Thursday, January 29, 2009

Logos, Pathos, Ethos

My final thoughts on the issue of doubt and apologetics is really not some new insight. It is as old as Christianity itself. But it is something about which I think we need to be constantly reminded -- especially those of us who are drawn toward science, concrete evidence, proofs, logic, and the intellectual aspects of the apologetic project.

I fully admit that I am biased toward appeals based on these aspects of the art of persuasion. I don't apologize (pun intended) for any of them. But I am also fully aware that these are not the only -- or sometimes even the most effective -- means available. Persuasion consists of more than throwing what you believe are indisputable facts out in front of people and waiting for them to marvel at your brilliantly constructed argument, then fall prostrate in awestruck agreement with you.

Persuasion is a multi-faceted art. Aristotle called it rhetoric and it consists of a triangular (Logos, Ethos, Pathos) approach that cannot stand with any one side removed. As it plays into the discussion of doubt, these aspects of persuasion are perfectly suited to appeal to wherever that doubt may originate.

LOGOS

It is interesting that the Greek word logos consists of much more than our modern English translation into the single word which appears in capital letters in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word (logos) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That the logos was existent before the beginning of the world and became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth takes on a whole new meaning when we realize that the Greek concept of logos included the entire life of the mind (re: William Dembski, Intelligent Design):
  • The way by which inward thought is expressed (speech)
  • Inward thought or reason itself (reason)
  • Reflection, deliberation (choice)
  • Calculation, reckoning (mathematics)
  • Account, consideration, regard (inquiry)
  • Relation, proportion, analogy (harmony, balance)
  • A reasonable ground or condition (evidence, truth)
In other words, Jesus brought the mind of God into the flesh with all the wisdom and knowledge that goes along with that concept. The logos is no doubt vital to any attempt to defend the faith. This is the aspect of persuasion that most apologists gravitate toward. It is the appeal to the intellect that, in my humble opinion, must accompany every apologetic appeal at some level. After all it is in the renewing of our minds, Paul tells us, that our transformation toward Christlikeness begins (Romans 12:2). But it does not stand alone. It cannot.

PATHOS

This is the emotional aspect of our persuasive package. It can be expressed through true stories about ourselves or those we are close to that personalize our experiences and bring our real-world contact with God into places where those we are talking to may be able to relate. For a skeptic or doubter who holds their view for emotional reasons -- and, as we have seen, this is quite a prevalent reason -- this can be a powerful way to break through those emotional barriers.

ETHOS

This is the authority by which the speaker influences the audience as a result of his/her honesty, trustworthiness and respectability -- it is the measure of their character. In his book, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig refers to this as the "ultimate apologetic," the most effective and practically persuasive facet of the Christian faith. According to Craig, the ultimate apologetic involves two relationships: the apologist's relationship with God and their relationship with others. The former should be our preoccupation in life; an infatuation with God that seeps out into everything else we do. The latter should be the fruit of the former; a loving attitude that draws people toward us but, more importantly, toward God. This may be the only way that those who have rejected God for volitional reasons may ever come to know Him.

I have listed these in the order they seem to emerge from most apologists (perhaps I should only speak for myself). What is telling is that we regularly seem to have it completely backward. For all the accusations that we absorb due to the hypocrisy of many of our fellow followers of Christ (which, no doubt, includes me), the ethos of the apologist can do much to disarm the negativity that precedes our attempts to persuade. As someone once said, "What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say." Through our pathos we can appeal to those who may have emotional reasons, especially with regard to the ever-present problem of evil, for their doubt or disbelief. Those who are persuaded by emotion can be led by it in either direction. And finally, the logos gives us the evidence and factual information that builds the foundation for our case.

