In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

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I was asked my opinion of a video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfegFnaRcqE. I would not recommend watching the video, but if you happen to watch it, I have written out some thoughts in response. The video is produced by TBU News, which is not exactly a credible news organization. It seems to have a bent towards parascience and conspiracy theories.

I could not make it through more than 1 out of the full 5 hours of the video. I ran into quite a lot of factual inaccuracies and facts presented in misleading ways. I happen to be a little bit of a science buff, so I was able to detect a lot of problems. My science explanations may not be perfect, but I think they are closer to the truth than the explanations in the video.

I go through some of the categories of ideas in the video, explaining various inaccuracies, and then I offer a couple of concluding thoughts.

Sound: Not all vibration is sound. Sound is almost a side-effect of vibration. The old advertisement for the movie Alien said, “In space no one can hear you scream.” In space, you may be able to get your vocal chords to vibrate, but that vibration does not become sound unless there is an atmosphere with particles to be compressed by the vibrations of your vocal chords. The vibrations of extremely small particles do not produce any sound. The particles are too small. Furthermore, sound cannot cause these particles to vibrate. No sound can occur at a high enough frequency or small enough amplitude.

The movie shows lots of cool patterns created by sound waves. These images are very misleading. They are actually interference patterns created by sound echoes. Acoustics engineers are very familiar with such patterns when designing sound systems for theaters, churches, etc. If you produce sound from one location in an enclosed space, the sound waves will bounce off the walls, ceiling, and floor of the enclosed space creating patterns of interference. Positive interference is created in places where the crests of more than one sound wave meet, causing the sound to be louder. In negative interference, a crest meets a trough, causing the sound to be cancelled out. So those cool patterns are just the patterns of positive and negative interference of sound passed through a medium.

What makes it so misleading is that the people are not “discovering” these patterns. They are creating the patterns. The patterns are determined by the frequency of the sound, the make-up of the substance they play the sound through, the shape of the enclosed space in which they play the sound, etc. An acoustics engineer could design all kinds of such patterns.

Something else that is misleading is the idea that sound could have similar effects on any substance, but that is not the case. Playing sound at a stone wall will have negligible impact on the shape of the stone. Directing sound at the human body will make little permanent changes in the shape of any structures in the body.

Finally, the concept of patterns is in the mind of the beholder. The people running the experiment only stop at certain frequencies. This is because they do not think that the intervening frequencies create patterns. In other words, it is the human mind that declares one thing to be a pattern and something else to not be a pattern. This principle explains why some of the sound patterns match the geometric patterns in ancient art. It is not that the ancients knew about secret, fundamental patterns in nature. Rather, the people running the sound experiment stopped at frequencies that produced recognizable and aesthetically pleasing patterns.

Emotions: It may be that our brains place emotions into two general categories: positive and negative. The video calls these categories love and fear. However, it is a gross oversimplification to say that we only experience two different emotions. I think we are all able to distinguish between hate, anger, and fear. We are also able to distinguish between the enjoyment of a video game and the love we feel for a wife/husband.

I do not believe that the brain waves produced by our emotions can be described as a simple frequency. It is my understanding that brain waves produce patterns across the surface of the brain, and I use the term “pattern” loosely.

Furthermore, brain waves are not very powerful signals. It is doubtful that brain waves have much significant (if any) impact on the surrounding environment. In fact, brain waves do not have any significant direct impact on the body of the person producing them. Brain waves are too weak to alter the chemical make-up of a substance. That kind of alteration requires relatively powerful radiation.

DNA: DNA probably does not have any unused segments. Those segments probably serve some purpose – if only as placeholders. It is like saying the spaces between words are not useful. The truth is that spaces, even though they are not letters, assist the reader in decoding the meaning of the letters. Or it is like the pauses between the dots and dashes in Morse code. Morse code would be completely meaningless without the brief moments of silence between sounds.

I would be extremely surprised if DNA could be modified by means of emotional brain waves. I doubt the frequency of brain waves is high enough or the amplitude of brain waves is small enough for brain waves to connect with a DNA strand more than once. Even if a brain wave could connect in the patterns shown on the video, I would find it hard to believe that a brain wave would be strong enough to alter that DNA strand in any way. And even if a brain wave could alter a DNA strand, chances are that any changes made would be harmful – in the same way that the sun’s UV rays cause cancer.

The Phantom DNA experiment sounds like a hoax to me. I am not sure about the science behind detecting the arrangement of photons in a contained space. Photons travel in the wave-particle duality of light. What does it mean for them to be in a pattern? How would you detect that pattern?  How would you insert DNA into a vacuum? How would you detect changes in the pattern of photons as a result? My guess is that if the photons “clung” to the DNA, there is probably a simple explanation for it, such that photons would behave in a similar way when interacting with any molecule. Furthermore, even if there truly was some sort of phantom effect when the DNA molecules were removed (again, how would you remove DNA molecules from a vacuum?), it probably also has a pretty simple explanation such that photons would behave in a similar way when interacting with any molecule. I can’t even say why the makers of the video found this experiment so important. I looked the experiment up, and I discovered that there were other even stranger parts of the experiment that sound even more far-fetched. It is the kind of research that sounds so ridiculous that no serious scientist would even bother taking the time to respond to it. Sort of like if I claimed that my wife gave birth to a mermaid – no one would bother wasting the time to expose such an obvious hoax.

Matter: The video repeatedly made certain misleading statements about matter. It often reminded us that matter is mostly empty space. In one sense an atom is mostly empty space, but in another sense, it is not. A race track is mostly empty space, but I would expect that if I walked out on the track on race day, I will get run over. Much of the empty space of an atom is like a race track for extremely fast-moving particles. My understanding is that the particles are moving so fast that they are almost considered to be in all places within that space simultaneously.

Another way of looking at it is that the particles exist in all places within that space and do not have a defined location until they are observed. Think about a railroad track around the base of a Christmas tree. The train moves around the track at a relatively slow speed. You are able to slide the presents safely across the track as long as you are careful. However, if you speed that train up to the speed of light, it moves at such a speed that it becomes a blur. It is almost as if it occupies the entire track simultaneously. If you try to slide anything across the track, it will hit the train. In other words, the train moves so fast that it almost becomes a wall. Sure, on the one hand the track is mostly empty space, but on the other hand, the track is fully occupied. It even becomes impossible to reach the empty space in the center of the track, since the train keeps everything out, just as the walls and roof of a building keep everything from passing through to the empty space inside. Cinder blocks are hollow and porous, but they make very solid walls.

Another misleading statement is that there is no such thing as solid matter because matter is just held together by forces. It is the forces that touch. The particles themselves never come into contact. This is just a matter of perspective. In other words, they are defining matter as particles only. However, if you define matter as the whole package (particles and forces), then matter is solid. If you apply their thinking to building materials, a wall is bricks, but not mortar, or a structure is lumber, but not nails. That is not how I think of a wall. I think of a wall as both the bricks and the mortar. When the bricks and mortar are combined, the wall is solid. I think of a structure as wood, nails, screws, brackets, etc., so the structure is solid. Matter is not just made up of the building blocks of particles. It is also made up of the forces that hold the particles together. When you view the whole package together – both particles and forces – the result is solid matter.

