Should We Stop Arguing with People We Disagree With?
In the 1950s, the John C. Winston company, later to become part of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, published “Adventures in Science Fiction,” a series of juvenile hardcover novels that made up a collection of thirty-six books.
Some of the world’s greatest science fiction writers got their start with the series: Arthur C. Clarke, best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ben Bova, Lester Del Rey, Donald Wollheim, and Poul Anderson. The books carried an original price of $2.00. Today, depending on condition and the author, a first edition with a dust jacket can cost as much as $500.00.
In addition to the wonderful stories, the books are worth collecting for the cover art. While the books are dated in terms of technology (the use of computers is minimal), the stories reflect the moral worldview of post-World War II America. In addition, a teenager would find a great deal of worldview wisdom sprinkled throughout the 200+ pages of each book.
Here’s an example from Paul Dallas’ The Lost Planet, a story about how two teenagers avert a war between their home planets. The scene takes place just before the teenager from Earth boards a spaceship and travels to the distant planet Poseida:
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As he spoke, the general seemed to become preoccupied with thoughts of the military situation, and he absently deployed salt and pepper shakers with knives and forks on the table, setting up in front of him an imaginary military problem in the field. “It is a basic truism,” he continued, “that wherever possible the best defense is a good offense. Now if we are attacked,” and he brought a piece of silverware in toward the plate that was obviously representing Planet Earth, “not only do we defend the point under immediate attack but,” and here several pieces were quickly moved from the plate Earth to the butter dish from which the attack had originated, “we immediately counterattack at the source of the aggression. After all, if you cut off the head, you have no need to fear the arms.”
Dallas has the General making a crucial point about fighting and winning against an enemy. As we will see, the best defense, no matter how good, requires a good offense. Defending the Christian worldview against unbelieving thought takes an understanding that every worldview has a centralized guiding principle that serves as the head that directs belief and action to the arms and legs.
By going after the head, as David did to Goliath (1 Sam. 17) and an unnamed woman did to Abimelech (Judges 9:52–55), the attacking opposition dies, no matter how strong the arms and legs and the army retreats (Neh. 4). Christians tend to attack symptoms, the rotten fruit of unbelieving thought, rather than expose the root that gives life to the tree. The Bible tells us, “The ax is already laid at the root of the trees” with the result that “every tree . . . that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10; 7:19; Luke 3:9; 13:7; John 15:2, 6).
Apologetics, a word from Greek (apologia)which means “to offer a defense,” is practiced in diverse ways by Christians. Some Christian apologists try to appeal to skeptics by presenting a boatload of facts. With this evidential method, the idea is that facts are neutral and “speak for themselves.” Others believe that reason alone, devoid of any prior presuppositions, is the best way to defend the faith. These are mistaken apologetic methods. Even scientists admit that factual neutrality and reason-alone approaches are impossible because “the practice of science . . . rests upon a number of presuppositions about the nature of reality” that “we usually take for granted.” Certain things are assumed, otherwise, no science or communication can take place. The issue, however, is how to account for these prior assumptions.
The Bible shows that apologetics and worldviews in general deal with fundamental assumptions that guide reason and give meaning to facts. For example, the first verse of the Bible states without equivocation or defense, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The assumption is that God exists, and without His existence, nothing makes sense. Unless we begin by establishing certain preconditions, we will never establish a valid and workable apologetic methodology, and attacks on the Christian faith will go unanswered.
I’ve been following a thread on Facebook dealing with important questions related to science, history, and worldviews. One person wrote:
Apologetics is about argument — ALL THE TIME. You cannot argue someone into believing. It is prudent to know and study the Bible, even going sometimes deep into the Greek or Hebrew to understand some nuance. Intellectual saber rattling may be enjoyable to you (and the [FB] group here) but at the root of ALL OF IT IS STILL “Who do you profess Jesus Christ to be?” The answer decides your eternal direction.
The writer commits the either/or fallacy. It’s either preach the gospel or argue the position, that is, be involved in apologetics, defending the faith. The claim is, you can’t do both, and you should only do one. This same person says he listens to an audio version of the Bible for three hours to and from work. Then he should know that there is no such dichotomy in the Bible. First, there’s the classic passage dealing with the defense of the Christian faith:
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED [Isaiah 8:12], but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14-16).
To make an argument for a position does not mean to be argumentative. That’s why Peter adds, “with gentleness and reverence.” Never give anyone a reason to reject your argument other than the argument itself. Offering a defense of what you believe is not “intellectual saber rattling”; it’s a biblical command! By the way, this command is not just about presenting the gospel. The Bible is about everything. Was Peter making the argument that people can be argued into believing? To a certain extent, yes, if their underlying assumptions about reality are challenged.
Second, notice how Paul approaches the Jews and Greeks. The Jews first:
Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.
But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things (Acts 17:1-8).
Was Paul engaged in “intellectual saber rattling”? No. He “reasoned with them” and presented “evidence.” The response of the Jews was neither reasonable nor evidence-based. Peter’s admonition comes into play: “AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED” (1 Pet. 3:14). Paul did not “let go and let God” by backing off from his method even though he ended up being thrown out of Thessalonica (see 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14-16).
Notice that these thugs understood that the gospel was more than about going to heaven when they died. They understood that it meant “there is another king, Jesus.” Such preaching, they believed rightly, would upset their world.
Paul travels to Berea where he receives a better reception. Notice that the Berean Jews don’t take Paul’s word for what he was teaching:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).
Paul moves on to Athens and confronts Greek philosophy. He makes an argument. He offers an apologia, a defense of the Christian worldview over against all other worldviews. Paul did battle with the secular philosophies and political realities of his day (17:16–34). Paul knew enough about Greek philosophy to engage in a debate, even quoting some of their own poets (17:28).
The apostles defended the faith and were beaten and imprisoned for their efforts (Acts 4). Stephen contended “earnestly for the faith,” and his own countrymen stoned him to death (Acts 7). Paul offered his defense of Christianity before Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–34), his own countrymen (Acts 22–23), and Roman civil officials (Acts 24–26). He was ready and eager to defend the faith before Caesar himself (Acts 25:11, 32).
Paul battled with heretical elements within the church. He told Timothy, “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3–4; cf. 2 Tim. 4:2–4).
Christians are duty-bound to do battle with all new forms of contrary worldviews in terms of their current manifestations. The following is attributed to Martin Luther:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not professing Christ, however boldly I may be proclaiming Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.
The mind is designed to (1) reason, (2) test, (3) investigate, (4) examine, and (5) accumulate knowledge through the study of the Bible, creation, history, experience, and everything else but with certain presuppositions in mind. We are commanded to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), “examine everything,” and “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). To argue for a position is not to argue someone into the kingdom. Argument’s purpose is to expose the weakness of unbelieving thought and demonstrate the long-term consequences of being consistent with a position’s operating assumptions.