Critical Thinking #5:
My Analysis of That Conversation

By | 7 Jun 2021

After releasing my previous article, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to write an analysis of Jake’s assertions using the principles I listed and discussed in in the first three parts of this series on Critical Thinking. In obedience, we will now analyze that encounter so you can take that knowledge into any future discussions with Christianity’s ideological opponents.

All this stuff can initially come across as dry, academic, philosophical double-talk, but as you can see from that encounter, there are lost souls at stake. And that’s not to mention church pews — and sometimes even platforms! — populated by spiritually immature, scripturally-illiterate Christians who are being propagandized into apostasy by pop culture narratives at this very moment.

You may not be called to be a full-time Christian apologist as the primary focus of your ministry, but all Christ-followers are called to be apologists-on-demand as the Holy Spirit brings us into divine appointments with those He is wooing to Himself (1 Peter 3:15).

In other words, we are safely standing beside the road to Hell and the Holy Spirit occasionally uses one of us to wave folks down who are blindly racing headlong towards an excruciatingly painful forever. All it takes is influencing one person away from such a fate to make it worth all the effort. There but for the grace of God…

Now on to my analysis. While I have genuine compassion for Jake as a person, I have nothing but contempt for everything he had to say. Satan has deluded the man into arrogantly thinking he is a master of “critical thinking.” In reality, Jake consistently demonstrated precisely the opposite; everything he said was rife with his personal biases as well as several logical fallacies.

His opening assault states his “truth” claims. I will summarize them in the order he presented them:

  1. There is only weak historical or empirical evidence for Christianity. Therefore, according to him, Christ-followers are operating in “blind faith.”
  2. He mocks the doctrines of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within all believers.
  3. He accuses us of irrational thinking, then presumes his readers are fellow-skeptic-wannabes who simply need to be awakened to “reality.”
  4. He attempts to undercut any rational discussion of evidence by declaring it futile because we are too brainwashed to be able to engage with him intellectually.
  5. He then announces his strategy: attack our feelings and perceptions, trading upon the universal truism that feelings cannot be trusted guides when determining and evaluating reality.

Now let’s dig into these claims point by point:

  1. His first assertion of weak evidence is a Big Lie based upon an implied Appeal to Authority where he casually dismisses whatever evidence we may have to offer as having been already debunked by unspecified “experts” out there somewhere. Let’s address each half to that claim in turn:
    1. Weak historical evidence — The first half of this claim is utterly false on its face. As I stated later in my exchange with him, the historicity of the Christ event (Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection) is the best documented series of incidents in all of antiquity. A multitude of ancient documents — written by both Christian and secular historians — document this watershed moment so thoroughly no other historical event even comes close!

      Jake offers not one shred of evidence to counter this fact beyond his personal opinion. Space does not allow me to present a completely supported refutation here, but there are small libraries worth of books, some of them cited in my interaction with Jake which do far more justice to this topic than I ever could.

    2. Weak empirical evidence — The second half is also utterly false and again he presents this without even the feeblest attempt at supporting it with actual counter-evidence — again, because he has none. Empirical and philosophical evidence abounds for the existence of what philosophers call “a maximally great being” aka God Almighty.

      Here’s an excellent analogy where we can explore this logically through God’s Creation, something atheists claim happened entirely by cosmic accident: can a book come into physical existence from nothing with no one to create it? Let’s quickly examine that process using the element of chance as the only available mechanism:

      • Linguistic symbols (words) and the concepts they represent to human beings invented themselves out of thin air.
      • They then spontaneously decided to expound on a given topic and organized themselves into coherent sentences using proper grammar and spelling for the targeted language.
      • All of them organized themselves of their own accord still further into chapters which then spontaneously organized themselves into pages which could be put into a book.
      • The attractive-to-customers book cover also appeared out of thin air with no one having designed it.
      • All this took place on a machine invented, designed, and built by no one which was powered by electricity generated by other machines, all of which invented themselves to provide such.
      • Paper, also invented and produced by no one, instinctively appeared at a printing facility which also came into existence from nothing out of nowhere.
      • Soy beans appeared out of thin air and spontaneously transformed themselves into ink, which then transported itself to the same facility by random chance.
      • All this magically combined to transfer both words and cover onto paper using machines which also were invented by no one and had appeared from nothing.
      • All the pages accidentally fell into the proper order and somehow glued and trimmed themselves together along with the cover into a book.

      Ludicrous, isn’t it?

