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Podcast: On Apologetics: The Best of The Crossway Podcast

By Koa Sinag

Podcast: On Apologetics: The Best of The Crossway Podcast

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Apologetics on The Crossway Podcast

Over the past four years, I’ve (Matt Tully) had the privilege of interviewing over a hundred guests on dozens of different topics. Today we thought it would be interesting to go back into the archives to find some of our favorite clips related to the big topic of apologetics. We’re going to be hearing from the likes of Rebecca McLaughlin on how non-Christians often unknowingly borrow from a Christian worldview, from William Lane Craig on the problem of evil, from Peter Williams on the so-called contradictions of the Bible, from Michael Kruger on preparing ourselves to engage with unbelievers in everyday life, and from Neil Shenvi on how the study of mathematics testifies to God’s existence.

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Featuring:

  • Rebecca McLaughlin (Confronting Christianity)
  • William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith)
  • Peter Williams (Can We Trust the Gospels?)
  • Michael Kruger (Surviving Religion 101)
  • Neil Shenvi (Why Believe?)

01:19 – Rebecca McLaughlin

To start off, let’s go back to a conversation with Rebecca McLaughlin, author of the bestselling book Confronting Christianity. In this clip, Rebecca and I discuss the propensity of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins to make sweeping moral claims, while at the same time denying the only basis for a universal morality. She also pushes back against the idea that science and the Bible are fundamentally at odds with each other—an idea promoted by both many non-Christians and even some Christians. Take a listen.

Matt Tully
I want to read this quote by Richard Dawkins. It’s a famous quote that I think really captures the sentiment of some of these atheistic scientists. He writes, “The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” What do you say to that?

Rebecca McLaughlin
Firstly, I would say that Richard Dawkins and other writers of his ilk often ask questions of science that science is not designed to answer for us. And that plays out in two directions. One is they sneak metaphysical claims into scientific statements. There’s a whole other dimension that plays out where a New Atheist author like Richard Dawkins will make these bold statements on the basis of science: that there is a bottom in the universe, no evil, no good, no justice—these sort of massive statements with huge ethical implications. And yet they would argue that human beings should all be seen as innately and equally valuable, that men should be seen as equally valuable to women, that racism is wrong, that there should be this fundamental idea of universal human equality from which all sorts of other ethical positions spring. And in fact, by their own lips, as it were, none of that is grounded in their beliefs. They typically have high moral ideals that have essentially been inherited from Christianity. They’ve ripped out the idea of God from underneath those ideals and are claiming that atheism supports them better than Christianity ever did, and it’s simply not true.

Matt Tully
It seems like on both sides of the issue—whether they’re atheistic scientists or even some Christians—are responsible for painting a picture that science and faith can’t go together. That as soon as they come into contact, it’s almost like they cancel each other out, or something like that, and you have to kind of keep them separate. What do you think about that?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think part of it is that on both sides there can be this idea that the more we understand of science the less room there is for God. And I don’t think that’s true at all. I think, in fact, the more we understand of science the more detail we see of how God has worked and operated. So I think sometimes we have this idea that more science means less God, and that’s not true. Another analogy you could look at is the Bible. People will sometimes say, Well, do you think the Bible was written by God or written by humans? And I’m like, Well, the funny thing with the Bible is that it’s entirely written by humans and entirely inspired by God. So actually, you can’t play those two things off against each other. It’s both at the same time.

Matt Tully
But hasn’t that been exactly what Christians have done? We’ve argued for a “God of the gaps” where whatever kind of phenomenon that we’re observing that science can’t yet describe or explain, we see that as evidence for God. And then science comes along and starts to explain that phenomenon and gives us some measurable, testable, verifiable causes, and then that pushes God out of the equation.

