Apologetics is Taking Off in East Tennessee!

First of all, I want to take an opportunity to remind everyone of the God’s Not Dead Apologetics Conference to be held at 6pm this Friday at Freedom House Church of God, Knoxville, TN.

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Previously, it was announced that the conference would be held in the youth room. We have moved up to the main sanctuary. In addition to the speakers I have already profiled, Darris Brock will be speaking on the importance of critical thinking, Allie Peters will be speaking on the problem of evil, and Ray Weedon will be speaking on the fine tuning of the universe.

Next month, on the 12th, Dr. Hugh Ross will be speaking at Blount Christian Church in Maryville, TN.

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Dr. Ross is a Christian astronomer and pastor, as well as the president and founder of the science and apologetics ministry Reasons to Believe.

I am very excited about these upcoming events and the future of Christian apologetics in eastern Tennessee. I look forward to meeting you all at Freedom House and Blount Christian!

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How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 4

The third method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the cumulative case method, and is defended by Paul Feinberg. Until he passed away in 2004, Paul Feinberg was the professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before he Taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Professor Feinberg taught at Moody Bible Institute 1966-1970, and at Trinity College 1970-1972. After this he served as a field representative for American Board of Missions to the Jews (now known as Chosen People Ministries) until 1974 when he began teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where William Lane Craig was one of his students. In addition to his academic career, Professor Feinberg was an ordained minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America, and served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in 1977.

The cumulative case method is sometimes referred to as inference to the best explanation. Like the classical and evidential methods, the cumulative case method of apologetics seeks to argue the case for Christianity based on evidence, but argues in a different way. Rather than formulating formal arguments that seek to either prove Christianity or show that it is probably true, it presents an informal case for Christianity. Although classical and evidential apologists often build a cumulative case for Christianity by using a variety of different arguments, this is not the same as using the cumulative case method of apologetics.

The model for defending Christianity is not to be found in the domain of philosophy or logic, but law, history, and literature. This does not mean that the apologist may ignore the deliverances of philosophy or logic, but that the nature of the case for Christianity is to be found in a different feild. …

Because the term cumulative case is used in apologetics in ways other than the way I am using it, it will be helpful to try to explain my precise terms.

First, the argument for theism and Christianity is an informal one. There are neither premises nor derivations. It is more like the brief that a lawyer brings, or an explanation that a historian proposes, or an interpretation in literature.
– Paul D. Feinberg, from Chapter Three: Cumulative Case Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Personally, I find that I know what Paul Feinberg means better by writings of of cumulative case apologists, than by his description. Professor Feinberg lists two of my favorite authors as cumulative case apologists–G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Lewis is arguably the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century, and he himself cited G.K. Chesterton as an influence in his own conversion to Christianity from Atheism.

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere–“Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say, very unscrupulous.
– C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Both Lewis and Chesterton wrote explicit defenses of Christianity, as well as excellent fiction influenced by their Christian worldview, often called literary apologetics. The apologetics writings of Lewis include Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Abolition of Man. His fiction includes Out of the Silent Planet, Peralandra, That Hideous Strength, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and Till We Have Faces. Chesterton’s apologetic works The Everlasting Man, Heretics, and Orthodoxy. Among his fictional writings are Manalive, The Man Who was Thursday, and the Father Brown mysteries (short stories).

I list these books so that those who have read them will have a better grasp of what Professor Feinberg means by informal arguments found in the domain of law, history, and literature–especially literature. I also list them as recommendations for those who have not read them. While I think that Professor Feinberg accurately describes what he means by cumulative case apologetics, I believe the method is difficult to pin down. As a result, I believe some of the other apologists misunderstood Professor Feinberg in their counterpoint critiques. I will explain this in greater detail in the conclusion of this series.

Speaking of difficult to pin down–there is more to the cumulative case method than being informal and literary.

Second, it is a broadly based argument that is drawn from a number of elements in our experience, which in turn either require explanation or point beyond themselves. …
Third, none of these elements that constitute this case has any priority over any other. In the classical approach to apologetics, priority is given to the proof that God exists. For this reason, natural theology and its arguments usually have priority. Once it has been shown that God exists, his nature and love for the sinner are defended. Such an argument is cumulative in the sense that Christianity is defended in terms of more than a single argument. It is not, however, cumulative in the sense that I am using the term because, in the classical approach, God’s existence must be proven first. In the approach I am defending, one may start with any element of the case, and depending on the response, appeal may be made to some other element to support or reinforce the claim that Christianity is true.
– Paul D. Feinberg, from Chapter Three: Cumulative Case Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Per this aspect of cumulative case apologetics, it is argued that Christianity is the best explanation of all the evidence available. Various arguments for Christianity are combined into one case. While one argument may not provide a convincing case for Christianity by itself, multiple arguments combined in a single case may be highly persuasive.

