The new atheism has been in the picture for about 15 years now. It came on the scene thanks to books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, among others. There truly is nothing new in the atheistic belief system itself or the arguments they are presenting, since most of them are naturalists, what seems to be new, is that these preachers of atheism have become much more dogmatic in their stance. Many of them are even preaching doom and gloom if we do not eradicate religion and belief in God. Many of them claim that they only want to know the truth instead of buying into myths and fairy tales, and that this is what everyone ought to be doing.
The idea that everyone “ought” to be doing this raises a problem. Putting aside the question for a moment of whether or not there is a God; let us look at this claim of “oughtness” from within their naturalistic worldview. As Ravi Zacharias has so aptly pointed out, “wherever one finds “oughtness,” it is always linked together with a believed purpose in life. Purpose and oughtness are inextricably bound.”
What he is getting at is that the only way we can ever say that something is not as it ought to be is if we know its purpose and proper function. For example, the only way anyone can say that a watch is not working correctly is if they know how it is supposed to work in the first place, or in other words, what it was designed to do. If the watch has no purpose or proper function assigned to it, then there is no way to say that it is functioning incorrectly.
This logical conundrum, however, is precisely the naturalist’s problem. Since naturalism cannot account for mankind’s purpose or proper function, it has no way of saying how it ought to act. Within the naturalistic worldview, mankind was not designed for any specific purpose; we are the product of a “blind watchmaker” which has no purpose in what it is doing. This lack of purpose makes any real statement of what ought to be absolutely groundless.
The new atheist, with their strong focus on reason and being logical, seem to be making a blind leap of faith from a purposeless creation to what they think ought to be. Without design, you can never get from what is, to what ought to be.
If you publicly express your faith in Jesus, you will undoubtedly face challenges to your beliefs. This should not surprise us because Jesus told us this would happen. Thankfully, for those of us in the United States, most of these challenges are only verbal in nature. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world face threats to their property and lives. Wherever we find ourselves, Scripture calls us to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us, and that answer is always, Jesus.
The context in which we must give that answer will vary. For those of us facing intellectual challenges to our faith, we must be ready to expose fallacious arguments as well as give them the gospel. With that in mind, here are 11 common self-refuting arguments. I will break them down into three categories
Truth is relative.
Whenever someone claims that truth is relative, it is important to remember that that would apply to their statement as well. The statement, “truth is relative” would also be relative. This would make their statement about the relativity of truth just as true or false as any of your statements. Thus they lose all authority to speak. Here are a few ways this argument presents itself.
Postmodernism has taken root, not only in secular society, but in more liberal denominations as well. About 10 years ago, it was called the emergent church. Though that name has died, these ideas are still infiltrating many churches. Postmoderns argue that language is an invention of man and therefore cannot communicate truth, but they always try to communicate it using language.
The idea with this argument is that experience is truth, not words. This is a clear attack on the word of God. The funny part is, they often try to use the word of God to defend their point, which, of course, would only work if the word of God can communicate propositional truth.
This idea that truth is relative leads them to believe that there are no metanaratives. There is no one story that controls all other stories. There are no universal beliefs through which all people should be viewed like creation, fall, and redemption. They believe all metanarratives are a masked play for power. This, of course, is the one overarching story they use to control all other stories. It is the lens they universally apply to everyone else.
Their belief in the subjectivity of truth leads them to downplay biblical doctrine. From here, they argue that Christians should not disagree about doctrine. The problem is that this is a doctrinal disagreement they are having with you. Let’s not be naive, doctrinal disagreement can go too far, but to censure all doctrinal discernment leaves the arguer with only one option: to close their mouth and nod in agreement to everything you say.
Finally, you will sometimes see another self-refuting argument in the way they try to justify their belief that truth is relative, but every argument comes back to haunt them. Every time they use the fact that man can err to make everything untrustworthy, they make themselves untrustworthy.
