish Sam Harris and other atheists who like to bring up Copernicus would look at how reasonable Copernicus really was. I also wish that some of the New Atheists would also hold to not being "so much in love with my conclusions as not to weigh what other think of them." That would be a very reasonable thing to do.


1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. 65. Print.
2. G Zimmermann, Die Gottesvorstellung des Nicolaus Copernicus. Studia Leibnitiana 20 (1) (1988), 63-79. As quoted from O'Connor, JJ and E F Robertson. "Christianity and the Mathematical Sciences - the Heliocentric Hypothesis." The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. University of St Andrews, UK. July 2014. Web. Accessed 03-11-2014.
3. Copernicus, Nicholas. "Dedication of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies." The Harvard Classics. By Charles William Eliot. Vol. 39. Connecticut: Grolier Enterprises, 1993. 55. Print.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Does Being Old Disqualify the Bible's Teachings?

Recently, I ran across another of those atheist memes that have become popular online. As I've demonstrated before, these little quips, while attractive on the surface, usually make huge errors in thinking. However, since Christians are likely to run across similar objections to their faith from skeptics or others, I do think it can be educational to take some of these apart.

The latest meme has a simple image of a man's torso holding a Bible, accompanied by the statement/question "Would you let a doctor with a 2000 year old medical book operate on you? No. So why let a priest with a 2000 year old storybook tell you how to live?"

Leaving aside the loaded language of "2000 year old storybook," the meme tried to do two things at once. First, it tries to make a comparison between a medical procedure and matters of faith. Secondly, by so doing, it argues that because a text is old it is somehow deficient. Let's take these claims in order.

I would like to take these claims in reverse order, but the careful reader should note that the meme is wrong in its claim that people don't allow doctors with ancient medical books operate on them. Acupuncture predates Christianity by thousands of years and I have known many people who reject the wisdom of the Bible but embrace it as a treatment for their ailments. The practice has received enough attention that the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British medical journal Lancet have written articles on the practice.1 Whether the relief people feel from acupuncture is due to the procedure or simply a placebo effect, acupuncture patients will tell you that they continue to have treatments because it helps them.2 So, many people do let a medical practitioner with an ancient "medical book" operate on them.

One Cannot Dismiss an Idea Solely Because of its Source

The main error the meme commits is shown by those people who continue to pay of acupuncture. It doesn't matter how old a procedure is; the real question is "does it work" or "is it true." In logic, dismissing an idea because it comes from an old source is a form of the genetic fallacy. If you aren't familiar with the term, a genetic fallacy is a mistake in logic where a person claims the falsehood of an idea simply because of its origin. For example, I learned from my school teacher that 2 + 2 = 4. But if my teacher is later found to be a habitual liar, it doesn't mean that I must now reject the notion that 2 + 2 = 4! She could have lied about everything else, but that idea is actually true.

Similarly, one cannot dismiss the Bible as a source of wisdom on life simply because it is old. In fact, unlike medical procedures, which are more mechanical, issues of life are universal. This is why we require students to read Shakespeare, Boethius, and Homer—because we can learn from them, even though they are ancient. Human beings have faced the same big questions of life since our origin, and these are not things where the answers come more easily with better technical expertise.

For example, I would not let any doctor operate on me who doesn't adhere to the dictums of the 2,400 year old Greek physician Hippocrates who taught that medicine must be practiced morally and with the patient's best interest as the primary motivation. Such wisdom is so valued that 98% of American physicians today swear by the Hippocratic Oath when gaining their medical degree.3

So, the meme is asking the wrong questions. It doesn't matter how old a text is. What should be asked is "Is the text true?" For that we have strong evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God given to men so they may find the answers to those big questions of life.

Perhaps if the meme's creator had spent more time reading Aristotle's 2,300 year old writings on logic, he may not have made such an egregious error.


1. JAMA articles on acupuncture may be found at . For a list of various Lancet articles on the subject see

2. To be sure, the efficacy of acupuncture is highly debated in the medical community. One of the most difficult problems, as the Lancet mentioned is that it becomes difficult to create a control group for a blind study when the procedure itself requires one to have needles inserted into the body. Regardless, the falsity of the "no" answer in the meme is proven.

3. Crawshaw, R. "The Hippocratic Oath. Is Alive and Well in North America." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 08 Oct. 1994. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. .

