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A Primer on Knowledge? Rationalism vs Empiricism

The Consituents of Knowledge

Humans are knowing creatures. Our mental capabilities are vital to our existence and full of amazing possibilities. Our ability to expand our knowledge spurs science, culture, and religion forward. But how do we know what we know? Maybe we should back up a little. What is knowledge? How do we grow what we know? Can we justify what we know to others? Knowledge—what seems to be a basic feature of everyday life—is a complex subject.

What Is Epistemology?

All these inquiries fall under the philosophical branch of study called epistemology. The word epistemology is an English word derived from two Greek words:

  • Episteme (knowledge or understanding)
  • Logos (the study of)

In short, epistemology is the study of knowledge.[1] Philosophers know it as the “study of the theory of knowledge.” We’ll look at a brief historical overview of the philosophical category of epistemology. Our special focus will be the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is “justified true belief.” It’s been the accepted definition for centuries and it’s the one I’ll be using.[2] Defining one’s terms is easy to neglect, but it’s integral to the philosophical process. More ink has been spilled over definitions than you’d imagine. So let’s take care of this important matter. Knowledge is “justified true belief.” This definition has three parts:

  • Belief – You must believe something in order for to have knowledge. You cannot know something is you don’t believe it.
  • Truth – The thing you believe must correspond to reality. You cannot know something that is false.
  • Justification – You need a reason for your belief. This is why guessing the number of M&Ms in a carnival game (it’s 527 by the way) by chance is called “luck.” You cannot “luck” into knowledge.

The Consituents of Knowledge

You need all three to have knowledge. If you only have two out of three you get one of the following:

  • Belief + Truth = Something you believe, that’s also true, but for which you lack any justification. Some might call this blind faith.
  • Belief + Justification = Something you believe but are wrong about.
  • Truth + Justification = Something you should believe but don’t.

3 Kinds of Knowledge

Philosophers have categorized knowledge into three different and unique groups:[3]

Acquaintance Knowledge (Who)

The knowledge of a person through being in some sort of relationship to them. Sometime called intimate knowledge.

Competence Knowledge (How)

The knowledge of a skill or ability. For example, knowing how to play an instrument or a sport. It’s a knowledge gained through repetition and the development of muscle memory.

Propositional Knowledge (What)

The knowledge of facts or propositions gained through study or observation.

Putting It All Together

What’s it like to have one kind of knowledge but not another about a topic? Imagine I knew every fact (proposition) about you mother: height, favorite movie, age, etc. My knowledge would still be qualitatively different from yours. You know her (acquaintance knowledge). I just know about her. The same goes for competence knowledge. You can tell me all the facts about how to play the trumpet, but I won’t be able to play it well without practice and repetition.

The Acquisition and Justification of Propositional Knowledge

The only kind of knowledge debated by philosophers is propositional knowledge. The two major schools of thought that have been duking it out for centuries are:

  • Rationalism (Represented by Plato)
  • Empiricism (Represented by Aristotle)

The other minor schools of thought are just variations of these two. I consider myself a rationalist and utterly detest empiricism. Nonetheless I’ll try to give you an accurate account of both.

Plato and the Rationalist School

Plato believed that humans participated in two spheres of existence:

  • The world of the forms (pure being)
  • The world of particular things (becoming)

The world of the forms is an unchanging immaterial world of pure being. The world of particular things is the material, constantly changing world we’re all familiar with. Plato got these ideas from two philosophers before him, Heraclitus and Parmenides.[4]
For Heraclitus, ultimate reality is in a state of flux; it’s always changing or becoming. He said that you can never step in the same river twice. If you remove your foot from the river and then put it back, all the molecules have moved and it is, in a sense, a different river.[5]

Parmenides, on the other hand, believed that all of reality is pure being. He realized that there are such things as universal, unchanging principles. For example, one plus one equals two.

Plato saw the elements of truth in both perspectives. Instead of picking one over the other, he synthesized them into his doctrine of the two worlds. Plato agreed with Parmenides that there are unchanging principles. Plato calls these unchanging principles the “forms.” Plato relegated the forms to another world because he agreed with Heraclitus that the world we experience is always changing. Thus Plato divides the universe into two categories:

  • Forms (essences)
  • Particulars (individual examples of forms)

Plato taught that every particular thing represents an essence. For example, if you draw a square your drawing would be a particular square and not the essential or perfect square. Your particular square is representing the idea (form) of the perfect square.

