Welcome to Defeating 100 Reasons. Here will contain 100 posts responding to 100 common reasons why Christianity is false, pointless, or irrelevant. I fill out the assumed audience, goals and purpose of this blog more thoroughly below.
But before that, I should make a brief point about terms and concepts. I’ll use terms like ‘true,’ and ‘reason’ on this blog. I’ll make use of other terms that are technical terms in certain fields, like, philosophy. Unless otherwise noted, I will probably not define these terms. I mean them in a lowest common denominator kind of way. For most (lay) people, your intuitions about terms like ‘truth,’ ‘falsity,’ ‘error,’ and ‘reason,’ will be fine for my purposes. Without getting too technical, and bypassing philosophical objections, if you can agree that if you claimed that there was an apple on your kitchen table, and I went inside your house and saw an apple on your kitchen table, then you’ve spoke the truth. If there was no apple, you were mistaken. Some philosophers might claim that this is fine, but when we say things like: “Is it true that that man did an immoral thing,” we’re either saying something without truth-value, or something false. But most of us ordinary folk don’t have a problem speaking that way, a mean something like what we mean in the case of the apple. Same thing with ‘reason.’ If you tell me not to drive my car to work, and I ask for a reason why, and you respond that my break line has been cut, then you’ve given me a reason not to drive my car. Similar tangents as the above can happen here. At any event, I am bypassing these meta-level discussions, as will become clearer below. One word on a technicality, however: When I use the term ‘argument,’ I do not mean ‘bickering’ or repeatedly shouting conclusions, even if presented in different sentences, back and forth to one another. I mean something like a series of sentences or propositions where one (the conclusion) is said to follow from, or be a consequence of, the others (premises). I refrain from commenting on the nature of consequence, but trust your common sense judgments for our purposes. I also can mean something not as stringent as the above, something like an argument “provides support” for believing some conclusion, or making some conclusion more likely than not. Again, I refrain from making comments on the philosophical issues surrounding these things. Having said that . . .
Who’s this blog for?
First, myself. Aside from the fact that the myopic and pre-set focus of this blog is good for the ADD afflicted, it’s also spiritually cathartic for believers to deal with objections to their faith. It helps make the faith their own. It also (if done right) fosters intellectual honesty. And, this need not be done from a detached, uninterested, neutral stance. It’s epistemically virtuous to be loyal to your beliefs (virtue epistemologists refer to this as “doxastic loyalty”), a virtue pertaining to maintaining your beliefs. More specifically, this maintenance virtue is a dialectical virtue (a proper subset of virtues pertaining to maintenance). Dialectical virtues are exercised and practiced when we defend and articulate our beliefs. In so practicing these virtues, we display tenacity and pertinacity of belief. Think more about the virtue of loyalty. Does a good friend drop her friend at the first accusation impugning her character? No. A good friend stands up and sticks up for her friend. Often, good friends will continue to defend their friend even as the ostensible evidence against her mounts. Of course, this does not entail that we defend our friend “no matter what.” Their guilt or innocence is defeasible. I believe something approximating this applies to my religious beliefs too—but the analogy gets difficult at the outer edges. For my religious beliefs are central to my web of beliefs, providing a way of interpreting and judging evidence, laying down what Paul Helm has referred to as “belief policies.” Nevertheless, I do admit defeasibility and a lack of epistemic certainty about my religious beliefs; thus, it’s good and proper to deal with defeaters to that faith.
Second, and more expansively, this blog is (primarily) for believers. It thus serves an intra-faith role. As a well-known Christian creed puts it, believers’ faith is, “different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened” (Westminster Confession of Faith 14.3). It is undeniable that this assailing and weakening has often come in the form of arguments against what Christians have believed concerning their faith. This weakened can faith have negative effects on the Christian life. Suppose we view faith as a source of knowledge. As with other beliefs we claim to know, new information may defeat that claim to knowledge. Say, you see an animal you believe is a dog. Based on your senses, you might claim to know there is a dog before you. But then a trusted friend who is a cynologist tells you that it is a wolf. This information defeats the status your prior belief had, downgrading it in such a way that it lacks the justification needed for knowledge. Now suppose that you find out your friend was paid to lie to you for a full day, and it happens that the day he told you the animal you saw was a wolf was on that day. You believe this information and it defeats the defeating force of your friend’s testimony. It’s possible your initial belief could once again rise to the coveted status of “knowledge.” Arguments against Christianity and subsequent defeaters of those arguments could function in similar ways for the believer. The (re-) elevation of some of the faith-beliefs had by the believer to the status of knowledge can and does have a positive spiritual impact on the believer. He might become more confident in his faith, more awed by God, and even tempted to break out in doxological praise. At any event, to go back to the claim cited from the Westminster Confession, defeating defeaters to Christian belief can be a means God uses to bring the believer’s faith to victory (the weak and assailed faith nevertheless “gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.” (14.3)).
