Faith & Self Defense

Building Confidence Through Evidence

Street Epistemologists – On Guard Final

Street EpistemologyWe come now to the final chapter in our special Faith and Self Defense series Street Epistemologists – On Guard.

Street epistemologists are atheists who try to ‘talk people out of their faith.’ Peter Boghossian in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists described street epistemologists as ‘people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community–into any and every place the faith reside–and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.’ (A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian, Pitchstone Publishing, 2013) That’s the reason we recommend Christians be ‘on guard’ and prepare their children and teens to talk with street epistemologists.

We’ve looked at the Five Steps of Faith Defense that come from the world of Self Defense:

Step One is to Be Aware.

Step Two is Beware.

Step Three is Be Prepared.

Step Four is Be Ready.

Step Five is Be Quick.

Now it’s time to put everything we’ve learned into action.

Responding to Street Epistemologists

We should be ready to respond to street epistemologists and anyone else who wants to talk with us about God, the Bible and Jesus Christ, at any time. Jesus sent His disciples into the world to preach the Gospel to everyone.  The Apostle Paul said God has given Christians the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ and made us “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us.” The Apostle Peter said Christians should “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Every Christians have the obligation and opportunity to talk with people about ’embracing reason and faith.’

With that as our goal, here are 7 Basic Rules for Responding to Street Epistemologists.

#1 – Be in Prayer

Engaging atheists or any non-Christians in a discussion about the supernatural Gospel MUST include engaging in supernatural prayer.

There are at least four prayers Christians should pray as part of talking with non-Christians about the Gospel of Christ.

Prayer 1 – Pray that God will guide you to talk with non-Christians about the Gospel of Christ because He loves them and you love them

Prayer 2 – Pray as you begin talking with non-Christians that God will give you a sharp and nimble mind and the right words to share

Prayer 3 – Pray as you talk with non-Christians that the Holy Spirit does what only He can do in convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment

Prayer 4 – Pray regularly for the non-Christians after you speak with them that God will draw them to Himself and convince them of His love for them and their need to be reconciled to the God who loves them

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:2-4

#2 – Be Loving

Jesus placed every encounter between Christians and non-Christians into the proper perspective when He said – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) As ambassadors for Christ we are speaking for Christ and communicating His message to people. Jesus said that message is about God’s love for the world and how He demonstrated His love for the world ‘in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

Love is not an option. If we are going to represent Jesus Christ as ambassadors, we WILL love people because Jesus loves people. What did Jesus mean when He said He loves people? He meant that He loved them so much He would ‘die’ for them–and die He did.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

#3 – Be Confident

We can be confident in the evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible and that the credibility of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian has nothing to do with closing your eyes and taking some big ‘leap’ of faith. It has everything to do with looking at the substantial amount of historical evidence for Christianity and walking forward boldly in confidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

#4 – Be Humble and Kind

You’ve heard the saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ We have every reason to be humbled. Salvation is by grace, not by works. Every Christian is fortunate that God gives us what we do NOT deserve and does not give us what we DO deserve. We who were ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins are now ‘made alive’ in Christ because of God’s love and mercy. Keeping that in mind at all times, we have every reason to be humble and kind as we talk with non-Christians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22

#5 – Be Clear

We need to speak with clarity to people who don’t believe in God. Our speech should be logical, reasonable and rational. Our defense (apologia) should be the best we can present. We are ambassadors for Christ. Our answers and arguments should be clear and concise, leaving no questions unanswered.

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:5-6

#6 – Be Patient

Patience is an important aspect of ‘faith defense’. The Apostle Paul said that some people plant and others water, but God gives the increase. The ministry of apologetics is sometimes planting, sometimes watering, but God will bring His Truth to bear on the hearts and minds of unbelievers and lead them to Himself. Trust God, speak the truth in love, and be patient.

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:11-12

#7 – Be Available

One of the things you’ll notice about many of the testimonies of atheists who have become Christians is that someone was ‘available’ to them. Most atheists I know who became followers of Jesus Christ were influenced by one or more people who were loving, kind, knowledgable, patient and available. I remember with great appreciation the availability of Christian apologists in my life as I was investigating the truth claims of the Bible and Christianity. No matter what was going on in their lives, they were always available to spend time with me and answer the hundreds of arguments and questions I threw at them. Be available to your children and teach them the importance of being available to unbelievers, even when it’s not the convenient thing to do.

