Tag Archives: Answering Objections

Objection!

Perry Mason questioning the witness

Have you ever watched a movie where one lawyer objects to every question the other lawyer asks a witness? The multitude of objections doesn’t mean they’re valid, though, as evidenced by the judge’s response of “overruled” on many (or all) of them. You can run into a similar situation in discussions about God with skeptics. I’ll give you an example I’ve run into in the past. I’ve been on the receiving end of what I call “shotgun skepticism”, where the skeptic fires off a barrage of objections to try to overwhelm their opponent and end the discussion before it’s even started. You’ll see things like “400 contradictions in the Bible”, or “50 reasons why Christianity is obviously false.” What do you do when you get confronted by something like that? Let’s work through that today.

It can be intimidating when you are presented with what appears to be a wall of objections for why you are wrong, but you have to remember that someone’s objection doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a good reason behind the objection. Like the judge in court, you have to simply examine each objection one by one, and judge them on their own merit, not on the total quantity. And here’s the thing: when you actually start examining these mass quantity type objections, you’ll find that many of them are non-issues. Below are 3 types of objections that turn out to be more bark than bite.

  1. The false objection. Some objections are just plain wrong. I remember getting one from a friend years ago that claimed to be hundreds of contradictions in the Bible. However, when I started looking through them, some of the references simply didn’t say what the objection claimed. The objection looked intimidating at face value, until I started examining the individual parts of it, where it started to fall apart. Were there ones that were fair questions? Sure, but several of the hundreds of alleged biblical errors were themselves errors. Most of the rest fell into the next two categories.
  2. The irrelevant objection. These are statements that raise an issue unrelated to the matter at hand. It may be a legitimate question to seek answers for, but it’s not a reason to reject the particular issue being discussed.  For instance, an objection to God’s existence because “Christians are hypocrites” is simply irrelevant to the question of whether God exists. Every Christian on the planet could be a lying, thieving, murderous hypocrite, and that would only demonstrate our failure as humans, not God’s nonexistence. Likewise, claiming we can safely ignore the Bible because of apparent contradictions in it may call into question the inerrancy of the Bible, but not the truthfulness of the individual claims made in it. For instance, the Bible affirming two truly contradictory statements might  show it to have genuine errors (due to the law of non-contradiction), but as long as the statements that all humans are sinners [Ro 3:10,23] and God will judge us [Ec 12:14, 2Co 5:10] are both true, then the skeptic has a serious problem to deal with, regardless of what else is true or false. In fact, he’d better hope that John 3:16 is also true so there is a solution to that major problem. You see, all the rest of the Bible could be wrong, but if those statements are true, then there is a critical problem the skeptic needs to recognize, and an amazing solution he needs to accept in order to survive.
  3. The misunderstood objection. Among the several lists of alleged inconsistencies and contradictions I was given by my friend a while back were things like “God asked Adam where he was… but God is omnipresent.” OK… God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean He can’t ask someone where they are. As most parents are aware, you can still ask a question of your guilty kids already knowing full-well what happened. The question isn’t for your enlightenment, but rather for the child to have an opportunity to do the right thing and confess to the wrongdoing. The person raising objections like this has misinterpreted the passage objected to, either innocently or deliberately. If innocently done, the response may be as simple as clarifying the passage for them. If done maliciously, there are likely some difficult underlying issues driving the person to try to interpret passages in the worst possible manner to bolster their rejection of God. Be patient, and speak the truth in love, methodically dismantling the barricades they’ve erected between them and God.

Oftentimes, skeptics take the approach that the best defense is a good offense, and try to overwhelm you with quantity of objections; but remember that when it comes to logic and clear thinking, quality really does beat quantity. In fact, ask the skeptic to pick their single best objection to discuss. Sometimes you’ll find that they didn’t actually look through their list they forwarded or copied and pasted into a reply to you! Those are good opportunities to teach them the importance of examining their own beliefs rather than just parroting a Dawkins or Hitchens (or whatever internet site they could find in under a minute that supported their view). Make them pick one objection that they are prepared to defend. Remember that if they make make a positive claim, then they do bear a burden of proof. Despite the constant attempts to say the Christian bears the full burden of defending themselves, that’s actually not how it works. If they refuse to pick a claim to defend, you can always stop there. If they are willing to make statements but unwilling to back them up, then they’re likely not really interested in seeking the truth. But of course, we go the extra mile for those we love, and the skeptic is a person in desperate need of salvation, just as much as I or any other Christian was. So if they only want to continue talking if you engage their hundreds of fallacious objections, then I recommend picking off the easy ones that are actually misstatements first, then deflect the ones that don’t apply to the topic at hand, and focus on clarifying the remaining misunderstandings, giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere misunderstandings. It can be a long trying process working with people that are peppering you with blasts of shotgun skepticism while you try to help them, but these are people that Christ died for [Jn 3:16], who may yet be used by God in bigger ways than I can ever imagine when I’m talking to them. And that’s worth working through a few (hundred) objections.

