Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Apologetic Parent: Training Children to Live the Faith

by Jennifer Pinch

When I was young, my mother used to say, “When you grow up, I hope you have a child exactly like you.” Her intention was not to give me a blessing. I was a strong-willed child who questioned absolutely everything. You couldn’t make me do anything. I needed to be persuaded. At the time, it was difficult for my mom to understand my continual need for reasons. She was satisfied with deferring to authority and she is, by nature, a peacemaker who avoids conflict. My dad, however, has always been able to see through my behavior to the heart of the matter. He knew that my challenges were most often a genuinely felt need for information and not just to provoke drama. Being a mother myself, I can now empathise with my own mother’s frustration and disconnect because two of my three children are just like me.

God is good. He knows what we need despite our “stiff necks” and willfulness. Parenting has taught me more about myself than any other life lesson. When my first daughter was born, a good friend sent me a book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Parenting. At the time, I was quite confident that I knew everything and that the book would be fluffy anyway so, logically, I put it on the nursery shelf and mostly forgot about it. When my strong-willed daughter was six years old and the illusion that I was going to be the perfect parent was thoroughly broken, I reached for that book. What I read caused in me a mix of sorrow and hope. The author said, “When we don’t understand the purpose of parenting, the process becomes tedious.” As I continued to read, I began to understand that my child needed me to look beyond behavior modification, which, in retrospect, ought to have been obvious. I needed to engage in a sacred journey that would not only “train up a child”, but shape my own soul in the process. God was warning me that it is a grave danger to be satisfied by raising a little Pharisee when He has given me the responsibility to shepherd her heart. His purpose for parenting is to enable my child to know God and glorify Him.

My parents always prayed that my strong-will would be a virtue, not a vice. They never sought to break my will, but to bend it toward the Lord. Their desire was that my God-given intensity, passion, and fierce determination would be used for His kingdom. How can we empower our children to be strong-willed for the Lord? I believe that the answer is in Deuteronomy 6:5-7, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” As parents, our love for the Lord should be evident throughout all of life. When our Christianity becomes something we do rather than someone we are, our children will be the first to call our bluff. My prayer for each of my children has become that they would love the Lord with all of their hearts and all of their lives; and God has commanded me to lead by example.

Many parents mistakenly assume that church attendance, Christian children’s programs, and isolation from secular culture will keep their child in the faith as they reach adulthood. According to research by The Barna Group, the most critical need in a child’s spiritual development is for a family to engage in faith together at home. Parenting must be intentional and faith must be genuine, because you can’t pass on what you don’t possess. The most influential apologists in a child’s life are his parents. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go.” This means our children need the truth, found in sound biblical theology, first. Biblical truth is the foundation from which effective apologetics are built. When I worked in retail as a cashier back in high school, I remember being taught how to identify cash forgeries. By knowing how a real fifty dollar bill looks and feels, I was assured that a forgery would be easy to spot. Why didn’t the manager show us a forgery first? In short, there are a multitude of forgeries and only one which is real. I needed to be completely familiar with what was real before I could spot the pretender. Likewise, if we teach our children the truth of the Bible first, they will become equipped to spot the religious forgeries.

As a Public Health Nurse, I am a strong advocate for immunizations. I have spent more than ten years inoculating children in a preemptive strike against disease. It is important work, but training our children in apologetics does something significantly more important. It inoculates them from spiritual attacks that are inevitable. Once our children are equipped with the truth, we ought to be the ones who first introduce them to the objections to the Christian faith. This accomplishes several critical purposes. First, it teaches them critical thinking skills: rather than being afraid to question and invoke doubt at the smallest criticism of their faith, a child who has been trained to think well will calmly examine the evidence. If we hold that the Christian worldview is objectively true, then we can have confidence that our faith can withstand the challenges. Second, training our children in apologetics removes the element of surprise when they enter the secular culture as young adults. In studying Mormonism, something I have noticed time and time again is the feeling of betrayal that ex-Mormons suffer when they come to the conclusion that their religion is false. The Mormon people are warned not to read or listen to anything that casts doubt on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They label all challenges to the church as anti-Mormon. As a result, those who are courageous enough to look at the historical, theological, and scientific problems of Mormonism begin to feel wounded. They become suspicious and think, “What else have they not told me?” The resulting distrust for spiritual authority is exceedingly deep and understandable.

