Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Greg Koukl's Tactics Blog Tour


Truthbomb Apologetics would like to welcome Stand to Reason's Greg Koukl to our blog today.

Mr. Koukl's newest book, Tactics, has just been released. To learn more about it, see here.

Today on the blog, Greg will be answering two questions and then interact with you the reader, via the comments section. Please feel free to ask Greg follow-up questions and offer your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to follow the tour for the remainder of the week:

Also today: Apologetics.com

Thurs. 2/19
Zondervan Koinonia

Thurs. 2/19
The Crux

Fri. 2/20
Stand to Reason


Question #1 from
Truthbomb Apologetics:

"A common slogan among modern atheists is that they simply, "lack belief in God," in the same manner they lack belief in the Santa Claus, Zeus, etc. In other words, they claim to have no position in regard to the God's existence and thereby feel no need to take intellectual action in defending their atheism. How would you respond to that?"


Greg's Response
:

A number of years ago, Gordon Stein, the late editor of Free Inquiry magazine, made this move while sitting next to me during a radio interview with Dennis Prager. I think this is, simply put, a clever move of intellectual dishonesty, and I think any trained thinker who makes this claim knows it. Here’s why I say that.

Given any proposition (some claim about the way things are), there are three and only three possible responses to it. You can affirm it, you can deny it, or you can withhold judgment for lack of ability to do the first or the second (or, possibly, for lack of interest). In the debate about God, the first is called a theist (of some sort), the second an atheist, and the third an agnostic. It is clear that Gordon Stein (for example) is neither theistic nor agnostic (people who just don’t have an opinion or do not care about the issue do not go on radio shows to talk about their indecision or apathy). That leaves only one logical option remaining for Stein: He denies that God exists, which is why he is called an A- (not) theist (God)—a person who says there is not a God.

Here’s another way to break it down logically. The law of excluded middle says either “A” or “not-A.” Either God exists, or he does not exist. There is no third category. If someone denies “A,” then “not-A” is the only remaining option. Many forceful arguments trade on this rule of logic, by the way (WL Craig’s version of Kalam, for example). Evidence against the first side of the equation, becomes evidence in favor of the second side, because it is the only remaining logical option (e.g., evidence against the possibility of an eternal universe is evidence in favor of the view that the universe is not eternal, but had a beginning).

The only way out of this dilemma created by the laws of reason themselves is to simply stand on the sidelines and not participate, for lack of information of for lack of interest. Neither seems to be the case for any of those atheists who say they “lack a belief in God.”

My point is to underscore the logical, rational constraints governing discussions like these. Since atheists are usually (in their modernist tradition) the champions of reason and rationality (the “brights,” to use Daniel Dennett’s euphemism for his kind), then they ought to live according to its rules. This move is a self-serving departure from rational principles. That’s why I say it’s dishonest. Pardon the judgment, but I think it’s justified.

Look, these folks do not simply “lack a belief” in Santa Claus since I am certain they are not neutral on the question (“Maybe there is a Santa Claus, maybe there isn’t. I’m on the fence.”) No, they believe there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Zeus, Leprechauns, etc. They also believe there is no God and they should say it that way.

BTW, even agnosticism requires justification. Provided that arguments are offered for denying or affirming a proposition, the agnostic who withholds making a judgment should be able to say why his withholding is the reasonable thing to do. He should be able to explain why the support for the other two options is not adequate.

There is no free ride, here. Everybody is in the game. Anyone who wants to participate in the conversation must ante up, that is, be prepared to give reasons why whatever position they hold (belief, rejection, or agnosticism) is sound given the current state of the evidence. As it is, I think this move that has become popular with atheists is simply an anti-rational rhetorical attempt to avoid doing any heavy lifting in this discussion. That’s why I say it is intellectual dishonesty.

So here is the tactical move, and example of the third use of Columbo. In response to this challenge you ask, “When confronted with any claim—say “Santa Clause exists”—there seems to me to be only three possible responses: 1) You affirm it. 2) You deny it. Or 3) you withhold an opinion because you honestly don’t know (it’s a 50-50 proposition), or you just don’t care. Do you agree with that?”