Monday, September 08, 2014

Reason and Faith Are Not Opposites

I don't know how many times I've heard the claim that "religion is just a crutch for the weak-minded". Many of the popular atheists in print today like to try and say that belief in God is the opposite of being rational.1 Others I've had conversations with dismiss faith as being the opposite of knowledge. I remember having lunch one day with some mutual friends. The discussion turned to matters of belief and one girl immediately said that we couldn't really know truth at all, to which I objected, saying that there are a lot of things we can know. We know 2 + 2 = 4, the earth circles around the sun, and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. She immediately objected and said "that's not truth, those are facts!" I answered, "Well, are those facts true or not? What makes the statement 2 + 2 = 4 a fact and 2 + 2 = 5 not a fact? Isn't it an idea known as truth?"

As you can see, this girl was trying desperately to draw a line between matters of faith and things that fall in the category of math and science. She was trying to say that faith is merely a personal choice, like which ice cream flavor is best. But God either exists or He doesn't. Jesus of Nazareth either really lived, really was crucified, and really rose from the dead or He didn't. These statements aren't nearly the same as liking a particular ice cream. They are questions of history and of existence. That means they can be investigated and facts can be discovered. Reasons for their truth or falsehood can be offered. And if it's found that there are good reasons for believing in these claims, then we are only unreasonable if we refuse to believe them.

So reason and faith are not opposites. The Christian faith rests upon the reasons we have for believing in things like the resurrection. In our Proverbs passage, God says that we are to cling to "the words of the wise"; we are to cling to "excellent things of counsels and knowledge." Wise words, counsels, and knowledge are all objective terms; words are only wise or knowledgeable if they are true. And if something is true, then it must be rational to hold to such as belief. That's why God says we can know the certainty of the word of truth. To do anything else would be irrational!


1. The most prolific of those that would contrast faith to reason are the so-called "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins writes that belief in God is "a persistently false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence"(p.28) which is tantamount to shutting your eyes and denying what's in front of you.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

10 Conflicting Beliefs of Modern Atheism

Recently, I saw an article by Ben Johnson on Life Site News listing "15 contradictions you have to believe to fit in with pop culture." The article was clever enough and it dealt mostly with the tension of conflicting beliefs of those who would hold up abortion as acceptable. I decided to take a stab at a similar list, looking at beliefs of the pop atheist community and how some of their views sit in conflict with one another. Below are ten beliefs that I've found most atheists to hold, and how they sit in conflict with other affirmations. I've provided links to articles I've written that explore each of these statements a bit more. For item #5, though, you'll have to grab a copy of True Reason and read my chapter on the argument from reason to get a fully developed argument.

  1. Apparent design in creation can usually be explained, even if the explanation appeals to transitions and development even when science has absolutely no clue as to how such development occurred. However, appealing to a designer should be immediately dismissed as a "God of the Gaps" argument.
  2. Good and evil are not objective, but simply the shared preferences of individual cultures and they can change from culture to culture – unless one is talking about the God of the Bible.  He's objectively evil.
  3. Since miracles are much more rare than our everyday experiences, it would be more reasonable to ascribe a seemingly inexplicable event to possible sources we know could account for the event. However, assuming something like the cell that shows fantastic complexity and apparent design is actually the product of design is completely unreasonable.
  4. The fact that divergent religious claims try to explain the existence of the cosmos prove that all religions are false while the fact that there are divergent scientific theories seeking to explain the existence of the cosmos is how knowledge is acquired and is necessary to eventually arrive at the right conclusion.
  5. Reason is the only reliable way to establish what is true, and we reason with brains that evolved only for survival value with no regard for the truth of a belief.
  6. Science is a field of study centered in experimentation and observation and science dictates that life came from nonliving material, even though in the entire history of mankind, no one has ever once observed life coming from non-life.
  7. It is only through planning, intelligence, and hard work that scientist have been able to extend the lives of human beings while the very life they extend is ultimately the product of no planning, no intelligence, and mere accident.
  8. The Universe came into existence from nothing – and that nothing is made up of at least two things: quantum fluctuations and time.
  9. All human beings are the product of evolutionary forces including survival of the fittest, which means that only those who hold the best attributes will advance the species, but all human beings are completely equal and no one is more valuable than another.
  10. Belief in God is a delusion, religion is a virus and it is morally wrong to push religious beliefs on other by expressing them in invocations or other community-centered meetings, which is why atheists seek to push their belief of the nonexistence of God upon all aspects of society.
Can you come up with any more? Let me know and I'll publish the best ones here.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Taking a Chance that There is No God

A few years ago, I was invited to address several hundred college students at the University of Northern Colorado. It was a great time. I had invited Dr. Paul Copan to join me and the two of us were able to meet with the Christian clubs on campus first and give them instruction on how to argue convincingly for the Christian faith.

