Saturday, May 25, 2013

All Good Things?

Last night, I attended a high school graduation. During the ceremony, someone mentioned that “all good things must come to an end.” While this was true in the sense in which the saying was applied, it got me thinking briefly about the universal aspect of that statement. Is it really true that all good things must come to an end?

Consider the Christian life. By definition, salvation has as its end eternal life, everlasting throughout all of time and eternity (John 3:16). Christian theology teaches that we will live with Christ, ultimately in the new heavens and new earth. This is most assuredly a good thing. We will be fully conformed to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29), and that will be a good thing. Finally, we will be existing, and existence itself is a good thing (Genesis 1:31). So, we can see not all good things come to an end after all; in fact, given that God is a necessary being, some good things cannot possibly come to an end!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Advice to Apologists, Part 2

My first piece of advice to apologists concerned the idea of being an unwavering disciple of Jesus Christ. This article will focus on the conduit for attaining and maintaining this status. That conduit is a local church.

Now, I do not mean that every local church does everything correctly, or that somehow merely being a member of one will make things easier. Rather, I am suggesting that a healthy involvement in a local body of likeminded believers is an essential element of the life of the Christian mind. It’s certainly not perfect, but I can tell you that I have never seen a successful Christian apologist who virtually ignored his local church; every successful Christian apologist I have seen has been sincerely and seriously engaged in her local body of fellowship.

Contrapositively, nearly every Christian-turned-atheist of whom I am aware had a deteriorating relationship with their local church (or some sin in their life which separated them from the local church). On the surface, this may seem exaggerated. After all, how would it follow from my church attendance record that I cease believing in God? Certainly, in one sense, it does not; one could hold to all of the truths of Christian theism and never set foot in a church. However, there is another sense in which local church involvement is vitally linked to one’s own faith.

That sense is the internal justification one enjoys when one is a Christian. Being a part of a thriving body of believers helps keep one healthy in orthopraxy (or right living). Being part of a faith community increases love for the brethren, which is, in part, how we gain that internal justification in the first place (cf. 1 John 4:7, 5:13). If we are not a part of the local body, we are unfulfilled in a vital area: fellowship. It is how God created us. If that occurs, we are much more vulnerable, psychologically and spiritually, to falter. The lack of living rightly wears on our conscience, so that we eventually can no longer ignore the dissonance, and we tend to give up our weakened Christianity much more easily than the strong version. So how does one engage in a healthy way in the local church?

It should almost go without saying that regular attendance is a must. I am not going to be legalistic about it, but your attendance at services should not be infrequent. Second, one should be engaged in some form of service to the local church. Apologists often teach a small group class, or even an apologetics class. If that is not going to work, try cleaning the church, or helping set up for activities; if all else fails, ask someone! The camaraderie gained from working side by side with the people of God cannot be overestimated. The Christian apologist must be engaged in the life--and mind--of the local church; it is both for her good and for the church’s. The next article will deal with apologists training others.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Advice to Apologists, Part 1

My advice to apologists is not meant to be all-inclusive, and it is not meant to be authoritative (on the level of William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga). Rather, it will simply be a collection of my observations and beliefs about some issues facing young, Christian apologists. Too often, we rush headlong into the project of apologetics without thinking some things through.

First, do not succumb to a type of “reverse confirmation bias.” I see this all too often. The young apologist, strengthened by his newfound intellectual rigor and study into Christianity, tends to believe that he can and will prove everything wrong. As he continues, he develops, sometimes unconsciously, the idea that if he cannot prove some objection to Christianity to be absolutely incorrect, then his faith will waver, and weaken. What happens from there is that each new objection that he cannot immediately answer counts, in effect, as evidence against Christianity. Either one of two results will occur: either he will spend the rest of his life running from intellectual fire to intellectual fire, trying desperately to put them out; or else he will eventually give up the faith altogether.

