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Apologetics & Christianity

A Discussion With Steve Locks On Apologetics And Christianity

The following article is a response to that of Steve Locks, who in turn was responding to Mark McFall's article "Apologetics in Light of Evangelical Atheism - The Need for Quality Apologetics".   Mr. Locks article at :  http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/feedback/mcfall/1.html , should be read in context with the following response.  Steve Locks has also followed up with a response to this article to be found at: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/feedback/mcfall/2.html

By Mark McFall

I just want to thank Steve for taking the time to respond. While Steve did bring up some good and thought provoking points, it seems he drifted away a couple times from the focus of my essay (i.e. The Need For Quality Apologetics). Nevertheless, Steve’s review warrants a response because of the many testimonies collected on his website concerning believers apostatizing.[1]

It has been my experience from circulating within ex-Christian circles that some of these ex-Christians had too high of an expectation concerning the *evidence* surrounding the Christian faith. In my opinion, the 21 million copies of McDowell’s book (i.e._The Evidence That Demands A Verdict_) that currently blanket the earth have something to do with this. Why? Because McDowell’s approach only presents evidence for the faith (and at times exaggerated), while suppressing arguments against the faith. As Jeffery Lowder pointed out:

"Those believers who rely on ETDAV as an apologetic resource will still have to deal with the negative evidence. But in place of having it presented to them by McDowell in relative comfort of ETDAV, they will instead be blind-sided by this negative evidence when they hear it for the first time coming from the skeptics they will be trying to convert. Imagine the surprise of such Christians when they realize that they have only been told half the story, and that half containing serious flaws.....

Negative evidence in general is an effective persuasion tool. I myself use this same technique when speaking to Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims (etc..), and skeptics like Steve. In my view, popular Christian apologists who exclude or minimize elements of negative evidence in their books prove no different than those who defend other religions. In other words, popular apologetics may entail *portions* of the armor of God (Eph.6:10-15), but it neglects to give the believer the stable ground he needs to "stand firm." (Eph.6:16).

What about the over-enthusiastic use of evidence? It is true that some Christians have a tendency to magnify the *available* evidence. In my essay (i.e. The Need For Quality Apologetics) I had quoted Norman Geisler as saying:

"Historical evidence that Jesus was supernaturally conceived of a virgin is more than substantial. Indeed, there are more eyewitness contemporary records of the virgin birth than for most events from the ancient world." (Geisler, _Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics_, pg. 764) [See: http://www.geocities.com/intheword1/Apologetic_skepticism.htm#Abridgment Example 2]

Christians who buy into Geisler’s assertion will find that everything is fine until confronted on it. Consider some of the questions a Christian may encounter:

Was someone with Mary every day (24/7) the nine months before Jesus was born? What would be the historical evidence that substantiates the supernatural conception of Jesus? How can historical evidence even confirm a supernatural event, especially of this sort? (See: Ibid.).

When faced with these type of critical questions, many Christians begin to get suspicious and alert to similar types of assertions made by other Christian leaders. Soon thereafter, deep seeded doubt slowly begins to develop and apostasy becomes very real. If Christian leaders didn’t pump up the evidence so high, then the fall wouldn’t be so hard and dramatic for those that can no longer hold to those expectations. I presume that these type of wild claims to objectivity only *confirm* the thoughts of ex-Christians that Christianity is unattainable. In any case, it must be admitted that we as Christians accept the virginal conception of Christ by faith. It’s simply beyond any type of "substantial" evidence. In my opinion, that admittance represents an element of quality apologetics. In Steve’s view, that admittance still involves "supernatural" occurrences that make Christianity unattainable.

However, one’s acceptance or rejection of various "supernatural" elements (miracles, etc..) within the Bible will ultimately be determined by one’s own philosophical and theological presupposition determined by a particular world view. No matter what the supporting evidence may be for any particular event (miracles, etc..), it all comes down to a philosophical judgment, and not a historical one. If Steve is truly open-minded, then surely he can admit that his presumptions have no more validity than the informed believer who has come to trust the *general* sagacities of the biblical writers?

The Why?

Steve had commented that:

"If it is thought that quality apologetics already exist then one has to think seriously about why so many knowledgeable Christians leave Christianity."