Communicating with Street Epistemologists

Communication occurs when all parties involved have heard each other, understood each other, and can respond to each other in ways that are both heard and understood. That’s easy to say, but how do we know when we’ve arrived at true communication with another human being? Is it when I say something to someone? Is it when I say something to someone and they say something back to me that sounds like we’re talking about the same thing? Or is it something else entirely?

Christians are called to do many things: love, serve, confess, forgive, pray, submit, speak, represent, preach, teach, admonish, persuade. Our goal is more than someone hearing what we’re saying. Our goal is even more than being heard and understood. Our goal is to represent God and persuade people about God’s message to them (2 Corinthians 5). Persuasion leads to a ‘decision point’ where the person with whom we are communicating makes a decision about what we are saying. Their decision may be to agree with God about their sinfulness before Him and welcome His forgiveness through Christ. Their decision may be to disagree about their sinfulness before God and walk away from His offer of forgiveness through Christ. Their decision may also be to ‘think about it.’

Not everyone we talk to about the Christian worldview is going to agree with us. Jesus explained that beautifully when He explained to His disciples about the parable of the sower. Jesus said that a sower went out to sow see and it fell in four locations: by the wayside, on stony places, among thorns, and on good ground. The Lord told His disciples that some people will hear the ‘word of the kingdom’ and not understand it. Some people will hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, but endure for only a while. Some people will hear the word, but become unfruitful because of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Some people will hear the word, understand it, and bear fruit. While Jesus is the original Sower of the Word, we are involved in a similar ministry as His representatives in this world.

In each of those four examples of ‘sowing’ the Gospel, only one group of people heard the ‘word’ and understood it, and those were the people who bore spiritual fruit. However, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus told His disciples another parable.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” Matthew 13:24-30

This reminds us that we have an enemy who is actively involved in opposing our ministry of preaching the Gospel and persuading people to hear, understand and bear fruit. Satan is involved in sabotaging the good work of Christ in the world and will oppose us as well. God allows both wheat and tares to grow up together until the harvest. It is at the great future harvest when God will divide the wheat from the tares: the tares burned and the wheat gathered into ‘my barn.’

Responding to street epistemologists is more than just interesting conversations with people who think differently than us. This is truly a life-and-death matter of eternal significance. We should do our best to represent God in a way that demonstrates the ‘power’ of the Gospel.

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.” 2 Corinthians 5:9-11

With these important aspects of ministry in mind, I’d like to share 4 Basic Methods of Responding to Street Epistemologists based on this idea of communicating with the objective of  hearing, understanding and persuading.

# 1 – Ask Questions

When someone says something to you, or in response to something you say to them, it’s natural to want to ‘speak declaratively.’ That’s the process of making a claim or assertion. However, that’s often not the best method for ‘communicating for understanding.’ Asking questions helps bridge the gap between ‘hearing’ and ‘understanding.’

“I heard you say you don’t believe God exists. Why not?”

“I heard you say there’s no evidence for Jesus being a real historical person. Why do you say that?”

“I heard you say that the disciples of Christ were hallucinating when they claimed they all saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Why do you say that?”

“I heard you say that you are a Mormon. What does a Mormon believe?”

“I heard you say you believe in ‘karma.’ What is karma?”

Telling a person what you heard them say is an assurance to them that you heard them correctly or is a cue that you misheard them. If they think you misheard them, they can restate their point and you can repeat it to assure that your question is appropriate to the context and meaning of their statement. Based on how they respond to your question, you may have comments or follow-up questions.

The key in asking questions is to understand what the person you are speaking with means by what they said. If they mean one thing and you think they mean another, your conversation will probably go in a bad direction. Asking questions will help you know that you are responding to what someone really believes. The love of God will guide you in asking the right questions.

Another reason for asking questions is to get to the root of why people say what they do. Here are examples of some common objections. Think about what questions you might ask in each situation. Keep in mind that the purpose of asking questions is to deepen the communication.

