Thursday, September 5, 2013

Evidential Apologetics - Part 1 - The Bible and History

The second popular method of apologetics that I wanted to write out is evidentialism.  As the name implies, evidential apologetics is the method that emphasizes the use of evidences in proving God's existence and the truth of Christianity. Traditionally the defining characteristic of evidential apologetics is that God's existence does not have to be established before arguing for Christianity. Instead of trying to establish God's existence with rational (classical) arguments, the evidential apologist argues directly for the truth of Christianity by using historical, archeological, and even scientific evidence for the Bible and Jesus.

Evidential Apologetics:
While there are a number of evidential arguments, by far the most common is arguing for the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.  According to evidentialism, to successfully argue that Jesus rose again from the dead would prove that God exists, that Jesus is His messenger, and that everything Jesus taught was truly from God. Typically, the evidentialist will argue first for the historical reliability of the Bible and then argue for the resurrection of Jesus.

Treating the New Testament as Historical Books:
First, the evidentialist will argue that the New Testament should be treated as a historical book.  Rather than argue for the inspiration of the Bible, evidentialists believe we should first present the Bible as a compilation of reliable historical documents.  In this case we would treat it the same way we would treat works by Josephus, Herodotus, Tacitus, or other ancient documents.  Evidentialists usually emphasize this by saying something like, "For the sake of argument, let's pretend to strip off the gold binding of my Bible and treat it simply as a bunch of ancient letters that have come down to us through history."

Doing History:
Once this is established, the evidentialist will do the work of a historian and look at the Bible the way a historian would look at the Bible.  The goal is to show that the New Testament documents are just as reliable as, if not superior to, the works of all other ancient authors. In the next post, I will look at issues like how early was the New Testament written, were the authors eye-witnesses, and were they biased?

Do you think looking at evidence is important?  What are some common objections?  Perhaps you have a question.  Feel free to leave a comment so that I can respond and not be bored at work!

Monday, April 1, 2013

New Theology Movie

I don't know if you heard but there's a new theology movie coming out! I'm really excited because it seems to have a pretty big production.  On the other hand the casting seems just a little bit questionable.  If you don't believe me, here's a few examples..

Pastor Victor Sholar will be played by NBA star Derek Fisher:

Pastor and author Joel Osteen will be played by funny-man Tim Allen.

Christian author and speaker Francis Chan will be played by TV host Montel Williams

Infamous new atheist Sam Harris will be played by Ben Stiller.

The controversial Pastor Mark Driscoll will be played by the Big Boy statue.

They are having a difficult time casting someone versatile enough for the role of Christian author and speaker C.J. Mahaney. So far the studio has hinted that Mahaney will either be played by...
 Professor X:

Vin Diesel:

...or my thumb with glasses:

Popular Christian author Philip Yancey will be played by PBS painting show host Bob Ross.

Controversial Christian author and pastor Rob Bell will be played by the Sprint Can-You-Hear-Me-Now guy:

Bell was offered to play the role himself but declined in light of being recently casted as Aragorn in the next Lord of the Rings sequel:

Yes I recognize and fully accept that this is a whole new level of nerdiness...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Classical Apologetics - Summary

There are more Classical Arguments out there, but here I have summarized the four most historically popular arguments in their contemporary versions.  The point of this post is to show how these arguments are meant to be used as a cumulative case in proving that God exists.  For instance, one of the most common objections to the classical arguments is that they do not prove enough. This objection usually sounds something like this: "The teleological argument only shows that there was a designer of the universe, not a creator, or an all-powerful being, or if this being is good or evil..."  The truth is that the teleological argument is only supposed to prove the existence of a designer.  However, the arguments are meant to be taken together as a cumulative case.  Think of a detective who gathers evidence to put together a bigger picture.  It is not enough for the detective to know that the murderer was left handed.  The detective needs to find out how tall the suspect is, his hair color, his weight, etc. With that in mind, let's take a look at the four arguments one more time:

Surveying the Evidence
The Cosmological Argument:
#1  Everything that begins to exists has a cause
#2  This universe began to exist
#3  Therefore, this universe has a cause

If successful this argument leaves you with a space-less, timeless, unimaginably powerful, personal being.

