Category Archives: Apologetics

Book Review: The Resurrection Fact

The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critiques is a collection of essay by various scholars addressing critiques and demonstrating the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. Because the resurrection is so central to the Christian faith it resfacbecomes the bases upon which the church stands or falls. As the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Such a significant point of the faith has not been left without evidences and these evidences should be shared if for no other reason than to exalt the Lord of glory.

What I found interesting about the book is the contributors to the volume. Each of them comes from a specialized field of study (Law, History, Philosophy, etc.) which they apply in their responses to topics such as, skepticism of the New Testament, the events of Good Friday and Easter, the role of faith and evidence for the resurrection, and the historicity of the resurrection. Each contributor is in dialogue with a modern day critic which I found to be very useful. This is not a rehashing of the same old arguments. The writers of the Resurrection Fact are dealing with contemporary critics which offers a fresh new look at these important issues.

As far a my own criticism goes I can’t think of any. However as tradition would have it they wont come to me till after I have completed the review. However, I can anticipate someone being apprehensive about reading a book on apologetics written by academicians. My response is to not be. It is important to have individuals who understand the issues write a response. That is a given. However, reading above your comfort level will only make you a better reader and thinking.

I personally rank this book a 5 out of 5.

 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Defending Your Faith 1 Peter 3:15

“…have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

I was in a conversation recently where I was reminded of a time as a new believer in Christ I wanted to share the Gospel with a classmate in college. The conversation lasted about two hours and the primary topic was neo-Darwinian evolution, and its legitimacy or lack there of. When the conversation was over, he went his way and I went mine, all the while a nagging thought continued to linger in my mind. It was the fact that I had just spent two hours with this guy and didn’t mention the Gospel or Christ once the entire time. Unfortunately, this is how many “apologetic” conversations go and at the core of the problem it is unclear what we are supposed to be doing when giving an “apologetic”.

In 399 B.C. the ancient Greek Philosopher, Socrates was charged by the Athenian court with impiety toward the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. Interestingly,  Socrates responded to these charges with an “apology” of all things. Only his “apology” didn’t sound like an apology that we hear today. In fact, among other things, Socrates in his “apology” said for what he has done he shouldn’t be given a sentence of death. On the contrary Socrates said he should be given free room and board at Prytaneion. A subtle mockery of Athenian culture who places athletics above the intellectual life. But none the less, he gave an “apology” that didn’t consist of saying he was sorry. Rather what he gave was a defense.

In ancient or classical Greek an “apology” was simply that, a defense of any allegation made. Here, I believe, is our problem. In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter writes,

always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you

We see the word (ἀπολογίαν)”defense” in verse 15, we do a word study, and we are correct that it means to defend something. A more literal translation for (ἀπολογίαν) apo logian is to “speak away.” So, if I’m told that God didn’t create man because evolution did it, I’m going to give a defense, right? Let’s suspend judgment on that question and return to it. I will say there is a place for that kind of conversation and the non-believing world should know some of the problems that exist within a purely naturalistic explanation for life. Having said that, I want to create a distinction between that type of conversation and what Peter is explaining in 1 Peter 3:15.

Since 1 Peter 3:15 is the standard Christian charter for doing “apologetics” it would make sense to look at it with some fresh eyes. The purpose of Peter’s letter is to exhort Christian believers during a time of great persecution (1 Peter 1:6-9; 1 Peter 2:18-25). These words of Peter are words of encouragement under a Roman tyrant, possibly Nero (AD 54 – 68). Peter exhorts these Christians to not fear their accusers (3:14), rather give them a reason for the hope they have (3:15).

So what reason do they have for hope? Well Peter has discussed it in chapter 1. In 1:3 Peter says that we were born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  In 1:13 Peter tell us to set our hopefully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Lastly, 1:21 says our hope in God was established in Christ. All of this is important to how we read 3:15, the common thread throughout, is Christ.

