These next few posts are an expanded version of my previous post, Argument Analysis Checklist. I will be putting these posts together based on notes I have taken from his the late Dr. Bahnsen’s various lectures and books. In this post I will cover the content of this series, Apologetics 101, and the subject of Arbitrariness.
In defending the Christian faith we have one of two options. (Analogy borrowed from the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen) We can either be bullet catchers dealing with every little thing the unbeliever shoots at us. Or we can snatch the gun out of the unbeliever’s hand thereby disarming him. This series covers disarming the unbeliever. For bullet catchers, you better be spry.
So how do we go about answering objections to the Christian faith? What is the actual process? Our process will be to follow the checklist of the key intellectual sins all men make. So what are these key intellectual sins? Glad you asked.
- Is this argument arbitrary?
- mere opinion; worth zero
- relativism; self-contradictory
- ignorant conjecture
- unargued bias
- Is this argument inconsistent?
- logical fallacies
- reductio ad absurdum
- actions speak louder than words
- presuppositional tension
- What are the consequences of this argument?
- What are the preconditions of this argument? Does he have the preconditions to argue this way?
Throughout this series we will go over each of these four key intellectual sins. This post covers the first key intellectual sin,
How are people Arbitrary in the way they argue? The most obvious way that people are arbitrary when they argue is that they offer mere opinion. You’ll find a good example of this in most Bible studies in which the most oft heard comment is, “Well I believe it means this.” Or perhaps you’ll hear, “I believe God isn’t like that.” Such statements are all nothing but opinions and in argument opinions are irrelevant and worth zero. When someone says, “It’s my opinion”, you must understand that such statements have no intellectual weight. If someone wishes to assert that some statement is true, they will need to do more than say, I believe it. Because the question to then be asked, Why do you believe it? What is your proof? Assertion without proof is just mere opinion. And mere opinion is meaningless in an argument.
How many times have you heard one of the following statements:
- Well you’re convinced by that, I’m convinced by other things.
- That’s true for you, but it’s not true for me
Such is the belief of the relativist. In relativism everyone creates their own reality. There is no such thing as absolute truth in the relativist’s worldview. And that is where you hit him. For if everyone creates their own reality, then Hitler created his own reality and the slaughter of the Jews was perfectly acceptable. In the end, relativism justifies genocide. Because if everybody is right, then nobody is wrong.
In Christianity relativism rears its head in what is called the Mr. Potatohead Approach to Theology. A theology best expressed by stating that god is whatever you want him to be. But if this is so, then he is not god, or rather she or it is not god. In response to this the relativist will usually say, “Well that’s true for you, but not true for me.” But truth is not person relative. “True for me” is just another way of saying “I believe”. The relativist likes to say, “Nobody can know anything for sure.” But how does he know that for sure? If he claims there’s no such thing as absolute truth, we hit him hard there by asking, Is that absolutely true? And so the relativist in the end, refutes himself. For relativists are hypocrites.
Relativism is lazy thinking. Or rather it is being lazy and not thinking. One of the major reasons people don’t think anymore, even within the Church, is because we have gotten use to being arbitrary. We offer mere opinions and whenever there is a clash between mere opinions, instead of thinking we run to relativism. But when people contradict each other both cannot be right. And in some cases, both can be wrong.
In dealing with unbelievers or unlearned Christians, mere opinion and relativism will comprise about 80% of the problems you encounter. Get used to seeing these two in almost every conversation you have on subjects as far ranging as politics, theology, ethics, economics, etc. Get used to them. And when confronted with mere opinion ask for the proof. When confronted with relativism show that it leads to genocide and other atrocities and that the relativist does not truly hold to his relativism.
“Since the Bible was written hundreds of years ago it’s very likely that we cannot trust the text of the Bible we have in our hands today.” Many people today make such statements. They think the transmission of the Bible is similar to the game of Telephone. So that when you hold up a copy of the Bible, you cannot be sure that what was written in the original autographs was accurately transmitted through time down to your Bible. After all, other books passing down through time become garbled and distorted. So naturally it should occur to the Bible as well.