      Yet such utter nonsense is precisely what atheists believe when it comes to how our incredibly complex Universe came into existence! And the production of a mere book pales by comparison to the amazing complexities of, say DNA, the biological computer code which rules all life on this planet (DNA makes the production of a physical book seem like mere child’s play using Legos!).

      The exercise we just went through is called “reductio ab absurdum” which is philosophy-speak for “reduced to absurdity.” Whenever someone makes a truth claim, one of the ways to analyze its validity is to take that claim as well as its underlying assumptions to their logical conclusion and see if they hold water.

      In this case? I don’t think so!

      This reductio invokes what apologists call the “Kalam Cosmological Argument” for the existence of God, its premises and conclusion being:

      • Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
      • The universe began to exist.
      • Therefore, the universe has a Cause.

      And, of course, we Christ-followers know that Cause is our maximally great (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, all-loving) Creator aka YHWH, Jehovah, and Almighty God.

      According to biblical accounts, God spun the Universe into existence through the Word of His power (Genesis 1) and “By Him all things exist and all things are held together” (Colossians 1:17). We puny human beings are still exploring its complexities and no sane person can legitimately claim to grasp every single aspect of His Creation intellectually and scientifically.

      Therefore, Jake’s casual tarring of Christian believers with the “blind faith” brush simply does not hold water. We have excellent reasons for believing precisely what we believe and we can believe it without a bit of intellectual embarrassment. Frankly, it takes far more faith than I can muster to believe anything else!

  2. Jake’s next claim is a combination of logical fallacies: an Appeal to Ridicule and an Appeal to Personal Incredulity wherein he mocks two of Christianity’s essential doctrines: the Person of Christ and the nature of the New Birth. Again, not even a feeble attempt at presenting an ounce of evidence disproving either.
  3. He then makes another Appeal to Ridicule, saying Christ-followers are incapable of rational thought. In the process, he attempts something known in the world of salesmanship as a “presumptive close” by labelling his readers as “fellow skeptics,” an assumption with no basis reality, but a clever psychological ploy nonetheless.

    Let me explain. In sales parlance, a “close” takes place whenever a prospective customer decides to purchase a company’s goods or services after hearing a salesperson’s “pitch,” then forks over some hard-earned moolah to obtain it. A presumptive close takes place when that salesperson tries to gently nudge his prospect off the fence by asking something like, “Would you like your fabulous new widget to be a red, blue, or green one?” (My wife frequently employs a variant of this by impishly stating I would probably like to have some ice cream/popcorn/whatever, her implication being I should get get up and serve us both some!)

  4. In this instance, Jake is simply trying to close the sale before even making his pitch.

  5. Finally, he makes yet another Appeal to Ridicule, saying Christ-followers are so completely deluded that any discussions of evidence are completely useless, so any evidence we have to offer should be discarded out of hand. Instead, discussions of evidence should be replaced with attempts to remove our superstitious feelings and perceptions, an Appeal to Emotion fallacy.

    Here, he is attempting to disarm his opposition by eliminating a Christ-follower’s primary weapon: truth!

    Just as pre-trial motions define the legal battlefield for a coming trial by determining what evidence and testimony may or may not be presented to a jury, here Jake is trying to define the debate battlefield by stating which weapons can and cannot be used.

    Under the old code duello which once specified in great detail how all parties engaged in the process of a duel must behave, whenever someone threw down the gauntlet and called another man out in single combat, his opponent got to pick whatever weapon he preferred so he could play to his own strengths as well as the perceived weaknesses of his challenger. In other words, if the challenger was an expert pistol shot and a not-so-hot swordsman, it behooved the guy he had challenged to select swords, not pistols!

    Here, Jake is calling out those he is addressing to a philosophical duel and attempting to limit that debate to weapons of his choosing. In other words, he wants to fight within his comfort zone and take his opponents out of theirs.

Was Jake Ever Actually a Christ-Follower?

Back to my analysis. His answers to my 4 initial questions as well as additional information he offered later in the conversation tell the tragic tale of how he came to be where he is spiritually. Even though this topic spans several messages in the entire exchange, I’ll summarize and address them all here as a whole.

If we apply the #1 guiding principle for all effective Christian counseling (“out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” — Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45) to Jake’s own words, it is clear to me he has almost certainly never experienced the New Birth. While I could be wrong here, the likelihood of that being the case approaches zero.

Why am I so convinced of this?

Because the NT clearly and repeatedly states the Holy Spirit resides in the hearts of all believers and bears witness to our salvation from that location, yet it is these very concepts he mocks repeatedly, dismissing them as us “living by our feelings.”