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think it’s certainly the case that Christians have, at times, poorly defined their sense of the relationship between God and science, and that has led us to some unfortunate situations where people have been arguing on the basis of one gap or another or one scientific hypothesis or another for or against God. And I think that’s something that we need to reckon with, particularly in contemporary Christianity in America. I think what’s interesting is that the New Atheist story says time and again Christians have believed “X”, and then science has come and told them “Y”, and then Christians have had to revise hypothesis #1 in light of science. And Atheism marches on. What’s interesting to me is something like the Big Bang, which was first dreamt up by a Catholic priest and was strongly resisted at the time by many atheist physicists because it implied that the universe had a beginning. And there was a common view at the time among scientists that actually the universe had always existed and there had been a sort of steady state rather than a beginning sudden explosion from a tiny nothing into what we see now. And so today I think even a number of Christians think of the Big Bang as another area in which science and Christianity are locked in mortal conflict and undermining our sense of a Creator, when it was almost alarmingly close to the idea of God creating the universe out of nothing.

06:33 – William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is one of the most well-known and respected Christian apologists living today. In this excerpt from our interview, he addresses one of the toughest apologetics topics there is–the problem of evil—explaining why the existence of evil and the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God are not mutually exclusive. He then highlights a few weak, yet common, apologetics arguments in favor of God that Christians sometimes use that you might want to avoid when having conversations with unbelievers. Take a listen.

Matt Tully
Here is perhaps one of the hardest questions for Christians to know what to do with when they’re confronted with it, in part because it’s so powerful in how it affects us, and that’s the problem of evil. And I’ll just put it like this: the Bible teaches that God is both all-powerful and all-loving, and yet evil exists—evil that every day causes indescribable pain and suffering in this world. Many people listening might know what that feels like in their own lives. In light of the existence of evil, how could God be both all-powerful and all-loving? Only one of those things could be true, right?

William Lane Craig
No, I think that both can be true. I think in getting at this problem it’s very helpful to distinguish between what I call the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. The intellectual problem of evil is how to give an intellectual account of the compatibility of God and evil. The emotional problem of evil is how to dissolve people’s dislike of a God who would allow them or others to suffer so terribly. And I’m convinced, Matt, that for most people the problem of evil is not an intellectual problem; it is an emotional problem.

Matt Tully
And you don’t use that word emotional disparagingly, right?

William Lane Craig
No, because it is emotionally difficult. But what I want to say is that as a purely intellectual problem, when I consider it as a philosopher, it is extraordinarily difficult to prove any kind of incompatibility between God and the evil and suffering in the world. Philosophers have tried to prove this for generations, and no one’s ever been able to do it. No one has ever been able to show that given the evil in the world, it is logically impossible or highly improbable that God exists. So I could go into this at great, great length, but I would simply say that when you consider it as a purely intellectual problem, it puts a burden of proof on the atheist shoulders that is really unsustainable.

Matt Tully
So then how would you shift over to that emotional side question?

William Lane Craig
Having said that this isn’t really an intellectual problem, I’d ask, Does Christianity have anything to say about the emotional problem of evil? And I’d say, yes, it does, because it tells us that God is not a cool and distant creator, aloof from the world that he has made. Rather, he is a God who enters into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And what does he do? He suffers. He bears incomprehensible suffering, even though he was totally innocent, to bring us to a knowledge of himself. And so the problem of evil, really, at the end of the day is a problem of our evil—filled with sin, morally guilty before God. The question is not how God can justify himself to us; the question is how can we be justified before him? And I think the cross of Christ provides the answer. In the cross we see the amazing extent of God’s love, that to redeem us and bring us into fellowship with himself he would bear incomprehensible suffering for us. And why? Because he loves us so much. How can we reject him who was willing to give up everything for us?

Matt Tully
That’s good. What would be one or two Christian apologetic arguments that we should never use? Talking to Christians, Do not say this. Do not make this argument. It’s not good, it’s not helpful, it’s not accurate. What might fall into that category?

William Lane Craig
One would be that atheists and agnostics cannot live happy and decent lives.

Matt Tully
I think sometimes we wouldn’t maybe say that, but I think sometimes we do think that. We think they can’t really be happy and they can’t really have that fulfilling of a life, because we just know they’re not supposed to be able to have that as non-Christians.

