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

Monday, June 19, 2006

Islamic Apologetics and Christian Evidentialists

Amateur NT critic and blogging newbie, Rambo, was annoyed by my post pointing out the vast chasm of difference between the worldviews of Islam and biblical Christianity. He doesn't like the notion of there being two entirely different deities, the living God of scripture and the false god of Islam; two entirely revelations of salvation, one monergistic and the other synergistic; and two entirely different perspectives of reality. Both cannot be true. Either one worldview is true and the other false.

I will not flatter Rambo with a sense of relevance by giving a full expose of his post against me, but some of his concluding remarks are interesting, because it does reveal one area of similarity that he as a Muslim shares with several well known Christian personalities. When Rambo argues against Christianity, he has much in common with Hank Hanegraaf, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, Hugh Ross, and a host of other popular Christian apologists. Simply put: Rambo is an evidentialist.

These Christian apologists believe they can present undeniable proof for Christ’s Resurrection, or for intelligent design, or for the integrity of the NT scriptures and non-Christians can be reasonably convinced by the evidence and moved to abandon their unbelief and embrace Christ. In the same way, Rambo believes he can set forth proof for Islam and Islam will be established as true and people will be compelled to abandon their particular religious convictions and become Muslims.

Rambo writes:

Such simplistic circular arguments may work when having a discussion with fellow Christians, but they are quite useless when having a discussion with non-Christians since they do not presume the Bible to be "inspired," "inerrant," and Christianity to be "true." Therefore, with all due respect, I really don't give a monkey if the Bible and Christianity disagree with Islamic teachings at times since, for me, only the Islamic teachings are true. Instead of making use of circular arguments with people who do not accept the Bible and Christianity, Butler needs to invest some efforts at demonstrating and explaining why his beliefs and Biblical teachings are "true" and sensible. But Butler makes no such attempt.

There is much we can learn from this paragraph about the inadequacies of Christian evidentialists and their apologetic methodologies. The most obvious is that here we witness a Muslim hostile to Christianity defend his religion in the exact same way as the popular level Christian apologists. Just like Hank, Lee, or Hugh, Rambo assumes all the alleged evidence for his religion is neutral and appeals to man's reason to consider it.

Let me demonstrate my point by deconstructing Rambo's thoughts.

Note that Rambo assumes the evidence for Islam stands on its own as being self-defining and authoritative. He fails to realize that all evidence is interpreted through the presuppositions of the individuals considering it. In other words, evidence will be interpreted according to the philosophical framework of the person examining the evidence, and a person will only conclude the presented evidence is rational if his interpretative framework allows it to be so.

For example, an atheistic materialist who rejects out of hand theistic supernaturalism will never conclude with Rambo that his evidence he has put forth for Islam is compelling. He is committed to atheistic materialism and all evidence will be interpreted through an atheistic materialistic filter. Hence, Rambo can excitedly talk all he wants about how the Qur'an says a piece of chewed gum looks like an embryo, or that it confirms the theories of modern day cosmologists, or reveals how rain is formed in the clouds, and that these so-called evidences shows the divine origin of Islam, but everyone but Muslims are going to shrug their shoulders and explain away his evidence according to their presuppositions.

Christian evidentialists apologists also put forth similar "evidence" for the reliability of the Bible, and like Muslim's evidence, critics of Christianity can easily explain it away. In fact, I could list all sorts of excellent evidence for the veracity of scripture and the truthfulness of the Christian faith, but I know Rambo would have an alternative explanation for each item I would present. His blog is clear proof of my claim, because he has found a counter answer to everything James White raised against Shabir Ally.

Like the Christian evidentialists, Rambo does not fully appreciate the noetic affects of man's fall into sin. Being a Muslim, Rambo's theology denies the imputation of Adam's sin. In a manner of speaking, he is a Pelagian. Thus, he mistakenly believes the mental and rational faculties of all men are intact so that he can reason with non-Muslims as to the "truthfulness" of any particular evidence he believes is convincing for his faith. However, the Bible clearly declares that all men are not only fallen into sin so they are under God's judgment, but also their minds and emotions are subject to sin. Even though men know God in their hearts because they are the image bearers of God (Genesis 1:27; Romans 1:20ff.), they suppress, or better, ignore and explain away any obvious evidence that clearly testifies of their creator God. Thus, the noetic affect of the fall only helps men to make up convenient excuses to deny the truth.

