Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 2

P R I N C I P L E # 1

Twilight of the Gods

Building Immunity

  1. Summarize the sociological research on young people who report having doubts or questions. Do you know anyone with doubts who is struggling to find answers? Are you struggling yourself?

The research showed that about a third of those surveyed reported abandoning Christianity because of unanswered questions, feeling as though the questions themselves are out of bounds. I was recently in a dialogue with one young man who seems to be struggling to find answers to his doubts. However, knowing human nature, it occurs to me that it is simplistic to think this is purely a matter of unanswered questions. Often these questions coincide with temptations of this world, sometimes along with new freedom to indulge these temptations. The unanswered questions become a way to justify the ensuing behavior.

Principle #1 Identify the Idol

  1. How is the biblical word heart often misunderstood? What is its correct meaning?

In contemporary usage, heart is used to refer to emotions. Its biblical meaning is the innermost being, the mind, will, emotions, character, and spiritual commitments.

  1. “Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God or gods.” Because this is a common line among atheists today, you should know how to respond. Based on the text, what could you say?

Based on the text, I would point out that the atheist, like everyone else, holds something to be of ultimate concern. For them, it is not God. However, based on the advice of Greg Koukl, I would ask, “On the proposition ‘God exists,’ what do you say? Is it true, false, or do you withhold judgment?” If they say “true,” they are theists. If they say “false,” they are atheists. If they withhold judgment, they are agnostic. Note that if they are atheists, they have a belief about God. It is that there is no such being. The problem comes from an equivocation on what it means to “believe in God.” Classically understood, this meant more than merely assenting to the fact of his existence. It meant faith, or trust. Now it has come to mean “I acknowledge God exists.” This would be a good place to practice Columbo tactics and ask what they mean when they say they are atheists.

  1. What are the two advantages of using the biblical term idols for both secular and religious worldviews? (The second one is under the next subhead.)

One advantage is that it levels the playing field by showing that every worldview has to have a self-existent starting point. The other is it shows how even the most secular worldview serves as a religious commitment.

Religion without God

  1. As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the following diagram. On the left side, write the features that most people associate with religion. On the right side, explain why that feature is not a necessary part of the definition of religion. Give examples.

Common Definitions of Religion

Why Isn’t That Definition Adequate?

Belief in a Deity Several religions are non-theistic
Moral code Some religions are amoral and even immoral.
Worship rituals. Epicureans and Aristotle thought God took no interest in humans.
  1. Why are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism described as atheistic religions?

They are neither founded by, nor identify any deity.

Religion without Morality

  1. Give examples of amoral and even immoral religions.

Buddhism and Hinduism are amoral religions, as they deny moral distinctions. The gods of Greco-Roman mythology were given to greed, adultery, etc, and were actually immoral. Moreover, some ancient religions involved human, even child, sacrifice.

Search for the Divine

  1. What is the one thing that characterizes all religions as well as all secular philosophies? Can you think of any exceptions?

All religions and secular philosophies hold something to have the status of divinity, that is, something that needs no explanation for its existence.

Philosophers and Their Gods

  1. As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the diagram below. On the left side, write the name of each ism discussed. On the right side, identify its idol. Go back and start with the section titled “Search for the Divine.”

Philosophy

Pre-Socratics

What Is Its Idol?

Earth, air, fire, water

Pythagoreans number
Plato/ Aristotle Rational form
materialism matter
Marxism Economic conditions
empiricism The senses
  1. What does the Greek word arché mean? Do you agree that the early Greek philosophies qualify as idols under the definition in Romans 1? Give your reasons.

Arché means the first, or dominant principle. For the Greek philosophies that held that one of the four elements, or form, or number had the status of divinity, and therefore fits the Romans 1 definition of idol.

The Church of Physics: Idol of Matter

  1. Dialogue: I once had a Facebook discussion with a young fan of Richard Dawkins, who was outraged that I would suggest secularism had anything in common with religion. To this young man, religion represented blind faith while science stood for reason and facts. Imagine yourself in a conversation with a young man like that. Write a dialogue in which you level the playing field by showing that all belief systems share the same basic structure.

YM: “Science stands for reason and facts. Religion represents blind faith.”

M: On your view, what exists that requires no prior cause?

YM: The universe.

M: So on your view, the universe is divine?

  1. Explain the logical steps that lead from materialism to Marxism’s economic determinism.

If all that exists is matter, and humans are defined by the way they relate to matter, those who control the means of production control political, moral, and religious forces that determine economic conditions, which are the ultimate reality.

Hume Meets the Klingons: Idol of the Senses

  1. Like Data in Star Trek, atheists often charge that Christianity is “irrational” simply because it accepts the existence of a realm beyond the empirical world. Based on the text, how could you answer that charge?

