The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Defense of Premise 2

Defending the 2nd Premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument 

Succinctly, the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafter KCA), can be stated as such: “the universe began to exist.” For centuries this statement was considered false due to a reliance on Aristotelian metaphysics, since “for Aristotle the world is eternal, [therefore] the question is not whether there is a temporally first cause, but rather a highest cause….”1A.G. Vos, “Aristotle” in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by Walter Campbell Campbell-Jack and Gavin McGrath, Ivp Reference Collection (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), 87. However, recent philosophical work (spearheaded by scholars like William Lane Craig) and contemporary scientific discoveries now provide strong evidence to support the position that indeed the universe has a finite past. Here is one strong philosophical argument and two well-established scientific positions that demonstrate the soundness of this premise. 

The Impossibility of an Actual Past Infinite 

There are two main problems with positing an actually infinite past (or an infinite number of past causal events). First, is the problem of “traversing the infinite,” for if there were an actual infinite number of past events, that would seem to imply that an infinite number of past events would have to had already occurred in order for the present moment to have come into existence. However, since it is logically impossible to complete (by successive counting, for example) an actually infinite set of anything, then it raises the question as to how the present moment has actually obtained. However, if you have an actual beginning point (a temporal beginning, so to say), then you do not have to traverse an infinite set of anything, rather you can simply understand the present moment as one part of an increasingly large set of moments.

Second, there are the mathematical paradoxes that arise if actual infinities are posited as real things. For example, subtracting all the odd numbered legos from an infinite collection of legos, still results in an infinite number of legos, whereas subtracting all the legos numbered 3 or higher results in having only two legos remaining (even though you have subtracted the same infinite number of them)! These paradoxes demonstrate that the existence of an actual infinite set of anything (legos, temporal events, or otherwise) is highly improbable. 

The Ever-Expanding Universe 

Although there are alternative hypotheses to the standard cosmological model of the expanding universe (“The Big Bang”), most of them have been shown to be mathematically and empirically inferior to The Big Bang model.2William Lane Craig, “Cosmological Argument” in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, 181.  If the Big Bang model, which suggests a continually expanding universe, stands as the most plausible empirical theory we have of the nature of the universe, then we have very good reason to believe that space and time came into existence at a finite point in the past. Of course, if we argue that time itself came into existence, it is true we cannot talk about a time before time. However, we can assume a metaphysical point or a logically “prior” edge to our current space-time continuum (itself measured by change within the universe), where the universe and all that is in it did not in fact exist. On the other side of this edge then, is something other than, or outside of, space and time. This entity would therefore not be subject to temporality as we understand it, or even spatial extension.

The Present “Presence” of Usable Energy 

Finally, the finitude of the universe is supported by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This law suggests that the total amount of usable energy in any given “closed” system will always decrease over time. This is also known as entropy, or the idea that things in a system always move from a state of higher order to one of disorder. Our universe is like this (assuming it is indeed a closed system). Thus, if an infinite series of past events had already occurred, we would expect all of the usable energy in the universe to have expired an infinite amount of time ago and we would not be here to formulate arguments about its finitude since this heat death would have occurred a long, very long, time ago. Of course, at this juncture, one could contend that the universe is not a closed system and that it continues to receive usable energy from some source outside itself. However, this inevitably raises the question of what that source might be- a source that would exist external to our space-time continuum and also supply our universe with an abundance of usable energy, would have to be considered. However, if the universe is indeed a closed system, as naturalism must assume, and if it still possesses usable energy, which it obviously does, then it cannot be infinitely old. 

Therefore, we have shown through one philosophically sound argument and two scientifically established theories that premise two of the KCA is indeed sound and that the universe has most likely had an actual beginning in the past.