_______________

Atheist – “Christians are just stupid to believe the Bible.”

Christian – “Why do you believe that?”

Atheist – “Because they are.”

Christian – “I understand that you think Christians are stupid to believe the Bible, but what brought you to that conclusion?”

_______________

Atheist – “A loving God would never let people suffer.”

Christian – “Why not?”

Atheist – “Suffering is bad, so anyone who would allow suffering is bad.”

Christian – “How do you define ‘love’ and suffering’?”

_______________

Atheist – “Christians are judgmental?”

Christian – “Is that your judgment of Christians?”

Atheist – “I’m not judging anybody. Christians are the ones who judge.”

Christian – “How do you define judging?”

_______________

Atheist – “There is no absolute truth.”

Christian – “Is that true?”

Atheist – “Of course it’s true!”

Christian – “If, as you say, there is no absolute truth, how can you support the truthfulness of your statement?

_______________

Atheist – “Christians are intolerant people and they frustrate me.”

Christian – “Are you being tolerant of Christians?”

Atheist – “Of course I am! It’s Christians who are intolerant.”

Christian – “How do you define tolerance?”

_______________

Atheist – “Jesus never existed. He’s a myth.”

Christian – “How do you know that?”

Atheist – “Everybody knows that! Christians made up Jesus.”

Christian – “Do you have evidence that Christians ‘made up’ Jesus?”

Atheist – “I do.”

Christian – “I’d love to go through the evidence with you.”

______________

The purpose of asking the questions in these scenarios is to find out why the atheist believes what he believes and move from confrontation to communication. Asking the right questions at the right time in a discussion can lead to deep communication that results in people realizing the powerful evidences for believing in God and the Christian worldview.

# 2 – Answer Questions

A good conversation will include questions from everyone involved. It is a demonstration of true engagement in a discussion and helps ensure a fair exchange of ideas. If you are talking with someone about spiritual matters for several minutes and notice that the person has not asked you any questions, stop for a moment and see what questions they may have for you.

“Thank you for answering my questions. Do you have any questions for me?”

If the person has no questions for you, it may be because they are not engaged in the discussion, think they understand what you mean, or that their opposition to your position is so intense they do not want to know what you mean. Ask them a question to find out what questions they may have for you.

“I’m curious what questions you have for me.”

The goal is to build the best communication possible with people. Each party asking and answering questions for understanding is an excellent way of doing that.

It almost goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), answer the questions asked of you to the best of your ability. If you are not sure of how to answer someone’s question, be honest and let them know you will think about it and get back with them. Christians should be interested in knowing and speaking truth, so there’s no reason fudging an answer when you’re not sure.

# 3 – Speak Truth

Christians believe they know the truth. Jesus said He is the Truth, so anything a Christian believes must be the truth since all Christians know Jesus. Right? That wasn’t even true during the early years of Christianity, so we know it’s probably as bad or worse today.

Something I hear a lot when talking with atheists about Christianity is how can they believe anything we say when we don’t even agree with each other (Christians with Christians). Good point. If we’re going to be involved in representing God on earth, we need to know what’s true about Christianity.

Speaking the truth means we have to ‘know’ the truth before we speak it. I recommend that Christians who want to be involved in an apologetics/evangelism/discipleship ministry should have a good understanding of the truth from ‘primary’ texts. That includes the writings of the prophets and apostles and people who trained with the apostles. The idea of a ‘primary’ text is that it was written during the time under study. If you want to know what Christians believed and practiced during the 1st century AD, read the writings of Christians who lived during the 1st century AD (e.g. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, Paul, Clement of Rome). I’ve also found it helpful to read the writings of Christians who lived during the 2nd century AD to see what they believed and practiced as well (e.g. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr).

# 4 – Reason with Logic

Christians are often accused of being ‘unreasonable’ and ‘illogical’ in the way they think and the way they speak. Unfortunately, those accusations are sometimes true. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jesus is called the ‘logos’ (word, reason) of God (John 1:1). The idea of the Greek word logos is of a collecting or collection of thoughts in the mind that are expressed in words. It’s the process of reasoning in the mind first, followed by speech.