If she does agree, ask which of the three describes her own position. It’s not the first, and she denies the second (because she’s trying to avoid making a claim) so it must be the third. Then ask, “Are you withholding judgment because you think the evidence is 50/50, or are you just uninterested and apathetic towards the issue.” If she says 50/50, that’s fine. Then she would be open to any evidence that tips the scales and would not be disagreeable towards your theism. If she simply doesn’t care, then why is she arguing with you in the first place?

If she doesn’t agree that those are the only three options, then ask, “Which option did I leave out?” If she wants to insist on a fourth category “I lack a belief,” point out that this is really the third option under a different description. Ask why she lacks a belief, then proceed with that issue as I described in the paragraph above.

Quesiton #2 from Richard, Roxboro, NC:

'You regularly say that you "don't know much about Revelation beyond a bunch of people get beat up and we win!" While the book of Revelation seems to be a niche area for believers only, which area of Christianity do you feel you have not yet adequately explored but intend to? -- '


Greg's Response
:

I think I need to spend more time on the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament. I feel relatively strong, here, but more depth in that area would be helpful since there is such an aggressive attack at this point, and the Gospels as primary source historical documents are so pivotal to the Christian’s case. I have often said that there are many ways—at least in principle—to disprove Christianity. This is one of them, so we need to be careful to martial some of our forces, so to speak, at that point.

We encourage you to ask Greg questions about his responses and/or offer your own thoughts on the topics up for discussion.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad A. Gross


27 comments:

Brian said...

Greg,
It is not uncommon to encounter "atheists" on the internet who apparently "used to be Christians." Not only do they claim that they used to be believers, but they also used to be apologists and defenders of the faith. Now it seems they have become anti-apologists, in a sense.

I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on common reasons why this may happen to someone who has "heard all the arguments" and "read all the books" and "knows all the answers." Obviously, there is some rebellion here, and there could be many reasons -- but would you be of the opinion that these are false converts?

What would be your approach in trying to call them to repentance? How do you personally deal with those whose questions are merely to subvert and somehow prove a point?

I know this may be a complex area with no one answer. Nevertheless, I value your time and insights into this issue.

bob said...

Chad, not sure if this is where we are supposed to ask Mr. Koukle questions or not, but here goes:

In your beginning question to Mr. Koukle, you ask about atheist claiming a simple "lack of faith" definition for their philosophy concerning a God. Mr. Koukle defines that philosophy as agnostic, rather than atheistic.

I am not quite sure who gets to determine what label fits who. Perhaps his definition has to do more with the general atheistic attitude toward religious faith, rather than what the word "atheist" actually means?

I consider everyone who claims to be a Christian, or rather, who honestly believes themselves that they are a Christian, to be a Christian.
I consider myself to be an atheist. I have concluded, based on my past reading, experience, and contemplation, that, as far as I can tell, there is no God. So, from my perspective -now- I find no reason to believe in a God. I do not believe there is a God. But that does not mean I consider myself beyond persuasion.
I had always read "agnostic" defined as someone who thinks we can't know if God exists or not. That does not fit my thinking, nor does the statement, "there is no God". I do not KNOW that there is no God, I have just concluded that, for now, that there is no reason to believe there is a God. I can not honestly make the statement, "I believe there is no God". To me, that makes no sense. But I can honestly state that "I do not believe there is a God".
Am I a "weak atheist", a moderately well built atheist...?

I guess I am just a tad, not much, but just a tad bothered, having my philosophy defined by someone who might not appreciate me defining their religious beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Koukl,

I just started reading your book this week and I already love it. I have had the opportunity to use the Columbo tactic and have found overly simple but extremely effective. My question is this: when the opportunity comes to actually discuss your own faith and present the gospel, what is the best way to start off? Can you give me some pointers?

Chad said...

bob,

You are correct in directing your questions to Mr. Koukl.

It's nice to have you here!

Gabriel S. said...