The main event was held in the evening, where Paul first gave an address to the student body as a whole, comparing the Christian worldview to the naturalist's worldview and demonstrating how Christianity is the more coherent belief system. I then joined Paul for about an hour of Q & A with the students.

The questions were powerful and interesting. Many students were very intrigued with the idea of Jesus providing an atoning sacrifice for us. The concept that there were moral absolutes and individuals would be held accountable for violating those moral standards seemed to spur on a lot of activity.

One student who we talked with classified herself as an "agnostic humanist". She had several objections to the Christian concept of eternal punishment from a God who hasn't given us enough proof to believe in Him. This is a classic objection – one that Bertrand Russell used. However, Paul and I repeatedly discussed the real evidence that's available to demonstrate the existence of God. If one chooses to ignore that evidence, you cannot blame God for not providing it.

One point we talked on repeatedly was the creation of the universe and the creation of life. We discussed the English scientist Sir Fred Hoyle's calculations about the improbability of life being formed spontaneously. In his 1981 book Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe), he calculated that the chance of forming the required set of enzymes in sequence for even the simplest living cell was one in 10 to the 40,000th power. Since mathematicians generally agree that anything above one in 10 to the 50th power is classified as impossible, that's a pretty powerful number. However, she kept holding onto her doubt, saying "but there's still that one chance."

I found such a statement silly. It's like saying if you're broke, you shouldn't look for a job but buy lottery tickets instead since there's still a chance you may win the lottery and never have to work again. That's not thinking rationally, that's just being childish. It's saying "I'm not going to believe this no matter what you say!" Now, you can hold that position. However, you cannot still maintain that there isn't enough evidence to believe in God or that God would be cruel for punishing you for your false beliefs.

I will say that everyone there was very polite and appreciative that we didn't talk down to them or preach at them, but we were treating them as thinking individuals who could be reasoned with. They enjoyed the exchange and as we answered questions; we had the opportunity to lay out the Christian plan of salvation clearly for all to hear. The most exciting time came when one questioner asked, "O.K., so suppose I believe what you said, that the resurrection is true. What do I do next?"

Once the Q & A time ended, Paul and I spent the next two hours answering questions with a group of about fifteen kids who followed us down to the Starbucks cafe that was set up downstairs from the meeting hall. It just reinforced to me how hungry these kids are for real interaction, for being treated as adults and for real answers to be provided for their questions.

I have been very blessed to be a part of this opportunity and I pray God will continue to open the doors for Come Reason to reach more kids for Christ. I ask that you can help us as well, by praying for outreaches such as these and by supporting our ministry financially. For those who wish to contact me about an event for their church, youth group, or school, click here. And for all my friends in the U.S., have a happy Labor Day holiday.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
—Galatians 6:9-10


Image courtesy Robert S. Donovan and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why True Beliefs Matter

Wouldn't you love to write the world's next bestseller? Do you wonder what the "secret recipe" is? Stumble on it and you could be showered with fame and notoriety while your favorite movie star plays your main character.

Many authors and publishers have been working hard on trying to find that secret recipe so they can be the next in line to tap the American psyche. Given the success of books such as The Da Vinci Code, right now many believe the formula to be a mixture of God and history, with two parts puzzle and two cups of conspiracy theory generously mixed together and brought to a boil over heated cliffhangers.

Why would such a mixture seem so appetizing to the consumer? I believe that, given our recent turn to a postmodern culture, we're starting to see the inevitable consequences of the surrender of truth. People want to believe that old concepts of God are passé or that they are too restrictive. We need new paradigms, new ways of thinking about who God is and what He (or she or they or it, depending on one's presuppositions) really wants from us. The best way to do that is to make up fables about how the old stories aren't really true, and then start to believe your own fictions.

How Beliefs Matter

Now, there are people who believe a lot of strange things about the world. Some of these beliefs are less concerning than others. For example, I may have a belief that my shortcut to work in the morning saves me five minutes off my drive. That belief may or may not be true, but as long as I'm at work on time it has little impact on my life or the lives of others. If I'm wrong, it's not really a big deal, it merely means that I'm taking a little bit longer than I could have taken. Saving five minutes off my drive to work is not a crucial issue, so my belief about my shortcut is not a crucial belief.

