Lesson 0: Introduction to Reason

The Thinking Reed

Welcome to Reason, a course predicated on 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15, NIV, Emphasis added)

Man has always questioned his existence. The age old question never ceases to haunt us, “Why are we here?” In this journey for meaning, we have grown in our understanding of the natural world and the mysteries that permeate it. This ambition has yielded the growth of numerous industries including astronomy, biology, chemistry, archaeology, and energy. We have created a world that would be a marvelous wonder to the generations that came before us. Things that were once thought to be impossible (flight, instant communication over long distances, photography, etc.) are now a part of our everyday lives.

As our knowledge of the natural world increases, we grow in power and influence over our small corner of the universe. The responsibility associated with such power is summarized by a choice: to control such power or to let it control us. The discovery of the atom allowed us to harness great power (atomic energy). That power, when under control, has led to numerous scientific advances. In the wrong hands, it could lead to unprecedented destruction through atomic bombs.

Generally speaking, man has always been a relatively theistic species, clinging to the ideals set forth by the belief in a higher power. That power has always focused on something outside of mankind, a force beyond our comprehension that holds all things together and guides us in our journey for understanding. Over the last century, man has turned inward, now seeing himself as that greater power - manifested in the form of non-theistic worldviews. If all life is a result of non-intelligent forces, than our own intelligence sets us apart from the rest of existence. In effect, man becomes the center of the universe, replacing belief in God. The very belief in God has become increasingly archaic; to some it is viewed as foolish, and perhaps even childish. Hostility towards a higher power outside of ourselves has grown proportionally to faith in our own ability to hold the world together.

This type of thinking leads to worldviews such as Atheism, Naturalism, Darwinism, and Agnosticism. Since these beliefs are based on a common presumption, that God does not or cannot be known to exist, they are often characterized as scientific or logical. Similarly, belief in a higher power outside of mankind is characterized as unscientific and fanatical. Many Christians today find themselves challenged by non-theistic worldviews and are faced with questions they are unprepared to answer. As a result, they’re either humiliated any time the topic of faith comes up or they choose to avoid the subject entirely. What is surprising to discover is that many of the same questions posed to theists could also be asked of the non-theists. The theistic thinker need only arm himself with basic knowledge of how beliefs are formed in order to start challenging oppositions to their faith.

In Reason, we want to equip you with such knowledge and in turn accomplish two things:

  1. Challenge and reinforce your own thinking such that you are fulfilling 1 Peter 3:15
  2. Equip you to counter common arguments against your faith.

Ground Rules

Far too many discussions on the topic of God’s existence need not happen in the first place. Why? Simply because one (or both) participants are completely and utterly uncompromising, bringing their presumptions to the table and refusing to consider anything contrary to those beliefs. We talked about one already - the presumption that belief in God is unscientific and should therefore be immediately dismissed in a discussion about the origin of our universe. Note that both sides are guilty of this, not just theistic thinkers nor just atheistic thinkers.

This course is designed to equip you with logical, scientific, and moral arguments for the truth surrounding a Christian worldview. Such knowledge will carry weight, and must be wielded with gentleness and respect. When engaging in a conversation about what you believe versus what someone else believes, a set of ground rules must be established:

#1: Your Heart

Before engaging in any discussion, you need first ask yourself: “Am I willing to be objective? Am I willing to hear the other person out?” and, “Am I willing to accept that I may be wrong about some or perhaps many of my beliefs?” These are tough guidelines to be armed with while going into a passionate worldview discussion because most of us tend to believe our opinion is true (otherwise, we’d change it). Even though at The Risen we feel the evidence is strongly in the favor of a Christian worldview, it is still not our place to point our finger with an ”I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong” mantra. This is the very thing that destroys genuine discussion and yields only anger, frustration, and resentment. Without the consideration of 1 Peter 3:15 to give our reasoning with “gentleness and respect,” we have little business expressing our beliefs. Be unwavering in kindness and respect towards your audience.