As the primary apologists in our children’s lives, we ought to be transparent. Our honest dialogue provides a safe place to question that is invaluable. We need to be bold enough to present the arguments against Christianity, not in a straw man form, but in a way that is direct and fair. When we seek to provide reasonable answers and defend the faith, we will focus on the purpose in parenting: helping a child to know God and glorify Him. What better way to know God than to walk in relationship with Him and include our children in the conversation as we “walk by the way”? The parenting journey is an obligation with eternal significance.

When we think about the biblical mandate to “train up a child” it is helpful to differentiate training from teaching. Teaching is the sharing of information in order to impart knowledge. Training is to make the child prepared for the practical application of knowledge, in other words, to cultivate wisdom. J Warner Wallace defines training as “teaching with a goal at the end.” If the goal is for our children to love the Lord with all of their hearts and all of their lives, then training must be intentional and genuine. One of the things I have found to be a very useful tool with my own children is role play. We have regular deep conversations about whatever topic comes up in their everyday lives and then we literally role play the conversations in preparation for subsequent challenges. Attending a public school gives them an abundance of opportunity to practice Christian apologetics, even at the elementary ages.

Just a few months ago, I was highly encouraged and somewhat surprised to see the informal dialogue we have in our home resulting in the tentative first steps at a defence of the faith of my ten year old daughter. Bursting in the back door, she threw her backpack on the island and began talking while putting away her lunch bag and homework.

“They are so annoying!” she said, exasperated.

“Who are annoying?” I asked.

“Samantha, Ellie, and Nyah. They were saying that I am stupid because I don’t believe in science and the Big Bang. They were all like, ‘You think God created the universe. My mom says you’re just a Holy Joe.’”

“So, did you answer them?”

“Obviously. I said that I do so believe in the Big Bang! A Big Bang needs a Big Banger!”

I tried to conceal my surprise as I asked, “You said that?”

“Yes. And then they were all like, ‘If God created the universe then who created God?’ So I said, ‘He doesn’t need a creator. He is the uncaused first cause. Otherwise all the causes would go back to infinity. God is the only thing that is eternal. Everyone knows the universe came into existence and nothing pops into existence out of nothing.’”

 “That’s really great Hayden. You stood up for what you believe. How did they respond?”

“They all just sat on the curb and started chanting ‘Atheists! Atheists! Atheists!’ It was dumb. They just heckled me so I went and played with Kira.”

It was an insightful interaction on many levels. After I took the opportunity to teach her the fallacy of an Ad Hominem attack, I was struck by the reality that our society truly is changing rapidly. The fact that my ten year old was using a simple version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument was encouraging. At the same time it made me consider the fact that at ten years old I would have been totally unprepared if I had been pushed so directly to defend my faith on the playground. It made me realise that involving my daughter in everyday apologetics training has made an impact. She is becoming equipped for what will not be an easy road ahead. We should not be satisfied with teaching our children shallow, behavioural religion. Os Guinness refers to Augustine, who talked about the thought through life. He argued that Christians think in coming to believe, and they believe in thinking. When faith parts company with reason, it’s disastrous. It is not proper Christian faith. My desire is to raise my children to be strong-willed with the right motivation: to question everything with a heart that is teachable and seeks God above all else. I am no longer placing my confidence in my parenting efforts, but in the truth of Scripture which is “God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Universal Negative: Can It Be Proven?

by Shawn Ferguson

Atheists and sceptics sometimes claim that it’s impossible to prove a universal negative. This, they assert, relieves them of the burden of proof when they claim that God does not exist. They think it’s a savvy move, leaving them with nothing to defend and placing the entire burden of proof upon the theist, who is clearly making a positive claim. This is a mistake on their part, because, apart from being false, in the end it does more damage to their cause than good.

