The Lord of Apologetics

In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, the personal prerequisite for offering a reasoned defense of the Christian faith is to have “set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Christ must be the ultimate authority over our philosophy, our reasoning, and our argumentation–not just at the end, but at the beginning, of the apologetical endeavor. If we are to “cast down reasonings and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God,” said Paul, then we must “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Cor. 10:5). An ultimate commitment to Christ covers the entire range of human activity, including every aspect of intellectual endeavor. To reason in a way that does not recognize this is to transgress the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with … all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). In light of this, our apologetical method, not merely our apologetical conclusions, should be controlled by the word of God.”

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R, 1998), p2.

The religion of materialism

From Edward Feser, The Last Superstition (Kindle edition), Location 363-387:

…the so-called “war between science and religion” is really a war between two rival philosophical worldviews, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all. Occasionally you’ll find a secularist who admits as much. Nagel is one example [See this post].  Another is biologist Richard Lewontin [See this post] … Similarly, physicist Paul Davis tell us that “science takes as its starting point the assumption that life wasn’t made by a god or a supernatural being,” and acknowledges that, partially out of fear of “open[ing] the door to religious fundamentalists … many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled.” [1] Among prominent contemporary philosophers, Tyler Burge opines that “materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science” and that its hold over his peers is analogous to that of a “political or religious ideology”[2]; John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and … provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” [3]; and William Lycan admits, in what he himself calls “an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty,” that the arguments for materialism are no better than the arguments against it, that his “own faith in materialism is based on science-worship,” and that “we also always hold our opponents to higher standards of argumentation than we obey ourselves.” [4]

Feser’s footnotes:

[1] Paul Davis, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (Simon and Schuster, 1999), pp. 17-18, emphasis added.
[2] Tyler Burge, “Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 117.
[3] John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 48.
[4] William G. Lycan, “Giving Dualism Its Due,” a paper presented at the 2007 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at the University of New England. The draft is available on Lycan’s website.

The cosmic authority problem

Edward Feser in his book The Last Superstition (Location 321-332, Kindle edition) quotes Thomas Nagel (Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU) who believes that a “fear of religion” is not merely subjectively felt by secularist intellectuals but that it often underlies their work, leading to “large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life” (Nagel’s words). Nagel confesses:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.[1]

Feser comments:

…as the philosophy C.F.J. Martin has pointed out, the element of divine punishment – traditionally understood in the monotheistic religions as a sentence of eternal damnation in Hell – shows that atheism is hardly less plausibly motivated by wishful thinking than theism is. For while it is hard to understand why someone would want to believe that he is in danger of everlasting hellfire, it is not at all hard to see why one would desperately want not to believe this. [2]

[1] Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 130-131
[2] see C.F.J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations (Edinburgh University Press, 1997), pp. 98-99.

Follow the evidence?

The following is a transcript from a fascinating informal debate between John Lennox and Peter Atkins, which can be viewed here. This particular section starts around the 1hr 4min mark. The following exchange betrays Atkins a priori presupposition of atheism in the face of conflicting evidence.

Lennox: Do you think it’s an illegitimate thing from a scientific perspective, Peter, to see whether scientifically one can establish whether intelligence needs to be involved … in the origin of life.
Atkins: I think the scientific method is Occam again, to see whether you can account for everything that is reliably known, without elaborating the hypothesis. So, let’s just take the laws of nature … and seeing that letting them run free in the environment that we can speculate existed – and we’ve got evidence of the type of environment existed billions of years ago, seeing whether that sort of process leads to life and if it does that seems to me to abnegate the need for the imposition of intelligence.
Lennox: And, if it doesn’t?
Atkins: Then if we go on trying – we may have to try for 100 years – but if we, in the end, come to the conclusion that an external intelligence must have done it, then we will have to accept that.
Lennox: Would you be prepared to accept that?
Atkins: No.

The material element and the spiritual reality

As both my readers may have observed from recent posts, I’ve read Bradley G. Green’s The Gospel and the Mind. This book is a clear, interesting and persuasive book that argues that it is only the Christian worldview that provides a basis for meaningful rationality and that Christianity, correctly understood, fosters the life of the mind rather than discouraging it. It is basic enough for the uninitiated to read yet delves deep enough to keep the more philosophically-inclined believer interested. Before I move on to the next book in my reading list (yet to be decided), I thought I would summarise one of the more striking points that Green makes.

Biblical truth often uses allegory and metaphor in order to express invisible and, in some ways, unthinkable realities. God is the creator of the material that is used as analogy to describe his spiritual realities. Lewis said there is a “pre-existing similitude between the material element and the spiritual reality.” One of the most obvious examples, and the one that Lewis addresses, is that of baptism. He says, “Water, ex naturali qualitate, was an image of the grace of the Holy Ghost even before the sacrament of baptism was ordained.” (The Allegory of Love, 46). Bradley Green points out that, if this similitude is genuine, then it seems that “this relationship is embedded in the very structure of reality, the structure of the created order… When Lewis avers that some words are more fitting than others in reference to the created order, he is echoing Augustine’s suggestion that God has structured the world in such a way that the various aspects of creation might serve as “examples” for us.” (The Gospel and The Mind, p128). As Augustine put it:

Divine providence has carefully provided certain trees which visibly exemplify these invisible realities which are incredible for those without faith, but are nonetheless true. After all, why should we not believe that this was the reason why he arranged it so that a wild olive is born of a domesticated one? Ought we not to believe that in something created for human use the creator provided and arranged what might serve as an example of the human race?” (Marriage and Desire, 19:21)

Fighting morally with rebellion

People try to persuade us that the objections against Christianity spring from doubt. The objections against Christianity spring from insubordination, the dislike of obedience, rebellion against all authority. As a result people have hitherto been beating the air in their struggle against objections because they have fought intellectually with doubt instead of fighting morally with rebellion.

Kierkegaard, Works of Love. Quoted in Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind (Crossway, 2010), 170.

The Incarnation and the words of man

In a certain fashion our word becomes a bodily sound by assuming that in which it is manifested to the senses of men, just as the Word of God became flesh by assuming that in which it too could be manifested to the senses of men. And just as our word becomes sound without being changed into sound, so the Word of God became flesh, but it is unthinkable that it should have been changed into flesh. It is by assuming it, not by being consumed into it, that both our word becomes sound and that Word became flesh.

Augustine, The Trinity, 15.20. Quoted in Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind (Crossway, 2010), 135-136.

Augustine on Thinking and Believing

Everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded; although even belief itself is nothing else than to think with assent. For it is not every one who thinks that believes, since many think in order that they may not believe; but everybody who believes, thinks — both thinks in believing, and believes in thinking.

Augustine, Predestination of the Saints. Quoted in Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind (Crossway, 2010), 83.