Thinking Out Loud

June 12, 2009

Apologetics in a Box

Filed under: Christian, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:31 pm

apologeticsSo there I was, a young, zealous Christian guy in my 20s, flying back from two weeks immersion in Christian community in southern California.    He was a French scientist, en route from Los Angeles to Toronto.

I shared a little bit of what had driven me to spend two weeks in Orange County, and then decided to probe him about his faith.   Eventually the conversation rolled around to evolution, which he said he believed in.

So of course, I started to unpack my reasons why evolution can’t possibly be true, and number two on my list was the Law of Entropy, which states that things tend to break down in complexity not increase in complexity. Devolution, not evolution.

That’s when he interrupted me and said there was a flaw in my logic.   I was taking the Second Law of Thermodynamics and applying it to a life science.   “You can’t do that;” he said.

Oh.   How come nobody mentioned this issue before?

I mention this story because I know a young guy who is, figuratively speaking, on his own flight from L.A.    He’s encountering people and ideas online that are, in one sense, like a breath of fresh air, but his box of apologetics is too neat, too ordered, too unchallenged to accommodate these recent objections.

So the atheists, agnostics, and followers of New Thought, while they have not won the war, are certainly winning the battle.

It’s a confusing time.

I’ve decided I can’t win those arguments.   I know people who can hold their own in discussions of science and faith, but I have to content myself that knowing the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is sufficient.   I can trust that he’s got it all worked out.    What I can do is communicate the reality of the faith I experience.  And once in awhile, I can articulate the way out of an argument trap, simply because I know God’s got it all sorted.

I wonder what might have happened if I’d asked the scientist, “Where do you think ‘love’ came from?”  “What is your view on why we are here?”  “Do you believe that humans are endowed with a soul?”  “What do you think of Jesus?”

Instead, I, an arts major, tried to debate thermodynamics with a French scientist.    It’s laughable, really.

Anyway, pray for my young friend.   I don’t know him well, but I know his family and I know they’re trusting God that the present season of doubt and uncertainty will not last long.

And pray that he encounters someone whose faith is robust enough to withstand the challenges to faith that happen to us all.    Maybe I’m that person.  Maybe you’re that person.

The comic is from Back on Earth, which began online in January, has posted 40 episodes so far, and is, well, certainly one my more interesting online finds!

Related reading:  The Changing Face of Apologetics — An interview with Lee Strobel at Christianity Today Online.


  1. “I wonder what might have happened if I’d asked the scientist, “Where do you think ‘love’ came from?” “What is your view on why we are here?” “Do you believe that humans are endowed with a soul?” “What do you think of Jesus?””

    Well, if you want, you can ask this scientist.

    Love is an evolved emotion. Our species (amidst many others) evolved this behavior because nurturing young and male-female pair bonding improved the reproductive and progeny survival odds. Those individuals that such emotions and acted on them better than others had a better chance of passing on those genes which generate those neural pathways. We are not at all the only species to display such behavior.

    Why are we here? I don’t think the question makes any sense. It’s a natural response to existence, but like many other such knee-jerk reactions they don’t make any sense. People are so concerned with the why of existence that they never seem to bother to have answered the question of whether there even is a reason. So far, I have yet to meet a persuasive argument that there should at all be such a reason.

    A soul? Sorry. Nope. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of a soul. The mind is purely a product of the physical brain. The strange case of Phineas Gage in the 19th century pretty much killed the whole concept.

    Jesus? It is far from certain that such a person existed historically. I suppose somebody had to write the Q document. But it is quite clear that the biblical Jesus is out. He never existed. None of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses to events, or even knew anyone who could have been. The gospels were written minimum 40 years after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion (John may be 2nd century CE!) based on oral tradition. When minutes playing the telephone game garble stories, what do you think decades would do? Not to mention that the gospels themselves were never meant to be taken as historical, but represented each author’s own theology. The authors of Luke and Matthew wrote their gospels with the express desire to wipe Mark off the face of the Earth. I’m sure they would find it totally ironic (and hugely annoying) that they are contained in the same tome. And we haven’t even covered the problems caused by the gospels not contained in the bible.

    There are good things in the bible, and there are bad things. But belief in a god, or divinity of Jesus, is completely unnecessary with regards to living a full and decent life.

    If you want to know what caused the current outburst from the so-called New Atheists (is there a new way to not believe now?) it’s quite simple. We’re tired of the religious interfering with our lives. Religion has absolutely NO place in politics. Atheism is the only group which effectively bars members from running for public office (if they are open about it). Is that right? Is that Christian? It’s certainly not a secular humanist value, which is what I am. I will defend the right of anyone to believe what they want, even those who think I should not exist.

