I’ve been a bit.. busy in the last 2 weeks (quietly looking away from “XCOM: Enemy Within” on my desktop).
Intelligent Design has always been a fascinating social phenomenon to observe in the Christian Apologetics circle. For me it is very close cousin of theistic arguments even if they are separated by motivations of doing each: but at the same time, a dangerous distraction.
Let’s start with what Intelligent Design is:
– Discovery Institute defines it as ” (a theory that) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”
– popular literature and articles (e.g. Wikipedia, also e.g. this ) defines it as “Neo-Creationism”. Usually they (conveniently) leave out what is meant by Creationism, however. And this is why things are ripped for misunderstanding
This is simultaneously problem (1) and (2) with the Intelligent Design movement – branding and popular culture.
(1) Instead of choosing a name that is far less convoluted e.g. Intelligent Agency, they chose one that will easily be confused with the notion of “Intelligently Designed” – which opens it to attack from the problem of pain and problem of evil (c.g. cancer and sickness, virus, etc). This, in a way, is a 20/20 hindsight situation but the ID/IA movement just does not appear to want to change their mind.
(2) Popular culture – especially one that is defined by wide-spread Post-Modernism and existentialism, works against any sort of effort to discuss or propagate Intelligent Design , however noble it may be:
(a) An Existentialist culture defines who you are not by your essence, but by your existence. Even if an ID proponent believes what he does because of justified true beliefs, the fact that he is an ID proponent means that he exists as a minority. I.e. kooks. I.e non-mainstream opinion. I.e. on the scale of probability he is probably wrong. For example, Guillermo Gonzalez was said to be disqualified as a science educator not on the basis of his essence: his ability, his ability to generate research… but his belief in Intelligent Design defines who he is.
(b) Post-Modernism is broadly the abandonment of Modernist/Enlightenment thinking into the belief that we cannot either know the truth or be certain about truth. This is consequently marked by an abandonment of of search for truth and instead settling for mere coherence. This in turn creates generations of people who would quote authority to tell them what is coherent in order to move on to.. better things in life. Here’s the thing: truth involves coherence, but coherence does not necessarily entail truth.
(3) On top of these issues, there is the scientific epistemology debate between Popper Falsifiability vs Kuhnian Paradigm shift in determining what is a scientific theory vs what is pseudoscience, and this muddles the rhetorical water big time. My contention is that because neither approach prevails in defining what a scientific theory is, even though ID possess good arguments to legitimately demand an audience the reality is that opponents of ID essentially has a fortress of gelatin: you attack from the perspective of evidence, and you’ll be countered by the claim of “mainstream opinion” of materialistic evolution/Darwinian evolution. You attack it from the perspective of the Darwinian paradigm having too much anomaly from molecular biology and physiology* and therefore some other paradigms outside of Neo-Darwinism ought to be considered in the name of good scientific practice , and someone else will claim ID is a pseudoscience is “unfalsifiable”.
(* – this is to use Michael Denton’s line of reasoning from “Evolution: A theory in criss)
(4) The intentional vagueness in what “Creationism” is makes Intelligent Design rift for misunderstanding and caricature due to its metaphysical implication.
The popular, secular understanding of “Creationist” are people who take literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 7 24-hour day origin of the universe. The Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian understanding, is that a Divine Being/”Logos” created the universe – but digress on whether Genesis actually talks about actual history of the physical world (Concordic view) or it is teaching metaphysical history (Non-Concordic view) . In the Judeo-Christian framework, we start from the metaphysical to the physical i.e. “Top-Down causation” in our understanding. In Intelligent Design, we start from the physical to get to the metaphysical i.e. “Bottom-up causation” in our understanding.
… and therein lies the rub. Because naturalists generally don’t like metaphysics (There isn’t much to talk about if everything is just matter after all) , it is very convenient to group both ID and Creationism together on the basis both deals in metaphysics. And given the nature of culture discussed in (2)(a) and (2)(b), that is usually where naturalists wants to end their note because it just makes it easier rhetorically to attack ID if it is lumped with Young Earth Creationism. YECs, after all, are easy targets when 40 different methods of dating all falsify YEC.