I would ask what empirical evidence do they have that we can only know what we can test empirically?

Inside the Matrix

  1. Dialogue: Explain to an empiricist how his or her philosophy involves a divinity belief.

If all that can be known is what can be experienced by the senses, the senses have the status of divinity. It is an epistemology that starts and ends within the mind with the senses. Pressed to its logical conclusion, since we have no access to another’s senses, we are left with solipsism. We can only accept the existence of the world within range of our senses. If we can trust what others tell us they are experiencing by their senses, then we can know things not immediately available to our senses, therefore empiricism is false.

Go Within, Young Man

  1. One philosopher says that Enlightenment epistemologies set up “the first-person standpoint” as the only path to certainty. They turned the self into “the locus and arbiter of knowledge.” Explain what that means and what the end result was.

The idea is that we can strip away all that we have learned from culture and education and begin from the foundation with the consciousness as the only way to knowledge. Ironically, they expect to accept their attempt to educate us on this and take it on their authority.

Truth Substitutes

  1. Philosophers like Karl Popper and John Herman Randall point out the “religious character” of Enlightenment epistemologies. Explain what they meant.

The authority of divine revelation is replaced by the authority of the senses, or the intellect.

Kant’s Mental Prison: Idol of the Mind

  1. What was Kant’s “Copernican revolution”? What was his God substitute? Define solipsism, and explain why philosophies that start within the human mind end in solipsism.

Kant claimed that all we have are sense perceptions on which our minds impose order. He moved our consciousness to the center of the universe. The mind became the God substitute.

Solipsism is the idea that all that you can know is your own mind. When all that can be known is our sense perceptions, or the ideas that derive from them, all that you have is solipsism.

The Artist as God: Idol of the Imagination

  1. Describe the evidence showing that, for the Romantics, the imagination was their God substitute, and art was their substitute religion.

Describing the imagination as “autonomous, immune, or unchallengeable” shows the view that it is the Romantic’s God substitute. As such, art was their response to that which help the status of divinity.

Cure for Blind Philosophers

  1. Read “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe on the following pages. How does it illustrate the origin of idols?

“The Blind Men and the Elephant”

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain” quoth he:

“’Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

It shows how idolatrous worldviews see some part of reality as the totality of reality and deny all else.

The Joy of Critical Thinking

  1. How does Christianity affirm what is good and true in these

philosophies?

Materialism: God created a good material universe and made it discoverable. Therefore, even materialistic scientists can tell us useful things about it.

Rationalism: Since God is a rational being, he made a rational world and gave us rational faculties by which we can understand it.

Empiricism: God created us with sensory faculties, and gave us sense experiences that lead us to truth.

Romanticism: As created in the image of God, we have some creative capabilities that ought to be used for his glory.

“To an Unknown God”

  1. “Paul was making the astounding claim that Christianity provides the context of meaning for the Greeks to understand their own culture.” Explain what that means. Choose one example from our own day, and explain how the same principle can be applied.

            Paul was using the true parts of the Greek understanding to build a bridge, showing how the Christian worldview filled in where their view lacked. In our day, there are people arguing for same-sex marriage on the view that it is only fair. Fairness is a moral category that is best explained by the Christian worldview.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Questions 16-19

Finishing up Chapter 1.

Principle #4: Test the Idol: Does It Contradict Itself?

  1. Define self-referential absurdity. Give an example of how the argument works.

Self-referential absurdity obtains when a proposition fails its own test. Examples are:

  • There are no truths.
  • I cannot speak a word of English.
  • There are no English sentences more than three words long.
  • Consciousness is an illusion.
  1. Explain why idol-based worldviews refute themselves. The text says that adherents of reductionist worldviews “have to borrow Christianity’s high view of reason in order to give reasons for their view.” Explain what that means.

Idol-based worldviews reduce humans to something less than rational beings, but claim to be rational in doing so; therefore they refute themselves. When those who hold these worldviews defend them, they have to assume a view of reason that is much more at home in the Christian worldview. As Frank Turek says, “they have to climb into God’s lap to slap his face.”

Principle #5: Replace the Idol: Make the Case for Christianity

  1. “What a powerful image of people caught in cognitive dissonance, reaching out to grab on to truths that their own worldviews deny—truths that only a Christian worldview logically supports.” Unpack this sentence. Explain how secular thinkers are trying to hold on to truths that are logically supported only by Christianity.

Coincidentally, just a few months before this book went to print, Frank Turek published a book called Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God To Make Their Case. In it, Turek points out that atheists claim to hold to principles like causality, reason, information and intentionality, morality, evil, and science. None of these principles can work outside the Christian worldview. [1]

Liberated Minds

  1. Dialogue: When Finding Truth was in manuscript form, I taught a class using it as a text. One student, a father of pre-teens, said, “Your book is convicting me that I brush off my kids when they have questions about Christianity. I have made a commitment that from now on, I will listen to my children and treat their questions seriously.”