William Lane Craig
And I think that’s a big mistake because those of us who’ve been raised in non-Christian homes have known people who live happy and decent and good lives, even though they may not be believers. So that’s a claim that we shouldn’t make. It’s a confusion. The claim we should make is that if God does not exist, then life is ultimately meaningless, valueless, and purposeless. That’s true, but that isn’t to say that just because a person doesn’t believe in God that he doesn’t experience meaning, value, and purpose.

Matt Tully
There’s just no intellectual grounds for them to truly have that. Is that what you would say?

William Lane Craig
What I would say is that what’s necessary for meaning, value, and purpose is not the belief in God, but it’s God! God is necessary if life is to have meaning, value, and purpose, but not your subjective belief.

Matt Tully
Any other really terrible Christian arguments that you would warn us against?

William Lane Craig
Well, I would be cautious about arguments from contemporary miracles, which I think are often ill-evidenced and poorly founded. I don’t think that’s probably a really good apologetic either.


13:03 – Peter Williams

Peter Williams is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Greek New Testament. In this next clip, he addresses the age-old claim that the Bible contains hundreds of contradictions and inaccuracies. Along the way, he engages with the idea that the Biblical writers had an unscientific view of the world and that they borrowed from pagan mythology when writing the Bible. Take a listen.

Matt Tully
Doesn’t the Bible contain hundreds of internal contradictions?

Peter Williams
That’s a really interesting question. I actually give a longer answer in a chapter in my book, Can We Trust the Gospels?, on what I think are deliberate contradictions in John’s Gospel. And I think Jesus himself taught with contradictions. Good teachers can use contradiction to convey information, to get you to think more deeply. Now, I do want to say that I think Scripture is written so that if you seek God, you will find him, and if you don’t seek, you will stumble. That means that there are bits in it which are very clear to understand, and there are bits in it which are more tricky. Sometimes, when people say there are contradictions, what they’re saying is something like, The same word is used in two different ways. Well, that’s just normal. If you don’t want to have dictionaries which are too big and you don’t want to make language learning impossible, then you use words in more than one way. Other things you can have going on in the Bible is there can be changes of deal. I could paraphrase the words Old Testament and New Testament to the Old Deal and New Deal. As in, there are different arrangements that God has for different times. And so people can call that a contradiction—the fact that the arrangement has changed once Christ arrives to what’s before. Those sorts of things. So, there are plenty of opportunities for tension, and if people want to find fault in the Bible, they’re going to find plenty of reason to do so. But then the flip side is that I think Scripture is written with an amazing unity and harmony across it. And as I’ve researched it more and more, I’ve found more and more coherence and things hold together. The fact is, yes, there are puzzling bits, as there are puzzling bits in an advanced crossword or a really difficult Sudoku, and that’s okay. We are dealing with an omniscient God. He knows everything, and he set plenty of challenges there. So I think part of it is just coming to Scripture with the right attitude.

Matt Tully
Have there been situations or seeming contradictions that puzzled you maybe for a while, but then at some point as you looked more closely at them and spent more time studying, something opened up and you thought, Actually, that doesn’t really bother me anymore?

Peter Williams
I think, certainly, there have. I think a lot of it is where you realize that you’ve accepted some assumption about something, and that’s given you problems later on. So I think that’s what happens.

Matt Tully
All right, question number three: Doesn’t the writing style of various books change throughout those books, suggesting that the book was compiled by maybe multiple people over the course of many different years, sometimes when the book itself seems to say that it was written by Moses?

Peter Williams
I think the writing style can change within a book. You just have to think of some of Tolkein’s things, like The Hobbit, where there is a different style in the songs and the poems than there is in the prose. So, the fact that there’s a change of style doesn’t mean that it’s by different authors. In fact, you can take someone like J. K. Rowling, a famous author, who’s written kid’s books, teenage books, and adult books. And guess what? They have really different styles. And when she writes in magazines and essays, it’s a different style again. So, the problem for anyone saying, Because there are two styles here, they can’t be by the same author is that I want to know what are your parameters? What are your criteria for deciding two styles equals two authors? I’ve got different styles of handwriting I can use in different settings. I’ve got different styles of writing. When I write an academic article, it’s got a different writing style from my emails, a different writing style from my thank you letters.

