William Lane Craig on the Importance of Apologetics

My own interest in apologetics didn’t really begin until partway through college, when I experienced just how intellectually hostile academia could be toward Christians. Consider this large-scale 2006 study by the Barna Group, which found that a staggering 61% of Americans in their twenties “had been churched at one point during their teen years but [are] now spiritually disengaged.”

One of the most dangerous threats to young Christians is an honest question left unanswered (or worse yet, actively stifled). I’ve had multiple friends – former Christians – tell me that their beliefs began to crumble when they voiced sincere questions to a pastor or family member and were essentially told, “You just need to have more faith.”

Providing a non-answer to an answerable question (the problem of evil, for example) opens the door for doubt and confusion. Years later, when the “young Christian” has become a “former Christian”, their worldview is shaped by an entirely new set of biases; they often become unwilling or unable to accept the very answer that might have saved their faith, had it only come a little sooner.

Below is a quote from Dr. William Lane Craig – arguably this generation’s most well-known Christian apologist and philosopher:

William Lane Craig

“When I travel around the country speaking in various churches, I meet parents all the time who come up to me after the service and say something like this: “Oh, if only you had been here two or three years ago! Our son (or our daughter) had questions about the faith which no one could answer. And now he (or she) is far from the Lord.” It just breaks my heart to meet parents like this. The fact is that our Christian high school students and college students are intellectually assaulted in secular high school and university by overwhelming relativism conjoined with every manner of non-Christian philosophy. We dare not send these kids out to battle armed with rubber swords and plastic armor. We need to prepare our kids for war….Begin simple, get more profound as they grow. It’s not enough anymore to just read Bible stories to our kids. They need doctrine, and they need apologetics. I have to tell you the truth: I find it very difficult to understand how parents today can risk having children without having had some training in Christian apologetics. I think it’s that important!”

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The Roots of the Abortion Debate

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates both seem to genuinely believe they are acting ethically. How can this be?

I believe the question really boils down to how an individual views human life. Before I explain this, however, let me first dispel the common misconception that we somehow “don’t know exactly when life begins”. This is an outright falsehood. Any honest, thinking person who defends abortion will immediately concede that life begins at conception. Science answered that question a long time ago (for confirmation, just open any embryology textbook). Those who claim that a fetus is “only a clump of cells” overlook the fact that ALL of us are really just clumps of cells.

So let’s consider first the viewpoint of the pro-choice activist championing the cause of “women’s rights”. These defenders of abortion must concede – as a matter of established scientific fact – that the procedure involves the termination of a living human organism. They will argue, however, that abortion can nevertheless be ethically justified. The question isn’t “When does life begin?” but rather, “When does life become valuable?”

Does value come with a heartbeat? Measurable brainwaves? Extra-uterine viability? Birth? Ability to talk? Ability to walk?

In order to rationally justify the practice of abortion, a person must first accept the existentialist notion that human life is devoid of objective meaning (meaning derived from a Higher Source – not to be confused with subjective meaning derived from oneself). This philosophy then makes it possible for a person to embrace utilitarianism – a brand of ethics that seeks to maximize the overall level of “happiness” in the world.

Following utilitarianism to its logical conclusion, one can then successfully argue that abortion is ethically justifiable. The aborted child doesn’t enter the world to experience happiness or unhappiness, and the life of the woman with the pregnancy is made more “happy” (just for the sake of argument here) by not having to raise or support an unwanted child.

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.” -Peter Singer

On the other hand, those who do believe in things like objective meaning and universal truth will naturally see the issue quite differently. If one believes in a loving, all-powerful God with a perfect sense of justice, then our sense of right and wrong must account for more than just what makes people “feel happy”.

This is why those of us on the pro-life side of the argument often speak in terms of the sanctity of human life rather than the happiness of human life. What does this mean? It means that we view all human life as having God-given value and certain inalienable rights – from the moment of conception to the moment of death. A life is valuable because it is created in the image of God – not because it possesses certain physical, mental, or emotional abilities…and not because it enjoys more total “happiness” than “unhappiness”.

Incidentally, our disagreements over the value of human life spill over into a number of other pressing social issues, from assisted suicide to infanticide to the animal rights movement. But I’ll leave those topics for another day.

When it really comes down to it, both the pro-life and pro-choice crowds ARE acting “ethically” – at least within the framework of what they believe to be true. Both are following their “starting point” to the natural, logical conclusion. The difference lies in that “starting point” – the presumptions one holds about God and the value of human life.

I’ve written before about the horrors wrought by “Social Darwinism” during the 20th century. Only a handful of decades ago, it was commonplace in western countries for the physically and mentally disabled to be forcibly sterilized (and in extreme cases, systematically murdered). Ideologically speaking, this practice was justified using the same philosophical framework that’s currently employed to justify abortion. And in the end, eugenics only fell out of fashion because of the stigma of being associated with the Holocaust. The human race, it seems, has a tendency to follow an idea to its logical conclusion…at least until people become sufficiently horrified.

In conclusion, I want to ask you to honestly compare the two alternatives I’ve described. Should we view the abortion debate through a utilitarian lens that seeks only to maximize our subjective feeling of happiness? Or should we accept the Christian claim that God has made us in His image, and that all human life, regardless of age, gender, race, or physical/mental ability, is valuable and deserving of legal protection?