The Apostle Paul was said to have ‘reasoned’ with people as he shared the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. Using logic and reason was one of Paul’s primary methods for ‘persuading’ people in many contexts about the Gospel of Christ.

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” Acts 17:2-3

“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 18:4

And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 19:8-10

And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Acts 24:24-25

Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’ But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’ And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26:24-29

Study the words of Jesus Christ and His apostles to see how they used logic and reason as they talked with people, especially people who opposed them. Also study the writings of Christian apologists during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when Christians were undergoing extreme persecution and the writings of current Christian apologists and those from the past 100 years.  Watch how they build logical arguments for the Christian worldview and reason with non-Christians.

# 5 – Finish with Hope

The Gospel of Christ is a message of ‘hope.’ The early Christians included that message in their communication with non-Christians. The Apostle Paul told Governor Felix that he had ‘hope in God’ that there will be a ‘resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.’ (Acts 24:15). Paul told Christians that the ‘riches of glory’ of the Gospel message was “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) ‘Paul referred to ‘hope’ more than 40 times in his letters to churches and Christian leaders. It was a primary theme for the apostle.

The Apostle Peter spoke of the ‘living hope’ Christians have ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ Peter called that hope ‘an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter also told Christians to be ready to give a defense (apologia – reasoned answer) “to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15) The context of the ‘hope’ Christians have to give a reasoned defense is because of the ‘resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’

The Apostle John, writing in the context of the future resurrection of Christians because of the past resurrection of Christ, wrote  that “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Christians are a ‘people of hope’ and should therefore be hopeful. Demonstrating that hope should always be an important part of our sharing the Gospel message with non-believers. The hope that we experience now ‘can be’ their hope as well.

Keep in mind that good communication involves much more than following a formula or format. You are doing far more than just (1) asking a question, (2) answering a question, (3) speaking truth, (4) reasoning with logic, and (5) finishing with hope. You are ‘communicating’ at the deepest level possible .. mind to mind, heart to heart, soul to soul, life to life. There is no more important communication than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is truly ‘life changing.’

Putting It All Together

7 Basic Rules for Responding to Street Epistemologists

#1 – Be in Prayer

#2 – Be Loving

#3 – Be Confident

#4 – Be Humble and Kind

#5 – Be Clear

#6 – Be Patient

#7 – Be Available

5 Basic Methods for Responding to Street Epistemologists

# 1 – Ask Questions

# 2 – Answer Questions

# 3 – Speak Truth

# 4 – Reason with Logic

# 5 – Finish with Hope

Completing the Circle

Let me complete the circle we began several months ago. We responded initially to comments by Peter Boghossian and other street epistemologists about the goal of street epistemology being to ‘talk people out of their faith.’ Dr. Boghossian tweeted about our article (Breaking Down Street Epistemology) and we heard from many street epistemologists who questioned us about our thoughts concerning defending the Christian worldview. That led to this special series about understanding what street epistemologists are doing, why they are doing it and how Christian parents can prepare their children and teens to talk with atheists about Christianity. Bottom line: be on guard.

[Click here to download a 145-page FREE Ebook of the completed series about Street Epistemologists .. useful for families, small group studies, churches and schools]

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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27 thoughts on “Street Epistemologists – On Guard Final

  1. Hi, Phil. In your last comment, you wrote:

    “If you agree that any actual rational god of the universe would not promote irrationality as something warranting salvation, you’ll also have to reject the god of any holy book promoting binary belief. Right?”

    You are comparing binary (a whole composed of two) belief with irrationality. That’s your opinion (or interpretation) and you can certainly reject God and the Bible based on your opinion. However, your opinion about whether He exists or not does not affect His existence. His existence is true or it is false. If God does exist, then what He believes about saving faith trumps opinion and interpretation to the contrary.

    Do you believe God exists?

    • Let me confirm this, Mark.

      If you want me to believe in your God first, and only after I believe can I properly assess whether your God is worth believing in, correct?

      You want me to believe in a way I consider irrational in order to understand that the irrationality I employed was actually rational, correct?

      How does this differ from what the Muslims want me to do?