Here are just a few of the applicable NT passages addressing this very issue:

But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life, you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit. And if you are not joined to the Spirit of the Anointed One, you are not of him. … But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!” Romans 8:9,15-16 TPT

Don’t you realize that together you have become God’s inner sanctuary and that the Spirit of God makes his permanent home in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16 TPT
Have you forgotten that your body is now the sacred temple of the Spirit of Holiness, who lives in you? You don’t belong to yourself any longer, for the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside your sanctuary. 1 Corinthians 6:19 TPT

This means that God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you! Ephesians 2:22 TPT

Of course, to those who are lost, all this is total nonsense and Jake repeatedly mocks it as such. Here is another applicable passage:

For in his wisdom, God designed that all the world’s wisdom would be insufficient to lead people to the discovery of Himself. He took great delight in baffling the wisdom of the world by using the simplicity of preaching the story of the Cross in order to save those who believe it. For the Jews constantly demand to see miraculous signs, while those who are not Jews constantly cling to the world’s wisdom, but we preach the crucified Messiah.

The Jews stumble over him and the rest of the world sees him as foolishness. But for those who have been chosen to follow him, both Jews and Greeks, he is God’s mighty power, God’s true wisdom, and our Messiah. For the “foolish” things of God have proven to be wiser than human wisdom. And the “feeble” things of God have proven to be far more powerful than any human ability. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 TPT

Bottom line? Jake’s never having experienced the New Birth logically and completely explains every aspect of what he claimed and how he presented it. As the old saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc., etc…”

The Choices He Presented

He next presents me with 4 possible options to choose from for reasons why I have chosen to be a Christ-follower.

  1. Historical evidence
  2. Faith
  3. Personal Experiences
  4. Miracles

Again, he is trying to define the battlefield by framing the debate so it would play into his perceived strengths, and again, this was a trap. It wouldn’t have mattered which of those carefully-selected-by-him items I chose because Jake was offering a variant of the False Dichotomy fallacy and he had argument “guns” loaded, cocked, and aimed at each one of them.

The Holy Spirit led me to respond, “all of the above,” which is a true statement. Throughout almost 50 years of being a Christ-follower, I have discovered the historical evidence supports our faith, my trust in Him has never failed or embarrassed me, He has patiently stood by me through thick and thin — even when I was openly rebelling against Him! — and He has performed far more than a few miracles in my life.

When Jake tried to press the matter, though, rather than respond to any one of them and fall into his trap, the Holy Spirit led me into take him outside his comfort zone using a 5th option which as the discussion progressed, exposed the previously-discussed fact he never had actually submitted to the lordship of Christ over his life and received the New Birth: relationship. And relationship is where I firmly anchored myself, never allowing him to sever me from that anchor as things progressed.

As I later asserted in our exchange, he cannot grasp the concept of a personal relationship with an infinite, invisible, all-powerful Supreme Being any more than a person born blind can conceive of a beautiful sunset.

Someone born blind is neither morally responsible for their inability to see nor are they somehow “less than” as a person because that inability exists; they simply do not have the wherewithal to grasp the idea of a sunset as anything more than a abstract intellectual exercise. In other words, you can teach blind people about the physics of light and color, where light exists in the electromagnetic spectrum, how light is propagated, how fast it travels, how the sun generates it, and how the interaction between its rays and our earth’s atmosphere at a certain time of day produces a sunset, but they will never have experiential appreciation of a sunset apart from a divine miracle.

This is the exact same situation in which non-Christians find themselves when dealing with the things of God as well as non-charismatics trying to grasp the gifts of the Spirit: there is simply an experiential “knowing” beyond a mere intellectual assessment of the facts which cannot be realized apart from receiving the New Birth in the former case or the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues in the latter. So Jake’s mocking of the Gospel of Christ as foolishness is simply proving 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 cited above to be absolutely accurate.

It is for this very reason any approach used in Christian apologetics excluding the illumination and power of the Holy Spirit from the equation is doomed to fail in my humble opinion. My statement is borne out in Scripture when you contrast Paul’s anemic impact on his listeners on Mars Hill in Athens (see Acts 17:16-34) vs. his overwhelming success later in Corinth (Acts 18:1-11). Please take note of the fact the NT contains 2 out of his 3 letters written to the Corinthians whereas we have no record — either within the Scriptures or without — of any letters to a church in Athens. Paul explains and confirms that difference in results using these words:

My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God, I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom. For while I was with you I was determined to be consumed with one topic — Jesus, the crucified Messiah. I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words. The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit. For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his almighty power.1 Corinthians 2:1-5 TPT

Reductio ad Absurdum

Just as in the reductio I wrote earlier in this article, I also employed it during my exchange with Jake to expose the silliness of believing there is no God through exposing how no moral absolutes can exist apart from a morally-perfect, maximally-great, eternal Supreme Being Who will call us into account for our choices, good or evil, a variation of what apologists call “The Moral Argument” for God’s existence.

