How Can You Trust Christianity Is True If You Haven’t Examined All the Alternatives?

I’ve had the privilege to speak on university campuses across the country, making a case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the truth of the Christian Worldview (I’ll be at Rutgers next Monday night). One of the most common questions asked in the Q and A is something similar to: “Have you taken the time to apply the same approach with all the other religious worldviews?” Sometimes people ask this question because they are curious about how well other ancient religious claims (or alleged eyewitness accounts) hold up under investigative scrutiny. But many times this question is followed by a more pointed objection: “How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives?”

Given the large number of spiritual claims circulating across the globe (and throughout history), why should we conclude one (or any) of them is true until we’ve examined all of them? At first blush, this seems like a reasonable approach, and when it’s asked by a skeptic, it’s typically offered in an effort to expose the inadequate or incomplete nature of my investigation (or some underlying bias I may have against opposing claims). Although I investigated several theistic and atheistic worldviews prior to becoming a Christian, I didn’t examine every view. Is my certainty related to Christianity therefore misplaced? Should the limited nature of my investigation disqualify or temper the case I’m presenting to skeptics and believers? I don’t think so.

In every criminal trial, the investigators and prosecutors are obligated to present the evidence related to one defendant. While the burden of proof lies with the prosecutorial team, the prosecution is not required to have examined every possible alternative suspect. If I am investigating a case in which the suspect was initially described as a white male, 25 to 35 years of age with brown hair, the potential suspect pool in Los Angeles County would be quite large; there may be hundreds of thousands fitting this description. As I make the affirmative case related to one of the men in this large group, I’m under no obligation to make the case against the others. In fact, when the jury evaluates the case and decides whether the defendant is guilty, they will do so without any consideration of the alternatives. If the evidence is strong enough to reasonably infer the defendant’s involvement, the jury will make a confident decision, even though many, many alternatives were left unexamined.

The case for Christianity is made in a similar way. While it may be helpful to examine a particular alternative worldview on occasion to show its inadequacies or errors, these deficiencies fail to establish Christianity as factual. How can you trust Christianity is true if you haven’t examined all the alternatives? The case for the Christian worldview must first be made affirmatively even if no other claim is examined negatively. If there’s enough evidence to reasonably infer Christianity is true, we needn’t look any further. The affirmative case will either stand or fall on its own merit, even if we’re unable to examine any other “suspect”.

The Christian worldview does not require “blind faith”. In fact, Jesus repeatedly presented evidence to support His claims of Deity and when John the Baptist expressed doubt, Jesus responded with yet another evidential display of His power. Christians are not asked to believe without evidence (or worse yet, in spite of the evidence), but to instead place their trust in the most reasonable inference from the evidence, even though there may still be several unanswered questions. Christianity is evidentially reasonable, even if we are unable to examine every possible alternative.

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If You’re A Christian Case Maker, Your Common Sense Is Sense Enough

I had the opportunity to speak to students on the campus of North Carolina State University on Monday night at the invitation of Ratio Christi directors Curtis Hrischuk and Greg Reeves. Following the presentation, I had a conversation with a student about the important role each of us plays in defending the Christian worldview. Like many Christians I talk to, this student doubted her own ability to accurately evaluate the historical, scientific or philosophical evidence related to Christianity and Theism. Is it possible to make an accurate or intelligent case for Christianity without a PhD in history, ancient languages, science or philosophy? Yes, it is: Jurors do it every day.

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The Danger of “Easy Theism”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Frank Sontag on his KKLA Los Angeles radio show (if you’ve never heard Frank’s show, you can listen daily and catch up on past episodes). We talked about the recent Oprah Winfrey “Super Soul Sunday” television show. Oprah interviewed distance swimmer, Diana Nyad, and inadvertently started an online firestorm over their comments related to atheism and theism. During the show, Nyad identified herself an atheist and said, “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity. All the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.” After hearing this, Oprah responded, “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.” Nyad attempted to reaffirm her lack of belief in a Divine Being, but Oprah seemed to miss the point, attempting instead to rope her into some form of theism on the basis of Nyad’s admitted awe of God’s creation. Later in the show, Nyad spoke of her belief in the soul, in spite of her atheistic worldview: “We all have souls and I feel their (humanity’s) collective souls.” When Oprah asked her what happens when we die, Nyad said, “I think that the soul lives on because we have created so much energy and when we display courage and hope it lives on. But I do believe the body goes back to ash and it is never more.”

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The Power of “Nice” and the Importance of “Good”

“Why are you always involved in these missions trips to other religious groups?” Claire’s mother stopped me after a Sunday youth service and pulled me aside. Her question was more accusatory than inquisitive. “I’m not letting Claire go on this trip. I know lots of Mormons. We have several really good friends who are Mormon. They are incredibly nice people. Why would you want to challenge what they believe when they are so nice?” I received many similar complaints and questions from parents when I first began taking students on trips to Salt Lake City. Why would we want to challenge and upset people who are that nice?

