Tuesday, December 19, 2017

An Apologetic Case Study: Big Unbaptized Bullies in High School

My son has recently been experiencing some anti-religious pushback from an atheist friend in high school. I occasionally remind him how little high schoolers know, which applies to both his atheist friend and to himself, and which might not seem to be an encouraging thing to say to one's high school son. But what it means is that my son should not expect to be able to fully and quickly answer his atheist friend’s jabs. AND he should not trust that his atheist friend’s jabs have any merit. It is highly unlikely that a high school atheist has stumbled upon--in his great wit and wisdom--a religious dilemma that has not been exhaustively explored and answered by thousands upon thousands of Christian scholars, theologians, and philosophers over the course of centuries. High schoolers tend to have confidence levels disproportionate to their actual knowledge. So I mean that to be a real encouragement. By the way, this disproportionate confidence remains true for many people as they move out of high school as well. Few really know the best arguments against Christianity and many often settle for the weak ones. This seems to happen when people do not know any better and are a little too full of themselves.

So anyway, his friend came at him one day with the argument that various aspects of Noah’s flood were unbelievable. Somehow, his friend then concluded that God was a ridiculous idea. Now, admittedly, this argument does not stress the limits of atheistic intelligence, so answering it will not be a be-all-end-all against atheism. However, since it was put forth, I thought I would share a response with my son. And since high schoolers themselves can rarely stress the limits of anything that requires knowledge and experience, it might at least shut this particular atheist up, at least until he moves on to his next brilliant scheme. Which is what he will do (II Cor. 2:14).  Forgive my condescending tone. Sometimes it is really hard to know which way to answer a fool (Proverbs 26:4-5).

The Big Unbaptized Bully (or Bub for short) appears to have made the following argument:
If the Scriptures are unbelievable, there is no God (P⊃Q).
For Bub’s argument to be logically sound, it must meet the standards of both truth and validity:
∴ Q
His modus ponens is valid by definition (P∴Q), but Bub must also demonstrate that his protasis (P) is true: “The Scriptures are unbelievable.” Immediately, he should recognize the difficulty of this. I say “he should,” but you never know--high school. Bub might believe that he can verify this statement scientifically, perhaps by pointing out all the lunacies in the Bible that are utterly out of accord with the way Bub believes things work in this world. But Bub is utterly ill-equipped to demonstrate this scientifically, theologically, and philosophically. He probably even thinks that science itself is capable of demonstrating this to “any reasonable person,” which illustrates how far from competent he really is. Additionally, his statement is scientifically falsifiable simply by presenting as evidence only one person who believes the Bible. Thankfully, throughout history, we have record of hundreds of millions of believers-in-the-Bible. Therefore it is patently false that the Scriptures are unbelievable. Therefore, Bub’s argument is unsound on the face of it. He cannot assert that there is no God simply because he himself finds Scriptures’ account of Noah and the flood unbelievable.

I suspect, though, that Bub has actually misunderstood his own thoughts. What he has understood by his own argument is that “There is no God; therefore the Scriptures are unbelievable.” This, of course, is precisely that which he intends to prove, so that by presenting the argument the other way, he engaged in a very narrow circle of reasoning (petitio principii). He has assumed and asserted precisely that which he intends to prove. In other words, he has proved nothing; he has simply made a bald assertion. I suspect he has no idea how often he does this in his arguments. What’s more, in turning his own argument on its head, he has simultaneously fallen prey to asserting the consequent (Q∴P), a fundamentally invalid form of argument.

It is now our turn in the argument: Using his formulation, we can admit upfront that we cannot come along and deny his antecedent, as though it were now automatically true that “If the Scriptures are believable, then there is a God (~P∴~Q).” This would be a fallacy on the part of the Christian. And we should be thankful that believing something does not make it true, because if it did, this world would be far more of a nightmare than many already believe it to be. I mean, some people actually believe there is no God, to say little of all the other crazy belief systems in the world today.

I am grateful that faith does not create reality. No. Always, our responsibility is to bring our faith in line with God’s reality. Otherwise, we are just left to make stuff up. Ever met someone who just makes stuff up and then totally believes it to be true? We tend to call that mental illness. So, to believe truth, we must always go to one who knows the truth and bring our faith in line with what he says is true. This is the only way to avoid making stuff up. This is the only way to avoid the craziness.

So we cannot deny Bub’s antecedent. However, using Bub‘s own formulation, we can turn back around upon him a simple, valid, logical assertion by means of modus tollens (~Q∴~P): If there is a God, then the Scriptures are believable. In fact, we can say that if Genesis 1:1 is true, then nothing else in Scripture is unbelievable. This means that, by Bub’s own unwitting admission, if God exists, then there is nothing about Noah’s story that cannot be believed. Bub might want to be a little more careful with his logic. It might not be working as much in his favor as he thinks it is.

Scripture’s nativity story records another way of saying all this, by the way. In the Gospel of Luke, an angel told the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God. This of course was unbelievable to Mary. In fact, it is one of the most unbelievable parts of Scripture. She replied: How can this be, given that I have never “known” a man?

The angel replied, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

P.S.  I know, I know. You saw a circular argument in this post, didn't you? Good-on-ya-mate! Thought you would bring that stick out and beat me with it, did you?  Always important to be able to recognize that stuff. I will hold you to that skill. Let's talk about it sometime.

No comments:

Post a Comment