It is because of doubt and not knowing how to deal with it. Unfortunately, there are some prominent and influential Christian leaders that teach that doubt is unhealthy. William Lane Craig comments:

"It is unbiblical to think of doubt as a virtue; to the contrary, doubt is always portrayed in the Scriptures as something detrimental to spiritual life. Doubt never builds up; it always destroys."[2]

For those who are on the fence of faith already, Craig’s words probably don’t sound very encouraging. But is Craig right? Well, according to Lee Stroble, when we pretend that doubt doesn’t exist, we may be setting ourselves up for a fall. Strobel says:

"For many Christians, merely having doubts of any kind can be scary. They wonder whether their questions disqualify them being a follower of Christ. They feel insecure because they’re not sure whether it’s permissible to express uncertainty about God, Jesus, or the Bible. So they keep their questions to themselves - and inside, unanswered, they grow and fester and loom until they eventually succeed in choking out their faith." (Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, page 226.)[3]

I have talked to many ex-Christians who often speak of the hostility that they received from their former brothers and sisters in Christ when they expressed their feelings of doubt at that time. But doubt should not be viewed as a threat. According to Christian apologist Glen Miller:

"Doubt can be a important step in learning how powerful our God is, and how firm his 'case' is...but doubt, like any need of ours, must be brought to Him for His action. Our questions are typically His tools in our lives - to teach us to trust him, to be patient, to be fearless, to be honest, and to be diligent and humble in study." (Glen Miller, A Word of Advice, http://www.christian thinktank.com/ advice.html)

Furthermore, in Psalm 73, we see a Levite by the name of Asaph who almost lost his faith. Asaph seemed to have had a deep spiritual contemplative nature and he wasn’t afraid to express his time of doubt to anybody. Asaph writes:

"But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Ps.73:2-3)

Sound familiar? Is there a believer reading this that can identify with Asaph? Is your grip on God about gone? After considering those things that caused Asaph to doubt his faith, he says this:

"When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (Ps.73:16-17)

Contrary to William Lane Craig’s comments, I believe doubt is apart of Christian growth. Peter Abelard, a respected philosophical believer who lived in the late 10th century, once remarked that: "For by doubting we come to inquiry, and by inquiry we arrive at the truth." Those who experience doubt and remain Christian have the potential to be a more communicative and understanding witness to those who are on the fence of faith. God may cause any one of us to experience doubt for an undisclosed future reason.

A Little Recapping

Readers should be aware that two years ago Steve had asked me if I knew of any Christians who were formerly involved in any freethought organizations because he knew of none. Steve’s argumentation back then pretty much read like his review with the addition of that inquiry. It is now interesting to see that Steve no longer includes this line of argumentation. Why? Well, a quick search on Steve’s website will show that he has found an individual that fits the profile that he has been looking for - Zeinelde Jordan.

[Jordon is a former member of The Atlanta Freethought Society, American Atheists, and The Freedom From Religion Foundation. He is formerly (1998-2000) a member of The Literary Round Table in Cobb County Georgia, and served as its newsletter (the Museletter) editor and Web designer from 1999 to 2000.]. [4]

Readers should also be aware that the rarity of freethought members who become Christian over Christians who become freethought members, can be explained by there being far fewer atheists who attend organizations than Christians who attend church.

True Christians *Or* True Researchers?

Steve had also mentioned that those who abandon the faith are often wrongly accused of NOT being a *true* Christian (or as having had a bad experience). He says instead, that many ex-Christians abandon the faith after serious research and thinking. Steve has got a point on this one, I have run across many ex-Christians who have said this, and I am prone to believe some of them due to extended discussions on a personal level. However, *through* serious research and thinking, different people come to different conclusions. I personally read sections of the Secular Web (and other works of the sort) virtually every day, and I know other Christians who do the same, yet many of us remain Christian while doing serious research and thinking. Unless of course, Steve thinks Christians who engage in this activity are not *true* researchers or *true* thinkers?

Objective Resources

Steve comments that:

"...the very notion of needing apologetics makes me suspicious. Why apologetics rather than open research?

Objective resources like the _The Anchor Bible_ series (there are other similar resources available) can aid us in this open ended research. Indeed, it is best to keep an open mind and to test ideas and statements for their potential validity. Christians who depend on quick-fix-it apologetic books for encounters with skeptics will probably be caught off guard by contrary unexpected evidence.

The Numbers Game

Steve had commented that:

"As you know, the frequently touted ex-atheist Josh McDowell is not up to the mark! If the evidence for Christianity is so good then priests, missionaries and hosts of well-churched Christians would not be deconverting."

The implications of Steve’s language suggests that "hosts of well-churched Christians" are "deconverting" from the lack of good evidence. However, their deconversions should not imply to the interested reader that Christianity is not true. If I am reading Steve right here, he has committed a form of the fallacy Argumentum Ad Numerum. The Atheism Web says of this:

"It consists of asserting that the more people who support or believe a proposition, the more likely it is that that proposition is correct." (Logic & Fallacies http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/ logic.html).

