Do You Want to Be a Christian Apologist? Part 5

I'm doing a series of posts dealing with the way recognized Christian apologists argue for their faith. I'll number them and tag them all with the phrase "Christian Apologetics" so you can have a link to them in reverse chronological order. So, let's say you want to be a Christian apologist, someone who defends the Christian faith. Then what must you do? The fifth thing you must do is become an expert in obfuscation by playing semantic games with words (what I call "definitional apologetics"). You must twist their meaning beyond recognition in many cases. If done effectively the non-believer will be forced to chase you down that never-ending rabbit's hole of definitions so you won't have to deal in concrete examples like an incarnate God who was born of a virgin, who healed a man born blind from birth, who calmed a storm and walked on water, who raised a man up from the dead, who was himself resurrected and then ascended into the sky from where he presumably came, and from where he will come again (if he hasn't already). You won't have to deal with axe heads that could float, snakes and donkey's that could talk, long hair that could give a man superhuman strength, a great fish that could swallow a man who lived to tell about it (and who was actually believed by others), along with the healing powers of handkerchiefs, shadows, skirts, and pools in the ancient superstitious pre-scientific past.

Take for instance C.S. Lewis's definition of faith, embraced by Victor Reppert:
Faith is that art of holding on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.
How is this remotely what Jesus describes in Matthew 17:20:
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
How legitimate can it be to define faith in such a way that the original Christian did not? Besides this, what does Lewis's definition actually describe? Is faith identified with one's memory? Is it instead an act of the will over one's emotions? What faculty of the mind do we have that does this other than an act of the will based on memory? How do we train it? Why is this even described as faith since it's talking about about the processes of our brains? We all have such processes in our brains so it's irrelevant to the probabilities. I have every reason to think my short term memory is correct. And I already know moods affect us. So? If this is faith then everyone has it, and as such, is irrelevant to that which is distinctive with believing that mountains can be moved by the use of it, or in a virgin who gave birth to an incarnate God, or in supernatural miracles such as the resurrection of the dead. Later when pressed on this Reppert changed his tune by saying I have no faith, that is, he claims to think exclusively in terms of probabilities after all.

David Marshall's definition of faith is that it's "holding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to think is true,” in chapter 10 of the book, True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism. But this doesn't describe faith at all. What is it that causes him to hold on to what he thinks is probably true? Stubbornness? Tenacity in the midst of counter-arguments? Cognitive dissonance reduction? An unwillingness to change his mind based on solid evidence? None of these things are virtues. Objective analysis is. Open-mindedness is. Skepticism is. Intellectual honesty is. What room is there for faith as a virtue in his understanding?

Then there's Randal Rauser's definition of faith, which "consists of assent to a proposition that is conceivably false," something I've analyzed in detail right here. None of these definitions of faith are akin to the views of Jesus. They are all intended to obfuscate that faith consists of a leap beyond (or over) the actual probabilities, which is unreasonable. None of them want to reveal the truth, that they disagree with Jesus and that they take a leap of faith. In Rauser's case he uses this definition to say atheists have faith too. The goal is to obfuscate the fact that believing the sun stood still or that it backed up a stairway is the same thing atheists do when arriving at scientific conclusions based on solid sufficient evidence.

From this apologists go on the claim atheism is a religion, or that atheists have religious faith. If so, then please define religion in such a way that it applies to people who disbelieve in supernatural forces/beings and to people believe in them. Hint, it cannot be done. Rauser goes on to claim that atheists worship science and/or scientists in our co-written book God or Godless? What can worship mean unless it means ascribing ultimate worth to an ultimate being, something no atheist does?

The truth is that faith can only be involved when someone positively asserts some proposition. The historian who says there isn't enough evidence to know what happened at Custer's Last Stand isn't positively asserting anything. He simply says there isn't sufficient evidence to accept any claim about it. So do atheists when it comes to millions of people being miraculously fed in the dessert for forty years who had shoes that didn't wear out. Atheists aren't saying anything more than that there isn't enough evidence to believe Zechariah went blind who could later miraculously see again after hearing a voice telling him to name his baby boy John (the Baptist).

Christian apologists play other semantic word games with the same obfuscation goals in mind. The goal is to bring down real knowledge based on sufficient scientific evidence into the realm of faith. This is nothing but a word game that only believers will accept. And accept it they do, because they need to believe. Christian philosopher Matt Flannagan has misused the argument of philosopher of science Larry Laudan, that there is no clear demarcation between science and non-science. Flannagan argues this undercuts the method of science in an attempt to bring science down to the level of faith. But the problem of defining a correct demarcation of science from non-science is not a problem for science at all. It’s like trying to specify which whisker, when plucked, no longer leaves us with a beard, an informal fallacy. Just because we may not be able to define the exact point between science and non-science doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference. There is most emphatically a difference between science and non-science. It does nothing to show there is a small point at which they may converge.

But wait! There is more.

What is skepticism? Evangelical apologist Thomas Talbott claims he is a true skeptic because he is skeptical of skepticism. What can that possibly mean? Skepticism is a filter we subject claims to. We cannot doubt that filter without letting in all kinds of unsupported claims. But yes, I'll grant he's skeptical, but it's merely a faith-based skepticism as opposed to a science-based skepticism. Ed Babinski lists several things Christians have been skeptical about including: Satan, Cats, Forks, Christmas and other Holidays, Plays, The Use of Musical Instruments in Church, The Abolition of Slavery, The Right of Females to Vote, Child Labor Laws, Educational Information About Sex and/or Birth Control, Condoms, Anesthesia & Anesthetics, Cures for Malaria and Syphilis, Inoculations and Vaccinations, Striped Clothes, Split-Breeches, Short Dresses, Long hair (on men), Short hair (on women), Drinking, Dancing, Rock and Roll Music, Playing Cards (or Billiards or Pool), Going to the Movies, Watching TV, Masturbating, Dishwashers, Democracy, Working or Playing on Sunday, and, Touching Women. By contrast, a true skepticism is science-based.

What is naturalism? Randal Rauser claims we cannot define it unless we contrast it with supernaturalism, thus bringing supernaturalism in the back door with our attempts. How about this: All that exists is matter in motion?

What is an extraordinary claim? It's an "out of the ordinary" one. The more "out of the ordinary" it is the more extraordinary it is, and the more evidence needed to substantiate it. If someone claimed to levitate then we would need more than his testimony to accept it. If someone said his ass talked we would want his ass to talk in front of us before we could accept it. No sane person would accept such a claim in today's world, even if there was a doubting Thomas who said he wouldn't believe it until the ass talked in front of him, and subsequently claimed he heard it talk.

I find all of these attempts to be semantic obfuscation games, plain and simple. This is the kind of intellectual gerrymandering we expect from believers. When pressed against the wall they will say anything to to defend their faith. Stephen Law is right: “Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.” (Believing Bullshit, p. 75). It reminds me of a story:
Consider the story of the man who thought he was dead. He went to his doctor, who tried to reason with the man that he was really still alive. Finally the doctor asked the man, "Do dead men bleed? If you cut a dead man, does he bleed?" The man replied, "No. The heart is not beating, there is no blood pressure, so if you cut a dead man, he does not bleed." The doctor then took a scalpel and nicked the man on his finger, and he proceeded to bleed. As the blood continued to come forth, the doctor said to the man, "See, you are bleeding. What does that tell you?" And the man answered, "Well, I guess dead men do bleed after all."
This story illustrates what skeptics see over and over again, and why faith is irrational. Believers will either deny the evidence or they will reinterpret their faith to adjust to the evidence. Only a very rare few of them will ever seriously question faith itself.

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