The Christian begins with the presupposition that God created the cosmos and man as a special creation different in kind from both inanimate and other animate creations. We are so special that the Bible tells us that we are created in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:27). One of these image attributes is the existence of the mind and the ability to think rationally (Col. 3:10) and to act morally (Eph. 4:24) in terms of an outside ethic that resides in the person and character of God. The consistent materialist who denies God also denies the existence of the mind and a moral basis for any thought or action. For materialistic philosophers, the mind is an “illusion.” In their words, “the brain is a machine. We have no selves, no souls. How do they know? Well, it’s just a matter of faith.” Yes, atheism is a baseless religion but with destructive consequences when it becomes consistent with its operating assumptions.
We can counter every argument there is, but a person’s underlying operating assumptions about who they are and how the world works (in the mind they deny having) will interpret all that they see, hear, and think about. This is a die-hard reality that we must acknowledge. Cornelius Van Til summarizes the inevitable and never unalterable antithesis between the two views:
The Christian principle of interpretation is based upon the assumption of God as the final and self-contained reference point. The non-Christian principle of interpretation is that man as self-contained is the final reference point. It is this basic difference that has to be kept in mind all the time. It will be difficult at times to see that such is actually the case. The very fact that by God’s common grace fallen man is “not as bad as he could be” and is able to do that which is “morally good” will make the distinction between two mutually exclusive principles seem an extreme oversimplification to many.
In fact, it is in spite of appearances that the distinction between the two principles must be maintained. The point is that the “facts of experience” must actually be interpreted in terms of Scripture if they are to be intelligible at all. In the last analysis the “facts of experience” must be interpreted either in terms of man taken as autonomous, or they must be interpreted in terms of God. There is no third “possibility.” The interpretation which takes the autonomous man as self-interpretive is an “impossible possibility.”
An apologetic methodology that claims Christians should be ‘open,’ ‘objective,’ and ‘tolerant’ of all opinions when they defend the Christian faith is like a person who plans to stop a man from committing suicide by taking the hundred-story plunge with him, hoping to convince the lost soul on the way down. No one in his right mind would make such a concession to foolishness. But Christians do it all the time when they adopt the operating presuppositions of unbelievers. There are no ‘neutral’ assumptions about reality.
If you consider the implications of Darwinism, atheist Daniel C. Dennett claims, “you are faced with a cold new world, stripped of souls and angels. Darwin’s universal acid eats up everything in its path: Human life and intelligence and free will originated from the random interactions of mindless forces. The creationists are right to fear ‘this view of life’ — it leaves nothing of God or Satan in its wake.”
Such a view begins with the presupposition that all that exists is material in nature. Since the mind distinct from the brain is by definition non-material, the mind as a separate entity cannot exist. The existence of what we call the “mind” must be explained solely in physical terms. Dennett presupposes that “the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. In short, the mind is the brain.” “The brain,” insists MIT’s Marvin Minsky in an equally presuppositional way, is just “hundreds of different machines … connected to each other by bundles of nerve fibers, but not everything is connected to everything else. There isn’t a ‘you.’” Such a view of the mind makes man nothing more than an uncreated non-rational organic machine with no ultimate provenance.
With the advent of the computer, materialists believe they have found the perfect scientific mechanism to demonstrate that the mind is an illusion. They see the brain as a superior model, somewhat more versatile than the industrial-strength Cray super-computer. The computer analogy is faulty, however. The machine is nothing without the program. The program is the product of the programmer. Who programmed the programmer? Are we to assume, following the materialist’s logic, that an inorganic machine programmed an organic machine? What kind of trust can we place in the random firing of neural synapses? No one has made this point better than C. S. Lewis before the advent of computers as we now know them:
If … I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.
There is no accounting for man and the world, between dreaming and waking, illusion and reality if the materialists are right. Of course, if we start with their ultimate presuppositions, how would we ever know?
Dennett proposes that anyone who holds a theistic view of origins should be allowed to live in America but only in “cultural zoos” as oddities to be observed and dismissed as people from an ancient time believed in dangerous ancient superstitions:
If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods — that the Earth is flat, that “Man” is not a product of evolution by natural selection — then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being — the well-being of all of us on the planet — depends on the education of our descendants.
Not only does the State deny the teaching of creationism in the public schools, but Dennett wants the very idea of creationism to be blacklisted. Dennett, like Arthur C. Clarke, considers evolution to be the State religion. Those who deny its divinity will suffer swift and sure retribution at the hands of the educational establishment and the power of those in power governmentally and socially. Phillip Johnson writes that “it is not freedom of speech that worries parents, but the power of the atheistic materialists to use public education for indoctrination, while excluding any other view as ‘religion.’“ We don’t have to search for long to find similar sinister applications of such a proposal. Nazi Germany can serve as a vivid reminder.
If you want to know how such threats sound to Christian parents, try imagining what would happen if some prominent Christian fundamentalist addressed similar language to Jewish parents. Would we think the Jewish parents unreasonable if they interpreted “at the very least” to imply that young children may be forcibly removed from the homes of recalcitrant parents, and that those metaphorical cultural zoos may one day be enclosed by real barbed wire? Strong measures might seem justified if the well-being of everyone on the planet depends upon protecting children from the falsehoods their parents want to tell them.
Atheists like Dennett want your children removed from under your care and educational pursuits so they can be indoctrinated by secular propagandists of his choosing for the secular cause. Here’s the sad fact. Most Christian parents send their children to the indoctrination centers called public schools voluntarily.
Apologetics 101 is an in-depth study of defending the Christian faith. The Greek word apologia simply means ‘defense,’ and apologetics is the art and act of giving a defense. Christian Apologetics then is the art and act of defending the Christian faith, not a proof of God in general. The Christian apologist must be ready to answer truth claims about the Bible, not claims about Hinduism, Islam, or any other false religion. The Bible makes the bold claim that Jesus is the ONLY way, and the Christian apologist must set his sights on the Bible alone, not on a defense of arbitrary theism.
Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Philadelpha: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), 44–45.
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Touchstone 1995), 63.
On the flat-earth myth, see Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1995), 221–234 and Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (New York: Praeger, 1991).
Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 519. Quoted in Johnson, “Dennett’s Dangerous Idea,” 13.
Phillip E. Johnson, “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea,” The New Criterion (October 1995), 13.
Johnson, “Dennett’s Dangerous Idea,” 13.
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
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