Do Not Tell People How to Live
A second area were people often refute themselves is when they argue that morality is relative, and that we ought not tell people how to live. What they fail to realize is when they say “we ought not tell people how to live” they are telling people how to live.
The “Do not judge” argument is probably the most common version of this argument. Of course, if you misinterpret Jesus’ words to mean you have no right to tell people when they they wrong, you refute yourself because you are telling someone they are wrong.
Everything Must be Proven with Science
There are people who take the benefits of scientific inquiry and try to make it the sole source of truth, but they fail to realize that there is a philosophy of science which must under gird all scientific endeavors. Here is how a few of these arguments present themselves.
When someone says you should only believe in things that can be experienced with the five senses, realize, their theory cannot be experienced or proven with the five senses.
Never forget, science itself depends upon immaterial realities like the laws of logic, mathematics, time, and space.
This one is a little more sophisticated, but it suffers from the same problem. Metaphysics, according to the dictionary, is the study of first principles. These first principles include abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. Often, as a Christian, when you begin delving into these topics, you will hear this argument from naturalists. The problem, for them, is that they make this statement because of there naturalistic metaphysical pre-commitments to these questions.
Finally, let us not forget that the naturalist often considers themselves free thinkers because they do not buy into “superstition,” but their own views of a closed system of cause and effect means that their own thought is the product of a closed system of cause and effect just like everyone else’s. The only conclusion that can be drawn from a closed system of cause and effect is determinism, and determinism leaves no room for freedom.
As Christians, let us be aware of fallacious arguments, but more importantly, let us stay close to our Savior and His word. The goal of apologetics is to help clear the intellectual impediments to the gospel, but if we never give them the gospel, or if we are not living close to our Lord and His word, we might as well not do apologetics at all. Though apologetics is helpful and important, it does not save the soul. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The video below goes back almost 10 years to when I used to spend a lot of time on YouTube. It is still one of the most popular videos on my channel. Though the term “Emergent Church” has been abandoned due to the bad press it received from its logical inconsistencies, the postmodern philosophies it embraced still have a firm hold on many Christians and churches.
These 10 signs still point out the self-refuting nature of the postmodern-zone.
Their website has a statement of what they believe, and one of their statements is that they don’t hold to statements of belief.
They constantly teach against churches and Christians who engage in polemics.
They reject the commercialism of the modern church, by making their church feel more like a coffee shop.
They have a strong desire to be relevant for the sole purpose of being relevant.
The term “living incarnationally” means living less like Jesus and more like the world.
They argue that there are no metanarratives that control all other stories besides their metanarrative that there are no metanarratives.
They encourage using metaphor because propositional teaching does not work, unless, of course, they are propositionally teaching about metaphors.
They argue that the church should be more relational and less theological, and then attempt to give theological arguments why this is the case.
They use language to tell us that language is incapable of communicating truth.
To argue against a propositional understanding of scripture, they quote Jesus’ proposition from scripture where Jesus says, “I am the Truth.”
Through countless discussions surrounding atheism, it has become apparent that someone has been feeding bad advice to atheists. Since the following errors are repeatedly made, this partial list has been populated to warn atheists so they can avoid these pitfalls. If you are an atheist and hear any of the following advice, realize that these arguments are not good arguments.
1. Use a false analogy and believe that because you compare theism to believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster that you have made a good argument.
2. Apply absolute standards of morality that atheism is unable to produce, and argue that Christianity is an immoral religion.
3. When you are having trouble answering an argument posed by a Christian theist, simply throw out a red herring and say, “well even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of the ‘Christian’ God.”
4. Confuse assumptions with arguments and assume that simply because you explain phenomena from a naturalistic perspective that it constitutes an argument which must be true.
5. When arguing against the Christian God, simply say that you only believe in “one less god” than most people, as if that has no other implications, and does not require you to defend an atheistic understanding of cosmology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy of history, philosophy of politics, philosophy of science, and epistemology.
6. Refute yourself by making statements that suggest that metaphysics are a waste of time while presupposing abstract first principles and the true nature of reality.
