Introduction to Apologetics

<p>What is apologetics? In short, it is giving good reasons and evidence to believe that Christianity is true. Apologetics focuses on some big questions about the truth of Christianity such as the following: Does God exist? Who was Jesus? How do we know Jesus was God? Is the Bible even historically reliable? Questions like these often appear front and center in our culture where skepticism of religious claims is the norm. The lectures below can help prepare you to address these questions in a Biblical manner, giving a "defense for the hope that you have" in Christ "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Follow along with Adam’s Introduction to Apologetics class to learn about the good reasons and evidence for God, Jesus, and the truth of the Scriptures.</p>

What is apologetics? In short, it is giving good reasons and evidence to believe that Christianity is true. Apologetics focuses on some big questions about the truth of Christianity such as the following: Does God exist? Who was Jesus? How do we know Jesus is God? Is the Bible even historically reliable? Questions like these often appear front and center in our culture where skepticism of religious claims is the norm. The lectures below can help prepare you to address these questions in a Biblical manner, giving a “defense for the hope that you have” in Christ “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Follow along with Adam’s Introduction to Apologetics class to learn about the good reasons and evidence for God, Jesus, and the truth of the Scriptures.

Part 1A: What Is Apologetics?

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “to give a defense.” Apologetics, then, is giving a defense using good reasons and evidence for why our faith in Jesus is true. Apologetics is useful for two reasons: to help Christians who may be struggling with doubt about Christianity and to encourage non-Christians to trust in Christ for salvation. It primarily focuses on three areas of study, philosophy, science, and history, that form the basis for evaluating the evidence for Christianity. When doing apologetics, three different methods have developed which various Christians have used. They are the classical approach, the evidential approach, and the presuppositional approach. The classical approach often starts by examining the evidence for the existence of God and connecting that to Jesus. The evidential approach usually emphasizes historical evidence for the Bible and for the resurrection of Jesus. The presuppositional approach reverses these paradigms and argues that God’s existence and the Bible’s truthfulness must be presupposed before we can use our reasoning ability to consider these types of questions.

Part 1B: Objections to Apologetics

Objections to doing apologetics can come from non-Christians and from Christians alike. Some people say that to claim that your religious faith is objectively true, which implies that other religious are false, is intolerant. However, this assumes an incorrect definition of tolerance. One can do apologetics and be confident about his beliefs while being fair and respectful to other people’s positions. Others claim that religious faith is only a subjective preference; they believe that it can’t be objectively true. The claims of apologetics, however, like so many other fields of study, are claims to objective truth, because they are claims about how reality really is. They don’t just focus on what is “true for me,” but on what actually corresponds to objective reality. Finally, there are some who think that faith and reason can’t or shouldn’t go together – that to have faith is therefore not to be thinking rationally. This view results from many years of Western history where various thinkers separated the roles of faith and reason. However, a premodern understanding shows that faith and reason can actually support and reinforce one another.

Part 2: The First-Cause Argument for God’s Existence

The first-cause argument for God’s existence, often called the “kalam cosmological argument,” says that God exists because the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, then the universe needs a first cause, and that cause is likely God. In fact, there have been many first-cause arguments made by philosophers in different cultures, such as Aristotle’s unmoved mover. Today, it is well established that everything that beings to exist has a cause; things don’t just pop into existence out of nothing. In addition, based on the evidence from many scientific discoveries, scientists almost unanimously agree that the universe had a beginning. This is based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, Hubble’s discovery of the red shift through his telescope, cosmic background radiation, and other phenomena. Therefore, since everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist, then the universe must itself have a cause. But what is this cause? From the first-cause argument, we can infer that this cause must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, incredibly powerful, and intelligent – much like how God is described.

Part 3: The Design Argument for God’s Existence

The design argument for God’s existence, also called the “teleological argument” or the “fine-tuning argument,” says that God exists because the universe, earth, and life all look like they have been designed. This type of argument has been around for thousands of years, being formulated by figures such as Socrates, Plato, and even Hindu thinker Adi Sankara. Through empirical observation, we can see that every design has a designer. We’ve never observed design coming from any other source than from an intelligent mind. How do we detect design? When something is both complex (it has multiple parts) and specified (the parts are not randomly arranged), it can be said to be designed. One way we notice design in the universe is by the fine tuning of its physical constants. We also notice design in the way that the earth is very specifically situated in our galaxy and solar system to allow life to exist. Finally, we notice design in the way life itself is put together and in the information it contains in its DNA. All of this evidence of design points to the existence of a designer, an intelligent supreme being like God.

