Apologetics: Can Someone Believe in Natural Selection and the Reality of Evil?

The topic of evolution has had considerable play in our culture. The debate has essentially remained the same for a century and a half – is evolution compatible or incompatible with Christianity? Challenges to Christianity have been leveled by a group called the New Atheists, who understand the world through evolutionary lenses.

Though the New Atheists’ popularity among academics has waned somewhat, they still have quite a bit of traction among the general public. For the most part, their works are accessible (easy to read) and are readily available. Further, their ability to communicate difficult matters in an approachable manner allow the New Atheists’ ideas to reach a wider audience. Thus, they remain today a formidable challenge for Christians to answer.

Interestingly, there is one point on which Christians and New Atheists can agree – the reality of evil. If you were to read the works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, you’d find that one of their biggest objections to Christianity is the problem of evil. Sam Harris has spent considerable time on the reality of evil (The End of Faith) and on a related issue – the grounding of morality (The Moral Landscape). But, while we can agree with the New Atheists regarding the reality of evil, there is much they leave to be desired, particularly how one can know that evil exists.

Today (8/8/17), I had an article published in Themelios titled “Natural Selection and an Epistemology of Evil: An Incompatible Pair.” In summary, I argue that one cannot hold to a belief in natural selection (a key aspect of Darwinian evolution which the New Atheists hold to) and in the reality of evil. In short, I argue that if natural selection were true, then what we perceive as evil is really just the natural working out of the blind, impersonal process of natural selection. Any act of evil from one human to another is really just the struggle of a species to survive and advance. If natural selection were true, then one cannot know what evil is and that something is evil – evil isn’t real. Thus, the New Atheists’ appeal to the problem of evil begs the question – they assume what evil is and then point to evidence of evil to support their arguments against Christianity.

The New Atheists’ appeal to evil as an argument against Christianity just simply does not work.

Literature and Apologetics

This past semester I had the opportunity to teach Apologetics. For the last two weeks of class, I focused on using literature for apologetic means. The motivating idea (influenced by C. S. Lewis, James Sire, and Holly Ordway) behind the lesson is that often times, objections to Christianity are not just intellectual, but emotional, experiential, etc. However, the wealth of apologetic resources that we have available today primarily deal with the rational aspect of humanity–intellectual objections to Christianity. Modern apologetics, though valuable and needed, only deals with one aspect of the human condition. When we seek to reach unbelievers, we need to have at our fingertips a more holistic approach.

Though literature alone is insufficient as an apologetic method, it can be a valuable tool to help make important apologetical issues reach the heart of the unbeliever–the unbeliever’s emotions, feelings, desires, etc. In doing so, literature helps to drive home the truths of Christianity.  To help illustrate what I’m referring to, my student, Paige Murrell made the following video for a class project:

If we seek to take seriously apologetics, then we need to address all objections brought by the unbeliever, whether they be intellectual, emotional, or experiential. As such, strive to broaden your apologetic repertoire–sometimes, a novel, a song, or other artwork may help to address an objection the unbeliever has to Christianity.

This post is intended to be an introduction of sorts to the idea of broadening your apologetic approach. I plan to write more on this later. In the meantime, check out the following resources that call for a more robust apologetical approach:

I encourage you to check out Paige’s work at http://thestorysketcher.com/. She is a talented artist; you will not be disappointed!

Apologetics: Reflective and Reactive Thinking in a Social Media-Driven World

In a previous post, I shared how the reactionary-nature of social media leads to more reactionary ventings than actual “engaging the culture.” What under girds our tendency for reacting as opposed to engaging is that our way of communicating online tends toward reactive thinking over reflective thinking. Before I explain what I mean by reactive and reflective thinking, allow me to set the context.