Matt Tully
I’m struck that in this example, and maybe even going back to the the issue of the transmission of Scripture through the centuries, do you ever feel like when people come to the Bible, there’s kind of a different set of rules in how they assess, Is this trustworthy? What are the rules of the road for how we hold the Bible to certain standards?

Peter Williams
I think often people are starting with a sort of It’s guilty until proven innocent. They’re starting with a hermeneutic of suspicion, you could call it. And often, it’s a case of junk in junk and out. If people start with that skepticism, they will find all sorts of evidence to back that up. At the end of the day, the Scripture books come to us as coherent wholes. Take something like Genesis as an example. People have found different sources in Genesis, but there’s a tremendous unity running through that. And so I’d want to say that’s the most prominent thing that, as I read those fifty chapters of Genesis, it’s the fact that there are themes of blessing going through, there are characters that run through, there are plot lines that run through. And if people want to say there’s a bit of a change of style here and there, often it’s that they haven’t set their gauge right. You’ve got to have a sufficiently broad sense of what can be one style. The other thing is, of course, as a Christian, we don’t have to think that there’s only one human author that contributes to a book. God has different ways of getting Scripture written. So there’s also no objection to some of these books having been written by more than one person. Many books in the Old Testament are not named. I would just say though that you can’t really know, if there were sources, where one source ends and the other begins. And I don’t think it’s a very fruitful thing to spend a lot of energy on because you are not going to know.

Matt Tully
That actually leads into my next question: How can we treat the Bible as reliable when we don’t know who actually wrote most of the books? There’s an intuitive sense of if I find some newspaper article purporting to claim some true fact about something that’s happened but there’s no author named there and I don’t know who wrote it, we would naturally be pretty skeptical and say, Why would I trust them then?

Peter Williams
I think often the lead articles in newspapers (the front pages) don’t have an author on them, and we tend to treat them as generally liable if they’re in a newspaper that we like. So I think this idea that I need to know who wrote it in order to have confidence is a bit odd. So I’d say with, for example, the books of Samuel and Kings, they are very interesting, and particularly the books of Kings because they report about kings and you can check them archeologically at all sorts of points. But also, one thing very clear is the authors who wrote those books were not in the pay of the kings.

Matt Tully
They’re criticizing them all the time.

Peter Williams
They’re criticizing them all the time So you can compare that with a typical Egyptian monument, and the ones put up by Ramses are going tell you how good Ramses is. And the ones put up by Imhotep are going to tell you how good Imhotep is. And it’s the same with other kings of the surrounding nations. And there’s no national literature that critiques the people from which it comes as much as the Old Testament does with the Israelites. So I’d want to say there’s a good sign of trustworthiness, and I don’t need to know exactly who wrote it. There are all sorts of anonymous reports that we get in official contexts. Nowadays, you don’t know who wrote this particular thing. I don’t think that means we can’t see trustworthiness. I think trustworthiness is something that can be seen in all sorts of ways

Matt Tully
Question number five: The biblical writers had a premodern, unscientific view of the world, so how can we trust them to accurately record what actually happened?

Peter Williams
That’s an interesting statement. I would want to say that when you say unscientific I’d maybe choose non-scientific. They weren’t thinking in our sort of modern, scientific way, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t thinking in terms of measuring things and the reality of things. When you get a description of the temple in 1 Kings and it describes how many cubits this wall is, that seems to be—

Matt Tully
It’s pretty precise.

Peter Williams
It overlaps with the genre that we might have today of architectural plans. So it’s not that there’s a complete discontinuity. And I’d want to say you can you can test the Bible at many points and see it’s reasonable nature. And then I’d also want to say that we need to recognize that cultures can be very scientifically advanced in some ways and pretty immoral. The Nazi scientists in the 1930s were technically advanced in many ways and yet very immoral. Science can’t tell you even that science is valuable. Science can’t give you values, and so you need values in order to do science. That’s where actually Scripture arguably feeds into the scientific project because it gives you a reason to seek meaning in the universe and seek to find out things.