Part 4: Does Evolution Prove There’s No God?

Some people claim that evolution has defeated the argument for God’s existence from the design found in life, but has it? Evolution is the idea that all of life can be traced back to a common ancestor and that natural selection of random mutations can explain all the diversity in life. We know that natural selection is simply a scientific fact, but how powerful is it? Can natural selection produce new types of organisms? One scientist, Michael Behe, has argued that natural selection is not powerful enough to produce new species. Based on the evidence from studying fruit flies, malaria interacting with sickle-cell anemia, and HIV, Behe says that there seems to be a limit to what the evolutionary process can produce that falls short of new species. If this is true, then it indicates that evolution, on a large scale, is false. If evolution is false, then certainly it can’t prove that there is no God. However, even if evolution is true, it still doesn’t prove that there is no God. It might weaken the design-of-life argument somewhat, but evolution still can’t explain the origin of life in the first place. Plus, there are many other good arguments for God’s existence that aren’t related to evolution at all. The existence of God and evolution are not mutually exclusive beliefs.

Part 5: The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

The moral argument for God’s existence says that God exists because He is the best explanation for the fact that there are objective moral truths. Unlike the first-cause and design arguments, the moral argument is not based primarily on scientific evidence. Rather, it is based on the premise that objective morality is self-evident – we intuitively know that some things are right and others are wrong. Objective morality means that there are moral truths that exist beyond anybody’s own individual preferences, beliefs, or opinions. So, if morality is objectively real, what’s the best explanation for it? Where does it come from? Morality seems to be of a personal nature, and so it would make sense that morality comes from a personal source, but some atheist philosophers like Erik Wielenberg now argue that even though morality is objective, it doesn’t need a personal source. However, Adam believes that the description of God as a trinity in loving relationships provides the best explanation for the existence of objective morality.

Part 6: Does the Problem of Evil Prove There Is No God?

The problem of evil is something we probably all struggle with at one time in our lives. If there really is a good God out there, then why is there so much pain and suffering in this world? There are two ways to look at the problem of evil: the logical version and the probability (or evidential) version. The logical version argues that if God is all powerful and all good, then evil wouldn’t exist because God can and would want to eliminate it. Thus, since evil does exist, it is impossible for God to exist. In response, Alvin Plantinga has proposed the free-will defense, which says that God allowed human beings to have free will, and no matter how God could have created us, there would always be a way we would choose to do evil. This is known as “transworld depravity,” and it sufficiently responds to the logical problem of evil. But since all this evil exists anyway, isn’t it the case that God probably doesn’t exist? This is called the probability version of the problem of evil. Christians have offered various explanations, called “theodicies,” of why God would allow evil. Examples of these include the Greater Good theodicy or Adam’s own Divine Love theodicy, which says that God allowed evil because he wanted to create beings who could love like He does, but love requires free will. In order to allow His creatures to truly love Him and love each other, they had to have the free will to do so. God can’t force us to love, because then it’s not truly love.

Part 7: Whose Description of God Is Correct?

The first-cause, design, and moral arguments for God demonstrate that a supreme being exists. From these, we can infer that this supreme being is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, incredibly powerful, extremely intelligent, morally perfect, and personal. But who is this supreme being? Which religion or culture’s description of this supreme being is correct? The Greeks believed in a form of henotheism that recognized the existence of a supreme being behind the world, like Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover.” The Persians held to a monotheistic religion called Zoroastrianism which affirmed a supreme being. Jewish culture was monotheistic as well and believed in the existence of Yahweh, a supreme being. Ancient Indian cultures, such as the Nyaya tradition, also posited the existence of a supreme being. Arabic thinkers, such as al-Ghazali, used philosophy to argue for the existence of a supreme being. However, whose description of this supreme being is correct? To determine this, we have to examine the evidence. Christians think that the strongest evidence seems to be that Jesus of Nazareth is this supreme bring; that is, He was God. By studying history, we see that Jesus actually existed, He claimed to be God, and He did miracles to authenticate His claim to be God.

