Introduction: This is the second of a two-part blog post. This two-part blog post contain a copy/paste e-mail conversation that I had with a non-Christian. I asked him for permission if I could publish our conversation to my blog for the edification of unbelievers who are struggling with the same objections he is, and also to incite Christians to do better about how they live. To read the first part of this conversation, click here.
Bob: Evan, sorry this is so long, but you said a lot that I felt the need to respond to.
“Those verses you cited support the doctrine of sola fide, that by faith alone we are saved and not by good works. However, doesn’t contradict my argument that someone can accept that Christian doctrines are true and not be saved. If that were the case, Satan would be on his way to Heaven. James 2:19 says “You believe there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe this yet they tremble””
Granted – they don’t necessarily contradict your argument, but they definitely don’t support your argument.
And, no fair using Satan in your example – he doesn’t exist – Satan is not real – he is a mythological figure.
“Satan and all his agents agree…Satan believes that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead.”
Again with Satan – don’t you think you should offer some evidence that there is such a being before you pretend that you know anything about him and his religious beliefs? Why are you talking as if the existence of Satan is an established fact? And if Satan did exist, why would he BELIEVE God exists… – …wouldn’t Satan actually KNOW that God exists? Come on – think!
Don’t you ever sit and contemplate these things, or are they so ingrained in your psyche that it is impossible for you to be the slightest bit skeptical of the things you believe?
“…simply saying “I’m a Christian” wasn’t enough to convince me that they are saved.”
So, if you happen to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and they happen to mention that they are a Christian – you immediately doubt their salvation…?
“This doesn’t mean I’m skeptical of everyone who tells me that they’re saved.”
So, you immediately doubt the claim of some people…? What’s your criteria? Do you have a check-list, like – if they have tattoos, or to many body piercings? How ’bout if they are gay? Are you pretty certain that there is no such thing as a “gay Christian”?
“I take them at their word unless I get to know them and they consistently bare all of the fruits of the flesh and none of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24).”
Now we are getting somewhere – What if they bare some of the “fruits of the flesh” and some of the “fruits of the Spirit”? Is there a particular percentage cut off that you go by?
If this wasn’t so sad it would be funny.
Evan, I am completely confident that, if you and I were to casually meet, and if I just wanted to prove a point to you, I could pretend to believe in Jesus. I could tell you my testimony from more than 40 years ago when I accepted Jesus as my savior, we could discuss different Christian doctrines, we could go eat lunch and I could pray for God to bless our meal, I could go to church with you and sing the hymns and even lead the congregation in prayer, and you would have no idea that I am actually an atheist. You would see nothing but the “fruits of the Spirit” simply because I am just a nice guy. You would not detect any lust, envy, strife, backbiting, anger, nothing, because those are just not consistent character traits that plague me.
My point is this – you would not be able to distinguish between actual “fruits of the Spirit” and me pretending to have the “fruits of the Spirit” – because – there are NO actual “fruits of the Spirit”.
“You wrote “And then you present, as evidence, the behavior of those who share your worldview.” — I did that because YOU presented BAD behavior of adherents…”
No, I did not. I was pointing out that Christians are not noticeably different from non believers in their day to day lives. And I specifically stated – “IMPORTANT – Do I think this makes Christians “bad” – absolutely not. I do not think Christians are much different than anyone else.” I simply pointed out that Christians (as I have observed) don’t seem to act as if they are indwelt by a Holy Spirit.
I said: “So, based on my observations of Christians over the past 40 years or so, I can only conclude that there doesn’t seem to be a “Holy Spirit” guiding, influencing, controlling them. And until or unless Christians suddenly begin displaying some obvious attributes of a “Holy Spirit”, I have no choice but conclude that there is no “Holy Spirit”. I wonder if my logic is flawed?”
You answered: “I think it is. First of all, you shouldn’t judge the truth of a worldview on the behavior of its adherents.”
Then you proceeded to offer “evidence” for what you believe is good behavior of Christianities adherents – such as – “All the believers I knew of, both online and offline, contributed to a Go Fund Me page I set up.”.
This is elementary – any reasonable person could see that I was not saying what you are accusing me of saying – that Christians are bad or immoral – I was just pointing out that they are no different than the general public at large. I was pointing out that in public, as I have observed for 40 years, Christians are generally indistinguishable from non believers.
In other words Evan, read what I said, try not to turn what I said into what you believe I am saying. That is a failing strategy. And please – if you are employing a double standard and I point it out to you, just admit it – I won’t think less of you if you do.
“Evidence of Christians acting consistently is counter evidence. My experiences contradict yours.”
This was the first line in your initial response to my initial email to you – “Wow! Your e-mail is a scathing indictment on the church. I am well aware of the lack of evangelistic zeal in many who profess to be Christians.” So, somehow, way, way back in early January, you could see what I saw, your experience was consistent with mine, but now in mid January, your experience is contradictory to mine – interesting. Looks to me like you are being a tad inconsistent. Can you explain yourself – or should you just apologize for this glaring contradiction…? This is why it is so very difficult to have a reasonable conversation with a Christian – they accuse me of saying things that I didn’t say, and they then contradict their own statements, and then they will deny ever doing either – what the heck?
“I was content letting my hatred stew. That is, until one day when I was watching EWTN and they were showing an animated program.”
It wasn’t “Davy and Goliath” was it? When I was a child I watched an animated…more like “clay-mation” 30 minute show that I just loved. Davy was a young boy with his talking dog Goliath. I thought it was a Lutheran production but it may have been Catholic.
“You know how if you can sense when someone is standing behind you even though you can’t see them and never heard them approach?”
No, I guess I don’t know what that’s like.
