Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rules of Engagement

When I flew jets in the military, one of the most important aspects of the briefing we received before any mission we flew was on what we called the Rules of Engagement (ROE). These rules included everything from how we would handle our return to friendly skies, after our excursions into "bad guy" territory, to the kinds of methods we would use to label unidentified aircraft as "friend-or-foe," to the maneuvers, headings, altitudes we would use to properly identify ourselves as being the "good guys," to the kinds of ways we were allowed to engage our opponents.

There are two reasons I bring this up. First, we were the ones who established ROE for operational, safety, and political reasons. ROE made mission planning simpler and more efficient. Because the ROE allowed us to know exactly what our teammates were going to do before they did it, we could literally plan and fly missions including hundreds of airplanes without ever speaking a word to one another on the radios. This was important not only to avoid communication jamming and confusion, but also because it would make those who were not complying with the ROE instantly recognizable as a threat. It also helped us avoid the political ramifications that would come with shooting at the wrong guys (good or bad) in the wrong place or at the wrong time. ROE, in other words, were limits we imposed on ourselves in order to ensure a professional, safe and effective deployment of our assets.

Secondly, ROE was a hindrance to us because of our opponents' ability to exploit our civilized engagement with them. This aspect of ROE is in play today maybe more than ever before. Like the guerrilla war tactics employed by the Viet Cong during the Viet Nam War, today's terrorists know our rules and how they can hide behind them. This is what allows terrorists to shoot at our troops from inside mosques, knowing that our ROE will not allow them to respond.

My point is that ROE are necessary restraints on our own operational freedom that we accept even though we know it allows our opponents to take advantage of us. So what does this have to do with apologetics?

As I listened to the Koukl-Shermer debate (transcript here), I realize that ROE is one of the most important points to remember any time you are engaged in a discussion with someone who holds to a naturalistic view of the world. And I am talking about two kinds of ROE.

The first is the general principle we derive from the 1 Peter 3:15 passage all apologists reference to defend the faith. Our apologetic does not just end with making the case; it also includes the admonition to make that case with "gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscious, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

These are ROE we impose on ourselves for good reason. Greg Koukl has mastered the art of the ambassador in this way. And I was also pleasantly surprised at Michael Shermer's cordiality. It made for a pleasant and helpful exchange that listeners could learn something from.

But there was also a second kind of ROE in play in this debate. It concerns ROE that come into play not just with the issue of morality that was being discussed here, but any time a Naturalist/Darwinist attempts to introduce scientific evidence into the discussion. Let's call it a presuppositional ROE.

There are two definitions of science at work in these types of discussions. One is the definition that we have all been taught since grade school. It is an operational definition that we have come to recognize as The Scientific Method. There is no need to repeat it here, but this definition is helpful in keeping scientific inquiry honest. It demands adherence to rigid guidelines that put boundaries on the ways in which we approach the scientific endeavor. Nothing about this needs to be controversial.

But there is also another definition of science at work. This one is not methodological. It is philosophical. This definition is imposed on the evidence and conclusions we are allowed to draw from that evidence. It is a demand that any explanation we deduce from our practice of the scientific method must, by definition, lead us to a naturalistic cause for whatever phenomenon we are studying.

But notice that this definition of science imposes limits on the conclusions we are allowed to draw before we examine the data. This is a definition that cannot be supported by the scientific method. It rests on a belief that only physical causes are valid because agent causation is not an acceptable solution to explain any natural event. It is Scientism: a belief that science is the only way to find answers to our questions, and it is a subset of the Naturalistic worldview.

This is the ROE that allows the Naturalist to claim that "science has disproved God" when science cannot, even in principle, do such a thing. These are the ROE that allow Darwinists to deride Intelligent Design as a "remade neo-creationism" that has no place in a scientific discussion.

The takeaway is that ROE are things we impose on ourselves for noble reasons. What we cannot allow is for an opponent to impose ROE on us for philosophical reasons that serve not to civilize the engagement, but to avoid having it altogether.

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