      Don’t you think it is dishonest to first believe in a God with belief you considered to be irrational under the dubious presumption that later you’ll have confirmation from that God that your irrational belief is actually rational by his decree?

    • And take a good look at your comment…

      “…your opinion about whether He exists or not does not affect His existence.”

      Why would you say this if you were not confusing epistemology with ontology?

      Is there anything that does not either exist or not exist? No. So why would you include an ontological statement you know we both agree on in a discussion on epistemological honesty?

      Your opinion about whether Allah exists does not affect Allah’s existence. But who cares? We only what to know whether it is rational to believe in Allah. The same goes for your own god. Right?

    • Hi, Phil. Are you interested in a discussion or a debate? I’m interested in the truth of a matter and that means following the evidence. I like talking with people and will be glad to continue talking with you, but please understand that I won’t follow your rules of debate in our discussion. I believe it’s rational to believe what the evidence supports. I believe the evidence supports the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible and reality of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thanks!

    • The problem is rational belief is not binary. Salvific belief in the Bible is binary. Therefore the Bible is not rational, and therefore I reject the Bible.

    • Hi, Phil. Allow me to clarify. Belief, I believe, should be based on evidence that is rational and reasonable. If the evidence leads you to believe in God, then that would be a rational decision. I followed the evidence and it led me to believe in God .. a rational decision.

    • My Muslim friends tell me the very same thing.

      Here’s the problem. Rational belief is not binary. Salvific believe is binary. Therefore the Bible is not rational. Therefore I reject the Bible.

  2. Sorry, that penultimate paragraph should have read…

    “Yet, the Bible clearly states that this rationally honest child would be eternally damned, while another child exposed to the same evidence, yet accepting Jehovah and rejecting Allah would gain eternal life for their irrational choice.”

    • Hi, Phil. I understand the difference between ontology and epistemology. Whether the God of the Bible exists or not (ontology) affects how we believe in Him (epistemology) because of what the Bible tells us about our human condition before God and His response (soteriology). From a Christian perspective there is a serious question about how people can ‘know’ truth because of their sinful condition before God. The Apostle Paul wrote – “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” (Ephesians 2:1-3) While we can ‘know’ certain things about God – “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20) – more specific information about God comes to us through ‘revelation.’ According to the Bible, God is rational in His decisions because of His perfection. People are often irrational in their decisions because of their imperfections.

      Speaking of ‘revelation’ – your example of the child with a Muslim mother and Christian father. Even if the child receives an equal amount of evidence for Allah and Jehovah (50% for each), only one can be true since they are not the same. Another option is that neither is true. The option that cannot work is that both opposing views are true. The parents made what they believed were rational decisions about what is true concerning God, but only one of them is right or they are both wrong. The child has a similar responsibility to consider evidence given him for Allah and Jehovah (and Jesus Christ) and make a decision. The child will eventually make a decision he believes is rational and true based on the evidence.

      That is similar to what a jury deals with in a criminal trial. The prosecution presents what it believes is true concerning the guilt of the defendant. The defense presents what it believes is true concerning the innocence of the defendant. The jury (or judge in some cases) considers the evidence presented by both sides (prosecution and defense) and makes a decision of guilt or innocence based on that evidence. The jury may be deadlocked about guilt or innocence, but they cannot give the judge a verdict of guilty and not guilty. The judge may send the jury back to continue deliberations or declare a mistrial, but the judge does not accept a guilty/not guilty verdict. The same is true with a person’s position before God. They are not both guilty and not guilty. That would be irrational.

      I grew up with Christian parents who were very involved in local churches. That meant I was also very involved in local churches. I went through the motions, but did not become a follower of Christ. I was introduced to Hinduism at the age of 12 while attending a Yoga class and to Buddhism months later in a Judo class (later learned about Taoism while studying Chinese martial arts). I considered atheism in college and made a decision to be an atheist. That held for several years until confronted with evidence for theism and Christianity that I had not considered previously. After several months of considering the new evidence, I made what I believed was a rational decision to become a theist and Christian. It would have been irrational for me to learn of new evidence concerning the existence of God and His Son Jesus Christ, but not believe it. Ontology affected my epistemology. That is why I rationally accept the Bible as true.