“That’s kind of like what it was with this benevolent presence. I knew that this presence was the God I had been calling on for 3 months. I felt this benevolent presence begin to enter me, but when it did, the evil presence would resist and fight back…”
I find no good reason to believe in either benevolent or evil “presences”. I do find good reason to conclude that what you are describing as purely psychological.
“With evidence from fine-tuning laid up against the evidence of the origin of the universe, you’re really only down to the Abrahamic religions. Again, this doesn’t get you to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, but it does refute atheism and it gets you in the right neighborhood.”
I guess, concerning The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument , The Local Fine-Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, and The Ontological Argument, instead of saying that they don’t offer evidence for the existence of your specific God, I should have said that they don’t offer evidence for ANY specific God. Apparently you took me to be saying that the arguments could be used by adherents from other religious beliefs as well as yours, so you attempted to refute what you assumed I was saying – my mistake.
“…but it does refute atheism…”
How so? If atheism is a lack of belief in a god, how does the fine-tuning argument “refute” the lack of belief in a god…this claim makes no sense.
I have to ask – do you really need all these philosophical arguments – Kalam, Cosmic, Ontological, etc, etc? Did someone present them to you before you were a believer, and you found them convincing, and then accepted Jesus? Do you need them now to stay a believer? If those arguments were not formulated, would you abandon your faith? I am guessing that the vast, vast majority of Christians have never heard of them. So I am guessing that most believers become believers with no knowledge of these arguments, and stay Christians their entire lives never hearing of them…do you agree?
I view them like recipes for “God Pie”:
1/2 cup of wishful thinking
2 tbl spoons of assumption
1 ounce of presupposition for flavoring
add a pinch of evidence to taste (but since evidence is in such short supply, a dash of faith is a suitable substitute)
1/4 cup of facts (if not available, just add some more faith instead)
Watching Craig, or any other apologist go thru the verbal calisthenics when presenting these arguments is like watching a shell game or a magic trick, and W.L. Craig is about as slick as they come.
“The fact that you said “‘Facts’? Shouldn’t it be called ‘The Minimal Assertions Case for Jesus’ Resurrection’? The only “fact” is that they are IN FACT, found in the bible.” shows that you are not the least bit familiar with the historical case for the resurrection?”
That’s not fair. I find your accusation disrespectful and condescending. Do you witness for Jesus with that mouth? 🙂
There is NO historical case for the resurrection – ZERO. The sooner you come to understand that the less painful all this well be. There is a week historical case for the life, death, and disposal of Jesus body, at best, but to claim a historical case can be made for the resurrection of Jesus is quite revealing. Sure, you can try, and many have tried, but it always fails. I am not saying that I know Jesus was not resurrected – I am just saying that there is ZERO historical evidence for his resurrection. Perhaps you are confusing the historical evidence that people BELIEVED Jesus was resurrected, with historical evidence that Jesus WAS resurrected – of which there is NONE. There is just as much “historical” evidence that in 1820, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith at his bedside…in other words – NONE!
“Have you even read Habermas at all? Or Licona? Or Strobel? Have you even looked at my blog posts on this issue?”
I have read a book or two by Strobel – how many of his books do you want me to read….? I find him to be quite unbelievable (read – dishonest). I have read excerpts from the other authors. And no, I have not looked at your blog post on the issue…I didn’t even know you had a post on the issue.
One thing I have become very interested in is the early history of the Christian church – I have to wonder how many Christians have the slightest interest in what early Christians believed, and what political power moves were made that changed the direction and future of the early church. I am currently reading “A. D. 381” by Charles Freeman – very interesting.
“Of course, I think your belief that Christianity is false is both false and unjustified…”
Conclusion – a judgment or decision reached by reasoning.
Belief – an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists – trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.
Can you quote me? Where did I say “Christianity is false”? I know I didn’t say that because I have NEVER said that. I don’t really have a “belief” concerning Christianity, but I do have “conclusions”. Just as you, by your own admission, might come to a conclusion that the person claiming to be a Christian might no be a Christian, based on your observations of their behavior. Based on my observations of Christians for the past 40 years, I am perfectly justified in coming to the conclusion that I have come to – that the Christians I have observed do not display any attributes that would indicate to me, that they are indwelt by a “Holy Spirit”. Notice – this statement is concerning ONE aspect of Christianity – namely the indwelling of it’s adherents by a “Holy Spirit”. This statement does not deal with “Christianity” as a whole – so please, again, please do not accuse me of saying things that I didn’t say.
“…while I think Christianity is true and that the reasons I would give to support it justify my belief.”
Think? Don’t you “KNOW” Christianity is true, or do you just “BELIEVE” it is true? If you just believe it is true, then perhaps you should stop defending it…because since it is just a belief, it may be incorrect. But if you know it is true, then it should be very easy to convince me, shouldn’t it?
“Finally, let’s talk epistemology indeed. I don’t confuse “knowledge” and “belief”. I think everything you take to be true is “belief”…”
And that is where you are wrong. I find it incredible that you would make such a statement.
Years ago, several years after I had started my photography business, I was meeting with a prospective client – a lady who was considering me for doing a family portrait – her two children were coming home from college for a break.
As we sat and she looked thru my portfolio, she opened an album on her coffee table to show me some of the pictures she had taken while traveling. One page in particular she wanted me to see. She had visited a Catholic shrine in some Italian town recently – a shrine to a saint, a long dead nun. In the shrine was a life-size statue of the saint with her nun habit on – the statue had a downward gaze.
The two 5X7 pictures were displayed in the album side by side on the page, and were taken one right after the other – it looked like the camera didn’t move, just click, click.
Both were taken fairly close, like a head-and-shoulder portrait, so the face was quite clear.
In the first picture it was obvious that the eyes are looking downward. In the second picture it was also quite clear that it looked like the statue’s gaze had shifted and was now looking toward the camera.
She didn’t say anything as I was looking at the pictures – she was waiting to see if I saw what she saw…and I did.