But another student, a young woman from El Salvador, rejected the very idea of apologetics. In her view, the use of reason to defend Christianity is a matter of “pride” and “the flesh.” “Christians should rely on the Holy Spirit,” she said, quoting Paul:

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” and “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:20; 2:2). Write a dialogue as if you are speaking with the young woman from El Salvador. How would you persuade this woman that it is valid for Christians to defend their convictions?

In this dialogue, I would note that this woman had just offered an argument for her view and even cited Scripture in support of it. I would ask her why she was not relying on the Holy Spirit, and why was her use of reason not a matter of pride and the flesh? It seems to me she recognized the value of apologetics even as she denied it.

[1] For a summary/review of Turek’s book, see https://apologeticsminion.com/2015/03/06/stealing-from-god/

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Questions 11-12

Principle #2: Identify the Idol’s Reductionism

  1. Define reductionism. In what way is reductionism like trying to stuff the entire universe into a box? Give an example.

Reductionism is the view that higher, more complex things can be identified with and explained in terms of lower, simpler things. For example, a pain is said to be nothing but the firing of certain neurons. Reductionism is like trying to stuff the entire universe into a box in that the box is reduced to a size too small to fit all of reality. Whatever is explained away by the reductionism will not fit in the box. For example, on materialism, any non-physical realities will not fit, such as logic, morality, rationality, spiritual entities, etc.

  1. How does reductionism affect one’s view of human nature? In your answer, explain this principle: “Every concept of humanity is created in the image of some god.” Use materialism as an example.

Given that every concept of humanity is created in the image of some god, and every god of non-biblical worldviews is lesser than the God who is, human nature will be less than what it is. For example, on materialism, human beings are nothing but highly evolved bipedal primates. We are animated aggregates of molecules in motion, or what Kevin Lewis calls “stardust in a cosmic blender. Morality is nothing but social conventions, and we have no greater claim to the planet or its resources than any other species. Human rights are whatever the greater culture decides they are. If the culture decides that Africans are not equal to Europeans and can be owned as property, then that is what is “right.” If 1930’s German culture decides Jews are not human and can be killed at will, then that is “right.” If 20th/21st Century America decides that the unborn is not worthy of human rights, then that is our “choice.”

Total Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 10

Five Strategic Principles

Principle #1: Identify the Idol

  1. The text says that every nonbiblical religion or worldview starts with an idol. It must locate an eternal, uncaused cause within the created order. Explain why, and list some examples. Can you think of any exceptions to this principle?

In a course pack on Historical Perspectives on Science and Religion, Keas and Magruder point out:

Following the clear discussion in Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality (Notre Dame, 2005), we may define “faith” or “religious belief” as a heart-deep response to what a person takes to hold the status of divinity. By “divine” we mean, “that which is able to exist on its own without depending on anything else” (this definition is consistent with traditional Western usage from Aristotle to Aquinas and thereafter… even William James agrees with us here, and it appears to be implicit within the Bible). In this sense one’s divinity could be Yahweh, matter/energy, Number, form, self, or almost anything else.[1]

On this view, all worldviews have something that is of ultimate concern. Nonbiblical worldviews have a god-substitute, or an idol. For the materialist, the universe will be the idol. It is simply a brute reality. For the pantheist, the created order is identical with the creator. They ascribe divine attributes to the universe. Rather than explain the origin of material reality, they deny its existence. As Sire writes, “If anything that is not God appears to exist, it is maya, illusion, and does not truly exist.”[2]

Exceptions to this principle might include Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Islam worships a god that created the universe, but is transcendent, to the point that nothing about Allah is revealed except his will. Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm a God like the biblical God, but who apparently could not preserve his word or his church for about 1800 years. Mormonism holds to a multitude of gods, and make no claims on the origin of the universe.

“When was there a beginning? There never was one; if there was, there will be an end; but there never was a beginning, and hence there will never be an end; that looks like eternity. When we talk about the beginning of eternity, it is rather simple conversation, and goes far beyond the capacity of man.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 47.)

Despite the fact that Mormonism, Islam, and the Watchtower all have a divinity that transcends creation, we will see how their views still lead to the reductionism to be discussed in Principle 2.

[1] Biola University, 2014

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, ©1997), 122.

Total Truth Study Guide : Chapter 1 Questions 5-9

Since these are shorter questions, I am posting them in one article.

God Substitutes

  1. “An atheist professor once told me that the Bible teaches polytheism because the first commandment speaks of ‘other gods.’” This claim is made frequently on atheist Internet sites. Practice explaining what the first commandment really means to someone who claims that it teaches polytheism.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3)

The Hebrew phrase translated “before me” means “in my sight/presence.” In other words, “Get out of my face with your idols.” It does not mean, “I am to be first among many.”