In the book of Acts we read an account of the apostle Paul going to Athens - a city notorious for worshiping a variety of idols and worldviews. They were a city that viewed beliefs as fads, in one day and out the next. When Paul came to Athens he was “deeply distressed.”. In the original Greek, the word used to describe how Paul felt was paroxunó, which means “to arouse anger, provoke, or irritate.” He had every reason to act on that frustration. Notice instead how he chose to speak to them:

So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is he one I’m telling you about…” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT)

Paul, rather than condemning them, treats them with respect. He takes notice of their culture and beliefs, and simply challenges their thinking by pointing out a flaw in their theology. Such is the way we are to approach conversations against other worldviews. Our goal is to win the person, not the debate. Nobody ever became a Christian because they lost an argument.

#2: Their Heart

Before entering an in depth discussion about your worldview, it’s important that you evaluate your audience. Mentally ask the same questions you asked yourself: “Are they willing to be objective, are they willing to hear me out, and are they willing to accept that they may be wrong about some or perhaps many of their beliefs?” Far too often people with opposing worldviews will enter a discussion with unfair presumptions. For example, I’ve encountered many atheists who have ruled God out ahead of time. They were unwilling to even have an objective discussion on the topic and only insist on throwing out smokescreens to dodge any questions geared towards their beliefs. Questions such as, “Who was Cain's wife?” are perfectly fine questions to ask, but it’s important that you discern what the underlying motivation is in asking this type of question. Is it coming from a place of genuine curiosity, or is it simply meant to incite hostility? An easy way to determine this is if your audience moves on to another question before you’ve answered the first. I recently had an encounter with an Atheist that went something like this:

Me: So you go to church with your wife, are you a Christian?

Other Guy: Oh absolutely not, I just tolerate church… I don’t believe any of that stuff.

Me: May I ask why?

Other Guy: You don’t want to get in to this with me… I’ve done a lot of research and it wouldn’t be fair for us to discuss the topic since you wouldn’t be prepared.

Me: I actually really enjoy the subject, and would be willing to hear your arguments for why you don’t believe in God.

Other Guy: Again, we’re not on the same intellectual level. Once you’ve done years of research like I have, then we can have a discussion.

What is missing from this text is this man’s tone of voice. He was stern, and showed no interest in discussing the topic. Even if he had agreed, how do you think it would have gone? Would he have been open to the idea that there is possibly a God who is not only real but directly and personally involved in our lives?

It is surprisingly easy to determine the type of person you’re engaging with, and if they are the type that is showing clear signs of disinterest, or only want to humiliate you while stomping on your beliefs… let it lie. Do not engage this person because no amount of evidence will convince them to consider your side of the argument. This is the type of person Jesus was referring to in Matthew 10:14:

Jesus is not addressing the genuinely curious, those hungry for understanding, or those with many questions. If he were, we'd rarely ever be able to share our faith.

Many discussions will start from the beginning: the creation of the universe. This always comes down to two views: either intelligence was involved in the creation of our known reality (intelligent design) or natural forces were responsible, which are random and devoid of intelligent intervention. These are the only two possibilities. All worldviews can be categorized into one of these two views. What you’ll find in this course is that there is actually remarkable evidence for intelligent design, specifically the God of the Christian faith. For the person unwilling to hear this evidence, they’ll simply be numb to many, if not all of these points; it will go in one ear and out the other. Christ addresses a similar point in an account of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus:

Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.

“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet.The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to the place of the dead.There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.

“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’

“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’

“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31, NLT, emphasis added)

The tragedy of the last few sentences is that the rich man is entirely convinced that once there is foolproof evidence for God, his brothers will believe. In reality, no amount of evidence will ever convince the unwilling. They will take their stubbornness to the grave and into eternity if they must, as long as it never means admitting they were wrong. It is up to you and I to determine if our audience is willing to hear the evidence and come to a reasonable conclusion.