One of the things that I find disturbing is the idea that the microscopic perspective somehow negates the macroscopic perspective. Just because something looks different when magnified does not mean that how it looks without magnification is false. Planet earth from far away looks relatively spherical. From standing on it, it looks relatively flat with a very gentle curvature. Neither perspective is incorrect or false. It reminds me of the old postage stamps which were printed with dot matrix printers. Under a magnifying glass they looked like just a bunch of differently colored dots. Without the magnifying glass, they looked like a picture. Neither perspective is wrong. You can’t say about the old postage stamps, “Those aren’t pictures, they are just a bunch of dots.” They are both pictures and a collection of dots. They are pictures made up of dots. It’s like those new pictures made up of smaller pictures.

Pyramids: Like most such videos, they couldn’t resist talking about the pyramids of Egypt. Of course, the pyramids were amazing, but I want to put it in perspective. I used to think the pyramids were a lot more amazing until I saw kids playing with Legos. It does not take a 4-year-old long to “discover” the pyramid construction shape. Pyramids are not a brilliant innovation of a genius architect. It is a basic fact discovered by many small children that the easiest way to build something tall is to give it a wide base. The taller the structure, the wider the base. The structure is more stable if it gets smaller as it gets taller. If you give small children square blocks, they will eventually figure all of this out. It is no wonder that many ancient civilizations built pyramids. It’s not because of aliens. It’s because of children playing with blocks.

One of the most amazing facts about the pyramids is the precision with which they were built for something so large. Again, I used to be more amazed at this until a saw good carpenters at work. A good carpenter has a lot of simple tricks for building structures straight, square, and even. They can often do it without performing much mathematics. In fact, I have found that the more mathematical calculations made during construction, the greater chance of error. I once had a carpenter with no knowledge of advanced trigonometry solve a difficult trigonometric problem with a set of basic tools like a pencil, paper, compass, and straight edge. When difficult math problems are put into the real world, there is often a real world shortcut to solving them.

What the pyramids show is that Egypt had some skilled foremen who were able to direct large groups of people to meet high building standards. That is an impressive feat, but it is not unreasonable to expect from people in any time period.

The pyramids have lasted so long because they are made of stone, they are built in the extremely sturdy pyramid design employed by any child with blocks, they are in a climate that is ideal for preservation, and apparently there was never an invader who saw the point in tearing them down.

There is a lot about the pyramids that remains mysterious. This is just because they are so old. Archaeologist and historians do not want to admit it, but they know precious little about the ancient world. What they do know has been pieced together from scant, unhelpful evidence. This does not mean that our imaginations should run wild. It means we should be skeptical of any theory about ancient civilizations

Math: Is everything in nature mathematics? To me, this is kind of a silly question. It’s like asking if everything can be measured. Of course you can measure anything in the physical world. How tall is Everest? How long is an inch worm? Just because you can measure things doesn’t mean that measurement reveals some deep secrets of the universe.

The same applies to math. Of course you can put together a mathematical model of most things in the universe. Some things are going to have simple models, like the pattern of petals in a flower. Other things are going to have exceedingly complex models, like the pattern and shape of clouds in the sky. There is no way that we could have enough information at our disposal to create a mathematical model of even a single cloud, but if we did have enough information and computing power, it is theoretically possible to do it. But just because it is theoretically possible to make mathematical models of many things, it does not mean that math reveals some deep secrets of the universe.

The shell of a nautilus grows in an approximation of a certain mathematical spiral because that spiral is a simple, practical pattern to accommodate a growing animal. It is not because that spiral is tied to some deep secret of the universe. That spiral may be in flowers, but it is not in every flower. Some flowers grow according to other patterns. That spiral may be according to a ratio that approximates the average proportions of the human body, but that ratio is not in every living thing or in every part of the living things it is found in.

Furthermore, even if you do find the Golden Ratio in many places, it is never exactly right. No sunflower or nautilus shell has a perfect spiral. No human being has a “perfectly” proportioned body. In fact, the proportions of the average male are different than that of the average female. The proportions of an adult are different than the proportions of a child. All mathematical models are only approximations.

Besides, not everything is mathematical. In fact, many of the most important things are not mathematical. I am convinced that there is no mathematical model for love, and I even believe that love transcends even theories of brain chemistry.

So, to pull it all together, I think it is hard to make a scientific case for the idea that everything is an interconnected consciousness or that our thoughts and emotions directly influence the universe or vice versa. Just because things are in constant motion, or held together by forces, or part of a matter-energy and space-time continuum does not mean that they are part of some cosmic consciousness. It just means that things interact with each other according to certain observable laws.

The fact that there is a high degree of order in the universe, the fact that there are observable patterns which we consider to be beautiful, the fact that we can use math to explain so many things, the fact that everything is extremely complex beyond our understanding, the fact that everything is held together by immense and precise forces are all evidences that the universe was designed by God. However, I wouldn’t say that vibrations/oscillations/motions of particles are left over from the “voice” of God. As I already pointed out, these are not sounds. Also, the forces that hold together particles are not necessarily best explained as the direct intervention of the power of God holding everything together. It could be that we will find something else that directly explains these forces. Of course, whatever explains them will probably be even more mind-bending and complex. God is the ultimate explanation behind everything, but it seems he has made the universe with layer upon layer of increasing complexity. At some point humanity may reach its limit of potential understanding. I just don’t think we have reached that limit yet. Science is still coming up with new explanations for things. We do not yet need to leap to pseudoscientific explanations.

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An Unexpected Question and an Unexpected Statement

The following is a reply to a comment by “the hero and the villain” under another post below.

Dear “the hero and the villain”:

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. It was not intended as a slight against you, but rather it is an indication of my inability to quickly craft a suitable reply. In reply to your comments, I would like to ask an unexpected question and to make an unexpected statement.

First, the question: Do you really want me to respond? Do you really want me to go through your comments point by point? Your basic thought is that the Bible is unreliable as a source of truth. Is there anything I could say to change your mind? Is there any proof or evidence I could offer to convince you? What is your standard for deciding if the Bible is true or false, reliable or unreliable?

Second, the statement: The Bible is not as important to followers of Christ as you think it is. Ultimately, Christianity is not about the Bible. It is about Christ. What matters most is whether or not you believe Jesus. The goal of the Bible is to introduce you to Jesus. Jesus himself said it to the Jews in his day: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)

I hope that at some point you will come to trust the Bible as the reliable Word of God, but in the end, what I care about most is whether or not you trust in Jesus. True life is only found in him.

Randall

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The Theological Significance of the Platypus

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No, I am not talking about where the duck-billed platypus fits on the evolutionary tree. I am talking about something even more basic: the platypus defies taxonomy itself. In other words, the fun of the platypus is that it does not easily fit into any attempt to categorize its species scientifically.

 

It is considered to be a mammal, but it has many characteristics that are highly unusual for mammals. It lays eggs. It has webbed feet. It has a bill that is different from the beaks of birds and the mouths of animals. It is venomous. It uses electrolocation. Its eyes are more similar to fish eyes than to the eyes of most other mammals. It is warm-blooded, but its average body temperature is lower than that of most other mammals. It has ten sex chromosomes instead of the usual two.