Maybe there is no "right" order to these methods of persuasion. I don't know. But I have come to realize, mostly through my own failures, that each of them is vital to the apologetic enterprise. We owe it to those who doubt to meet them where they are. And since we have no way of knowing where that is -- especially during a short encounter -- we must be prepared in every way to do so. As ambassadors we also owe it to the Sovereign we serve.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Doubt: More Than One Way To Get There

{This is the fourth in a series of posts centering on doubt for the month of January, 2009}

Having taken a cursory look at doubt, its origins and implications over the last few posts, I hope I have addressed its reality and shown some empathy for those who experience it. To ignore or disregard the reality of doubt is to do a disservice to almost everyone you know. No one is immune to this thing we call doubt. As one who spent time as both a full-blown atheist and one of the world’s most influential Christian apologists, C. S. Lewis speaks with authority on this subject:
“Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. [Whichever worldview we embrace] mere feelings will continue to assault our conviction ... as I remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true.”
The intersection of emotion and experience -- especially painful experience -- is a powerful instigator of doubt -- a common place for doubt to rear its imposing head. But it is not the only place. It can also come through reason.

Philosopher Antony Flew (from a book review, “Holy Probable,” in Touchstone, May, 2008) has, since 1950, been one of -- if not the -- leading proponents and apologists for philosophical atheism. In his 1966 book, God and Philosophy, Flew made what he called a “systematic argument for atheism” by arguing that we have no ability to identify God in any positive way and “that was impossible validly to infer from a particular religious experience that it had as its object a transcendent divine being.”

Flew’s atheism was not, it seems, an emotional response. Likewise, in fairness to him, I have no reason to suspect that it was a volitional decision (though that is the case with many atheists who simply refuse to submit to the authority of someone outside themselves). Flew had reasoned his way to atheism.

You may notice that each my references to Antony Flew is in the past tense. In 2000, Antony Flew rejected his former atheism and declared himself a deist. He did so by again reasoning that the Intelligent Design arguments were impossible to disregard -- that there is simply too much evidence that the design we see in life cannot have come about without the intervention of a powerful mind. Flew doubted his doubt and reasoned his way back to God.

My point is that we never know the reasons for someone’s doubt. Because that is true, our apologetics cannot be one-dimensional. A final thought on that next time.

{C.S. Lewis quote from Gary Habermas’ essay, “C. S. Lewis and Emotional Doubt” in the book he edited with David Baggett and Jerry Walls, C. S. Lewis as Philosopher.}

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praying For My President

I have a Facebook account and, after the November 4, 2008 election, I joined a group there named: 1,000,000 Christians Praying For President Obama. Though I vehemently disagree with Mr. Obama' politics I have been, and will continue to keep, doing just that. But as I sit here watching the historically significant and orderly transition of power that is unparalleled by any other nation in human history, I want to point out that in doing so I am not praying for Mr. Obama to be successful.

Let me explain.

I will pray for the racial reconciliation we all need to embrace and for Mr. Obama's unique ability to foster it. I will pray for wisdom, courage, grace and humility for Mr. Obama in what will no doubt be some gut-wrenchingly difficult decisions he will have to make -- some as soon as today. I will pray for his personal safety, his family's safety, and for the safety of those over which he is charged with acting as Commander-in-Chief. I will pray that he is true to the faith he professes in Jesus Christ and that his term as President will be marked by a powerful, vital expression of that faith. I will pray that he will honor the moral principles that descend from the truth of that faith. In that light, I pray that he will support and defend this nation and the Constitution that forged and has sustained it, by encouraging adherence to the Biblical principles that are its foundation and the basis for all that we have been endowed with by our Creator.

In that sense, I do pray for Mr. Obama's success, but not in another sense.

Mr. Obama seems to lean toward nationalization of private institutions like health care and banks. He has showed a tendency to seek socialist answers to economic problems. He has fought hard (discussed here) -- harder than any other politician I know of -- to deny the rights and dignity of human life to the most innocent and helpless among us. He has even proudly voted to deny life to infants who survive the deliberate attempt to abort them in the womb. None of these can be defended by a Biblical view of the world and so I must pray that in each of these areas, Mr. Obama's presidency will be an utter failure.

I am not optimistic about Mr. Obama's motivations or aims regarding these latter issues. From what I have seen, and from what he has said, I fear that he will pursue, and probably be successful in attaining, the worst of each of these. So for that I have one more prayer ...

