Tag Archives: Apologetics

William Lane Craig debates Daniel Came: Does God exist?

Dr. Craig's opening speech summary slide
Dr. Craig’s opening speech summary slide

The video of the debate was posted by ReasonableFaith.org – Dr. Craig’s organization. This debate occurred in March 2017 at the University of Dublin, in Ireland.

The video: (91 minutes)

My non-snarky summary is below.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech

Two claims:

1. There are good reasons to think that theism is true.
2. There are not comparably good reasons to think that atheism is true.

Five reasons for God’s existence:

1. The beginning of the universe
– actual infinite past is mathematically impossible
– BGV theorem: any universe that is on balance expanding in its history (like ours) cannot be past eternal

2. Fine-tuning of cosmic quantities and constants
– slight changes to quantities and constants prevent a universe from supporting complex embodied life
– the multiverse response of atheists conflicts with observations, e.g. the Boltzmann Brains problem

3. Objective moral values
– God’s existence is required to ground objective moral values and duties

4. Minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus
– there are good reasons to accept the most widely accepted facts about the historical Jesus (empty tomb, appearances, early widespread belief in the resurrection)
– the best explanation of these minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead

5. Experience God directly
– in the absence of any defeaters to belief in God, a person can experience God directly

Dr. Daniel Came’s opening speech

1. The hiddenness of God
– if God wants a personal relationship with us, and a relationship with God would be the greatest good for us
– God ought to reveal himself to us, but he does not  reveal himself to many people, the “non-resistant non-believers”

2. The inductive problem of evil
– many evil events occur that are pointless – there is no morally sufficient reason why God would allow them to occur
– examples: animal suffering, children born with disease, tsunamis
– the theistic response to this is that humans are not in a position to know whether there are morally sufficient reasons, due to our limitations of knowing the consequences
– but this ripple effect defense has 4 possible outcomes, 3 of which don’t do the job of justifying

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal

1. The hiddenness of God
– God’s goal is not to make his existence known, but to draw them into a love relationship
– it’s speculative that overt displays of God’s existence would draw people to him in a love relationship, they might resent his bullying
– atheist would have to prove that God could draw more people into a love relationship with him by revealing himself more overtly

2. The inductive problem of evil
– as humans, we are not in a position to know for certain that any apparently pointless evil really is pointless
– William Alston article: 6 limitations of human knowing make it impossible to judge that an evil is actually “pointless”
– Dr. Came says that there are 4 possibilities for the ripple effects, and since 3 are bad, it’s likely that there are not morally sufficient reasons for a apparently pointless evil
– it is logically fallacious to assert probability conclusions without knowing the probabilities of those 4 options
– there is actually an argument from evil: since the problem of evil requires an objective standard of good and evil by which to measure, and God is the only possible ground of objective morality, then pressing the problem of evil actually requires the atheist to assume God, in order to ground this objective moral standard

Dr. Came’s first rebuttal

3. Objective moral values
– there are naturalistic theories of moral realism where objective moral duties and objective moral values exist in a naturalistic universe
– I’m not saying that any of them are correct, but there are many theories about object morality in a naturalistic universe

There are naturalistic theories for all of the 5 arguments that Dr. Craig presented. It is Dr. Craig’s responsibility to present those naturalistic theories and prove that they are not as good as his explanations. I’m not going to defend (or even name!) a single naturalistic theory for any of these 5 arguments by Dr. Craig.

Dr. Craig’s explanations for the 5 evidences he gave can’t be admitted, because we have to know how God did something in naturalistic terms before we can know that God did it supernaturally. Explanations are only valid if they are naturalistic.

1. The beginning of the universe
– naturalism explains how the universe expands after it came into being, so that explains how it came into being
– the God explanation, that God created the universe out of nothing, is not admissible, because it is not naturalistic
– how does God, as an unembodied mind interact with the physical world?
– the only agency that we know about is human agents, and we have bodies, so how could God perform actions without having a body?

The theistic hypothesis does not make any predictions, but naturalism makes lots of testable predictions. God could do anything, so he is not constrained and is therefore untestable. We can’t infer God as an explanation in principle because we can’t predict what is more probable if God exists than if he does not.