Hi Greg,

It is nice to interact with you in this way. I found about your organization like 8 months ago when I was searching for apologetics and now I hear the podcast religiously :) every single week. I’m actually from Costa Rica (that’s in Central America) but still got the chance to purchase your book via Amazon; soon I will finish it.
I know my following question maybe can not be responded as one single answer but I would like to know your opinion. In our ministry we had been going to evangelize in one of the big universities of our country. It’s a “cold touch” strategy where we ask a person we don’t know to give us 5 minutes to ask one single question “Do you know who murder Jesus?” then we hear a good sample of answers like the Jewish, the apostles, etc. Then we throw the biblical answer where Jesus says no one takes his life but He gives it for love. After that we explain in 4 steps the plan of God for the human kind.
1. The love of God
2. The reality of sin
3. The sacrifice of Jesus
4. The promise of salvation

Then we ask the person (or group of people) if he/she wants to do the pray.
Now what I had perceived is that sometimes I sense like people are just hearing in a compromise way and even a lot of them do the pray but the problem is that we don’t see a solid fruit in the sense that those people don’t search for our ministry. I was thinking apologetics and the strategies you explain in your book are good to respond to possible attacks from non-believers when we confront them with the gospel. But do you think these strategies can be used in some way to enforce the person to be more interactive so we can break the apathy? It is just that I feel that sometimes the Bible alone is hard to digest for the non christian. Some people would say that is the only tool we need to reach souls to the Kingdome. If Holy Spirit is going with you, the Word alone does all the work?

Greg Koukl said...

Bob,

The word “agnostic” simply means “without knowledge.” You may be without knowledge because you lack facts that might be forthcoming and therefore withhold judgment, or because you believe no facts could ever break the tie. This is not Mr. Koukl’s definition. It’s the common usage (note Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy). If a person doesn’t like the word, I guess they don’t have to use it. They can make up something else like “fence-sitter” or something. It hardly matters as long as we are clear on meaning, regardless of the token (word) that is favored by some individual to express his belief.

The point is not to define another’s beliefs for him. The point is to let the other person define his own beliefs and then require him to be intellectually honest with the consequences. Though language may be flexible, the logical categories are not. I described an atheist who “lacks faith” to be an agnostic only if his expression means he is withholding judgment on the proposition “God exists.” But if he “lacks faith” because he is denying that proposition, then the logical consequence of denying “A” is affirming “non-A.” Reason requires nothing less.

Bob, your confession is, “I do not believe there is a God.” Yet you say it does not make sense to say “I believe there is no God.” It’s actually just the opposite. “I do not believe there is a God” is logically equivalent to, “I believe there is no God” (either “A” or “not-A”). That is the only way that does make sense. Though you are, in principle, open to be persuaded otherwise, this logical consequence still applies. Knowing and believing are two different things, BTW. All knowledge entails belief, but not all belief entails knowledge. Sometimes we believe things on weak justification, so we cannot claim to know them. Even so, they are still beliefs.

I appreciate that you would not want to define my religious beliefs for me. But if I defined them for myself and then labeled all my classical Christian beliefs as atheist, you would cry foul. I think you should define your own beliefs, and then we should use the terminology that is commonly used of the beliefs you hold to avoid confusion.

The sleight of hand going on here by the atheist has nothing to do with clarity or “forcing definitions.” It is an historically recent move that has to do with the manipulation of language and the implicit denial of logical categories to try to avoid any burden of proof. I take that to be intellectual dishonesty (in most cases, though confusion may be a better explanation in some), because atheists are usually rationalists, and rationalists are supposed to know how these rules work. Moderns choose reason and reject revelation (a false dichotomy, in my view), and as such they should play be reason’s rules.

Bob, I would not call you a “weak atheist,” and I have no reason to think you’re being intellectually dishonest. I’d say you were just a “tad” confused.

Greg Koukl said...

Brian,

It’s hard to tell the real reasons people abandon Christianity and then become hostile to it. Our initial reaction is to think they were rationally convinced otherwise. But there are other kinds of reasons, the same kinds of reason people refuse to become Christians to begin with. I discuss those reasons in Tactics chapter 11, “Steamroller.”

"First, people have emotional reasons to resist. Many have had annoying experiences with Christians or abusive churches. Others realize that to embrace Christianity would be to admit that cherished loved ones now dead entered eternity without forgiveness with one fate awaiting them: darkness, despair, and suffering forever. Emotionally, this is something the person simply cannot bear.

"Others know they would face the rejection of family and friends, or perhaps suffer financial loss, physical harm, or even death if they considered Christ. These powerful demotivators can make the most cogent argument seem soft and unappealing.

"Second, some balk because of prejudice. Their minds are already made up. They have prejudged your view before ever really listening to your reasons. They are interested in defending their own entrenched position, not considering other options.