Part 8: Jesus’ Miracles Prove He Was God

If the arguments for the existence of a God are valid, the next logical question is this: whose description of God is correct? Christians claim that Jesus was God, but is this true? We know that Jesus existed in history and that He claimed to be God, but how can we know that His claim was true? One of the key pieces of evidence that Jesus was God is that He performed miracles to back up His claims to divinity. A miracle is when an act of God suspends the laws of nature, and miracles are crucial in establishing whether someone truly has a message from God or not. However, David Hume said we should never believe a miracle claim, but is this true? Hume made the mistake of discounting evidence for miracles because they are rare, but just because something is unlikely doesn’t mean it should be disbelieved. It can be prudent to be skeptical of unlikely events, but you still must weigh the evidence. In the case of Jesus’ miracles, the historical evidence far exceeds that of any other miracle claim. Using miracles isn’t an airtight way to prove something with absolute certainty, but miracles can provide evidence that something is from God, since only God can do miracles.

Part 9: Do We Have an Accurate Copy of the Original New Testament?

If Jesus’ miracles are good evidence to believe that He was God, how do we know that Jesus performed miracles in the first place? The New Testament contains much of the evidence of Jesus’ miracles, but can we trust the New Testament? Does the text we have today accurately represent the original New Testament? Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, says there are some problems with the accuracy of the New Testament. Another New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger, believes that the copy of the New Testament we have today is highly accurate. Two main criteria considered when looking at the accuracy of ancient documents are the number of copies we have and the length of time between the original the copies that survived. When we compare the New Testament to other ancient documents such as writings of Aristotle, Herodotus, and Homer, we find that there are many more and much earlier copies of the New Testament than almost all other ancient documents. We have over 6,000 surviving Greek copies of the New Testament, some written within 150-200 years of the original. According to Bruce Metzger, we can recreate the original New Testament text with 99.5% accuracy.

Part 10: Why Believe the New Testament Authors Told the Truth?

Sometimes it can be hard to know if a person is telling the truth, but there are common indicators we often use to determine if someone is probably telling the truth and has the facts straight. By applying these criteria to the New Testament, we can see good evidence that the New Testament authors told the truth. This evidence includes the fact that the New Testament writers gave their testimony soon after the events took place. Through historical analysis, we can verify that their testimonies include may accurate historical facts and are confirmed by non-Christian historical sources. In addition, the New Testament authors include embarrassing details in their accounts that make them look bad. Since any differences between the gospel testimonies turn out to be small and reconcilable, it increases the credibility the accounts. Finally, the fact that the New Testament authors were wiling to suffer and die for their testimonies indicates that they believed they were telling the truth. Overall, these reasons can give us confidence that what the New Testament writers told us about Jesus is what they believed to be the truth.

Part 11: A Cumulative Case that Jesus Is God

Anybody can claim to be God, but how do we know Jesus really was God? One of the ways we can know this, of course, is that He did miracles. That is probably the strongest piece of evidence we have for claiming that Jesus is God, but there are other pieces of evidence that can support this conclusion. Jesus is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, moral teachers. According to the historical sources we have about Him, Jesus seems to have lived up to the moral standards He taught. Jesus is one of the most, if not the most, influential persons in all of world history, and He accomplished this by merely being a poor, itinerant teacher for three years. Jesus also fulfilled many prophecies about a coming Messiah which we can confirm were written hundreds of years before He lived. Two of the most outstanding of these are the Messianic prophecies from Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53. Finally, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Paul says that our entire Christian faith depends on Jesus’ resurrection. It is the key miracle which validates Jesus’ claim to be God. One of the ways to demonstrate Jesus’ resurrection is to use the “Minimal Facts Argument,” which puts forward Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation of the well-attested historical facts about Jesus that many critical scholars affirm.

Part 12: Is the Bible from God?

What reasons and evidence do we have to believe that the Bible is really from God? Our main source of evidence for this is that those people who wrote the Bible, who had messages from God, were able to do miracles to prove or authenticate that their messages were from God. Jesus and His disciples claimed that the Old and New Testaments were from God, and then they did authenticating miracles to back up those claims. However, the Bible is a collection of documents written by human beings, not by God Himself. The doctrine of inspiration tells us how God used human beings to communicate His messages. Even though the Bible is from God, there are two senses in which it can be considered true: it can be true for all major historical events but may have small errors with minor details, or it can be completely correct in all details. This latter sense is called the doctrine of inerrancy, the claim that the Bible contains no errors. Christians believe the Bible is inerrant because God inspired the text of Scripture, and God cannot lie. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was written in order to explain what Christians do and don’t mean when they speak about the Bible being inerrant. However, even if we’re wrong about inerrancy, Christianity would still be true, because God still exists and Jesus is still God, even if the Bible contained some minor errors.

Part 13: What Books Should Be in the Bible?