The Teleological Argument:
#1 Purpose and design in a system implies a designer
#2 The universe shows purpose and design
#3 Therefore, the universe has a designer

If successful this argument leaves you with a designer of the universe.  This designer would be incomprehensibly intelligent.

The Moral Argument:
#1 If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist
#2 Objective moral values do exist
#3 Therefore, God exists

If successful this argument provides you with a being who is perfectly good and the standard and source of morality. 
The Ontological Argument:
God is by definition the "greatest possible being."  As the greatest possible being, God is by definition a necessary being.  A necessary being is by definition a being that must exists if its existence is possible.
#1 If it is possible that God exists, then God exists
#2 It is possible that God exists
#3 Therefore, God exists

If successful this argument leaves you with the greatest possible being.  This greatest possible being would have every great-making property.

A Cumulative Case
I am not defending these arguments here, but the classical apologist would argue that these arguments are indeed successful.  You can see then that the classical apologist is not relying on one single argument to prove the existence of God.  Rather he is making a comprehensive case for a being that he calls God.  Each argument supplements the one before it so that at the end of his case the classical apologists will say that he has proven the existence of a space-less, timeless, unimaginably powerful, personal being who is the designer of the universe and is incomprehensibly intelligent, perfectly good, the standard and source of morality, and who possesses every great-making property.  

Identifying the Suspect
The existence of such a being would clearly disprove atheism, but that is not the only goal of classical apologetics.  These arguments are not only meant to prove that a god exists, but prove certain characteristics about him.  The question can then be asked, which god or religion does this describe? The classical apologist will say that the above description is incompatible with and therefore disproves Buddhism, Hinduism, Christian Science, Zoroastrianism, ancient Roman and Greek religions, Egyptian religions, and many others.   In fact there are only three world religions that are compatible with the above description of God: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Now what is interesting is that all three of these religions agree on a common source of authority - the Old Testament.  Then the case can be made that the religion that is most consistent with the Old Testament is Christianity.

Final Thoughts
Notice the movement from the existence of God to Christianity.  This is a typical approach but there are a few other variations like arguing for the person of Jesus from fulfilled prophecy, or arguing for his resurrection historically, or arguing for the reliability of the New Testament from archeology.  I'll look at more of these arguments later when I examine Evidential Apologetics, but for now I am finished showing the method of Classical Apologetics.  In my next post I will do a little overview of the history of the method and discuss pro's and con's. PEACE

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Classical Argument # 4 - The Ontological Argument

The last major classical argument that I'm going to look at is the Ontological Argument.  The word ontology refers to the study of being or existence.  This argument was first proposed by Anselm of Canterbury in 1078 in a written prayer called "Proslogion."  Anselm defined God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." The argument goes if God did not exist then it would be possible to conceive of something greater which is a contradiction and therefore God must exist.  Most people think this is some sort of trick with word play, but interestingly almost every major thinker in the history of philosophy has dealt with this argument.  While Anselm's version has largely been abandoned, some modern versions have resurrected the argument and today it is not only alive but surprisingly flourishing. 

For this argument, we are defining God as the "greatest possible being."  As the greatest possible being, God is by definition a necessary being.  A necessary being is by definition a being that must exists if its existence is possible.

#1 If it is possible that God exists, then God exists
#2 It is possible that God exists
#3 Therefore, God exists

"You cannot be serious!" is probably what you are thinking, but the argument might surprise you even if it does not convince you.  The argument is valid, meaning the conclusion follows from the premises.  The only way to argue against the conclusion is to challenge the premises.  Almost everyone, including most atheists, would agree with premise #2 (at least initially).  So the whole argument falls on premise #1.  But as stated above, if God did exist He would be the greatest possible being, and the greatest possible being would have the attribute of necessity, and something that is necessary exists if it's existence is possible.  Sounds like a stretch? It it is interesting that this is relatively uncontroversial because one definition simply leads to the next.  But if premise #1 is true, then the only way to deny the argument is to go back and deny premise #2.  An opponent of the argument must show that the concept of God is incoherent or otherwise impossible. Otherwise, the argument is sound and the conclusion is true. Or at least, so goes the argument.