Sharpen Your Pencil

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Beate W

“Let me sharpen my pencil and see if we can’t make that beam size work with the extra load the owner wants.” What does sharpening pencils have to do with designing beams? That’s simply an old expression in engineering regarding the need for greater accuracy in some particularly critical calculations. We tend to use a lot of approximations and rules of thumb that we know are not exact but will err on the side of caution. While a safe design is our duty to the public; a safe design produced in a timely manner makes for happy clients and keeps us in business. But sometimes, those typical procedures and quick approximations result in a design that doesn’t meet some project requirement. And while computers have replaced nomographs and graphical analysis methods – and the need to keep a sharp point on one’s pencil to get a more accurate result – we still use that expression to signify when the situation warrants a more detailed design. Back in the days of solving something by drawing similar triangles, the method – pencil and paper and straightedge – was often the limiting factor on our accuracy. Now, computerized methods allow us to be as accurate as we could ever need, so sharpening the pencil now is more about our assumptions. Did I assume a higher typical load than what is actually present on the current project? Did I use a simpler formula that doesn’t account for various load reductions or strength increases that actually could be applied to my current project? However, sometimes, in sharpening the pencil and wading into the details, we find that a particular situation isn’t quite as similar to past projects as we thought, and our assumptions we thought were conservative are actually overlooking critical factors. And that’s an issue I see outside of engineering as well.

One’s eternal fate is of critical importance. No one is promised their next breath, so where you’ll be a few minutes after your last breath, whenever it comes, is not something you want to miscalculate. What assumptions are you making that you need to revisit?

  • “The idea of God is outdated stone-age superstition and simply unnecessary now.”  Regardless of how old the idea of God is, that doesn’t make it unnecessary. We still need an explanation for the world around us, and scientific observation can only go so far. You can scientifically measure water boiling all day long and precisely explain how it’s boiling, and never explain why it’s boiling if you’re unwilling to admit that somebody put the kettle of water on the stove and turned it on.
  • “Science will answer everything someday.” The idea that science is the silver bullet to all our problems has a problem of its own: not all questions (and their answers) are scientific in nature. Metaphysical questions about the meaning of life and ethics are on the “ought” side of the ought-is dilemma, outside the scope of science, which can only observe what is, and not how it ought to be.
  • “Science has explained away God.” This idea that explaining the mechanics of our world does away with the need for God is a common assumption today, but this is akin to thinking one has explained the origin of a car by explaining how it works. The scientific method has allowed us to advance our knowledge of the mechanical workings of our world tremendously, but it is useless in a universe not governed by causality and logic. Our universe exhibits an organization that is best explained by a Master Designer. Indeed, modern science was based on the idea that the universe could be investigated and understood because God had created it in an orderly manner conducive to study.
  • “Religion just causes arguments and isn’t worth thinking about.” Maybe you’ve assumed that discussions about religion are just a waste of time and a needless source of feuding. But what’s the real problem there? Is it the subject matter, or the way we discuss it? Maybe civility and sound reasoning are the solution, and not indifference. Suppose you and I have gone for a flight in a mutual friend’s airplane. Beautiful, wide-open countryside passes below his Cessna 182 as we bask in the view. But then our friend passes out at the yoke. Now we are left with a very serious problem: what went up will eventually come down, one way or another. To make matters worse, we have very different ideas of how to fix the problem. But does our disagreement mean we should simply ignore the entire question of how to revive our pilot friend and/or land the plane? No! The problem remains even if we ignore it. In fact, it’s likely getting worse with each passing second. Likewise, the question of whether God exists, what we can know about Him, and what He may want of us are some of the biggest questions we can ask in life. No part of our lives are unaffected by the answers to this issue, and the urgency of finding the answer only grows the more we ignore it.

If any of those initial assumptions described your thoughts on the matter, I’d like to kindly suggest it’s time to sharpen your pencil and work through that problem again, my friend. But “time waits for no man”, and like the ground filling more and more of the Cessna’s windshield,  “the God question” can only be put off for so long before it’s too late.

Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 4 – Against the Flow

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Richard Dawkins’ objections to Christianity here, but some of his bad reasoning got regurgitated by another atheist in a book I’m wading through right now, so it seems fitting to address this issue now. This common atheist objection to religion in general is that religion is merely a cultural phenomenon. In other words, I’m simply a Christian because I grew up in a Christian culture, and would most likely be Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist if I’d grown up elsewhere in the world. Is that a legitimate point? Let’s work through that this week.

