Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Apologist Interview: "The Free Thinking Theist" Tim Stratton

Tim Stratton is an apologist with FreeThinking Ministries.  He specializes in arguments for the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus and answering objections to biblical Christianity

Admittedly, Stratton is one of my favorite writers and I was privileged to have the opportunity to ask him some questions.  
In this interview, he talks about his Christian upbringing, apologetics, logical arguments, the "Free Thinking argument against naturalism," starting an apologetics ministry and more!

Q. Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a Christian who values apologetics.

 I grew up in a strong Christian home. I remember praying with my mom and asking Jesus to “live in my heart” around my fourth birthday (right around the time the original Star Wars came out)! I remember asking my parents tough questions at a young age. Many times I would not understand their answers, but it comforted me to know that they did have answers.

Although I asked questions like these from time to time I never consider myself to be an academic. In fact, I always considered myself to be the “stupid kid” and I lived up to the label all the way through high school. Somehow I barely made it to college and eventually (if not miraculously) earned a degree in education at UNK (Kearney, NE), but upon graduation moved to Santa Cruz, California to go into youth ministry.

Moving to Santa Cruz from Nebraska was an eye-opener! Everyone in Nebraska seemed to consider themselves to be a Christian. At the least, most would affirm that they thought God exists. Santa Cruz was a different story! In fact, it seemed like only the extreme minority affirmed Christianity. One day I thought I would try my hand at some “street evangelism” and ventured down to Pacific Avenue to tell people about Jesus. My world was rocked and my faith was slightly shaken! I remember a homeless guy shooting out objections to the existence of God – objections I had never heard before! I was not prepared for these types of conversations and I led no one to Christ that day.

I quietly told myself that although I had a passion for evangelism, I would keep my faith to myself unless I was preaching a sermon or if someone came to ask me personally. I said I would never start a conversation with a stranger about Jesus again!

A few years later (2006) I moved back to Kearney, Nebraska to take a position as the youth pastor at the Kearney Evangelical Free Church. I was still “playing it safe” and keeping my faith to myself unless I was in the walls of the church. I thought I would never have to encounter those objections to Christianity again. I was in for a rude awakening!

I started a Bible Study for high school boys. Two years went by and I’ll never forget what happened before the “Back to School Bash” for the youth group. One of the young men who had been in youth group and my Bible study tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and I could tell he had something important to discuss. He told me that he would no longer be coming to youth group or to our Bible study because he had become an atheist over the summer!

My response was shallow: “But you KNOW that’s not true!” He answered me and said, “I don’t know that, Tim. I do not think God exists!” He told me that he had been reading Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens and that they made such compelling arguments that he was certain that God did not exist, and thus, that Christians were believing fairy tales.

Again, I responded: “But you KNOW atheism is not true! We’ve read the Bible together!” This sixteen-year-old chuckled at my feeble attempt at argumentation and replied with the following: “I’ll tell ya what, Tim, answer just one of these objections and I’ll stick around!” He probably offered a dozen objections coming from the likes of the atheists he had been studying. I answered ZERO of them! Just as I experienced in Santa Cruz, once again I found myself impotent to discuss these issues.

I’ll never forget the look of disgust on the young man’s face. He looked at me like I had failed him! He then turned around and walked out of the doors of the church.

That sparked something in me! I went home that night, and although my faith was once again shaken, I prayed! I felt like God spoke to me and told me that if I was going to be a shepherd, then I need to learn how to defend the sheep! God took me to 2 Corinthians 10:5 where Paul says that he “destroys arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” I felt like God was calling me to do the exact same thing.

I initially told God that He had the wrong guy for the job! I was no academic – “I was the stupid kid, remember?” But then, God introduced me to the work of William Lane Craig and his ministry, Reasonable Faith. I began listening to Dr. Craig’s podcasts – ALL of his podcasts. I started reading his books, reading his blogs, watching his videos, and especially watching his debates!

Some of these debates were against the atheists who had influenced the young student in my youth group. I watched Dr. Craig debate Christopher Hitchens and could not believe how he “Spanked Hitchens like a little child” (according to an atheist magazine)!

I was hooked and wanted more apologetics! I wanted to learn from Dr. Craig personally! I saw that Dr. Craig was a professor at Biola University and I enrolled. My life has been completely transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). Many apologists, philosophers, and theologians have sharpened me along the way, but Dr. Craig and Biola University have been the major factors in the process.

Q. The argument that you are most known for is the "The Free Thinking Argument against Naturalism." Can you unpack this argument for us a bit and explain why you believe it undermines naturalism?

Atheists love to label themselves as “freethinkers” because they claim to have no restraints to follow facts wherever they might lead. With that said, if atheists are right, that God does not exist, it is also highly implausible that the immaterial aspect of humanity called a “soul” exists. This has led me to the conclusion that it is impossible for an atheistic naturalist to really be a “freethinker,” because if they happen to be right about atheistic naturalism, no one can freely think anything.

If God does not exist, it is difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions. This is demonstrated in an argument I crafted after dwelling upon what it means to freely think:

Video: The Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism

1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.

2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.