However, if I'm an ambulance driver then my belief about where the hospital is located and what is the fastest way to get there has a much bigger impact. If I believe the hospital is to the north when it is really to the south and I'm transporting a critical patient, then whether my beliefs are true or not become crucial. The issue of getting a critically ill patient to the emergency room is a very important issue, so it follows that truth becomes more important in this instance.

This illustrates a point that I want to make regarding beliefs - the more critical the issue, the more important it is to have true beliefs. When we look at truth claims, it makes sense to ask "How important is this belief? What kind of effect will it have if my beliefs are wrong?"

The Importance of a True Belief About God

This brings me to my main point, which is simply that the issue of who God really is and what we believe about Him is incredibly important. I hold that this is one of the most important beliefs one can have. Think about it for a moment. The belief in who God is and how He feels about individuals shapes the actions of a Mother Theresa or a William Wilberforce. It also shapes the actions of an Al-Qaida terrorist or a Heaven's Gate member.

Beliefs about God are the starting point for all of morality, for how we view and treat other people, and how we should personally act. Therefore, having a false belief about God - who He is and what He really does expect from us - is a very serious problem. If you hold a false belief about God, it is a big deal, perhaps the biggest in your life. Because the stakes are so high, we need to examine our beliefs about God and not simply hold to those we "like" while discarding al those we don't. We need to make sure that our beliefs about God match what we can know about Him. It is simply foolish to think that you can pick and choose your God -narrative based on whether you liked the story that someone told or whether you like or dislike certain requirements for serving Him.

I have used the illustration that as a child there were many rules my mother set down for me that I didn't like. She made me eat those nasty vegetables. I had to go to bed at a certain time, and so on. However, as I grew and had children of my own, I see the wisdom in my mother's rules. Just because I didn't like them, didn't mean they weren't right or applicable to make me a better person.

Similarly, to deny aspects about God simply because you don't like them in no way proves that those aspects are not how God really is. God may actually be the type of being who seeks to communicate with mankind through the Scriptures. God may actually be the type of being who holds justice in high regard and because of that, He will judge the sinner. And God may actually be the type of being who also felt compassion for humanity and therefore became man to provide a way of escape from the judgment of sin.

It seems to me people want God both ways. They want to know that there's a real God out there; there exists someone who loves them and is in control of everything. This gives many people comfort and assurance. However, they also want to pick and choose what kind of God they believe in, and usually it's a God that looks a lot like themselves. However, holding a true belief about God is more important than that. I hope that as people continue to think about the claims of pop culture, they will also realize that a true belief may not be a popular one, but it must be recognized as true just the same.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is the Trinity a Contradiction?

In my recent series on the essential beliefs of Christianity, I received a comment from a reader who claimed that I hadn't offered a cogent argument for the Trinity. This isn't the first time I've heard the claim that the Trinity is a contradictory concept. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged by everyone from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims as contradictory.

What is a Contradiction?

A contradiction occurs when someone asserts a claim resulting in the conclusion that A does not equal A at the same time and in the same way. To briefly understand what I mean, take this well-worn example of a syllogism:

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

These two premises are not really controversial. But we can know something else about Socrates by looking at them:

      Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. There is no escaping it. Socrates is part of the set "all men" and if everyone in the set of all men are mortal, Socrates must be mortal, too.

But what if I make an additional claim about Socrates, such as:

      3. Socrates is immortal

If I assert premises #1, #2, and #3, I would have a contradiction. Socrates cannot be both mortal (from #1 and #2) and immortal (from #3) at the same time and in the same manner. Premise #3 could of course not be talking about the physical body of Socrates but referring to his work. In such a case, statement #3 holds no bearing on the other two statements, since they are completely different concepts. But if statement #3 means immortal in the same sense that statement #1 does, then Socrates cannot be a man and immortal because it would mean that Socrates is mortal and while he is at the same time the opposite of mortal. Both cannot possibly be true.

The Argument Against Contradiction

Since we know now what it takes to call an idea contradictory, we can use this understanding to see if the Trinity fits the definition of a contradiction.

      1. If the doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being both one and more than one at the same time and in the same manner then it is contradictory and therefore false.