Matt Tully
And a lot of Christians will claim that the Christian worldview really gave rise to the scientific method and science as we know it today because of that.

Peter Williams
There’s a lot in that.

Matt Tully
Alright, another question: Doesn’t the Old Testament in particular borrow many of the pagan myths of the ancient Near East, the most famous perhaps being the story of the flood? And so that would kind of call into question then that is this authentic Scripture from God revelation from God, or were these ancient people just kind of borrowing and tweaking what other pagans around them were saying?

Peter Williams
So what I’d say is when people say X has borrowed Y, they need to demonstrate it. Clearly, there are links between Mesopotamian flood stories and the one in the Bible. One of the clearest parts of that is when it talks about birds being sent out, both in the Mesopotamian flood story and in the biblical one. But what I’d want to say is when people say the biblical one is borrowed, often what they’re doing is they’re saying because our physical copy of the Mesopotamian one is older than our physical copy of the biblical one (the biblical manuscripts are later), therefore, one has borrowed from the other. But that’s confusing the age of the medium on which something is transmitted with the age of the wording itself. And this can lead you to wrong conclusions. Actually, there’s a guy called Irving Finkel who discovered an old Babylonian flood tablet, and he was absolutely amazed when he was reading this text from 1600 BC or thereabouts when he suddenly saw in that text talk about animals going into the boat two by two. And he said, Oh, that comes in the Bible. And suddenly, he was prepared to accept that that phrase from the Bible was a thousand years earlier than he thought it was. That’s where people get into trouble because they tend to put artificial maximum ages on the Bible stuff. They think, Oh, it can’t be any older than that. Well, let’s face it. The copies we have of the Old Testament in Hebrew are generally from the year 1000 onwards, or from the 900s
and onwards.

Matt Tully
1,000 BC.

Peter Williams
No, no, no, AD. There are some Greek copies of things earlier. There’s the Dead Sea Scrolls that are bit earlier which have bits of Genesis, but clearly the content comes from a long, long time before that. And I think it’s foolish to try and put maximum ages on that. So I think this idea that the Bible, when it parallels stuff from Mesopotamia, has to have borrowed it, I think it needs to be questioned.

20:29 – Michael Kruger

In our next clip, we’re going back to an interview I did with Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary. In this part of our conversation, Mike speaks to evangelicals generally and parents in particular about the importance of exposing young people to opposing viewpoints, teaching them how to think critically for themselves about the claims of Christians and non-Christians alike. He highlights the danger of raising kids in a bubble, offering Christians of all ages sound advice for engaging unbelievers with wisdom and love.

Matt Tully
I know I’ve heard this story—it almost feels clichéd—but the story of the Christian student who goes to college and eventually loses their faith. Often, a part of that story is, as you were saying, a realization—an awakening—to the variety of worldviews that are out there, the intelligence and the genuine sincerity of non-Christians (or maybe even progressive Christians could be in that category), and the morality of those people. Sometimes that can almost be world-shifting for somebody who has been brought up in a context where the Christian worldview was just assumed and everyone else was kind of portrayed as obviously, intentionally, willfully ignorant or rejecting God and his revelation in a very direct and obvious kind of way. Do you feel like there’s a sense in which the evangelical church—whether that’s church leaders, even parents—have done a disservice to young people in not perhaps exposing them to the best of the non-Christian intellectual world before they get to a place like college and then all of a sudden find it to be quite compelling?