Shaping the Battlefield Part V: Special Operators

In this series of posts on Christian Apologetics I have utilized a military metaphor to survey the landscape of Apologetics: its content, its aims, and some of its major proponents (or “operators” in keeping with our analogy). I have broken down the field of Apologetics into three levels: the strategic, the operational, and the tactical and argued that each tier of the apologetical pursuit is equally important and when properly synthesized can strengthen the overall mission of bringing the Gospel to an intellectually confused, emotionally unstable, and spiritually dead culture. In this final section, we will discuss a handful of operators, who have specialized in particular areas, making them unique voices in the world of Apologetics. Let’s call them the “Special Operations” of Christian Apologetics.

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Special Operators: Expert Soldiers who carry out specialized tasks

In our first category of special operations, we have the debaters. Debate can be a particularly inflammatory concept, especially in a Western culture riddled with emotivism, individualism, and radical political correctness. To discuss, in an academic exchange, the most significant, and therefore, most controversial questions of human existence (e.g. origins, meaning, morality, ultimate ends) can seem unsavory or superfluous in a culture where safety zones and street activism are the normal context for worldview articulation. Still, at the end of the day, scholarly exchange remains the most time-honored and useful medium for getting at the Truth, if it is indeed “out there.”

Hashing out the facts, then developing logically coherent (i.e. deductive or inductive) arguments for a position is not entirely lost in our culture of emotional appeal. Therefore, due to politics and pop-culture, it can be refreshing to see qualified individuals debate openly, clearly, and charitably the claims of the Christian faith.

The most prominent special operator in the category of “debater” over the last few decades is easily William Lane Craig. Few men have impacted the intellectual world of Philosophy of Religion as much as he has in recent years (aside from Plantinga, perhaps). To go through his body of written work, his online teachings, or to engage with the extensive and varied corpus of his oral debates against atheist scientists, philosophers, biblical scholars, or other theists (e.g. Muslims), would itself be a months-long pursuit. It is safe to say that most other bloggers and writers at the operational or tactical level of Christian Apologetics draw heavily from his research and popular material. Beyond debating, Craig also is unique in his ability to produce and publish high-level academic works and more simplified popular books. If there was one place to go early and often for Christian Apologetics it would his website, Reasonable Faith.

While Craig is often seen as the “Patton,” or “MacArthur” of Christian debaters over the last few decades, there are others, like James White, who have specialized in debating, particularly on issues relating to the historical reliability of the Bible. White’s extensive  debates against Muslims, agnostics, liberal Christians, and even Roman Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, can be found here. Please note, with the exception of Roman Catholics, I would not classify any of the aforementioned groups as being definitionally Christian (that is to say, I would define Christianity in such a way, that it would exclude Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses and, at least some “liberal” Christians). This is not an uncommon view, and I will discuss it more in future posts.

One final mention in the category of debater has to go to John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician, who has taken on the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and other so-called “new atheists.” In my opinion, since Dawkins refused to debate Craig, Lennox is the one who handed the Oxford biologist his most thorough defeat in the public arena. He did the same to Hitchens, but then again so did Craig here.

Of course, watching debates can be difficult, as not everyone is trained in discerning between substantive arguments and mere rhetorical devices. Some training in logical fallacies is usually required if we are to recognize flaws in speaker’s arguments (Hitchens, for example, was notorious for not making arguments to support his case, but for making clever, rather brilliant, rhetorical attacks). This ability to discern between substance and rhetoric is also a topic that I will try and cover in future posts.

Finally, it should not be lost on us that debates alone are insufficient to ultimately sway one over to the Truth of Christ and Christianity. As I mentioned earlier, only the power of God can ultimately capture and conquer the hardened human will. Still, debates and debaters like these can help clear away some of the intellectual barricades to belief, and help motivate for non-believers a new journey of belief formation. They can also bolster the believer’s confidence in the intellectual viability of her faith.