 

To be honest, I care little whether it is best to classify the platypus as a mammal or not. The point is that the platypus reveals the difficulty of imposing overly simplistic organizational systems upon the world. The animal world does not easily fall into clearly differentiable categories.

 

Another example of complex organization is the shape of a tree (the plant, not the evolutionary diagram). If a tree of a particular species is left to grow by itself in an open field, it will almost always conform to the same general shape as every other tree in that species. However, if you stand beneath the tree and look up, you will quickly realize that the placement of each branch and leaf within that tree, although following certain general patterns, is completely unique and unpredictable.

 

As humans, we tend to squeeze everything we observe into simplistic categories and patterns. Of course, the world exhibits a high degree of order, but it is the order of a tree, not the order of the Dewey decimal or Library of Congress book classification system.

 

As a result, we need to come to the world, reality, truth, people, God, etc. more as observers seeking to understand things as they are. When you do, you realize that everything is a platypus. Enjoy the oddities of life.

 

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Is John Calvin guilty of murder? (And should we even care?)

An old schoolmate of mine recently published a blog post accusing John Calvin of having heretics tortured and killed. I have no desire to defend or condemn Calvin. Like every single Protestant Christian in the world (including those that despise Calvin), I am indebted to Calvin for a lot of what I believe theologically, but also like every single Protestant Christian in the world (including those that love Calvin), I disagree with Calvin on a lot of things. I am taking up this matter not because it is Calvin, but rather because it is a good test case scenario of how to talk about the errors of Christians of the past.

So the question is are we able centuries later to speak ill of Calvin as a murderer or torturer of innocent people? I am not going to provide many answers. Instead what I want to do is provide a bunch of questions to help you see the tremendous difficulties inherent in passing judgment on someone who lived 500 years ago.

First, there are the larger religious and political ethical issues. For instance, is capital punishment ethical? This is a thorny question that still has not been fully resolved today. For the sake of the discussion before us, I think it is best to assume that capital punishment is an ethically allowable punishment. Is it ethical to kill and/or torture people deemed as heretics? It is pretty much universally agreed among Christians today that executing heretics is ethically wrong. Is it ethical for the power of the state to be combined with the power of the state? Again, it is pretty much universally agreed among Christians today that the separation of church and state is the only ethically correct option. That foundation being established, we can proceed.

Second, there are historical-factual issues. A lot of important and relevant historical facts are disputed, confused, or unclear. What was the general practice for handling heretics in that place and time? How many executions was Calvin involved in? What was his role in those executions? Did he give orders to execute? Did he just give testimony at trials? Did he do nothing? How did the church and city government and courts operate? Calvin did not run the city of Geneva as sole totalitarian dictator. There was a complex socio-political scene in Geneva. Many other people would have been involved in any capital case. What were the beliefs that caused the victims to be labeled as heretics? How unorthodox were those beliefs? Were the heretics good people, or were they perhaps causing trouble in other ways? All of these questions are rendered more difficult to answer by the fact that writing practice of the time did not include much of an emphasis on objectivity and unbiased reporting.

Third, there are legal issues. Essentially, the blog post accuses Calvin of murder and crimes against humanity. These are serious legal charges. If Calvin were living, making such a charge without proper evidence would be cause for a defamation/libel lawsuit. So the question is, if we were to put Calvin on trial for murder and/or crimes against humanity, would we have enough evidence to convict him? We have no eyewitnesses left alive and no physical evidence. We have only written records. Is that enough to declare that a man is guilty of a crime?

Fourth, there are the personal-moral issues. By this I mean something a little different than the broader ethical issues. Although it is ethically wrong to execute heretics, did Calvin as an individual do anything wrong? Whatever Calvin’s exact involvement was, was it wrong for Calvin to have been involved? Did Calvin think he was doing something wrong, or was he sincerely convinced he was doing the right thing? Was he sincerely convinced that God’s Word said it was acceptable to execute heretics? In fact, was he sincerely convinced that God said that we ought to execute heretics? If he was sincerely convinced it was the right thing to do, would it be wrong, or would it be as wrong? And did Calvin jump right to execution, or did he try other methods of discipline first? Did Calvin try to persuade heretics first? Did he give them plenty of time to recant? Was he truly concerned for their eternal souls? Did he believe that their false teaching could corrupt and endanger the eternal souls of others? Did he believe that heresy would lead to the disintegration of the society? Was he motivated by pettiness, power-mongering, hypocritical judgmentalism, etc.? Or was he motivated by a desire to see souls saved, to defend the truth, to honor and glorify the name of God, etc.? The point of all of these questions is whether or not Calvin participated in executing heretics because of some evil in his heart or because of a misguided desire to do what was right. And even if it was from evil in his heart, how evil was he? How much good was mixed in with the evil? There is so much that is good in his life and writings, it is hard to believe that Calvin is a man of total evil, but it is impossible for us to know the heart of a man who lived 500 years ago.

Fifth, there is the issue of other mitigating factors. What about the fact that executing heretics was a widely accepted practice of Calvin’s day? Was he just deceived by the generally accepted teaching of the church of his day? Was Calvin more or less fair and merciful than his contemporaries? Was Calvin just falling into line with everyone else, or was he trying to be better? We must remember that part of the reason that we no longer execute heretics and part of the reason that we separate church from state is the example of Calvin and the people of Geneva. We are gifted with hindsight. Another factor is that since Calvin was pulling away from the Catholic church, perhaps he was worried about the chaos that might result from a power vacuum. Was the marriage of church and state in Geneva an attempt to avoid chaos? In other words, although Geneva was not perfect, does it represent the next step forward? Does Calvin generally represent an improvement over the surrounding culture? Was he trying to do things better?

Sixth, there is the issue of judgment rights. Do we who live 500 years later have the right to judge Calvin? Do we have the right to condemn him? Do we have the right to call him an evil murderer? Do we have the right to declare that we know for certain what was in his heart?

Seventh, there is the issue of proper speech. Even if Calvin was evil, even if we can prove it, even if we do have the right to judge him, should we be writing less than complimentary blogs and creating insulting memes about him? Is it posthumous gossip? Is it an edifying discussion? Does it tempt us to brush aside the good in his writings and life? Does it cause us to think ill of Reformed churches? Is it unhelpfully inflammatory? Does it just make people angry for no good reason? Are there other examples that can be used to make the same points? Or can we just talk about Geneva in general rather than single out any individual for particular rebuke?

Eighth, there is the issue of proper emotional response. What should be our emotional response to the events in Geneva? Certainly the execution of heretics is disgusting and outrageous, but do we have a right to actually feel outrage? Do we have a right to be angry at Calvin? Do we have a right to hate Calvin? Did Calvin do anything to you or to me personally? On the other hand, should we be personally offended by people who insult him? In other words, should we in any way be wasting our emotional energies on a man long dead?

My point is not to try to justify Calvin in any way. My point is that it is a waste of time and energy to argue about it at all. We all agree that it is best to separate church and state. We all agree it is wrong to execute heretics. Why waste time trying to castigate or excuse Calvin? We have learned the lessons we need to learn. Let’s move on.

