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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, February 24, 2006

STR and Abraham Lincoln Apologetics

I was making my blog rounds earlier this week, when I came across the following entry on the Stand to Reason blog:

Nice hymn ("Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"), but bad theology and science. The L.A. Times published a front-page story on Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis last week. Ham does a lot of training on creation and against evolution. One of the key tactics he teaches is described in the story:

"Boys and girls," Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, "you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"

The problem is that this question, Were you there?, amounts to empiricism and actually undermines the authority of the Bible. Ham's question rests on the premise that the only evidence that is reliable is the evidence that we witness directly. That is empiricistic and undermines a majority of what we think we know in science and history and the Bible. Ham's empiricism ends up undermining his response to evolutionists. Were you there? No. Well, "I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world." How do we know the revelation of Scripture is authoritative if I can't trust what I didn't witness? Were you there when God revealed His message to Moses or Jeremiah or Matthew or Paul? Of course you weren't. So how do you know God inspired these authors?

This empirical tactic contradicts the Bible in a second way. The Bible tells us about the general revelation God has given us in nature. But Ham's question makes general revelation useless as a source of knowledge because we weren't there. Yet that's what the Psalmist and Romans tells us. (See blog entry January 25 "Revelation Leading to Knowledge.")

Now there a principle behind Ham's question that is valuable: Observations of science and experience are tenuous to some degree because we are fallible and ultimately the truth rests with God. But we cannot take that principle to an extreme that sets up Christianity against science and ultimately undermines any information we have unless we were there. It turns out that the majority of what we know is based on sources other than direct witness of events and that's perfectly legitimate

Generally, I really like STR; I am a regular listener to Greg Koukl's Sunday afternoon radio talk show. I also believe Greg provides some excellent resources for defending the Christian faith and engaging non-Christian belief. However, that is in spite of their promotion of classic evidentialism, the one area where STR is theologically deficient. Evidentialists believe man's ability to properly reason transcends the noetic effects of sin upon his nature. Additionally, they claim God's revelation in scripture must be established as authoritative by external criteria before the Christian can ask an unbeliever to believe it. This post and several of the ensuing comments demonstrates the evidentialist deficiency.

The post is commenting upon a LA Times article that was on the front page of the paper. I read the entire thing and it was clear from the first words the reporter was not reporting news, but was offering biased opinion against what Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis teach. This was something deserving of an editorial page, not page A. Thankfully, when Koukl addressed this article during the second hour of his Feb. 19th program, he mentioned this bias. Sadly, it doesn't seem as though Melinda, the gal who posted this entry, is aware of this.

Melinda writes:

The problem is that this question, Were you there?, amounts to empiricism and actually undermines the authority of the Bible. Ham's question rests on the premise that the only evidence that is reliable is the evidence that we witness directly.

This is not what Ham is arguing at all. Anyone, like myself, who has heard Ken Ham lecture and discuss this argument, realizes the context in which he asks this question. Ham is talking about our ultimate authorities. Melinda is mis-stating the facts she is reading from an already biased news article by a reporter who is also probably mis-stating facts. Ham's point is that the only witness at the start of creation was God Himself. Men where not present, so any pontification by alleged scientists about origins is purely speculative on their part, and I would add, driven by a person's anti-supernatural bias.

Melinda continues:

How do we know the revelation of Scripture is authoritative if I can't trust what I didn't witness? Were you there when God revealed His message to Moses or Jeremiah or Matthew or Paul? Of course you weren't. So how do you know God inspired these authors?

Again, Melinda is already mis-stating what Ham is arguing, so her "gotcha" responses are muted. But let us think a moment. Is Melinda suggesting that scripture must first be established as authoritative before I can use it in an apologetic encounter? Moreover, God doesn't inspire authors, He inspires the text; the scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). The scriptures are considered God breathed (inspired) because they are tied to the character of God; a God who has proven His presence in the world (IOW, provided evidence) by the mighty works He has done.

Melinda continues:

This empirical tactic contradicts the Bible in a second way. The Bible tells us about the general revelation God has given us in nature. But Ham's question makes general revelation useless as a source of knowledge because we weren't there

Here we witness another evidentialist short coming: the dependence upon general revelation as being self defining and authoritative on its own without an interpreter. Though it is true the Bible tells us about the general revelation given by God in nature, it is not true the Bible separates general revelation and sets it apart as an independent source of authoritative knowledge. General revelation is only dependable as knowledge as long as God's special revelation of scripture is used as a framework in which to interpret it. I know for certain Melinda and the other fine folks at STR think the conclusions of secular scientists in the fields of astronomy, geology, and anthropology are dealing with an infallible source of knowledge, because these disciplines are considered to be dealing with general revelation which is believed by the evidentialists as being God's truth given to us in nature.

When we come to Melinda's last paragraph, she seems to hit into the ball park of what Ham is saying, however, she makes this strange, concluding remark:

It turns out that the majority of what we know is based on sources other than direct witness of events and that's perfectly legitimate

Well, then... What sources are you talking about exactly? Sources from anti-supernatural cosmologists who theorize about the big bang with fantasy science direct from Star Trek? The atheistic geologist's interpretation of the so-called geological column that denies the biblical discussion of a global flood? They are only perfectly legitimate, just as long as they are perfectly interpreted. In my book, sinful men do not interpret the evidence in the right way.

Now, where does Abraham Lincoln come into all this? A poster named Kay left this comment:

Thank you Melinda for highlighting a flaw in one particular YEC approach. While it is true that any empirical methodology must, ultimately, rest on a faith that accepts the veracity of data, such a truth does not, in and of itself, negate the validity of the data. Thus, what is really gained when one asks, "were you there"? I've attemtpted to illustrate this to YEC proponents by asking them if they believe that Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater (even though they weren't there).

Operating from an already flawed assumption that Ham is talking about eyewitnesses personally witnessing an event, Kay suggests that no one in our world today in the year 2006 can be assured of Lincoln's assassination if we use Ham's argumentation. But, is that true?

One other commenter named Rusty helped to clarify Kay's comments, but even his thoughts don't flesh out when you think through them. We know Lincoln was shot because there were credible eyewitnesses (hundreds of them to be exact) to the event who wrote about it, took photographs, and even preserved Lincoln's bloody clothes in the Smithsonian. In other words, when we ask the question, "where you there?" we will obviously say no, but, we do know someone, in the form of hundreds and thousands of witnesses, who was. Thus, the same can be asked of our modern secular materialists arguing their various theories about the origin of the universe, "where you there?" No, you were not, so everything you offer to explain that origin is human speculation. I, on the other hand, do know someone who was there who has testified as to all the ins and outs of the world's creation, and that testimony is found in God's Word.

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