Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paul Copan on common ground

Second, Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God's image, which is not erased by the fall. Someone has said, "A person who believes in total depravity can't be all that bad!" Yet in some Reformed circles, the doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei. The Scriptures affirm otherwise (Gen. 9:6), and God can and does speak to unbelievers through reason, beauty, moral failure, and the existence of evil. As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used philosophical arguments for his existence, scientific supports for the universe's beginning (Big Bang) and its fine-tuning, and historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus to assist people in embracing Christ---just as God uses the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16) or the loving character of a Christian community (John 13:35). These are all part of the holistic witness to the reality of God and the gospel, all of which the Spirit of God can use to lead unbelievers to embracing Jesus Christ.

Several problems:

i) No mainstream Reformed theologian thinks the fall effaces the imago Dei.

ii) Copan is using the imago Dei as a cipher to pour in gallons of psychological properties. But I don’t think that’s exegetically sustainable. In Scripture, the category of the imago Dei doesn’t have all that psychological content. Take David Clines’ classic monograph:

iii) Presuppositionalists like John Frame and James Anderson don’t object to deploying a variety of different arguments in Christian apologetics.

iv) Common ground is person-relative. Take the abortive debate between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett:

D. Dennett & A. Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (OUP 2010).

That went nowhere because Plantinga and Dennett don’t share enough common ground to build a bridge.

v) This brings us to the noetic effects of sin. Depending on where you come down on that issue, you will have different views about the unbeliever. Some professing Christian apologists think it’s rational to be an atheist. An atheist is a sincere truth-seeker. He is arguing in good faith. The problem is insufficient evidence.

But on another view, the impediment is less intellectual than ethical or emotional–less a matter of reason than will (or willfulness). The unbeliever is a rebel. His problem is not a lack of light or enlightenment, but turning his back on the light.

As a result, the unbeliever will try to rig the game. Impose arbitrary rules of evidence to filter out evidence that challenges his unbelief. And this isn’t just theoretical. Some unbelievers are clearly evasive. Try to find common ground with Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Keith Parsons, David Hume, or Ernst Troeltsch.

Or consider the recent debate between Paul Copan, Richard Hess, Thom Stark.  There’s no room for constructive dialogue. No way to advance the argument.

vi) This doesn’t mean apologetic dialogue is futile. Rather, there is no presumption regarding how reasonable or unreasonable any particular unbeliever will be. A Christian apologist will do the best he can, but some unbelievers give him nothing to work with.

vii) The rules of evidence are frequently far from “neutral.” Take methodological naturalism. That’s a prejudicial stipulation. A Christian apologist can’t operate within that framework–and he shouldn’t. That needs to be challenged, not accommodated.

1 comment:

  1. "iii) Presuppositionalists like John Frame and James Anderson don’t object to deploying a variety of different arguments in Christian apologetics."

    And neither did Gerstner or Sproul in Classical Apologetics.
    And I don't think Bahnsen or Van Til did either.

    Perhaps we should object to radical pre-sup?
    Where only one type of deployment is considered acceptable?

    Shouldn't we find this as objectionable as the radical monotheism of Islam?