A great parallel in Scripture is King David. While he was king, David used the power of his office to seduce a married woman, to order her husband killed, and then to take the woman as one of his multiple wives. We know that David is guilty of these crimes because God declared him to be guilty. Yet, we also know that God forgave David in response to David’s repentant heart of faith. In Romans 4, Paul puts forward David as a prime example of a sinner forgiven by God in his grace on the basis of faith. In Hebrews 11, David is given as an example of faith.

If David did something evil out of completely evil and selfish motives, how is he able to be an example for us to follow? It is because David is primarily an example of God’s grace – of salvation by grace through faith. As with all of us, John Calvin was a mixed bag of good and ill, but you would be hard-pressed to find many people who have done more to revive the message of salvation by grace through faith. So the darkness in Calvin’s past may mean that he himself serves as an illustration of the grace of God. Because of this for Calvin, just as with David, we have no need to demonize or idolize him. We are able to redeem the good from his life while still learning from the bad.

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Is the law of non-contradiction the foundational and inviolable law of reality?

[This is a post for the more philosophically-minded.]

Is the law of non-contradiction the foundational and inviolable law of reality? The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be both Y and non-Y at the same time and in the same sense. Many Christian thinkers believe this to be the foundational law of reality. But this law of logic is never directly stated in Scripture. It cannot be elevated to the same level as the direct statements of the inspired Word of God.

 

Many would say that the law of non-contradiction is a basic assumption underlying all of the other statements of Scripture. Any truth-claim of Scripture – especially the exclusivist truth-claims – must assume the law of non-contradiction.

 

But even if we grant that there are no stated contradictions in Scripture, the most we can say is that the Bible assumes the law of non-contradiction in the areas in which it makes direct statements. Because the Bible never comes out and says that the law of non-contradiction is true in all places, at all times, in all circumstances, all we can do is observe whether or not the Bible assumes the law of non-contradiction in the statements it does make.

 

Many Christian thinkers would say that God himself does not violate the law of non-contradiction. I have often heard or read this stated in such a way that makes God subordinate to the law of non-contradiction. It is said that even God cannot do or be the logically impossible. I am not entirely comfortable with this, since it seems to me that if God must bow to the law of non-contradiction, then the law of non-contradiction is God. By this understanding, there is something more fundamental to reality than God himself.

 

Many Christian thinkers would be a little more moderate by embedding the law of non-contradiction within the nature of God. God cannot violate the law of non-contradiction in the same way that God cannot sin. It is not that God is incapable of sin. It is that God will not sin. It would go against God’s very nature to sin. In the same way, God is non-contradictory, and since it is an essential part of his character, it radiates out into the rest of reality.

 

This way of thinking makes a lot more sense, but is it correct? Is the law of non-contradiction an essential part of God’s character? Many find support for this understanding in the biblical statements to the effect that God cannot lie. The thought is that if God were to speak a contradiction, or be a contradiction, or act in a contradictory way, then God would be guilty of lying or being untruthful.

 

I find this argument to be less than compelling. If there existed a contradiction in the universe, how would God be lying by telling us about it? If God were contradictory in his nature and if he were entirely open and honest about it, how would that be deceitful? If God were to act in contradictory ways but if he were not seeking to fool anyone by doing so, how would that be untruthful? As long as God is faithful to his promises, as long as he has been truthful in the statements he has made, does it really matter if there is a contradiction somewhere in the hidden, mysterious recesses of his being?

 

By this point, any proponent of the law of non-contradiction who has read this far has long since popped a blood vessel. To them the law of non-contradiction matters a great deal. The universe cannot make sense without it. There would be no way for us to understand or live in the universe if the law of non-contradiction were false. There would be no way to carry on rational discourse without it. In fact, many people would be quick to point out that my own discussion of the law of non-contradiction has assumed the truth of the law of non-contradiction.

 

And that raises what is to me the basic question: is it that the law of non-contradiction is the fundamental law of reality, or is it that the law of non-contradiction is the fundamental law of technical rational discourse? This strikes at one of the basic conundrums of philosophy. Can philosophy actual discover truth about reality, or can philosophy only express and explain truth?

 

For instance, what does it mean for something to be logically impossible? Are we saying that the laws of logic dictate reality? Are we saying that logic is some all-powerful force that prevents things from becoming contradictory?

 

Personally, I find that way of expressing it hard to swallow. It is more palatable to say that the law of non-contradiction is a formulation of a principle that we have observed to be true throughout the entirety of our experience. (We find it to be self-evident, and it appears to hold true throughout our normal experience.) I take the view that philosophy and logic are a reflection of reality, not a determiner of reality.

 

Really, when you boil it all down, the real reason that Christian philosophers are so insistent that we accept the law of non-contradiction is actually not because they have observed it to be true in reality, but rather that they have a hard time conceiving of reality without it. In order for a philosopher to be able to comprehend, communicate, and discuss a truth, it has to conform to the law of non-contradiction. Without the law of non-contradiction, all technical rational discussion breaks down and dissolves into nonsense. If something can be both X and non-X, then how can it be fit into any rational system of thought?

 

Christian philosophers will also point out that the universe would be unlivable without the law of non-contradiction. The only way we can live our lives is on the basis of the assumption that the law of non-contradiction holds true in all circumstances.

 

But this is an overstatement of the case. I can imagine a point X which is the point in the universe that is furthest from me. I can imagine that point X is at the very center of a black hole. I can also imagine at that point that there is a thing Y. Thing Y is so miniscule and insignificant that at such a great distance within that black hole there is nothing about thing Y that could possibly impact my life in any way. If thing Y were both Y and non-Y, would it matter? If thing Y was the only thing in all of reality that violated the law of non-contradiction, would it matter?

 

I am sure that most Christian philosophers would say that it does matter. If the law of non-contradiction can be violated by thing Y, then all of rationality dissolves into nonsense. I, however, would say that it is no harm, no foul. If thing Y is an exception that does not impact my life, then I am free to live by the law of non-contradiction as if it were an inviolable law. It will have no impact even on my rational discourse, since all that I will need to discuss still falls in line with the law of non-contradiction.

 

This illustration demonstrates an even deeper issue: an intellectual egocentrism. Could it be that the reason thing Y might get a philosopher’s dander up is that they cannot bear to think that there might be something in reality beyond their ability to comprehend it? Could it be that the philosopher demands that reality must fit into their neat logical boxes?

 

This becomes a very serious problem when a philosopher turns his attention to ponder the deep mysteries of God. A philosopher who believes the words of God in Scripture must agree that God is by his very nature incomprehensible. We can know him truly, but we cannot know him fully. Yet, a philosopher boldly asserts that God does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

 

The revealing question for the philosopher is whether or not he could believe in God if thing Y was a part of God’s nature. If there was known to be a contradiction within the deep recesses of the mystery of God’s being such that thing Y was also non-Y, would the philosopher be able to continue to believe in God? Probably most Christian philosophers would say that they would not be able to believe in such a God, since, they would say, such a God would be logically impossible.