7. Contradict yourself by arguing that we should only believe things proven by empirical evidence without proving it with empirical evidence.
8. Borrow from the Christian worldview and use logic like it is a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality when atheistic naturalism cannot account for universal, transcendent, unchanging realities.
9. Beg the question and argue that there is no evidence to believe in the existence of God because all the evidence that is produced, fails to pass the standards of evidence which have been constructed from your belief that God does not exist.
10. Contradict yourself and argue that human beings are robots, puppets, and machines programmed by natural selection in a closed system of cause and effect, and then argue for free thought and moral agency.
(The following is a quote from Greg L. Bahnsen’s book Pushing the Antithesis)
A busy academic and social schedule in college can easily pull the Christian away from God’s Word. But remember: you cannot defend God and His Word if you are not sanctified (set apart) for Him by means of contact with His Word. Too many Christian Students drift away from the faith in college because they have not been prepared for the spiritual and apologetic battles they will face. Dr. Gary North once wrote an article advertising a Christian college. The article showed a dejected father who had sent his son off to a secular college. It stated: “I spent $40,000 to send my son to hell.”
Seven Practices Christians Must Do in College.
1. Frequently remind yourself of the nature of spiritual warfare. In order to prepare yourself for your college classes, at the beginning of each semester you should re-read the biblical passages that demonstrate the active antagonism of the unbelieving world against your Christian faith. You must not forget the nature of the unbeliever’s challenge to your holistic (all encompassing) faith.
2. Diligently seek to evaluate everything you are being taught from a principled Christian perspective. After classes each day, jot down comments on the contradictions to the Christian faith which you encountered. Keep them in a notebook. Writing things down is the best secret to a good memory. Reflect on biblical answers to these supposed contradictions.
3. Develop small Bible study and accountability groups with other Christian students on campus. A part of defending the faith involves promoting its defense even among believers. As a Christian in fellowship with other Christians, you should urge fellow believers to realize their spiritual obligation to defend the faith before and unbelieving world.
4. Seek out any Christian campus ministries that are strongly committed to the Bible and are developing the Christian life. Attend their meetings and involve yourself in their ministries.
5. Find a good church in the area of your college. Commit yourself to attend church regularly. As Christians, we must not be “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).
6. Where possible use class assignments to present the Christian perspective on issues. We would recommend that you avoid narrow testimonial types of papers. You should rather discretely develop worldview oriented themes that work basic Christian principles into the picture. In-your-face testimonials might be an affront to your professor and may appear to be a challenge to him. But working out your biblical principles might alert him to the philosophical implications of Christianity and will certainly help you flesh out your own understanding. You must be about “making the most of your time” while in college . . . You will certainly not find your professors assigning papers that encourage your Christian faith. But you must seek the opportunities—when they are allowed.
7. As a well-rounded Christian seeking to glorify Christ, you must approach your academic studies in a mature and diligent fashion. Your are both paying hard-earned money for a college education and spending your God-given time in college; make the most of your investment. Do not cut corners in your studies or simply try to “get by.” Christ calls you to excellence. Some students are naturally lazy, others suffer from voluntary inertia. Do not allow your educational experience to inadvertently teach you to be intellectually lazy. Such laziness is disloyalty to Christ.
Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.
Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn.
In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.
It is difficult to think of a verse more misused than this one. The number of times it has been used to censor Godly reproof would be impossible to count. If you are in the habit of reading the Word of God and upholding Godly standards, then you have most likely had this verse thrown your way while commenting on some behavior or trend of which God does not approve.
This verse, to many people, means that no one is ever allowed reprove or correct someone’s behavior or beliefs. If you speak, even in love, against things like sexual deviancy, drunkenness or false religious beliefs, then according to these people, you are a judgmental Pharisee. Of course, this is a judgment they are making about you, which means if their interpretation of this verse is correct, then they are also judgmental in their reproof. After all, if they believe that telling people they are wrong is intolerant, they should stop telling judgmental people it is wrong to judge.
