1. Christian Apologetics
Apologetics is the task of defending the Christian faith. When engaging in apologetics, two things must be kept in mind. First, the Christian must defend the Christian faith as a Christian. The Christian must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). The Christian must never set aside the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, even over our minds.
Second, the Christian must defend the Christian faith. It will not do for the Christian to defend generic theism since the Christian doesn’t believe that generic theism is true. We don’t believe that a god might exist somewhere out there. We believe, rather, that only Christian theism is true, and therefore every other kind of theism is false. And it would be futile to defend as true that which we know is false.
Here I hope to demonstrate one of the ways to honor Christ as Lord as we defend the Christian faith and demonstrate to the atheist that his worldview results in absurdity. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” and therefore if you reject God you cannot know anything at all.
2. The Absurdity of Atheism
“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). The Psalmist is not engaging in name–calling, but rather is pointing out the absurdity of atheism. Those who say there is no God have no sure foundation for knowledge. Having rejected God and His Word, the atheist cannot account for either what he knows or how he comes to know what he knows. The atheist, having built his house of knowledge on shifting sand, has no sure foundation upon which to stand when he makes knowledge claims.
This can be demonstrated by asking the atheist one question: “Could you be wrong about everything you know?” It’s a Yes-or-No question, and how the atheist answers will determine how best to move forward in the conversation.
3. Wrong about Everything?
If the atheist answers yes, he is immediately reduced to absurdity. It is self–refuting to even answer the question if you think you could actually be wrong about everything you know. When the atheist answers yes, what he is saying is that he knows it is possible for him to be wrong about everything. But if that’s true, then he could be wrong about that, which would mean that he could not, in fact, be wrong about everything he knows. Therefore, he has contradicted himself and reduced himself to absurdity.
To say that you could be wrong about everything you know is also to reject the very possibility of possessing knowledge altogether. It is impossible to know anything at all if you could be wrong about everything you know. If I say that Abby’s favorite color is pink, but then turn around and say but I could be wrong about that, I don’t actually know what her favorite color is. Thus, if the atheist says he could be wrong about everything he knows, he can’t actually know anything at all.
4. Infinite Knowledge?
On the other hand, if the atheist answers no, several things are implied: either all truth, and therefore knowledge also, is relative (which is itself a self-refuting and therefore absurd statement), or the atheist is claiming to have access to infinite knowledge, be it in himself, community, science, or somewhere else.
The problem, of course, is that all these implications are false. Truth is not relative, and to say otherwise is inherently contradictory. Moreover, individuals, communities, and science cannot claim to have infinite knowledge about the totality of the states of affairs in reality. Science can “progress” because scientists do not know everything there is to know and are constantly finding out about new things in the world. This is not a bad thing, unless you claim that science does in fact give you a foundation for infinite knowledge.
The atheist has no ground upon which to stand when he says he knows anything. In order to know anything at all, one must have infinite knowledge, or have access to someone who does. If you don’t have infinite knowledge, whatever you do know might be contradicted by something in reality which you don’t presently know. And if this is the case, then you can’t know anything with certainty.
Yet the atheist does know things to be true. This is not due to the inherent coherency of the atheistic worldview, which, as has been shown, reduces to absurdity; rather, the atheist lives in God’s world and because of that really knows things to be true. Despite the fact that the atheist declares with his mouth that knowledge cannot be had, he exists as God’s creature and therefore knows things to be true.
5. Christianity, Truth, and Knowledge
But what is truth? The atheist may answer something like, “truth is that which has been agreed-upon by communities over long periods of time. Truth is ultimately conventional. Truth is relative to cultures and individuals, such that they can decide for themselves what truth is.” But these are self-refuting claims. If truth is ultimately conventional or relative, then I get to decide what is true just as you get to decide what is true. And perhaps I decide the truth is not ultimately conventional or relative. But which of these positions is true? The answer for the consistent atheist is: neither. Neither of those positions can be objectively true for everyone. The atheist has to say it is both not true that truth is conventional and also true that truth is conventional. This kind of self-refutation reduces atheism to absurdity. Simply put, the atheistic worldview is unlivable. No one actually lives like this. Though the atheist claims that truth is relative, he does not actually live as though that were true.
For the Christian, truth is that which conforms to the mind of God. Only God has infinite knowledge, and therefore only He in fact knows all of the states of affairs in the universe. He does so because He created them and presently upholds them by the power of His Word. This means that there is nothing outside of God’s knowledge which might contradict what God already knows. When God tells us something to be true it is objectively true, and there is nothing which might make it not true. Thus, to the extent that a knowledge claim conforms to what God knows, that knowledge claim is true.
And indeed this is the only view of truth that can account for reality. Again, in order to know anything at all one must have infinite knowledge or access to someone who does. No human being or community or scientific endeavor provides infinite knowledge of reality. There might always be something out there in reality which contradicts what they presently know. The only group of people that have access to infinite knowledge is the group that has access to the infinite God, namely Christians. This means that only Christians have a sure foundation upon which to make truth claims and to know anything.
And this is a great comfort to our souls. It is not the case that God simply might exist. Rather, the infinite God of infinite knowledge has revealed Himself to us certainly, and we can claim absolutely that God does indeed exist, that He created the heavens and the earth from nothing, that He sent His Son to be a propitiation or satisfaction of His wrath for our sin, that He raised His Son on the third day for our justification, and that His Son, Jesus Christ, ascended to the right hand of the Father and is currently and interceding for all of his people. Christians can know these things to be certainly true, and this provides a sure anchor for our souls.
The Christian confession is indeed that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are located in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:3). Therefore when we start with Christ, when we start with God and His sure and certain Word, we have an objective basis upon which we can come to have knowledge. This isn’t a claim to intellectual supremacy, nor is it even to say that atheists don’t claim to have knowledge. But what Christians can and should say to the atheist is that only Christianity provides a basis upon which one can claim to have certain knowledge. And since the atheistic worldview reduces to absurdity because it rejects both the basis and content of knowledge, it should be rejected as irrational. The Christian should stand up and boldly proclaim that atheism is irrational. After all, this is what Scripture says when it says the fool says in his heart, “there is no God.”
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