2. Fine-tuning of cosmic quantities and constants
– the university was not set up to make embodied intelligence plausible, because the vast majority of the universe is hostile to life
– there are models of the multiverse that escape the Boltzmann Brains problem that Dr. Craig raised

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal

Some of Dr. Craig’s arguments are deductive (e.g. – the beginning of the universe, objective moral values), so that the conclusion follows from the premises if the premises are true. The resurrection passes the standard tests for historical explanations.

1. The beginning of the universe
– the whole point of the argument is that there is no naturalistic explanation for an ultimate beginning of the universe

2. Fine-tuning of cosmic quantities and constants
– the whole point of the argument is that there is no naturalistic explanation for a design of the universe to support life
– he has to prove that intelligences has to be attached to bodies
– human beings are non-physical minds united to physical bodies
– naturalistic attempts to explain mental operations fail
– the arguments prove that unembodied minds exist
– the vast expanse of the universe is required in order to form the galaxies, stars and heavy elements needed for complex life
– why expect that the entire universe should be small, or that life would be everywhere?
– a non-fine-tuned world is more likely in the multiverse, and in a multiverse, we are more likely to have a Boltzmann brain world than a world with complex, embodied life
– Dr. Came has not advanced any naturalistic explanation for the fine-tuning

3. Objective moral values
– non-theistic ethical theories cannot account for the ontological foundations of objective moral values and duties
– atheistic theories of moral realism simply assume objective moral values out of thin air
– it is especially hard to find any basis for objective moral duties in the absence of God

Dr. Came’s second rebuttal

5. Religious experience
– Dr. Craig should not bring up religious experience in a debate where arguments and evidence are central
– people who have dreams, hallucinations and psychotic delusions could appeal to religious experience
– religious experience is by no means universal, and it is possible to doubt it

3. Objective moral values
– there are lots of atheists who hold to objective moral values
– Dr. Craig has to explain how God grounds objective moral values and duties
– Dr. Craig has to explain why atheist moral realist theories don’t work to ground objective moral values and duties

1. The beginning of the universe
– Dr. Craig claims that something can’t come from nothing, that’s not an argument
– there are numerous models that don’t require an absolute beginning of the universe
– Dr. Craig cites the BGV theorem, but Guth (one of the authors) says that only the inflation has a beginning, not the whole universe

Dr. Craig’s conclusion

1. The beginning of the universe
– on theism, there is an efficient cause, but no material cause, for the origin of the universe
– on atheism, there is neither an efficient cause nor a material cause, for the origin of the universe: that’s worse!
– if he thinks that there are models of the universe that don’t require a beginning, then let him name a viable eternal model of the universe
– he never refuted the mathematical argues against an infinite past

2. Fine-tuning of cosmic quantities and constants
– nothing to refute

3. Objective moral values
– God is a better ground for morality than humans, because he is ultimate, and not contingent and arbitrary
– God is a being who is worthy of worship, and therefore command his creatures with moral duties

4. Minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus
– nothing to refute

5. Religious experience
– only justified because there are no defeaters to it

1. The hiddenness of God
– atheist has to show that if God’s existence were more obvious, that it would result in more people being drawn to him

2. The inductive problem of evil
– Dr. Came’s argument was logically fallacious, and makes errors in probability theory

Dr. Came’s conclusion

Sometimes, people can’t prove something, but lack of evidence is a justification for doubting it, e.g. – werewolves.

If none of Craig’s arguments work, then it follows that it is not rational to believe that God exists, and it is rational to believe that God does not exist.

Atheists shouldn’t have a burden of proof for what they know, only theists have a burden of proof for what they know.

My thoughts

One quick point. If life were common everywhere then atheists would infer that God wasn’t involved in it. Period. “Life is everywhere, so it’s common, why do we need a designer?” they’d say. I agree with Dr. Came about denouncing religious experience in a formal debate. I don’t like when Dr. Craig brings this up, but I see why he does it – he’s an evangelist, and that’s a good thing, too. I just worry about how it looks to atheists, although it’s good for sincere seekers. I’m not the one on the stage, though, Dr. Craig is.

I think the point about more overt revealing by God would annoy people and make them turn away. Think of how gay people respond to the suggestion that there is anything wrong with them, with rage, vandalism, threats, coercion, attempts to get you to lose your job and business, and using government as a weapon to fine and imprison you. It’s really obvious to me that more God does not mean more love of God. For those who don’t want God, the hiddenness is respect for their choice to put pleasure above the search for truth. (I mean the gay activists – I have great sympathy for people who struggle with same-sex unwanted attractions because they were impacted by a failed bond with their parent of the same sex as they are).