But this line of reasoning is based upon the prejudice that the Biblical text is no different than any other written document that we encounter in our experience. After all, you can’t assume supernatural preservation; we have to treat the Bible like any other book. They claim we are begging the question when we claim that the Bible is an extraordinary book of supernatural origin. But it is the unbeliever who is begging the question when he takes it for granted that the Bible is just like every other book. For this is comparing apples and oranges, because God has overseen the copying and translating of the Scriptures throughout time. God has promised that his word will not pass away. There may be some variations between textual lines, but in any text the basic message is there because God has promised so.
But there is a second kind of prejudice. When the unbeliever claims, “You don’t know what the text really says”, he hasn’t offered any sort of evidence showing that the text was tampered with in the past. It is just his prejudice. What’s the literary evidence that someone in the past like a monk added a passage to the scripture? The general response will be along the lines of, “But it’s a possibility that it could have happened.” And so the unbeliever expects to refute the Christian with “possibility.” So let’s play their game. It is just as likely that Mark’s gospel was written by Moses, sealed in a cave, found by Mark, and he put his name to it. An argument which they will reject, but which is just as valid as their argument. Such statements by the unbeliever show they are unread in the field of textual criticism. Out of the extant Greek manuscripts, the majority of them agree as to the text of Scripture. This preponderance of evidence precludes some monk or scurrilous scribe from adding his personal views to the text of scripture.
“Predictive prophesy in the Bible can’t be true.” Such statements show the unbeliever has an unspoken or unargued bias that supernatural events cannot occur. But how does the unbeliever know that supernatural events cannot occur? What kind of information would he have to know to make such a bold claim? The unbeliever would have to be omniscient. Only then could he claim that miracles, predictive prophesy, inspiration & preservation were impossible. He would have to be God to disprove God.
And so unbelievers take it for granted that miraculous events don’t occur and refuse to interpret anything as miraculous. They claim that all of nature operates in a predictable, law-like fashion. So we question them there. How does the unbeliever know that nature operates in a predictable, law-like fashion? Because it did so in his experience with nature. But not all of nature in encapsulated in his experience of nature. This is the fallacy known as hasty generalization. Hasty generalization is taking a little evidence and universalizing that evidence. But when this is pointed out, the unbeliever would then say, “Well if there are miracles then they run counter to my experience of nature and would therefore be extraordinary.” But of course, that was our point.
The unbeliever doesn’t like that and so falls back on not believing in miracles because of causality that operates in the universe. Everything must be explained in causal terms. Everything that happens must have some natural casual explanation for it. So let’s assume the unbeliever can rule out miracles if he can establish a foundation for causation. But why is it that he then believes there is predictability in the universe? How can he use casual analysis to predict the future? He answers, “Because we’ve used casual analysis in the past.” But our question is about the use of causal analysis in the future. How does he know that what worked in the past will work in the future? He claims, “Because it’s always been predictable in the past.” But how does he know that even though the future was like the past in the past, that the future will be like the past in the future? Does the unbeliever have any basis for that? Yes and no. As an unbeliever he has no basis for that. Our Sovereign God promises the future will be like the past and so the unbeliever does have a basis for such belief. But it is not a basis which he acknowledges.
As Christians we know from scripture that seed time and harvest will follow each other. We know that to have dominion over the world, the world must be predictable. And since we were commanded to establish dominion the world will be a predictable place. Given a Christian worldview then, of course the future will be like the past. That is, unless Jesus returns tomorrow. So the unbeliever would have to use the Christian worldview about predictability in the world, and then argue against miracles because there’s predictability in the natural world. In other words, the unbeliever must hold to the Christian worldview for his argument against the Christian worldview to be understandable. So in the end, the problem is not that the unbeliever has presuppositions, it’s that the unbeliever can only make sense of his argument by using our presuppositions.