When we get to 3:15 we understand a particular context from which Peter is making his claim to always be ready to make a defense. This is not a command to answer any and every possible question a non-believer can conjure up. Rather, this is an exhortation to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that Christians have.  Our hope isn’t based on responses to speculative cosmologies or theories of origin. The general answer we get from this letter and the whole of Scripture is Christ. That is to say our hope is in the assurance that we get from the promises of grace from the Father and through His Son.

What I propose here is not only in 1 Peter 3:15 but the accumulative teaching throughout Scripture, is that our apologetic or defense should be Christ centered. This isn’t to say that there is no place for second tier discourses, but where the emphasis should always be is with Christ. At this point you should be asking yourself questions on how Christ centered apologetics should be executed or what does that look like. Unfortunately, that is a topic for another conversation.

 

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part V The Moral Argument For Deity

 

The moral argument for God’s existence. This is a popular one among contemporary Christian apologists such as CS Lewis in Mere Christianity. Although different variations of it can be seen as far back as Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) in the fourth of his Five Ways. Ironically the German philosopher Immanual Kant (1724 -1804) argued that if you come across a man who tells you he has five proofs for the existence of God, you can be sure he doesn’t have any, because if he had any it would only take one. So which argument did Kant chose? The moral argument for God.

Kant’s version of the moral argument becomes very influential in the history of theology and philosophy. He held that moral beings will “the highest good” if they can have confidence that within the causal structure of nature the highest good can be achieved by moral means. Thus belief in God is the guarantor that the highest good is achievable. And from this you might be able to detect the dilemma Russell will present us with. Because if one were to remove God from this equation you can see how the whole moral project implodes.

The reason I mention Kant is because Russell mentions him in his rejection of this argument. He writes,

“Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right or wrong unless God existed.”

You might have heard Christian apologists who argue the way Russell is explaining. It seems compelling since many non-believers have not consider the nature of morality. As a result some will confess that they don’t know where morals come from. There are some in “new atheist” literature who aren’t amused by the question in the slightest. Some of them will say that morality is the utilitarian standard of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Others might give a pragmatic response but one thing they are sure of is God is not a necessary condition for morality. Granted I believe these points can be refuted successfully by the theist and in fact should be. However, when you think about it, are these individuals being consistent with their own perspective on reality and the world? They are after all doing what Paul describes and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Thus for them to insert the idea of God as evidence for morality is like putting the square peg in the round hole.

Moving on, Russell continues by arguing:

“The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God’s fiat [command or decree] or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.”

Once again Russell offers one of his arguments of dichotomy. The dichotomy is either right and wrong are irrelevant to God, or God must appeal to moral laws which are “anterior” or outside of God. I hope you see the dilemma he is making here. Leave me a comment if you would like more explanation. My response would be that if God was a finite being, such as you and me are finite beings, this argument would have some traction. God however is an infinite Being so that when He says what Right conduct is He is simply reflecting on His own Being. Therefore we say that God is good and is the standard of goodness.

There is no dilemma as Russell is suggesting. Rather Russell is working from the assumption that God is finite and operates at this finite level. Such an assumption gives Russell the impression that he can stipulate standards for himself and impose them upon God from his finite realm of experience. Once again this isn’t the Christian conception of God and therefore Russell hasn’t made his case for not being a Christian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part IV The Argument From Design

Right from the beginning I will have to disagree with Russell on what the design argument is. He writes,

“You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.”

In my studies what Russell has described here is the “anthropic principle.” When we look at the term “anthropic” we see the Greek word anthropos which means humans. Hence the “anthropic principle” simply states that the universe was created in such a way to sustain human life. This is different from the design argument as I understand it. The design argument typically follows the line of argument such as:

  1. The universe exhibits empirical property
  2. This empirical property demonstrates strong evidence of design
  3. If the universe exhibits design it must have a designer

I only mention this point of distinction because these two arguments have conflicting ends in that one seeks to demonstrate that the universe was made for man while the other seeks to demonstrate the existence of God.

Russell’s refutation seems to come in two parts. The first part sounds like the argument from evil and the second part is a scientific argument from the law of entropy. For his first refutation Russell says,

“When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists?”