Whenever I meet people like Dr. Came, I always urge them to keep investigating and pursuing truth, because they will find it if they are sincerely seeking after God. Some atheists do sincerely seek God, but I don’t know any who haven’t found him. I’m not sure if that’s because those atheists who claim to be non-resistant and rational are in fact resistant and non-rational, or what the real reason is. If you believe the Bible, all unbelief is non-rational and resistant (see Romans 1). Regarding the werewolves, we don’t have any good arguments for werewolves, we do have good arguments for God. Dr. Came didn’t refute the arguments that Craig raised, nor did his own arguments for atheism work. And there are many, many more arguments (origin of life, Cambrian explosion, habitability-discoverability, molecular machines) that Craig did not raise, too.

Making sense of evil and suffering within a Christian worldview

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

One thing I’ve noticed in talking to atheists who grew up in Christian homes is that they often leave their Christian worldview behind because of a disappointment with God. For some reason, they get this idea that God is our cosmic butler. We can do whatever we want in order to be happy, and if we want any help in this, then we just ring for him. When we encounter disappointment, our tendency is to just leave God behind.

Paul Copan explains the high points of the problems of evil and suffering in 17 minutes. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The MP3 file is here.

The video is here:

Topics:

  • the question itself reveals that we are moral beings
  • the problem of evil is the great interrupter of human well-being
  • every philosophy of life has to address this question
  • is God required to give us a life that is easy and comfortable?
  • evil is a departure from good, i.e. – the way things ought to be
  • a way things ought to be implies a plan for what ought to be
  • human evil implies a plan for the way we ought to be
  • free creatures have the ability to deviate from the plan
  • where does this plan for the universe and us come from?
  • how can there be a way we ought to be come from?
  • evil is the flip side of good so where does good come from?
  • God’s own moral nature is the standard of good and evil
  • where does evil from natural disasters come from?
  • how dangerous natural phenomena preserve Earth’s habitability
  • there is a benefit from tectonic activity
  • similarly, God lets humans freely choose knowing harm may result
  • people are free to try to find meaning in something other than God
  • God is able to use negative things to bring about positive results
  • e.g. – when good people suffer, they can comfort and care for others
  • can people be good enough on their own without God?

I do think it’s worth thinking about whether the New Testament portrays God as our cosmic butler, just waiting on us hand and foot so that we can be happy. Personally, I think you’d have to be crazy to get that impression of God from the Bible. Especially from the life of Jesus, who suffers in order to do the will of his Father. Wouldn’t it be funny if atheists were disbelieving in a God of their own making? Suffering in the pursuit of goodness has always been the center of the Christian life. I’m not sure where people get this idea that God’s job is to make us happy, according to our own desires. Seems kind of shallow. Certainly not Biblical. Do people even read the Bible any more to find out what God is really like? Maybe that’s the problem.

Why do so many Christian musicians, artists, athletes and celebrities leave the faith?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Several people sent me the story about a former Hillsong worship leader who decided to leave Christianity. Since we’ve had a few high profile departures, I thought it might be worth giving my very controversial view on Christian musicians, artists, athletes and celebrities. I’ve always been suspicious of celebrities claiming to be Christians and there’s a very simple reason why.

Anyway, here is the story sent to me by Tiasunep, published in the Christian Today.

It says:

Hillsong worship leader has reportedly walked away from the Christian faith after posting a – since removed – Instagram update in which he said he was “not in anymore”.

[…]”Time for some real talk… I’m genuinely losing my faith.. and it doesn’t bother me… like, what bothers me now is nothing… I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.. it’s crazy / this is a soapbox moment so here I go xx how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it.

“How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.

“Christians can be the most judgemental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people… but it’s not for me. I am not in any more.”

[…]Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion,” he writes.

“Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real.

[…]The news has saddened many in the Christian scene who were still getting over a similar announcement made a few weeks ago by Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Within the space of a week, he announced that he was separating from his wife and that he had fallen away from the Christian faith.

It looks to me like no one has ever made the evidential case for a Christian worldview to him, and he’s just crumbling because he doesn’t have answers to basic, ordinary questions.