    We that do not believe simply want to be left alone. We do not need to be preached to in hopes we will be converted. We’ve heard it all. We do not live under rocks. I was one of those that once thought live-and-let-live. Look where that got us. Religious principles have crept into what should be maintained as purely secular. No group should have special status, no matter how numerous.

    When religious zealots try to place a monument to the Ten Commandments in public courthouses (western law is based in Roman and Greek traditions, not Christian), prohibit stem cell research purely on religious arguments that many do not share, promote abstinence-only sex education which not only never accomplish the goal of reducing teen pregnancies and STD transmission but increase incidence four fold, the rest of us can no longer accept such willful harm being done to society in the name of their religion.

    That’s why we nonbelievers who were once silent speak up. We’re tired of the religious being given a free pass. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. No more. And the religious moderates never raised a voice (well, almost – the head of Americans for the Separation of Church and State is an ordained minister, but he’s the only one I can think of offhand), so they also get a failing grade. As such, I do not trust religious people to look out for my interests, and I mean that in all sincerity. My trust has been sadly abused.

    BTW, the reason the second law argument doesn’t work, is that it is only applicable to closed systems, and the Earth is an open system (it receives vastly more energy from the sun than is needed to offset any entropy generated).

    Comment by Shamelessly Atheist — June 12, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    • Thanks for taking the time to write.

      I knew when I tagged this story it would attract comments from across the spectrum, and I’m sure there will be more. My basic point with the questions was that it would have been far more practical to discuss the core matters of faith, rather than try to use a third-party subject, like the evolutionary one, to score points. I’m simply confessing that I no longer believe in that particular approach. Better to get to know people and enjoy the banter of fleshing out various subjects than to try to “win.”

      Your view of love is fine with me. But just so you know, within the Christian community, there is increased discussion about the connection between ‘love’ and ‘trinity.’ While I know your beliefs differ, just FYI, the idea is that relationship, and therefore loving relationship, already existed between the Father, Son and Spirit. Thus the idea of God loving his creation, or that the creatures love each other, was born out of the overflow of an internal love that already existed within this triune entity. But again, your mileage may vary! I just wanted you to know that the idea of what love is and where it comes from is part of an ongoing conversation among believers. The Bible doesn’t nail it in a few short verses; it leaves us to work some things out.

      I do want to mention two other things. First, there are more writings in antiquity (both full texts and fragments) supporting the life and death of Jesus BarJoseph (son of Joseph), more commonly called Jesus Christ, than there is supporting the existence of William Shakespeare, and The Bard only lived a few hundred years ago. Even the most radical de-constructionists of Christian history would find your statement about Jesus too extreme. As to those writings, if we put 30 people in a room and ask them to copy the first five chapters of the Gospel of John, we will get 30 different versions. Some will skip a word here and there. Others will mis-spell that word they always have trouble with. Others will write words that are indecipherable. Others will see a phrase, copy it and then look up and, upon seeing the same phrase, will begin writing again several lines below. Others will bring ‘baggage’ into the copying from other parallel accounts of the same story. Generally speaking, it will be a mess. However, put all 30 versions together and the chances of them all making the same mistakes are very slim. Put all 30 versions together and you’ll know exactly what the original stated, word for word. So yes, there are over a hundred thousand textual variants. But when considering the possibilities, there are thereby at least 12 million examples of textual confirmation.

      The other thing was, I’m not so sure about The Ten Commandments in courthouses, either. I live in Canada where spiritual belief and civics exist in two very detached, different worlds. I do know that the United States was founded by people who were fleeing the very integration of church and state that is at issue, and seeking to establish greater religious freedom. The human tendency to “invent” religion — and I don’t consider pure Christianity to be a religion in the pejorative sense — means that in some ways, they ended up re-creating the situation they so opposed. So I’d guess the people who posted those commandments — each one also reflected in all of the other major world religions — were simply remembering their history and their core values. But in the U.S., Christianity and Americanism are intertwined to the point of confusion, and frankly, it dilutes the Christianity and the Americanism, but few Evangelicals would agree with me on that.

      Personally, I think the scientific benefits of stem cell research are fascinating, though I’d want the scientific community to be 100% sure of what they’re doing before they offer false hope to, for example, spinal cord injury patients. What got the Christian community so riled up about this was where the stem cells were being harvested from. The idea of getting the cells from aborted fetuses was simply too much of a “hot button” issue for some Christians to ignore. But don’t paint us all with the same brush. I own a Christian bookstore, and out of tens of thousands of titles, we don’t have one single book that deals with abortion, homophobia or political action. That’s just a stereotype. (Though I’ll grant you that the political action titles are absent because Canada is more pluralistic.)