Two things to note:
1 – the prospective client was a Catholic.
2 – I am a trained photographer (USAF Photography School, 10 years as an Air Force photographer) and had many years of photography experience.
Anyway, based on what I have told you so far, what do you think of this story? Do you think (believe) as the Catholic woman “believed” that it is possible that God caused this “miraculous sign” to appear?
I know what happened. In a matter of a few seconds I came to a conclusion as to why these two images of the statue looked so different. I knew it was not a “miraculous sign”. I know what the explanation is for the illusion. I know because I used my reasoning, based on many, many years of training and experience. I don’t believe there is a perfectly natural explanation – I know there is a perfectly natural explanation. What I “take to be true” in this instance is not a belief – it is knowledge.
If you want me to explain to you what happened in the photographs, let me know – and BTW, I didn’t tell her what I knew, She probably still believes she captured a miracle on film.
“I would define knowledge the way many philosophers do; as “Justified True Belief”. Knowledge is a belief that is true and is justified by good reasons.”
You are wrong, but close. Knowledge is not a belief that is true (and justified by good reasons). Knowledge is things we KNOW. The use of the word implies reasonably justified truth. That’s why we have these two very different words, belief and knowledge. Belief indicates that we don’t know and could very well be wrong. Knowledge indicates that we know and are not wrong.
A belief can never be known to be true – for the moment it is known to be true, it becomes knowledge. If we claim knowledge of something, and our knowledge turns out to be untrue, it was never knowledge – we just believed it was. This is why the epistemology behind Christian beliefs are always walking a very tight wire:
A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports the myth.
~ Edward De Bono
~ compared to ~
Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.
~ W. L. Craig – Reasonable Faith
Even a false belief can be “justified by good reasons” – example:
Let’s say I have two wooden balls sealed in a clear glass case. They were handed down from my grandfather to my father to me. The balls are about 3″ in diameter. I was told by my father that each ball weighs 1/4 lb. I have no reason to doubt him. I ask how he knows (hint – he actually only believes) that each ball weighs 1/4 lb and he says he was told by his father. I ask how grandpa knew their weight – dad doesn’t know. He speculates that maybe grandpa made the balls and put them in the glass case.
At any rate, I can not think of any reason to doubt what my dad has told me about the weight of the balls, so I believe him. Of course, the best / simplest way to KNOW how much they weigh is to remove them from the glass case and weigh them – agree? So, I break the case – because I really want to KNOW – I am no longer satisfied with just believing. Low and behold, by just holding the balls in my hand and tapping on them I determine one is hollow and the other is solid. One weighs 1/8 lb and the other weighs 3/8 lb.
Now, I no longer BELIEVE. Even though my belief was “justified by good reasons”, I now KNOW my belief was incorrect. I now KNOW how much the balls weigh.
I think that when / if a Christian honestly examines the epistemology behind why they became a Christian, and /or why they remain a Christian, they will come to realize that their beliefs are largely based on emotions, minimally based on knowledge, and that they have no “justified good reason” to use in defense of their faith. That is what happened to me some 18 years ago. Here is the last entry in my journal from that time:
In a matter of a few hours, the answer to my suffering for the past twenty five years has appeared. I now see with telescopic vision what has been hidden from view by superstition. It’s as if I have been released from leg chains in the hold of an 18th century slave ship and transported to a world of such natural beauty that I can’t find a point to begin observing it for fear that I will miss something in another location. The truth has broke through the thick shroud of old bible leather that has covered my eyes for so long.
There is no god.
Christianity is the biggest fraud that mankind has ever exposed himself to.
The bible is the work of men. It is a mixture of one part fact, to five parts fiction.
Science, not religion, is the source of truth in the world.
The guilt, self doubt, and worry that plagued nearly every waking moment of my life for the past twenty five years, has been replaced with a new wonder, a sense of adventure, and a freedom that can only be had when one is no longer shackled to a belief system that threatens to punish you for every human thought, word, or deed. There is no heaven, no hell, only birth, and death, and what ever you can learn, enjoy, and contribute in between.
Anyway, can you offer an opinion / answer on these specific epistemological questions? If you don’t want to, please at least answer #2.
1 – How do we find a reliable pathway to truth?
2 – Is faith a reliable pathway to truth?
3 – Is reason a reliable pathway to truth?
Evan: First of all, I was well aware that I was presupposing that Satan existed in my using him as an example of someone who knows Christianity is true and yet isn’t saved. In fact, that entire section presuppsosed that the Christian worldview was true. Does this make my response invalid? I don’t think so. There are two debates one can have when it comes to examining a worldview: (1) is it true, and (2) is it internally coherent? When it comes to number 2, both the criticizer and the adherent presuppose the worldview is true for the sake of the argument. The criticizer steps inside the worldview he is criticizing so to speak, to show that there’s some problem with affirming it in the first place. It is to say “Let’s assume X is true, how do you account for why?” The worldview adherent then, would offer a response which may or may not make sense of Y on the assumption that X is true.
This is what your primary objection against Christianity does. You are essentially arguing “Let’s assume that Christianity is true. How do you account for the fact that I don’t see Christians living any differently than non-Christians? Shouldn’t The Holy Spirit be having a radical impact on their behavior? What rational conclusion should I come to except to conclude that there is no Holy Spirit?” And given that this objection of yours falls into the second category, it is illegitimate of you to cry foul if I quote from The Bible or presuppose that certain Christian doctrines are true.
In response to your obstacle, I said that this can be due to a number of things.
1: Nominal Christians, people who have belief that, but not belief in. From The Bible’s own teaching, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who profess to know God yet live as though they don’t.