With only a small amount of exegesis, we will see that Christ is not saying that it is always inappropriate to reprove someone with the word of God. In fact, this is something we are commanded to do, and it is something for which the Word of God is intended. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” So what then is Christ telling us? He is telling us of a difference between those who think they are above the law and those who see themselves as under the same standard as the person they are correcting. We are all under the same requirements, and we should not act as if we are exempt from the rules we apply to others. This understanding of judging is seen in the following verses when Christ tells us to remove the plank in our eye before looking at someone else’s speck.
There are a few different ways we can approach someone who is in sin. First, we could act as if all standards of conduct are relative, and not correct anyone except those who try to correct others. This self-refuting judgment, of course, is hypocrisy at its finest. Second, we could act as if the moral law does not apply to us and condemn anyone who violates it, but his type of condemnation is the actual definition of judging. Or finally, we could look at our own shortcomings under the moral law and approach the one who is erring by saying, there is a standard which God wants us to follow because of His love for us, and neither of us is above that standard. Along with both of us being under this standard together, we both fall short so let’s work on our shortcomings together. After all, His standards are an expression of His love.
When we think of a judgmental person, we also tend to think of their attitude as much as we think of their actions. This judgmental attitude is often seen in the first two approaches as well. The first person, the one who thinks that it is always wrong to reprove, usually ends up with a judgmental attitude, because as they criticize, they are acting as if they are allowed to rebuke when the person they are reproving is not. Hence, they are proudly unaware that there is a plank in their eye. The second person also tends to succumb to a judgmental attitude because they too fail to see their own guilt in these matters. Both will have tendencies toward harshness. Only the third person, the one who believes God’s moral standards can be known, that they themselves are not above the struggles with sin, and believes that a reproof is an act of love, will be able to avoid the judging that Christ is speaking of in this passage.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Tim. 2:24 – 26
Everyone has a worldview. Even the person who says worldview studies are a waste of time says it because of their worldview. A worldview is a person’s perspective of the world, but at its core, it is a set of basic presuppositions that a person believes through which they filter all other non-basic beliefs. There are thousands of religions and ‘ism that people hold, and no one can learn all of them, but there are only a handful of worldviews into which they all fit. If you learn the underlying worldviews, you will be better able to understand where a person is coming from, no matter what they call themselves. Some of the basic worldviews are theism, deism, naturalism, existentialism, postmodernism, and Eastern pantheistic monism.
James Sire, in his book, The Universe Next Door does us a huge favor by cataloging these worldviews and providing us with seven questions to get to the heart of any worldview. By asking these seven questions, we can find out not only where someone else stands, but where we stand as well. They can also reveal where a person may be inconsistent in their beliefs. I was once talking with someone who answered one questions by telling me all roads lead to God, and then when asked “what happens when someone dies,” told me that a person either goes to the light or the dark. When I asked if the dark was God too, she then saw the conflict in her two views and said that she needed to think things through a little better. That moment became a perfect opportunity to share the gospel.
Here are the seven questions to get the to the heart of any worldview, followed by a few possible answers.
1. What is prime reality—the really real?
Christians will say it is God. The atheist may answer matter, the universe, or natural laws.
2. What is the nature of the world or universe around us?
Was it created, did it just pop into being, is it ordered, is it chaos, does it even exist or is something we create in our mind?
3. What is a human being?
Is it created in the image of God, a highly complex machine, a cosmic accident, an evolved ape?
4. What happens when a person dies?
Is it heaven with God, or hell, a higher state, reincarnation, or do we cease to exist altogether?
5. Is it possible to know absolute truth?
Is it, yes, we are made in the image of God. Christ, who was fully God, became flesh and knew all truth. Therefore, we can know truth as well. Or is it, no, consciousness is something that evolved based on the survival of the fittest, and we cannot have confidence that what survives can necessarily know truth. It is all just chemicals firing in the brain. What we call knowledge is just a mental phenomenon, and we cannot know whether it corresponds to reality.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
Are we made in the image of God and have his law written on our hearts and told to us in His revealed word? Or is morality something we make up to order society, so there is no ultimate right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history? Or who is in charge of history?