I pray that I am wrong.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not Seeing, Still Believing

{This is the third in a series of posts centering on doubt for the month of January, 2009}

Michael Novak's newest book, No One Sees God: The Dark Night Of Atheists and Believers, came out recently. I have not read the book yet, but have read a few reviews of it and, to be honest, it was those reviews that prompted me to focus on the issue of doubt this month. Here is an excerpt from one of those reviews:
Novak brilliantly recasts the tired debate pitting faith against reason. Both the atheist and the believer experience the same “dark night” in which God’s presence seems absent, he argues, and the conflict between faith and doubt stems not from objective differences, but from divergent attitudes toward the unknown. ... He shows that, far from being irrational, the spiritual perspective actually provides the most satisfying answers to the eternal questions of meaning. Faith is a challenge at times, but it nonetheless offers the only fully coherent response to the human experience.
Novak is a brilliant man, and a devoted Catholic philosopher. I have read his work before and, as you can see from the overall thrust of his book above, I am inclined to agree with most everything he writes. Everything, that is, except the most quoted lead-in to almost every reviewer's comments on this book. Though I believe I share his conclusions, I have to disagree with one of his main premises quoted here:
"Neither the atheist nor the believer sees God. Both must live in darkness. Both must try to figure out from many clues, gleaned from here and there, who they really are in this vast cosmos, in this tiny arc of the universe, on this spinning blue-green ball, possibly insignificant among the galaxies, asteroids, cold dead planets, and even deader moons."
Why does Novak think this "dark night" is inevitable? He seems to have bought the naturalistic notion that faith -- on both sides of the issue of accepting the existence of God -- is nothing but blind, wishful thinking. He seems to think that the theist can't know or prove its truth and therefore believes in spite of this lack of proof.

I don't buy it.

True, we can't "see" God. No argument there. God is a spirit -- a non-physical entity -- so it is no surprise that, unless He decides to miraculously allow it, we won't be "seeing" Him anytime soon. But it doesn't follow from that that we live in sheer darkness regarding His existence.

Specifically, I do not share his view that what we look up at are nothing but "insignificant galaxies, asteroids, cold dead planets, and even deader moons." The design argument for God's existence rests on the fact that these objects we see in the night sky are anything but insignificant. Without them we would not be here. Given the laws of nature that govern our world and the vast, black cosmos it moves within, life could not possibly have come to be, or continue to survive, without them. Even atheistic scientists recognize this fact and have labeled it the Anthropic Principle in recognition of the fact that the cosmos seems to have had mankind in mind because it all seems too well-suited for our human existence to be accidental.

Neither does C. S. Lewis share Novak's assessment. In the first book of his "Space Trilogy," Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis's hero, Ransom, is kidnapped and taken to Mars. As he hurtles through space, Ransom comes to experience a "progressive lightening and exultation of heart" which he soon recognizes as his own awakening:
A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of 'Space': at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now -- now that the very name 'Space' seemed a blasphemous libel for this empryean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it 'dead'; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren; he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with som many eyes ... No: Space was the wrong name.
For an even more ancient account of this realization, go read Psalm 19.

I would submit that those who doubt because they cannot "see" are simply looking with the wrong "eyes." And by that, I do not mean to imply that they should rely on "the eyes of their heart" -- that gloriously misused notion of relying on subjective feelings -- to discern their way to truth. In this case, an understanding of the beauty, majesty and design that defines the creation first comes through "eyes" of the intellect -- then seeps into us as a properly informed view of the nature of the Creator God. Seen that way, there is no missing Him.