Which world would you rather live in? Which world would you rather leave for your children?

Also Recommended

Why I am Pro-life: A Short, Nonsectarian Argument (Douglas Groothuis)

What we learn before we’re born (Annie Murphy Paul, TED Talk)

Eugenics, Past and Future (Ross Douthat, New York Times)

Ultramarathons, Global Warming, Coffee, and rtfMRI Therapy

I’ve been reading lots of scientific papers in the two weeks since finishing classes. Below I’ve listed some of the more interesting finds.

Also, since I’m a nice guy, I only included articles that are free to view online (except for the coffee one, which only offers a free preview).

  1. Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise (Mayo Clinic Proceedings)
    This review article made some waves in the running community when it was published last week. Although I think some of the claims might be a little overstated, it definitely serves as a word of caution for those of us who enjoy long-distance running. Key findings: “Emerging data suggest that chronic training for and competing in extreme endurance events such as marathons, ultramarathons, ironman distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races, can cause transient acute volume overload of the atria and right ventricle, with transient reductions in right ventricular ejection fraction and elevations of cardiac biomarkers, all of which return to normal within 1 week. Over months to years of repetitive injury, this process, in some individuals, may lead to patchy myocardial fibrosis, particularly in the atria, interventricular septum, and right ventricle, creating a substrate for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias.”
  2. The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks (Nature Climate Change)
    The hypothesis: People are apathetic about climate change because they don’t understand science. The data: Those with higher degrees of science literacy and numeracy are more polarized in their opinions about climate change. As a whole, they’re slightly LESS likely to be concerned about climate change. Conclusions:  “…public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.”
  3. Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality (New England Journal of Medicine)
    This data was only published 3 weeks ago, and it’s easily the largest study on the health effects of coffee drinking that I’ve ever seen (5+ million person-years of follow-up). It’s mostly good news for those like myself who enjoy a cup (or four) of coffee each day. Key findings“…after adjustment for tobacco-smoking status and other potential confounders, there was a significant inverse association between coffee consumption and mortality.”
  4. Control Over Brain Activation and Pain Learned by Using Real-Time Functional MRI (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
    This is a slightly older article, so I might dig around to see if there have been any follow-ups. It’s a pretty neat concept, though: basically showing people real-time activation patterns in their brains and saying, “Hey! Try to…er…figure out a way to…um…change what’s going on in this area over here. It’ll make you feel better, I promise!” Key findings: “Here, we found that by using real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI) to guide training, subjects were able to learn to control activation in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a region putatively involved in pain perception and regulation…Chronic pain patients [reported] decreases in the ongoing level of chronic pain after training.”

The Empty Secular “Sense of Awe”

Let me introduce you to a fictional boy named Johnny.

Johnny grew up in a very typical, middle-class family with loving parents and a good education. His family was nominally Christian – meaning that Johnny grew up going to Sunday school and learning to recite prayers before dinner and bedtime. Aside from that, his parents seldom discussed religion. Johnny enjoyed the social aspect of going to church and the sense of community that it brought, but could never really understand those odd “fundamentalist” types who took the Bible so seriously.

When he went off to college, Johnny’s tentatively-held identity as a “Christian” melted away after just a few weeks of classes. He began identifying as “spiritual, but not religious”. He spent his sophomore year as an agnostic and his junior year as “sort of a Buddhist”, before finally succumbing to the inevitability of atheism and secular humanism.

Although confident in the logical framework for his beliefs, Johnny nonetheless found himself yearning for the community and the sense of purpose he remembered seeing during his churchgoing days. So he set about looking for a substitute for religion – a way to appreciate the beauty and mystery of life without all that outdated “religious baggage”.

This substitute is what I refer to as a “sense of awe”, which seeks to replace religious beliefs with a generic feeling of wonder, mystery, and humble respect for our place in the universe. To illustrate this, I’ve included below a couple of short videos. You might recognize them, as they’ve both made the social media rounds. They’re actually very similar.

The first is a poetic monologue from Carl Sagan, in which he cleverly inserts his naturalist worldview and criticizes “the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe”. Sagan paints a rather bleak portrait of humanity’s place in the cosmos, yet his soothing voice – assisted by some soft background music – helps to establish the desired sense of awe and beauty.

The second video is from Neil deGrasse Tyson, who champions a similar brand of humanism. His tone is soft – almost spiritual – and the background music aims straight for the heartstrings. “The universe is in us,” you see. Sadly, atheists who crave a sense of wonder and “connectedness” eat this stuff up.

I do think Tyson hit on something important in the video, when he said, “That’s really what you want in life; you want to feel connected; you want to feel relevant.” This innate human desire for a sense of meaning is exactly what fuels the popularity of this “awe-oriented” outlook among many of the non-religious. They are seeking to regain a sense of relevance in a universe devoid of true, objective meaning.

The truth is that humans were created for a specific role – to bring glory to God. It’s tragic, then, to witness people like Johnny basking in the wonder of Creation while willfully refusing to acknowledge or credit his Creator.