I expect Rambo the Muslim to be clueless to the devastating impact of sin upon the minds of men because he rejects the reality of original sin and all its implications upon humanity. Lee Strobel and Hank Hanegraff, for instance, ought to know better. Yet oddly, they would see any positive recognition of their Christian evidences as a good thing, even if the person remains a non-Christian. The gushing celebration of long time philosophical atheist, Anthony Flew, and his abandonment of atheism to embracing deism is a good example.

Rambo writes:

Instead of making use of circular arguments with people who do not accept the Bible and Christianity, Butler needs to invest some efforts at demonstrating and explaining why his beliefs and Biblical teachings are "true" and sensible.

There are a few things we can learn from this sentence.

Note Rambo's self-contradictory inconsistency. He criticizes me for arguing in a circle, meaning I presuppose the authority of Christianity without the appeal to external evidences to establish the authority of Christianity. But notice how Rambo levels this criticism of me from a position presupposing the authority of Islam when he states, Therefore, with all due respect, I really don’t give a monkey if the Bible and Christianity disagree with Islamic teachings at times since, for me, only the Islamic teachings are true. Yes, he does assert that he appeals to evidence to establish Islam as true, but it is evidence only compelling to someone presupposing the truthfulness of Islam, and even then, it is hardly compelling. I would be embarrassed of Islamic evidence if I were a Muslim. It is clear to me that Rambo is philosophically myopic.

Also note how in his zeal to accuse me of circularity with my arguments that he has to appeal to other authorities, i.e., his Islamic apologetic evidence, apart from Allah to establish the truthfulness of what Allah revealed.

Let us pretend for the moment that Allah really exists and Mohammed was telling the truth. Does Rambo believe there are some neutral authorities in the universe that are self-defining and authoritative apart from Allah giving them any meaning? In other words, in order to prove Allah is real and Mohammed is a genuine prophet, the Muslim apologist has to first list a series of evidences that speak for themselves as uninterpreted brute facts to demonstrate his claims and then a non-Muslim can judge for him self whether or not to believe that evidence? Am I to conclude that Allah's revelation is not good enough or maybe sufficient enough by itself to affirm the reality of Allah and his supposed claims upon humanity? I guess this is the only obvious conclusion seeing that Allah has no power to keep the OT and NT documents from being corrupted by Jews and Crusaders.

And what happens if I choose not to believe the evidences presented by the Muslim because they are unconvincing? Will I get my head loped off with a scimitar? Islam is not historically known for being a volitionally friendly religion a person can just take-it or leave-it, if you know what I mean.

The sad reality is that Christian evidentialists defend their faith and argue in the exact same manner as Mr. Rambo the Islamic apologist. They believe evidence for the Christian faith is neutral. They then believe a Christian apologist only has to first present credible evidence that is considered reasonable to the non-Christian. Once the non-Christian can be convinced the evidence possibly proves the truth claims of Christianity, the Christian apologist will come in and tie those evidences to a gospel presentation.

For example, In an otherwise outstanding book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcy undermines her own thesis when she writes in a footnote to her discussion explaining the difference between biblical creationists and ID proponents:

"Creationism starts with the Bible, and asks, What does the Bible say about science? That's a perfectly valid inquiry ... But it is not the way to do apologetics. In speaking to a non-Christian culture, we must start with data that our audience finds credible. Thus Intelligent Design theory does not begin with the Bible - it begins with the scientific data and asks, Does the data itself give evidence of an intelligent cause?" (Total Truth, p. 415, fn. 70. emphasis mine).

It depends on who is looking at the data. And does the person necessarily conclude it is the true and living God of scripture who is the Designer?

Christian evidentialists mistakenly believe the proof of evidence can be separated from the God who gives meaning to the evidence. Why is that exactly? Michael Kruger, in his article, The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics (PDF format) (an article all Christians - and even Rambo - would benefit from reading) suggests it has to do with how modernity and post-modernity have done a philosophical number on muddle minded Christians.

Modernity insists upon empirical evidence apart from any biases and preconceived opinions.

To avoid the charge of having "preconceived opinions" or of being biased," writes Kruger, Many Christians have insisted on leaving the Bible out of the discussion - after all, you cannot use what you are trying to prove. In an effort to show that Christianity passes the scientific test, they insist that scientific evidence, and scientific evidence alone, should decide the debate. Therefore, they start their argument from neutral ground, being neither for nor against Christianity from the outset, in hopes of gaining credibility with the unbeliever and showing him that the facts 'speak for themselves' and undeniably lead to Christianity.