Basically this refutation states,

  1. If God exists He would be omnipotent and omniscient
  2. If God created this world it would exhibit His omnipotence and omniscience
  3. The world has defects
  4. Therefore, it could not have been created by an omnipotent and omniscient God

In-bedded within this refutation is a false dilemma. The dilemma is this, the argument asserts that either this world exhibits God’s omnipotence and omniscience or God does not exist. What makes this dilemma false is that these are not the only two available options. Consider the possibility that creating a world consistent with man’s finite understanding of the ideal world would violate a different aspect of His character, like justice for example. It could be the case that by allowing the defects, that God does in the world, that He is actuality keeping His justice and by doing so He keeps His omnipotence and omniscience. Such a proposition negates the dilemma created by Russell.

Russell does make a good point when he says,

“Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system.”

The refutation is, if the world was made to sustain life why doesn’t it? Here again we run into the problem that Russell is attacking the anthropic principle not the design argument. The design argument states that the universe exhibits design therefore it must have had a designer. Perhaps as a critique against the anthropic principle Russell might be on to something, but as a refutation of design argument he has missed the point.

Does Russell have a point here? I would say no because he has failed to address the design argument. The design argument is one of the proofs for the existence of God; however, the purpose of his paper is to explain why he isn’t a Christian. I’m assuming he means to refute Christianity by refuting God’s existence. Herein lies the real problem. Arguments for the existence of God only seem to deal with an “abstract concept god” and in doing so  fails to deal with the personal triune God of the Bible who is described in terms of basicality1 such as “the alpha and omega”. If God is properly basic as I am suggesting that He is, it won’t be enough to refute the classical arguments for His existence; rather Russell would have to refute the ontological merits for Christianity.


1. For an explanation of “basicality” look at Warrant And Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga.

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A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell: Part II First Cause Argument

In the last post I discussed Russell’s definition of what it means to be Christian. You can read Russell’s presentation here. In this post I will discuss Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian, the First Cause Argument. There are different variations of the argument and Russell provides yet another variation. However Russell’s understanding of the argument can be framed this way:

  1. Everything we see in the world has a cause
  2. Each cause regresses back to a first cause
  3. The first cause is God

Russell’s response to the argument is:

  1. If everything must have a cause then god must have a cause
  2. If god had a cause then he cannot be the first or uncaused cause

The problem that comes up is found in premise one of the response. If everything has a cause “then God must have a cause”. The First Cause Argument never articulates or alludes to by implication a God that is caused. In other forms of the argument premise one is read “everything that begins to exist has a cause”. Notice the use of the term “exist”. In classical theism “existence” is never used of God because “existence” in its classical understanding assumes contingency. Only contingent things can “exist”. God is not contingent thus He at no time ever existed. In classical theism we believe in God’s Being or reality but not His “existence” because He is not contingent.  If God required a cause His Being would be contingent upon that cause and He would lose His God like quality since God cannot be contingent upon anything. In premise one of the argument Russell restricts causation to only those things seen in the world. Because of God’s non-metaphysical nature He can’t be grouped among those things that we see in the world, and therefore causation can’t be a necessary attribute of His Being. This is a categorical error that I believe to be of significant proportion.

However, to Russell’s credit, he is speaking from a naturalistic perspective. Arguments can be made that such a restricted perspective-like naturalism- does not reflect adequately on the whole reality of human experience, a discussion for another post. Suffice it to say, from his naturalistic assumption Russell is being consistent with his naturalism. If one begins his interpretation of reality with a naturalistic foundation as Russell does in his response, then all facts of his experience will be based upon that naturalistic assumption including causation when it comes to God. Notice how different Russell’s response is from the First Cause Argument he sites. The argument begins with temporal earthly “existent” or contingent things that owe their contingent existence to the “non-existent” or non-contingent universal first cause. However, Russell’s response assumes God is part of the temporal “existent” or contingent world. I think this demonstrates Russell’s inability to deal with the argument at had. His pre-commitment to naturalism cannot reflect adequately on the argument from First Cause.