“Niceness” is a persuasive apologetic. Several years ago, on a missions trip to the University of California at Berkeley, I observed the power of “nice” firsthand. An atheist student from SANE (Students Advocating a Non-religious Ethos) impacted our group more powerfully than any of the other atheists we encountered. This student was young, attractive and incredibly “nice”. His demeanor made his worldview attractive, even before he opened his mouth to try to defend it. “Nice” can be incredibly powerful.

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Christian Worldview: What Does It Mean to Be “In the World” but Not “Of the World”?

A few nights back my wife and I watched an episode of a comedy series hosted on Netflix. Within a few minutes we became increasingly uncomfortable with the language and content of the humor. Don’t get me wrong, it was hilarious, and as a cop, crude, vulgar humor has been a part of my everyday experience for over two decades. But as we sat there watching this particular episode, we both had a growing sense that the show was somehow “desensitizing our sensibilities”. We started to feel… “dirty”. We turned off the laptop; watching any further only demonstrated our tacit approval and we wanted to stop before our worldview had been permanently altered.
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The Moralist

Groups of People: non-followers of Jesus

·         A non-follower is by definition someone who has not given his/her life to follow Jesus.

Group 1: The Antagonist: will negate any kind of possibility of God to fit his/her own framework of possibilities.

Group 2: The Spiritualist: believes in every kind of supernatural possibility – ghosts, energy, reincarnation, etc.

Group 3: The Disinterested: never really thought about God and spends a lot of time trying not to think about mortality, God, or the meaning of life.

Group 4: The Moralist: believes that as long as they are good and people don’t actively hurt one another then God is irrelevant (if He/She exists then they will be good enough, and if not, then the world is a good place).

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Steve Jobs vs. Jesus

Steve Jobs is an icon. He has (almost) single-handedly transformed personal computing, revolutionized smart phones, created an intense market desire for the tablet computer, and changed how we shop for electronics. Few people have had the colossal business and cultural impact over the past three decades as Steve Jobs. I will never forget when my family got our first desktop Mac in 1984, and I am now looking forward to the iPhone 5 (this September…please!). I have an iPhone, iPad, and a MacBook Pro. Yes, I’m a Mac-geek. But at least I’m cool!

And I am also an evangelical Christian. You might be thinking, “So what! What on earth does being a Christian have to do with Apple computers or Steve Jobs?” More than you may think. I write books, speak publicly, and teach classes on philosophy and theology, which means I love motivating people to think deeply about the important issues of life. And Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular “gospel” to our culture. My goal in this post is not to criticize Jobs (that would be foolish!), or to promote Christianity, but to contrast their respective worldviews so you, the reader, can decide what you think is true.

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Ideas and Elections

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

The preceding sentence was said by the late President John F. Kennedy and in many respects it’s the theme of this blog. My desire is to explore the power of ideas as well as the expression of those ideas. Why? Well, because I believe I am a work in progress (and maybe I am not alone) and that I live in a world that is trying to make progress. Undergirding all of this progressive optimism are ideas.

Many Christians call the systematic formulation of these ideas a ‘worldview’ and that’s not a bad phrase. But, some ideas, if we’re honest, aren’t always that clear in our head and so it’s difficult to organize them neatly and label them effectively.

Your Worldview!?

The children at the Shalom school are inspiring, and they have worked their magic on me. Without education their future isn't bright, or it wouldn't seem bright to us Westerners. In America it's stressed that if you don't finish high school then your future will be flipping burgers and digging ditches. Here finishing primary school is barely a goal, flipping burgers and digging ditches is a career, and anything more is a gift from god. When I get home from Burkina I plan on fund raising money for the Shalom school. I want those kids to have all the tools necessary for their education. Even though they'll most likely never have electricity, I want to fund raise enough money to spoil them in every other regard! Look around and be thankful for what you have. We are a a society privileged to the fullest. It takes coming somewhere like this, and working on a day to day basis with the people to truly be grateful. If you think you are, well think again.
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Understanding the New Atheism (Part 2)

In the last post we explored the nature of the New Atheism. Now, let’s consider the tactics of the New Atheists and why we must respond to their attacks.

Why the New Atheism Matters

One of the reasons the New Atheists have been so effective is that today’s students can’t think well. As Mark Bauerlein has argued in The Dumbest Generation, the dawn of the technological age that promised to produce a brighter, more intellectually sophisticated young people has had the opposite effect. This generation has grown up in a society driven by images and slogans, not carefully reasoned discourse or critical analysis. It’s not that they are incapable, or even unwilling to engage difficult issues (from my experience, I believe they are both capable and willing). They simply haven’t been trained or properly motivated. And so many fall for the shallow, emotionally charged diatribes of the New Atheists.

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