 The first order of business is to define a universal negative. A universal negative in this context is any claim that something doesn’t exist. So, when the atheist claims that God doesn’t exist, this is a universal negative—it asserts that it is universally true that there is no being in existence matching the description of God—and need not, indeed cannot, be proven.

It should already be apparent that there’s a problem here for the claimant that it’s impossible to prove a universal negative: the claim is itself an unmistakeable universal negative. The claim just is that it’s universally true that there exists no universal negative that can be proven. So by its own principle, if true, the claim cannot be proven, and thus has little to attract our assent.

But let’s leave that objection aside for the moment and look at the claim a little more deeply. Is it true that there is no universal negative which can be proven? No. This is demonstrably false. Consider the claim that no circular triangles exist. This is a universal negative. It claims that it is universally true that there are no triangles in existence which are also circular, and here’s a proof for it:

1.       If an object does not have exactly three sides and three angles, then it cannot be a triangle.

2.       A circular object does not have exactly three sides and three angles.

3.       Therefore, a circular object cannot be a triangle.

This is a deductively valid argument with all true premises[i], thus guaranteeing the truth of the conclusion. A universal negative has just been proven. In fact, any universal negative can be proven to be true if it can be shown to lead to an internal contradiction, just as we did for the circular triangle.

Ironically, the very same atheists and sceptics who claim that a universal negative cannot be proven will often turn around and attempt to offer a proof of the universal negative that God does not exist; they do this in the form of the problem of evil and suffering. This argument is an attempt to show that the very idea of an all-loving, all-powerful God is incompatible with the existence of the evil and suffering which permeates our existence. The basic argument is that an all-loving God wouldn’t want to permit evil and suffering, and an all-powerful God could ensure that it wasn’t permitted; but it is permitted, clearly, so there mustn’t be a God who is both all-powerful and all-loving.

Of course, the argument doesn’t work, but that’s not our interest here. What we find interesting is that this attempted proof is an exercise in the very thing that is often said to be impossible: proving a universal negative. They can’t have it both ways. Either universal negatives are unprovable, and this argument is futile, or this argument is worthy of consideration, and universal negatives are provable after all.     

Again, let’s leave this argument aside for the moment and look at the issue from another angle. What we find lurking beneath the surface is another irony just waiting to be uncovered. When the atheist or sceptic claims that a universal negative cannot be proven, what they’re doing is tantamount to admitting that their belief that God doesn’t exist is unprovable, and thus without merit. If it cannot be proven that God doesn’t exist, then why should we believe such a claim? This fact wouldn’t give us reason to believe that God does exist, to be sure, but it would absolutely preclude any belief that God doesn’t exist. At best, in the absence of positive evidence for God’s existence (of which there is plenty), such a claim, if true, would leave us agnostic. Let’s state this plainly: if a universal negative cannot be proven, then all atheists (here defined as a person who believes that God does not exist) are irrational because they are necessarily going beyond the evidence.

But let’s leave this aside for the moment and examine the claim from yet another angle. What exactly is meant by proof in this context? If by proof is meant one hundred percent certainty, then it may be true that any universal negative that can only be argued for inductively cannot be proven[ii]. So to claim, for example, that there are no white crows would be unprovable, as any attempted proof of such a proposition would necessarily rely on inductive reasoning (for any being who isn’t omniscient). But if one hundred percent certainty is the standard, then it’s equally as true that any universal positive which relies on inductive reasoning for its proof cannot be proven either; the problem would be with induction, not with the negativity or positivity of the proposition in question. What’s more, all universal negatives have a universal positive as a counterpart. That there are no white crows can be implied by the positive statement that all crows are black. That God does not exist can be implied by the positive proposition that the material world is all that exists. But to prove such a universal positive would amount to a proof for its implied universal negative. So, if it’s true that universal negatives are unprovable, who cares? So are universal positives. And if universal positives can be proven, then so can many universal negatives.