The human tendency to want to believe in something is fulfilled when we come to the realization that our observations about the universe we live in are perfectly consistent with the nature of the God described in the Bible. No, we still can't "see" Him with our physical eyes but, like footprints in the sand, we can see evidence of his presence and be perfectly justified in believing that He is, and always has been, a God Who Is There.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Irrationality Of Calling Religious Folks Irrational

{This is the second in a series of posts centering on doubt for the month of January, 2009}


"It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

G.K. Chesterton's character, Father Brown

A favorite charge leveled at religious believers by those who denounce their belief system is that they are ignorant, gullible, irrational and, on Richard Dawkins' view, "deluded." As comedian Bill Maher puts it, "You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god." To go along with the discussion of doubt, I dug up a recent Wall Street Journal article that touches on this topic. Titled, "What Americans Really Believe," the piece reports on ...
a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University [in September, which] shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.
Hmmm. It is interesting to me that folks like Maher and Dawkins want to base their knowledge of the world solely on rationalism which they equate with scientific (as opposed to scientific, philosophical and theological) arguments. In that light, they are content to lob insulting assertions about the intellectual vacuousness of religious folks. But the research offered here by the WSJ is based on research studies done by ... scientists. So, instead of just lobbing insults, I propose that we look at the actual data.

The Gallup Organization recently polled Americans about questions like: Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?
  • 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things.
  • Only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.
And here's a favorite of mine: "While increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that ...":
  • Less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches
  • The figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.
In summary then, religious and more educated people are less likely to hold to what Maher and Dawkins might call "irrational" beliefs. This data is in direct opposition to the claims they make. In fact, Maher himself ...
... is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience ... Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by is the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.
I also find it interesting that some of the most influential people in our culture are the Hollywood elites who personally and professionally (through their artistic work) mock religious people for their archaic anti-rationalism. These are the anointed few who, regardless of their education or background, are regularly called on to: lecture us about our duty to all kinds of justice issues; testify before Congress about scientific and cultural issues because they may have made a movie about them; and find increasingly inventive ways to wedge their agenda into media meant to influence us to think the way they do. At the same time, one of their most popular belief systems (I hesitate to use the term religion) is Scientology, the brain-child of science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard proposes that emotional duress in an individual's life is caused by an accumulation of unpleasant memories and traumatic incidents, some of which predated the life of the human. In Scientology, he further stated that spirits (or "thetans") have existed for tens of trillions of years (several orders of magnitude greater than the scientifically accepted estimate of the age of the universe). During that time, Hubbard says that thetans have been exposed to a vast number of traumatic incidents and have made a great many decisions that influence their present state. According to Hubbard, thetans were conditioned by extraterrestrial dictatorships such as Helatrobus in an attempt to brainwash and control the population ... Among these advanced teachings is the story of Xenu (sometimes Xemu), introduced as an alien ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy." According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today.
This is just a short summary of the beliefs of Scientology, a "religion" brought to us by and for the enlightened elite who make a game of mocking traditional faith. Without going into any more detail, I find it amazing that those who believe nonsense like this could look down their collective noses at anyone who holds to Christianity.

I bring all this up for a very important reason: Nobody believes in nothing.

It seems that we humans have some kind of innate propensity to believe in something outside ourselves that serves to validate and give meaning to our existence. If not the commonly recognized religions that have been around since humankind came on the scene, we will gravitate to something bizarre or even dangerous. It is hard to justify this human characteristic outside of some kind of theistic/deistic reality. I don't see any way to explain it within a naturalistic worldview.

I suppose one could appeal to some kind of Darwinian explanation that serves to promote the will to survive, but I don't see how. A belief in abstract concepts like: other-than-physical reality; life after death; the need to rectify our moral failings; or even the need to "better ourselves," do not square with a purely deterministic, mechanical world.

Instead, it seems more "rational" to comprehend and seek a better form of reality that draws us its way because there actually is one. I can't fully explain this human characteristic otherwise. I don't think this view is irrational at all, especially if it also serves to explain the metaphysical aspects of rationality we all seem to understand innately. Or, to quote one who put it better than I ever could:

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

~ C. S. Lewis

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dealing With Doubt

Some recent discussions I've heard and been involved in have gotten me thinking about the issue of doubt. This is not an easy topic to talk about -- especially for those who have been racked by guilt for doubting or, in the extreme, rejected their faith as a result. I want to approach this issue over a couple of posts because I don't just want to talk about why people doubt. That seems obvious to me. Instead, I want to tackle this from the perspective of our approach to the apologetic project and the need to keep a conscious, deliberate sensitivity to it perpetually in our minds.