Next, we declare that God is monotheistic. This is a staple of Christian belief:

      2. There is one God.

But Christianity teaches of a plurality within God. Supported by scripture, it makes the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can express themselves differently. The Son may pray to the Father or submit to His will. The Father may send the Spirit, and so on. But they are each called God. So, we get another premise:

      3. The person of the Father is God, the person of the Son is God, and ;the person of Holy Spirit is God.

      4. Therefore, God is one being comprised of the persons of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (from 2,3).

If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction. You would have God is three beings and God is one being. Certainly both cannot be true. However, that is not the Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is that God is one being comprised of three persons. In my last post I showed how personhood is separate from being. We can create a sub argument here from the facts of that post:

               5a. Personhood is not the same as being if the number of persons of an entity differs from the number of beings present in itself.

               5b. A plant is an entity whose number of persons (zero) differs from the number of beings (one) present in itself.

               5c. Therefore, personhood is not the same as being.

So, because we've clarified the concept of personhood and being, we can add an additional proposition to our argument:  

      6. Therefore, God can be one being comprised of a different number of persons without contradiction (from 4,5c).

      7. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory ( from 1,6)

By arguing thusly, one can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory. One must add additional premises to the argument, and those premises must properly reflect Christian doctrine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beware of Straw Men!

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Ray Bolger was originally cast to play the part of the Tin Man instead of the Scarecrow. According to Wikipedia, he longed for the part, though. Luckily, he was recast as the straw-filled character movie audiences have come to know and love. Bolger's character is someone you would want to embrace, a true friend who can sing and dance his way into your heart.

However, many times I find people much too easily embracing another type of straw man, one that should be avoided at all costs. I'm referring to the straw man constructed by those arguing for one particular position over another. I've discussed some of the different ways to argue about a position. I don't mean a fight, but the rational exchange of ideas. Sometimes when building their argument, people make mistakes. These are known in logic as fallacies and the straw man is a classic fallacy. Basically, one constructs a straw man when they argue against a position that the other person doesn't hold, or they mischaracterize the other person's position. Usually, this kind of mischaracterization is used so that, like a straw-filled sparring dummy, the person's argument is easier to knock down.

Examples of Straw-Man Arguments

Some examples of straw-man arguments are easy to see. In their book The Fallacy Detective, Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn use the following example of a straw man:

POLITICAL CANDIDATE A: Due to this year's budget problems, I think our state should decrease the amount of money going to the schools. This would solve the problem. We could bring the amount of money back to normal next year.

POLITICAL CANDIDATE B: My fellow citizens, is this what you want in a candidate? Someone who is against our schools, against our children's education, and against our futures?

As you can see, Candidate B does not talk about the question that Candidate A is focusing on: solutions to a budget problem. Instead, Candidate B misrepresents Candidate A's position to make it sound as if he is seeking to cut school funding because he doesn't want schools to succeed. It's much easier to win an argument in the minds of the people when you create a faulty position and then turn around and argue against a position that the other person never took. That's why the Bluedorns classify a straw man as an attempt to avoid the real question.

When defending one's faith, this kind of switch happens far too frequently. Here are some classic examples:

CHRISTIAN: Without a wholly good God, there is no way to ground moral values. Therefore atheism cannot hold to objective morality.

ATHEIST: How dare you Christians say that because I'm an atheist I cannot understand what it means to be moral!

In the above exchange, you can see that the Christian wasn't discussing whether the atheist could recognize or comprehend what it means to be moral. That's a knowledge question. Rather, he was making the claim that there is no logical basis for believing such morals, even though they are recognized, should carry authority over someone's actions. This is known as the moral grounding problem.

ATHEIST: Science is based on reason while religion is only based on faith.
In such a statement, there are really two straw men. The one easier to identify is that religion (usually meaning Christianity) is only based on faith. This simply isn't true as Christianity from its very beginnings have relied on the evidence of the eyewitnesses and the empty tomb (ref Acts 2:32, Acts 3:15, 1 Cor 15:3-8). Even so far as appeal to the crowd with phrases such as "as you yourselves know."

Secondly, the statement mischaracterizes science as somehow being completely devoid of passion or bias. The history of science argues otherwise, with huge fights breaking out over various positions. Because money and position are now a part of the scientific process (most on the university campus has heard the canard "publish or perish") it is easier for people to inadvertently become biased in their research. In fact, that's what this recent article in the science journal Nature warns. They noted within the field of pharmaceutical development "Science's internal controls on bias were failing, and bias and error were trending in the same direction — towards the pervasive over-selection and over-reporting of false positive results." This doesn't mean that every scientific discovery is biased, but it does demonstrate that science is not somehow immune from bias any more than any other field of study.