Nevertheless, some Christians—even and especially those who claim to be contemporary defenders of the above cited Confession—claim an impropriety for engaging in a defense of the faith. This practice is at best given a begrudging chair at the kids’ table, but is scolded if it tries to sit with theological adults. We are sometimes told that the Confession and original Confessionalists, gave no credence, time, or attention to what is now popularly known as “apologetics.” By way of a brief apology for apologetics, it may be worth noting that these voices may be, ironically, out of accord with the ancient voices they claim to represent. I’ll offer a couple short quotes taken from Michael Sudduth’s The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology: “Theistic arguments are presented in many of the commentaries and bodies of divinity based on the Shorter and Longer Westminster Catechism Catechism” (p. 24; footnoting Usher, Vincent, and Willard). “The broad apologetic function of the arguments is fairly evident in [Ursinus’s] Loci communes” (p. 20). Quoting Turretin: “Theology labors to prove the existence of God . . .” (p. 26). Quotes could be multiplied, and Sudduth shows this trajectory continues through high and scholastic orthodoxy, but also up to Princeton and beyond. It would be prudent to also cite from the Willem J. van Asselt ed. book, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (RHB, 2011). In a chapter written by van Asselt, we read: “In order to defend against the onslaught of these enlightened thinkers, orthodox theologians in the Netherlands, England, Germany, and Switzerland again drew on a tried and true apologetic tool: prophetic proof. With it they defended the reliability of biblical prophecy and therefore of Christian revelation” (pp. 170-171).
Now, here’s the upshot: If we allow these neo-Confessionalists their own voice, we can do no better than to turn to R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession, where confession is meant and defined according to “the understanding of those confessions as articulated by the classical sixteenth – and seventeenth-century Reformed theologians and by those who continued that tradition, the outlines of which are evident to anyone who reads Calvin, Ursinus, Wollebus, Owen, Turretin, Witsius, Hodge, Bavinck, and Berkhof” (p. 3). In other words, by ‘confession’ is mean, broadly, what we find, overwhelmingly, discussed in the works of the above men and their commentaries on the more narrow meaning of ‘confession,’ e.g., Heidelberg, WCF, WSC, WLC, etc. Now, since the propriety and usefulness, even necessity, of apologetics is discussed in all the men Clark lists, and then some, we can say that apologetics is confessional! In light of this argument, any professed “confessionalist” is inconsistent if they undermine the role of apologetics, grudgingly allowing some elbow room for it, but making sure that it knows it’s not properly “confessional.” So statements by some of these contemporary confessionalists to the extent that we should teach from the Confession and Catechisms every Lord’s Day sunday school, but not apologetics since apologetics isn’t “confessional,” are self-referentially incoherent (on the above authoritative definition of ‘confession’).
Here I have said that an intended audience of this blog is believers. Apologetics has various functions in its intra-faith service. It can help believers of both weak and strong faith. It can aid in confidence, give cognitive rest, help believers show what they know, or even restore some of the believer’s beliefs back to the status of knowledge. In the course of this I took a brief but I hope helpful detour and offered an apologetic for apologetics, at least in response to some current criticisms offered by those in my particular tradition.
Third, this blog is for non-Christians. I’ll call this the inter-faith audience. I mean this very broadly. While other putative faiths (Islam, Hinduism, etc.) can be seen to fit here, we might wonder how atheism fits in. I include it in faiths because it takes a position on faiths, and on the Christian faith in particular. The aim here is to respond to common objections to Christianity adherents of these various faith positions (or, positions on faith) have offered. it is fitting in light of the above remarks in response to intra-faith suspicions of apologetics, it may be helpful to cite another Reformed theologian’s comments regarding this who-iteration: “Apologetics does not endeavor to destroy the adversary’s disposition to attack merely in order to comfort the believer; but, by the intellectual defense of religious truth which it presents, it seeks to become an instrument in God’s hands, a means of grace, that shall produce in the opponent himself a deep and favorable impression of the truth of religious doctrine” (Auguste Lecerf, cited in Sudduth, Reformed Objection, p. 142).
I admit the “destroy” language is combative and perhaps over-reaching in what apologetic arguments, especially the ones that will appear on this blog, actually achieve, but the quote was fitting enough. The intent is to respond to unbelievers because we care for them. This idea shouldn’t be otiose. As atheist Penn Gillette once quipped, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” While I would take issue with some of Penn’s set-up here, the point is that he recognizes the propriety of Christian apologetics.
I didn’t spend too much time addressing non-believers here because (a) below I will hopefully scratch a few more places they itch with respect to what I think I can accomplish here, and the types of arguments I’ll be responding to, but (b) because as stated above, the primary audience is fellow believers.