First off, let’s make sure we have the objection correct. Here’s two quotes, the first from a relative newcomer on the atheist publishing scene, David Madison, and the second from Dawkins himself.

“[I]f I had been born in Croatia instead of Indiana, I would have been taught that another religion is the only one that is worthy of my full devotion. In one of the more memorable confrontations between Richard Dawkins and a devout Christian during a Q& A session, the gentleman claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Dawkins bluntly pointed out that the fellow would not even have been a Christian if he’d been raised in another culture or another era. Instead of believing in Jesus, he might believe in Thor, Wotan, or Allah.”
– David Madison [1]

Lest you think Madison’s recounting of Dawkins’ Q&A dialogue was simply an off-the-cuff remark by Dawkins made without thinking it through beforehand, the following is from Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”, which one would hope had involved some careful review prior to publishing.

“If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.” – Richard Dawkins [2]

Now, does this actually help the atheist? Not really. For one thing, the fact that other cultures may have opposing beliefs does nothing to invalidate the Christian’s beliefs. The most Dawkins could say from that fact alone is that they can’t both be true (if  actually contradictory). In that case, one would indeed have to be wrong, but the atheist is assuming both are wrong, which just doesn’t follow. Secondly, this appears to be an example of the genetic fallacy, where the origin of a belief is attacked rather than the actual content of the belief. I did learn about Christianity from my parents, my church, and the general culture around me here in the “Bible Belt” of the US. But as long as that knowledge I received was true, then it doesn’t matter where it came from. That’s the thing about truth – it’s objective and independent of the messenger.

But what strikes me as the bigger issue is that Dawkins undercuts many of his fellow atheists with this attack. We could just as easily say that atheists in communist China aren’t atheists because of reason or “progress”, but only because that happens to be what is promoted in their culture. On the flip side, many of the atheists parroting Dawkins’ delusion (like Madison) are here in the US, which is still a predominantly Christian nation. Their own existence as members of an atheist minority in a majority “Christian” nation also demonstrates that people’s beliefs are not determined by their culture. By Dawkins’ own reasoning American atheists should be Christians (or at the very least, theists), but they aren’t. They made a choice in spite of the dominant culture around them.

Can one’s culture be a contributing factor? Certainly. If you are only presented with certain choices by your culture, then you are more likely to pick from the choices given. But even that is no guarantee. Some countries over the last century have tried to enforce state atheism and actively persecuted believers. These included the former Soviet states, the Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War, Communist China today, and Albania, the country that declared itself the “world’s first atheist state” in 1967. They all actively punished and often executed religious believers. And yet people still chose to believe in God in spite of that societal pressure. My own mom used to write to a woman who was imprisoned in Russia for being a Christian. Muslims have been converting to Christianity in the Middle East in growing numbers the last few years, also in spite of very heavy societal pressure not to, which has included being disowned by one’s family, being jailed for years, or being beheaded by ISIS (among others). While one’s surrounding culture may influence our beliefs, it clearly does nothing to support or refute the truth of a particular belief.

As an aside, is it “indoctrination” to pass on one’s beliefs to your children? Well, technically, indoctrination is simply “the act of indoctrinating, or teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.”[3] Kinda like atheists teaching their kids that science is the only way to know truth (This is called a self-defeating statement. Just ask by what scientific test one arrives at that conclusion. But I digress…) It’s actually pretty cumbersome to teach anything without some specific point of view. The real issue is whether the doctrine being taught is true or not. If it is, then we shouldn’t shy away from that, but rather seek to teach that.

In closing, I did grow up in a Christian home, and my faith does happen to be the same faith of my parents. But Christianity does not recognize belief by proxy. My parents’ beliefs will not save me, so it is still on me (and you) to decide, regardless of what our parents or peers believe. Every person who will be saved must make that decision for themselves. Moreover, mere lip service, “going through the motions”, or performing rituals without any understanding of them and without sincerity of heart (i.e. “just repeat these words after me”) are repeatedly condemned in the Bible. Saving faith requires knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, belief that it is true, and trust in Christ’s sufficient work, regardless of culture or geography.


[1] David Madison, “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith”, (Tellectual Press, Kindle Edition, 2016), pp. 152-153
[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), p. 25.
[3] “Indoctrination”, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indoctrination, accessed 2018-04-03.