Did God create it for a purpose and has a plan that all things are moving toward? Or is no one in charge? All of it is random chance and ultimately meaningless, and though we may place some meaning on it, even our meaning is relative.
All of these questions reveal a person’s worldview, and you will see that at the center is either the true God or something else. Any worldview not based on the God of scripture cannot ultimately hold together. In Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all things, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Not only is it important to understand where other people stand in order to show them that their foundation is sinking sand, but it is important to make sure Christ is the rock upon which we stand in all matters of truth as well.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. – Colossians 2:8
In a recent post, I introduced Moral Absolutism in relation to God’s moral law and said that I would be posting three posts on how moral absolutists handle ethical dilemmas, here is the first post in the series.
Non-Conflicting Absolutism (NCA)
One way to deal with moral dilemmas is to argue that the so-called dilemmas only appear to be conflicts of moral laws but are not real conflicts, hence the term Non-Conflicting Absolutism. This theory is one of the most popular positions today. It has been held by many great theologians such as John Murray, Walter Kaiser, and John Frame. This view holds that God has given us absolute moral norms that cannot be altered. Any apparent conflict is due to a lack of knowledge rather than a real conflict in the commands.
Whenever there seems to be a conflict, such as in the case of the midwives in Exodus 1, where a person must choose between loving her neighbor and lying, the reason the conflict seems to exist is because of a lack of knowledge in how to handle the situation. Whatever the person must do to love her neighbor, she must do it without lying. A lie is always a lie and can never be justified by a non-conflicting absolutist. In this case, an NCA proponent would say that God honored the midwives in spite of their lying. What He was commending was their faith even though it may have been misdirected. Had they chose not to lie, they would not have been held responsible for the deaths of the children, because they would not have been the ones that would have killed them. That sin would rest upon the Egyptians soldiers.
The proponent of NCA is not ignorant of the effects of the decisions they make. Like the utilitarian, they consider the results of their actions, even if their actions are ethical. In the case of the Nazi’s at the door, it would not be unethical to tell them where the Jews are hiding if there is no other alternative even though they do not want the Jews to be found our hurt. This is because the ethical dilemma is only apparent, not actual.
What about the scenario of a pregnant mother who has a tumor that will kill her if not removed before the child is born, but removing the tumor would kill the child. In this type of situation, they would bring into play what is called the theory of double effect. What do we do in this situation? Whatever we do will have two effects, one positive and the other negative. In a case like this, an NCA proponent would say it is permissible to try to save the mother because the death of the child is not intended. The action that they are taking is ethical. They seek to save the mother, not kill the child, and since there is no real ethical conflict, the death of the child is a negative result of a positive action.
Strengths of This Position
1) It has a strong understanding of absolutes. There is never a time where lying becomes justified. In holding this position, they seem to be serious about the nature of absolutes.
2) They have a high regard for the nature of God. Since all of God’s moral laws stem from His nature, they argue that to believe in a conflict of moral laws is to believe in the possibility of conflict in God’s nature.
3) This view can also be argued quite forcibly from scripture though many Bible scholars would disagree with this view.
1) In the case of the mother and the child, they seem to neglect the fact that their actions are causing the death of the child. The argument of “we didn’t intend to” seems a bit of a weak one. It appears to go back on moral absolutes and make “intent” the final arbiter of what is right and wrong.
2) What do we do about David eating the “bread of the presence” which was not lawful, but is justified by Jesus (Mark 2:26)? This is a clear violation of an absolute of the old covenant. Would intent and the theory of double effect have to play into this somehow? Does this mean that David simply avoided the sin by not intending to eat the bread, but intended to feed the starving people and himself? This seems lacking.