Tuesday, August 19, 2008

being convincing

Recently I've heard (or heard about) a few talks given by Christians trying to address questions or problems of non-believers. I want to say right from the start that I respect their effort very much indeed and I know those kind of talks can do a lot of good. They inevitably come up against a lot of criticism, some of which is very uninformed, and I think they are very brave, especially those who make an effort in an environment like my university, which seems to be just getting more and more anti-Christian.

I would like to respectfully suggest, however, a few things (for any of these speakers who may happen to read this blog which is unlikely):

For someone like myself, who has been trained to some extent in academic ways of thinking, I don't find these talks very helpful. Although I'm already on your side and agree in the end with the basis of what you're trying to say, it always seems to me like you're repeating arguments that have been used again and again ... and again. I'm not sure how many times now I've heard the analogy of the tornado causing a Boeing 747 to come together to discredit the "chance" theory of evolution, but it's a lot; likewise, asking me if I knew that only a few metres difference to the circumference of the Earth would make the planet unhabitable (or something like that) has been asked so very often that it loses its power as an example. It comes across quite clearly that these talks are standardized, and that Christians are encouraged to take these examples and repeat them - which seems a bit like spoonfeeding to me. Also, someone like myself doesn't just hear an argument like that and accept it as fact. I want to know where the footnotes are.

I really think the only way to approach debates like these is to focus on specific arguments. A recent series of talks at my university has been, ostensibly, on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. However, according to at least one non-Christian observer, they really weren't so much about Dawkins' argument, focusing instead on the sort of argument given above. In my opinion, especially in a talk given to a university audience, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking Dawkins' thesis and refuting it, point by point. This may be more "intellectual" or "highbrow" but Dawkins did not write to a lowbrow audience, and his argument must be responded to from the same footing as he is on. Dumbing it down is not going to help our case.

It is also a very smart move to anticipate the objections of people to your talk. For example, in this particular series, apparently the speaker said that it's illogical to presume that life can come from no life. Yes. It is. However, the immediate reaction of the non-Christian observers in our university's magazine was to say, well, then: where did God come from? As far as they said, anyway, the speaker offered no explanation for this question which naturally follows his assertion.

Also, I'm not convinced that following the Creator argument is the best way to go. I think any defence of Christianity must begin with a defence of the Bible. Everything else is just unproven assertions, unless you can convincingly defend the Bible's historical accuracy and internal consistency (which I think can be done plausibly and compellingly). This is what seems to bother thinking non-Christians the most about Christianity, at least in my world. Yes, the world is an amazing place, yes, Jesus is an attractive figure who cannot be delegated away as just a prophet or a nice man - but can we believe what he has to say? This is crucial, and ignoring the historical evidence for Christianity just leaves you open to criticism. I really don't think non-Christians have a very good case at all for attacking the Bible's accuracy and consistency, but if we don't prove this, they will raise objections which sound plausible to those who know nothing about how the Bible was written.

Even if you disagree, and think that the Creator argument is the most important here, I really think we Christians need to be creative in our arguments. We need to show thinking people that we haven't simply swallowed what our preacher, or authors such as C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Tim Keller or Lee Strobel, have to say. (Although I find their books very helpful, simply quoting them is not enough.) We need to show that we can think for ourselves, and still find the gospel convincing.

Just a few ideas.


Trish Ryan said...

I just spent three days at a conference with similar themes, where two of the keynote speakers made the point, "We need to say things that make sense to people..." KInd of embarrassing that we'd need to be told this, but yet...

The take home point was that if we read the Gospels, Jesus is only good news. Somehow we've squeezed this out with all our standardized rules and litmus tests, but the truth remains. Whoever you are, wherever you are, Jesus is good news for you...the living God who cares about your life and wants to bless and surprise you.

That's what I'll say if I meet Richard Dawkins :)

Bonsai said...

i'm actually slightly sceptical of the creation vs evolution argument - and i think that people who get caught up in it kinda miss the point. God is real and He loves us. does it matter whether or not He used evolution?

cough.. the boeing 747 argument doesn't even have any scientific grounds, any good evolutionist will immediately come back with well, a Boeing 747 can't evolve, because natural selection can't act on it. evolution happens with living things.
mind you, i don't think they've quite managed to create living cells outa dead matter... yet.
still, i don't like it when people try and argue against evolution when they clearly know nothing about it. go do a Masters on evolution and then i'll listen to you rip it apart.

interesting question, 'where did God come from'. it implies He had to come from somewhere, where i've always been told that He's eternal, and how can something eternal have a beginning? meh, in some ways (okay quite a lot of ways) He defies comprehension.

haven't read The God Delusion, but went to a seminar about it at church one time. that one was taking it point-by-point. it was still rather obviously biased and tore Dawkins down as much as his theories, which i didn't like. you can argue a theory without getting personal i'm sure. but at least there was actually some thought in the argument instead of regurgitating stuff.

very true, the Bible's kinda central to Christianity.

in short, i agree, Christians should use their thinking muscles. we were given brains for a reason.