Imposing a straw-man fallacy during an argument is not playing fair. It judges another person for a view that he or she doesn't hold and then pretends to make the perpetrators seem more intelligent than they are. If we are going to engage others, we must make sure that we properly understand their specific position. Tomorrow I will talk more about that.

Friday, April 04, 2014

How to Be Smarter than Google

This week, I've been writing a series looking at some of the objections skeptics raise against the Easter celebration. Although it may have seemed like my purpose was to answer the objections, my true goal was something a bit more ambitious. I wanted to make you, dear Christian, smarter than Google. You may think "Make me smarter than Google? That's impossible!" Ah, but it is possible and let me show you how.

No one doubts that we are now a wired culture. Smart phones account for 74% of mobile phone users, according to Frank N. Magid Associates. We have the Internet at our fingertips no matter where we are, and that isn't always a good thing. As I heard one commentator explain, there used to be a time when as you and your friends were waiting in line at the movie theater, you may have an argument over whether that obscure bomb of a film from twenty years ago had such and such a scene in it. Such conversations may lead to discussions on the merits of the scene itself or other issues, but it would always foster communication and engagement with other people. However, now when a question like this arises someone will simply pullout their iPhone, search for the film clip or synopsis, and say "Here's the answer." That's the end of the story and usually the end of conversation on that point.

Because Google searches are so effective at slamming down an answer to points of detail, people have begun to rely on the search engine to answer everything they have a question on. And that's where the real problem comes in. When a question becomes more complex, such as "Was Easter influenced by pagan sources," simply taking the first two or three results of a Google search may not give you the correct answer. It will simply give you the most popular page. Worse, it limits your ability to critically think through the claims. By relying solely on Google, you're unplugging your brain, and that should never be the case.

But it doesn't have to be that way. You don't need to be an expert in history or on ancient religions to see why many times the claims made by these skeptics are truly ridiculous. In fact, I have been intentionally avoiding "scholar mode" to look at the facts as they are presented. Let's take that article I've been discussing this week by Heather McDougall that ran in The Guardian and just hit a couple of glaring problems. It begins:
Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too.
We've already looked at the supposed connection with the spring equinox, the fact that the resurrection accounts are told in a Jewish context, and that the history of the resurrection accounts could not have evolved over the centuries. But look at that second to last sentence. McDougall writes, "The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world." Uh, yeah. The first piece that McDougall seems to miss is that in the ancient world, no one spoke modern English. What do I mean? The play on words between son and sun only works in our language. You may not know the Greek for son and sun, but if you have taken high school Spanish, you can see that the word son (hijo) and the word sun (sol) are very different. They are not homonyms, and they wouldn't be in the ancient languages either. That play on words only works in English, and I'm pretty sure none of the Sumerians, Babylonians, or Romans spoke it in their day.

Secondly, McDougall ties the crucifixion to the constellation of the Southern Cross. Huh? We know that Romans crucified people, but trying to make such a connection is pretty tough. First of all, it's called the southern cross because it is only prominent in the night sky when you are positioned south of the equator. That's why Australia and New Zealand integrate it into their flags. But, more importantly, the idea of what shapes ANY of the constellations make are not universal. Different cultures would overlay their own images on different star clusters, just as you and a friend can look at the same cloud but see very different animal shapes in it. McDougall is spitting out a bunch of "just so" stories and there's enough here for you to at least be doubtful of them without having to do much research at all.

The Skeptic Bears a Burden When he Offers an Objection

It's natural that when Christians are confronted by a friend who questions them about an article like McDougall's, they feel a bit scared. I've received many inquiries by people asking for my help on the charges of the Zeitgeist movie or the supposedly rejected gospels. I get that it can feel overwhelming. But please remember, a lot of those objections are based on others doing their own brain-unplugging. They are uncritically taking any objection to Christianity that they can Google-search and presenting it before you to justify their skepticism.

If the skeptics you converse with are going to engage in a "you must give me reasons" exchange, then they should be prepared to give reasons why they think their "evidence" should be accepted as a real objection. It isn't enough for them to throw out the very first "critical response" they can find. As I've said before, any fool with a login and an opinion can post on the Internet. That doesn't mean the objections they offer are worthwhile.

