An Anecdote from My Experience in Christian Apologetics

 

Given Canadian socio-phenomenological apathy regarding God’s existence, I was puzzled at a recent conversation I had with an interesting fellow. I was inside of a Value Villiage, and had the experience of doing Christian apologetics with a fellow in the “Literature” section. I will do my absolute best to re-print the conversation here, if for no other reason than the fact that I will eventually forget it, and many important lessons can be drawn from it. Obviously this is not a word for word transcript and I hope that the reader does not think I spoke this articulate in person (though, to be fair, I am not embellishing any point I reprint here—hopefully!). As a last warning, I hope anything I reprint from P (let P be person with whom I am conversing with), is as accurate as possible (I sincerely do not wish to mis-represent his opinions or make his claims less formal, vague and ill-constructed). So, here is the conversation:

[I see a fellow in the literature section browsing through a book]

“So, what sort of books are you interested in?” [beginning of the conversation]

P: “Mainly science fiction.”

“Interesting, you know, I know a writer who wrote some works in science fiction; his name is C.S Lewis.”

P: “Oh yeah? I see.”

“But I mainly read his Christian classics; they’re some of his finest works.” [1]

P: “Oh, he is a [Bible] thumper eh?”

“What do you mean?”

P: “He adheres to that religion [swear word]? You know its all [swear word].”

“Interesting you would say that, he is, actually, one of the most brilliant minds of the past.”

P: “That religion [swear word] is just ridiculous.”

“Why do you think that?”

P: “There is just no evidence for that.”

“Okay, you do realize, though, that in calling “religion” a particular name, you have not falsified it?”

P: “Does not matter, its all [swear word].”

“In saying this, you realize that you are calling some of the finest academics people who adhere to a religion you think is worthless? For instance, Christopher Isham, a theist and quantum cosmologist, Francisco Ayala, a biologist and philosopher, John Lennox, mathematician; all these people you are saying are somehow irrational.”

P: “Do you think you are superior in telling me this? That you know it all?”

“No, I am sorry you had that impression. I do not think I am superior, I just think that since I know the truth I have an obligation of telling others about it. I was simply showing you that if you claim religion is without ground, you must engage with the finest minds of that religion [this was a rough memory of what I said here].”

P: “It does not matter, there is no evidence and it does not matter who you have read and who you know, it is all [swear word].”

“There is evidence [and here I use WLC’s model of apologetics, roughly]: God is the best explanation of the existence of the universe, consciousness, fine-tuning, moral values and duties [I listed a couple more, I think].” [2]

P: “Do you think you know everything?”

“No, not at all. I never said nor claimed it.”

P: “You act like you know everything and that you have seen everything.”

“I do not, I am sorry you think that.”

P: “How old are you?”

“I am 18.”

P: “Huh, interesting. You have a lot to learn.”

“I agree, I never said I knew everything. But regardless, I can have propositional knowledge without experiential knowledge.”

P: “Whatever, you list all these names and terms I can’t understand and then expect me to believe you.”

“If you need clarification, I am more than happy to clarify something.”

P: “You know what, you Bible believing people support ISIS because you believe stoning (it says it in the Bible), and you think that God made humans from primordial stuff.”

“Hmm. Where does it say that in the Bible? Could you show me if I brought you a Bible? There is a Bible in the “Religion and Spirituality” section I can get you?”

P: “No, I don’t study the Bible like you.”

“Well, then, as a matter of fact, you have been misinformed. Indeed, I am not sure at all where you heard both those claims. The story in Genesis is unlike the one you are thinking of, and the stoning part is probably not even existent [I think he might have been talking about the (almost) stoning of Mary Magdalene (but he interestingly missed the point of that narrative anyway)].” [3]

P: “You know what, I am doubting Thomas, really.”

“St. Thomas Aquinas? You realize that he wrote a 4000 page work called the Summa Theologica proving, in part, the existence of God, right?” [4] (I here mixed Doubting Thomas (from the New Testament) with St. Aquinas–an error on my part).