  • Most skeptics would say that God probably does not exist.  But to say that God probably does not exist is just to say that God possibly exists and therefore concedes premise #2.
  • The argument makes the issue black or white - God's existence is either true or impossible. 
  • If successful, the argument poses a few interesting situations.  For instance every agnostic alive would have to believe that God exists in order to be consistent with agnosticism, thereby contradicting himself.
  • The argument is very abstract (and silly to some) and consequently hard to take seriously.
  • It is easy to deny premise #2, which is what most opponents of the argument do.
  • The argument does not argue for Christianity as revealed by Jesus, but only for the greatest possible being.
Bible References:
  • Psalm 14:1, 53:1, 145:3

If successful this argument leaves you with the greatest possible being.  This greatest possible being would have every great-making property.
Do you think this argument is successful?  What are some common objections?  Perhaps you have a question.  Feel free to leave a comment so that I can respond and not be bored at work!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Abortion - is it Wrong?

The election is done, but I thought now is as good a time as ever to share an argument against abortion that I heard from Greg Koukl.  So this is a temporary break away from the chain of classical arguments that I've been posting.  However, the argument is still in deductive form and which means that the conclusion relies on the truth of the premises. It is simple:

#1 It is wrong to kill humans for the reasons that people give for abortions.
#2 An abortion kills a human.
#3 Therefore, it is wrong to do an abortion.

As a reminder the argument is deductive and I think it is also valid, meaning that the conclusion follows from the premises. The question then is are the premises true?  Premise #1 should be obviously true.  A few reasons that are given for why abortions should be legal are:

  • An individual's rights for personal and private choice in a free society
  • Inability to support a child 
  • Genetic defects
  • Rape or incest 
  • Unwanted pregnancies lead to ruined and unhappy lives for both the mother and the child

Now at this point I'm not talking about abortions yet.  All I am saying is that none of these reasons are good reasons for killing another human being. For instance, it does not make sense to argue that my father can kill me because he has "rights for personal and private choice in a free society" or because he has become unable to "support a child."  It should be obvious that it is wrong for anyone to kill another human for any of these reasons.  Now consider premise #2. If it is true that a fetus is a human being, then the conclusion follows and abortion is wrong.  In fact, it is not just wrong, it is bona-fide murder. So what is the unborn?  If the fetus is not a human being, then no justification is necessary.  Bernard Nathanson, a medical doctor who co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (but later became pro-life), states:
    "There is simply no doubt that even the early embryo is a human being. All its genetic coding and all its features are indisputably human. As to being, there is no doubt that it exists, is alive, is self-directed, and is not the same being as the mother–and is therefore a unified whole."

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and a pro-choice advocate, says:
    "There is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being."
Jerome LeJeune, Professor of Genetics at University of Descartes says:
    "After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being. [It] is no longer a matter of taste or is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception."
Even if you think there's too much scientific speculation for the average person to know for sure (which is not the case),  we can still ponder the question of when life begins.  Is it at consciousness? Is it at birth? Is it when the "thing" becomes self-dependent or fully developed?  All of these things seem arbitrary.  If it is consciousness, what about unconscious babies?  If it is at birth, then what does a few feet of distance from inside to outside the womb have to do with making you a person? If it is self-dependence or full development, then no one becomes a person until their early twenties.  No one argues that it is okay to terminate a living baby five minutes after it is born. But what is the defining difference about the same baby six minutes earlier, or six months earlier, that makes its termination permissible?  The only defining moment of a person's life that can be pointed to as their definite beginning of life is conception.  But if that is correct then premise #2 is true.  If premise #2 is true, then the conclusion follows and abortion is morally wrong.

All of the quotations above can be found at