Previously I offered Lewis and Chesterton as examples of the literary aspect of cumulative case apologetics; as an example of the broadly based combined arguments method, I offer Richard Swinburne and Dr. Kenneth Samples. Although I have not read any Swinburne yet, based on what I have read about him, he is very well known Oxford professor who argues in the cumulative way described by Professor Feinberg. His books are on my wish list, and I look forward to reading them in the future. I am more familiar with Dr. Kenneth Samples, who is part of the apologetics ministry Reasons to Believe. In his writings and podcasts he emphasizes the cumulative case for Christianity, with a special emphasis on abductive reasoning.

The informal nature of cumulative case apologetics is advantageous in certain situations. For example, it is more akin to a deep conversation between friends. Sometimes, aspiring apologists will use formal philosophical syllogisms in debates with their non – Christian friends, and unless the friend has a philosophical background this probably is more confusing than convincing, and a little weird too. For similar reasons, the cumulative case works well in sermons. Also, as I pointed out previously, the method lends itself to literary apologetics.

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 3

The second method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is evidential apologetics, presented by Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Habermas is
Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He has written over 30 books, but is probably best known as the co – author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, along with Dr. Michael Licona. Dr. Habermas is notable for pioneering a minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

In distinction to the two step classical method, evidentialists use a one step method. As I pointed out in Part 2, classical apologists argue in two steps for the existence of a theistic god through natural theology, and that this god is the Christian God of the Bible through Christian evidences. Evidentialists contend that Christian evidences are sufficient to persuade skeptics. Therefore only one step is necessary. Evidential apologetics is sometimes referred to as historical apologetics due to its emphasis on the historical case for the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

The chief interest of this method is the postulating and developing of historical evidences (one species of propositional data) for the Christian faith. This is its single, major contribution to the issue. Not only is it thought that these evidences provide the best means of deciding between the theistic systems of belief, but also that they can be utilized as an indication of God’s existence and activity.
– Dr. Gary Habermas, from Chapter Two: Evidential Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Aside from Dr. Habermas, prominent evidentialists include John Warwick Montgomery, Josh McDowell, Greg Koukl, and J. Warner Wallace.

The historical case for Christianity is nothing new, but is rooted in the Bible itself. Paul appeals to the eyewitness testimony of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
– 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, ESV

Paul does not merely support his claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ with eyewitness testimony, but says that the truth of Christianity depends entirely on whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-22, ESV

If we should ever discover the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, it would disprove Christianity. However, the Christian apologist should take heart–Paul made his claims at a time when people who heard Jesus teach, and possibly even witnessed His public crucifixion, might have said, “I was there, and this is what really happened…” We should also keep in mind that before he became the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was a violent persecutor of the early church. Something radically changed him. Jesus appearing to Paul is the most reasonable explanation of his transformation.

Dr. Habermas’ minimal facts argument is currently the dominant historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. It is used not only by evidentialists, but by classical apologists such as William Lane Craig.

In a nutshell, the minimal facts case for the resurrection argues certain facts are agreed upon as historically reliable by the majority of New Testament scholars. These scholars cover the spectrum of belief from conservative Evangelicals to skeptical atheists and agnostics. The minimal facts argument does not require that the Bible be the inerrant and infallible Word of God, or that it even be treated as holy or authoritative [this is a tactical move, and not a statement one way or the other on the inspiration or authority of the Bible]. It need only be treated as an ancient manuscript purporting to give a testimony of the life, ministry, execution, and resurrection of Jesus, and is treated as any other ancient document which makes historical claims.

There are twelve minimal facts as follows:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

Virtually all New Testament scholars agree to these facts whether they believe Jesus actually rose from the dead or not. This is not the nose counting fallacy, because the point of the minimal facts case is not that the resurrection is true because most New Testament scholars say it is. In fact, the skeptics would stop short of saying Jesus rose from the dead. As the reader can see, minimal fact number five is that the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. The point of the argument is that given the minimal facts that even most skeptical New Testament will concede are reliable, the best explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead.