All these create certain interesting situations and implications:
(A) inconsistency and equivocation in handling “coherence” vs “truth” in Evolution/ID discussions.
-This, in a way, takes us to the heart of the scientific realism vs anti-realism debate. Because of Post-Modernism, culture has decided to abandon certainty in knowing truth and would settle for coherence. Now, many people are happy to declare methodological naturalism to be the sole arbiter of the methodology of science because of this – that we are merely seeking coherent explanation that is naturalistic and not necessary knowing “truth” with certainty and naturalistic explanations, by default, just works and therefore we should prefer it. Which is all fine and good… except when, let’s say for example, Young Earth Creationist wanting to hold on to his belief for the very epistemological reason of “preference” jumps into the debate, he gets mocked.
Case in point? Jerry Coyne describing Methodological Naturalism as “method of scientific investigation in practice to studying only naturalistic causes and explanations. “, and obviously a proponent of it as well as naturalism… on his blog called “why evolution is true.” Just because you possess an explanation that is coherent, does not make it true. And when you a priori investigate only natural causes, guess how your coherent theory will end up looking like.
But see: the debate between scientific realism and scientific anti-realism is often the inconvenient truth that most scientists, let alone naturalists, without philosophical training are either uninterested or unqualified to explore. Yet scientists are also often the source of authority and expertise for lay people who depend on other people to tell them what to believe so that they can get on with the “yum-yums” of their lives.
(B) the psuedoscience label is hard to go away.
Is Intelligent Design falsifiable? I believe in the last 20 years or so, the ID movement have developed multiple lines of arguments:
1) Origin of life and the problem of origin of information
2) Cambrian Explosion and the origin of phyla
3) The Privileged Planet hypothesis
4) The Irreducible Complexity arguments (appeal to cilium, flagellum, etc)
5) Fine-tuning argument (though they appeal to it as an aspect of intelligence rather than an aspect of transcendance)
6) The Complex Specified Information detection to mathematically detect design
I am not going to go into whether each arguments have merit: although I think the best arguments for ID is 1,2,3, 5) In principle, just because it is falsifiable should by right earn it a place on the table as a legitimate scientific theory, regardless of whether it is falsified or not- Lamarckianism, for example, is falsified but considered a scientific theory. So is Continental Drift. But yet ID persists in being labeled a pseudoscience – cue scientific epistemology and the problem of the gelatin fortress once more.
(C) Intelligent Design is unviable in a post-Christian culture
Within a Christian framework, because your identity is defined by your essence, and not just your existence, you can freely are free to be either an Intelligent Design proponent, an Evolutionary Creationist – or even agnostic about the whole issue – and you still have the right to demand the right to be treated with respect.
In Post-Christian West (in the exception of the US – but even the US is quickly heading towards the Post-Christian era due to the lost of The Academy to secularist, c.f. John Mark Reynolds), due to the pervasiveness of existentialism and Post-Modernism in infecting the culture at last, pursuing ID is not even an option on the table. The lines between your intellectual pursuits and your essence as a human being is gone: if you disagree with the culture at large, something is just wrong with you – you’re either dumb or uneducated, etc.
In short: the game against Intelligent Design is hopeless stacked. It is not a horse worth gambling.
Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely sympathetic to Intelligent Design. I think they have good starting arguments (though I do not follow the to-and-fro correspondence in detail). And even if they don’t, they implication of ID in generating research ideas in science has strong potentials especially in the field of application of science/engineering. A few examples of biomimicry:
1) The study of pine-cones allowed us to come out with better weather-resistant clothing: See this.
(I am a soft-shell buff- I have clothing made of eVent, GoreTex and NexTec Epic. Beats the hell out of the Plastic raincoats I used to wear!)