I don't think anyone would claim they have never had doubts about their faith. The first time I remember experiencing doubt was as a twelve year-old on a visit to the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. On a trip meant to fortify my Roman Catholic upbringing, I had just the opposite reaction my well-meaning mother had hoped I would have. I remember being overwhelmed by the gaudiness and extravagance of the wealth I saw on display in the various museums. I wondered (and actually asked my mom) "why they couldn't sell all that stuff and feed some poor people?" I remember standing in an inordinately long line that stretched outside the main entrance to St. Peter's Cathedral.

After waiting and waiting, I was stunned and perplexed when I saw reached the destination for which we had all been waiting in line -- a statue of Mary. Each of the faithful in front of me were kissing their fingers and touching the feet of the statue as they moved in front of it. When I reached the front of the line I recoiled when I saw that the tops of the statue's feet were worn smooth from the thousands (millions?) who had gone before me. I drew my hand back toward my chest, hoping my mother wouldn't notice. I'm not sure I really understood why, but it was the first time I remember doubting my faith ... and it is a moment I will never forget.

My dedication to Catholicism was never the same again. Five years later, when I was self-assured and rebellious enough to say it out loud, I rejected my Catholic upbringing altogether. Being a teenager, my self-righteous cockiness at proclaiming my independence left a lot to be desired, but that's another story.

We have all heard stories like this and worse. Those who have lost loved ones or witnessed the pain and suffering in the world that they cannot justify in their minds, have turned away in horror and anguish from a God who would allow such a thing. There are those who have been harmed or humiliated by the hypocrisy or arrogant self-righteousness they have witnessed in the church. There are those who have been demoralized by scientific arguments they think pull the rug out from under their view of God the Creator.

There is a common thread to all stories like these. Each instance of doubt stems from the lack of a complete picture of the faith against which we rebel.

Yes, I still believe my reaction at the Vatican was justified though I could never have expressed it at the time. It took years of study and reflection before I realized that my revulsion at the foot of a statue gave me no reason to doubt Christianity itself. What I was really reacting against was not God or my faith, but the manifestation of its idolatrous human corruption. Likewise, it seems that many who claim to have been serious about their Christian faith and then moved away to agnosticism or atheism, will attribute their doubt to emotional or experiential factors that they could not overcome or accept. Yet they have failed to pursue a sufficiently, intellectually rigorous examination of all the implications that converge in understanding the character of God.

Conversely, many who reject their faith due to intellectual doubt, have done so not for the purely rational reasons they insist demand their unbelief, but for emotional or experiential deficiencies their intellect cannot explain away.

Each of these causes for doubt are powerful and difficult to overcome. But, I submit, that is so because those who cling to them have not been sufficiently exposed to the whole truth -- the the Big Picture. Of course, a doubter will respond that the same could be said about me -- that I have not sought to comprehend a complete understanding of their unbelief. Maybe they are right. But I think my view is further supported by a phenomenon I will address in my next post, and that is that it seems we cannot help ourselves from believing in something. And that something must offer a holistic explanation for our experiences and our emotions. The question is, what will that something be?

Earlier this week I heard a discussion of a similar topic in which I was reminded that Jesus' disciples were confronted with this same question. In John 6, after some particularly difficult teaching which many could not accept, several of Jesus' followers gave up and walked away. On observing this, Jesus asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?"

Peter's reply should be thought provoking to those who doubt. He said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life."

It's a great question. Where will you go? What other view of reality makes more sense of everything we observe about the way the world we live in actually is? I think the process of evaluation is ongoing and never-ending. What I hope to address over the next couple of posts is how our knowing this should serve to affect our apologetic project.

More to follow ...

[A disclaimer: The experience I share here is in no way meant as a denunciation of the Catholic faith. My differences with Catholicism are with theologically specific issues of justification and authority. But I do not want anyone to think I am so presumptuous as to doubt the salvation or sincerity of my Catholic friends. I do no such thing. If anything, my studies over the years have served to make me more appreciative of the Catholic Church's view of tradition and its relentless defense of human life and dignity. In short, I believe we are all on the same team and sincerely hope my comments here do not imply otherwise.]