Written by Jason Petersen[divider]
A common question that is asked by presuppositionalists is, “Is there any reason at all to discuss or use Classical Apologetics?” This article will be aimed at discussing the possible scenarios where the use of Classical Apologetics may be appropriate. This article will also discuss the limitations of Classical Apologetics.
Are You Epistemologically Self Conscious?
When it is said that you are epistemologically self conscious, it means that you are very conscious of what you can know and what you can’t know. For instance, when someone goes outside to get in their car and go to work, does that person know that the car will start? The car started every time the person has turned the key for the past 4 years, but does the person know that the car will start that day? The answer is no, for things that work can break. The average person would never question that their car will start that morning, but a person that is epistemologically self conscious will understand that they don’t know if the car will start.
Knowledge vs Opinion
To say a person has knowledge means that a person has proper justification for accepting a true proposition. If the proposition a person is advancing is self-consistent and is held on proper authority and warrant, then the person has knowledge of that proposition. However, if a proposition is not self-consistent, held on sufficient and coherent authority, or cannot be deduced from a sufficient authority, then the person does not have knowledge of that proposition. If a person holds to a proposition, but cannot defend the proposition as having the preconditions for it to be called knowledge, then the proposition that is held by the person is an opinion.
What is Evidence?
In this article, evidence is defined a fact/proposition or body of facts/propositions that appears to make a proposition more probable. In the context of Christianity, a fact such as, “There is evil in the world,” makes the truth of Christianity more probable, for The Bible says that there is evil in the world.
The Limitations of Evidence
In this day and age, it is often said that “evidence is king.” This is, and always will be, an ignorant statement. Evidence can support two mutually exclusive propositions. For instance, the example that was given concerning evil existing in the world is also evidence that the Islamic Holy Book, The Qur’an, is true because the Qur’an says that there is evil in the world.(For a critique on why Islam cannot account for knowledge, see this article.)
We can now see that evidence is not black and white, but there is yet another problem with holding evidence as an ultimate arbiter of the truth or falsity of propositions. Evidence is viewed through a framework that determines the conclusions that are either induced or deduced from the evidence that is being considered. This framework is known as a world view. Atheists typically disparage this distinction, but this fact is inescapable. Any atheist that goes into a debate with a Christian is going to be arguing from the presumption of atheism and the metaphysics that comes along with it. The atheist, who denies God’s existence, is going to come into the debate with the presumption that any evidence or argument put forth in favor of Christianity will fall short of justifying belief in Christianity. So long as the atheist holds that position, the atheist will not accept the truth of Christianity. Scripture also recognizes how someone’s prior assumptions will affect their acceptance of a proposition.(1 Cor. 1:18)
There is yet another limitation that needs to be considered. Evidence for a proposition is not demonstration. There have been many ideas, theories, models, etc. that have had evidence to support them, but turned out to be false. This happens in the court of law and even within science. There have been cases where someone was sentenced, but the sentence was overturned in light of new evidence. If the new evidence vindicated the suspect, is it possible that new evidence would surface that would bring to light that the suspect was responsible for the crime all along? Who really knows? We can opine that the suspect is vindicated, but we can’t know what the future holds; therefore, the truth concerning who committed the crime is not known. What about science? There have been a myriad of models in science with evidence so strong that scientists were convinced of their validity, but the models were later falsified. For instance, Newtonian Physics was held to for hundreds of years. In fact, atheists would brag to Christians, “Point to a star and I will tell you where it will be in 30 years, no God needed.” Such an assertion came from the philosophy of mechanicalism; however, that philosophy was later found to be false. (For more information on the limitations of science and a Christian justification for using science and induction, see this article.)
Justification based on Probability is Opinion
Induction is the process of reasoning from specific propositions to more generalized propositions. Inductive arguments allow for the conclusion to be false even if the premises lead up to the conclusion are true. For example:
1. All of the ducks we have seen are yellow.
2. Therefore, all ducks are yellow.
I have no doubt that all readers are aware that not all ducks are yellow. While it is true that the observer only saw yellow ducks, the conclusion is still false. Typically, inductive arguments are referred to as “strong” or “weak” inductive arguments. The same can be said for the process of induction itself. The strength of the inductive inference is measured by how probable the inference is. Thus, induction is probabilistic in nature, not absolute. From this fact, it is also can be, by good consequence, deduced that induction is an approximation of truth.