 

This is odd, since a biblical view of God affords many opportunities for seeing contradictions in God. Any time you try to introduce the idea of the infinite into a finite system of thought, you run into problems. Hence the old question, “If God is omnipotent, then can he make a rock that is too heavy for him to lift?” Christian philosophers would say that of course God cannot make such a rock because such a rock is logically impossible. They would also say that the problem is not with God but rather with the question.

 

I would contend that the question merely exposes the issues encountered when you try to speak of the infinite in logical ways. The problem is not with the question. The problem is with trying to understand the idea of limitless power within a finite reasoning system. If you play with the idea of the infinite long enough, eventually you run into many such conundrums. (For more on the contradictions of infinity, research how mathematical set theory proposes numbers greater than infinity, or the paradoxes noted by Zeno.)

 

For other contradictions within the nature of God, a lot of non-philosopher Christians turn to both the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the incarnation. How is it that God can be both 1 and 3? How is it that Christ can be both God and man?

 

But Christian philosophers would be quick to explain that the Trinity and the incarnation are not inherently contradictory. God is 1 in a different way than God is 3. Christ is 1 in a different way than Christ is 2. And then they work at carefully defining the oneness and threeness of God and the oneness and twoness of Christ. For instance they might say that God is one being in three persons, and Christ is one person with two natures. And they carefully define what they mean by “being,” “person,” and “nature.”

 

Even still, many times the average Christian will read such explanations and be able to make little sense of them. Even if average Christians understand such explanations, they still might see such explanations as self-contradictory. Not only are they not able to reconcile these concepts in their minds, but they have a gut feeling that these concepts are just not quite right.

 

At this point the philosopher has to either admit that these rank-and-file Christians could be seeing something intuitively that the philosopher has missed, or the philosopher has to say that these rank-and-file Christians are stupid, deceived, and/or ignorant. Most Christian philosophers opt for the latter – writing off the uneducated masses as being too unenlightened to plumb the depths of theology proper, whereas the philosophers are of a higher echelon of intellectual knowledge and ability.

 

The formulations of the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation reveal at least three great limitations of the use of the law of non-contradiction in theological/philosophical thought. Even if you accept the law of non-contradiction as the self-evident foundational principle of rational reality, you still have to admit that the law of non-contradiction has at least three crippling limitations.

 

First, making use of the law of non-contradiction usually requires a very strict and technical definition of terms. This is clearly illustrated by the discussions surrounding the Trinity and the incarnation. The problem here is multifaceted. Often it is extremely difficult (impossible?) to define the terms in a satisfactory way. Even when a satisfactory solution is achieved, often it is by defining terms so technically that the resulting philosophical picture bears little resemblance to the idea it is trying to represent. This is how a lot of people feel with the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. The philosophical formulations of these doctrines lack the beauty and luster of the God and God-Man described in Scripture. And finally, the process of defining one’s terms can feel relatively arbitrary. The philosopher denies the possibility of a contradiction, and then he proceeds to define his terms in whatever way he deems necessary to avoid the contradiction.

 

Second, the conclusions that the philosopher makes based on the law of non-contradiction can be false due to the philosopher’s own staggering ignorance. Since the mind of the philosopher is very finite, the amount that the philosopher does not know and understand far exceeds the amount that the philosopher does know and understand. The danger here is that conclusions made based on the law of non-contradiction can appear so black and white, but can still be terribly wrong.

 

One of my favorite examples of this is a basketball. If I were to convert a basketball into a philosophical/logical/mathematical description, I am certain I could demonstrate that it is impossible to turn a basketball inside out without cutting or ripping it. But a physicist will tell you that the feat is easily accomplished in four spatial dimensions. The physicist will also tell you that he is pretty certain that such a fourth spatial dimension does exist, so it is completely logically possible to turn a basketball inside out without cutting or ripping it. So my original seemingly-certain (slam-dunk?) conclusion turned out to be wrong due to my ignorance.

 

Probably the most well-known examples of the problem of ignorance are non-Euclidian geometries. In Euclidian geometry parallel lines do not cross – a concept that would seem either self-evident or true by definition. However, some mathematicians have proposed alternative geometries in which parallel lines do cross. To most people this would immediately appear to be nonsensical and even self-contradictory. However, when applying the rules of geometry to the surface of a sphere (such as the earth), one quickly discovers that parallel lines do cross. In fact, probably there are more curved surfaces than flat surfaces in nature. The seemingly self-contradictory idea of crossing parallel lines is probably the more commonly applicable idea and therefore more commonly representative of reality.

 

Third, the law of non-contradiction is always trembling in the looming shadow of the apparent contradiction. Philosophers like to make a distinction between an apparent contradiction and an actual contradiction. They would deny the possibility of actual contradictions, but they will admit that some things appear to us to be contradictions. Apparent contradictions are just unresolved problems. They are non-contradictions that are not yet fully understood. Once all the facts are known, once all of the terms are properly defined, the apparent contradiction will be clearly seen to not be a contradiction at all.

 

The problem here is the theoretical (or not-so-theoretical) existence of apparent contradiction Z. Let us imagine the existence of apparent contradiction Z. Apparent contradiction Z is a problem that is so immense and so complex and so detailed that no human being will ever be able to resolve it. In fact, no matter how far computer technology and genetic engineering advance, no matter how many human beings work on the problem, no matter how long the lifespan of those humans is extended, the apparent contradiction Z will never be resolved.

 

Perhaps the more arrogant philosophers would deny the possibility of apparent contradiction Z, but probably the majority of the more realistic philosophers would acknowledge the possibility of such a conundrum. Some philosophers may feel they have already discovered apparent contradiction Z. Others may feel that apparent contradiction Z is out there just waiting to be found.

 

Now, there is certainly a theoretical difference between my apparent contradiction Z and my thing Y. Y is in reality a contradiction, whereas Z is in reality not a contradiction. However, in practical terms there is no difference whatsoever. How would a philosopher be able to prove that apparent contradiction Z is not a thing Y? If the philosopher cannot resolve the apparent contradiction of Z, then for all intents and purposes Z looks and acts exactly like Y.

 

When the philosopher encounters Z he will just have to live with the real existence of something that looks to him and will always look to him as if it is a contradiction. He can console himself with the thought that Z is only an apparent contradiction, but he will never be able to prove it. He can only take it on blind faith that Z is not a thing Y.

 

Many Christian philosophers are aware of the problem of apparent contradiction Z, and this is why they find it so important to embed logic within the nature of God. A human philosopher may never be able to resolve apparent contradiction Z, but the all-knowing, all-wise God is able to fully understand Z. He is able to see it as non-contradictory. So when faced with apparent contradiction Z, the humble Christian philosopher is able to say with relief, “I may not understand this, but God does.”

 

Strangely enough this sounds exactly like the folk wisdom of the many rank-and-file Christians who deny the applicability of the law of non-contradiction to the infinite God. The rank-and-file Christian says, “This is a contradiction, but it makes sense to God.” The philosopher says, “This is an apparent contradiction, but it makes sense to God.” In practice there is basically no difference between the two.

 

The major practical difference between the philosopher and the rank-and-file Christian is one of extremes. The rank-and-file Christian is probably too quick to give up trying to understand what appears to be a contradiction, whereas the philosopher is too quick to resolve it at the cost of losing much of the richness of true reality.