      Thanks! Mark

    • Mark, I’m sorry, but your claim you know the difference between ontology and epistemology does not hold up against the following comment you made above.

      “Speaking of ‘revelation’ – your example of the child with a Muslim mother and Christian father. Even if the child receives an equal amount of evidence for Allah and Jehovah (50% for each), only one can be true since they are not the same. Another option is that neither is true. The option that cannot work is that both opposing views are true. The parents made what they believed were rational decisions about what is true concerning God, but only one of them is right or they are both wrong. The child has a similar responsibility to consider evidence given him for Allah and Jehovah (and Jesus Christ) and make a decision. The child will eventually make a decision he believes is rational and true based on the evidence.”

      Ontology: Only Allah or Jehovah (or neither) can be actual.

      Epistemology: The child, if receiving an equal proportion of evidence for each god, must place a 50% degree of confidence in Allah, and a 50% degree of confidence in Jehovah. Is is irrational for that child to place his/her degree of confidence at any level other than at 50% if the evidence is at 50%.

      And this is why the Bible is not to be trusted. If the Bible claims to be rational, yet promotes irrational belief as something noble and that should be honerable, then the Bible is demonstrably irrational, and can be dismissed as nonsense.

      Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the evidence. Rational belief is therefore intrinsically gradient. The proposition is binary, but the degree of belief placed in that propostion by any given individual will most definitely not be binary.

      Since the Gospel of John mosts clearly promotes binary belief, the Bible fails the test of rationality, and can be dismissed as nonsense.

      I don’t see how it could be otherwise, but I’ll wait for your defense of the Bible. Just as a reminder, quoting unsubstantiated affirmations of the Bible’s trustworthiness found in the bible is no more evidence of the Bible’s trustworthiness than are the claims of a liar that he is telling the truth evidence of his honesty. That is circular and not something worthy of an actual rational god of the universe.

    • Hi, Phil. Is your argument that God does not exist or that the God who does exist is irrational and not worthy of being God of the universe? If your argument is that God does not exist, then we can discuss evidence for the existence of God. If your argument is that God does exist but is irrational and not worthy of being God of the universe, then we can discuss the many differences between God and His creation.

      As for circular reasoning .. If I researched all of the evidence available for the best car to purchase, then purchased that car and depended on the manufacturer’s manual for how the car worked best and how to deal with problems with the car, would I be reasonable in doing so? Would my dependence on information from the creator of the car be circular or smart?

      Your claim that the Bible promotes irrational belief as something noble and honorable is your personal opinion. It’s not based on fact and cannot be verified to be true. The Christian claim that the Bible promotes rational belief as something noble and honorable is based on factual evidence and can be verified to be true.

      Thanks! Mark

    • Thanks, Mark.

      My basic argument is identical to your argument.

      No rational god would promote, honor and reward irrationality.

      This is what we agree on.

      Now all that remains is to see whether the particular god you worship promotes, honors and rewards irrationality.

      It more certainly appears he does by posing salvific belief as binary instead of the gradient of belief intrinsic to rationality.

      Either you believe or you don’t is the Bible’s position (John 3:18). This is irrational. Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant perceived evidence. So either you must believe the Bible and be irrational, or you must be rational and reject the Bible based on its own indisputable claims.

      This is why I must reject the Bible and its god.

    • Hi, Phil. I see that we are circling back to where we began, so probably no need to go through that again.

      Based on your definition of ‘rational belief,’ what do you believe?

    • Thanks for asking for clarification, Mark.

      Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant perceived evidence.

      There is no “belief switch” that toggles “off” and “on” at a particular threshold of belief for the rational mind.

      We are fallible with out subjective minds equipped only with our subjective experiences. Therefore we clearly can not rationally believe anything with absolute belief. Our degree of belief must be limited to the degree of of evidence we imperfectly perceive.

      I have a very high degree of confidence in the laws of logic since I have never experienced them to fail.