"Cultural influences are very powerful here. Resistance based on prejudice is especially true of religious beliefs and of non-religious beliefs (like naturalism) held with religious intensity. Often, Christians defend their own denominational peculiarities in a prejudicial way. They plow ahead with blinders on, spouting the party line with no thought to the merits of the other side.

"Finally, some people are just plain pig-headed. Their real reason for resistance is no more elegant or sophisticated than simple rebellion. Jesus said men love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). So they persist in their mutiny, waging their unwinnable battle against God to the bitter end."


On my theology (Reformed) I would consider these to be false converts, those who “had no root,” to use Jesus’ phrase in the parable of the sower. But sometimes this explanation is counterintuitive, given the circumstances. I understand why someone would consider this a lost salvation rather than a false conversion.

I don’t deal with these any different than another non-believer. I try to address the specific objections as carefully and graciously as possible, then I pray for them. Be prepared to deal with more hostility from a defected believer than from others, BTW.

Greg Koukl said...

Anonymous

I almost always start with questions because of their general tactical advantages (as described in the book) and because I need the information about the other person’s beliefs that the questions usually provide before I know how to begin to make a case for my own views. Columbo is not like training wheels that we grow out of. After 36 years of doing this, I count it as my central method for moving forward, at least initially, regardless of what my ultimate goal is. It is my “game plan” too, not just one I suggest others use.

Greg Koukl said...

Gabriel

First, I’m thrilled at what you are doing and the cleverness of your approach. Your opening question is great. I’m wondering, though, since yours is a “cold touch” approach, if you may not be trying to get a decision too early.

Ultimately, you don’t want decisions, but conversions. Fruit that is harvested too early may never become ripe. Some people will make a perfunctory “decision” for Christ without giving it enough thought so as to understand its full truth or implications. Consequently, there’s a false conversion, which is why some of the people are not responsive afterwards.

You might consider replacing the invitation to receive Christ for those who show interest with an invitation to a Bible study that is geared to help them understand more about Christianity. Invite them into a more community relationship where the encouragement to consider Christ comes from a number of different people and angles, including fellowship. In the Gospels, some people came back many times to hear Jesus and question Him, pondering His ideas and their implications, before choosing to follow Him. You might want to make more room in your approach for something like that.

Apathy is very hard to deal with. The tactics can help. But it’s better to beat that before it gets started by laying a different foundation.

Chad said...

Hello Greg,

First off, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer questions here at Truthbomb Apologetics.

Second, my question for you:

The media named "New Atheists" clearly desire to stamp out religion. Of the "big four," Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins, who do you think presents the best arguments in favor of atheism? Further, do you think they will have any long term impact?

Many thanks for your time and patience.

God Bless You

Jon said...

I think the first question is somewhat misrepresentative of what the atheist is saying. The atheist does say that he lacks belief in God. But this is not the same as saying that he takes no position.

Theism is the belief that there is a personal God that is the creator of all contingent things. So to be an a-theist is to lack the belief that there is a personal God that is the creator of all contingent things.

The dishonesty comes in when the Christian replies and says "Atheists are the most arrogant people that you will find, because they claim to know that there is no God. How can you know that? Have you looked at the non-spatial, non-material world and seen all that there is to see? How do you know that the existence of God is impossible?"

But the atheist knows he cannot disprove the existence of God mathematically in the sense that the Christian is demanding. To emphasize this point he is making efforts to show that the label "atheist" is just a label about what he believes. It is not a label about what he can prove with mathematical certainty. I lack belief in fairies, leprechauns, Allah, Osiris, and Yahweh. I have reasons for doing so. Can I disprove the existence of invisible leprechauns? I can't. But I don't have to in order to have the belief that they don't exist. In the same way I am justified in being an atheist even if I can't disprove the existence of Yahweh.

Jon said...

Brian, have you asked some of the internet atheists why they have deconverted? You say that there is obviously rebellion, but is that really so obvious?

Greg, you mention fear of rejection of those that embrace Christ. I know a lot of de-converts. I can honsetly say that I have never seen such a thing. Most de-converts hide their atheism from their Christian families and spouses. One friend of mine lives in constant dread that his wife will leave him for fear that he will corrupt the children, so his atheism is something that he cannot express in his own home. People don't tell their families. Personally I hid it from my parents as long as I possibly could. I faced fears that my own wife would leave me if it came out (she did not by the way and remains committed to me thankfully). My parents seriously considered ostrasizing me, but ultimately did not partially due to pressure from my siblings.