Michael Kruger
Absolutely that’s the case. I think you’ve tapped into one of the major challenges that Christians have when they show up at university, which is—I put it this way, often, when I talk to people—they just find out that they like the non-Christians that they meet. I know that’s a weird way of saying it, but it’s honestly what’s happening. They meet non-Christians and think, I really like this person. They’re kind, they’re funny, they’re smart, they’re thoughtful; they’re not Darth Vader out to attack every believer. They have good reasons for what they believe and they actually treat other people well. In fact, arguably, maybe they even act better than my Christian friends. Now, that whole dynamic shakes up many, many believers. What people don’t realize, though, is that the reason it shakes up believers is actually they have entered college with a faulty theology that no one has ever corrected. That faulty theology says that everybody who’s an unbeliever is as bad as they can be, or everybody who is an unbeliever is a jerk, or everybody who is an unbeliever is an idiot, or everybody who is an unbeliever is this or that—and the Bible never teaches those things. In fact, on the contrary, the Bible talks about what’s called common grace, which is that even non-Christians can be highly intelligent, successful, smart, and even thoughtful, kind people because God restrains in them what would otherwise be the case, in terms of their sin. That is something that Christians have always believed theologically, but it’s never taught to young people. So they go in and they say, Wait a second. None of that’s true. But, of course, the thing they thought should be true never should have been true in the first place. So, what you realize is that there’s a price for bad theology, and there’s a real bad price for it sometimes. Now, how can that be fixed? Sometimes it can be fixed just by teaching people about common grace; but, like you said, it can also be fixed by exposing students when they’re younger to the bigger world that’s around them. There’s lots of ways to do that and we won’t necessarily probe into all of those in this call, but I think as long as that’s on the radar for parents, I think they need to think about ways to get that done.

Matt Tully
I would imagine a high school parent listening right now might be feeling like, That sounds good in theory, but that sounds a little bit scary. I’m exposing my kid to something that may actually be harmful and might lead them astray. Just speak to that general concern that parents might have on that front.

Michael Kruger
This is the tightrope balance: on one level, I know parents are very concerned to prevent their kids from being exposed to non-Christian thought. They don’t want them to read the books, watch the movies, or even have the friends that may influence them. There’s a right and proper place to think through those things and how to balance those things. We’re not just going to throw our kids to the wolves, so to speak, when they’re so immature that they can’t handle it. But any good parent, over time, slowly recognizes what their kid can understand and can handle and slowly begins to expose them to it so they can understand why it is the way it is. So I think that’s what they have to think about with non-Christians. One simple way of doing that is for parents to ask themselves how they speak about non-Christians to their kids when they speak about them? Do they speak about them in a way that seems inherently derogatory and dismissive and that they’re kind of all morons and only we are the really intelligent and smart ones who figured this all out? If you have a tone like that in your family, you’re setting your kids up for a real rude awakening. A place to go, in that regard, is 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul tells the Corinthians, Yes, the gospel is offensive to the world out there and they’re always going to stumble over it; but don’t think that you’re Christians because you’re smarter. Paul goes out of his way to say, No, you guys were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Don’t get me wrong; you’re Christians because of God’s grace. So, what you realize is that we need to be reminded that Christians aren’t Christians because we’re sharper and smarter; we’re Christians because of God’s grace, and there’s actually many non-Christians who are a lot smarter than us. Being a Christian or a non-Christian has nothing to do with how smart you are.

Matt Tully
That ties in to this general topic of humility and how do we balance a robust sense of humility with the confidence in what we believe. Speaking about college in particular, I think one of the often-touted benefits of college—one of the joys and exciting things about those undergraduate years—is that it is a time of exploring and learning and expanding your world. That’s kind of what makes it so exciting. What does it look like for a college student—a young person going into college—to approach it in that way, to approach it with a level of openness to learning new things and to seeing new things, and yet, also not to abandon the core tenets of their worldview?

