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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Responding to AHA's Presuppositionalism, Part I

Two members of Abolish Human Abortion challenged me to discuss whether or not Christians should be making a secular case for the pro-life position. We were going to meet on a Google Hangout, but I wasn't able to make it because I seriously need to upgrade my equipment. However, these two individuals, Darin and John, decided to have the Hangout anyway and discuss this issue, despite the fact that I wasn't there to defend it. They also want a response, so I will give them one. I don't have much of a desire to continue a dialogue with them making videos, so if they don't wish to continue discussing via text, at least until I can have a Hangout with them, then I probably will not respond again. Responding to videos is just too difficult to do on a blog, especially since they don't have all of their points laid out in any sort of logical progression; they're basically just having a discussion. Remember what Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 17: "The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him." You can view their video here. The relevant portion starts at around 4:30 in the video. They talk a bit about their experiences outside an abortion clinic prior to that. This is the article in question that they are responding to.

It's important to note that there are many areas in which members of AHA and I (and the Christian members of the larger pro-life movement) agree. We agree that souls need to be saved, that we must use the Gospel to bring people to salvation, that abortion is a great moral evil, that God is the ultimate grounding of objective morality and objective truth, and many other things. I'm also not saying that we should never use the Gospel in our discussions. Many of my discussions on abortion naturally lead to discussions of morality and God. My actual argument is that we do not need to use the Scriptures to make a compelling argument for the pro-life position, and indeed it would actually be foolish to do so if you're talking to someone hostile to Christianity.

So what I'm going to do is make the argument that we can, in fact, make a secular case for the pro-life position, and that it's not dishonoring to God to do so. Now, bear in mind that my argument is not that we should never bring God into the conversation. My argument is that relying on religious arguments is not necessary to make the pro-life case, and is necessary if you're having a discussion with someone who is hostile to Christianity (or religion in general).

Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is this: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Mark 12:30). God has given us the ability to reason, and by forsaking the use of the reason that God has given us, by forsaking the life of the mind, you are dishonoring God. In Isaiah 1:18, God told the Israelites, "Come now, let us reason together...though your sins are as scarlet, they will be made white as snow." God didn't quote Bible verses at them, he was telling them what he was going to do. In fact, there was a time before the Scriptures even existed. What did people do for truth then? Presuppositionalists confuse the Word of God with God, Himself.

Remember that Paul told us, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:19-24). We have to meet people where they're at. In fact, one of my favorite passages on apologetics is Acts 17. In the former portion, Paul reasoned with the Jews with the Old Testament, because they took the Old Testament seriously. But in the latter portion, Paul didn't reason with the Roman philosophers with the Scriptures, because they didn't respect the Scriptures as an authority. He argued through philosophy, even quoting a secular poet, to convince them of the truth of Christianity.

There are many more examples that I could give (e.g. Paul used eyewitnesses as evidence of the Resurrection, and Jesus used his miracles as evidence that he is the Messiah), but I think this is sufficient. The thing I noticed as I was watching the video is that Darin and John never actually support their assertion that we can't make a purely secular apologetic for the pro-life position. They use two or three Bible verses out of context, but I don't think a single thing they said actually related to the position they were supposed to be defending. I have made a Biblical case for my position. If Darin and John can't make a Biblical case for theirs, then it is not fair to accuse me of dishonoring God and trying to take the moral high road on this. Otherwise, by using philosophy and not the Bible to make their case, their case is ultimately self-defeating.

In fact, they seem to conflate making the pro-life case with evangelizing, but these are two completely different discussions. They seem to believe that making a case for the pro-life position just is evangelizing and converting people to Christianity, but this is mistaken. In fact, at about 10:30 into the video John actually concedes that you can convince someone to be pro-life by making a secular case. But this is exactly what we are discussing here: can you make a convincing pro-life case apart from the Scriptures? The answer is clearly yes.

This article will take place in two parts, since there is much to respond to. The statement was made regarding AHA responding to Jonathon Van Maren's article about their revisionist history. T. Russell Hunter did, indeed, respond (and that's probably putting it charitably) with a long, rambling video in which he ate a sandwich, and Jonathon responded to that, as well. Hunter has yet to continue the discussion, and he has yet to keep his promise about amending the website to more accurately represent the position of incrementalists.

So now that I've outlined a brief case for my position, let me respond to Darin and John's statements.