Moving away from the realm of debate, we have another category of special operators, namely content specialists. These are scholars, who have dedicated their lifetime to one particular topic or focused area of study. One example would be Clay Jones, who has dedicated most of his career to studying genocide and the problem of human evil. Another content specialists, this time on one particular argument for theism, is Robin Collins, who has published extensively on the cosmological fine-tuning for the universe. In the area of Philosophy of Mind, there are none better than Richard Swinburne or J.P. Moreland. Other content specialists include: Gary Habermas for the Resurrection of Jesus, Michael Brown for Jewish Apologetics, and Craig Keener for New Testament studies and Miracles.  Obviously there are many others who could be mentioned under this category, but these few special operators should provide any young Christian or questioning skeptic with enough material to get the journey started.

Finally, I should make mention of other Apologists, who can only be regarded as something like “all-stars” or “past heroes.” Literary geniuses like C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton fall into this category. Also in the second half of the 20th century, men like Chuck Colson and Francis Schaeffer will be immediately recognized by most western Evangelical Christians, and perhaps even by several Catholic and mainline Protestants. Colson might even be known to non-Evangelicals for his role in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, as opposed to the dynamic Christian life that followed his prison sentence. Francis Schaeffer has left a legacy on late 20th century Christian thought that is hard to fully gauge. That said, all of these men are now considered giants of contemporary Christian Apologetics and their books and essays on the Christian life live on. The first book my wife and I read together was Colson and  Pearcey’s How Now Shall we Live?a great starter for anyone interested in defending their faith and understanding other worldviews.

This post wraps up a series of posts related to mapping out the landscape of Christian Apologetics. At this point I hope that I have provided any reader, Christian or non-Christian, with a simple overview of Apologetics that will be helpful in their search for Truth. Obviously the military metaphor is only one way to understand the world of Apologetics, but its one that I think fits well and can help guide us through, what for many, is still a relatively undiscovered country.

Shaping the Battlefield Part IV: Tactical Apologetics

In my previous post I wrote about what I call operational apologetics: the second tier in a three-tiered metaphorical framework. The three tiers that I compare the apologetic’s landscape to are: the strategic, the operational and here, the tactical.

At the tactical level in military operations is where the real action takes place. Here small units (i.e. companies, platoons and squads) perform real-time combat missions or intelligence gathering activities. Platoons patrol villages, sweep roads, or go out to find, capture or kill enemy combatants. Platoons and teams deal one-on-one with the locals in their respective areas of operations, talking with villagers, eating meals with local leaders, and coordinating maneuvers with indigenous forces. It is at the tactical level that things happen on the battlefield. This is where the strategic-level vision that was spawned in headquarters by generals, disseminated and made concrete at the operational level, is now executed with precision and effectiveness. Here soldiers are “kitted-up” in all their gear, weapons are held at “low-ready,” and bullets or explosions are too be expected. The tactical level is where plans, procedure, policies, and people all meet in real life. It’s often where hearts and minds are either won…or lost. In physical battle, bodies too.

Applying this metaphor to the realm of Apologetics need not appear so intense though (although every Christian should be prepared to face physical danger for the sake of the Gospel). Still, it is at the tactical level of any endeavor, where the spiritual and emotional battle becomes very real. Here, the apologist interacts with friends, family members, students, colleagues, and just about anyone she might come into real, personal contact with. Relationships are developed at this level as tactical operators (teachers, pastors, bloggers, homemakers, and business women) look to take a limited amount of apologetical knowledge and training, putting it to use in their daily lives. These are the youth pastors, the Sunday school teachers, and those that are learning and studying on their own in the hopes of making a greater evangelistic impact in their communities.

Many tactical apologists don’t have formal training like their PhD counterparts, but some might have something akin to an MA in Apologetics from universities like Biola or Liberty. It is at this level, however, that Apologetics has experienced a tremendous boom in recent years. Obviously technology has made that possible to some degree (YouTube, Social Media, blogging, etc.), but also the epistemological shift that has occurred in our culture, and the more overt rejections of both the Christian worldview and the Western Canon of Classical Studies, have forced churches, seminaries, and laypeople to rediscover the need for good, Christian Apologetics.