In modern secular America, authentic Christianity is spelled A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C-S

In primitive areas of the world, a person could be a sincere Christian without knowing how to answer basic questions about scientific evidence for a creator, historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, philosophical defenses to the problems of evil and suffering, etc. But this is modern America, and there are atheists in the universities and in the workplace and just everywhere. If you meet someone in America who claims to be a Christian, it’s guaranteed that this person will have met atheists in these places. If this Christian has not put in any effort to learn how to answer basic questions about God’s existence, the resurrection, the problem of evil, etc, and they are regarded as very pious and spiritual, you should immediately distrust their claim to be a Christian.

1 Peter 3:15-16
1 Peter 3:15-16

Authentic Christians will be appropriately moved by the existence of people who not only do not accept a Creator, but also deny Jesus as Lord and Savior. And since the example of using reason and evidence to respond to skeptics is everywhere in the Bible, then sincere Bible believers will likewise want to find a way to answer people who question the Christian worldview. If you look at a Christian, and you can’t find anything in their writings or words that interacts with Christian scholarship and responds to popular challenges to the Christian worldview, then you’re looking at a fake Christian. Such a person is merely posing as a Christian for feelings, fame and peer approval. Every real Christian is concerned about defending God’s reputation and character. And the way that this is done in the Bible – and today – is with evidential apologetics.

There is no mature Christian worldview that majors in praise hymns, social justice, essential oils, devotional reading, etc. Today, right now, your co-worker is an atheist. Today, right now, your child’s professor is an atheist. If you haven’t put in the time to prepare a defense to the challenges right in front of your face – challenges that affect you and your legacy in Christ – but you have plenty of time to major in the minors for fame and fortune, then that’s a sign that you don’t have a Christian worldview. If all your Christianity is just having feelings, devotional reading and singing praise songs, then you need to ask yourself whether you’re not on the same road as this Hillsong worship leader.

Young people should be learning apologetics from their parents, pastors and other Christian leaders

It’s not surprising to me that the Hillsong worship leader is an apostate. What’s surprising to me is that anyone at all who is raised in any American church is able to preserve their faith for very long after leaving home. The churches in America do a poor job of equipping Christians to answer the most basic questions about the Christian worldview. Questions that could easily be answered after a few Lee Strobel books, or some True U DVDs. But in Christian homes and Christians churches, young people are never exposed to the challenges of non-Christians. They never do any investigations to learn how to respond to them. Then when they get to college, they feel (rightly) as if they’ve been brainwashed and indoctrinated by people in the church who were divorced from reality. And then they quit on Christianity. I see it all the time.

If you’re going to pick someone to look up to as a Christian, then choose people who have put in the time to study the truth claims of the Christian worldview enough to defend them to other scholars, using arguments and evidence. I admire people like William Lane Craig, Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Licona who actually debate non-Christians on university campuses and other public forums. In contrast, an entertainer isn’t usually qualified to defend truth claims.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

What criteria do historians use to get to the minimal facts about the historical Jesus?

Policeman investigates crime scene for evidence
Policeman investigates crime scene for evidence

Have you ever heard Gary Habermas, Michael Licona or William Lane Craig defend the resurrection of Jesus in a debate by saying that the resurrection is the best explanation for the “minimal facts” about Jesus? The lists of minimal facts that they use are typically agreed to by their opponents during the debates. Minimal facts are the parts of the New Testament that meet a set of strict historical criteria. These are the facts that skeptical historians agree with, totally apart from any religious beliefs.

So what are the criteria that skeptical historians use to derive a list of minimal facts about Jesus?

Dr. Craig explains them in this article.

Excerpt:

The other way, more influential in contemporary New Testament scholarship, is to establish specific facts about Jesus without assuming the general reliability of the Gospels. The key here are the so-called “Criteria of Authenticity” which enable us to establish specific sayings or events in Jesus’ life as historical. Scholars involved in the quest of the historical Jesus have enunciated a number of these critieria for detecting historically authentic features of Jesus, such as dissimilarity to Christian teaching, multiple attestation, linguistic semitisms, traces of Palestinian milieu, retention of embarrassing material, coherence with other authentic material, and so forth.

It is somewhat misleading to call these “criteria,” for they aim at stating sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. This is easy to see: suppose a saying is multiply attested and dissimilar but not embarrassing. If embarrassment were a necessary condition of authenticity, then the saying would have to be deemed inauthentic, which is wrong-headed, since its multiple attestation and dissimilarity are sufficient for authenticity. Of course, the criteria are defeasible, meaning that they are not infallible guides to authenticity. They might be better called “Indications of Authenticity” or “Signs of Credibility.”

