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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 objections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label objections. Show all posts

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does "We Believe as We Are Taught" Explain Christianity's Popularity?

The vast majority of people across the globe believe in some type of deity. However, much has been made of recent polls showing that in western nations such as Europe and the United States there is a growing number of people who do not believe in God. One recent article pointed to a poll of Icelanders that claimed no Icelander under the age of 25 believes God created the world. 1 Given the fact the poll was conducted by an atheist group and they also found 42% of those that same 25 and younger set identified as Christian, I would question the poll's methodology before making the grandiose claim of 0.0%.

But the desire of those like the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association to trumpet how more and more people are disbelieving God raises another issue. What are they trying to say? How does the fact we see some growth in the number of atheists and agnostics correlate with that is true and what is not? Certainly, such an argument would be counter-intuitive for the atheist. If truth was found by percentages, then the theists' numbers provide overwhelming evidence for God's existence.

Usually, atheists don't argue that point. They take the tact that religious beliefs are held because they are taught or caught like a virus. Richard Carrier claims "The most fundamental reason for the persistence of religious belief is the very simple fact that we believe as we are taught." 2 Atheists sometimes make the related argument that goes something along the lines of, "If you were born in Afghanistan, you'd be arguing for Allah's existence right now!"

However, there are several problems with this claim. We can look at least three:

1. It Commits the Genetic Fallacy

Just because we're taught something doesn't make it wrong. We believe other things, like molecules are comprised from atoms. We hold to that belief without having to do our own experiments. Even counter-intuitive beliefs like how quantum particles behave as if they know we're going to look at them before we do in double-slit experiments. Even if my fourth grade teacher was a crook and a liar, does that mean I shouldn't believe Father Serra was responsible for building the California Missions? There are a whole host of things people believe because they are taught. One cannot dismiss the belief simply by questioning the source.

2. Christianity's History Shows the Opposite

While it's true that some people will accept their faith system without question, it doesn't mean this was the way the faith system itself grew. Islam has a history of conquest and pressing its belief system onto subjugated groups. Christianity, however, grew differently. Christians for 2000 years have been going into places where people believed something else and converting them. Although a group such as the Greeks or the Irish or the Romans held to a particular belief system, one that they were taught, they converted to Christianity freely because they were presented with the truth of the Gospel. They changed their beliefs, even though it many times meant more danger and persecution.

3. Atheists Will Abandon Their Beliefs Today

Finally, there are beliefs that are abandoned as unsupportable EVEN THOUGH we've been taught them. Most every adult I know was taught that Santa Claus existed as a child, but I know of not a single individual who has remained committed to that belief. I certainly have never heard of an individual who grew up not believing in Santa Clause but decided at 35 Santa was real!

However, I know many very reasonable people who grew up atheist but as an adult abandoned atheism for Christianity. C.S. Lewis is one example. In countries like Afghanistan today, people are converting to Christianity though they were taught Islam and the punishment of apostasy is death. Ravi Zacharias was born in India, but he isn't arguing for Hinduism.

The claim that religion succeeds because of mental laziness is itself as lazy claim. It's also one that turns on itself; I could use the same concept to argue that the increase in non-belief isn't because of thoughtful reflection, but it is simply a reaction to what atheistic teachers are telling young people in colleges. In order to determine the truth about God, we mustn't look to polls. We need to investigate the truth claims each offers.


1. Staff. "0.0% of Icelanders 25 Years or Younger Believe God Created the World, New Poll Reveals." Iceland Magazine. Imag Ehf., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
2. Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. Print. 261.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is God An Egomaniac In Desiring Worship? (video)

One of the more flimsy objections to the concept of God I've heard is "Why would God create beings so they could just turn around and praise him? Doesn't that seem needy or egotistical? Why does an all-powerful God need us to worship him?" The question displays both a superficial understanding of what worship is and how it shapes the believer. It also demonstrates an amazing level of arrogance by the person who thinks that he should never have to show deference to his creator.

In this short video, Lenny explains why t is both decent and proper that human beings should worship a God of love who created them.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

What About Slavery in the Bible? (video)

"Why would a God of love allow the Israelites to won slaves, even giving them laws on ownership?" It seems to be a common objection by some who seek to demonstrate that the Bible is incoherent. However, as Lenny explains in this short video, the concept of slave in the Ancient Near East wasn't the same thing as it was in the pre-Civil War south. It was much broader, including serfdom and share-cropping type relationships.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Won't God Heal Amputees? (video)

One objection to God's existence that has become popular in atheist circles is the fact that God won't heal amputees. A web site of that name argues, "The Bible clearly promises that God answers prayers... So what should happen if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs? Clearly, if God is real, limbs should regenerate through prayer. In reality, they do not."

In this short video, Lenny answers the charge that God is not real because he won't heal amputees and shows why the objection fails.

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.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Don't Avoid the JWs, or You May Lose a Christian!

