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Can Secularism Justify and Account for Anything?

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Christian apologetics begins by establishing an authoritative starting point. Like Archimedes (287?–212 B.C.), who once boasted that given the proper lever and a place to stand, he could “move the earth,” the Christian apologist seeks to base his defense on a secure foundation to move the hearts and minds of sinners to embrace the eternal hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But upon what would Archimedes stand to “move the earth”? He couldn’t stand on the earth to move the earth. Archimedes needed a place to stand (pou sto) outside the earth, a solid place independent of the earth he wanted to move. His lever also needed a fulcrum. This, too, had to rest on something other than the earth.

Atlas had a similar problem when he was condemned by Zeus to stand eternally at the western end of the earth to hold up the sky. (In artistic renderings, Atlas is depicted as holding up the world.) But what is Atlas standing upon? And what is what he’s standing upon standing upon? (You can see where this is going!)

An often told story has a modern philosopher lecturing on the solar system. An old lady in the audience avers [asserts]: Earth rests upon a large turtle. “What does this turtle stand on?” the speaker needles. “A far larger turtle.” As the scholar persists, his challenger retorts: “You are very clever but it is no use, young man. It’s turtles all the way down.”[1]

“Turtles all the way down” is the atheist’s dilemma. Instead of turtles, it’s finite humans all the way down. No matter what the worldview, there comes a point in time when a resting point must be admitted and accounted for by nothing greater. Anyone involved in debate over any topic must deal with the issue of a sound and fixed starting point. It is fundamental. All debate will finally come to rest on a starting point that has no other place to go for a foundation. It’s the bedrock of worldview support.

Worldview 101: A Biblical View of the World
Worldview 101: A Biblical View of the World

Cornelius Van Til succinctly states: ‘God is the original while man is the derivative. Man’s thoughts must therefore be patterned after God’s thoughts.’ Worldview 101 is an in-depth course designed to help Christians do this very thing. Utilizing audio, video, and printed material, Worldview 101 will equip the student with the tools necessary to ‘think God’s thoughts’ about the world and the created order. It will reveal and re-direct the humanistic thought patterns that exist in each of us. The Enlightenment promised freedom, but brought slavery to man’s ideas instead. Worldview 101 points the way forward to true freedom of thought in Christ.

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In the final analysis, the Christian’s starting point is the Word of God which rests upon God Himself. “[M]en need an epistemological ‘Archimedean point of reference’ to understand their cosmos and themselves; but only a revelation from One transcendentally outside of the cosmos can provide the pou sto [place to stand] essential to knowledge, since man can never break out of his finite cosmic perspective.”[2] God is the One who stands outside the universe. In order for us to know how the world works, we must turn to Him. God is our “Archimedean point of reference.”

Unfortunately, many in academia disagree. For example,

Stanley Fish, writing in the New York Times,[3] describes the way various traditions understand the “role of religion and public life.” He begins by pointing out that “Classical Liberalism,” not to be confused with a leftist political philosophy, “policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons, reasons that, because they do not reflect the commitments or agendas of any religion, morality or ideology, can be accepted as reasons by all citizens no matter what their individual beliefs and affiliations.” Their reasoning goes like this: “[I]t’s O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation will benefit the economy, or improve the nation’s health, or strengthen national security; but it’s not O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation should be passed because it comports with a verse from the book of Genesis or corresponds to the will of God.”

So, what is the basis for law? What constitutes “all citizens”? There is no way that “all citizens” are ever going to agree on anything. Ultimately, where does morality find its justification, its jurisdictional legitimacy? Every person approaches an ethical norm with a prior commitment to some fundamental interpretive principle. No one is commitmentless. No one approaches anything neutrally. There is no agreed-upon definition of reason or what’s reasonable. Even the Enlightenment skeptics acknowledged that “reason is incompetent to answer any fundamental question about God, morality, or the meaning of life.”[4]

Fish offers what he describes as a “more severe version of the argument”:

[O]n the other hand, you are not supposed even to have religious thoughts when reflecting on the wisdom or folly of a piece of policy. Not only should you act secularly when you enter the public sphere; you should also think secularly.

If a person believes abortion is wrong because God has created us in His image, and killing a human being at any stage of life is an affront to His moral law which is an extension of His character, then just to have these thoughts disqualifies that person from entering the debate. Such a position would have disqualified those who signed the Declaration of Independence because they believed that God is the “Judge of the World” and the Creator who endowed us with certain “rights” and “life” itself. What is the basis for morality given assumptions about reality that reside in the finite operation of the cosmos and finite human beings? This approach is a nightmare of a dead-end. R.C. Sproul writes that “God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview. To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism. This is the darkest continent of the darkened mind—the ultimate paradise of the fool.”[5]

Another “somewhat less stringent version of the argument permits religious reasons to be voiced in contexts of public decision-making so long as they have a secular counterpart: thus, citing the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments is all right because there is a secular version of the prohibition rooted in the law of property rights rather than in a biblical command.” But what is the source of this “secular counterpart”? Where is “the law of property rights” found? Political systems like Communism don’t recognize a “law of property rights.” Even Classical Liberals, many of whom are atheists, can’t account for the ultimate legitimacy for property rights.

The more honest secularists are coming to realize that their reason-only, matter-oriented worldview cannot account for what they claim is natural and reasonable. Steven Smith attempts to offer a solution in his book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse. “It is not, Smith tells us, that secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job—of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects—without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.” Smith’s solution is “by smuggling in notions that are formally inadmissible, and hence that cannot be openly acknowledged or adverted [alluded] to.” What are some of these notions? “[N]otions about a purposive cosmos, or a teleological nature stocked with Aristotelian ‘final causes’ or a providential design.” The reason these principles must be smuggled in is that they have been “banished from secular discourse because they stipulate truth and value in advance rather than waiting for them to be revealed by the outcomes of rational calculation.” And that’s the problem.

Cancel culture is relatively new for most Americans, but canceling God from everything has been going on for a very long time, and we are beginning to see its disastrous effects.

Against All Opposition
Against All Opposition

There are no ‘neutral’ assumptions about reality. The starting point is the God of the Bible. The Bible begins with this foundational presupposition: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1). Against All Opposition lays out the definitive apologetic model to help believers understand the biblical method of defending the Christian faith.

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[1]Charles W. Petit, “Life and Culture: Cosmology,” U.S. News & World Report (August 16/23, 1999), 74.

[2]Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 30n.

[3]Stanley Fish, “Are There Secular Reasons?,” The New York Times (February 22, 2010).

[4]Quoted in Aubrey Neal, “How Skeptics do Ethics: A Brief History of the Late Modern Linguistic Turn” (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 2007), 157

[5]R. C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 171.

American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit www.AmericanVision.org for more information, content and resources



Source: https://americanvision.org/posts/can-secularism-justify-and-account-for-anything/


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