2) Development of cheap UAVs:
3) Arrangement of solar cells in solar panels seen in sunflowers:
4) Non-stick coating that is probably more environmentally-friendly than teflon, and many others examples:
There is no good argument why naturalistic processes could, given chance and enough time, can produce a multi-layered system relying on two or more sub-system parts (something like the flagellum has 30) that can function – let alone being made efficient through natural selection. So while ID does not automatically mean “best design”, it does mean if the natural world on Earth have features of intelligence agency, this agent will almost certainly have far more experience in design than we do – which makes exploring real-life design problems in biological science a worthwhile effort.
But would I call myself an Intelligent Design supporter though? To be honest, if I have to choose between being called stupid for following Jesus Christ and being called stupid for thinking that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected, chance processes… I rather choose Christ. And unfortunately, in the Post-Christian world, this is often the circumstance we’ll find ourselves in. As Chad Bukowski would say” If you’re going to try, go all the way… It is the only good fight there is.”. Not only clearing out the presuppositional issues are a lot more simpler if you focus on the Cross, but it takes any conversation far closer to answering the question “What does it mean to be human.” than ID ever would.
I am looking forward to this:
“Been around the world twice,
talked to everyone once.
There ain’t nothing I can’t do,
no sky too high, no sea too rough.
Learned a lot of lessons in my life:
Never shoot a large caliber man with a small caliber bullet,
Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing;
Moderation’s for cowards.
I’m a lover, I’m a fighter,
I’m a UDT Navy Seal Diver. “
A friend/comrade/apologetics buddy/companion pondered on the discussion of evolution within the framework of Christianity/Christian Apologetics recently. Can I call you buddy Zach? Pretty please? I’ve also been meaning to collect my thoughts on the subect. Guess it is a good time to get my feet wet.
Credentials: done 200- and 300- level biochemistry and microbiology as part of my undergrad degree, also did the Coursera course on “Genetics and Evolution” which I passed with merely a few more points to distinction. Worked (as in a paid employee as part of a profession) in an academic microbiology lab/R&D lab. Also completed the Darwinism and Intelligent Design course offered by Trinity College of Florida with an A- grade – which IMO, is worth it if you ever need a “dummy’s guide to the evolution/Intelligent Design” and a run-down of the who’s who on both side by someone who did his PhD on the history/rhetoric of science on precisely this issue.
I would like to split my thoughts 3 fold:
Part 1 (This post) endeavors to deal with the general problem with dealing with the evolution problem in a Christian apologetics context
Part 2 will attempt to deal with the Intelligent Design topic (spoiler alert: I think it’s cool, it’s worth knowing, yet at the same time it is a dangerous red-herring)
Part 3 will try to deal with a meta-game of dealing with evolution if it were to be brought out when one is discussing Christainity
Problem 1: Definition of “Evolution” and the word game
The problem when someone brought out the word “evolution” is that there are at least 6 definitions of evolution in the academic sense as pointed out by philosophers Michael Keas and Stephen Meyers:
1) Change over time
2) Change in Allele frequency in a gene pool of population – e.g., the Hardy-Weinberg equation, Wright’s coefficient of inbreeding
3) Limited common descent e.g. Darwin’s Finches, Pepper Moths etc.
4) The mechanism of limited common descent i.e. natural selection acting on random mutation
5) Universal Common Descent
6) The “Blind Watchmaker” thesisi.e. Neo-Darwinian Evolution i.e Universal Common Descent via natural selection acting on random mutation
Here’s the thing: the Modern Theory of Evolution a.k.a. the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis encompasses all these ideas. Remember when Francis Collins was pinged for claiming “Trying to do biology without evolution would be like trying to do physics without mathematics. – well, I’ll feel the same way too if the Modern Synthesis was somehow deleted tomorrow, even if I disagree with the Neo-Darwinisn Evolution.