As Christians, let's be more prepared to engage others by exercising our minds with a bit of practice in thinking through the claims instead of just turning to Google ourselves. Sure, there are going to be times where you need the background or the facts. There will be experts who offer thoughts that you may not have thought about yourself. In fact, part of my ministry is to help Christians by providing some of that information. However, I don't want Christians to be lazy. A little bit of thought can answer more than you may expect, and a quick reply based on your own common sense can help foster more discussion than copy and paste ever would.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Science, God, and Knowing

Today, people look to scientists to find the answers to our problems in the world. But does science have limits? Are there other ways to know something as fact? And how are questions about God and religion tested scientifically? In this series of audio podcasts, Lenny shows why scientific objections to God fail.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Understanding Necessary and Sufficient Conditions

One of the bigger misunderstandings when conversing with others is the issue of necessary and sufficient conditions. Recently, my friend Max Andrews posted an article to his blog entitled "The Incoherence of Claiming to be an 'Ex-Christian'". You can read the whole post, but basically Max argues that folks like atheists who hold that they were one Christians but now are not are actually stating a contradiction. To be a Christian, one must believe things like God exists and that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were real events. In fact, one must trust in those beliefs, relying upon them for one's salvation. You cannot be a Christian without being saved, so, salvation is necessary to be a Christian. And it is necessary to believe in God's existence and the resurrection of Christ in order to be saved.

The problem comes in, then, when an atheist says that he or she is not now a Christian. Atheists reject the very points that are necessary to be a Christian at all. But that's the rub. If you claim that you used to be a Christian, you are then saying that the concept of being a Christian can obtain. Thus, you are also saying that God does exist, that Jesus did die and rise again, and any other point that is also necessary for salvation also obtains. But at the same time, as an "ex-Christian" you are denying these very points!

As the comments on Max's article seems to show, there are a lot of people who are confused about the concept of necessary and sufficient conditions.  These distinctions are crucial in clear-thinking and I found a wonderful video that pretty clearly spells them out. I hope this will help you better in your conversations.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Identifying an Argument - Looking for Hidden Premises

Our culture is changing. The Christian worldview, which was widely accepted when I was a kid has given way to a much more fragmented view of reality. Because of this, Christians cannot assume that those we share with will have the same framework on matters of religion, morality, God, or even the nature of truth. So, it becomes crucial that we learn to listen well, identify the beliefs of those with whom we're conversing, and understand what kind of argument they are making for their position.

As I said last time, many times when people give reasons for their beliefs, they express only part of what they believe. In order to build an argument, the conclusion must follow from the premises, but many times, one of the premises is only implied, not specifically stated. Let's look again a couple of objections we normally hear from non-believers: "I see an abundance of evil in the world. So, God does not exist."

Here we have a premise ("I see an abundance of evil in the world") and a conclusion ("God does not exist"), but how did the person get from the premise to the conclusion? Christians are aware of the evil that exists in the world just as much as anyone else, but they believe in God's existence. So, there must be a something that's implied in the statement, but not said. Now, we don't really know what that second premise is, but we may be able to take a guess. It seems that by using the word "abundance," the speaker is trying to say something about the amount of evil in the world. Maybe he or she thinks there is too much evil. So, I can make an initial assumption that the person is trying to argue this way:
  1. If God exists, He would not allow an abundance of evil in the world. (Hidden Premise)
  2. There is an abundance of evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.
That argument is valid, in that if both premises are true, the conclusion follows. Before the conversation goes any farther, though, one should make sure that the assumption you make is the correct one! I can't stress this enough. It isn't enough to think that you've figured out your debater's opinion, you need to ask and clarify it with him or her. So, you may want to ask "Are you saying that if God exists, He would not allow an abundance of evil in the world?" By verbally expressing the hidden premise, you can confirm the person's argument and you know you are moving in the right direction instead of arguing against a position the other person doesn't really hold.

Now, you can begin to focus on the problem with the argument. It isn't at all clear that premise #1,the hidden premise, is true. How do we know that God does not allow a certain amount of evil for a short time in order to achieve other ends? How do we know what "an abundance" means? How do we know that the world wouldn't be even worse than it is now except for the restraining hand of God (think the alternate 1985 of Back to the Future II)?