What, Where, When, Why, and How
What will I be doing? The above is enough to get the big picture of what I will be doing here. Here I’ll fill out the details. This blog will consist of responses to common 100 objections to Christianity. What will be considered a “common” objection is vague. Common to who or what group? I have no definite answer here, but I hope the range will be diverse. However, since the primary intended audience is Christians, and not all Christians are trained academicians (like most people in the world who take a stance on faith positions are not), due attention will be given to that fact and effort will be made to make both the objections and responses accessible to ordinary folk.
The objections dealt with will be a mix between types of objections and popular examples (also called tokens) of the types. If I only stuck with particular examples, I could write on 500 alleged biblical contradictions and still have work left over. Moreover, there would be objections of other sorts. Perhaps alleged contradictions between the Bible and science; or philosophical objections, such as the problem of evil; or existential/psychological objections, such as from Nietzsche. So I’ll try to get a good cross-section of types of objections, but since there exist popular and long-standing tokens of these types, some of these will be selected too.
Notice also that I specifically did not say that I would be answering all 100 objections. My plan is that, on occasion, I will have a guest poster respond to a particular criticism. I will do this not only to offer a break in the monotony, but also if I feel someone’s expertise in an area would be particularly illuminating. I will, however, write the bulk of the blog entries. For more elaboration on the ‘what’ see the ‘how’ below.
Where will I do this? This one is easy: Here, at Defeating 100 Reasons. But, please feel free to link to the particular posts or this blog.
When will all this be done? I don’t know. Here’s the plan, though. After the 100th defeater is posted, I’ll walk away but keep the blog public. This isn’t to say that there will be 100 posts, though. I may, but probably will not, occasionally post links to relevant books or articles, or make some other aside. These will be few and far between if they occur at all. I will probably just have a page at the top labeled ‘Books and Papers,’ or something to that effect, that I will periodically update it with relevant material. Anyway, this all may be accomplished within a year, or within three. I don’t know. I have no set lag-time in-between posts. You can choose to “follow” this blog and receive updates when new posts are made.
Why? I guess I’d say this is adequately captured in the above who section.
How will I do the “defeating” and how will I “succeed?”
I will not fool myself; nothing said here will be “the last word.” I realize that not only will some (be they Christian believer or non-believer) not be persuaded by the rejoinders offered here, but there can also be an infinite series of rejoinder-surrejoinder relations. Moreover, there’s a tradeoff between detailed and rigorous responses and accessibility. Not only will readership become limited due to content, the sheer amount of words that would go into a comprehensive reply will limit readers. I intend almost all of the posts here to be succinct, which is the only way to keep and maintain a large readership. No doubt, one could post daily tomes and get a lot of traffic, but the readership will be low. However, I also do not intend for the posts to be merely beginner material of such a vague and unsophisticated nature as to aim only at conversation starting. So a difficult balance will be sought here, and I assume that, like with wine, the blog will become better at succeeding at this goal with age.
By ‘defeating’ I mean a technical term in philosophy, specifically, epistemology. Philosopher Michael Sudduth introduces the notion of defeat thusly:
As a first approximation, defeasibility refers to a belief’s liability to lose some positive epistemic status, or to having this status downgraded in some particular way. For example, a person may be epistemically justified in believing some proposition p at one time, but then the belief might become less justified or even unjustified at some later time. Moreover, beliefs may also be prevented from having or acquiring some positive epistemic status in the first place. So more generally, defeasibility refers to a kind of epistemic liability or vulnerability, the potential of loss, reduction, or prevention of some positive epistemic status. A defeater is, broadly speaking, a condition that actualizes this potential.
At the end of the day, I hope to offer thoughtful but accessible posts responding to objections to Christianity. But even the responses will be selective. There are many ways to skin a cat, and to cover all the ways would be counterproductive to the above ends. Sometimes, I’ll only offer my preferred way of handling a problem; other times, I might offer a few ways. No doubt, there will be some who prefer another way of putting the point. I cannot make everyone happy in this regard. Moreover, just as there are different particular answers to problems, there are different approaches to the problems. I will not have a particular “method” that I employ here. Thus, some who want to bring everything under the sun immediately to the level of presuppositions will probably be disappointed. At the same time, I may judge addressing the presuppositions of a challenge to be the best angle over against offering some bit of evidence; this may upset hardcore evidentialists who take a “Just the facts ma’am” approach in every case. I understand that people have favored methods and facts they want to see involved in the discussion. To accommodate this, the comments section will be left open for (not 100% sure on this yet) 10 days. I will do my best to stay out of the comments section, making at most one or two comments, since getting bogged down in combox wars will detract from my main goal. However, feel free to engage in lively debate there. The caveat is that rude, off-topic, and trollish comments will be deleted (or, if I have moderation set up, they will not see the light of day).
Having said that, I’ll take a successful run as helping to strengthen the faith of believers and at least getting non-believers to see that there’s a little more toughness to the Christian faith than is sometimes popularly said of it. Of course, staying faithful to my Christian convictions and also God-honoring is the main goal. In doing this I stand in the long tradition of fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).