Complicated yet? It’s going to get worse: the word “random” here means different things to different people. For example, Ernst Meyer (of which Alvin Platinga cited in his book “Where the problem really lies” = excellent book even if I disagree with some of his premises) in defining “random mutation” refers to “there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational need of an organism in a given environment”. Yet Charles Darwin, in his original formulation in the fourth chapter of the Origins of Species, implies the use of chance and probability in his model:
Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? (Darwin 1859)
When you cannot even define “random mutation” without equivocation, what does “guided mutation” means? One man’s ‘random’ is another man’s ‘chance’… heh.
Now, definition (6) is a composition of (5) + (3 & 4). (5) in turn is a leap of (3) by itself. But even if universal common ancestry is true – and the evidence for me is weak – how do we know (6) therefore is true? Either via the fallacy of composition, or via induction – but the latter is also where an appeal to Methodlogical Naturalism often comes in as a decision principle. More on that next.
The common strategy to the response have been to try to simplify the definition of “evolution” down to the main 3 “microevoution//macroevolution/Neo-Darwinian Evolution” (which is actually a result of Michale Denton’s influence on the ID movement). IMO? Good sloganeering, but not academically vigorous enough to convince most who actually have studied the subject… which leads directly to problem 2)
Problem (2): the philosophy of science, methods and presumption of science and methodological naturalism
As if the definition problem isn’t enough, this is the 2nd Order question which most people, even myself, are simply inadequate to deal with because the philosophy and history of science simply isn’t taught any more – it is something you got to study for yourself. Unless you have generous parents or a scholarship or something.
In very simplistic terms: IMO, the discussion of methodological naturalism is an effect and byproduct of the realism/anti-realism debate in science. The Scientific Realist position – which I hold as an engineer (to quote a certain Dr Michael Walmsley: “you do the math wrong, and the bridge falls down” – one can see why engineers tend to be awfully realistic about the world eh? ), holds to 5 essential tenets as quoted from The Philosophical Foundation of a Christian Worldview:
SR1: Scientific Theories are true or approximately true
SR2: The central observational and theoretical terms of a mature scientific theory genuinely refer to entities in the world. These terms make existence claim
SR3: Given two rival theories, it is in principle possible to have good reasons for thinking which is more likely to be true or approximately true. Rationality is an objective notion and conceptual relativism (i.e. what is rational for one person or group should not necessarily be so for another person or group since rationality itself is relative to a person, scientific community or theory) is false
SR4: A scientific theory will embody certain epistemic virtues (simplicity, clarity and absence of internal and external conceptual problems)
SR5: The aim of science if a literally true conception of the independent external world.
The Anti-Realism position is best defined as disagreement with some or all tenets and taking an awfully Post-Modern position (“that truth cannot be confidently known”): and have multiple variants e.g. phenomenalism, operationalism, pragmatism, constructive empiricism.
Methodological Naturalism (MN), in short, is a anti-realist position: rather than formulating a scientific explanation on the basis on how it actually is in the world or trying to come close to its real-life approximation, it seeks to formulate scientific explanations as , for example, paradigms of scientific culture (c.f. Thomas Kuhn) or most pragmatic way to do science (e.g. Michael Ruse) by appealing to reasons to use naturalism as arbiter of what is science and what isn’t. Now, I am almost certainly going to get pinged by someone who have studied more on this (Which convenient leads to problem 3) : but as I said, I am no philosopher or historian of science.
I reject methodological naturalism on the basis that I am a scientific realist grounded on the Christian worldview: associating thunders with powerful deities because both are perceived to be powerful is epistemically faulty. Appreciating thunder as a Creation of God in the sense that a Creator put in fine-tuned natural laws (e.g. strong force, weak force and gravitational force interactions that led to thunder being possible) to make that possible is NOT an epistemically-faulty postulate or even belief unless one has good reasons to eliminate the existence of God.