Giving an Answer

The Apostle Paul Explains the Faith to King Agrippa, his Sister Berenice, & Proconsul Festus - by Vasily Surikov, 1875
The Apostle Paul Explains the Faith to King Agrippa, his Sister Berenice, & Proconsul Festus – by Vasily Surikov, 1875

Ever been on the hot seat, so to speak, having to try to answer questions under pressure? Some may thrive under pressure, but most of us would rather do without that. I had to deliver an engineering presentation to a room full of colleagues recently, and I was definitely more nervous about the potential questions that might be asked afterwards than about the presentation itself. You can rehearse a speech or slideshow until you have it memorized, but questions from others are unknowns that are hard to plan for, aren’t they?

I was talking with an atheist friend who mentioned that he didn’t like discussing religion with me because he could never come up with good responses to my questions or assertions. Not that I’m some expert in philosophy or science or debate – far from it! But there are some serious holes in the atheistic worldview that it doesn’t address, issues that it tends to gloss over in the rush to attack Christianity. I simply ask about those, or state how I think Christianity better explains some aspect of the world than atheism.

That aside, the main thing I want to look at today is this: is not being able to reply to objections to your worldview a good reason to avoid discussing it? Understand, this applies to anyone – atheist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, anyone. Atheists often like to accuse Christians of having a “blind faith” and defining faith as “belief in spite of the evidence”.  But what precisely is the atheist with no answer to objections to his view holding on to? Simply his faith, or trust, that his views are correct based on the understanding  he has. And there’s nothing wrong with that, to that extent. I generally trust my airline pilot without needing to check his logbook or follow him on his preflight inspection. But if a fellow passenger raised an objection that the pilot appeared drunk when he boarded, my trust in our pilot would become a blind (and possibly misplaced) trust if I chose not to investigate this new information. Likewise, if we choose not to investigate when we’re presented with objections, not to ask questions and seek answers, then that willful ignorance is the very blind faith the atheist decries in others. Objections should instead be motivation to dig into the issue, study it, and decide what is actually causing the lack of satisfying answers.  Is there good support for our view that we’re simply unaware of, or can’t remember under the pressure of the moment? Or can we not give a good answer because our worldview itself lacks a good answer? That’s an important distinction. We’ve all been stumped at times. While our inability to answer a question is always an indication of the limits of our own knowledge, sometimes it is also an indication of the limits of the worldview we’ve chosen. For instance, the Ptolemaic (geocentric) model of the universe was reaching the limits of objections it could answer when Copernicus came along. Its answers were becoming more and more ad hoc, with more fixed spheres, and epicycles, and eccentrics, and equants being added to make the model match observations. Copernicus’ geokinetic view put the earth in motion and explained (better) the non-uniform motion of the planets.

So I would ask my atheist friends: what better explains the fine-tuned universe, or the origin of life and it’s extreme complexity and apparent design, or the existence and transcendence of morality? Is it a worldview with a free agent (God) capable of design and moral prescriptions? Or one without? Which view is more ad hoc? Don’t feel obligated to respond under pressure, but do pursue those answers. Don’t dismiss the objections of Christians or ridicule them without actually looking for answers to those questions. To criticize without being able to offer a solution is the realm of armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers. Don’t be that person. Do seek to understand the objections to your view. For instance, can you state the opposing side’s objections in your own words such that they would agree that that is their objection?[1] If not, you may not really understand their objection in the first place. This is how people (on both sides) just end up talking past each other, never actually addressing the issues raised by their opponents. In closing, if you don’t like blind faith in Christians, then don’t put your own faith blindly in a worldview that doesn’t really answer – and can’t answer – many of the most important questions in life. Be as critical of atheism as you are of Christianity.


[1] Hat tip to Peter Kreeft for reminding me of that bit of wisdom through his books Summa Philosophica and Socratic Logic.

Being Able to Answer

Moses & Aaron Speak to the People - James Tissot c.1900
Moses & Aaron Speak to the People – James Tissot, c.1900

As I left the office this past Saturday, I thought about why I was there on a beautiful fall weekend instead of working on home repairs (or this blog). I’m actually giving a presentation on delegated steel connection design to an audience of my fellow structural engineers shortly, and this was critical prep time for that seminar. This upcoming presentation and the preparations for it got me thinking about how we as Christians make our presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ to a skeptical world. I see 4 parallels to consider:

  1. Preparation
    • I’d be a fool to think I could stand up in front of 40 or 50 other engineers and explain something to them without having spent any time preparing. Even having several years of connection design experience doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to effectively communicate that knowledge to others. It takes both knowledge of what to say, and practice in how to say it.
    • Likewise, as a Christian, it is prudent for me to do my homework before I need to explain to someone what it means to be a Christian. And just sitting in a church pew listening to preachers expound on God’s Word, even for decades, doesn’t necessarily translate to me being able to do that clearly when I’m asked. Knowledge and communication are two different things. Speaking and answering questions on the spot takes practice. Have you thought through what you would say if you were asked about what you believe and why you believe it? In my case, I was asked how I could call myself a Christian and an engineer at the same time. Weren’t those mutually exclusive? I hadn’t prepared for that, and it caught me off-guard. Don’t miss an opportunity to speak truth into someone’s life merely from lack of planning.
  2. Motivation
    • In my job, I’ve been focused on structural steel connection design for several years now, but knowing I’ll be presenting on that topic, and that there will be a Q&A time afterwards, is motivating me to confirm my typical assumptions to make sure I know what I’m talking about. I’m reviewing things I haven’t dealt with in a while to refresh my memory in case they come up in the Q&A. As I build the slides for my presentation, I’m digging down into those specifics to verify I’m not saying anything inaccurate, and to deepen my knowledge in those areas that might generate more questions. Anticipating tough questions changes your attitude toward preparation.
    • In the same way, writing this blog every week the last 2 years, knowing that I’m opening myself up to any and all questions and criticisms, has forced me to prepare accordingly. If it hadn’t been for this, I probably wouldn’t own half the books I own now – books on systematic theology, church history, doctrine, apologetics, logic, science books (from outside my field of engineering), and books from atheists and skeptics diametrically opposed to my views. I probably wouldn’t be trying to learn Greek and Latin either if it weren’t for engaging in apologetics. And now, when I go to church each week, it’s not something to check off the task list; it’s a trip back to my “base” to resupply with vital life-giving insights before heading back out on patrol for the week. Are you just looking to “coast” through life, or are you “on point”?
  3. Reward
    • In college, my Metallurgy III professor had us students rotate through teaching 3 days that semester. We were each assigned 3 different alloys and had to develop a lesson, slides, and handouts for our fellow classmates for each of our teaching days. He then graded us on how well we’d researched it and presented our findings, as well as our presentation. Standing up and lecturing on the weldability of titanium alloys was far tougher work than just being tasked with reading the textbook and working out some homework problems. As far as I can recall, that was the only class I ever had where the professor had the students teach most of the class, but it forced me to learn so much more that way. And as I’m being reminded in my current presentation research, that still holds true.
    • As a Christian, being “prepared to give an answer” [1 Peter 3:15] also has some great rewards. Each week of writing blog entries and doing research for future posts has gotten me reading and learning things I never would have otherwise. And even if nobody ever challenges me on some issue I invested a bunch of research in – even if nobody ever reads this blog! – wrestling with tough questions and the whole preparation process of digging deep into God’s word and into His magnificent revelation of Himself in the world around me  has been richly rewarding. Just like training for a marathon, some rewards simply aren’t achievable without serious investment and hard work. Are you a Christian missing out on those kinds of rewards in your life? While I wish I’d started earlier, it’s not too late! Jump in!
  4. Attitude
    • Presenting always requires an attitude of humility. None of us know it all, so there’s no point acting like we do. Even if I were generally more knowledgeable in my specialty than an audience, someone in the crowd may have direct experience with a peculiar issue I haven’t dealt with or studied yet. And of course, in spite of all the preparation, you can never anticipate every question. Rather than putting up a show of nonexistent knowledge, the better response is to simply say “I don’t know, but let me dig into that and get back with you.”
    • Likewise, whether presenting the gospel message to one seeking salvation, or “contending for the faith” [Jude 3] with an aggressive skeptic, we should share the “truth in love” [Eph 4:15], answering their questions with “gentleness and respect” [1 Peter 3:15]. Speaking the truth in love means telling someone the truth, even if it’s something they don’t want to hear, but in a way that demonstrates that you value them and care about them. The truth can be brutal at times, but we are to share it with gentleness. Respect means treating them with the same courtesy we would want. That entails not being condescending or lying to them and acting like we know stuff we don’t. It means actually looking for answers to their questions we don’t know and then following-up with them. Sometimes, my own presentation style is my biggest enemy. May our attitude never be a hindrance to someone recognizing the truth of the gospel.

Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples [Matt 28:19-20]. Peter tells all Christians to be able to give an answer to those who ask the reason for the hope that we have [1 Pet 3:15]. Jude tells Christians – not “special forces” Christians, just Christians – to contend for the faith [Jude 3]. All of these involve being able to communicate God’s truth to a waiting world. You and I may never be preachers or traveling evangelists, but that doesn’t mean “spectator” is a job description in God’s kingdom. So like Timothy, let’s dig in, and be diligent to be workmen not needing to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15].