One thing that both strategic-level apologetics and tactical-level apologetics have in common, is that most people operating at these levels will not be so well-known. The operational level is usually where the more popular preachers and teachers practice their trade and connect with the larger audiences. However, it is at the tactical level that the most significant and impactful use of Apologetics occurs. Big name speakers, traveling lecturers, and busy professors often do not have the time to personally connect with the average church-goer, the curious non-believer, or the co-religionists in the community. Therefore, the tactical apologist, although she may never make a name for herself, might very well wind up playing the most critical and crucial evangelistic role in the grand schemes of things. Certainly in God’s economy name recognition means very little (well, really nothing). Relationality, and depth of engagement with families and individuals, tends to be the primary means through which Christ works out His love. Thus, at the tactical level, we truly “live out” our Apologetics, just like Peter and Paul were doing in Acts.

Because of this, however, the tactical level of Apologetics, being focused on individuals, is usually filled with all kinds of pitfalls and dangers: high-highs and low-lows. Just like in military operations, where IED’s can go off at anytime, snipers can snipe from hundreds of meters away, and sometime the situation can degrade as low as hand-to-hand combat, so too in spiritual battle there can be real conflict that arises when Christ is offered to close family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It can get emotional, heated, visceral. Souls can either become captivated by God, or they can be further hardened and turned away.

The tactical level operator requires more than just the content of Apologetics, she requires a spiritual maturity and a loving heart that can present Truth in a convicting, yet compassionate way. Engaging people means engaging old hurts, deep wounds, bitter memories, secret guilts, and a heart that is often dead-set upon keeping itself safe. Thus, at this level, arguments alone are not enough because we all feel with our hearts far more than we think with our heads. Scripture also gives us insight into this “head-vs.-heart” battle.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

– Jeremiah 17:9

Every man is stupid and without knowledge…

– Jeremiah 10:14 & 51:17

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools…

– Romans 1:21-22

Why do we abandon reason and knowledge, only to become stupid? Because of the illness of the heart! Therefore, although the tactical operators may not be known to the wider community, it is their gritty work that will ultimately count in swaying the tide of the battle, just like the Platoon Sergeant and his squad of “Joes,” who have to “hump it” on patrols day-in and day-out through desert heat, or through the mud of the swamp, in order to take some seemingly small piece of terrain from enemy control.

The Tactical Apologist must, therefore, toil, sweat, and suffer to see the minor victories that only accumulate slowly over time. This does not mean that those at higher levels don’t do their share of hard work, prayer, and empathetic suffering for the greater glory of God. But still, there is something about being down in the trenches, unnamed, unpaid, and possibly unappreciated, that makes work at this local level especially noble. If any level of the apologetical endeavor that I have mentioned in this series is indispensable, it is likely this one. For even though work at all levels is needed, and desperately so, if good Apologetics never gets down to the man, woman and child in the local church, then we leave the majority of the church in the dark.

Due to the dawn of the internet and blogging, however, some tactical-level apologists have begun to make their mark and draw a following. These people are putting the extra time and effort into their Christian walk in the hopes of reaching out to both the church and the everyday seeker; men and women living in the day-to-day. Those who simply don’t have the time to do the heavy lifting of abstract thinking and scholarly reading can now turn to Tactical Apologists providing good content online. One of the best operators at this level is Natasha Crain, who is translating the practice of Apologetics into a much needed domestic, family centered pursuit.

We’ve now looked at my simple, threefold metaphor for grasping what is out there in the world of Christian apologetics, a flourishing spiritual discipline desperately needed in the church today. We looked at the strategic level of Apologetics, where scholars, philosophers, historians, and scientists perform cutting-edge research. Then we defined and illustrated the operational level of translators and disseminators, men and women who can access and engage with their strategic counterparts, but message the complexities of that work out to the broader masses. Finally, we talked here about the tactical operators, who are working with smaller groups and individuals, reaching out to people both at work and at home. Ultimately, all of these levels of operation are necessary and need to be properly synchronized in order for an effective and robust apologetical ministry to exist in today’s Evangelical church.