Arbitrarily ruling out explanations on the basis of success of naturalism in one way or another, however, is subjective and entirely one’s perference. Now, obviously progress of science isn’t that easily definable in black-and-white terms (c.f. the history of the atomic model ) – and this is where I need to read up more on the interactions between scientific realist vs scientific anti-realist ( Karl Popper vs Thomas Kuhn would be something I love to read up on): but this is where subjective opinion comes in. If you’re a scientific anti-realist who also happens to be a naturalist, you’ll hold on to MN – which conveniently leads to why you would hold on to Neo-Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, if you’re a scientific realist, you would decide on the basis on how much you know and how much you don’t know. I find the latter to be much more… honest.
Damn them presuppositions.
Problem 3) The problem of Argument from Authority, Existentialism and scientism
Dr Ravi Zacharias characterized the present culture as the product of “popularisation of the Death of God movement”(c.f. “Responding to the Times” lecture) – out of which, for me, was the creeping in of existentialism and Post-Modernism. The act of citing PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne etc. as authority on the issue of origin has come to define who you are… and who your opponents aren’t. The interest on discussing the ontology of your beliefs and your conclusion on the basis that you might possibly be wrong just isn’t there any more… nor any interest in being able to walk into a discussion with both parties thinking that each other may potentially be closer to the truth.
Problem 4) The Genesis 1 question and hermeneutics
You almost certainly cannot discuss evolution without eventually leading to Genesis 1. The problem? Existentialism and emotionalism in the Christian church has led to the emptying of intellectual activity from the church. Learning good hermeneutical principles AND the interest to study the Bible without referring to the then cultural context (“sitz-im-leben”) is considered part of CHRISTIANITY DELUXE.
I have to say this because I am someone who have swapped multiple positions. I started out, in my teenage years, as a Young Earth Creationist who justify his belief on the appeal of possibilities. At university, I have come to be an Evolutionary Creationist – but embedded within that is the agnosticism about Christianity. When I found apologetics, I became an Old Earth Creationist who strongly backed Intelligent Design. As my interest in apologetics as a mean of evangelism grew – and thus, the need to pick up theology as a hobby, I actually became a non-concordist: started with going into Genesis 1 as a ANE mythology model by Soden and Miller to now switching to the Analogical Days interpretation given by C.John Collins, whom I met while in Auckland and whom I found his work and logic to be very persuasive. Meanwhile, I love to tell people that I am a theistic evolutionist while also agree with the Intelligent Design proponent just to troll and confuse people. After all, since you can’t convince them anyway, might as well confuse them amirite?
But you cannot really discuss this with earnest in most churches these days can you? 2 reasons from my observations and theorising:
(a) most churches simply aren’t interested in engaging minds – no opportunity.
(b) in what JP Moreland best summarized, most churches (and the Christians within them) have taken the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as “source of knowledge through Scripture only” instead of “Scipture as ultimate source of knowledge” . Coupled that with the lack of interest in hermeneutics, it is not hard to see why the Young Earth position remains a popular option. I was once given the comment by someone: “I am surprised that you are a Christian apologist yet you do not defend the Young Earth position”. I suspect I came close to the feeling of Jesus’ aghast as his disciples picked up the crumbs and bits of fishes and the end of the feeding of the 5000.
I have encountered people who love to have straighforward answers on the evolution question within the Christian framework. For me, there simply isn’t any.
(Transcript-ed from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQFzpiTc6j8)
I admit – when it comes to the “homosexuality” question being asked in the Christian context I have 2 natural reactions:
- Bible verses and the Christian ontology of marriage
- turn to the “Classical” mode i.e. “just the facts” approach.
This is mostly because when I started out learning apologetics, these were Greg Koukl’s strategy. Wintery Knight in particular used to be my go-to for Approach (2) when dealing with the homosexuality too.
The problem with both responses for me is that while there are coherent responses from the Christian worldview, they are not adequate responses for people with other worldviews, starting from different presuppositions, who WILL hear a hostile answer. Especially secular humanists (who are essentially just atheist existentialists with Christian morality) whom I guarantee will have a fun time turning a non-Christian crowd against you. In other words, there is a very good chance that should someone pop that question to you as a Christian, even if you give all the answers that are doctrinally and logically sound, because you fail to “answer” the person and the audience it’s still a wrong answer.