Plato applied this dualism to mankind saying that the human being is composed of body and soul. The body is participating in the world of becoming by getting older and changing in appearance. The soul is participating in the world of the forms through immortality and reason. Plato did this because he noticed that humans are capable of interacting with the forms through reason. He attributed this ability to the reality of innate ideas.[6]

Innate Ideas

Innate ideas are a form of knowledge that the mind contains prior to experience and birth. For Plato, innate knowledge is knowledge of the forms. Plato explained the existence of innate ideas with that of the preexistence of the soul. The only way that one could have knowledge of the forms at birth is if the person’s soul existed in the world of the forms prior to birth.[7] For Plato knowledge in this life is not a process of acquisition but of remembrance.

The World of Particulars Is Structured on the World of the Forms

Plato contends that the world of particular things is structured off off the world of the forms. This means that the mind is capable of understanding things about the external world (the world outside one’s own mind) because it’s conscious of the structure that the world it’s founded upon. This is essentially what it means to be rationalist; it is to believe that the world and the mind share the same structure. This is what makes knowledge possible. For the rationalist, reason is both a reliable and primary guide for grounding knowledge.

Aristotle and the Empiricist School

Aristotle was Plato’s student. He knew all about Plato’s doctrine of the two worlds, but rejected it. Although he believed in universals (forms), he denied the preexistence of the soul as being necessary to explain how we know about them. Aristotle said we become conscious of universals the other way around. Rather than starting with innate ideas we start with particulars and work our way up. This is because Aristotle believed that universals or the forms are not innate knowledge.[8]
Aristotle said we’re all born as blank slates. We acquire knowledge through our experience of particulars. We then universalize these experiences and apply them to new experiences.[9]
Consider the idea of similarity. Things that are similar share certain characteristics. Remember the game “Which of these does not belong?” You won by picking item doesn’t share the characteristic the others do. Care to play? Which of the following does not belong:

  • Bat
  • Penguin
  • Crow
  • Sparrow

If you answered “Bat” congratulations! Bats are mammals the rest are birds. Bird-ness is what all the members of the list above share (their similarity) except for the bat. We learn what bird-ness is by experiencing particular birds. This is what it means to be an empiricist; we gain knowledge through experience. For an empiricist, experience is the grounding principle of knowledge.

And the Winner Is…

In conclusion, as tempting as empiricism may appear, it has significant problems. How can the idea of similarity even get off the ground if we didn’t have some notion of it to begin with? This goes for the idea of equality, dissimilarity, and sameness as well. If it’s true that we’re born with no innate knowledge how could we come to any conclusions at all? We couldn’t. Empiricism destroys knowledge. We’d be a bundle of perceived particulars we couldn’t do anything with. We’d be like the beasts driven by instinct. Or we might be like a tree having life but no discernible consciousness. If empiricism destroys our foundation for knowledge then it is demonstrably inferior to rationalism.

Rationalism Works

Furthermore, rationalism works. We can apply universal principles to the external world (the world outside our own minds) successfully. Engineers do this every day. They draw their reason on paper. When followed, reason produces stable buildings. This implies that reality has a structure complementary to the human mind. But how could this be? Was Plato right? Is there a world of forms that serves as the foundation for the world of particular things?

Rationalism, Plato’s Forms, and God’s Aseity

Since we just finished beating up empiricism you may be tempted to say “yes.”. Not so fast. There’s one more qualification we need to make. In the Christian worldview God is the only entity which has the characteristic of aseity. Aseity is complete independence.[10] The forms are not completely independent, but rather find their origin in the mind of God which St. Augustine pointed out.[11]

Because we’re created in God’s image we have these principles implanted in our consciousness. This makes the whole knowing enterprise possible. It also explains why rationalism works. The external world is intelligible because a supremely intelligent God created it.

Christian rationalism is superior to empiricism because:

  • It has the most explanatory power.
  • It does not share the weaknesses of empiricism.
  • It’s faithful to the Bible.
  • It works in the real world.

So there you have it, an overview of the differences between rationalism and empiricism.

Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis


  1. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  2. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 53. Print. ↩
  3. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 52. Print. ↩
  4. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/early-greek-philosophers/id403537295?i=88863458&mt=2. ↩
  5. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Early Greek Philosophers.” Apple (audio blog), November 9, 2010. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/early-greek-philosophers/id403537295?i=88863458&mt=2. ↩
  6. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: The Essence of Plato’s Philosophy.” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/essence-platos-philosophy/id403537295?i=88863473&mt=2 ↩
  7. Botton, Alain De, Benjamin Jowett, and M. J. Knight. The Essential Plato. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1999. 616-17. ↩
  8. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Aristotle and Dualism.” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/aristotle-and-dualism/id403537295?i=88863462&mt=2 ↩
  9. Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 91. Print. ↩
  10. Robert Audi ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 240. ↩
  11. Nash, Ronald H. “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought: Augustine” Apple (audio blog) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/augustine-01/id403537295?i=88863441&mt=2 ↩
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The Ad Hominem Fallacy (3 Flavors) and Ridicule in the Bible

The Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

The ad hominem fallacy is common and commonly misunderstood.

Logical fallacies fall into two camps: formal and informal. Formal fallacies are so severe that they render an argument useless. Informal fallacies merely weaken an argument. [Suggested Reading: The Straw Man Fallacy and the Nature of God] The ad hominem fallacy is an informal logical fallacy. If you’d like to commit the ad hominem fallacy, simply follow these steps:

  1. Ignore the argument.
  2. Attack the arguer instead.
  3. Make the arguer look bad.
  4. Claim victory over the argument.
  5. Do a victory dance.

That last step is optional. The essential element is that you attack the argument rather than the arguer but then claim victory of the argument anyway. You hope the audience will mentally transfer their dislike of the arguer to the argument.

If you attack your opponent before they present an argument in hopes of discrediting them right away, you’ve committed the fallacy of “poisoning the well” (a topic for a future blog post perhaps).

The ad hominem fallacy misses the point. The arguer may be an angle or a demon (metaphorically). Yet the truth value of their premises and connection of premises to conclusion are still the point.

The Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

The ad hominem fallacy comes in three basic flavors:

Ad Hominem: Abusive

The abusive form of the ad hominem fallacy is probably the most common.

Arguer: Dr. Milton Friedman was in favor of legalizing powerful drugs. But Dr. Friedman was a noted libertarian bordering on anarchist and had a deep dislike for government. Therefore, his opinions about legalizing drugs should be ignored.

Do you see what happened? The arguer failed to address any arguments. Instead, they said something they perceived as negative about Dr. Friedman; he was a libertarian and had a deep dislike for government. Why doesn’t this work? Let’s consider a humorous example. What if  Dr. Friedman argued that the earth revolves around the sun (which indeed it does)? Should we ignore that as well because of the nasty things said of him? The truth value of whether or not the earth revolves around the sun is independent of Dr. Friedman’s political views.

Ad Hominem: Circumstantial

The circumstantial form of the ad hominem fallacy is also very common. The difference between this form and the abusive form is that the this form seeks to cast doubt on the argument because of some circumstance related to the arguer.

Arguer: Sam the grocer says that we shouldn’t allow the big box retail store to move into town because they don’t pay their workers well. But Sam owns a small business that would be directly impacted by the big box store. Sam’s argument is obviously bogus.

This one sounds a little better than the abusive version because it isn’t so blatantly misdirected. In addition, if the circumstances the arguer points out are true, the ad hominem circumstantial may be persuasive. However, even if the arguer is right about Sam’s circumstances, Sam may be right; the big box retail store may not pay their employees well (whatever “well” means). Because the ad hominem circumstantial doesn’t deal with the truth of the actual argument, it’s fallacious.

Ad Hominem: Tu Quoque

The tu quoque version of the ad hominem fallacy occurs when someone accuses the arguer of doing the very thing they’re arguing against. Here’s an example centered around the issue of healthy eating.

Arguer: Tim says that because the Bible says our bodies are the temple of God, we should eat the right kinds of foods and get plenty of exercise. But Tim eats junk food all the time! Clearly, Tim doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and it doesn’t make much difference whether I eat healthy or not.

The tu quoque version of the ad hominem can often be observed between parents and children. The child rejects the advice from the parent about not smoking because, after all, the parent smokes like a train. Monkey see, monkey do.

Is the parent wrong because they don’t “practice what they preach”? Is smoking good for your health? The impact on one’s health from smoking is independent of whether or not the person giving the advice smokes. Similarly, an overweight person may give great dieting advice, but not apply that advice themselves.