Statement #1: "What the pro-life movement needs now, more than ever, is unity among its supporters and proponents, even ones who disagree with us on spiritual issues." (7:28)

I stand by this statement. Jesus, Himself, said, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." Surely Darin and John don't disagree with this statement. When it comes to the pro-life position, we need to be united, not divided, even with those who disagree with us on spiritual issues. I'm not talking about having atheists and agnostics serving in positions on the church board. But as my friend Neil Shenvi asked, would Darin and John oppose Christians and atheists working together to build projects, pilot aircrafts, fight wars, etc.? He seems to be okay with having secular friends, but on issues where we are saving lives and not saving souls, what is the problem with working together with people who hold to different faiths or no faith?

Now, Darin made the comment that we build our foundations on what the Word of God says. I agree with this, of course, and I think I have the stronger Biblical case for my position. He asked, "what is the Word but a sword that divides flesh and spirit?" I actually don't know what he means by this. Jesus said that he came not to bring peace but a sword, but it wasn't to divide flesh and spirit. It was a doctrine that divides, that puts father against son, husband against wife. Not that we're to go out looking for trouble, but the Christian faith is one that is unpalatable to someone who loves the world.

Now I really think Darin is grasping at straws when he says that if you put aside your differences you're not following Christ as king, you're following an issue as king. This is just semantic nonsense. One of the reasons I am an outspoken pro-life advocate is because God wants me to stand up for those without a voice. If I accept atheists as my colleagues even though they don't follow God, I'm not placing the issue above God. I'm following my Christian calling and accepting help from anyone willing to offer it. Darin might as well say that the Israelite spies stopped following God as Lord and started following their own safety as Lord when they accepted help from Rahab the harlot while spying on Jericho.

Darin additionally said, "When God says, 'do not murder,' that's your foundation for truth." Well, that may be, but I would ask Darin: What is murder? Who counts as human beings? Can he point to anywhere in the Bible that gives a description of what murder is or what a human being is? No. Sure, we know that human beings are made in God's image, but is that image there right from the start? How do you know? Through philosophical reflection we know that murder is the unjust taking of human life, and we know that the unborn count as human beings because the science supports it, and we know, again through philosophical reflection, that what makes us valuable (the imago Dei) is present from fertilization because they have the same inherent nature as we do.

Statement #2: "I am not saying that pro-life Christians should leave the Gospel out of all their conversations, I am merely arguing that it is not necessary to make the pro-life case." (9:50)

So here the question seems to be not so much can you make the pro-life position apart from the Bible, but should you? I have already made a Biblical case that using your faculties of reason alone is not dishonoring to God. After all, all truth is God's truth. But how do they justify their case that arguing apart from the Scriptures is dishonoring to God?

The argument they seem to use to support this is the argument that you're dishonoring God if you're not evangelizing. This is something I agree with. Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples. This is an important part of Christianity. But it's a red herring. This tells us nothing about whether or not we should be making the pro-life case apart from the Scriptures. All this tells us is if we're not evangelizing, we're dishonoring God, which is a statement I fully agree with. As I stated earlier, many of my discussions on abortion lead naturally to discussions about morality and God. You can use arguments apart from Scripture to make the pro-life case, then making someone pro-life can usually make them more receptive to the Gospel because then you can talk about what really makes us valuable, being created in God's image. They still have not shown why it's dishonoring to God to argue apart from the Scriptures.

Darin quotes Colossians 2, in which Paul wrote that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But notice: it's the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in Christ, not wisdom and knowledge, themselves. One can know things apart from Christ, even if there is no ultimate grounding for logic and morality apart from God. Paul was writing to warn against false doctrines and philosophies that were creeping into the church. Paul never warns against philosophy, just the vain philosophies of man.

I don't deny that God is required for the existence of logic and morality. What I deny is that belief in God is required to recognize them and use them. God gives us the tools we can use to discover true things about the universe, even if we don't understand why we have these things. You can use a hammer even though you have no idea who made it or don't remember who gave it to you.

John made the comment that as the author of reason and logic, we need to bring God into the conversation if we're going to discuss reason and logic. But I see no reason why this necessarily must be the case. It's true that we owe God everything, but it's not dishonoring to God to use reason apart from Scripture because God gave us that reason. God is the God of all reality. That means that all reality, not just the Scriptures, point back to God. You can use your reason to argue for God's existence because if God made the universe, then surely the universe is evidence for God's existence, as arrowheads are evidence for certain Native American tribes.

John made a similar statement that you can't even reason without God, but this is clearly false. You can't come to many true conclusions about the universe without God (e.g. the obvious one, that God exists), but you can clearly reason without God. He also says that you have no justification for being pro-life, but again, I find this to be false. I think the desire to treat all human beings equally, no matter what their stage of development, is very good grounding for being pro-life. I also find it to be true, even if they can't ultimately ground what really makes us valuable.

