Friday, December 5, 2014

Sire, Dawkins, Apologetics

I was reading a post by Christian apologist Stephen Bedard a few days ago.  In this post, Bedard was reviewing a book by another Christian apologist, James W. Sire, entitled Apologetics Beyond Reason.  Bedard says the following:

“James Sire, in his book Apologetics Beyond Reason, makes it clear that he is unhappy with the evidential apologetics popular among apologists today. He offers as an example the Kalam Argument put forth by William Lane Craig. Sire confesses that he would fall into the presuppositional camp of apologists…The basic idea that Sire offers is that instead of arguing to God, we should be arguing from God. In order to do this, Sire uses a number of examples from literature to show that God is the presupposition. In this, he is using something called literary apologetics.”

This interested me because I read this blog post soon after writing my review of Kevin Diller’s Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma, in which Diller argued that the thoughts of theologian Karl Barth and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga are actually compatible.  Both Barth and Plantinga, I would say, believe that we should reason from God rather than to God.  For Barth and Plantinga, people who know God do so because God has revealed Godself personally to them, not on account of their reasoning their way up to a belief in God through philosophical or historical arguments.  I do not know to what extent Sire agrees and disagrees with Barth and Plantinga, but there does appear to be some overlap.

Bedard’s post also interested me because it reminded me of when Sire came to speak at my undergraduate institution, back when I was a student there.  Incidentally, Sire came to speak there at the same time that atheist Richard Dawkins was there.  Some evangelical students attended Dawkins’ Question and Answer session in order to trap Dawkins, but other evangelicals attended Sire’s lecture, bringing non-believing friends with them.  While many thought that Intervarsity invited Sire specifically in response to Dawkins’ appearance, Intervarsity insisted that it did no such thing—-that it was a coincidence.  Actually, one Intervarsity leader told me that Dawkins and Sire showing up at the same time was not particularly helpful, since people were asking Sire about evolution, even though that was not Sire’s field of expertise.  (Actually, I asked Sire about that topic.)

I attended Sire’s lecture.  My understanding of Sire’s argument is that we see in Scripture that God tells Moses “I am that I am.”  God is what God is, not what we want God to be.  Sire asked us to consider that as a proposition.  He may have also said that he could not envision human beings making that sort of proposition up, so it probably came from God.  (I’m writing from memory, which is not perfect.)

The non-believing students there, and even some believing students, were not particularly impressed.  “What if you don’t believe in the Bible?,” the first questioner asked Sire.  Sire said that he was not resting his argument on biblical authority, but was asking us to consider “I am that I am” as a proposition.  After the event, I was giving a student a question to ask Dr. Sire on my behalf about the Holocaust (since I would not be able to attend Sire’s Q and A the next day), and a non-believing student saw that and sarcastically said, “God does not have to explain himself to us—-he is the I Am!”  The next morning, at class, a non-believing student was telling our professor about Sire’s lecture.  The non-believing student thought Sire was using circular reasoning—-appealing to the Bible to defend the Bible.

The non-believing students may not have grasped the subtleties of what Sire was saying, but I could understand their concern: Sire did not prove to them the existence of the God of the Bible.  He, in their eyes, did not give them any foundation for it.  This was just one lecture, though, and I may want to read some of Sire’s books, where he fleshes things out more.

Something that did impress me was when I saw Sire the next day at Richard Dawkins’ lecture, taking notes on what Dawkins was saying.  Sire was not afraid to hear an alternative point-of-view.  As an academic, that interested him.

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