This fallacy is also closely related to another fallacy that seeks "to win acceptance of an assertion by appealing to a large group of people" (i.e. Argumentum Ad Populum. Ibid.). In Steve’s case, the proposition is apostatizing into unbelief. It seems that Steve is using these two fallacies as a spring board for opportunity. Except in this forum, there’s not much spring in his board. Different people view evidence differently. Those who leave Christianity based on evidence obviously have a different perspective than those who chose to stay based on that same evidence. Steve had also mentioned biblical scholar Michael Goulder as an example of one informed individual who has left the faith, but even Goulder himself remained a believer for 30 years [5] as a scholar who was already aware of the evidence surrounding his faith. It’s more than just evidence that causes a believer to abandon the faith, it’s a drastic change in attitude towards the Bible and its underlining authority.

Epicurus

Steve comments...

"Holding writes that 21st century criticisms of Christianity are way beyond the capabilities of the likes of Josh McDowell to handle. However, despite Holding's remarks about Josh McDowell, even pre-12th century arguments remain tough for Christians: ‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’" [Epicurus, c. 350-270 BC]

Why be limited to just those points of argumentation Steve? In an essay entitled Arguments For Atheism located on The Freethought Zone website (http://freethought. freeservers.com/reason/rationalview.html), we see that the skeptics who host that site feel that Epicurus’ thesis is inadequate:

"Epicurus' version of the argument neglects to consider the possibility that some evil could coexist with a god if the god has some higher moral purpose that requires the evil to exist...The most commonly used theodicy is the Free Will Defense, which argues that God must allow some evil to exist, since he gives humans free will and therefore allows people to sin. This may be a reasonable rebuttal to Epicurus' argument..."

While this freethought group goes on to improve on Epicurus’ argumentation, one thing remains, Epicurus’ argumentation (as it stands) is thought of as weak in some skeptical circles. Perhaps this is a form of quality skepticism in the making?

Both Sides Of The Issue

Steve comments...

"Has J.P. Holding supplied anything adequate? There are a number of articles criticising his pages on the Secular Web. They link to Holding from these articles and have repeatedly requested reciprocal links which Holding refuses to do. If Holding's articles reflected well in the light of his critics (and I have read both sides), then this would be unlikely behaviour."

This is a common charge that I often hear from the skeptical community. The Secular Web encourages its readers to pursue an interest in reading Christian apologetic books and the Bible itself. They encourage this for the purpose of familiarizing skeptics with Christianity and how the Christian mind works. They even have a webpage where they critique current apologetic works (http://www.infidels.org/library/ modern/theism/christianity/apologetics. html).[6] In my opinion, the Christian apologetic community would do well to use this same line of approach and familiarize believers with the tactics and strategies used by the skeptical community. Christians ministries like Watchman Fellowship, CRI, and Answers In Action (etc..), already take this line of approach with other religions encouraging their followers to familiarize themselves with The Book of Mormon, The Watchtower Bible, and The Koran. Yet none of these type of ministries encourage the familiarization of the Secular Web which gets an average of 190,000 unique visitors per month. [7] The need for Christian familiarization with the Secular Web is more than pressing. Here at the website of IN THE WORD (http://www.geocities.com/ intheword1/), Brian Lawson and myself provide links to critical sites (http://www.geocities.com/intheword1/ Links.htm) so our readers can begin to get acquainted with the strategies used by those who oppose Christianity. A quick look at that link will reveal that even Steve Locks’s website is among those linked too.

In closing, while Steve did mention some interesting philosophical issues that were outside the theme of my original essay; quality apologetics does not seek to offer how-it-could-have-been scenarios in an attempt to remove difficulties in the Bible, instead, quality apologetics seeks to *understand* the difficult portions of the Bible (this same approach holds true for textual related difficulties as well). Surely Steve could identify with that as a reasonable approach?

====Footnotes=====

[1] See: ( http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html ).

[2] William Lane Craig, No Easy Ansers: Finding Hope in Doubt, Failure, and Unanswered Prayer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), p. 31. Cited through the essay "Is ‘Freethinker’ Synonymous with Nontheist?" by Jeffery Lowder http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/features/2000/lowder1.html

[3] Cited through the article _Thank God for the Skeptics!_ by Brian Lawson. http://www.geocities.com/intheword1/thank_god_for_skeptics.htm

[4] See: http://www.theism.net/authors/zjordan/docs_files/saint_files/author.htm

[5] See: See: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/goulder.html

[6] But interestingly enough, that webpage is maintained by a believer (Phil Porvaznik).

[7] See: http://www.infidels.org/infidels/

 

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