What the Ad Hominem Fallacy Is Not

Calling someone a name or insulting them is not sufficient to say that someone has committed the ad hominem fallacy. It must be coupled with the assertion or at least implication that because of these negative things you’ve said, the argument itself is disproven.

Dr. William Lane Craig dealt with this confusion when he was accused by a questioner of having committed the ad hominem fallacy.

Video Transcript

Questioner: […] that we wouldn’t hear ad hominems or attacks from your position or your side. I did want to bring this to your attention and get your response. After the panel that you appeared on with the late Christopher Hitchens, you referred to him in an interview with Christian radio as quote (and this is on YouTube), “Wesley, oily, and lacking in intellectual substance.” You then referred to, in your debate with Richard Carrier while he was there, to him as a “hack.” You also referred to fans of Richard Dawkins in an interview (and this is also on YouTube), “Dawkins is so popular because he, because people are so unsophisticated, inept, sophomoric, they cannot think logically, uninformed, silly, ignorant, and the result (and this is your words) of an educational system that has been dumbed down.” Mr. Craig, quite frankly, is this hypocrisy or is this just a glimpse of the real William Lane Craig?

William Lane Craig: Well I think it’s a glimpse of the real William Lane Craig.

QuestionerApparently they appreciate ad hominem too.

William Lane Craig: No. No. Well, I don’t know that. Maybe it’s important to describe what an ad hominem is. That means literally “against the man.” And what an ad hominem argument would be is that the reason you reject his conclusion is because you attack his person. Maybe like attacking me for these aspersion–now wait now, let, let me finish–it would be like saying that my conclusions are wrong because I’ve said all of these nasty things. See that would be an ad hominem argument. But in none of these cases that you’ve quoted where you’ve compiled words—not strung together at once but you’ve put them together—in none of these cases, I think, will you find that I ever reject a person’s argument or conclusions on that basis. Rather these were probably said in response to questions like tonight where I said some pretty negative things about folks rejecting God for emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons. And I would certainly reiterate what I said about the lack of sophistication and the dumbed down educational system. But in no case is this committing an ad hominem fallacy where I say that their conclusions are wrong because of those things. I’m just… I’ve been asked to characterize certain things as I was tonight, and I’ve given my honest characterization that I would stand by. I mean I think it is, it is true all of those things that I said. But it’s not an ad hominem fallacy. At most it would be impolite maybe. You could indict me for being impolite.

Questioner: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Someone may say, “You’re ugly.” That’s not an ad hominem. If they say, “You’re ugly, therefore your argument is false,” they’ve then committed the ad hominem fallacy (specifically of the abusive variety).

Ridicule and Mockery in the Bible

Believe it or not, the Bible does include ridicule, insults, and mockery. But I couldn’t find any examples of an ad hominem being endorsed in the Bible. Some may claim that Christians should go one step further and not even use strong language, insults, cutting rhetorical questions, etc. when interacting with others. Here are four scriptural examples of what some may think is too harsh:

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

I Kings 18:27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

I Corinthians 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Galatians 5:12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

These biblical references can serve as examples of how Christians may interact. Surely, our speech must always be kind, gentle, and aimed at producing love. However, it’s fallacious (specifically the fallacy of equivocation) to make “kind, gentle, and loving” identical to “not cutting.” We must also recognize that before we can love our fellow man, we must first and foremost love God. Certainly, those religious leaders Jesus and his disciples opposed would not have considered them to be loving or gentle. Condemnation of sin is often confused with condemnation of the sinner.

Christians must never knowingly engage in ad hominem arguments. It insults the image of God in your opponent, disrespects your own God given dignity, and is a poor representation to anyone listening of the intellectual rigor Christianity has to offer.

Free 28-min Vide on Apologetics

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The Straw Man Fallacy and the Nature of God

The Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy occurs when someone attacks an incorrect or inaccurate representation of a position. Usually this misrepresentation is weaker than the actual argument in some way. When the attacker defeats this straw man version of the position, they then claim victory as if they had defeated the original argument.