 

Much can be learned from the example of the book of Job. Job and his friends spend the majority of the book struggling with what appears to be a contradiction: the problem of pain. How can a good God allow/cause a good man to suffer? To many Christians and non-Christians this is the greatest contradiction or apparent contradiction of them all. After chapters of debate, God finally appears to Job and his friends. However, God’s speeches to Job do not actually provide an answer. Instead God says he as God does not need to provide an answer to mere humans whom he has created. In fact, the wisdom of God is far beyond the understanding of man.

 

One of the implications of the book of Job is that trusting, worshiping, relating to, and coming to know God involves grappling with actions God takes and aspects of his nature that do not fully make sense to us. Many rank-and-file Christians give up grappling and avoid thinking about such matters. Many Christian philosophers accomplish the same by taking philosophical shortcuts to resolve apparent contradictions to their own satisfaction.

 

However, I think the appropriate posture is to live a life grappling with deep spiritual matters, fully aware that many of the details are ultimately beyond our understanding. As we open our eyes to the richness of God’s truth, we are moved to our knees in humble worship. If we are too quick to avoid these issues, or if we are too quick to jump to a neat and tidy solution, God may command us to sacrifice our sons, or he may take away all that we own. Then we will be forced to admit that we cannot fully make sense of reality, and we will have to choose to trust God in spite of apparent contradiction Z (or thing Y).

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Apologetics Part 3: Why I Do Not Believe In Apologetics

[Please note that this is part 3 of a series on apologetics. Although it would be tempting to start with this post, please read the other two posts first.]

I would like to turn my attention to my reasoning behind rejecting apologetics itself. I have a lot of thoughts on this, and I will probably not think of them all as I type. But I will try to be content with providing my main reasons.

 

First, I reject apologetics because Scripture is against it. I already demonstrated in my last post that the passages of Scripture often used to support apologetics fail to do so. I will not revisit those arguments here. However, I would like to add there are multiple passages of Scripture that not only do not support apologetics, but actually teach against it. The most significant of these passages is 1 Corinthians 1-2. In this text Paul teaches that the gospel runs counter to the wisdom of the Greeks. God intentionally designed the gospel to be foolish in order that no one would be able to boast that they came to God out of their own great intelligence and wisdom. Therefore Paul in his own evangelism did not use brilliance or eloquence or persuasive words of wisdom. Instead, Paul simply proclaimed the gospel in a straightforward, clear manner. There has been some pushback from apologists against this plain understanding of this text. They try to say that the “wisdom” employed by the Corinthians at this time was a very vapid form of rhetoric. However, Paul does not take issue with their style or method of argumentation. Paul takes issue with the idea that a man could be properly converted by human reasoning of any kind. The issue is not the kind of reasoning, but rather the source of the reasoning. Human-generated reasoning is unacceptable.

 

Second, I reject apologetics because I reject one of the central tenets of apologetics. In order for apologetics to work, the believer and the unbeliever must agree upon some common standard by which to judge the truth or reasonableness of the claims of Christianity. I think it is impossible for such a common standard to exist.

 

On the one hand, there is the group of intellectual unbelievers. These are skeptics who know something about science or history or philosophy, etc. In real-life encounters with such people, more and more I find that apologetic-type conversations degenerate into epistemological questions. Intellectuals will often deny the existence of objective truth, deny the ability of humans to construct logically coherent belief systems, etc. In other words the intellectual unbeliever has an entirely different set of standards by which they govern the argument. It is like the believer and unbeliever are on the same playing field, but they are playing two different games with two different rulebooks policed by two different referees. In the end, the apologist is required to defend his own epistemology before a productive conversation can continue, and when an apologist attempts to prove his epistemology, he discovers that he has to appeal to many different assumptions and presuppositions – assumptions and presuppositions that the unbeliever violently disagrees with. In other words, there is no way the apologist can have a productive conversation with an intellectual unbeliever.

 

On the other hand, the majority of unbelievers are not intellectual. They do not even know what the word epistemology means (nor do they have to). Most unbelievers are too uninitiated in debate to recognize when a point has been proven. They will spout non sequiturs and ad hominem arguments, etc. They will shift ground and erect straw men. A carefully reasoned argument bears little fruit with the average man on the street. They are on the playing field, but they are playing their own game, and they keep changing the rules to make sure that they come out the winner. An apologist will not find a common standard of rational argumentation in a conversation with the average unbeliever.

 

But the real issue is not the lack of intellectual agreement on the standards of rational argumentation. The real issue is one of spiritual blindness. According to 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, the natural man is not able in himself to receive the truth of Scripture. He cannot believe without being enlightened by the Spirit of God. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, the gospel is to be proclaimed simply and clearly. Those whose minds have been opened are able to respond. Those who do not respond have had their minds veiled by the spiritual forces of darkness.

 

Third, I reject apologetics because it is unnecessary. According to Romans 1:18-32 every human being already believes in good theology. From the evidence they see in creation and from the internal evidence of their own sense of the divine, all humans believe in the existence of God – a God that is a close approximation of the biblical God (verses 19-20). Furthermore, they believe in biblical morality and that death is God’s judgment upon sin (verse 32). In other words, all humans have an innate understanding of the negative side of the gospel: their own sin before the judgment of a righteous God. What they need is not rational argumentation, but rather the solution to the problem that they already recognize. They need the gospel. And this is what Paul expresses just previously in Romans 1:16 – that the gospel is itself powerful enough to save. The reason that Paul gives for unbelief is not intellectual doubts or skepticism. According to Paul, the reason people live by worldviews other than the Christian worldview is the sin in their hearts blinding them and turning them from God to other things. Again, the solution to the problem of sin is not rational argumentation, but rather the proclamation of the gospel followed by the call to repentance and belief. If apologetics ever appears to be successful it is because it is accompanied by the proclamation of the gospel.

 

Fourth, I reject apologetics because the circumstances always call for something other than apologetics. For this I return to my previous posts. In my first post on apologetics I listed out many techniques that are not strictly apologetics. In my personal experience, encounters with unbelievers call for one of those techniques (and many others that I am sure that I left off of my list). As I mentioned in my post, I spend most of my apologetic encounters actually engaging in what I call “differentiation.” In this way, I avoid picking apart someone’s point of view. Instead, by comparing and contrasting the teaching of Scripture with their worldview, I am able to share a lot more than I am able to when I make it a debate. They will listen much more attentively. A good example is a common discussion I find myself in with coworkers about the biblical perspective of marriage as a committed lifetime relationship of sacrificial love. I contrast the biblical view of love with their jaded, cynical, worldly concept of marriage. In the process, I am able to talk about loving one’s wife as Christ loved the church. This is a great opportunity to share the gospel. I sincerely believe that what keeps people listening in these conversations is two things: the non-confrontational nature of the approach and the fact that as the biblical worldview is contrasted with their own, their hearts resonate with the truthfulness and beauty of the biblical worldview. More on that in a moment. For a great biblical example of how a seeming perfect opportunity for apologetics was handled far better by other means, look back at the discussion of Acts 17 in my previous post. When Paul is before a group of philosophers, he avoids engaging in rational argumentation. Instead, he speaks the gospel directly to the needs of their hearts.