  1. The text says that the easy-to-diagnose, surface-level sins are often driven by the more hidden sin of idolatry. Think of examples in your own life. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

While we no longer bow before statues of gods made of wood, stone, silver or gold, when we live as though something other than God has the most important position in our lives. Anything we want more than God is our idol.

For many years, I turned to food for comfort because it was easier than seeking God and relying on him for comfort. Sometimes my workout routine can become the distraction that serves the same purpose.

When Good Gifts Are False Gods

  1. How can even good things become idols? Describe something good that you have been tempted to turn into an idol. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

There was a time in my life when I accepted the demands placed on me that required that I relinquish my leadership role in order to keep “peace” when the only result was one of my children being mistreated. “That’s all I got to say about that.”

Idols Have Consequences

  1. What does the Greek word nous mean? How does that give richer meaning to scriptural verses such as these: “God gave them up to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28); “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2)? Add your own examples.

The sense of the word is broad enough to encapsulate the idea of worldview. On this understanding, it is not hard to see how those who ignore God’s general revelation live in cognitive dissonance to the point where they have to do mental gymnastics to hold their worldview. Moreover, since this tendency to allow our thinking to direct our lives as a whole can be renewed, it has the effect of transforming our lives. Finally, when we direct our intelligence to the service of God, we truly love him with all our mind.

  1. In debates over moral issues such as homosexuality, most people today use the word nature to mean behavior patterns observed among organisms in the natural world. What is the older meaning of the word nature, as in the phrase “human nature”? How is this traditional meaning expressed in Romans 1?

The older meaning of the word “nature” was that for which we were designed. We were intended to behave in a certain way such that we would reflect God’s character. As such, sin is behavior that is contrary to our nature. Paul lists a number of examples of this behavior by which we defy God and degrade ourselves.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 4

Willful Blindness

 

  1. What is an “epistemological sin”? Do you agree that at the heart of the human condition is an epistemological sin (i.e., sin related to knowledge)? Why or why not?

According to William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, in their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that tries to make sense out of knowledge, rationality and justified or unjustified beliefs.
(71.) Pearcey argues that to fail to acknowledge what we know (that about which we have true beliefs based on good reasons) and conform our lives to it we commit epistemological sin. Putting aside trivial counter-examples, Paul shows us we have ample evidence to show God’s existence and some sense of what is right and wrong. Moreover, God has revealed himself to us in his Word, and by that we have more detailed revelation of God’s character and what he requires of us. The mental gymnastics some people engage in to avoid the implications of these facts shows the problem is really volitional rather than rational.

Pascal once pointed out “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.[1] For those who do not know or understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s existence is bad news. If life is what I want to make of it, and I wish to pursue pleasure my way, the idea that there is a just, holy, powerful God who will judge me is terrifying. It is no wonder that belief in God, apart from the Gospel, is unattractive. However, the undeniable level of evidence produces cognitive dissonance. We have to ignore or deny the evidence, or raise the bar higher than we would for anything else in life. That there is a holy, just God who stands ready to judge us is only half the story. He has also provided for a substitute to bear our punishment in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a supremely attractive idea that ought to be believed, not the least because it is true.
[1] http://izquotes.com/author/blaise-pascal/13?q=attractive&x=9&y=11

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 3

Atheists’ Children and Their God

  1. Explain the concept of common grace. What are the implications for apologetics?

Theologians speak of the grace of God in two categories; common grace and special grace. Special grace is that which is given to those who receive the gift of salvation. Common grace is that which God gives to all regardless of their spiritual condition. Farmers grow crops whether they are believers or non-believers because the rains come at the right time in the right amounts. The world operates according to predictable laws such that it can be studied and technology can be developed. Moreover, since actions have predictable consequences, they are meaningful. All of this points to a creator and sustainer of the world. Even children intuitively recognize this whether their parents believe or not.

What this means for apologetics is that we do not need to point out new information to the skeptic, but point to that which they already know. I once heard a college professor claim that people believe in God because they are socialized to do so. However, it seems to me that the opposite is true. Children seem to recognize God’s existence and need to be socialized to disbelieve (by skeptical professors.)

As Pearcey points out, Paul wrote about this in Romans (28):

We all suppress the evidence for God from creation.

Romans 1:18—[They] suppress the truth.

Romans 1:21—Although they knew God, they did not honor

him as God or give thanks to him.

Romans 1:28—They did not see fit to acknowledge God.

Pearcey rightly notes that this is a clear case of denial.

Denial is understandable for the one who notices the signs that God exists, yet does not know the Gospel. God’s existence, and his holiness, is terrifying news to someone who does not know that mercy is being offered.

We have our work cut out for us.