In point of fact, what the criteria really amount to are statements about the effect of certain types of evidence upon the probability of various sayings or events in Jesus’ life. For some saying or event S and evidence of a certain type E, the criteria would state that, all things being equal, the probability of S given E is greater than the probability of S on our background knowledge alone. So, for example, all else being equal, the probability of some event or saying is greater given its multiple attestation than it would have been without it.

What are some of the factors that might serve the role of E in increasing the probability of some saying or event S? The following are some of the most important:

(1) Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred.

(2) Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source.

(3) Embarrassment: S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S.

(4) Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms.

(5) Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebrew linguistic forms.

(6) Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus.

For a good discussion of these factors see Robert Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” in Gospel Perspectives I, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980), pp. 225-63.

Notice that these “criteria” do not presuppose the general reliability of the Gospels. Rather they focus on a particular saying or event and give evidence for thinking that specific element of Jesus’ life to be historical, regardless of the general reliability of the document in which the particular saying or event is reported. These same “criteria” are thus applicable to reports of Jesus found in the apocryphal Gospels, or rabbinical writings, or even the Qur’an. Of course, if the Gospels can be shown to be generally reliable documents, so much the better! But the “criteria” do not depend on any such presupposition. They serve to help spot historical kernels even in the midst of historical chaff. Thus we need not concern ourselves with defending the Gospels’ every claim attributed to Jesus in the gospels; the question will be whether we can establish enough about Jesus to make faith in him reasonable.

And you can see Dr. Craig using these criteria to defend minimal facts in his debates. For example, in his debate with Ehrman, he alludes to the criteria when making his case for the empty tomb.

Here, he uses multiple attestation and the criteria of embarrassment:

Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:

1. The empty tomb is also multiply attested by independent, early sources.

Mark’s source didn’t end with the burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial story verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John have independent sources about the empty tomb; it’s also mentioned in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36); and it’s implied by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have again multiple, early, independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.

2. The tomb was discovered empty by women.

In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus says that women weren’t even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Now in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples like Peter and John discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the discoverers of the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb, and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was an awkward and embarrassing fact.

There are actually a few more reasons for believing in the empty tomb that he doesn’t go into in the debate, but you can find them in his written work. For example, in his essay on Gerd Ludemann’s “vision” hypothesis. That essay covers the reasons for all four of his minimal facts.

So, if you are going to talk about the resurrection with a skeptic, you don’t want to invoke the Bible as some sort of inerrant/inspired Holy Book. You want to look at it as a historical book, and use historical criteria to get to some facts that critical historians would accept. From that, it’s possible to make a case for the resurrection, which is the guarantee that the words of Jesus are authoritative. Including the words of Jesus where he describes the Bible as a whole as God’s revelation of Himself to his creatures.

Here is the approach I use when talking to non-Christian co-workers:

  1. Explain the criteria that historians use to get their lists of minimal facts
  2. Explain your list of minimal facts
  3. Defend your list of minimal facts using the criteria
  4. Cite skeptics who admit to each of your minimal facts, to show that they are widely accepted
  5. List some parts of the Bible that don’t pass the criteria (e.g. – guard at the tomb, Matthew earthquake)
  6. Explain why those parts don’t pass the criteria, and explain that they are not part of your case
  7. Challenge your opponent to either deny some or all the facts, or propose a naturalistic alternative that explains the facts better than the resurrection
  8. Don’t let your opponent attack any of your minimal facts by attacking other parts of the Bible (e.g. – the number of angels being one or two, etc.)

And remember that there is no good case for the resurrection that does not make heavy use of the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. That passages is universally accepted as early, eyewitness testimony from Paul, and represents the core of early Christian beliefs about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Everyone who takes evidence seriously has to account for that early creed, which passes the historical tests I outlined above.

The best essay on the minimal facts criteria that I’ve read is the one by Robert H. Stein in “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“. It’s a good short essay that goes over all the historical criteria that are used to derive the short list of facts from which we infer the conclusion “God raised Jesus from the dead”. That whole book is really very, very good.

The worst mistake you can make when defending the Christian worldview

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.