 

Fifth, I reject apologetics because I reject the epistemological assumptions inherent to apologetics. I do not believe that people truly come to believe things through rational argumentation. In the end people just know what they know. The actual epistemology that governs people’s deepest held beliefs is much more intuitive than rational. A great example is Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” (or Augustine’s much earlier version: “I doubt, therefore I am.”) On the surface, it appears to be a very rational defense for one’s own existence. Because I find myself to be thinking, there must be an “I” in existence to do the thinking. However, this defense only works if I accept a couple of basic assumptions. I must accept that I am really thinking, and that my thoughts are not merely illusions. Also, I must accept that existence is a prerequisite to thought. These are purely assumptions. I have nothing to offer as proof of these assumptions. So at its essence, Descartes’ statement is not a rational defense of his own existence. It is merely a recognition that I am self-conscious. It is a statement of intuitive belief. The starting point for Descartes’ understanding of the world is his fideistic belief in his own existence and his own self-conscious perception of the world.

 

Whether or not Descartes’ statement is the best starting point for philosophy (something I would contest), it is certainly true that most people accept their own existence as a matter of course. They also intuitively accept a lot of other things. They accept a lot of their sense perceptions in spite of what some philosophers might say to cast aspersions on sense perception. Also, people live their lives by things that fall outside of the realm of rational proof. They live much of their lives in service of those they love for the sake of love itself. They live by an internal moral compass that they have never rationally defended. Contrary to what the philosophers believe, this is not proof that people are irrational and in need of guidance by those more intelligent than the masses. This is actually proof that the average person has the common sense to recognize truth when it presents itself.

 

This is because truth is bigger and more complex than our feeble attempts to represent it in systems of philosophical thought. Pick the person you know and love the most, and then try to represent them as a series of philosophical propositions or scientific hypotheses. You may make some true statements, but your attempts will fall far short of reality.

 

This problem is even more magnified when you switch to speaking about God. Is the Unmoved Mover or the God of the ontological argument really the God of the Bible? Is any depiction of God within philosophy an accurate depiction of the God of the Bible? Does philosophy make you tremble in awe of the wrath of God? Does science comfort you with the loving care of God for his creatures? God is an awful and terrible and frightening and comforting and transcendent and immanent and inescapable reality. He is the ultimate reality – the ultimate truth. He is not an idea, but a Person. He is not a set of propositions, but a great and infinite Someone. Such a God cannot be known by the Babel towers erected by human reason. He must reveal himself to us. He has revealed himself to us most clearly in his Son Jesus – who declared himself to be the Truth. This kind of Truth does not contradict reason, but it most certainly transcends it.

 

Finally, I reject apologetics because I do not need apologetics to be a rational human being. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very rational and cerebral. I like to think through things with care. I like to make careful decisions based on sound reasoning. I am intellectually bent by nature. However, I am not driven by a need to prove my set of beliefs to the satisfaction of the rational side of my brain. I stand within the boundaries of the Christian worldview. I have encountered no argument or piece of evidence that has brought my faith crumbling down. From my perspective looking out at the world around me, all that I see lines up with the teachings of Scripture. I have no need to remove myself from that worldview and then to try to argue myself back into it in some kind of twisted, sadistic, mind-bending intellectual exercise. Furthermore, I have lived enough to recognize that there is more to life than what I can prove with my brain. I would rather live by the Old Testament category of wisdom than by modern-day philosophy. I am very rational, but I am comfortable believing the truth of Scripture without absolute rational proof. The reason for this is that the reality of God and Christ as revealed in Scripture and more specifically in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ resonates so deeply within my soul, I cannot shake the conviction that it is absolutely true.

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Apologetics Part 2: The Non-Apologetics Passages of Scripture

[This is the second entry on apologetics. It would be wise to read the first entry before this one.]

In light of my discussion in the previous post of what apologetics ISN’T, I want to look over some of the passages of Scripture most central to the support of apologetics. My contention is that such passages do not actually support apologetics, but rather support one of the other items I delineated as being related to apologetics.

First, I would like to look at Paul’s speech before the Areopagus in Athens as recorded in Acts 17. This is often cited as the prime example of apologetics in Scripture. Paul stands up before a group of self-proclaimed intellectuals and supposedly defends his faith. I would say that Paul’s speech definitely is a great example of how to share the gospel with pagan intellectuals, but I see nothing in Paul’s speech that falls into the category of apologetics.

Paul opens his remarks by doing what I call “bridging.” He finds some area of similar belief between himself and his listeners. He commends them as being religious (v. 22). After all, they worship many gods. They are firm believers in the category of deity, and that this category of deity should be actively worshiped.

Then Paul bridges again by latching onto their altar to an unknown god. He seems to see this as an example of their superior religiosity, but he also says it demonstrates their ignorance (v. 23). In other words he shows how they themselves have some sense of the divine, but they themselves admit to being uncertain that they fully understand the divine. This altar to an unknown god is an admission that there is more to the divine/spiritual/numinous than they have direct knowledge of.

Paul then engages in differentiation and proclamation. In verses 24-26, Paul describes the biblical God. Paul even uses clear allusions to Old Testament passages. Paul is demonstrating how the monotheistic, biblical God is very different from the Greeks’ polytheism as practiced in Athens. Paul offers no proof that the biblical God is more true than the Greeks’ polytheism. He simply declares the biblical God to be the true God, and he shows that the biblical God is different from their view.

Next, Paul returns to bridging in verses 26-27. He connects with the audience’s own worldview by referencing an idea ingrained in their cultural consciousness. He quotes a Greek poet who says that all human beings are the offspring of the divine. Again Paul is appealing to their deep-rooted sense of the divine – the idea that the divine is within reach, and that the divine has somehow touched each and every one of us. In other words, the biblical omnipotent, omnipresent Creator-God fits with their own perception of the world.

Paul goes back to differentiation in verse 29. The Greeks had surmised that if human beings were touched by the divine, then it was reasonable to depict the gods in human form. Paul states that he comes to a different conclusion based on biblical truth. Again alluding to Old Testament passages, Paul explains that since we are God’s offspring, then God must be greater than we are. Therefore, he should not be depicted as an idol. In fact, God is greater than anything that can be depicted by the art and thought of man. This is not really a rational argument. Paul is explaining a very biblical idea of God and showing how it differs from the Greeks’ polytheism. He states that the biblical concept of God is correct, but he offers no actual proof of it.

Paul then moves into direct proclamation. In verses 30-31 Paul simply declares the gospel, highlighting the mercy of God, the future judgment by God, the sin of the audience, and their need for repentance. There is very little here that the Athenians could relate to from their own way of thinking. Paul is left to just state it as fact.

At last, in the closing phrase of Paul’s speech he provides the proof of all of the statements he has made before, especially of the statements regarding final judgment. The only proof that Paul gives in the entire passage is the proof of the resurrection. Apparently he does not try to prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead. He merely states that Jesus rose, and then he uses that fact to support everything else he has said previously. This is proclamation, perhaps combined with eyewitness testimony.