The Straw Man Fallacy

Here’s a textbook (literally) definition of the straw man fallacy:

The straw man fallacy is committed when an arguer distorts an opponent’s argument for the purpose of more easily attacking it, demolishes the distorted argument, and then concludes that the opponent’s real argument has been demolished. By so doing, the arguer is said to have set up a straw man and knocked it down, only to conclude that the real man (opposing argument) has been knocked down as well.[1]

Not All Fallacies Are Created Equale

Fallacies are all around us, but not all fallacies are created equal. When critiquing a position, argument, or line of reasoning, there are two broad categories fallacies may fall into: formal and informal.

Formal fallacies occur when there is a defect in the structure of an argument or the truth value of one or more of its propositions.

An informal fallacy can be found be examining the content of an argument. Everyday communication is usually not done via logical syllogisms (where formal logical fallacies would be easier to spot). Informal fallacies are not as easy to detect because there are so many, and the way they present themselves are often subtle (i.e. assumed in an argument rather than explicitly stated).

Here’s a dictionary definition of informal fallacies:

An error of reasoning or tactic of argument that can be used to persuade someone with whom you are reasoning that your argument is correct when really it is not.[2]

Examples of the Straw Man Fallacy

[Tweet “Sadly, politics is one of the most fruitful sources for examples of logical fallacies.”]

Sadly, politics is one of the most fruitful sources for examples of logical fallacies. Consider the issue of gun control (whatever that means). Let’s look at two examples of the straw man fallacy when it come to this volatile issue:

Straw Man Example #1

Those republicans! They’re always opposing stricter gun control legislation. They care more about hoarding their guns than they do about the lives of innocent children. We care about our children. Obviously those republicans are just spouting a bunch of nonsense.

Straw Man Example #2

Those democrats! They’re always proposing stricter gun control legislation. They want to force all Americans to turn in all their guns to the government. This is clearly an example of government run amok. Those democrats couldn’t make a sound argument to save their lives.

In both cases the actual claims (stricter gun control legislation or less strict gun control legislation) is ignored. Instead caricatures of the real arguments are argued against. Once these weakened arguments have been defeated, victory is proclaimed over the actual positions.

The Nature of God and the Straw Man Fallacy

Because the straw man fallacy involves a misrepresentation of an argument (intentional or unintentional), it is not true. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. Consider the scriptural references below and what they say about the character and nature of God in relation to lying and falsity:

James 1:17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.[3]

I Kings 8:56 “The Lord is worthy of praise because he has made Israel his people secure just as he promised! Not one of all the faithful promises he made through his servant Moses is left unfulfilled![4]

Psalm 119:160 Your instructions are totally reliable;

all your just regulations endure.[5]

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen?[6]

I Samuel 15:29 The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”[7]

Hebrews 6:18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie.

God is not simply one who tells the truth he is the transcendent ground of all reality. Truth is grounded in his very being and nature. The Bible also instructs Christians to be followers of God, exemplifying his character in all they do.

[Tweet “God is not simply one who tells the truth he is the transcendent ground of all reality.”]

Therefore, Christians should carefully consider their arguments, ensuring that they do not engage in the use of any straw men, not because it makes for a better argument (although it does), but because arguing in accordance with the will of God is one way Christians glorify their heavenly father.

Critical Thinking Course by Dr. Robert Bowman

 


  1. Hurley, Patrick J. “Informal Fallacies.” A Concise Introduction to Logic. 9th ed. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006. 120. Print.  ↩
  2. Audi, Robert. “Informal Fallacy.” The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. 431. Print.  ↩
  3. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jas 1:17.  ↩
  4. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), 1 Ki 8:56.  ↩
  5. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ps 119:160.  ↩
  6. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Nu 23:19.  ↩
  7. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), 1 Sa 15:29.  ↩
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How Can We Use Science and Philosophy to Argue That God Exists? (Video)

How Can We Argue that God Exists from Science is Religion and Science Are Opposed to Each Other?

Christians Can’t Argue That God Exists. Can They?

It’s commonly assumed that to believe in Christianity is to give up science and philosophy. Some Christians go beyond a mere personal belief and seek to convince others of the truth claims of their worldview. They want to argue that God exists. Can this be done? Wouldn’t one have to give up science and philosophy to argue for God?

How Can We Argue that God Exists from Science is Religion and Science Are Opposed to Each Other?

Dr. Doug Groothuis says no. In fact, he maintains that both science and philosophy can be used by the believer to argue for the existence of God. It must be admitted that some Christians debate about the validity of this approach. Some say that belief is purely a matter of faith and that to offer evidence or argument is to go contra-faith. Unbelievers say that Christianity destroys science and philosophy, and so using them to try and prove Christianity is impossible.