2: You are a victim of your very limited circumstances. You may have seen Christians behaving badly, or behaving like the average Joe, but that is not the case for me. I gave you a handful of examples of believers (including myself) doing extraordinarily moral things that they wouldn’t have been able to unless they called upon The Holy Spirit’s power. For example, myself finally forgiving those who have wronged me, my friends in the church and on Facebook en masse donating to my GoFundMe page to save me from homelessness, family members of murder victims forgiving their murderers, people kicking drug habits overnight, etc. I think if you could have a “God’s Eye” point of view, you’d see many more examples, and you’d know of people who have seen these examples. If examples of Christians being BAD or non-extraordinary is evidence against the existence of The Holy Spirit, shouldn’t examples of Christians being good or extraordinary be evidence for the existence of The Holy Spirit? At the very least, shouldn’t these examples cancel each other out so that we would have to base our affirmation of The Holy Spirit’s existence on some other criteria?
3: Some people may be genuinely saved, yet because they were worse off before they got saved than the average non-believer, their moral improvement has elevated them from depraved to an-all-right-fellow. Refer back to the C.S Lewis quote I gave in a prior response. Believer A might be morally the same as UNbeliever B, but we have to consider what Believer A would have been like if he had never become a Christian, and what UNBeliever B might be like if he became one.
Secondly, no, I don’t immediately doubt that someone is a Christian when they tell me they are one. As I said, I take them at their word unless they give me reason otherwise. If they wallow in sin, try to rationalize it, make no attempts to improve on their behavior, I may begin to have doubts. There are people in my own family whom I doubt very seriously are born again. If they do show the fruits of Spirit, I wouldn’t have iron-clad proof that they’re saved, for even unbelievers can behave morally if they choose to (as you point out), but if the fruits of the flesh are minimal and the fruits of the Spirit are frequent, at the very least I won’t have any reason to doubt their salvation. I could be wrong. Someone could be, as in your illustration, a very good and deceptive actor. Someone could be a brand new believer and maybe hasn’t had the time for any sort of sanctification to take place. Perhaps he gave his life to Christ only a month ago and hasn’t had much time for moral growth, so that to judge this person as a nominal Christian would be a mistake. But the point here is that if someone is downright evil or immoral, and is so consistently, I would have doubts about whether The Holy Spirit has truly entered them. Ultimately though, it is not my place to judge whether a person is saved. God knows who are and aren’t His, and for those who aren’t, He will toil to bring into the fold, for He does not wish for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4).
Thirdly, You wrote “So, somehow, way, way back in early January, you could see what I saw, your experience was consistent with mine, but now in mid January, your experience is contradictory to mine – interesting. Looks to me like you are being a tad inconsistent.” — I am not at all being inconsistent. You just misunderstood me. The fact of the matter is that I have seen what you’ve seen: Christians being either bad or morally the same as the average unbeliever. On the other hand, I have also witnessed Christians being extraordinarily moral, acting in ways that the average unbeliever probably wouldn’t. I have been burned by Christians (metaphorically speaking), but I have also been treated with immense kindness. I have been treated like a family member by Christians who barely even knew me. I have seen Christians apathetic to evangelism and apologetics, but I have also seen Christians (and here, I include myself in this) with such a passion and zeal for winning the loss that if they could keep people from entering Hell by blocking the gates with their own body, they would. Why do you think I’m typing my fingers to the bone dialoguing with you? I care for your soul. I care for your eternity. And if there’s anything I can say to remove boundaries to you coming to Christ, I will expend any amount of time and effort to do so. I don’t know you, but God does. And you’re worth so much to Him that He shed His blood for you. I don’t know you, but I love you. And I want to help you overcome your difficulties with Christianity if I can. That’s why I’m an apologist.
So, I am saying my experience is contradictory to yours. Why? Because you said you’ve seen NO Christian behaving differently than the average unbeliever while I have seen just as many Spirit-filled fruit producing believers as I have nominal or morally unextraordinary ones. I have seen what you’ve seen, but I have also seen what you haven’t seen.
Fourthly, you wrote “I find no good reason to believe in either benevolent or evil “presences”. I do find good reason to conclude that what you are describing as purely psychological.” — This is what usually happens when I share my testimony (or partial, abridged testimony in this case) with unbelievers. That’s why I scarcely refer to it, and rely on apologetic arguments instead.
Fifthly, you wrote “I guess, concerning The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument , The Local Fine-Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, and The Ontological Argument, instead of saying that they don’t offer evidence for the existence of your specific God, I should have said that they don’t offer evidence for ANY specific God. Apparently you took me to be saying that the arguments could be used by adherents from other religious beliefs as well as yours, so you attempted to refute what you assumed I was saying – my mistake.” —
I did indeed misunderstand you here. I did you were saying that the arguments could be used by adherents from other religious beliefs. Instead, I now see that you were saying they don’t prove the existence of any deity whatsoever. And if the premises of all these arguments are false, you would be right. If the premises in these arguments are false, then none of their conclusions follow. That’s why, in my book “Inference To The One True God”, before telling you that only the Abrahamic God or the Christian God is consistent with the conclusions of all these arguments, I actually defend the premises and tackle the various objections I’ve heard atheists raise over the years.
Six: You asked when I learned about these arguments. When I was 18 and on my slide into agnosticism. I had tried to share my faith with an atheist (because of my passion for evangelism) and his objections to Christianity had rocked my world. I prayed to God that if He existed and if Christianity were true, to help me continue believing. I knew that if He did exist and I did not continue believing, that I’d be on my way to Hell, which 1 Timothy 2:4 and other passages of The Bible explicitly says that God does not want. I was motivated to pray by the example of the man in Mark 9 who said to Jesus “I believe, help me with my unbelief” and it was only a month later that I discovered Lee Strobel’s books which revived my dying faith. You asked me that were it not for these arguments, would I still be a believer? Probably not. While it’s true that apologetics didn’t play a role in my conversion, it did indeed play an essential role in my perseverance. That is why I tell people “I didn’t come TO Christ through apologetics. I STAYED in Christ through apologetics.”