      I’m sorry that you feel that, “My trust has been sadly abused.” But I won’t disagree with you on that. We’ve all been hurt both by The Church (capital C) and local churches (small c). But some of us remain captivated by the life and teachings of Jesus to the point where we simply can’t throw out the baby — specific reference to Christmas not intended — with the bathwater.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 12, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  2. I must answer with a scripture….which my bedrock

    “For God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance”
    1 Corinthians 1:21 (The Living BIble)

    The problem with debating with a non-beleiver is that we do not stand on the same ground. They argue ideas while within me lives the very Christ they say does not exist. Though I may not be able to match wits, I cannot deny what I know in the bones of me.

    Comment by Cynthia — June 12, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

    • Cynthia,

      I know what you’re saying. Even the deepest, most difficult area of potential conflict in Christian belief is resolvable if you are approaching it with the underlying hypothesis that it is, indeed resolvable. It’s what we sometimes call “seeing through the eyes of faith.” However, that would be an illogical argument construct if we didn’t admit that sometimes it can take days or months or weeks to work those things through. In fact, ‘logic’ can’t map on to the discussion 100% when dealing with matters of faith, because we ‘see as someone who is looking through frosted glass.’

      However, I do take issue with the characterization of “us” and “them,” and in particular the use of “they.” I’m sorry, but for me, “they is us.” True, we’ve crossed the line of faith, but we are also the community of the broken. We are people who do not have it all together, but are on a journey, working out our salvation, so to speak. So using “they” scares me.

      The Christian scriptures teach me that at an appointed time in the future, everyone will be forced to admit that Jesus Christ was/is who he said he was/is. So there are people who have confessed this, people who are on the way to confessing this, and people who will confess this at a time that will be too late. As people get older and face the loss of friends, the advancement of decay in their physical bodies, or simply ponder the metaphysical with the perspective of age; I believe they are moving closer to The Cross. The Cross is really the centerpiece around which all history revolves. (Confessed by believer and non-believer alike, every time we write the date.) I believe in the old expression that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” There’s no status there, no points awarded, no bonus for perfect attendance. So when I’m in discussion with those who have not yet crossed the line of faith, I really try to avoid thinking of them as a “they.” They is us.

      Some of us have embraced the truth of Jesus, and others flee from it. Let’s face it, if we can discount the idea of Noah and his family as the remnant of humanity floating in a boat full of animals, or if we can dismiss the idea of Jonah being in the body of a great fish, then hey, we don’t have to believe the rest of it either. We’re either on board, or we’re looking for an out. Intellectualism, science and revisionist history provide that out. Not having to buy in means I can party. There’s no consequences to be had further down the road. Hence, “the preaching of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 12, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

      • “However, I do take issue with the characterization of “us” and “them,” and in particular the use of “they.” ”

        This is very humanist thinking. I appreciate that.

        Comment by Shamelessly Atheist — June 12, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

  3. I understand. I guess I am not sure what to use instead of “us ” and “they” .

    The scriptures use language that defines the “we that believe” from those who not yet are able.

    For me it is not an elevated thing to be a believer.It is an enlightened thing. There is a difference…and I meant no offence.

    Comment by Cynthia — June 12, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

    • …and maybe I made too big a deal of it. That’s the neat thing about this medium, you get to kick around ideas as if you’re conversing in person.

      I guess as time goes by, I see myself more and more in people who aren’t yet “us.”

      Have a great weekend.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 12, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  4. you made me dislike the word “Us” …it doesn’t look right…hmmm

    Comment by Cynthia — June 12, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  5. I know exactly what you’re talking about… I know just enough science to get myself in trouble in a real apologetics discussion, so I let people like my roommate (who has both seminary and secular education with a science major) handle those type of discussions and concentrate on being as much like Jesus as I can. Unless I’m living a life that draws people in, knowing the best arguments won’t accomplish anything anyway.

    I’ve found you can’t win those type of arguments anyway, people will always take stock in studies/publications that favor their point of view and dismiss what doesn’t take their side… it’s human nature.

    Thanks for the interesting read! oh and thanks for posting a link to my website. =)

    Comment by jayswash — June 13, 2009 @ 8:40 am

  6. […] Related post on this blog:  Evangelism in a Box (June 12/09) […]

    Pingback by Forced Evangelism: Enough Already! « Thinking Out Loud — July 6, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

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