Watch this quick video or read the transcript below to get Dr. Groothuis perspective on this question. You can also grab his free video by clicking the graphic at the bottom of this blog post to hear him discuss the use of logic in apologetics.

Video Transcript

We can argue that in a variety of ways. You can argue from big bang cosmology that the universe began to exist a finite time ago and that’s best understood as “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We’ve found that the universe is very carefully fine-tuned for life. The best explanation for that is that it was fine-tuned by a tuner. There’s a mind behind the universe.
At the microscopic level we’ve discovered the existence of molecular machine and the informational natural of DNA and so on. And those entities and processes are best understood, not as the result of unguided causes, but as the result of a designing mind.
So those are several areas that we can appeal to. That doesn’t, certainly, tell us everything we need to know about God. But it does dethrone atheism and pantheism as well. And it sets the table for further investigating Christian truth claims.
Free 28-min Vide on Apologetics

 

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Is Religious Education an Oxymoron? 10 Quick Reasons Why Not

Is Religious Education an Oxymoron?

Do you have a favorite oxymoron? Many of us do. Some oxymorons are at the expense of someone else. Some are just plain funny (e.g. jumbo shrimp). Some oxymorons reveal cultural biases or trends in thinking we unconsciously adopt.

Religious Education and Military Intelligence

Using “Christian education” as an oxymoron is like using “military intelligence” as an oxymoron. In both cases they’re done at the expense of their respective groups. What society considers to be an oxymoron reveals cultural bias.

[Tweet “Using “Christian education” as an oxymoron is like using “military intelligence” as an oxymoron.”]

Is Religious Education an Oxymoron?
Copyright: Berni

 

1. Religious Schools Educate Millions Annually

Over 4 million students (about 1 in 12) attend religious schools[1]. This number may be a low estimate. According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, 35.9% of elementary and secondary schools in America are religious[2]. Smaller class sizes make it unlikely that 35.9% of schools represents 35.9% of students. Even so, it’s not an insignificant number.

[Tweet “If Christianity were anti-education, we wouldn’t observe schools (at all levels) being established, operated, or funded by Christians.”]

2. Most Nobel Prize Winners Are Christian

65.4% of Nobel Prize Laureates have identified Christianity as their religious preference[3]. In fact, the Nobel Prize itself was established by a Lutheran, Alfred Nobel. Do these laureates simply divorce their religious preferences from their scholarly pursuits? Perhaps, but if religious education is contradictory, wouldn’t we expect to see a low representation within these noble (homophone pun intended) ranks?

3. There Have Always Been Christian Scientists

Galilei, Kepler, and Pascal were Christians[4]. A long list of Christian scientists and philosophers can be found here. A comprehensive list would fill a book, maybe two. It’s commonly held that scientists (past and present) are usually unbelievers. This is demonstrably not the case. Some argue that the religious beliefs of past scientists were coincidental—mere accidents of historical congruence.

Were scientists in the past Christians because everyone back then was Christian. It’s notoriously difficult to determine the true state of one’s beliefs. This is true even when the person in question is right in front of you. So it must be admitted that some who bear the “Christian” label in the past were likely not Christian at all. I asked Dr. Douglas Groothuis what he thought about this. He denied the caricature. He pointed out that the scientific advances they made were precisely because of their Christian worldview, not in spite of it.

[Tweet “The scientific advances they made were precisely because of their Christian worldview, not in spite of it.”]

4. The Bible Is Pro-Education and Pro-Science

Scripture instructs Christians to study[5]. God values wisdom and knowledge[6]. Knowing Christ and having wisdom go together[7]. Some may claim that the education the Bible recommends is religious in nature. It’s certainly true that the Bible encourages its readers to know what they believe. However, this is not in conflict with education about non-religious topics as well. In fact, some of the greatest philosophers in history have been Christians.

What about science? Isn’t the whole idea of miracles anti-science? Daniel 1:11–16 records the story of some “sons of Israel” who asked to be allowed to maintain a diet different from that of the Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel presents the idea (common enough today) of using a control group and an experiment group. Daniel and his friends would eat their own diet while the other young men would eat the King’s diet. After ten days the results were compared to determine which diet was superior. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice to say, Daniel appealed to the testability of a hypothesis, not to miracles.