Michael Kruger
That’s a really important thing for people to think through. You use the term humility there. I think that’s the right term, but the term has to be carefully defined. One of the mistakes that’s made is that people, when they think they want to be humble, they actually don’t use the biblical definition of humility; they use, instead, the world’s definition of humility. That’s going to get you off the right tracks from the get go. The world’s definition of humility is basically equating humility with uncertainty. From the world’s perspective, to be humble is to be uncertain. To be humble is to say, I don’t know. To be humble is to say, Who can know such things? That’s the world’s definition of humility. Now, of course, that’s not what Christians believe, and that’s not what the Bible says humility is. Christians can be 100% humble and 100% certain of what they believe. And the reason you can is because you believe it based on the fact that God has revealed it in his Word, not because you’re so smart or you’re so great. So you can be really humble, and yet still certain about the core truths of the Christian faith. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing is that even if we’re certain about the core truths of the Christian faith, there’s still a lot of room for humility about how much we still don’t know, not only about Christianity but about the world. So, one way that Christians can grow, learn, and expose themselves to new and exciting things in college is just to recognize, Wow, I’m 18; I haven’t seen very much and I don’t know very much. Even if I’m certain that Jesus is Lord, there’s a lot I don’t know about what that means. There’s a lot I don’t know about how to process that and about what the Bible says. There’s a lot I don’t know about the world around me, and I just need to take a big, deep breath, admit I don’t know, be humble about it, and dive in. When you dive in, you’re not just turning your brain off, as if you’re not still thinking Christianly. Of course, you’re still thinking Christianly because the Bible is going to guide you in that, but there is a sense of just admitting you don’t know what you think you do. This, of course, is the humor of youth. I always joke with my seminary students and say, You actually are going to know the most the first year that you’re in seminary. What I mean by that is, of course, they’re going to learn a ton of things; but they think they know the most already. It’s only when you learn a lot that you realize how much you don’t know. So there’s this weird paradox of the more you know, the more you know you don’t know, and that makes you more humble. That’s the advice I would give to college students.

28:21 – Neil Shenvi

In our final clip for today, Neil Shenvi shares a fascinating apologetic argument rooted in the study of mathematics. He explains how math, which is itself rooted in the underlying order and structure of the universe, testifies to the existence of a creator-God. I then asked Neil to share the best argument against the existence of God that he’s ever encountered and how he’d respond to it today. I thought Neil’s comments were really insightful and are a great way to close today’s episode.

Matt Tully
What about another argument that you actually already alluded to a little bit. It’s very interesting. It’s an argument from mathematics: somehow math itself testifies to the truth of God’s existence. Unpack that for us.

Neil Shenvi
We live in a universe with a deeply mathematical structure. Talk to any physicist, or even a chemist or biologist, and they will recognize that math is the language of God. We can perceive that there is, objectively, a rational mathematical order to the universe. You can see this in a lot of the early founders of modern physics—Albert Einstein and Eugene Wigner—they recognized that there was this deep, underlying mathematical structure, and they looked for it. They expected to see that the equations governing physics were not just real but beautiful. It’s not the only test for a theory’s truth, but generally speaking as a scientist, we look for beauty in the equations that govern the universe. I ask the question in my book, Why is that the case? I read a lot of science fiction books, and one of my favorite authors is Brandon Sanderson, who is actually a Mormon. In his books, he loves delving into alternative realities where there’s an alternate laws of nature. They follow certain rules. He builds entire worlds and realities around these rules of basically magic. It looks like magic to us, but it follows rules. Even he has that understanding that the universe ought to be beautiful and have reasons behind it. If you think about it, that doesn’t really . . . why? Contrast Brandon Sanderson’s novels where there’s this deep backstory and these deep, underlying rules—even to his magic—contrast that with something like C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I love those books; I think they’re great. But there’s just no rhyme or reason. Just random things happen. The magic just happens. The same with Harry Potter. You read the Harry Potter books and sometimes you’re like, This is a plot device!

Matt Tully
She made it up to fit what she wanted to happen next.