Using a reductio to expose faulty thinking in your opponent’s argument is a perfectly valid response when they make a ridiculous claim. Just practice doing them by yourself or preferably with a friend before you try to use one in a real-life encounter.

Burden of Proof

As covered in my logical fallacies article, the Burden of Proof fallacy takes place when someone makes a truth claim and, rather than presenting evidence to prove that claim, attempts to place the burden of proof upon their opponent, saying words to the effect of, “Prove me wrong!”

This is intellectually dishonest. It is not our responsibility to prove God exists to an atheist, it is the atheist’s to prove there isn’t One. This fallacy is ever present in any debate with skeptics, whether overtly (There is no God — prove there is one!) or covertly (implied within the exchange but never specifically verbalized). In Jake’s case, fallacy was implied throughout his taunting me to argue with his ridicule of Christian doctrines.

Whenever you encounter this kind of situation, simply put the burden back where it belongs by asking your opponent to provide evidence without ever taking their bait.

Jake’s Hatred of Conservative Christianity

One other area the Lord led me to probe was Jake’s focus on conservative Christianity to the exclusion of all other world religions. Please note how nowhere in his assertions did he include any of them.

Notably, renowned militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins are not so narrowly focussed; they oppose all faith placed in any Supreme Being regardless of the specific religious trappings baked into a given belief system.

For example, such folks tend to lump Christianity (more accurately, Roman Catholicism) and Islam together due to centuries of warfare between them, such as the Crusades, then use that to justify their bogus claim that religion has been the impetus behind all warfare ever conducted on this planet. They also rightly decry militant Islam for the terrorism arising from it.

The bottom line to all their claims is “Religion? Bad!”

But not Jake! He’s bitter against all who have declared Jesus as their Lord and ordered their lives in obedience with the Bible as their sole authority over faith and practice. To use his label: a conservative Christian.

He cannot stand being the kid stuck outside the candy store while consumed with resentment toward the candy maker/store owner as well as unbridled animosity towards the kids inside enjoying all the candy. He has so much envy and unresolved anger, he has petulantly made it his life’s mission to drag everyone else down to his level. Rather than humbling himself before God and surrendering to Jesus to get into inside the store and enjoy his own candy along with the others, he simply grasps the reins of his life all the more tightly, then tries to convince anyone who will listen the candy store is ancient myth and the candy maker doesn’t exist.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be comical.

When I kept pressing on this issue of his lack of activism against other religions, he tried a tu quoque attack by asking me how many Moslems or Hindus I had witnessed to in the previous year. Who I witness to and how often is and was entirely beside the point — I was making him extremely uncomfortable with my persistently questioning his motives and he was desperately trying to deflect that by changing the subject. In response, I simply refused to take the bait by answering his question, accurately declaring it to be irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

In Conclusion

I hope my account of this encounter with Jake along with the insights presented both there as well as in this article have helped you to see practical applications for the concepts I presented in the first 3 installments of this series.

Tragically, a multitude of sincere, born-from-above, Bible-believing Christians out there would have fallen for Jake’s schtick and vigorously engaged just as he did earlier in his life when he was confronted by his own militant atheist: all passion and little knowledge of or skill in such ideological combat (not to mention he had no spiritual foundation to begin with!).

This is much like a defendant in a legal case who decides to represent himself in court instead of hiring an attorney; he may have great personal conviction and passion as well as the truth on his side, but his ignorance of the legal process is entirely likely to run his ship of litigation onto some very unforgiving rocks.

The very purpose of this series has been to help you successfully navigate such situations without running aground. Until and unless you have mastered your weapons, “discretion is the better part of valor” and you are far better off to let your opponent spout his drivel unchallenged than to get suckered into a battle for which you are ill prepared.

The only reason I personally did not fall prey to his attack was the grace and mercy of our God Who had already provided me with the wisdom, training, and experience to handle it, so all glory goes to Him! My article on Knowing Your Weapons will give you further insights into this issue.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “We are not all called to reap. Some plant, others water. God makes it grow.” Or to paraphrase apologist Greg Koukl, “We’re here to put a stone in someone’s figurative shoe. The resulting discomfort gives the Holy Spirit something to work with in them.”

Thanks for reading!