The Internet and social media (from here on out shortened to “the Internet”) gives us the ability to access news and goings on with incredible ease. Likewise, we can respond to issues with incredible rapidity. Gone are the days of waiting for news to unfold; we can literally watch (or read) the news as it unfolds. In a related vein, but one more germane to my topic for this post, is one’s ability to develop and maintain a presence online and garner a following of sorts. One does not have to rely on the traditional methods for their voice to be heard (print, TV, radio). Now, the Internet offers a far cheaper and instantaneous method for one to develop and project their voice to a much larger audience than the traditional avenues. Consistently post and reply to others’ thoughts, and you can develop quite a following and presence rather quickly.

Today there is a push in corporate America, academia, and even within the church for individuals and groups to develop an online presence. Now, developing an online presence is not a bad thing, but the reactionary-nature of the Internet and social media feeds the sense that one must respond quickly and frequently in order to stay current and relevant. Such an approach – though helpful at times – does not foster good thinking habits. Rather than fostering reflective thinking (where one takes some time to think through the implications of one’s assertions, the relevance of their examples or support, or the coherence of their thought with their worldview and with the Gospel), one is caught up in the moment of winning the verbal battle or making their voice heard above others. The end-goal is short-sighted as one seeks to deal with that issue at that moment. After the issue has concluded or attention has shifted elsewhere, the work one has done evaporates in the wake of the never-ending Internet news cycle. Thus, maintaining one’s online presence involves constant awareness of current news and the cultivation of one’s ability to think quickly and broadly. But, I’m afraid, it does little by way of fostering deliberate and sustained thinking. Instead, it becomes easy for one to create the habit of what I call reactionary thinking – a sort of thinking on the fly in order to address the immediate issue in the context of a specific argument within a particular forum (comment section of an article/blog post, Facebook post, a Tweet, etc., etc.).

By British Cartoon Prints Collection - Library of Congress Catalog

By British Cartoon Prints Collection – Library of Congress Catalog

Perhaps I’ve overstated the issue here. However, I know that in my own experience of developing some sort of online presence while maintaining a writing schedule for journal and book publication, I’ve found that I am caught between the Scylla of maintaining a research and writing schedule that demands reflective thinking, and the Charybdis of maintaining an online presence – one is sacrificed over the other. Broadly speaking, when a Christian seeks to address cultural issues, they tend to favor either engaging the culture (as intended by Carl F. H. Henry and others) or reactionary ventings (as fostered by the Internet and social media). In short, one is caught between the Scylla of reflective thinking and the Charybdis of reactionary thinking. When one is faced with these two options, a person generally fosters one type of thinking over the other.

The more one favors a particular mode of thinking over a period of time, the more it becomes habit. And when something becomes habit, it becomes the default mode for approaching various situations. If more time is spent developing and maintaining an online presence, then they will tend to favor and employ reactive thinking. However, if one develops and maintains a presence in taking time to spend time on a particular issue, then they default to reflective thinking. Unfortunately, I think many of us today (myself included) have defaulted to reactionary thinking as more time is spent surfing the Internet and social media.

Note, what I’m not saying is that we have an either-or situation. There are times when reactive thinking is needed, and there are other times when reflective thinking is required. What I am saying is that if we are to favor one mode over the other as our default approach, it ought to be reflective thinking. Too often, it seems, we think on the fly – as if the matter requires immediate resolution or addressing. Too often, it seems, we give too little time to reflection before we speak (or write). We have put the proverbial cart before the horse. An emphasis on reactive thinking only reinforces reactive thinking. However, if we place the proverbial horse before the cart (emphasize reflective thinking over reactionary thinking), then what we do is enable one to develop a solid foundation from which one can think reactively when the situation calls for it. Reflective thinking can inform and foster reactive thinking, but the converse is not true – for reactive thinking begets only more reactive thinking.

What many think of when they hear "reflection." Credit: By Karora - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2810153

What many think of when they hear “reflection.”