Seven: You only confirmed my suspicion that you don’t understand the historical case for the resurrection. Maybe you have read The Case For Christ or one of Habermas’ book, but perhaps you merely skimmed through it. At the very least you didn’t understand the methodology and reasoning as to how the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead was reached. If you did, you wouldn’t say “There is NO evidence for the resurrection” or “The only facts is that they are in fact in The Bible”, instead, you would say something along the lines of “I don’t think the evidence is sufficient enough to conclude that Christ really rose” or you would say “I agree that the historical evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross, empty tomb, and postmortem appearances are compelling. I agree that the minimal facts are indeed facts, but I can explain them in a way that doesn’t involve the supernatural” These are the kinds of things skeptics who do understand the methodology and logic undergirding the inference to the resurrection say. They’re what skeptical scholars like Gerd Ludemann and Bart Ehrman say. They’re what Anthony Flew said when he was an atheist. It is not what you said. And that’s why I think it’s important you re-examine the writings on this subject. The best books I can recommend are Gary Habermas and Michael Licona’s “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” and Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ”, but I have a whole chapter on it in “Inference To The One True God”, and I have a whole 10 part blog post series on it that will publish every day before Easter and which I intend to eventually compile into a book. It goes in-depth into the subject, but I do have articles, like “A Quick Case For Jesus’ Resurrection” which are less so.
Eight: I still affirm that the definition of knowledge is “justified true belief”, and in this sense, I know Christianity is true. I based my conclusions on heavy research into the arguments for and against it. And in all my interactions with unbelievers, not one has given me a reason to think the arguments are fallacious or faulty. Until that is so, I will continue to affirm the Christian worldview. I both BELIEVE it is true and I KNOW that is true. For I have a belief that is both true and justified. Justification + truth + belief = knowledge.
Again, you can have belief without knowledge. You can believe something false. You can believe something without any evidence, yet it turns out that it just so happens to be true (i.e Bob believes X, X is true, but Bob has blind faith in X). However, you cannot claim to know something without professing belief in it. And you profess belief in it, because you take it to be true. And if you give reasons A, B, and C, which you think point to X, if the arguments for X are logically valid and have true premises, then your mental affirmation of X is justified.
In your example of the balls in the glass case, you, your father, and your grandfather all had belief in the weight of the balls. All 3 of you were correct. but only one of you had true belief that was justified. You were justified when you weighed them on the scales.
By the way, a natural explanation works just fine for the nun statue, but when it comes to the variety of postmortem appearances and Jesus’ empty tomb (which is based on historical methodology and not on “The Bible says…”), skeptical scholars cannot come up with a single naturalistic theory to explain them that isn’t full of holes.
Thank you for the education – and I am not being sarcastic. Your explanation in the first two paragraphs is informative. If you don’t mind, since it takes me quite some time to formulate a response, (since I have to edit it so many times before I send it, and you seem to be able to just knock one out in a few minutes) I am just going to comment on the first few sections of your reply. I’ll take my time and respond to the rest over this coming week – and please take your time responding – no need to rush.
“When it comes to number 2, both the criticizer and the adherent presuppose the worldview is true for the sake of the argument…This is what your primary objection against Christianity does. You are essentially arguing ” Let’s assume that Christianity is true. How do you account for the fact that I don’t see Christians living any differently than non-Christians?
Concerning the sections in bold – don’t you think I am actually asking “If Christianity were true, then how do you account for the fact that I don’t see Christians living differently than non Christians?” Don’t you think that is quite different than presupposing, even for the sake of argument? I think it is obvious that I am not actually “assuming” or “presupposing” that Christianity is true…actually. IF Christianity were true…
“…I was well aware that I was presupposing that Satan existed in my using him as an example of someone who knows Christianity is true and yet isn’t saved. In fact, that entire section presuppsosed that the Christian worldview was true.”
Again, addressing the bold – Our discussion was mainly and mostly about the behavior of Christians and how that behavior relates to the claim of a holy spirit. Introducing “Satan” into the discussion is muddying the waters – because you are essentially saying there is only one valid Christian worldview, and that Christian worldview includes a “Satan” as well as a holy spirit. But there are actually “Christian worldviews”. There is not “Christianity”, there is “Christianities”. There are even Christians who would not think you are saved. There are Christians who do not believe in a literal “Satan”. I read that 80% of US Catholics view Satan as purely symbolic. Introducing Satan is a distraction – just one more element of “Christianity” that I have no reason to believe is true.
So, I have to ask again – “…don’t you think you should offer some evidence that there is such a being before you pretend that you know anything about him and his religious beliefs? Why are you talking as if the existence of Satan is an established fact? And if Satan did exist, why would he BELIEVE God exists… – …wouldn’t Satan actually KNOW that God exists?
“I gave you a handful of examples of believers (including myself) doing extraordinarily moral things that they wouldn’t have been able to unless they called upon The Holy Spirit’s power.”
Are you sure that people could not forgive a murderer unless they were under the power of the Holy Spirit?
Are you sure that the only reason people gave to your gofundme page is because of the Holy Spirit?
Are you sure that no one can kick a drug habit “over night” without the help from the Holy Spirit?
If you know these things FOR SURE, tell me HOW you know them FOR SURE, because you just made quite a bold claim.
” If examples of Christians being BAD or non-extraordinary is evidence against the existence of The Holy Spirit, shouldn’t examples of Christians being good or extraordinary be evidence for the existence of The Holy Spirit?
If Christians and non Christians are equally good and bad, what is that evidence of?
If I present examples of non believers that I know, who have shown great kindness consistently, what will that be evidence of?
If Christians behaving very good is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, what is atheists behaving very good evidence of? Help me out here.