So, before the conversation goes further ask your audience: “If in this discussion, I present to you relatively strong evidence for the existence of God, particularly as it pertains to the Christian faith, would you consider looking at the evidence further? Would you consider the possibility that I could be right about this?” If they tell you “No,” then they are unwilling to be objective. In his book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek put it this way:

If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity, would you then believe? If the answer is no, then your resistance is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual. No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence isn’t what’s in your way, you are. [1]

People in general have a tendency to become gridlocked in their beliefs, whether theistic or atheistic. They follow these beliefs blindly, refusing the possibility that they’ve been observing the wrong facts or have a limited perspective. There is a fear of being wrong, being required to change their lives, or being an outcast in their sphere of influence. So instead of being objective, they simplify their beliefs down to the most basic forms: “God is real,” or “God is not real.” That’s as far as their thinking takes them.

In the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, a group of farm animals rise up against men – protesting that mankind is unfair and unjust. The animals take over the farm and eventually develop a system of their own, led by the superior pigs. The irony of the story is that the pigs become just as brutal as their former human masters, taking charge of all the other animals, including the especially unintelligent sheep. The sheep blindly follow the pigs, never having genuine thoughts of their own. To get the sheep to understand why the animals are acting violently towards the humans, the pigs come up with a simple slogan: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” In other words, all animals are good, all humans are bad. This is how many people are today regarding their worldview. They don’t care about evidence, facts, reason, logic, or morals. The only message they hear is the one they want to hear, “Four legs good, two legs bad… atheism good, Christianity bad.” You do not want to be a sheep, nor do you want to entertain an argument with one. Similarly, be careful of becoming the pig, imposing your beliefs on others, treating them as beneath you.

In summary, if it becomes apparent that your audience is either a sheep or a pig, simply walk away. No amount of evidence will convince them to alter their worldivew. Similarly, if you find yourself becoming the sheep or the pig, take a step back and reevaluate how you are to approach people when expressing your faith.

#3: Define Faith

The final ground rule to establish before engaging in a worldview discussion surrounds the idea of faith. It is critical that faith is properly defined to avoid confusion, because oftentimes modern thinkers will write it off as something solely associated with religious or spiritual experiences. In reality, faith is adopted in varying degrees by every single person, every single day.

For example, consider when you roll your vehicle across an intersection, through a red light, without looking both ways. You take a leap of faith that everybody around you is obeying traffic laws or that there is nobody around. When you’re going through surgery, you have faith that your doctor is competent in the operation he or she is about to perform. When getting married, you have faith that your spouse won’t cheat on you. When your kids are going to school, you put faith in the teachers who are educating them. You cannot know any of these beliefs with 100% certainty, so faith makes up the gap in your knowledge. When ascribing to a worldview, whether it is Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, Darwinism, or Agnosticism, you have faith that your view is reasonable and worthy of belief. Non-theistic views do not get a free pass on faith. They too are choosing their belief based on a certain degree of faith.

Every claim, statement, or declaration requires faith. Atheists have faith that we live in a non-theistic universe. They have a certain level of evidence (be it limited or thorough) that allowed them to come to the conclusion that this is a non-theistic world. Since this cannot be proven with 100% certainty (more on this later), they make up for the rest through faith. Christians base their beliefs on the Bible and the historical figures it references. Since we can’t know with certainty that every single detail in the Bible happened, we make up for the rest through faith. The same applies to our belief in God. We were not present for every single event that happened throughout history, making fool-proof verification impossible. Even if we were present, we’d still take a leap of faith (granted, an extremely small one) that we weren’t dreaming, hallucinating or being manipulated. Faith fills the gap between the known and the unknown. The only question is how big of a leap are we willing to take? How big is the gap between what we believe and what we know about the world?