      I’m currently writing this from a beach about 60 km from Tokyo I cycled to this morning. I have a lesser degree of confidence that my bicycle will take me the 60 km back to Tokyo this evening without a breakdown or puncture. Based on my experience, I’ve assessed that there is a ~95% probability that my bicycle will reliably get me home this evening. Therefore, I must position my epistemic certainty at 95% also. It would be epistemically dishonest for me to muster up enough belief to supersede that 95% probability of reliability I’ve assessed to a level of, say, 99%. That would make me irrational.

      The Bible does not treat belief in this fashion. In respect to salvific belief, it only speaks of belief and disbelief, and says nothing about mapping the degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence.

      Due to this illogic, I must reject the Bible as false.

    • Hi, Phil. Thanks for the clarification. You mentioned that ‘we are fallible with our subjective minds equipped only with our subjective experiences.’ I agree. We are fallible and our minds and experiences are subjective (influenced by our personal feelings, tastes and opinions). What if there is an infallible being with an objective mind equipped with objective experiences? Would that being possibly possess a greater understanding of all things than us? Could it be that our fallibility and subjectivity in the way we think and experience cause us to miss out on what might be objectively true?

      Concerning ‘salvific belief’ in the Bible, you mentioned that ‘due to this illogic, I must reject the Bible as false.’ If we are fallible with subjective minds equipped only with subjective experiences, is it possible that a group of writings inspired by an infallible being with an objective mind equipped with objective experiences might be true?

    • Hi Mark,

      If there were a higher being with perfect knowledge communicating with us, we would still be fallible, and would have to test whether 1) it were indeed an actual higher power, 2) whether that higher power were telling the truth, and 3) whether we understood that mode of communication clearly.

      Therefore we still can’t be absolutely certain of anything since even the perfect knowledge of an omniscient mind must be assessed by our fallible minds.

      Therefore the Bible is irrational in its treatment of salvific belief as binary.

      If you agree that any actual rational god of the universe would not promote irrationality as something warranting salvation, you’ll also have to reject the god of any holy book promoting binary belief.

      Right?

  3. Mike on said:

    Wow. This is really poorly thought out.

  4. I’m a nonbeliever who has some serious questions about the nature of salvific faith. Is there anyone would like to address them?

    • Hi, Phil. I took a look at your website and would be glad to help you.

    • Thanks! I currently reject Christianity for many reasons, but a large one is the way salvific faith appears incoherent to me.

      Rationality is believing something to a degree that maps to the degree of the relevant perceived evidence for that thing.

      Yet it appears the Bible very consistently treats faith as if it were binary; either you believe or you don’t.

      I find it inconceivable that an actual God of the universe would want us to be irrational in order to be “saved”.

      How do you reconcile rationality with this binary faith the Gospel of John presents?

    • Hi, Phil. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this topic with you. First, some questions to aid in the discussion.

      I’m assuming you are using the term ‘binary’ in the sense of binary ‘opposition’ rather than binary ‘dualism.’ Is that correct? Would you share some examples from the Gospel of John that you view as ‘binary faith’?

      How do you define the word ‘faith’ used in the Gospel of John? Is the word ‘faith’ used in a different way elsewhere in the Bible? If so, what are the different meanings and where are they used? You mentioned how the Bible ‘very consistently’ treats faith as if it were binary, so some examples of that consistency would be helpful to discussion.

      Based on your understanding of the meaning of ‘faith’ in John and elsewhere in the Bible, why does a ‘saving faith’ appear ‘incoherent’ to you?

      Rationality, as defined in Merriam-Webster, is ‘based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings; having the ability to reason or think about things clearly; relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason.’ Since Christianity is a worldview based on historical data, why do you believe ‘faith’ in that data is irrational?

      How do you define the concept of ‘relevant perceived evidence’ for a thing? Are you using the word ‘perceived’ in the same sense as ’empirical’? If not, how do you define it?

      What do you mean by the phrase ‘a degree that maps to the degree of’? Understand using the word ‘map’ as a verb; wondering how you view mapping in ‘degrees’.

      If it is true that the God of the Bible exists and He created the heavens and the earth .. why would His actions concerning the ‘salvation’ of creatures He made be irrational? If something is ‘rational’ to the one creating something, what would cause that to become irrational in the creator’s world?

      Thanks!
      Mark

    • Thanks Mark.

      I think we are on the same page on some things, but let me clarify.

