Beavers Help With Apologetics Formal Debate Jailbreak – Part 3 (Final)
I have written two previous posts about beavers and apologetics (here and here). The intent of those posts were twofold. First, I suggested the ethos of apologetics commonly modeled in the popular literature and YouTube is one of speech and debate. I suggested a problem arises in the formality of that model. The fact of the matter is that most of us do not find ourselves in environments where formal debate entails the rules of engagement. We are generally talking with co-workers, spouses, extended family members, and people where an adversarial approach is unwarranted.
Second, formal models tend to bias the mind toward generalizations. It is true that debate is usually between two people and a good debater ought to know an opponent’s position inside-out. However, we forget that this knowledge is specific to particular people. I am not debating Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, but conversing with people of different life histories. Our formal models tend to minimize this fact. Each person I’m in conversation with has a different natural history that I need to take into account when thinking about how best to proclaim and defend the Gospel message given an opportunity.
C.S. Lewis captured such sentiments nicely when he jettisoned academic wartime lectures such as, “Linguistic Analysis in Pauline Soteriology,” for practical theological lessons such as Mere Christianity. Let the specific questions of our conversation partners drive a conversation toward Christ.
Building New Atheist Beaver Dams
At the end of the last beaver post I promised to provide an example of what it might look like to practice apologetics more along the lines of a classical naturalist and not formal debate. I intend to make good on that promise. I do not have the space to put the following remarks into dialogue form, so, at the risk of being hypocritical, allow me to use the New Atheist Richard Dawkins as a ‘model’ of using the data points within the environment of my ‘neighbor’ to open evangelistic and apologetic doors. I offer the following only as a heuristic; an aid to discovery.
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and a dynamic popularizer of biological thought. His book The Selfish Gene should be read by anybody interested in the nature of evolutionary biology. Likewise, his The God Delusion, is a popular tour-de-force against religion. The fact that it sold upwards of two million English copies (2010 stat) suggests that people interested in defending atheism probably have had contact with it.
A key component of Dawkins' thought is the ability of natural selection, the primary mechanism of evolution, to explain phenomena once requiring recourse to a God. A favorite example is the evolution of morality. The foundations of morality is a topic I have seen in much apologetic literature. Speech and debate format requires apologetic conversation to focus on the faulty foundations of evolutionary ethics. Dawkins can’t possibly account for a true ethic as an evolutionary worldview requires change. What was once a neanderthal is now man and what was once right is now wrong. Evolutionary theory requires change, where morality requires permanence. You, Richard Dawkins, can not make sense of your own moral proclivities. At best they are a culturally conditioned pro/con emotional disposition, at worst they are a purely subjective, perhaps psychopathic, individual emotional response.
While this critique minds all sorts of formal p’s and q’s, it does not leave the conversation any closer to the author and perfecter of our faith. At best, the interlocutor may agree that their moral beliefs are a product of their own emotional proclivities, open to genetic and cultural change. At worst, they may press an attack suggesting that the Christian church has evolved on certain moral issues such as women’s ordination and sexual ethics. Both responses take us further afield from the evangelistic and apologetical task, requiring outlines of positions versus the seeking of common ground. The formal method leaves the conversation at a point where both parties may simply agree to disagree and having each one throwing stones at the other’s glass house.
A classical naturalist however will be more interested in the intellectual behavior of Dawkins. Not the formal behavior regarding what fallacies he may or may not be committing, but the commitments he is making to promote his position that may resonate with a Christian position. For instance, Dawkins' evolutionary ethic requires a strong view of history. In fact, the standard evolutionary ethical story will involve a discussion of our early hominid ancestors descending from trees onto the African Savannah, binding together in groups and developing certain social norms to encourage pro-social behavior. A history, mind you, that requires at least 60,000 plus years.
In essence, what the evolutionist takes seriously is genealogy; a line of descent. But this should raise certain flags within the mind of the Christian. Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38 are also indicative of the importance of genealogies within Christianity. In fact, both evolutionary biology and Christianity are intimately bound up with the genealogy of man. One starts with parental Adam and Eve, makes its way through Jesus of Nazareth, and on into us. The other starts with neanderthal, makes its way through homo sapiens and on into us. Both require us to look to history to understand the “meaning” of it all.
The take home is that when talking with people that have a strong evolutionary bent, you might have more in common intellectually than first apparent. Both parties are reliant upon good historical record and committed to sound historical methodology while, and here is the evangelism/apologetic conversation starter, one deals with a historical record 60,000+ years in the making, while the other is dealing with a written history of 2,000+ years. The importance of this I leave as an exercise to the reader, but what a different ethos this creates when talking to the evolutionary inclined dissenters of Christianity.