Still more can be said. Why grant the assumption that all proofs must provide one hundred percent certainty in the first place? Why not define proof as making a proposition more likely than its negation? If we do this, we can indeed prove many things inductively, both universally negative and positive, with some degree of probability. Of course, this is a controversial issue, and many will cite Hume against me here (to which I would fire back a citation of Plantinga, but that’s a debate for another day), but the point is that a proof’s being one hundred percent certainty can’t just be taken for granted—it must be argued for. (Oddly enough, to argue that a proof must provide one hundred percent certainty will likely be self-defeating, unless the proof itself is one hundred percent certain).
So the claim that it is impossible to prove a universal negative has little going for it, and much going against it, as we have seen. The claim is self-defeating because it is itself a universal negative, which by its own standard cannot be proven if it’s true; it is demonstrably false, as is obvious by the fact that many universally negative statements can be proven false by simply demonstrating an internal contradiction; it precludes any consideration of the problem of evil, which is the atheists’ strongest objection to God’s existence, and an objection worthy of consideration; it amounts to an admission that the atheist is going beyond the evidence and holding his belief that God doesn’t exist irrationally; it fails to realize that just as many universal positives are unprovable with one hundred percent certainty as are universal negatives; and it relies upon a controversial definition of proof, which is likely indefensible.

[i] A deductively valid argument with all true premises is what logicians call a sound argument. A sound argument is one in which the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion logically and inescapably (it’s valid), and in which the premises are all true.  
[ii] Inductive reasoning, as opposed to deductive reasoning, cannot guarantee the truth of a conclusion with one hundred percent certainty. It can, however, provide differing degrees of probability for the conclusion of an argument.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Unbelief Regarding Divine Providence Undermines Moral Judgment on Abortion

by Lawren Guldemond

Disclaimer: Faith Beyond Belief supports dialogue on bioethical issues such as abortion. As such, an alternative perspective to this thoughtful post will be published in the near future, a perspective which may differ on all or some points. Please remember that in dialogues such as this not everything argued within a given post will be the official position of Faith Beyond Belief.

I've noticed something about the public discourse on the immorality of abortion. It's a pattern that has been persistent across the span of many decades. Nearly all of the people involved in the pro-life movement are Christians, of one stripe or another. However, most of the arguments they present to the public are non-religious, and not dependent on religious foundations. They typically build upon medical facts to demonstrate that the unborn child is a distinct human life, and appeal to a common-sense moral recognition that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. It is a case designed to engage and persuade secular people with secular arguments, while leaving religious principles out because secular people would object to them as illegitimate. Pro-lifers expend a lot of effort trying to convert secular pro-abortion people into secular pro-life people. 

Now, here's the critical observation: in spite of decades of pro-life activism presenting the case in terms that could be considered and accepted without requiring any acceptance of religious tenets or principles, the reality is still that strong, unequivocal pro-life views remain largely confined to Christian communities. Pro-lifers have had very little success convincing people who are not Christians to recognize that it is wrong to abort an unborn child. This pattern has led me to ponder why Christian faith causes so many people to embrace the pro-life position, and why so few who lack such faith ever become convinced that the pro-life case is right. My verdict is that faith in God inspires the courage to admit and do what is right, in spite of daunting implications, while unbelief induces people to do and justify what is wrong, for fear of the future.

Before I explain my contemplations on how faith in God affects a person's views on the morality of abortion, I should state some presuppositions which provide the requisite framework for what I will go on to say:

1.   The pro-life case against abortion is correct. Abortion is morally wrong, and this is a universal moral precept. 

2.   The pro-life case against abortion is sound on strictly secular terms. The medical and biological facts of fetal development clearly establish the humanity of the fetus. It is human. And our common sense of morality tells us that humans should not kill other humans. The simple logic is sound, and anyone should be able to recognize this on these grounds alone, without any religious influence being needed.

3.   The ultimate reason that so many people do not admit that abortion is wrong is not due to a failure of logic; it is due to a failure of morality. The moral unwillingness to admit that abortion is wrong spawns the denial of the truth and the concomitant justification of abortion.