P: “You think you know everything, don’t you.”

“No, I did not say that. I am pointing something out to you.”

P: “It doesn’t matter.”

“Well, I cannot see why you reject theism then.”

P: “How could God allow ISIS, for instance, to kill and torture innocent people?”

“You are talking about the problem of evil and this is a separate topic but here is an answer: God loves our freedom. Free will is a great good and necessarily contains the possibility of evil for finite creatures like ourselves.” [5]

P: “So why doesn’t he stop it?”

“God probably has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the suffering in the world to exist, but why think you and I would be the first to know about it?” [6]

P: “See, you Christians don’t even answer the question.”

“How so? I told you that God probably has a morally sufficient reason and you reject this. And I have not heard a reason why you reject it—you need to give an explanation as to why my answer is insufficient.”

P: “You just say that He doesn’t even though he could.”

“Right, but you see if creatures have free will, a great good to have, then, while this permits evil, He will not stop what happens. Thus, if God is to genuinely respect our freedom He will not intervene. [If he didn’t change the topic, I would have said much more here]”

P: “Well, you know what, this [swear word] is just ridiculous and I don’t know why anyone believes it. You know what I think? I think that Alien’s came down and they explain the origin of life.”

“Interesting, you call religion without grounds, and then you make an assertion with no evidence.”

P: “It has more evidence than your religion.”

“I gave you arguments which you did not respond to.”

P: “I don’t care, I think you and your religion—which just makes you feel better—is [swear word].”

“I am not sure if you realize, but you committed the genetic fallacy by trying to invalidate my belief by showing how I (falsely) came to hold it. Even if that were true my belief isn’t falsified in that account.”

P: “Even your body language suggests that you are backing down now; do you study human nature? Physiology? You should!”

“I am not sure what that has to do with truth-claims. No I have not studied physiology, but you also need to realize that I am backing away from the conversation because you are not engaging with what I am saying, you are calling my arguments and viewpoints names and not really doing anything to assess what I am saying.”

P: “Its just a religion of thumpers, I don’t see why it matters. My wife is a Christian, I don’t know why. [Turns towards his wife] He is a thumper too!”

“Okay, clearly this is conversation is finished. I hope you have a nice day.”

Fins.

Unfortunately, this was the conversation I engaged in. I say unfortunately very tentatively—perhaps I may have “shot an arrow of sunlight”, as I believe C.S Lewis put it—but at any rate the conversation made many things manifest to me and I have a lot to learn from this conversation (especially regarding methods of talking to people, evangelizing and so on). If there is something I have learned, though, from these conversations, is that the socio-phenomenological problem of apathy towards God’s existence should reflect on a deeper point of Christian apologetics, namely, that prayer cannot be separated from doing Christian apologetics. If, as Patrick Sullivan says, people are “His [God’s] little ones” and “not projects or experiments” [7], then prayer is a necessary part of good Christian apologetics–if the fight is over souls and not mere arguments.

[1] For readers interested in the works of C.S Lewis’ here, see especially his Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 2002. Print.

[2] For William Lane Craig’s apologetics model (and more), visit reasonablefaith.org.

[3] For the story of creation (of the world and human beings) see (Genesis 1) and for the story of Mary Magdalene (John 8 1-11).

[4] For those interested in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, here is a basic introductory text: Ralph McInerny, Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. England: Penguin Books. 1998. Print.

[5] For a full picture of the free will defense, see Alvin Plantinga’s seminal God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1974. Print.

[6] Plantinga has made this (somewhat ironical) point formally and informally. Here is a link to him saying it—relatively—informally in his segment on “Closer to Truth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VOMrozCISA Accessed July 25th 2016.

[7] Patrick Sullivan says this in his Dare to be an Evangelist available here: https://www.evangoinstitute.org/shop/dare-evangelist-book/.

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