I also know atheists with Christian children. Every one of them never considered shunning them for their faith. In some cases they would prefer that their children be atheists. In other cases they genuinely don't care and think if it makes the kids happy, what's the harm? I'm sure there is some pressure sometimes from atheists to prevent friends of family from converting to Christianity, but it pales next to the pressure applied by Christians on friends and family to prevent them from de-converting.

Chad said...

Jon,

Hello Jon and thank you for visiting the blog. If this is your first time here (which I believe it is), I welcome you!

I just wanted to clarify the question I asked. I have personally chatted with atheists who claim that they simply lack belief in God and they don't need to explain why atheism is true.

I appreciate you taking the time to comment and hope that Greg gets to your other points!

Take care

jim said...

Hi, Greg. You might remember me as 'Jim from Garden Grove' from back in the old KBRT days.

I'm an ex-christian, and I left the faith because I eventually found the belief system to be intellectually bankrupt. I'm sure there were other personal factors involved, as I doubt very many of us can claim pure objectivity in an area that's so fraught with personal and emotional underpinnings. Nevertheless, such motivational questions can certainly be pointed at the Christian side, as well.

My question is this, regarding so-called ex-christians: If you believe, as many Christians do, that everybody REALLY knows the truth, and that they willingly harden their hearts against God for this or that selfish reason, then what's the point to practicing apologetics? Isn't all the logical, philosophical and scientific discourse wholly beside the point, and utterly futile? Doesn't it all come down to the fact that all skeptics, atheists and other stripes of non-believers are just liars consciously rebelling against what they already know is true? In other words, why reason when reason isn't the problem in the first place?

Or is this about playing an 'as if' game, like 'well, this is 'as if' the person I'm arguing with could actually be persuaded by God's brand of logic...which he can't, because it's his evil heart that's really the problem'?

Brian said...

Jon,
One doesn't need to ask when the whole purpose of one's blog is anti-theist, including their deconversion stories and reasons. Which is not to say that I haven't asked those who don't include such testimonials. When someone becomes an anti-apologist, it is obvious they are rebelling against Christianity, in the sense of rejecting it and now actively opposing. I can't know someone's motives though, and don't pretend to.

Greg Koukl said...

Chad,

The only ranking I’m confident with regarding the “big four new atheists” is that Dennett is the worst. He doesn’t seem to make any attempt to deal with arguments offered on behalf of Christianity. His evaluation of Christianity suffers from the genetic fallacy. His project is primarily offering an evolutionary explanation for religious belief.

The others tend to have varying effectiveness related to their rhetorical capabilities. Some people are more persuaded by Dawkins’ science and others by Hitchens’ abuse. So you pick your poison.

I do think they’ll have a long-term impact in the lives of many individual people. Many people who read their books and are persuaded by what they find there will never look back. They feel justified in their rejection of God based on what they’ve read. And the issue will almost never trouble them again.

Jon said...

Hi Chad. Thanks for the welcome, and yes this is my first time here.

I would have to agree with your atheists friends that they have no obligation to explain why atheism is true. You likewise have no obligation to explain yourself either. On the other hand if what you are saying is that your friends approach you and say you should not believe in god because it is not true that god exists, and yet they think they have no obligation to offer reasons, then I would agree with you. They do have a burden in that case.

Greg Koukl said...

Jim,

Nice to hear from you again. I do remember our conversations.

The quick answer to your question is this: The simple fact is that people are persuaded by arguments. It happens all the time. There are different ways to account for this theologically, but there’s no need to sift through the theological details to know that even rebellious people change their minds, lay down their objections, and bend their knee.

As long as that’s possible to happen, then there’s good reason to use apologetics to address people’s unbelief. In fact, Jesus and His disciples did this all the time.

As to Christianity being “intellectually bankrupt” it may be interesting to note that virtually every single significant Western thinker since the first century until about the 17th century was a Biblical theist. This includes towering intellects like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. This doesn’t prove they’re correct in their view, of course. But it strikes me as overreaching in the extreme to describe their belief system as “intellectually bankrupt.”