I had to answer the “homosexuality genre” question once in a Q&A session and even though in the post-interview review of the answers I knew I gave an inappropriate response, I could not figure out how to correct it nor who to turn to for a good response. So imagine my pleasure at hearing Michael Ramsden (Director of RZIM Europe and OCCA) who gave IMO one of the best guide on how to answer the homosexuality question without caving to liberal theology available in apologetics today.
(transcript starts around the 1:25:50 mark – this was part of Ramsden’s speaking tour with the CS Lewis Institute in 2013 , and this was part of an apologetics workshop )
The hypothetical question: “Does homosexuals go to heaven?”
Why would people ask this question:
- Litmus test question – what sort of person are you?
- They are homosexuals themselves or they know someone who is, and they want to know how to answer them.
- They want to make Christians look bad.
- The Christian God is unloving of some sort of people.
- They’re trying to find out the sort of things that you do that means you are definitely not going to go heaven.
- They have a problem with autonomy.
- They may want a hopeful answer.
- They are caught up in a lifestyle and they are feeling guilty and they want to know what to do about it
- They are feeling hurt, lost confused – coming to you for help
- They are trying to find out whether there are someone out there who loves me regardless of what I do.
- Reflecting the position of the culture – a question that makes Christians run for the hills/shut you up.
Problem with apologetics today: “Apologia” get perceived as a defensive act. Apoogetics is inherently evangelistic (see Acts 26); Apologetics and Evangelism are inherently different sides to the same coin.
(Key from earlier part of the workshop: “If you give the right answer to the wrong question, it is still the wrong answer”.)
Response: what may you ask:
- Who does go to heaven?
- If I say yes, would that surprise you?
- What makes you think they don’t go to heaven?
- Are you born with this or did you choose to be so?
- What do you think of God if I say no?
- What do you think?
- Who deserves to go to heaven?
- Have someone that you know been hurt by this?
- What makes you think there is a heaven? (It is possible homosexuality isn’t the issue at all)?
- Do you think there is a problem with homosexuality?
- Do you know what the Bible say about it? Ungrounded Opinion vs Justified beliefs
Michael’s overarching strategy/things to keep at the back of your mind:
(A) Question of identity
Standard evangelical response on sin vs sinner: “God loves the sinner, but God hates sin”
Problem of using this line to someone who is wrestling with homosexuality: – Not just because “they don’t think it is sin” – there is something even more fundamental at stake. For Evangelicals, “Sin vs sinner” makes the distinction between what someone is, and what he does. When someone says he is a homosexual, his identity is informed by what he does. And this is not a mistake something that Christians do to form our identity, to make our lives more meaningful, right? (sarcasm)
The homosexual question is a question of identity. When the homosexual community ask this question, they don’t hear “am I allowed to do?”, they hear “am I allowed to be?”. When the answer is”no”, they don’t hear “I am not allowed to do this”, what they hear is “what you believe is that I do not have the right to exist”. Can you understand why someone will feel very threatened when they hear “You are not allowed to be”?
Culture has lost its sense of identity.
(B) Question of fulfillment
Again- Christians never fall into the trap of thinking that they can be more fulfilled in life by sleeping someone before marriage, commit adultery, pornography and sexual activity, right?
We also live in a culture – and this has infected The Church as well – that if you are single, that there is something seriously wrong with you. So Mother Theresa must be very unfulfilled (humour). And of course, Evangelical Christians who are still single will never fall into the trap of thinking that they would be more fulfilled as a person if only they were sleeping around, right?
So this raises the question – can I ever find fulfillment if I am not allowed to do this or that? These are very emotively powerful things.
(C) Question of Being.
– If someone says “Hi, my name is Michael Ramsden and I am a heterosexual. Please to meet you” – if this is a badge that someone wears, it is strange right? Yet when it comes to homosexuality it is suddenly not strange anymore. Are there more to us than our sexual proclivity?
We have to make the distinction between “being” and “doing”. As human beings, we are more than this.