5. Harvard+Yale+Princeton Were Founded by Christians

Christians founded three of the five wealthiest universities in the United States: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton[8]. It must be granted that in large part these universities have diverged greatly from the vision of their founders. William F. Buckley’s God & Man at Yale published in 1951 gained fame for its criticism of the way Yale undermined the faith of its Christian students. Modern apostasy aside, the question remains, why would religious people establish an institution of higher education if their worldview devalued education?

Are you starting to see a trend here? It would be one thing if there were simply one or two outliers in religion who championed the cause of education but surely not this many? By now, the chinks in the anti-education assumption should be obvious.

6. The Christian Worldview Is Foundational to Education

Christianity provides a firm philosophical foundation for education. The regularity of nature[9], predictability of cause and effect[10], and the belief that humans can understand the world[11] are Christian beliefs that are necessary to justify the value of education. This is not a claim that those who hold to non-christian worldviews don’t value education. They certainly do. Rather, it is the assertion that non-christian worldviews must borrow intellectual capital from the Christian worldview to make their criticisms.

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7. The Bible Is Pro-Philosophy

The Bible warns against godless philosophy, but philosophy itself is not denigrated[12]. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs elevates wisdom and knowledge to an extremely high degree. The history of philosophy is replete with great Christian thinkers. Even the Apostle Paul was not afraid to argue philosophy with the men in Athens.

8. Christianity Holds that Individual Transformation Is Achieved through the Mind

The Bible states that individual transformation comes through a renewing of the mind[13]. This militates against the view that it is mere moral reformation that accompanies salvation. That’s not to minimize the importance of the ethical revitalization that comes with Christianity, but rather to point out that a Christian isn’t fully obeying God if they doesn’t love God with their mind.

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9. Christians Founded 70% of the World’s Top Ten Universities

Two of the top five and seven of the top ten ranked universities (as ranked by the Academic Ranking of World Universities) were founded in whole or in part by Christians[14]. This statistic makes a falsehood of the stereotype that Christianity is anti-intellectual, ethically medieval, and culturally backward. There are religions that don’t value education. Christianity isn’t one of them.

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10. The Advance of Western Civilization Owes Much to Christianity

Dr. Craig L. Blomberg in Christian Apologetics states that:

Christianity is responsible for a disproportionately large number of the humanitarian advances in the history of civilization—in education, medicine, law, the fine arts, working for human rights and even in the natural sciences (based on the belief that God designed the universe in an orderly fashion and left clues for people to learn about it)[15].

A worldview which not only allows for but encourages the development of civilization cannot be called anti-educational with a straight face.

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  1. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2004/05/09/making_the_case_for_parochial_schools/  ↩
  2. United States. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Private School Universe Survey. By Stephen P. Broughman and Nancy L. Swaim. July 2013. Accessed February 27, 2015. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013316.pdf.  ↩
  3. Baruch A. Shalev 100 Years of Nobel Prizes (2003), Atlantic Publishers & Distributors , p.57: between 1901 and 2000 reveals that 654 Laureates belong to 28 different religions. Most 65.4% have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference.  ↩
  4. Christian Apologetics 101. Directed by Ted Paul. Performed by Dr. Douglas Groothuis. Edmond: Credo Courses, 2015. DVD.  ↩
  5. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 2 Ti 2:15.  ↩
  6. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 2 Ch 1:11.  ↩
  7. NASB, Col 3:16.  ↩
  8. CCAP. “22 Richest Schools In America.” Forbes. July 30, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2014/07/30/22-richest-schools-in-america/.  ↩
  9. NASB, Ge 8:22.  ↩
  10. The acknowledgment of miracles presumes that cause and effect are normative.  ↩
  11. NASB, Ro 1:21.  ↩
  12. NASB, Col 2:8.  ↩
  13. NASB, Ro 12:2.  ↩
  14. ShanghaiRanking Consultancy. “Academic Ranking of World Universities 2014.” Academic Ranking of World Universities. Accessed March 14, 2015. http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2014.html.  ↩
  15. Craig L. Blomberg, “Chapter 19: Jesus of Nazareth,” in Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 438.  ↩
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Christian Education: 7 Biblical References to Consider (Infographic)

Christian Education Involves Loving God With Your Mind

Updated: 2015-04-20

Christians sometimes feel that dedication to their faith relegates them to an intellectual backwater. The media reinforces this idea by painting Christianity as a kind of intellectual laziness. They make it seem as though Christians want to return to a cultural dark age. Is this true?