So Paul’s speech is not apologetics. The techniques he employs are outside of apologetics when apologetics is strictly defined. But Paul’s speech is not an example of apologetics for some additional reasons. Instead of treating his audience as equally rational human beings with some shared intellectual common ground, Paul twice declares his audience to be ignorant (verses 23,30). He declares their idolatry to be wrong and deserving of repentance (verses 29-30), and he declares that if they do not repent they will fall under the judgment of God (verse 31). This is more akin to fire and brimstone preaching than civil debate. Paul makes many statements without offering proof, and many of these statements are directly contradictory to the beliefs of his audience (verses 24-26,30-31). The only proof that Paul does offer in the passage is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But today the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the end goal of much of apologetics. Apologists spend more time trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ, rather than using it as proof of Christianity.

What Paul is actually doing here is a wise evangelistic technique. He is speaking to intellectuals, so instead of speaking to their heads, he speaks to their hearts. He exposes that they themselves feel unsettled about their own beliefs. They themselves feel that there is more to divinity than what they currently understand. Then he talks directly to that deep-rooted unease. Instead of waffling around with argument and debate, he confidently declares the truth to the spiritually confused. Without shame he grounds his entire speech on the one fact that they found most ridiculous: the resurrection of the dead (verses 31-32). So he identifies to the philosophers that they themselves know that they are theologically and spiritually confused, and as a cure to their confusion, he speaks with uncompromising clarity and directness. This is not apologetics of the mind. This is evangelism of the heart.

The second place that is turned to for support for apologetics is the group of Scriptures that make use of the Greek word group apologia from which we get the word apologetics. The verses cited as most clearly referring to apologetics are Philippians 1:7,16 and 1 Peter 3:15. The word group surrounding apologia was originally referring to a legal defense given in a courtroom setting. Already we see that we are on shaky ground here. The type of arguments given in a legal defense would actually have little in common with the types of arguments utilized in apologetics. For one thing in court there is a heavy reliance upon eyewitness testimony. I would think that would have been even more true in the Roman and Jewish courts before the days of high-tech crime scene investigation techniques. In a court room, one is required to call actual live eyewitnesses to give testimony under strict rules of conduct. This is impossible to replicate in an apologetic setting.

The question of legal argumentation aside, the idea that these passages support apologetics breaks down even further when the passages are examined in context. 1 Peter 3:15 is the most important biblical passage for apologetics. In context the verse is written to people suffering from severe persecution. Apparently this persecution was sanctioned or even perpetrated by the local government and/or justice system. Throughout the book of 1 Peter, the apostle Peter pleads with his readers to live an exemplary life so that no true charges can be brought against them. Peter wants them to be like Christ, who in order to be executed had to be falsely accused. So within this context Peter commands them to always be “ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.”

Now what is Peter asking his readers to do? Is he asking them to give a set of rational arguments proving the truth of the claims of Christianity? This hardly seems to fit the tenor or the context of the letter. Instead, Peter is probably using a play on words here. To a group of believers who are facing the very real danger of courtroom prosecution, he says to prepare a “defense.” He tells them to defend the hope within them. He is not asking them to give rational arguments to defend an objective hope. He is telling them to give their personal reasons for the hope that is within their hearts. They are to give reasons for something subjective. In other words, here are Christians facing persecution, but instead of giving up hope, they continue to cling to that hope. Peter wants them to be ready for when people ask them why they still have hope in the face of hopelessness. In that context, do you think Peter is expecting them to come out with the ontological argument? No, I think he is probably just expecting them to give the gospel. Perhaps he is expecting them to give their personal testimony. I think it is pretty hard to see Peter as expecting more from his readers than what Peter did himself in the face of persecution in Acts 4:5-22; 5:21-42. Peter, when questioned, simply declared the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ from Scripture and boldly called his listeners to repentance. That was Peter’s apologia when brought before the highest Jewish court.

The passages in Philippians 1:7,16 are equally difficult to construe as supporting the modern concept of apologetics. Paul uses the word family of apologia in references to his own imprisonment. So Paul is literally in prison, and he will literally go before a court in which he will literally have to present an apologia. There is a chance that Paul is literally referring to his actual legal defense. However, it is more likely that we again have a play on words. After all he says that he is in jail for the “defense [apologia] of the gospel.” What does this mean? Does Paul think that he is being called upon to rationally defend the truth claims of the gospel against intellectual assault? Clearly this is highly unlikely. There is no record of Paul ever being imprisoned due to intellectual problems with his message. Instead, we see Paul arrested due to jealousy, theological/exegetical differences with the Jews, Jewish racism against Gentiles, etc. The case brought against him at the end of Acts is not based on intellectual argumentation, but rather the factually incorrect testimony of false witnesses.

How does Paul see himself called upon to defend the gospel? Perhaps Paul wants to defend the reputation of the faith from the scurrilously false accusations of the Jews (this was a debate over whether or not Paul defiled the temple, or whether or not the gospel was contradictory to the Jewish belief system – matters not within the boundaries of apologetics). Perhaps Paul sees himself as a representative of the gospel, so any legal case brought against him is tantamount to a legal case brought against the gospel itself. Perhaps Paul is not referring to any actual defense. Perhaps his play on words is merely a reference to his efforts to proclaim the gospel throughout the world.

The only times we see Paul giving an apologia are in the book of Acts after he is arrested in the temple. In Paul’s first apologia in Acts 22:6-21, Paul only gets as far as giving his personal testimony before he is cut off by the rioting crowd. In his second apologia before the Sanhedrin Paul is again quickly cut off. He only has time to declare himself to be a Pharisee and to assert his belief in the resurrection of the dead. In his third apologia before the Roman governor Felix, Paul does contradict the accusations made against himself personally. This is not apologetics. This is an actual legal defense made against legal accusations. In this apologia Paul also makes some statements concerning the gospel itself. He says that the gospel is in line with the teachings of the Law and the Prophets, and that the hope of the resurrection of the dead is an essential teaching of the gospel. Again, this is not apologetics. This is exegesis and theology. It is also differentiation. He is not trying to prove the truth of the gospel. He is just saying that the teachings of the gospel are different from the statements made by the Jews concerning the Way. In his fourth apologia before King Herod Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus, Paul again gives his personal testimony. He defends his personal reputation as a good Jew, probably in response to the accusations made against him by the Jews. He declares again his belief in the resurrection of the dead, offering no proof for it beyond an appeal to the omnipotence of God. Paul finishes by proclaiming the basic tenets of the gospel and by inviting King Herod to believe.

So at no point in Paul’s recorded imprisonment at the end of Acts or in all of the related courtroom drama, do we ever see Paul engaging in apologetics as understood today. So when Paul says he has been imprisoned for the defense of the gospel, it is hard to see how he could possibly be referring to apologetic argumentation. When Paul was on trial, he openly gave his testimony, he declared the truth of the gospel from Scripture, and he called his audience to faith and repentance. This idea of “defense” is not apologetics. It is evangelism – pure and simple.

And I could go on through the other more minor passages given in support of apologetics. They all boil down to practices and techniques that are other than apologetics. In the end we see that Scripture neither commands nor gives examples of apologetics strictly defined.

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