Alternative theories fall short. If the experiences of the risen Jesus had been hallucinations, the authorities would simply have refuted the disciples’ testimony by displaying Jesus’ corpse. If Jesus had not actually died on the cross, but only fainted and came to later, the disciples would not have celebrated Him as a risen savior, but encouraged Him to seek medical attention. It is implausible that the disciples would have been able to defeat a unit of a Roman soldiers in order to steal the body away from the tomb. This is not an exhaustive explanation of the minimal facts case, nor is it intended to be. I recommend that the reader studies this argument and the historical case for the resurrection in greater depth for themselves. My primary purpose is to demonstrate how the evidentialist method might work.

Dr. Habermas emphasizes that evidentialist apologetics is eclectic. The central focus is Christian historical evidences, but the evidentialist is free to use any evidence supporting Christianity that she finds useful. Although the difference between classical and evidential apologetics is small, evidentialists distinguish themselves in that they claim only one step of Christian evidences is necessary to persuasively present the case for Christianity. Many evidentialists would argue that going straight to Christian evidence is an advantage because it gets to the gospel more quickly.

An Argument from Liberty?

Have you ever heard the observation that free societies have only ever arisen in cultures with a Judeo-Christian worldview? I’m not going to argue for that view here, because quite frankly I have never studied the issue in depth.

A recent episode of the Tom Woods Show is the catalyst for this post. On the September 11th episode, Tom’s guest was Linda Raeder, Associate Professor of Political Science at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She and Tom discussed her book John Stuart Mill and the Religion of Humanity. According to Professor Raeder, Mill was not the proponent of liberty many think him to be, but instead held secularism in a sort of cultic religious awe, and wanted a totalitarian secular society. She also said that free societies have only come to fruition in Judeo-Christian cultures.

As I said, I haven’t studied the subject in depth, so I can’t say for certain whether Professor Raeder is correct or not. I confess that I am sympathetic to her views. However, I would like to study this line of thinking more thoroughly before attempting to make a case for it. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV).

What do my readers think? Is there such a thing as an “argument from liberty” for God? Are there any resources you would recommend?

Because Science!

Since I have been posting on science and scientism, it has amazed me that so many people have actually defended scientism, or at least tenaciously disagreed with me. I have been accused of being anti-scientific, a wizard, an occultist, or that at best I am arguing for a strawman or a myth. I embrace science without overstating its usefulness, condemn occultism (as any Christian would), and I have been given no good reason to believe scientism is a strawman. In fact, I’ve given good evidence that it isn’t, citing non-theist scholars who argue for and against scientism.

Philosopher Edward Feser puts it more eloquently than I ever could:

Scientism is an illusion, a bizarre fantasy that makes of science something it can never be. Seemingly the paradigm of rationality, it is in fact incoherent, incapable in principle of being defended in a way consistent with its own epistemological scruples. It should go without saying that this in no way entails any criticism of science itself. For a man to acknowledge that there are many beautiful women in the world does not entail that he doesn’t think his own wife or girlfriend is beautiful. Similarly, to say that there are entirely rational and objective sources of knowledge other than science does not commit one to denying that science is a source of knowledge. Those who cannot see this are doubly deluded – like a vain and paranoid wife or girlfriend who thinks all women are far less attractive than she is and regards any suggestion to the contrary as a denial of her own beauty. Worse, like an already beautiful woman whose vanity leads her to destroy her beauty in the attempt to enhance it through plastic surgery, scientism threatens to distort and corrupt science precisely by exaggerating its significance.

I have had numerous people question whether any reliable knowledge other than scientific knowledge exists. Others have even tried to argue that reality, truth, and logic are discovered and proven by science. The fact is that all these things must be assumed in order to do science. Science can discover things that are real, but it can never show us if there is such a thing as reality. Science can discover things that are true, but it can never tell us if there is such a thing as truth. Science can even help determine whether things are logical, but it can never demonstrate that there is such a thing as logic. These are things that are presupposed by the scientist.

Ironically, only one of my detractors has even attempted to provide scientific reasons for their position. One would expect folks who believe science is the only valid basis for knowledge to provide scientific justification for their claims. Since scientism is actually a philosophical claim rather than a scientific one, it refutes itself. The truth is that the disciples of Dawkins, Krauss, and deGrasse Tyson are simply not consistent. Any reasonable person must conclude that there are other valid ways of determining truth other than science.

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 2

The first method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the classical method, which is presented by Dr. William Lane Craig. Currently, Dr. Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. In addition to his academic career, Dr. Craig has a popular apologetics ministry, Reasonable Faith. The Reasonable Faith website has numerous apologetics resources, including articles, videos, and podcasts. Reasonable Faith chapters meet across the country and around the world to discuss Christian apologetics. As part of his ministry, Dr. Craig is well known for debating scholarly skeptics of the traditional Christian worldview. Dr. Craig has also written several books on apologetics. For more detailed explanations of Dr. Craig’s apologetic method, read Reasonable Faith or On Guard.