“At the very least, shouldn’t these examples cancel each other out so that we would have to base our affirmation of The Holy Spirit’s existence on some other criteria?”
Evan, what am I to do with my 40 years of experience and observation? How can the claims of a young man that I just recently encountered via email, who claims my experience is some kind of fluke, how can anyone reasonably expect that I just ignore what I have experienced for 40 of my 60 years of life based on the claims of just one more believer? Evan, 40+ YEARS, and not a single Christian has approached me about anything concerning Jesus, faith, God, salvation, heaven, hell – 40+ YEARS – longer than you have been alive…?
You are not the only Christian I have had this email conversation with.
But, if you have some other valid method of showing me that there actually is a Holy Spirit acting in the lives of the followers of Jesus, then I am entirely open to such a discussion.
Bob: First of all, “yes, in asking the question…you are indeed presupposing the Christian worldview for the sake of the argument.”
OK, I guess I agree, but when I look up the definitions for “presuppose”, it still doesn’t look like I am presupposing by asking “If Christianity were true…”, but what the heck.
“There are core affirmations that all orthodox Christians affirm, such as…The Trinity…
…but no Christian doubts the doctrines in the previous paragraphs.”
When I was a young Christian in the USAF stationed in Louisianan back in the mid 80’s, I visited a church with a Christian I had met in the dinning hall. I had mainly attended Baptist churches but was currently unaffiliated. He was a member of the United Pentecostal Church – are you familiar with them? They call them selves “Oneness” – they do not believe in the Trinity. The town and surrounding county I lived in was not terribly big, perhaps one hundred thousand+. I was used to going to churches with maybe 50-100 members. I went to several services with my new friend – the church membership was 1500, and on the few Sunday night services that I went with him there was standing room only – I would say easily 1,000 people, on a Sunday night. It was the largest church in town. These Christians not only doubt the Trinity, they deny the doctrine.
“…and it eliminates the whole rationale of the virgin birth.”
Rationale? Other than some possible mistranslated bible verses, what is the “rationale”?
“Once again, belief + truth + justification = knowledge. Satan does BELIEVE God exists. Satan also KNOWS that God exists.”
Once again, Satan has no need for belief if he knows.
“Are you sure that people could not forgive a murderer unless they were under the power of the Holy Spirit?” — Yes. I know I couldn’t have even forgiven much lesser wrongs. I know this because I tried. No amount of effort on my part could relinquish the resentment.”
I didn’t ask if YOU could not forgive, I asked if you are sure that people (this includes EVERYONE) could not forgive. Why would you answer in the affirmative, and then to justify your answer you admit that YOU couldn’t have? You are not everyone. Do you KNOW that I could not forgive a murderer?
“People have kicked drug habits without God’s power, but not instantly.”
How do you KNOW this? Please tell me how you KNOW that no one has ever, or ever could give up a drug addiction over night without God doing it for them? You are claiming to KNOW something that you can not possibly KNOW – admit it.
I have never heard of an individual who kicked a cocaine or meth addiction literally overnight outside of the context of a Christian testimony.
Just because you have not personally met or heard of anyone who did, does not translate into knowledge on your part…does it?
Do you agree that smoking cigarettes is addictive? Have you ever talked to someone who has tried for years to kick the habit? My parents both smoked for about 15 years, my Dad smoked 2-3 packs a day. When I was 11 or 12 they both just decided to quit. Mom was a Christian but Dad was not. They just stopped and never smoked again – there was no Nicorette gum or any other medications back then to help with the withdrawals…they just quit, and I am sure it was hard.
“I think a bold claim would be to say that a person who goes against human nature and forgives a murderer simply on their own power, that someone just ups and stops snorting cocaine on their own power, and that I had a persistent inability to forgive until I prayed, and I just happened to gain an ability I didn’t have before by sheer coincidence, is the one making the bold claim.”
Evan, you are really grasping here. You are the one making the bold claim – “…they wouldn’t have been able to unless they called upon The Holy Spirit’s power”. All I did was ask HOW YOU KNOW THAT. Come on!
“I don’t think the existence of moral behavior can be indicators of the evidence of The Holy Spirit’s existence. Caveat: except in extreme cases that stick out like sore thumbs like forgiving and becoming good friends with someone who murdered your whole family, kicking an addiction instantly, etc.”
Evan, you are the one who brought up these extreme cases, which just served to muddy the waters as well. I was talking about just the day to day lives of Christians and for some reason you decided to counter with some extreme cases, and now you are going to tell me that the day to day behavior of Christians doesn’t matter? But that is all I have. I haven’t witnessed any extreme cases such as drug addicts or murders. MUDDY WATERS! But I am confident that you will not agree…again.
My point was that if you see Christians whose behavior doesn’t look particularly Christian,…
I don’t know how else to say this, but Let me try once again to make myself clear. I honestly don’t know what “Christian behavior” would look like (other than while in church). All I know is that the behavior I do see is no different from how I behave, as a non believer, and no different from the behavior of what few non believing friends I have.
“…it could be that (1) They’re nominal Christians, (2) their sanctification started recently, or it’s been going on for a long while, but they were worse off when they were unbelievers.”
This is simply making excuses. Can or does the Holy Spirit transform believers immediately?
You know what, forget it – lets go all out and just agree that there is a God and the Holy Spirit does exist in the lives of Christians.
Since we now KNOW that, lets just admit that the Holy Spirits ability to transform Christians into “soul winners” is either pathetic, or simply not part of his plan.
Let’s just admit that the reason that not a single christian in 40 years has approached me and shared Jesus with me is because the Holy Spirit doesn’t want them to – he is restraining them. They would love to but until Jesus issues the order, they will have to keep it to them selves.