How do we know what is a message from God and what isn’t? We know by miracles, which authenticate that something is really from God. There were three unique time periods when many miracles took place, and these were the times that major parts of the Bible were being written: the time of Moses, the time of the prophets, and the time of Jesus and the apostles. There is good historical evidence that the apostles did miracles to back up their claims, so the New Testament should include the books that the apostles said were from God. The early church did the historical research necessary to conclude that the 27 books in the New Testament were really messages from God and that books like the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” were not. Early church councils like the Council of Nicaea didn’t make the Bible; they merely verified which books were really affirmed by the apostles. An apostle’s affirmation of a book was more important than its authorship, because not all books (Mark, Luke, Hebrews) were written by an apostle. For the Old Testament, we can look at the development of the Hebrew canon and what Jesus and the apostles affirmed to determine what books should be in the Old Testament. There is disagreement among Christians about the “apocryphal” or “deuterocanonical” books. Catholic and Orthodox Christians accept some of them while Protestants reject all of them. Even though we disagree on this, if God exists and Jesus is God, then Christianity is true, even if we’ve made minor mistakes about which books should be included in the Bible.

Part 14: Is Apologetics Biblical?

Does the Bible condone the use of apologetics? The intuition found in the first cause, design, and moral arguments for the existence of God seem to be affirmed in Romans 1 and 2. Many cultures concluded that a supreme being exists based on general revelation alone, and this is not a coincidence. This is confirmed by Paul’s speech in Acts 17. Arguing that Jesus is God is also confirmed by the Bible when Jesus tells people to use a “miracle test” and look at His miracles to know if He is really God. In the Old Testament, God gives Moses miracles to prove a message was given to him by God. Moses said to test claims to have messages from God by evaluating the evidence, and the Bible affirms that we should use historical investigation to see if its claims are true. However, some Christians still object to the use of apologetics. Modern philosophy has influenced the church to separate faith from reason and look down on reason and think of faith as uncertainty. Thomas Aquinas used faith and reason together and did particularly well in balancing general and special revelation properly. It can be said that philosophy is the study of general revelation and theology is the study of special revelation. Many verses that Christians use to try to say that the Bible opposes using reason to ascertain truth are not interpreted properly in context. Yes, the Bible is both self-sufficient and self-authenticating, but we must be careful about what we conclude from the meaning of those terms.

Part 15A: Human Freedom vs. Divine Determinism

Sometimes human free will is a problem skeptics raise against the existence of God. This objection is usually presented similarly to this version by Nelson Pike: (1) If God exists, then He has infallible foreknowledge. (2) If God has infallible foreknowledge, then humans can’t have free will. (3) But humans do have free will, so (4) therefore God must not exist. Several solutions have been proposed to answer this objection to God. One such solution is called “Open Theism,” and it rejects premise 1 and says that God does not have infallible foreknowledge of free human choices. This response falls outside the bounds of orthodox historical Christian thinking. Another solution that rejects premise 1 focuses on the idea that God exists outside of time and therefore His knowledge is not foreknowledge but is rather timeless. A third solution called Okhamism rejects premise 2 by saying that future free choices cause God’s knowledge even though they happen chronologically after God has that knowledge. A fourth solution called Compatibilism rejects premise 3 by claiming that human beings do not have free will in an absolute sense. Many Calvinists and Reformed theologians take this position. Finally, another solution is Molinism, named after Luis de Molina, which rejects premise 2. Molinism claims that God can have “middle knowledge”; in other words, He can foreknow what all humans would freely do in any set of circumstances.

Part 15B: The Problem of Religious Language

Some skeptics will articulate an objection to Christianity by raising the problem of religious language. They will allege that, even if there were a God, since He is such an infinite and transcendent being, our language would be inadequate to describe Him, and thus all our talk about Him is meaningless. There are three main responses that have been offered to this. One response says that language referring to God is univocal; that is, when we use words to describe an infinite God, they have the exact same meanings as in other finite contexts. In other words, there is no problem with religious language. Another response claims that religious language is equivocal, which means that our language can’t actually describe God because an infinite God always transcends the ability of finite language to describe Him. However, on the equivocal position, our religious language is not completely meaningless, as it can describe certain aspects of God or our experience of God. A third response is that our religious language is analogous such that it has some connection to what God is like and can describe Him using comparisons and similarities. Some adopt a hybrid position that the language itself is univocally defined but analogously applied to both finite humans and an infinite God.

Convincing Proof