Induction is approximation and probability. At best, induction leads to conclusions that are probably true, probably false, or approximately true or approximately false. Because induction doesn’t make any claims concerning knowledge or truth, it must be considered opinion. Induction doesn’t lead to knowledge, rather, it only makes claims about the probability of an event occurring or a proposition being true, but that doesn’t lead to knowledge of whether the event will actually occur or if the proposition in question is actually true. Thus, if the proposition is not known to be true, but someone holds a belief, be it a belief in the proposition or a rejection of it, it can only have the status of an opinion. While we do not know whether or not the proposition is true, we still have an opinion about whether or not it is true. However, opinion is not knowledge, for opinion is not held on sufficient authority nor can an opinion survive a critique from logic, whereas knowledge can survive an internal critique from logic.
Worldviews, The Epistemological Spectrum, and The Use of Evidence
The reader should now be aware that evidence is not an infallible way to determine truth, and we should now be aware that evidence works in a probabilistic manner. We have also shown that evidence is interpreted through a framework called a worldview.
A worldview is a philosophy that effects how a person thinks, knows, and does. Thus, a worldview will affect how facts and evidences are interpreted. When the issue of worldviews is brought up to an atheist, the atheist will sometimes say that atheism isn’t a worldview. (See this article for how to counter the claim that atheism isn’t a worldview.)
Earlier, a clear distinction was made between knowledge and opinion. We will call this the epistemological spectrum. There are further distinctions that should be made in the philosophical system. A full explanation of the distinctions will not be given here, but a full explanation is not necessary to understand the point. Nevertheless, a brief explanation will be given. Axioms and theorems should be able to survive logical critiques, and thus, fall into the spectrum of knowledge. All other held beliefs would fall into the spectrum for opinion, for those beliefs cannot justifiably be called knowledge.
People have opinions, and some strongly hold to those opinions. It is not uncommon for individuals to argue over contrary opinions. For instance, people argue about propositions that are induced from the scientific method. As we covered in other articles, any “confirmed” hypothesis in science is reached fallaciously, and can, therefore, only have the status of opinion.
Evidence is cumulative and is meant to show that one proposition is more probable than the opposing proposition. Of course, a high probability of a proposition being true does not lead to knowledge that the proposition is true. Thus, any proposition that is held due to what appears to be a high probability of it being true is not knowledge; it is opinion. It is also important to note that if conclusions derived from evidence is opinion, and evidence is viewed through the framework of a worldview, then so too are opinions viewed through the framework of a worldview.
Since we have established that belief in propositions based on evidence is opinion, how then can evidence be used? Evidence can be appropriate to use, as long as we are conscious of what part of the epistemological spectrum is relevant to the conversation. If we are speaking of opinions, evidence can be used for Christianity or any other proposition that is to be argued for.
However, if we are speaking of knowledge, evidences should not be used, for the use of evidence presupposes that we have a justifiable foundation in which we can call something evidence for our position. Instead, we should examine the framework in which the evidences are being interpreted(First principles, Axioms, presuppositions, and theorems. All of these should be able to survive a critique of logic, and therefore, can be shown as rational to hold and also be held on sufficient authority.), and test those frameworks for logical consistency. If the framework in which the evidence is interpreted falls, then any cumulative case for a position becomes meaningless.
The Use Classical Apologetics
Classical apologetics falls into the realm of opinion because the methods that are used to support the deductive arguments for Christianity/theism rely heavily on philosophies that are not able to justify knowledge. Thus, classical apologetics should not be used when the context of the conversation concerns knowledge; however, classical apologetics can be used when the scope of the conversation concerns opinion. This is, of course, one scenario, but perhaps there are other scenarios that are appropriate for classical apologetics. A situtaion where opinions can be discussed with an atheist is when the atheist recognizes that many of the claims that he is making is opinion rather than knoweldge.
When an atheist asks a Christian to prove God or prove Christianity, the request the atheist is making is subjective and based on opinion. Thus, perhaps in certain situations, the use of evidence, be it of a young earth, philosophical arguments, or historical evidence for the truth of Christianity, is permissible if the atheist recognizes that what he is asking for is based on a subjective standard. When an atheist says they object to Christianity and they make a claim that is identified by the apologist to be in the realm of opinion, there are two viable options that can be taken:
1.) The apologist can skip over the evidence and critique the framework and show that it is logically incoherent, thus, the framework in which the opinion is held.