Let’s just admit that the reason 99% of Christians lead entirely unremarkable lives from day to day is because the Holy Spirit has directed them to pretend that they have no interest in standing out as a reflection of the love of Jesus to a lost world, and that he will – on occasion – provide a few extreme cases, not as a witness to the lost, but to bolster the faith of the already saved.
Evan, you are what, mid 20’s? During your life, how many Christians, who were complete strangers, have approached you to share Jesus with you? You have already admitted that you don’t do that yourself – has any believers ever approached you for the sole purpose of winning you to the Lord?
“The Christians you’ve encountered in your 60 years of living are but a drop in the bucket compared to the actual number of professing Christians there actually are. How do you know there aren’t Christians out there living lives and performing actions that would meet your expectation of what a Holy Spirit filled person would be like?”
I don’t know, and neither do you, but if you want to speculate, we can do that all day. Problem is – so what. What good does it do for me NOW if there are Christians half way around the world, or even in the next county, who, if they lived near me would approach me to talk about Jesus. Why are you bringing this up? Surely you can see that it makes no difference if I don’t know they exist…if I have never encounter them. And for what its worth, I have lived in 7 states during my life – it’s been pretty much the same story, from Florida to California to South Dakota to Louisiana, etc, etc.
Oh, and just so you know, that young man who was a member of the United Pentecostal Church I mentioned earlier – the church I am guessing you will call a “cult” – he did approach me in the dining hall – because he noticed I was reading from my New Testament while I ate my lunch. And for the next year, almost every Monday night, we met at his home or mine for a bible study / debate.
Evan: Bob, first of all, when I listed the beliefs that all orthodox Christians hold, I explicitly said that there are some religious sects who would not affirm these (e.g Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses), but these wouldn’t be considered Christians. I don’t consider Oneness Pentecostals to be Christians, but heretics.
In any case, let’s get this conversation back on track. If we define Mere Christianity as the set of beliefs which contain the existence of God (an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect being who created the universe), The Trinity (God is one essence but consists of 3 distinct persons), the incarnation (The second person of the Trinity adopted a human nature), that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, that Jesus’ death and resurrection were necesarry for atonement, that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone, and that Jesus ascended into Heaven shortly after his resurrection will come again some day, that The Bible is inspired by God, etc.
How would we make sense of people who claim to Christians (people who follow Christ and affirm the above doctrines) not behaving any differently than non-Christians? I think the answers I’ve given are sufficient to make sense of this.
*Nominal Christians, people who have belief that, but not belief in. From The Bible’s own teaching, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who profess to know God yet live as though they don’t.
*You are a victim of your very limited circumstances. You may have seen Christians behaving badly, or behaving like the average Joe, but that is not the case for me. I gave you a handful of examples of believers (including myself) doing extraordinarily moral things that they wouldn’t have been able to unless they called upon The Holy Spirit’s power. For example, myself finally forgiving those who have wronged me, my friends in the church and on Facebook en masse donating to my GoFundMe page to save me from homelessness, family members of murder victims forgiving their murderers, people kicking drug habits overnight, etc. I think if you could have a “God’s Eye” point of view, you’d see many more examples, and you’d know of people who have seen these examples. If examples of Christians being BAD or non-extraordinary is evidence against the existence of The Holy Spirit, shouldn’t examples of Christians being good or extraordinary be evidence for the existence of The Holy Spirit? At the very least, shouldn’t these examples cancel each other out so that we would have to base our affirmation of The Holy Spirit’s existence on some other criteria?
*Some people may be genuinely saved, yet because they were worse off before they got saved than the average non-believer, their moral improvement has elevated them from depraved to an-all-right-fellow. Refer back to the C.S Lewis quote I gave in a prior response. Believer A might be morally the same as UNbeliever B, but we have to consider what Believer A would have been like if he had never become a Christian, and what UNBeliever B might be like if he became one.
Secondly, you wrote “Once again, Satan has no need for belief if he knows.” — I have explained this repeatedly. Knowledge is belief that is true (i.e corresponds to reality) and is justified (i.e has good reasons, arguments, or evidence to back it up). Knowledge is justified true belief. This is what Satan has regarding God’s existence, so it can be rightly said that Satan both “Believes” that God exists and “knows” that God exists. Satan knows God exists because knowledge is “justified true belief”.
Thirdly, you wrote “I didn’t ask if YOU could not forgive, I asked if you are sure that people (this includes EVERYONE) could not forgive. Why would you answer in the affirmative, and then to justify your answer you admit that YOU couldn’t have? You are not everyone. Do you KNOW that I could not forgive a murderer?” — I can’t speak for every person who has ever lived, but I can and will say this: based on my observations, I have never heard the testimony of a single person forgiving someone who murdered their entire family except in the context of a Christian testimony, except in the context of someone saying they did so because God commanded them to love and forgive their enemies and that God empowered them to do so. I have heard many testimonies of people forgiving the most heanous of acts, but not one of them came from an atheist, agnostic, Muslim or any non-Christian. Every act of extreme forgiveness (i.e forgiveness of the most heinous acts imaginable) was exemplified by people who claimed that God empowered them to do it, and the reason they wanted to in the first place is because The Bible commanded them to. Don’t forget that in some of these cases, it isn’t merely that they relenquished anger, but they developed a friendship with their family member’s killer! Moreover, it is human nature to hold grudges against people who have done evil do us, even things far less worse than killing someone we loved. When a person forgives extreme evil, they are swimming against the current of their natural impulses.
My conclusions are inductive. Do I know that every drug addict in the world who has never kicked a drug habit overnight except by God’s Holy Spirit power? No. Do I have to? Every single instance I have seen was in the context of a Christian testimony. I have not seen a single atheist claim that one night, they just decided to stop snorting cocaine, no rehab, no process of recovery, just quit cold turkey. The only examples I know about are people who called upon God to help them. Does this not justify my conclusion that God’s power was at work in people like Brian “Head” Welch?