These gentlemen seem to forget that slavery was abolished in the United States without making it a Christian nation (in the sense that we didn't make it a Christian theocracy). Blacks and women were also made equal without making the U.S. a theocracy. Many slavery abolitionists and civil rights pioneers were heavily influenced and spurred on by their religious convictions, but they argued through reason for human rights, not by arguing that our nation had to repent and turn from its wicked ways. By making this a religious argument, AHA members are playing right into the pro-choice lobby's hands because unless there are good secular reasons to abolish abortion, our government won't do it because of their belief in the separation of church and state.

Darin next uses a verse out of Proverbs, that "...the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge..." (Proverbs 1:7). But this doesn't show that we must begin with the Bible before we search for knowledge, as presuppositionalists believe. That's question-begging. If you can't prove the Bible is true, then how can you prove what it teaches is true? It seems that the presuppositionalist runs into the same problem as the atheist who tries to use reason. Rather, by fearing God and knowing the Word we will be able to discern what is true from what is false. You won't find things like gravity or the Pythagorean theorem in the Bible, but if Darin and John are correct, then we can't trust those ideas because they're not found in Scripture. But by staying grounded in the Word, we can know when someone presents to us a false doctrine or false idea.

Minor corrective note: Scott Klusendorf did not develop SLED. Stephen Schwartz did in his book The Moral Question of Abortion.

John asserts that what LTI's whole ministry is about is not bringing God into the issue, but that's an oversimplification. The speakers in LTI believe that a strong Biblical case can be made, but if you're talking to someone who doesn't take the Bible seriously, then you need to use science and philosophy to make your case. Plus, if you listen to Scott's presentations, he always talks about the forgiveness that we can find in Christ before showing the abortion video (at least I don't think I've seen one where he hasn't). Also, it isn't about bringing more people into the pro-life camp. It's about training pro-life advocates to make the pro-life case well, and change hearts and minds on the issue so that we can eventually see abortion made illegal.

Darin makes the common statement that you're "in the world, but not of it." However, this is a pastorism and not actually found in the Bible. Even if it were, I fail to see how it would argue against using philosophical arguments, especially since, as I noted earlier, even Paul quoted secular poets to make his argument.

Statement #3 (off Facebook): "God is the God of all reality, not just the God of the Bible. I think a compelling Biblical case can be made for it, but even if not, so what? God has given us minds to reason, surely he expects us to use them." (19:05)

Darin and John seemed to misunderstand my comment. My comment was not saying that we can make a compelling Biblical case without the Bible. That would be silly. My point was that we can use science and philosophy to make a case that lines up with Scripture.

Statement #4: "AHA has this grand idea that they're 'engaging the culture' by refusing to use secular arguments alone, refusing to make arguments apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. While I commend their passion to see souls saved, this actually presents a complete ignorance of their culture. People are not going to be convinced by Biblical arguments (in fact, arguing that God exists because the Bible says so is a logical fallacy, circular reasoning -- you need to have secular arguments as to how you know God exists in the first place)." (20:50)

Now John talks about a brief exchange he and I had in the comments, where he challenged me to give him secular arguments for God's existence. I provided two: The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Axiological (Moral) Argument. Now Darin asked John what the Scriptures say about arguing to God, and John never gives any sort of Biblical explanation against this, just his own feelings on the matter. He still has yet to respond to my defense of those arguments as being reliable.

John tries to escape the charge of circularity by arguing that it "flows out of God's nature," but he seems to have misunderstood the point. The problem is John is assuming the Bible is correct, but he has no way of knowing that it's correct. I have a way of knowing it's correct because I believe there are good reasons to believe it's correct that are not found in Scripture. But John and Darin have no way of knowing that because they're starting from a book that they can't even prove is reliable. So when I say this is a circular argument, it's because the argument goes like this: How do you know God exists? The Bible tells me he does. How do you know the Bible is accurate? Because it's God's word. See? This just goes around in a circle. You have no way of knowing whether or not it's true.

So John tells me to read Bahsen and Van Til. Well, I might tell him to read William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Simply throwing out theologians and philosophers who agree with us is just an appeal to authority.

That covers the first four statements that Darin and John took issue with. I'll continue with the last four statements in part two.

*Special thanks to Neil Shenvi for giving me his thoughts prior to this exchange with AHA to help me prepare.


  1. It's much better to make a Pro-Life case without religion. Christianity, for example, has centuries of blood on its hands so saying that God or Jesus said abortion is a sin will go nowhere, nowhere at all.

    1. Christianity does not have blood on its hands. There have been those, like Hitler, who abused Christianity to control the masses, but Christianity is a religion of peace. I don't think you want to go down this road because atheism is responsible for the bloodiest century in human history (the 20th).