Given points 1 & 2, we should expect everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, to admit that abortion is wrong. Many deny this, as is noted in point 3. Furthermore, the denial of the immorality of abortion is strongly correlated with an absence of Christian faith.[i] From this arises the question that I have been contemplating: what is it that makes people without faith in Christ forsake the right and true verdict that abortion is wrong? What is at the root of it?

A person's view on abortion is inextricably connected to their level of trepidation about the future. People endorse abortion because they fear what might happen to the future of a woman's life if she is denied the option of abortion. Having an abortion enables a woman to alter the course of her future, and keeps her options open. A significantly different future will result if she does not have an abortion and instead allows the pregnancy to culminate in childbirth. Childbirth inaugurates decades of duty and responsibility for her, and the man responsible. Parenthood brings great financial responsibilities, absorbs all your free time, restricts your liberty to travel, and dominates your daily schedule. In most families, these duties and constraints fall more heavily on the mother. In many, they fall entirely on the mother, because the father is absent. For those who are not prepared, having a child may disrupt and ruin their plans for their life. These facts of life are the same for Christians and non-Christians alike. However, Christians and non-Christians reach very different conclusions about whether abortion is a permissible way to resolve the dilemma of a pregnancy that seems to jeopardize their future prospects.[ii] And what does the future hold? Will it be good, or ill? That depends on God—whether He exists, and is good, and whether He controls the future. Although there are many different reasons and considerations that lead different people to hold different stances on abortion, I contend that the chief overriding factor is one's view of God—His existence, His goodness, and His providence.

For those who do not believe in the existence, the goodness, and the providential governance of God, the future is random and therefore open to going horribly wrong. Since there will be no divine intervention to keep the future on a good course, it requires human intervention. For those who face an unwanted pregnancy and predict that having the child would ruin the future of their life, abortion is the one great intervention they can make to alter the course of their life and steer it away from the bleak future that they foresee. I have observed that this consideration often trumps the most impeccable pro-life arguments for the humanity of the fetus and sanctity of its life. In short, the root of pro-abortion thinking is the resolution that it doesn't matter if the fetus is human and it would otherwise be wrong to kill it; they are convinced that allowing an unfortunate pregnancy to culminate in childbirth will ruin the future of the woman's life, and therefore it is imperative that the pregnancy be terminated. Even though the fetus is a human child, it must die in order to rescue the woman's future from catastrophe. Being convinced in their hearts that it must be done, they devise arguments to dehumanize the unborn child and justify its elimination. This, I contend, is why fifty years of pro-life efforts to convince society that the fetus is a precious human life, which must be preserved, have failed to convince those who do not believe in the existence of a good God who governs the future.

For those who do believe in the existence, the goodness, and the providential governance of God, the future may look harrowing, but there is help and therefore also hope. Though it may appear that an unfortunate pregnancy will ruin the future of a woman's life, human intervention by abortion is not the only way to avert a catastrophic personal future. The elimination of the unborn child is not the only way that the future can be salvaged. God can and God does bring good things out of our hardships. He bestows blessings through parenthood. He controls the future, and He can save our lives from ruin, without us taking the recourse of killing an unborn child. Fending off the confining duties of parenthood is not a prerequisite for having a good future. Those who know these things and are sure of them understand that the unborn child does not have to die in order to make the future bearable. They can accept and admit the truth that the fetus is a precious human life and it is wrong to kill it. They do not feel the need to have the option to kill it, so they don't need to deny the truth of its humanity, because there is a God, and He is good, and He controls the future; therefore, there is no need to kill unborn children to save our own futures.

[ii]           Notwithstanding the significant number of Christians and churches who endorse abortion to a greater or lesser degree, I assert that the only legitimate Christian position on abortion is to oppose it. I grant room for differences of opinion in cases of grave danger to the mother's life, but in the vast majority of cases this is not a factor and there should be no question: abortion is wrong and Christians should recognize this.