2.) The Christian can, in an ad hominem fashion, adopt the standard of the atheist for the sake of argument and show that their own standard leaves their position untenable. For instance, if an atheist keeps claiming that The Bible has been edited and changed overtime, and therefore, we do not have the original, the Christian can question them on which manuscripts they are referring to. Since the manuscripts show no sign of change over time, the atheist will be found to be ignorant on the subject matter. Or perhaps the atheist is claiming that there is no evidence for God. The Christian can respond by presenting a philosophical argument for the existence of God. After all, evidence is not demonstration, and any proposition that is shown to be probable would make the existence of God more probable. If the existence of God is shown to be more probable given the hypothetical, but seemingly more probable than fifty percent, proposition, then there is evidence for God. Thus, the atheist’s claim, “there is no evidence for God” is invalidated.
An Examination of Classical Apologetics
It was stated earlier that classical apologetics falls into the realm of opinion, but this claim needs further support, thus, further support shall be given in this section. All classical arguments cannot be covered, but we shall briefly look at the Kalam Cosmological Argument as an example:
P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Two major points are made to support the beginning of the universe:
1. Empirical evidence derived from science that gives support to the premises of this argument.
2. The supposed metaphysical impossibility of a past-eternal universe.
The first point relies on science, but we already have established that science can only be said to be opinion, and that science cannot lead to knowledge or truth. The second point, the metaphysical impossibility of a past-eternal universe, is arrived at via experience. Experience, however, cannot lead to knowledge of the future, nor can it lead to a universal claim of truth. Experience can, at best if granted as sufficient for knowledge, can only lead to knowledge of a current experience, but a current experience says nothing of an occurrence that has not been experienced. This applies even when the future experience is identical to a past experience. An experience-based epistemology relies on induction, and we have already discussed why induction cannot lead to knowledge, and if induction cannot lead to knowledge, then experience cannot justify knowledge of a universal conclusion. A conclusion can be no more certain than the body of facts that lead to the conclusion, and if the support for the premises ultimately cannot lead to knowledge, then the conclusion that is deduced from the body of facts cannot lead to knowledge. Thus, the Kalam Cosmological Argument can only be sensibly discussed when the context of the conversation is held within the realm of opinion.
There are other situations as well where classical apologetics might be discussed. It is probably no surprise to anyone that observes that Christians enjoy talking about evidence for Christianity. In this context, classical apologetics may be discussed.
Opinions and the Inference to the Best Explanation
Resolving issues of opinions is a different matter than resolving claims of truth. With opinions, the most reasonable way to argue for them is to argue that the opinion that is held is reasonable to hold because it best offers the best explanation concerning the subject matter. For instance, concerning the “minimal facts approach” for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, some historical facts are offered, here are four of them:
1. Jesus tomb was empty.
2. Saul converted to Christianity after seeing what he thought was Jesus Christ.
3. There were eye-witness accounts of Jesus Christ being alive after his death.
4. Jesus died by crucifixion.
Apologists will contest that these facts show that the best explanation for the body of facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. There are objections, but all objections have been sufficiently addressed. The objections will not be mentioned or covered here, as this article is aimed at making a larger point.
When opinion is being argued, it is appropriate to argue that the opinion held is the most probable, or has the best explanatory power. Of course, this does not lead to knowledge concerning the subject matter, but if the epistemological spectrum that is being discussed falls into opinion, then discussions such as the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection may be, at times, appropriate. However, the apologist must keep in mind the epistemological limitations of this approach. Also, the apologist must keep in mind that opinions cannot demonstrate that Christianity is true.
The appropriate time to use classical apologetics and evidence is when the discussion is within the context colloquial knowledge(opinion); however, when the discussion is talking about what we truly know and don’t know, the framework of each worldview must be tested for consistency using logic. It is generally recommended by the author that the Christian stay away from speaking of opinions, for opinions are not as meaningful as what we truly know and don’t know.
One final thought that was not previously mentioned is also appropriate. There are Christians that are not well-versed on epistemology. For those Christians that are not as epistemologically self conscious as Christians that place heavy emphasis on epistemology, at times, it may be best for them to argue within the realm of opinion if they are knowledgeable about Classical Apologetics. Indeed, the apostle Paul has appealed to general/natural revelation (Acts 17:22-24). It is no less likely that God will cause someone to believe through arguments from opinion than arguments that deal with knowledge. All Christians must remember that the potential for someone to convert to Christianity is not predicated upon the way we do apologetics, nor how well we do at presenting the Gospel. It is God that causes belief, not the eloquence of the believer.
That said, all apologists have options, but the author maintains that appealing to the logical inconsistencies in non-Christian worldviews and the consistency of the Christian worldview is the superior approach; however, that does not render evidence and classical apologetics useless.[divider]
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