      1. No actual rational god would bless or honor irrationality among humans, right?

      2. When I say “rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the relevant perceived evidence” I mean that, for every proposition X, the only rational degree of belief in X an epistemic agent can hold rationally is the degree of belief that is equal to the degree of evidence for X that the epistemic agent can assess and has assessed. Right? For example, if I have identified only 2 possible causes A and B for an event X, and the balance of evidence that I perceive is honestly split between A and B, then my degree of belief that A is the cause must be 50%, and my degree of belief that B is the cause must also be 50% if I am to remain rational. Right?

      3. The Bible consistently treats salvific belief, not as if it were on a gradient as do scientists and as discussed in #2 above, but as binary; either you believe or you don’t. Just one passage is found in the Gospel of John. “ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται.” Our term πιστός is consistently treated as something binary in the context of salvific faith all throughout the NT as is clear from a Strong’s search. This is why I must reject the Bible. It promotes an irrational (less than epistemically honest) notion of belief. So, do you think it is possible somehow for a rational god to promote irrationality?

      Thanks, Phil

    • Hi, Phil. The only ‘actual rational God’ I know is the God of the Bible and I don’t believe he blesses or honors irrationality among humans.

      Based on the proposition that ‘the balance of evidence’ you perceive ‘is honestly split between A and B,’ then I would agree in theory based on the idea of an honest split (50-50) for each of the two causes. Please share one or two examples of a real-life X that has only 2 possible causes, A and B, with the balance of evidence that you perceive being honestly split between A and B. That may help with the discussion.

      Your quote, ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, is from John 3:18: The entire verse is ο πιστευων εις αυτον ου κρινεται ο δε μη πιστευων ηδη κεκριται οτι μη πεπιστευκεν εις το ονομα του μονογενους υιου του θεου. The fact you know the Greek tells me you are familiar with the New Testament, so you know that the context is Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night. Nicodemus approaches Jesus as being a “teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus responded with insight into how someone can “see the kingdom of God.” Jesus addressed His perspective as ‘the Son of Man’ and pointed to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, even as ‘the Son of Man be lifted up.’ Jesus then said “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” using the Greek pisteuó (trust in), which comes from peithó (to persuade, to have confidence). Jesus used the same word in verse 16 and 18. The full context of verse 18ff would include – “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

      If X is eternal life and the creator of that life says there is one way that leads to it (A) and one way that does not (B), how does that promote irrationality? It would seem irrational to know that the creator of X says A leads to X and B does not lead to X, yet desire or even demand that it be something different. If you want to live in a new house (X) and the builder of that house tells you the price of the house is $200,000 (A), but you only want to pay $20,000 (B), would it not seem irrational to think that the builder should sell you the house for B? The one who creates/builds can set the price to any amount they believe is appropriate. Does that seem reasonable?

      Thanks, Mark

    • Thanks for your response, Mark.

      It appears you are confusing ontology with epistemology.

      Belief is epistemic.

      Reality is ontological.

      So the notion that there is or is not a god is ontological; a god either exists or does not exist.

      But the notion of belief is wholly epistemic, and as we’ve agreed, wholly depends on the degree of evidence, and is therefore is itself inherently gradient instead of the binary belief promoted by John.

      This is why the bible promotes irrationality, and is therefore not the product of a rational god.

      You asked for a real-life example. Imagine a child with a Muslim mother and a Christian father. The child is provided an equal amount of evidence for both Allah and Jehovah. The only rational position for the child to take is to map his/her belief to the degree of that evidence. So, that child, if that child were rational, would have 50% confidence that Allah was the true god, and 50% confidence that Allah was the true god (if that child also had evidence either one or the other of those gods must exist).

      Yet, the Bible clearly states that this rationally honest child would be eternally damned, while another child exposed to the same evidence, yet accepting Jehovah and rejecting Allah would eternally perish.

      This is why I must rationally reject the Bible as untrue.

    • Sorry, that penultimate paragraph should have read…

      “Yet, the Bible clearly states that this rationally honest child would be eternally damned, while another child exposed to the same evidence, yet accepting Jehovah and rejecting Allah would gain eternal life for their irrational choice.”

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