There is one field of apologists, however, that we have yet to mention. These are people who have developed specialized areas of knowledge or become experts in very particular areas. We will call them the “Spec-Ops” of apologists in keeping with our military metaphor.

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Battlefield Part III – Operational Apologetics

 

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Operational Apologetics – Preparing the Battlefield & Disseminating the Strategic Vision

In my last post I introduced a simple framework for understanding the world of Christian Apologetics. Using a military metaphor, I broke down this framework into a strategic, operational, and tactical levels of apologetical work. At the strategic level you have the highest level of academic scholarship in areas such as Philosophy, Theology, Biblical Studies and Historical Studies. However, the main difficulty for many Christian, and even non-Christian, seekers engaging at the strategic level of Apologetics, is that it often requires a lot of previous training before such content becomes intellectually accessible. Trying to jump directly into academic works from Plantinga, or Stump can be both frustrating and confusing. This could lead to an early, negative opinion about Apologetics in general  (“it’s far too heady!”), and discourage one from pursuing it at all. This reaction could demotivate the seeker and drive them into a sort of Christian romanticism, that relies only on subjective experience as its marker for truth.

But wait, there is no need to get upset or give up! It’s here that a large body of authors, speakers, and teachers comes into play at a level I call the operational. 

In the Army, the operational level is where strategic visions are translated into tactical (i.e. “boots on the ground”) action. Brigades and Battalions design large operations by accessing the higher-level visions of the Pentagon and larger military entities (Regional Commands, Divisions, etc.), breaking them down into manageable scenarios that smaller units (Companies, Platoons, etc.) will ultimately execute. This is where logistics, planning, intelligence, and administrative personnel construct a very real picture of the battlefield, the opposition, the environment, and the end state for specific battles to be fought.

The key to successful operational procedures is good communication and in Christian Apologetics it is no different. In operational apologetics you have men and women, who have sufficient training to access the scholarly content of strategic thinkers, grasp its meaning, but who have the ability to translate the deeper analyses for a broader audience. These operators relate academic material to the common experience of the man or woman on the street, or in the church. These apologists also tend to be the most well-known, and most accessible speakers in the  landscape of Christian “case-making” (to borrow a term from one of them). They are very visible, well-traveled, and well-rounded workers for Christ.

Many at the operational level will, therefore, be familiar to the average church-goer (at least the Evangelical church-goer). Some of those who have been around for a while are people like Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and Norm Geisler. Other, relative newcomers, are Nancy Pearcey, Frank Turek, J. Warner Wallace, and Sean McDowell. Greg Koukl, another great translator, also belongs in this group, as well as folks at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

What is interesting about these translators is their ability to take difficult concepts and present them accurately and simply. Not all of these communicators have PhD’s, yet something that makes them unique is that they come from very different walks of life, and can speak to a wide range of audiences (Wallace, for example, was a cold-case homicide detective in LA County). Thus, operators convey higher-level discussions about Christianity in ways not limited or restricted by what might be perceived as the “ivory tower of academics.” This is where the rubber hits the road, just as the operational tier of military operations unites the strategic and the tactical, so here communicators take real life experience and connect it to deeper, more abstract thinking.

Of course with any metaphor like the one I am proposing, there are people and groups that do not fit so neatly into one category. I will blog about these in a later post called “special operators,” akin to something like “spec-Ops” in the military world (e.g. Green Berets, SEALS, Marine RECON, CAG, etc.).

In sum, operational-level apologists are usually well-rounded speakers and teachers, who cover a broad range of arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. While some might specialize more than others, most are capable presenters of the philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments in favor of Christian theism, and excel in discussing hot-button issues relevant to the current culture. Sean McDowell, for example, has done a lot of good work in exploring the delicate issues that surround human sexuality and culture, especially  same-sex marriage. Therefore, at the operational level you have the most accessible form of Christian apologetics’ content, content that should not only challenge the novice without overwhelming him, but serve as a stepping stone for those who want to aim higher with sights fixed on the strategic level.