So, what does reflective thinking look like? For many, I’m sure, “reflection” conjures up images like The Thinker where one is caught up in deep, sustained, uninterrupted thought. For others, it may include original and profound thinking. While these characteristics are included in reflective thinking, they are not the essence of reflective thinking. Rather, here are some characteristics of reflective thinking that I believe are less intimidating but capture what I believe we all can practice:

  1. Allow time to pass between one’s reception of and response to an issue. I think the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 provide an excellent illustration here. Upon hearing Paul preach the Gospel, they would “receive the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (ESV). The Berean’s did not just receive and react to Paul’s message. More importantly, they went home and studied Scripture to ensure that what Paul said was actually the case and then acted upon what they heard and studied. When there’s an issue you need to address, don’t feel that you have to respond immediately with your complete answer. Giving yourself time allows your emotions to settle; often times emotions can cloud thinking and dictate how you respond. Further, distance between the issue and your response gives you the opportunity to consider other angles that you may not have considered otherwise.
  2. Ask questions. As a parent, I know how wearying questions can be. However, the longer I have taught and parented, I’ve come to see the value and necessity of questions. Asking questions helps to drive reflection, it guides one’s thinking, and it helps you to go beyond the surface issues. Further, asking questions can sometimes help you to “see” where the other side is coming from; the more you understand the assumptions and underlying motivations of the other person, the better you can respond. Questions aid you to this end.
  3. Read (or Re-read) on the Issue. Sometimes you may be very familiar with the issue, while at other times you may have some level of unfamiliarity on a particular topic. Regardless, read what others have said (both those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree). There’s little by way of original thought – somewhere someone has written what you are thinking or has alluded to what you want to say.2 Be informed (as much as possible) before you respond.
  4. Talk to Others. Sometimes just talking to someone about an issue helps you to think through its various nuances. The other person may provide some helpful insight or ask some pointed questions. Or, just vocalizing your thoughts may help you to “see” something you had not thought of before (this happens to me often). Further, by talking to others, your thoughts will be accountable to others – a reminder that you are not a lone ranger, but a member of the body of Christ.
  5. Remember the Big Picture. Issues do not occur in isolation, nor do your thoughts. That is, what you say now can have implications down the road. Further, what you share is a reflection on you, your family, your church, and on Christ. As a believer, you are a Christ-bearer; as such, do your best to speak and write in such a manner that you reflect Christ. Pray, asking the Lord for his wisdom and discernment. Remember, interacting with others is not about you (or me); rather, it’s ultimately to proclaim the truth of God in Christ.

Reflective thinking is not for the deep thinkers or the ivory tower academics – this is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Rather, reflective thinking is something we are all capable of doing. More importantly, it’s something we are all called to do – note the Bereans’ example. Further, 1 Peter 3:15 implies that we reflect upon what we believe before we give a defense for our faith. Finally, when Jesus states that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth, this implies that we are to understand what this truth is and how it directs our life before God and others.

Lastly, reflective thinking need not be something you do when in isolation (free from distractions) or when you are able to devote an hour or more to it. Rather, it’s something that you can do as you go or when you have a lull in action. The great thing about thinking is that you can “take” your thinking with you anywhere you go.

In short, as we develop the habit of reflective thinking, our responses will become better informed, structured, and poignant. Further, we will have a better foundation upon which to think reactively when called upon.

Always Be Prepared

At The Southern Blog, I have written a post (Always be Prepared to Make a Defense) that discusses how understanding the philosophy of our day helps believers to fulfill Peter’s command in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV).

This post is a small part of my work to show how philosophy – rightly understood – can be of service to theology and to the defense of the Christian faith. I hope you find it helpful!

VanTil “History and Nature of Apologetics” on iTunesU

I’m teaching Apologetics I this semester at Boyce College and, in preparation, I’m brushing up on presuppositional apologetics (something of which I’m not too familiar). I’m approaching the course by studying the history of apologetics (using Avery Cardinal Dulles’ History of Apologetics and Sweis and Meister’s Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources) so I’m not going to focus comparing and contrasting the various apologetical approaches. However, it’s helpful to approach the history of apologetics by connecting it to contemporary discussions, particularly one that’s rather prevalent in my circles – the classical approach to apologetics vs. the presuppositional approach.

On a general note, iTunes U has many free lectures on a wide range of topics, so be sure to check it out!