Here's another "I don't believe in God. How can you believe in an all-loving God that would send people to hell?" This one is a bit trickier, since it's a single sentence, but you can at least identify that the questioner is juxtaposing God's love with His sending people to eternal punishment. So we build the argument by rephrasing the question as different statement:
  1. You believe in an all-loving God.
  2. You believe God sends people to hell.
  3. If an all-loving God exists, He wouldn't send people to hell. (hidden premise)
  4. Therefore, the God you believe in does not exist.(implied conclusion)
You can see right away there are a couple of different ways you can take this argument, the most effective would be to question the hidden premise. Why should someone believe that an all-loving God wouldn't send at least some people to hell? Did Hitler deserve hell? Is it all-loving to allow criminals to escape without penalty? How does an all-loving God promote justice?

By trying to identify hidden premises and the underlying arguments your challenger is making, you can hone your discussion to a more fruitful area. The key here is to keep asking questions until you understand all parts of the actual objection. Then you can begin to argue more effectively.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Identifying an Argument: Looking for Trigger Words

I've been taking some time on this blog to discuss ways to witness and defend your faith more effectively by using logic and argumentation. This isn't some stuffy, intellectual exercise. Using logic is simply thinking in an orderly and intentional way. It allows one to be persuasive while avoiding errors in thought. In fact, logic is the very tool one can use to identify errors in thought, which means that it can be a great help in identifying why the reasons another person gives for their beliefs may be flawed.

Being thoughtful and building a proper argument for one's beliefs takes a little work. As I mentioned in my previous article, when building an argument one normally supplies reasons for why he believes the way he does. The reasons for a belief could be labeled the premises while the belief itself could be labeled the conclusion.

While many Christians who seek to defend their faith may be familiar with some of the formal arguments and can present them as such, it is just as important to learn how to listen effectively and define the argument your converser is making. Identifying the arguments that another person is voicing can sometimes be a bit more difficult, since conversation doesn't normally present itself in a formally organized way. You must listen carefully and try to identify booth the belief and the reasons why the other person holds that belief if you want to be fair and address the belief as he or she holds it. Luckily, there are ways you can learn to do this with more ease. The biggest help is to look for what I call "trigger words" that separate a belief and its supporting evidence.

Trigger words are simply words in English most people use to show reasoning. We do the same thing when we talk simple arithmetic problems, so I will use those as an example. Usually, you would see a problem presented this way: "If Johnny wants to take three apples in his right hand and four in his left, how many apples will he have?" The word "and" in the sentence above signals that this is an addition problem. If the sentence would have said "less than" it would have signaled a subtraction problem. The words help you understand the nature of the problem itself.

Similarly, there are trigger words that signal whether a person is making a conclusion or providing a premise for his belief. Here's a short list of words that will frequently be used as triggers to signal a conclusion:

Conclusion trigger words:

  • Therefore
  • Thus
  • So
  • Hence
  • Implies
  • Indicates
  • It would follow
  • It's likely that
  • It stands to reason.
Thus, if a person states "I've read about so much fossil evidence, it's likely that evolution is true," we can see the trigger words of "it is likely" showing that the person is drawing a conclusion about the truthfulness of evolutionary theory based on the reason (premise) of an abundance of fossil evidence. Another may be "I see an abundance of evil in the world, so God does not exist." Here, the word "so" acts as a trigger. It points to a conclusion drawn from the previous statement.

Since sentence structures are flexible, it is not always the case that the second clause in a sentence is a conclusion or that the conclusion uses those trigger words. Sometimes, it's the premises you must be looking for. Your discussion may go this way, "God cannot exist because there are so many religions that contradict one another," or "If your God existed, He would do something about evil." The words "because" and "if" are trigger words to show that a premise is being employed. Here are some more to look for:

Premise trigger words

  • If
  • For
  • Because
  • and
  • Since
  • In that
  • May be inferred from
  • Given that
  • Seeing that
  • Owing to
One more thing in my examples above: they hold what I would call a hidden premise in each of them. A hidden premise is a premise that isn't stated but implied. I will get into more of that next time, but for now it's enough that you learn to identify premises and conclusions in conversations with people so you can begin to argue more effectively.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tools for the God-Fearing Mind

Jesus commanded us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but many Christians simply don't know how to love God with their minds. Before we can think rightly about God, we need to learn to think rightly, to think logically. In this talk, Lenny teaches you how you can tell the difference between good arguments and bad ones and how you can offer unbelievers rational, persuasive arguments for your faith.
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