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?"
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? -- '
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