Friday, October 26, 2007

That’s it?

I am a habitual radio station changer. I perpetually think there must be something better on some other station. Having satellite radio provides me with dozens of opportunities to “change the channel.” One of my regular landing spots is FamilyTalk which, depending on my drive home, can consist of Dr. Albert Mohler. This past week, I happened in the middle of an interview Dr. Mohler was holding with that paragon of Christian philosophy—Dr. Alvin Plantinga. Needless to say, I was interested enough to not flip stations.

There was as bit of hazing of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion in which Dr. Mohler chortled over Dr. Plantinga’s review including the statement, “I would call it sophomoric, but that is an insult to sophomores.” Which was followed by:

Dr. Mohler: Would you say Dawkins wrote with knowledge regarding Philosophy and Theology?
Dr. Plantinga: No, he was writing outside of his area of expertise. But to some extent we all write outside our area of expertise. To write a comprehensive book within these subjects, one would need to be a Ph.D. in Biology, Philosophy AND theology. Frankly, the scope is too wide for any one person to know all these things.

This statement is refreshingly honest. While Dr. Plantinga certainly did not care for The God Delusion, at least he admitted we cannot know it all. At some point we are stuck relying upon information provided to us by others. Sadly, when Dr. Mohler summed up the interview later, he said, “I thought it particularly significant Dr. Plantinga said Dawkins was writing outside his area of expertise.” I found myself screaming at my dashboard, “NO, that is only partially true. Why can’t you be honest and include all writers? Why the spin in only one direction?”

But I digress…

Dr. Mohler: If you had Richard Dawkins in the room right now, what would you say to him right now about Christianity?

I leaned in close. What would Dr. Plantinga say? What did this extremely bright man think was the “magic bullet” for Christianity? Jesus’ words? The Resurrection? The Philosophical viability of a Christian world-view? Again, I appreciated his thoughtful, intelligent response:

Dr. Plantinga: Oh, you can’t reason a person into Christianity. As you know, I believe in the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Without that, there is no arguing a person into Christianity.

I am finding, in debating with apologists, many are greatly impressed by scholarly accolades. By persons who have published numerous books, and have more letters behind their name than the Chinese alphabet. Dr. Plantinga more than qualifies as such an individual. Here we have a Christian intellect, talking to a Christian audience (plus one lone atheist driving his car, and a rumored deist somewhere in Oklahoma), on a show which bills itself as “Intelligent Christian Conversation”—he could have said anything and this audience would have nodded their heads in agreement.

“The Resurrection has been proven to have a 97.82% chance of being accurate.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“The Christian world-view is the only one that sufficiently explains the world as we see it.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“My proof, as outlined in this book or that book indefensibly demonstrates Christianity”
“Yep—we agree!”

Yet instead of all that, he simply said the Christian God has to come to you. Regardless of what a human studies, or theorizes, or conceptualizes, or rationalizes, or internalizes, in the end it comes down to God. Without the Holy Spirit—we non-believers are sunk.

Unfortunately, life is not so black & white. What do we do about deconverts? Did we have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, but it stopped testifying? Can God pull out of the situation, leaving us hanging? Or is this testimony a one-time event? Or were we simply convincing ourselves of having the testimony, but didn’t really have it? We were fakers? Genuine, honest, sincere—but fakers?

The other question left unanswered, is if the human has any responsibility in the affair. Do I have to ask the Holy Spirit to testify first? Do I have to look for the right testimony? Can I harden my heart against the Holy Spirit?

The more I thought of his answer, the less helpful it was. He WAS talking to a Christian audience. An audience who equally were convinced they got the break, they beat the odds, they had the favored status of recognizing the testimony of the Holy Spirit and grabbing on. Pity the poor foolish Dawkins who we all know the Holy Spirit is banging away internally, and he is missing it.

Testimony is useless if the person doesn’t hear it. It cannot reside in only the testimony; it must include the person doing something correctly in hearing that testimony.

See, by putting any human responsibility in the factor, any at all those who do it “right” gain a sense of pride. They aren’t Christians because God randomly happened to chose them in an arbitrary shooting match—oh, no! They are Christians because of their own ability to score just a little better on the test. They listened when they were supposed to. Oh, they may assume a false sense of humility, “Not anything I have done, but you, Oh Lord” (who hasn’t heard that ditty?) but if it takes even an ounce of human effort; that is one more ounce than the damned non-believer could muster.

Dr. Mohler: Well, what would you say to Dr. Dawkins about God?
Dr. Plantinga: Oh, that is just…obvious. Everyone can naturally see there is a God. It is simply…obvious.

That’s it? I tried to account for the make-up of the average listener of this show, and what they would expect. Again, it would not have mattered what he said, most would nod and agree. However, I was aware of at least one non-believer who was very interested in how he would argue for a God.


Needless to say, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. Is “obvious” such a good perspective of determining actuality? As I sat there, I thought of the sun moving across the sky. Equally, I could say it is “obvious” the sun is moving around the Earth. From this perspective. Or here is a fun experiment. Take an open can of paint and spin around in the middle of your living room—what happens? They assure me the earth is spinning at approximately 1,000 miles per hour. At that speed I would think it “obvious” we should fly off in space. Yet we do not.

It is “obvious” to me the sky is colored blue. That we should not put things which appear to come out of a chicken’s butt in our mouth. That earth has some sort of force which “grabs” us and holds us in.

How curious I am told, by looking at the observable, testable, natural world about me, it must be “obvious” there is something non-observable, non-testable and non-natural.

While I enjoyed the interview, I admit at the end I was left with the discomforting feeling of “That’s it? That’s the best that can be mustered about God?” To be fair to Dr. Plantinga, this was a short radio bit—perhaps I should not have expected any more.


  1. DaGoodS,
    You have summarized why arguing with counter-Christian apologetics to committed believers can be so pointless. I am confused why so many Christians seem to study apologetics, then debate with non-Christians if they believe the non-Christian is willfully denying an obvious truth.

    To the Christian, The Gospel of Jesus Christ is axiomatic. We are denying that Gospel, and our own pride and arrogance have hardened our hearts to that truth.

    As a Christian, I was astounded when people could hear the Gospel message and so easily reject it. "They must have so much pride in their own works," I would say, "to think they can make it to heaven on their own merit!"

    So I understand that mindset. I cannot believe I used to think that way, but it is true.

    I look at it like this: if people can be argued into seeing the truth of the Gospel by being outwitted in a debate, then God's salvation is ultimately based on how well the apologist debates Christianity. That seems neither fair nor logical, and worse, can drive the apologist to guilt-ridden madness if they cannot convert people out of hell. Therefore, the buck must be passed to the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit. According to the Christian, non-believers *have* to be fully aware of the Gospel Truth, fully convinced that it is the truth, and willfully reject it because of their own love of sin. That is the only way to keep the burden of soul saving off the conscience of the Christian apologist.

    I know this is true. I felt that guilt too.

  2. Any time a professional philosopher tells you something is obvious, in print or orally, he's always bullshitting you. The whole job of philosophy consists of making the obvious incomprehensible.