Christian apologists react in a similar non-committal fashion when engaging post-modern, pluralistic relativism. In order to win the point against the post-modernist, Christian apologists will leave the Bible out of the discussion, because, as Kruger points out, The Bible has a way of being inconveniently dogmatic - which would certainly turn off any listener with a postmodern mindset.

Christian evidentialists will charge with Rambo that such an approach to defending the Christian faith is circular, but everyone argues with circularity. That is because everyone has some ultimate, unquestioned presuppositions taken on faith that are assumed to be true. Kruger presents a good illustration for this point. How do you know your meter stick is really a meter? Perhaps you can go next door and test it with your neighbor's meter stick. But that only begs the question of how we know his meter stick is really a meter? Ultimately, there is a standard, authoritative meter stick in the Department of Weights and Measures by which all other meter sticks are judged. But how do we know the ultimate meter stick is a meter? It is a meter because it is a meter. No one can escape the use of circularity when arguing.

Just so we are clear, I am not opposed to the use of evidence for Christianity, per se. I only recognize that evidence, in and of itself, cannot convince anyone of the truth claims of Christianity. In other words, the evidence cannot be divorced from the God of scripture who provides the evidence.

God, for example, tells us He will keep His Word pure. The evidence from textual criticism demonstrates clearly the truthfulness of this claim, in spite of Rambo's and other irrational, self taught critics of the NT. Moreover, the Bible tells me God destroyed the world in a global flood except for 8 people in an ark. The geological evidence confirms that claim. However, I don't believe the Bible is reliable because of the textual, manuscript evidence supporting it, nor do I believe in the global flood of Noah because of the fossil record or a barage size ark sitting on Ararat. I believe those things are true because the God of the Bible has given me a revelation in His Word that those things can be believed as true. That is because God's Word is tied to His character. God has demonstrated to us He is utterly dependable and truthful. Evidence confirming my dependence upon God is encouraging, but it is not what establishes my faith as valid. That is established by the character of God.



Blogger Pickle Boy said...

Spoken like a true Bahnsenite! Nicely written Fred.

7:26 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I am curious if Rambo has even encountered biblical presuppositional apologetics. If he is like most in the Christian community, he thinks the only apologetics in the world come from CRI or McDowell ministries. He has never encountered Reformed apologetics. And ironically, he doesn't realize that he is basically utilizing the same apologetic methodology to defend his Islamism.

Atheists also argue in a similar vein I have noticed.


1:14 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Patrick Chan said...

Wow! Truly an excellent post, Fred! :-)

9:10 AM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger The Hedonese said...

Check this out, Fred :)


10:20 PM, October 28, 2007  
Blogger Douglas said...

Rambo probably has never met a Reformed apologist because most of them are spending time bashing other Christians than actually doing apologetics with Muslims. I'm a missionary in the Middle East and while I am very sympathetic to Reformed apologetics, i have seen God use reason and evidence to bring Muslims to faith. You bash Geisler, but his book "Answering Islam" has been a great tool, as has McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" for Muslims to see there are answers to their objections. Show me one book written by a Reformed apologist which actually takes on Islam? They spend their time bashing other Christians, like this blog. Write a book or come over and join us. But quit bashing your brothers in Christ. Rambo doesn't need that.

1:17 AM, October 25, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


The point of my criticism is that anyone who engages non-Christians in a debate, or discussion if we want to tone down the rhetoric, must do so consistently within the frame work of what they are defending. Geisler, for example, claims to be arguing as a Christian, but the method his chooses to defend his faith are inconsistent and surrenders his ground when arguing. This approach by evidentialists is not only foolish, but in my mind, dishonoring to the Lord.

Now, does that mean you cannot argue about evidence with a Muslim or any non-Christian? No. I certainly believe evidence can and in many cases, must be raised, in order to provide a biblical apologetic for the Christian faith. The point, however, is that it must be presented with confidence and within a biblical framework. Geisler, and others from his school of non-Reformed apologetics, fail to do this and it is shameful.

If you want someone who provides a consistent apologetic when debating Muslims, I recommend you consider Alpha and Omega Ministries the ministry of James White. I hope you listened to the debate he had with Shabir Ally, what "Rambo" and I were going back and forth about. James has been writing extensively on, and has doing a great number of debates on Islamic issues and is going to be engaged in a series debates in November in London with Islamic apologists there. He is Reformed in his methodology and in my mind, much more effective with his evangelistic apologetics than Geisler and others like him. Also consider his You tube page where he has many videos addressing and refuting various popular Islamic arguments.

9:12 AM, October 25, 2008  

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