3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.

4- Rationality and knowledge exist.

5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.

6- Therefore, the soul exists.

7- Therefore, naturalism is false.

8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul is God.

In a nutshell, premise (1) is synonymous with “if naturalism is true, nature is all that exists.” That is pretty straightforward. Premise (2) is tantamount to “if all that exists is nature, then all that exists is causally determined via the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the big bang.” Premise (3) is equivalent with “if all things are causally determined, then that includes all thoughts and beliefs.” If our thoughts and beliefs are forced upon us, and we could not have chosen better beliefs, then we are simply left assuming that our determined beliefs are good (let alone true). Therefore, we could never rationally affirm that our beliefs really are the inference to the best explanation – we can only assume it.

Here is the big problem for the atheistic naturalist: it logically follows that if naturalism is true, then atheists — or anyone else for that matter — cannot possess knowledge. Knowledge is defined as “justified true belief.” One can happen to have true beliefs; however, if they do not possess warrant or justification for a specific belief, their belief does not qualify as a knowledge claim. If one cannot freely infer the best explanation, then one has no justification that their belief really is the best explanation. Without justification, knowledge goes down the drain. All we are left with is question-begging assumptions (a logical fallacy), at least if one is going to argue for atheistic naturalism. Apart from justification or rational affirmation, knowledge is simply illusory.

Obviously the fourth premise must be true as humans do possess the ability to be rational and gain knowledge. To argue this would affirm it as one would have to offer knowledge to the contrary. Moreover, if one rejects knowledge, why should anyone listen to them? Therefore, libertarian free will and the soul (or some immaterial aspect of humanity) exists, and therefore, naturalism is false.

If God, and therefore, the human soul, does not exist, people are nothing more than material mechanisms bound by the laws of chemistry and physics. To put it bluntly, human beings would be nothing more than “bags of chemicals on bones.” If this is all we are, we do not possess libertarian free will. If humanity has no free will, then we are not free to think anything (in the libertarian sense). Therefore, knowledge, rationality, and even morality are illusory. We would not be free to choose to be reasonable or to engage in logical argumentation or even to freely choose to follow evidence wherever it leads. Ultimately, if atheistic naturalism is true, we are not free to choose anything; that includes what we are going to choose to believe or think. If naturalism is true, humanity is not responsible for any of our beliefs or behaviors.

A naturalistic atheist has no justification to the label “freethinker.” I think a better name for these self-proclaimed “freethinkers” would be the “determined determinists.” Given naturalism, there is no freedom to think otherwise!

Bottom line: The supernatural must exist for the naturalistic atheist to “freely think” that it doesn’t.

Q. You have referred to yourself as a "logician." Please explain to our readers what you mean by that and why you believe arguing using deductive arguments is advantageous.

I do consider myself to be an aspiring logician. With that said, the more I learn, the more I realize I have much more to learn! I am blessed to work with a colleague, Jacobus Erasmus (PhD), who I think dreams in symbolic logic! He will be joining the FreeThinking Ministries team in 2017.

I am committed to truth over any worldview or presupposition. This means that I am even more committed to truth than I am to Christianity! I believe logic is bedrock and that truth and logic are inextricably linked. Thus, since I am devoted to truth, I am simultaneously devoted to logic.

Deductive arguments are fantastic tools to help us ascertain the truth of reality.

I find it amazing that logic continually points to the fact that God is ultimate reality! Arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Leibnizian Argument from Contingency, the Moral Argument, the Ontological Argument, the Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus, and even the Freethinking Argument are all based on logic. Thus, we have logical reasons as to why we ought to put our faith in Christian theism!

Q. What books or resources would you recommend to our readers on learning to think logically?

Dr. Craig’s Learning Logic is a great place to start for beginners. I actually taught through this so-called “children’s book” to a class full of graduate students and professors. They found it quite enlightening!

I also encourage people to read the text book for my logic class at Biola called A Concise Introduction to Logic (11th Edition) by Patrick J. Hurley, and one I recently purchased entitled, Introduction to Logic (2nd Edition), by Harry J. Gensler.

Q. At Free Thinking Ministries you have successfully formed a team of apologists that bring their own unique talents and abilities to the table. What advice would you offer to those who desire to do the same?

Be a presence on social media. Learn the arguments supporting the truth of Christian theism and post away! Moreover, when you see internet atheists bullying Christians who do not know how to defend their beliefs, step in and protect them with logical arguments and love! If you protect Christians in this manner, they will learn from you and – if you are really loving the arguer while destroying their arguments – you might just lead an atheist to become a “former atheist.” You might also gain friends in the process. That has been my experience.

I will never forget my first apologetics related Facebook post back in 2010 and the long argument that came from it. I had to do a lot of research to answer their objections, but as Sean McDowell once told me, “Never get stumped by the same question twice!”

I took his advice and started “destroying arguments” (2 Cor 10:5) on social media; I never imagined that it would evolve into FreeThinking Ministries today!

Many thanks to Tim Stratton for taking the time to do this interview.

If you want to learn more about Tim and FreeThinking Ministries, go here.

Courage and Godspeed,

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