For this reason I tend not to use the argument of First Cause outside of a Christian context that can make sense out of universal first causes. Even more problematic is that the First Cause Argument does not argue for a God who is triune, but rather a general first cause, what ever that might be. I think this approach misses the point. Purpose of teaching about God is not to teach an abstract form of God as a universal first cause but to teach Him as He is in His full triune Being. In any case I would say Russell’s first reason for not being a Christian is insufficiently articulated and should be reconfigured or rejected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apologetics

A Review of “Why I Am Not A Christian” by Bertrand Russell

Russell’s paper might be a little dated (presented in 1927) but its arguments are still being circulated today even among those in “New Atheism”. You can judge for yourself as you read along. Having recently read through Russell’s paper I found plenty of discussion topics to comment on. The first one being Russell’s explanation of what a Christian is.

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?

What is interesting about the answer he gives is that it tells us quite a bit about how the Church portrayed itself and the way in which the Church was understood by the culture around the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century. He begins by saying, “It is used in these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds”. In spite of the fact that I disagree with Russell on almost anything and everything, I will agree with him on this point, if Christianity is the cultivation of moral behavior, there would be many outside the church who would be regarded as Christian since there are many who attempt to live a good life. I would say from the Christian perspective there is an aspect of moral living which we call sanctification, but it isn’t as central to Christianity as justification typically holds that place.

Just a few years prior to Russell presenting this paper across the pond another intellectual J Gresham Machen, who is a Christian and was President of Westminster Theological Seminary before his death. Machen wrote a very important book that is still being sold and read today, Christianity And Liberalism. Here Machen writes, “Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time (that is true of this present time as well); there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.”[1] Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life.” So while Russell struggles to find a definition of Christianity based on what he has experienced, Machen is calling for for precision in our teaching for the reason that a Christianity without it results in a faith that “will never stand amid the shocks of life.”

I think we can probably spend a great deal of time unpacking just this quote of Machen’s alone. However the review is on Russell so I will attempt to stay focused. Machen was speaking specifically of theological liberalism or modernism of his day. Early in modernity some decided to practice the “if you can’t beat em, join em” school of ecumenism (Church unity). The end result was a re-configuring of Biblical teaching that was for the most part gutted of true Biblical content. One of the first teachings to go was the atonement. Once that was out the cross of Christ was no longer the means by which our sin was atoned for. Rather, modernists looked at the crucifixion as an act of love one that we ought to emulate. When all was said and done Christianity amounted to what Russell referred to as ” a person who attempts to live a good life”.

It isn’t as if Russell was ignorant about this matter. Moreover, this isn’t a case of an atheist with an axe to grind. Later he wrote in this discussion, “I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full‐blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions”. Notice the distinction between what Russell observed in his day compared to how he describes Christians in the pre-modern era. Moreover, here we are in the 21st century and there isn’t too much that is different from Machen and Russell’s era.

Returning to Russell, he has this to say about defining Christianity, “Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anyone calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature ‐‐namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ.” He begins by saying these days are not like the past where people were self conscious of their Christian beliefs. He says that now there is more ambiguity as to what one believes about Christianity. So he offers up 3 things that one must believe which are belief in God, immortality, and some kind of belief about Christ. Interesting choice of words; he is attempting to encompass all that go by the name Christian which is quite ambiguous. Obviously there is more to it than just that. Such a description still falls into the dilemma stated earlier of encompassing those who are not Christian. However, that is the definition that Russell goes by.

At this point I feel that I have bitten off a little more than I can chew for one post so I will have to continue with Russell in a second installment.

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Apologetics

A Review of Sutanto’s Covenental Apologetics And Common Sense Realism

I came across Sutanto’s paper in the Journal of Evangelical Theology (JETS 57/4 (2014) and have been thinking it through. Part of the reason this caught my interest is because I live in Southern California and I have noticed how predominant the Argument from Consciousness is in these parts seeing how I believe it lacked the Theological justification for a genuine apologetic. But I struggled to understand why it was that these well intending apologists were so adamant about using the Argument From Consciousness and did use it with every opportunity seemingly. I believe Sutanto does an outstanding job explaining the situation in this paper and if you get the time I would highly recommend reading his paper.