The classical method, promoted by Dr. Craig, is often referred to as a two step method of apologetics. The first step is to persuade the skeptic that God exists based upon widely agreed on observations of the world around us, and then the second step is to argue that Christianity is true based upon uniquely Christian arguments.

This approach is comprised of natural theology and Christian evidences. Among its practitioners are such great figures as Thomas Aquinas with his famous Five Ways of demonstrating God’s existence and his appeal to the signs of credibility (miracles and prophecy) to validate Christian doctrines not demonstrable by reason alone; Hugo Grotius, the father of modern apologetics, whose De Veritate Religionis Christianae drew upon the traditional arguments of natural theology and inaugurated the historical approach to the truth of the Gospels; and one of my heroes, William Paley, whose Natural Theology is one of the most brilliant defenses of the teleological argument ever written and whose A View of the Evidences of Christianity was so impressive that it remained compulsory reading for every applicant to Cambridge University right up to the twentieth century.
– Dr. William Lane Craig, from Chapter One: Classical Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

According to classical apologists, Christian evidences will not be persuasive unless it is proven that it is reasonable to believe in God first. The skeptic will probably not be convinced that the Bible (special revelation) is true, unless she is convinced by evidence for God’s existence outside the Bible (natural revelation).

Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, ESV). Since human beings can perceive God’s existence and even know His nature through His creation, the classical apologist might begin with an argument for a Creator who made the universe, or a Designer who fashioned the universe with precision and wisdom. He might argue that a theistic god is the best explanation of morality, logic, or beauty. Some argue that a Perfect Being exists by necessity. There are a host of possible arguments and many classical apologists use more than one, forming a cumulative case for God’s existence.

After establishing that a theistic god exists through natural theology, the classical apologist moves on to arguing that this god is the Christian God of the Bible. He will move from arguing to the existence of a god based on observations of the world as we know it to arguing that the Christian worldview best explains the world as we know it. At this point the apologist might appeal to the historical reliability of the Bible, or to fulfilled prophecy. The central truth claim of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead, validating not only the truth of His religious teachings, but His claim to be God incarnate. If it can be shown that He was crucified, buried, and on the third day arose from the grave, then He is God in the flesh, who bore the penalty of sin so that all who put their trust in Him can be reconciled to a pure and holy God.

Dr. Craig differs from the typical classical apologist in that he places great emphasis on the difference between knowing and showing that Christianity is true. He argues that it is rational to believe in God apart from arguments and evidence on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This view is influenced by Reformed epistemology, which holds that belief in God is properly basic. I will explain more thoroughly what properly basic means when I get to Reformed epistemology in this series. All the reader needs to know for now is that because belief in God is rational on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, Christians who have no knowledge of apologetics can still be justified in their belief in God. It also means that Christians can rationally maintain faith in God when evidence seems to contradict their belief. This is not to say that Christians maintain their beliefs irrationally in spite of the evidence. In fact, Dr. Craig would argue persuasively that the evidence is on the side of Christianity. Rather, it means that the Christian can know God exists, even if she cannot show God exists based on the evidence available.

God’s Not Dead Conference Speaker Profiles: Dr. Kevin Birdwell

Dr. Kevin Birdwell will be presenting a talk entitled Cosmic Creation Event. The scientific evidence for the origin of the universe points beyond the universe to a supernatural, personal Creator. In fact, there are striking parallels between the scientific evidence and the biblical accounts of creation. Science and Christianity are not in conflict, but complement one another in important ways. Come hear his presentation at the God’s Not Dead Conference at Freedom House Church of God on September 26th.

Dr. Kevin Birdwell attended Iowa State University, Central Bible College (Evangel University), Murray State University, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He holds degrees in Bible (A.A.), Geography/Math (B.S.), and Physical Geography (M.S. and Ph.D.) with emphasis areas in math, remote sensing, meteorology, paleoclimate, and environmental change. He has been a Christian apologist for more than 20 years and a physical science researcher in the Knoxville area for 25 years. He is currently on the part-time faculty of Lee University (teaching earth and space science). Dr. Birdwell is a licensed minister (exhorter) with the Church of God. Dr. Birdwell is also a regular visiting scholar with Reasons To Believe in Covina, CA where he focuses on the relationship between climate and human civilization.

The God’s Not Dead Conference will be held at Freedom House Church of God in Knoxville, TN on September 26th at 6pm. The conference will be held downstairs in the youth room.