– was asked this question is a university in London. Answered by going into the culture has lost its sense of identity + “is God unfair?” question – because “I didn’t choose to be this way and He made me this way.”
The origin question – According to The Times, the Head of Genetics in Oxford regarding the nature-nurture debate – the answer is yes.” Mainstream opinion is that we may be genetically inclined to all sorts of behavior but it does not mean we have no control over all those different issues.
– Part of the gospel is that no one can change themselves – we can’t do it, but what is impossible for us may be possible with God. If there is a way out of this, God somehow needs to bear some responsibility in bringing in change.
End of meeting: guy who asked the question was the head of the Christian gay-lesbian movement in London and this was the first time he had not got up and walked away in the middle of answers given in student Christian meetings.
Other things to say:
– When it comes to pattern of sexual activity, very often people say “I cannot help myself”
– There is a reason why pornography is made free on the Internet. Autopsy done on deceased homosexual men, and it was found that a lobe within their brains was very well-developed. Brain is like a muscle that can be trained and stimulated – brain will eventually crave that stimulated when it gets stopped exercised. Take less controversial area like pornography – people feel powerless and cannot stop themselves. Reason why pornography is made free is because if you can get people hooked on it at an early age with specific images and patterns they will not be able to break free easily. It take 9 years (!) for the brain to go back to normal. That means if you have people locked in a certain pattern of behaviour, either (A) they are going to need the healing of the brain equivalent to that of a shriveled hand OR (B) they are going to be on a path of disciple for 9 years – you can’t do it alone this is why church is important, but also why it is catastrophic when church life has become so superficial, that people feel they can no longer share with The Church things they are wrestling with because they have to pretend they are better than they really are to be accepted. Evangelical Church is poor with discipleship and poor at communicating at people that “we are in the long haul with you on this”.
Ending thoughts – good question with opportunity with amazing response if you know how to respond: end with the issue of forgiveness.
“Right or wrong” is not necessarily the hardest part. Michael’s anecdote on his radio debate with a Christian Gay Rights activist and a secular gay rights activist. The homosexual community is segmented (in beliefs) just like Christian community. Michael agreed with secular gay rights activist but with caveat “Within the teaching of Scripture, Homosexuality is a lifestyle neither endorsed of approved of for the reason that marriage exists between man and a woman in the Christian sense. (Secular gay right activist said marriage within a secular society is a Christian over-hang). At the end of debate, secular gay rights activist shook hands with Michael, Christian gay rights activist would not. (In other words, knowing how to address the issue, i.e. maneuver the conversation, is hardest.)
I haven’t posted for a while. In between stringent boarding internet arrangement (1 hr a day if I’m lucky – and 3-4 days without internet if I’m not.), moving out of said stringent boarding arrangement to something better, work, preparing for my Massey extramural exam on the historical Jesus/early Christianity, and the annual premier NZ airsoft event where we fight for 30 hours non-stop in the middle of nowhere (yes – you sleep in the middle of it if you can get it), going through church history, Moody’s Handbook of Systematic theology, various apologetics and theology books … I’ve been busy. I’ll try to post more now that my tempo is slowing a little.
Fact: New Zealand is at the arse end of the world. In the words of a certain chaplain at Massey University, apologetics in New Zealand is like the backwater of a backwater. We are likely the only English-speaking country out there without a Reasonable Faith chapter. I’m working through my Reasonable Faith study questions so that may change some day. But until then, heh.
Fact: I am an amateur Christian apologist. Os Guinness, citing G.K.Chesterton, pointed out in “The Call” that the word ‘amateur’ is rooted in ideas of ‘Lover’. “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.” I’m haven’t got my MA in Christian Apologetics or Masters in Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from BIOLA or OCCA or TEDS (at least, not yet!) – but I have been using the last 3 years to sharpen my craft and use it in academia, table-top conversations, and even with lay people. Plus countless hours of listening to Craig, Zacharias, Ramsden, Koukl, etc. And also got my Certificate in Christian Apologetics from BIOLA. So the following are a series of posts about my $0.02 worth of opinions from stumbling in the dark and trying to figure out how to learn to do apologetics without the equivalent of US$50,000 to learn it in the US or UK – but written from the perspective of someone who have tried and found what didn’t work.