This course is designed to illustrate how belief in the Christian God requires a much smaller jump than Atheists and Agnostics give it credit for. Similarly, non-theistic believers often don’t admit or understand just how big of a leap they are actually taking to deny intelligent design. Too often, both Christians and non-Christians are completely unprepared to give a reason for the hope (or lack of hope) that they have. They believe what they believe for a variety of reasons: their family believes something similar and they don’t want to change their thinking, they don’t want to lose their friends, they don’t want to alter their priorities, or they don’t want to be held accountable through a different system of moral values. Again, Christians are just as guilty as the rest – blindly following something because it’s the way they were raised or simply what helps them to fit in. We don’t believe this is biblical. We believe that faith is a real and necessary part of the Christian walk, but it is only part of it. Consider Isaiah 1:18:

Who is capable of reasoning with God? That is a debate none of us could possibly win, yet God asks us to come before Him openly and honestly. Why? We believe it’s because God is equipping us to defend what we believe. Faith and reason complement one another.

Being Prepared to Lose

You may lose. And we’re not referring to the discussion or debate about what you believe. What matters is the person that we fail to reach. If what we believe is true, the person that walks away unchanged, potentially destined for eternity apart from God. This is both tragic and beautiful - beautiful because the freedom to choose is the ultimate expression of God’s respect for mankind; tragic because you may have to walk away knowing that the person is on a path to eternal suffering. It is also likely that you may never know what happened to them. We’re not always given the luxury of closure. That’s okay. Our job is to cultivate:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV)

We’ll address the question of “Where is God?” later in the course, but recall that even His presence (not actually showing up, just kind of being nearby) caused the Israelite's to freak out in the Old Testament. His very presence is so powerful, so awesome, so incredible, so beautiful, that it quite possibly destroys our ability to choose. We’d be so overwhelmed with His presence that we’d have no choice but to fall before Him. Do you think that God wants this? How easy would it be to simply force us to do His will, but what good would come of that? As a parent, I want my kids to obey, love, and respect me. However, I understand that forcing them to say “Sorry,” or “I love you,” means nothing. You want them to say those things genuinely and of their own free will.

So, out of respect for how God has created our free will, we must be willing to lose. God takes the same risk with every single person He creates. Many of these conversations won’t go as we’d like. Many of them might stop before they've hardly been started. The most ideal person to talk to is the one willing to objectively consider the evidence you present. Unfortunately, people's’ willingness to hear the evidence is becoming increasingly rare, which is why it is all the more important that we heed Paul’s words of approaching genuinely and kindly.

Who This Course Is For

Reason can never replace faith, but that doesn't mean we can't give a good reason FOR our faith. This course will do just that, giving you the tools you need to counter common arguments against God, while providing the facts pointing to His existence.

I [Brendon] studied rocket science at Purdue University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. I know a great deal about science, but certainly not everything. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life. I know a great deal about the Bible, but certainly not everything about it either. I do not classify myself as a prestigious scientist or biblical scholar. I am an average, everyday guy who engages in average, everyday conversations about God, science, and our universe. I recognize that I have much to learn, and this course is far from covering the topic of faith, science, and reason comprehensively. I can’t promise answers to every single question on the opposing end of Christianity. What I can promise are simple lessons that build a foundation for starting those conversations. This course is for the majority of Christians who, like me, haven’t made a career in studying these topics. We simply want to have a good reason for the hope that we have. My desire with this course is to equip you with the tools to get conversations started without feeling unarmed when a discussion about your faith comes up. If you’re a scholar/expert on the bible or science, maybe this course isn’t for you. Perhaps you know many of these facts and points already. My hope with this course is to get the rest of us a little bit closer to that level of confidence when the subject of our faith comes up.

Reason Cheat Sheet

There will be a lot of information presented throughout the course. At times it may feel overwhelming. That's why we've created a cheat sheet to use as a quick reference. After each lesson, we will attach an updated version with notes from that lesson. We hope you find this useful as you begin engaging in tough conversations about your faith.