Let’s consider what Christianity’s founding documents have to say. We’ll examine seven passages that emphasize the importance of Christian education and explain why a Christian education is the only kind there is.

Further Reading: Why You’ll Never Outgrow the Study of Theology

1. Loving God with Your Mind Is the Purpose of Christian Education

In Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27 Jesus alludes to Deuteronomy 6:5 when he says:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

– Matthew 22:37 (ESV)

As the founder of Christianity, Jesus has ultimate authority to declare what is important. When we put all three passages side-by-side we see the following:

Christian Education Involves Loving God With Your Mind
Christian Education Involves Loving God With Your Mind

 

2. Jesus Is the Very Embodiment of Truth

Christians are those who follow Christ (no surprise there). Christ claimed to be the essence of truth. He didn’t claim to be the essence of illusion, mystery, or the unexplained.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

– John 14:6 (ESV)

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Christians need not fear pursuing the truth because all truth points back to God. There are times when we can’t seem to reconcile natural revelation with special revelation. At least, we don’t see how we can. Christians take this as a sign that we’ve made a mistake in understanding one or the other. A strong adherence to Scripture allows for only potential contradictions, not actual ones.

3. Knowing Truth Results in Freedom from Sin

We all want to make good choices. The raw material needed to make good choices is knowledge. Just as important though, is the ability to choose what is right. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says the following while interacting with some Jews:

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

– John 8:31–32 (ESV)

The CIA adopted John 8:32 as their motto while under the guidance of Allen Dulles1. We presume that Dulles had political freedom in mind. That’s what the Pharisees thought Jesus was speaking about. Christ made it clear though that he was talking about freedom from sin. Who could argue against Christian education if it spells freedom from sin?

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Christian Education: 7 Biblical References to Consider (Infographic)
Christian Education Infographic

4. Christian Education Is Specifically Commanded by God

After Moses delivered the ten commandments to the children of Israel, God said:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

– Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)

The ten commandments are, of course, moral laws. Few would deny that Christian education should include instruction about morality and ethics. What about education in general? It turns out that the Bible encourages this as well:

An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

– Proverbs 18:15 (ESV)

Scripture is full of admonitions to live lives full of learning, wisdom, and knowledge.

5. Jesus Is the Treasury of Wisdom and Knowledge

Christianity is not a religion of blind leaps of faith. Christianity places enormous value on wisdom and knowledge. The Apostle Paul tells believers what the core of wisdom and knowledge is:

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,

2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

– Colossians 2:1–4 (ESV)

Study is hard. Good study is really hard. If you knew that the end of your study is Jesus, what greater motivation could you ask for?

6. An Educated Mind Can Discern Between Good and Evil

In his sermon “Growing in Christian Maturity,”2 Dr. James White covers Hebrews 5:11–14. These verses talk about the maturity that comes from consistent and purposeful Bible study.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

– Hebrews 5:14 (ESV)

Christian growth, like physical growth, has a natural progression. If a baby didn’t seem to be growing, we’d get it to a doctor. Growth is natural. For a Christian growth is the ability to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error.

7. Jesus Is the Intellectual Atmosphere of Christianity

Paul quoted a Greek poet when addressing those at the Areopagus. In doing so, he demonstrated that Christ is the intellectual atmosphere we all breathe:

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

– Acts 17:28a (ESV)

It’s not just that we live in a world that God created and than left to run on its own. The Christian worldview encompasses all areas of life, including education.

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An education may be labeled Christian due to its focus or methodology.

  • Focus: A Christian education focuses on the person of Christ (in particular) and the Christian worldview (in general).
  • Methodology: A Christian education methodologically speaking is one which adheres to the principles of Christianity but which may be focused on any topic.

Conclusion

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Christians, of all people, should be the most educated. There is nothing in Scripture (rightly interpreted) that would compel or encourage a person to be willfully ignorant. If anyone has a corner on ignorance, it’s not the Christian worldview.

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  1. “Headquarters Virtual Tour.” Central Intelligence Agency. March 17, 2013. Accessed February 28, 2015. https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/headquarters-tour/virtual-tour-flash/index.html.  ↩
  2. White, James. “Growing In Christian Maturity.” SermonAudio. January 1, 2010. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=6281001226. ↩