In my next post I will examine the final tier of apologetical operations, namely the tactical. It is at this level that Christian Apologetics is experiencing an absolute  explosion and most likely where the church will find its greatest resource for evangelism to an intellectually stagnant culture.

 

Shaping the Battlefield Part I: Christian Apologetics

Anyone familiar with the term “Apologetics” will immediately grasp some of the basic ideas associated with the word. First, they will realize that apologetics has to do with building a case for the rationality and truthfulness of the Christian faith, rather than apologizing for Christianity, or for particular Christians. In contrast, those unfamiliar with the discipline may chuckle when they hear the word, likely because they feel owed an actual apology. But, they would be mistaken in taking Apologetics as meaning “to say your sorry,” even if they were genuinely owed one. Apologetics derives from the Greek apologia (απολογια) and means, “to give a verbal defense.” Thus, to employ Apologetics is to defend certain claims about truth and rationality, and that with words.

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Quid est Veritas? – What is Truth?

On this blog, I will primarily focus on the central truth claims of Christianity (e.g. God exists, Jesus is God, the Bible is trustworthy, etc.), but occasionally tackle some issues that are not directly about Christianity, but about which I think the Christian worldview can inform us and offer greater insight.

Second, those familiar with Apologetics will recognize its biblical foundation, featured most explicitly in verses like 1 Peter 3:15, and in historical narratives like Acts 17, but also elsewhere in Scripture. In these two particular passages, however, we see both an injunction upon the follower of Jesus by the Apostle Peter, and an evangelistic approach demonstrated by the Apostle Paul, that clearly advocate for the use of reason, evidence, and argumentation.

While some may dismiss the use of reason or evidence as a valid method of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this does not seem to be a view that scripture itself upholds. While reason alone is by no means the whole story to true knowledge of God, see 1 Cor 1:18-31, reason is still a valid tool for clearing away false beliefs or filling in intellectual lemmas that might hinder one from coming to a full awareness of God in Christ.

Any evangelist with a rudimentary understanding of theology knows that conversion comes only through the power of God; specifically through the person of the Holy Spirit, and that this saving knowledge is non-propositional in nature.

Third, familiarity with Christian Apologetics means knowing a bit of philosophy, history and yes, science. Philosophical arguments for Theism in general are well known and ancient in pedigree. However, they are revised and sharpened by contemporary philosophers, especially in light of new discoveries in the natural sciences. Historiography (i.e. the writing of history) also plays a major role in the apologetical endeavor, especially as one tries to show the validity and reliability of biblical texts, or the theological claims made by the church throughout the last two millennia.

Philosophy, though, is the true handmaiden of Theology, and as Philosophy of Religion in general, and Christian philosophy in particular, have experienced a renaissance in recent academic history. Philosophy of Religion is more popular, and more pursued now, than in nearly a century (at least since the time of the “Logical Positivists“). Further, it can be shown that philosophy is really what many scientists do when they make pronouncements regarding certain empirical observations. Thus, without rigorous philosophical thinking, one cannot begin to have a serious apologetical discussion. Philosophical presuppositions will also effect one’s view of history itself and whether or not we can know any truth about it or from it.

At the same time I mention all of these disciplines, I do not want to present myself as a true expert in any one particular area. I am but a student in training, and always will be. For true expertise you will find links to others, who have been practicing in these fields for many years, plumbing the depths of each discipline.

In my next post I will breakdown my own view of who does Apologetics and at what level they operate (i.e. the strategic, the operational and the tactical). I will continue my survey of Apologetics itself, and then launch into particular areas of dispute. Here, however, I have only given a brief summary of what Apologetics is and why we practice it.