Neil Shenvi
Exactly. But here’s the question: Why do we live in a universe that has this deep, underlying rationality and mathematical structure, and not in a universe that looks like it was created by J. K. Rowling—to fill some plot device, or that things just happen unaccountably, or there’s no explanation for them? Why? So, number one is we live in this universe with a deep, underlying mathematical structure. More than that, we can uniquely perceive that as human beings. Other animals—we’re rational animals—don’t understand and they can’t see the structure that’s there. They might learn things in some sense. Birds can be taught to tie knots in twigs and build nests, but they don’t understand quantum mechanics. They don’t understand genetics. How come human beings uniquely can perceive that underlying structure? We have these two phenomena. And, again, Eugene Wigner actually wrote a paper on that subject, saying those are miracles. I’m not even sure if he was atheist or not, but he recognizes it’s extremely odd that we live in a mathematical universe and that, too, we can perceive that fact, unlike all these other intelligent animals. I’m arguing that that doesn’t make sense if you’re an atheist. Why would there be the structure and why would we be able to perceive it uniquely? But as a Christian, I can say it’s because God himself is a mind who created the universe, and he made us in his image to be able to uniquely perceive his handiwork in a way that other animals could not. That’s what it means to be in the image of God.

Matt Tully
I wonder if you could put on your atheist hat and give us what would be the best argument against belief in God that you’ve encountered. And then, putting your Christian apologetic hat back on, how would you then respond to that?

Neil Shenvi
I think the best argument against Christianity—people will often conflate the two. They’ll argue against Christianity and think they’re arguing against God. Obviously, for the Christian God that’s true. When I’m pointing people to Christianity, that’s fair. But they’ll often say things like, How can you believe that God exists if the universe is older than 6,000 years You can ask that question, but what you’re really asking is, How do you know the Bible is inerrant? How do you know the Bible doesn’t have errors in it? I can answer that question—I’m an inerrantist—but don’t confuse these objections about the Bible with objections about God existing, or even about Christianity. I think, again, I am an inerrantist, I think it’s an important doctrine; and yet, don’t confuse believing the Bible is inerrant with being a Christian and believing in Jesus. Even the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy said, No, there are Christians who are not inerrantist. I just want to distinguish between those two objections. The best argument against God’s existence, I would think, is the problem of divine hiddenness. If God really does love us and God is a good God, then why doesn’t he reveal himself? The problem of evil, I think, is also a big one, but I think actually, for reasons I go into in the book, it’s less problematic than the problem of why does God hide himself. But again, this is where I think good theology can help us explain and answer these questions. What I would say is that question assumes that if we had more evidence our problems would be solved. But the Bible says, No, your problem is not that you lack evidence; your evidence is that you hate God. Your problem is that you’re at enmity with God, you wish he didn’t exist, and, therefore, all the evidence in the world can’t remove that hatred. In other words, what if I say, I don’t believe in Lord Voldemort, the evil villain from Harry Potter. Give me more evidence. If someone gave me more evidence that Lord Voldemort existed, I would say, Great. But now I loathe this Voldemort who exists. I thought he was just a fictional character, but now I realize he’s real and I loathe him even more. In the same way, if our fundamental problem is that we do not like the fact that there’s a god—we want to be our own gods—then hiddenness is not a big problem because it just says, God has not given you all the evidence he could. He could give you more evidence, but that wouldn’t solve your problem. So, why blame God for not giving you things you don’t need? What you really need is a change of heart. Now you ask, Why can’t God change my heart? Ah! That’s where I introduce them to the gospel. God has given a way for your heart to be changed, but it’s not through the Kalam cosmological argument. It’s not through reasoning about these abstract ideas. It’s through the cross. God has made a way for us to have our hearts changed, and it’s through embracing what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Again, it’s a great transition from saying these intellectual problems we’ve been wrestling with for 150 pages, they’re ultimately solved not primarily in a better argument, but in the gospel. That’s what’s ultimately going to convince you that Christianity is not just true but worth embracing.

Matt Tully
Thanks so much for joining us on this journey through the archives of The Crossway Podcast. If you want to hear more of any of the interviews featured today, we’ve linked to all of them in the show notes below. For more audio content like this, subscribe to The Crossway Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. If you enjoyed this episode, consider sharing it with a friend and leaving us a review. Crossway is a not for profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the truth of God’s word through publishing gospel centered content. Visit us today at crossway.org.


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