Greg Koukl said...

Jon,

I’m completely sympathetic to your concern. I have repeatedly encouraged theists not to play the “prove a universal negative” game. I don’t see anything dishonest about this, as you suggested, though, only that it is an unreasonable request, as you have carefully pointed out. An atheist can be totally within is rights denying God’s existence even if he isn’t able to absolutely prove a universal negative. An atheist’s error lies elsewhere, IMHO.

But you seem to be at peace with my basic point, if I read you correctly. You obviously have no belief in fairies, etc., and therefore, from the positive side, simultaneously deny their existence, as you admit (“I don't have to [disprove the existence of invisible leprechauns] in order to have the belief that they don't exist”). An atheist’s “lack of belief in God” (for whatever reason), then, is an affirmation of God’s non-existence.

Regarding de-conversion, I think your counsel to ask de-converts for their reasons is sound. I was simply dealing with broad categories in my response, and the “fear of rejection” reason seems to work the other way in this case, as you have pointed out. These emotional influences seem to play a greater part in environments where it would cost someone something dear to become a Christian. Note again, “Others know they would face the rejection of family and friends, or perhaps suffer financial loss, physical harm, or even death if they considered Christ. These powerful demotivators can make the most cogent argument seem soft and unappealing.” I agree that this does not seem to be the thing motivating de-conversions to atheism.

BTW, I don’t dismiss the rebellion issue so quickly. There is a difference between reasons and motivation. Sometimes motivations are so strong (and often deep beneath the surface) that less than stellar reasons can sound more convincing than they should be considering their merits. I think we have all seen this at one time or another. Of course, this knife cuts both ways. I’m simply saying that just because one can state the reasons for his beliefs does not mean his thinking is not influenced by deeper passions (like rebellion). Jesus said that “men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” and more than one atheist, in candid moments, has admitted as much. This is not a blanket judgment, of course, and your sense of your own motivations may by completely different.

Jon said...

Brian, if by rebellion all you meant was rejection and opposition, then I don't think your use of the term makes a lot of sense. It seems very redundant. You say to Greg that you notice internet atheists are sometimes ex-Christians. So those that oppose the faith have rejected the faith. You then say "Obviously there is some rebellion (rejection and opposition) there." I should think so.

So, taking you to be not being redundant I assumed you meant it in the sense that Christians typically mean it when they apply it to ex-Christians who oppose Christianity. They mean it in the sense of the person having a problem with authority and being willfully defiant towards that authority. What I mean to say is I don't think it is obvious that this is about defiance towards authority.

Jon said...

Greg, I think I agree with everything you said. Just one point of clarification. I would not say that rebellion is never involved in deconversion and I agree that it can be there even if a person doesn't recognize it. I took Brian to be painting a little too broadly though as if any ex-apologist internet atheist was just being rebellious, so this is what prompted my question to him.

For my part I can say that I participate in this conversation and debate Christian apologists only because it is extremely interesting to me. I don't mind Christianity. I'm married to a Christian and I have no interest in changing her mind. If my kids become Christian this is not the worst thing in the world as far as I'm concerned. Heck, I had tons of fun growing up as a Christian going to church and Christian camp. I almost feel bad that my kids aren't plugged in like I was because they'll miss out. So I don't think it's rebellion for me. But I could be deluding myself. :)

Brian said...

If it sounded like I was painting too broadly, my apologies. It is a general question and I don't mean it applies to every case.

jim said...

ADMIN: PLEASE DISREGARD IF THIS IS A REPEAT...I WASN'T SURE IF MY POST WENT THROUGH OR NOT. THANKS...JIM

Greg: Let me come at the question from a slightly different angle-

I assume you believe that when an unbeliever finally faces the judgment seat of God, he/she will be condemned for an act of conscious rebellion, or something along those lines. NOT because of ignorance on the condemned's part.

Now, a theist might argue that apologetics is the way God chooses to inform a person as to the truth of His existence, in such a way that it's impossible to claim an insufficient level of knowledge. But then we're faced with the situation that up until a point where knowledge has reached a threshold of sufficiency (receiving that key apologetical bit of information which renders him liable), the unbeliever is actually justified in his unbelief. And if the unbeliever dies before that threshold is reached, what then? Free pass? I doubt you believe that. This all ties in with the 'Hindu who never heard about Christ' argument, I guess; and I don't suppose there are any excuses for that guy, either. But, why not, if truth comes by hearing, and we are condemned for the truth we supposedly already know?