However, here I provide a very simplified and watered down explanation of Sutanto’s argument. Some readers may not be too familiar with the technical language but many will be familiar with the concept the terminology seeks to communicate. Thus common sense realism (CS) is expressed by Sutanto as “referring to those propositions or intuitions that are perspicuously true, upon, or even prior to immediate reflection. When any subject S entertain these propositions, it is supposed, S will come to see the obviousness of the veracity of the proposition, and thus be lured, or even compelled, to adopt a belief in them. (777)” For example the fact that I have hands is a belief I hold from common sense and it would be difficult for anyone to refute. This is what Sutanto is addressing in the CS thesis. The relationship of CS to the Argument From Consciousness (AFC) is that the common sense reality of my conscious awareness points to belief in God. CS provides the epistemic justification for the fact of consciousness. Allow me to explain.

Sutanto begins by looking at the AFC as it is articulated by J.P. Moreland in The Rationality of Theism. It is here that Moreland wants to argue that the existence of non-physical mental states (consciousness) is a defeater of any naturalistic argument that can be offered since a precommitment to naturalism is inconsistent with a notion of non-physicality (i.e. consciousness or mental states). Sutanto frames Morland’s argument this way:

  1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.
  2. There is an explanation for mental states.
  3. Personal explanation is different from naturalistic scientific explanation.
  4. The explanation for mental states is either personal or natural scientific explanation.
  5. The explanation is not a naturalistic scientific one.
  6. Therefore, the explanation is a personal one.
  7. If the explanation is personal then it is theistic.
  8. Therefore, the explanation is theistic.

Sutanto seems to be in agreement with Moreland’s AFC. Where Sutanto wishes to “recalibrate” is not the AFC itself but rather Sutanto wants to recalibrate AFC’s foundation.

The argument that Sutanto is going make centers on the matter of the principium cognoscendi (principle of knowing).  Morland begins premise one by denying third person scientific investigation. For Morland premise one is based on first person phenomenology  hence it is at this point that he invokes the CS thesis as his principium. Here Sutanto offers some objections to the understanding of CS as principium.

Sutanto pulls from different sources in the formulation of these objections. The first objection he calls the “Marsden Olifent objection” named after two scholars George Marsden and Scott Oliphint who address this issue of CS in other works. Without going to far into what was said I think I can summarize their position as a historical refutation of CS demonstrating that there is no ground or reference for what knowledge is in fact common. Without a base or start point the pursuit of knowledge that is common becomes vacuous at best. The next objection he refers to as the “Bishop and Trout objection” which comes from Michael Bishop and J.D. Trout’s book Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment. The thrust of the argument is an appeal to a naturalistic epistemology. Because no genuine  agreement among epistemologists or people in general can be found in standard analytic epistemology the authors propose a third person naturalistic approach which is precisely what Morland is refuting.

The next set of objections that Sutanto offers is divine revelation and the noetic effects of sin. Here with the text of Scripture he makes the case that there are two implications of the noetic effects of sin (or the way sin impacts our thinking). The first is that which should be common- namely the knowledge of God- which is treated by the natural man as uncommon. Therefore any appeal to what is thought to be CS can potentially be an appeal to what is uncommon. Thus in this sense the natural man will take for granted that his epistemic equipment is functioning properly when in reality it is working from the noetic effects of sin which suppresses true knowledge.

If the noetic effects of sin are so comprehensive what then can be our  principium cognoscendi. This is where Sutanto turns to the Triune God. He writes “With these objections we have shown that an appeal to common sense to ground an argument is insufficient at best or simply wrongheaded at worst, especially when we live in the post-lapsarian order” (786).  Sutanto goes on to say, “In recalibrating the argument from consciousness, and placing it on divine revelation rather than on natural theology, we preserve its concluding premises from devolving into a proof for some finite god. Instead , we begin from the ontological Trinity, and we lay an argument that concludes, also, with the Trinity” (791).

 

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