As an alternative, I would suggest that our faith is neither gained nor held by our own intellectual discoveries. In the first place, most of us do not credit the apologetic arguments with bringing us to faith (in the Christian sense). They may remove our intellectual barriers or even influence us strongly, or, in some cases, even bring intellectual assent. But Christian faith is much more than that. It is a matter of the will.[1] In the second place, we must adhere to the many biblical verses about the Holy Spirit’s revealing God’s truth to us (1 Cor. 2:9-12), and not being carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). In that case, then, we will have a rock-solid, unwavering commitment to biblical Christianity. 

Now do not misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that our own experience is how we would show an unbeliever that the Christian God is true, nor am I suggesting that if Christianity were shown to be false, that we should believe it anyway. Rather, I am saying that because we know Christianity is true, and because it is true, we have an internal justification for holding our beliefs. Instead of hand-wringing every time an objection is presented, we ought to have faith that it can be resolved. Why? Because of the many good reasons to believe, coupled with our internal justification!

Now, perhaps some skeptics will think there is something wrong (intellectually speaking) with this strategy, but it will be quite difficult to say just what. For it is not the case that we are saying a proof of God’s non-existence will simply be ignored. Nor is it the case that we are saying we can show God’s existence even in the face of such proof. Rather, all that is happening is that we are asserting one is justified himself in believing (based on properly basic beliefs, other arguments, individual experience), even in the face of such a so-called proof, provided he holds his internal justification (and prior beliefs) just as strongly or stronger than the so-called proof. Only if the proof overcomes this internal justification should Christianity be abandoned. But if Christianity is true, which we believe it is, then the proof will never outweigh this internal witness. All this is saying is that one’s own experiences can leave him justified in accepting God. This level of commitment to God is a commitment to truth (since God is truth). How does one cultivate that? That comes in the next article.
1 Besides, most of us cannot even say that we came to intellectual belief this way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Kalam, the Multiverse, and the Causal Principle

For a refresher, the Kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

Now most people do not deny (2) (although it is the case that assuredly many do). Instead they opt to deny (1). A particular way of doing so is to posit the multiverse. They reason, “Since the causal principle is based on induction of what we have seen in our universe, perhaps it is the case that there is a multiverse. Whether the causal principle holds in the multiverse, then, cannot be told--for we have not seen any other part of it than our own. Hence, we cannot claim the causal principle as true.” Now, aside from the fact that, all too often, this kind of move is done as a desperate ploy to avoid a First Cause as much as anything else, we may say something else about it. 

The main criticism I have is that it is simply not true that the causal principle is based on induction. It is certainly confirmed by our inductive experiences, but there are arguments to be had from the KCA supporting it. Namely, if the causal principle is false, then it remains unclear what, precisely, prevents just anything from popping into existence uncaused. In order to overcome the causal principle, then, someone must deal with this argument. 

It is sometimes counter-argued that this line of reasoning is a mistake; it need not be the case, they say, that if the causal principle in the KCA is false, just anything could pop into existence uncaused. The causal principle could still hold for the overwhelming majority of things. But this too is a mistake. For the argument is not, “if the causal principle is false, then everything can pop into existence uncaused.” Rather, the argument is, “if the causal principle is false, it’s unclear what prevents things from popping into being uncaused.” The distinction is crucial. We cannot claim it is some physical law, for that law, as a descriptor of the function of the universe, will describe some process of causation, which is ex hypothesi not what we want.[1] We know, after all, that birds come from eggs that are hatched, and that this is governed by physical processes. But why is it that a bird cannot just appear in my bedroom, uncaused? It would not be a normal bird, sure, but that certainly does not matter. We cannot offer some metaphysical truth, for then we have simply stated some other version of the causal principle (or, worse, an ad hoc version like “everything but the universe comes into existence by a cause”).

Now, if this argument that supports the causal principle stands (or any such argument), which I think it does, then the objector who claims the multiverse as backup simply is barking up the wrong tree. The multiverse will not avoid a causal principle unless good reason to reject the causal principle is presented on metaphysical grounds. However, in that case, it will be just such a metaphysical argument that is at work, and not the multiverse.
1 It is also worth noting that if some physical law could account for the restriction on such random happenings within the universe, it could not apply to the universe itself.