Now, I can buy a strictly judgmental, polemical style of apologetics..."You know you're rebellious, and you're gonna BURN for ETERNITY if you don't straighten up!" Salvation via threat, in other words; which, btw, seems to be the thrust of the biblical message. But the rest seems at best contradictory, or perhaps utterly beside the point.

As far as my 'intellectually bankrupt' remark and your reply, I can only say that Aquinas's arguments (to cite one of your examples) haven't held any weight amongst the philosophical community (outside philosophers of apologetics, of course) for a long, long time, possible exceptions granted. Even Aquinas tacitly admitted that his arguments weren't so much persuasive to critics, as they were assuaging to believers who needed their faiths bolstered against 'outside', unchristian schools of thought. Admittedly, apologists such as Wm. Lane Craig and others keep resurrecting these old arguments, but they keep getting shot down quite regularly... and appropriately, I might add.

Billy said...

Greg,
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us on Chad's wonderful blog/resource!

Are there any areas in the defense of Christianity that you find weak from an apologetics standpoint? In other words is there anything that you think to your self, I wish there was more information on that topic that I could present to an unbeliever to convince them?

Thanks again!

Greg Koukl said...

Billy,

The only thing that comes to mind is that I wish there was more archeological evidence for the events recorded in the Old Testament, especially concerning the Exodus. In one respect, the paucity of evidence is understandable because the events took place so long ago. Indeed, considering all the events of antiquity, there's almost no evidence for anything in the past, on balance. That isn't to deny the rich amount of archeological evidence we do have, all things considered. For some critics, though, when it comes to the Bible, no evidence is going to be enough. Even so, I'm waiting for the day that something more substantial will be unearthed about the Exodus.

Greg Koukl said...

Jim,

A couple of quick thoughts, since the day is almost over.

First, I actually believe that everyone who has reached an age of moral accountability has suppressed the obvious evidence of God’s existence and our accountability to Him, and has done it with rebellious motives. I say this not because I have deep insight into all human beings, but because God does and He has declared this to be the case in Romans 1. If this is true, then no one is justified in his unbelief, which is why Paul says, “They are without excuse.” When the non-believer finally faces God in judgment, the books will be opened and then he will see without question that God’s judgment of him is just because his own deeds will condemn him (Revelation 20).

This is my unvarnished answer to your query. It may be distasteful to some for a variety of reasons. It may even be false, for the sake of argument. My point just now is not to defend this view, but to point out that if it fails it does not do so in virtue of contradiction, as you claim. There is no contradiction here.

“Salvation via threat” is only illicit if the danger is imaginary and the threat empty. Cardiologists regularly “threaten” death for their patients who live lives conducive to heart attack. No one cries foul at that.

Regarding Aquinas’s alleged shortcomings, I know he has fallen out of favor with many, but his arguments have been rehabilitated and even if you don’t find them persuasive, many have. Also, those arguments are often advanced initially as having demonstrated that their conclusions (about God’s existence, for example) are true by necessity. Even if they falter at that ambitious task, the arguments still may serve to show that they are most likely true. Just because “It ain’t necessarily so” doesn’t mean “It ain’t so” or even “It probably ain’t so.”

Anyhow, my point was about your charge that Christianity was intellectually bankrupt. Nothing that you said about Aquinas, even if completely true, would justify that judgment. Intellectually bankrupt views do not capture the attention of any philosopher, especially generations of philosophers. The fact that so many have endeavored to take Aquinas and other Christian thinkers to task suggests they consider him and them intellectual forces to be reckoned with.

jim said...

Greg:

Thanks for taking my questions, and nice talking with you again after so many years. I'll accept your answers as they stand, with one quibble:

“Salvation via threat” is only illicit if the danger is imaginary and the threat empty. Cardiologists regularly “threaten” death for their patients who live lives conducive to heart attack. No one cries foul at that."

Doctors warn patients. They don't threaten them. Big, big difference.

Take care...jim

Oh, and feel free to drop by any of my blogs and quibble back! Goodnight.