I am writing these as a collection of thoughts that stems from a suggestion that I should talk to the Scripture Union bunch in my high school Alma Mater which may happen next year. May do the talk in the context of “asking questions and dealing with doubt” as well as a Q&A. We’ll see.
So what, exactly, is apologetics? Let’s start with what it ISN’T. The Greek word apologia means “defence” – but this is in the context of bring rhetorical i.e. a court-room style defence. So let’s be clear: It’s not just about “DEFENDING YOUR FAITH”. There is nothing defensive about Christian apologetics. There was nothing defensive about Paul’s apologia to Agrippa and Festus in Acts 26. It is about “making a case”, or “give an answer”. Something worth pondering on the next time you see people trying to sell apologetics as “how to defend your faith”.
Apologetics also isn’t CHRISTIANITY DELUXE. This is blatantly almost word for word by Michael Ramsden as this point: Christianity doesn’t come in the BASIC edition where “normal” people go to church and sing songs and listen to sermons and put money in the collection and then go home and DELUXE edition where you get fanatical Christians who becomes pastors, elders, preachers, theology students and people who hand out tracts. It’s part of a lifestyle. Again, often apologists love to quote 1 Peter 3:15 – but no one actually put it in its right context of 1 Peter 3:8-17. Apologetics, in other words, is a lifestyle and a mentality that ought to flow from the life of one who knows he has been propitiated, redeemed, reconciled and justified.
Apologetics therefore, as well as being inherently evangelistic, is also existentially appealing. I use the terms “existentially appealing” because I affirm some tenants of Reformed Epistemology: that within the human soul, not only is there moral and rational intuition built into us but we are also built with what Calvin termed sensus divinitatis, and what CS Lewis as well as Alistair McGrath called the “homing-beacon” argument”: that man is built with a longing for meaning and truth and a good apologetic case not only fits our rational and moral intuition well, it should also make sense and fit our being.
John Piper put it quite succinctly: Good News that isn’t defended isn’t good, it isn’t even news.
What this means is that an apologist is essentially a blend between God’s appointed lawyers and a Special Forces Operator. We make a case for Christianity and communicate across the Good News, we rebutt and remove objections without injuring people, but most important of we are good communicators who listen and strike at the most important points – part of the Col 4:6 “well-seasoned” mantra. Again, to quote Michael Ramsden, giving the right answer to the wrong question is the wrong answer. Words are revealed thoughts, but thoughts aren’t revealed necessarily in words.
Why all these pre-amble? For 2 main reasons:
A) Apologetics ought to play an important role in the normal church life yet I despair a little when I move up from PN to Hamilton to Auckland. There is an amateur apologetics meeting once every 2 weeks down in Palmerston North where we discussed everything from the ontological argument to the Substance dualism. I moved from a town with a population of 60K up to Auckland expecting to see more, not less. Guess what I found.
B) I feel the North American approach to apologetics isn’t going to work in NZ. Culturally Yanks and Kiwis are world apart- what we treasure are worlds apart. North American apologetics feels far more… confrontal, towards Classical Apologetics. Which is fine in probably 20% of New Zealand setting especially if you work and deal in the scientific and knowledge environment (e.g. university, biotech, etc.) , but for the vast majority of Kiwis even something as simple as “Objective Moral Values and Duties” will most likely sail over their head less you take the time to explain it to them. If they even care to start with.
Greg Koukl isn’t always right (especially when it comes to Molinism) but he is right on a lot of things. In the same way he linked the idea of apologists as ambassadors and to split ambassadorship into “Knowledge, Wisdom and Character”. I’ll talk a bit about each in the next few series… especially once I finished my final exam on a paper on the Historical Jesus this semester.