Your epistemological demand seems far too extreme. By your logic, because I haven’t observed every single elephant that ever has, currently does, or will ever exist, I’m not just justified in claiming I know that there are no pink, polka-dotted elephants. The fact of the matter is that while I haven’t seen every elephant to ever exist, the ones I have seen are grey. I have never seen, or even heard eyewitness reports of people seeing pink, polka dotted elephants. Therefore, I think I’m in my rational rights to conclude they don’t exist. The kind of skepticism you’re exhibiting is what my friend Luke Nix would call “Hyper Skepticism” which he defines as “Having to drink an entire carton of milk before concluding the milk has gone bad and should have been thrown out after the first sip”.
“But” you may say “What about my Mom and Dad?” — You admitted your Mom was a Christian. Do you know that she wasn’t asking God for strength to kick the habit? Perhaps she was praying for her husband (your father) too, and, in answer to her prayer, He freed them both. I think this would be a more convincing counterexample if either both of your parents were non-Christians, or if you had concrete evidence that your mother did not once ask God for the strength to quit smoking.
Fourthly, you wrote “Evan, you are the one who brought up these extreme cases, which just served to muddy the waters as well. I was talking about just the day to day lives of Christians and for some reason you decided to counter with some extreme cases, and now you are going to tell me that the day to day behavior of Christians doesn’t matter? But that is all I have. I haven’t witnessed any extreme cases such as drug addicts or murders.” — So, let me get this straight. You ask me for examples of people living lives and doing things that would stand out from the average non-Christian, but then you chastise me when I give you examples of Christians who do things that stand out from the average non-Christian? You complain about Christians who live unremarkable lives, but then you chastise me when I list examples of Christians doing remarkable things.
Fifthly, I don’t think it’s at all plausible that the reason so many Christians are apathetic about evangelism or live less than extraordinary lives is because The Holy Spirit contrains them. Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Holy Spirit would never restrain believers from following out the commands of God The Son. People must yield to The Holy Spirit in order for His transforming power to manifest in their lives. God has given us free will, so he won’t force us to obey His commands. As I said earlier in this conversation, Acts 7:51 says The Holy Spirit can be resisted. If this is true in salvation, why should we expect it to be any different in sanctification. The Holy Spirit can certainly force us to straighten up and fly right, but he won’t. God will not coerce His creatures.
As I said before, from the perspective of the Christian worldview, I think the reason you’ve had so many encounters is that many are just too shy, many think it’s the Pastor’s job and not theirs, and some, perhaps many, are nominal Christians who are mission fields themselves. They don’t try to save others because they themselves aren’t saved. This would describe me until I was 17.
Regarding Christians who live morally unextraordinary lives, again, I think nominal Christianity plays a big part in this, but also newly regenerated Christians wouldn’t be expected to live any differently than the unbeliever they were just a month ago. Sanctification is a process. Additionally, all of our experiences are limited. If we were omniscient and knew every single person in the world’s life down to the smallest detail, your assessment might be different. But you’ve lived in one time period on one continent and met a tiny percentage of all of the Christians who ever have, do, and will exist. It doesn’t seem wise to me to make a worldview assessment on such sparse data. Finally, we must consider how far someone had fallen prior to becoming a Christian and compare that to what an unbeliever of equal moral standing would be like if He gave his life to Christ. As C.S Lewis wrote: “Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity [or The Holy Spirit] works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. What you have a right to ask is whether that management, if allowed to take over, improves the concern. Everyone knows that what is being managed in Dick Firkin’s case is much ‘nicer’ than what is being managed in Miss Bates’s. That is not the point. To judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant. Considering the plant at Factory A it may be a wonder that it turns out anything at all; considering the first-class outfit at Factory B its output, though high, may be a great deal lower than it ought to be. No doubt the good manager at Factory A is going to put in new machinery as soon as he can, but that takes time. In the meantime low output does not prove that he is a failure.” — C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (Kindle Locations 2460-2468). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
And all of what I’ve said above is just to make sense of the people who claim to be Christians but live like unbelievers. We must also take into account examples of Christians doing things unexpected from a person who doesn’t profess Christianity, such as loving your enemies (to the point of not merely forgiving them, but becoming good friends with them), the people who do sacrifice their time and energy to witness to non-Christians, the people who transition from displaying the fruits of the flesh to the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24).
I just don’t think your objection is any reason to doubt the truth of Christianity.
Finally, I have nowhere admitted that I do not approach strangers to share the gospel with them. What I said was no one I’ve ever shared the gospel with became a Christian. I have had many conversations with skeptics both in person and over the internet (e.g this one). I’ve tried to win many a soul over, but not one has bowed the knee to my knowledge. Maybe you can be the first. 🙂
You said that you didn’t Christians cared enough about Christianity to tell unbelievers about it, but what is your assessment of me? Do you think I would be spending hours typing my fingers to the bone if I didn’t think Christianity was important or if I didn’t care about your soul? If I knew you personally, I would ask if I come over to your house every Saturday afternoon to talk about whether Christianity is true. I hate that you have any hangups at all to becoming a Christian. But I’m here for you. And if you wanted to start different threads from time to time to talk about other issues (like whether any of the arguments for God’s existence are any good, what the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is, the problem of evil, or what have you), I’d be glad to engage. The church has failed you, and that saddens me, but you’re talking to someone to cares about you, who aches for your soul. I realize that transitioning to a different worldview involves wrestling with tough questions, debating, and reflecting. It took Lee Strobel 2 years before he went from atheism to Christianity. For the very few who have engaged with you, perhaps they were impatient with you because you roll over and become a Christian right away. I won’t be like that. I will be patient with you. I’ll dialogue with you as much as you want, about any topic you want, for however many replies you want the conversation to last.
God bless you, my friend.