Two Jehovah's Witnessed came to my door yesterday. We talked for some time and during our conversation I asked the more experienced gentleman, whose name was Albert, to tell me why he decided to follow the teachings of the Watchtower. This is his response:
"I was raised Baptist. However, one day when two men came up to my door, they told me a lot of things that I had never heard before. They told me the truth. For example, they told me the truth about holidays. Today is Halloween and many of the different churches will celebrate this holiday that has its roots in paganism. It was a pagan holiday, started by pagans but Christians don't seem to mind. Even Christmas.  People will say 'Oh, on Christmas we celebrate Jesus,' but Jesus wasn't born on December 25! We know that he wasn't because snow would have been on the ground in December, but the shepherds were out feeding their flocks."
During this point in the conversation, I began to wonder why holidays would be the thing to cause one to change belief systems. It sounded trivial to me. But then Albert got to the crux of the problem:
"They also talked about things like the Trinity and how the Trinity isn't right. They told me things that I'd never heard before in all my time at church. Afterwards, I was confused and called my pastor. I told him what they said and asked about the holidays and the points they brought up. He asked me, 'Are those Jehovah's Witnesses? You just need to stay away from those guys. They aren't good for you. And he hung up. It was after that that I began to learn from the Witnesses because they would tell me the truth."
This really saddened me. It wasn't the problems with the holidays that turned Albert away; it was his pastor's lack of response. Albert thought that his pastor either was trying to hide something from him or possibly that the pastor had no answer to his questions. But he didn't care about these issues that bothered Albert. He simply dismissed his meeting with the Witnesses and said, "Those guys are dangerous. Don't listen to them."

Albert's pastor should be ashamed of his counsel. Instead of protecting Albert from the wolves that cone in to devour the flock, the pastor's warning had the opposite effect and made Albert a Jehovah's Witness. That was in 1980, and Albert has spent the last forty years going door to door trying to pry others away from the faith.

I've heard several pastors tell their congregations not to engage with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons.  They say don't confront atheists. They don't see any benefit of arguing with a person whose mind is made up. But, as Albert's story shows, this kind of response doesn't protect people from falling away. In fact, it may actually drive them towards a heretical belief since the Mormon or JW appear to want to engage in difficult questions about the Bible and faith.

Churches today need to become more serious in tackling the hard questions that both their congregants and their critics have. If Christianity is true, tough questions shouldn't scare us. Given the complexity of humanity and the transcendence of God, it also shouldn't surprise us that there will be some difficult issues we'll need to handle. But, we do a grave disservice to both the unbeliever and the Christian if we don't start working hard to find the best answers we can to the objections to the faith and incorporate them as part of a mature Christian life. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19)." If we neglect the life of the mind, we are not fulfilling that call.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Should Be Able to Speak in the Abortion Debate?

During her filibuster to try and stop the Texas abortion bill that was just signed into law, Texas state Senator Wendy Davis said, "This legislating is being done and voted on—look around the room—primarily by men." In making that statement, Davis invoked an argument that has been used many times in the abortion debate: that since men cannot get pregnant they lack the real knowledge of what abortion means for women. A blogger at the Abortion Gang web site makes the same claim even more clearly when she writes:
"I want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion… In fact, the majority of persons in government who are anti-choice, are men. And none of them can get pregnant. The people who are making decisions that affect the lives of women, CAN'T EVEN GET PREGNANT! And so, I want to silence the voices of all men." (Emphasis in the original.)
The interesting thing, though, was that the Davis clip was featured on Rachel Maddow's news talk show on MSNBC. If you don't know, Maddow is an open lesbian who says she's in a committed relationship with her partner, Susan Mikula. So, other than spending a lot of money on insemination treatments, Maddow has the exact same chance of getting pregnant as any man in the Texas state government: none at all. Yet, Maddow felt she was quite in the right to discuss the issue and lead with this argument by Davis.

If pro-abortion supporters like Davis and the Abortion Gang are going to argue that the opinion of someone who cannot get pregnant should count less than those who can, then thy should be consistent and ban lesbians from the debate. In fact, they should have no infertile women or post-menopausal women speak to the issue, either.

It is clear that a standard such as the ability to get pregnant falls woefully short of a good argument in whether such a bill as was before the Texas representatives should be passed. Davis knows this and she was hoping to trade on people's emotions rather than making real arguments. Maddow seems to have bought it, even though her actions in engaging with the debate directly contradict the point that Davis implies. Such contradictions are worthy to be ignored.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is It Fair That Hell Is Eternal? (video)

I recently received a letter from a person asking how a loving God could sentence people to Hell for all eternity. The writer said that it didn't seem fair that a finite amount of sins should be punished for an infinite amount of time. However, this misunderstands both the difference between sin and holiness as well as the status of a person who has an active will even after death.

Watch this short clip on my response to this particular question and see why an eternal separation from God is both fair and makes perfect sense.

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