My fictional dialogues with an unbeliever

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Puritanboard Clerk
Some apologies about the link. The first part is the epistemology section. This was an assignment I had to do a while back. However, about 70% of this comes from discussions with agnostics and anti-Christians whilst in college.

(In this dialogue “Carl” is a Reformed thinker who is loosely derived from the late Evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry. “Madeline’s” namesake is the atheist activist Madeline Murray O’Hare. However, both characters are unique in their own rights. I have benefited from the stylistic apologetics of Peter Kreeft. Theologically, however, I am more in line with Cornelius Van Til, Herman Dooyeweerd, and Carl F. H. Henry.)

Morality of Knowledge (Epistemology)

Carl: I hold that unless you maintain biblical revelation, you have no foundation for knowledge or ethics.

Madeline: I have problems with that statement.

Carl: I gathered as much. Go on.

Madeline: For one, you begged the question. Two, unbelievers do have knowledge and live ethically, and three, you Christians don’t live up to that statement.

Carl: I agree with you on all three points.

Madeline: What?

Carl: Your objections just proved my point.

Madeline: How?

Carl: Our time tonight is short. Can I just focus on the knowledge statement?

Madeline: Sure.

Carl: I will open tonight with a discussion on epistemology: the theory of knowledge.

Madeline: That sounds rather abstract.

Carl: Stay with me—whatever we say later on will be determined by what we establish or fail to establish at this point.

Madeline: Ok, fine. What are you getting at?

Carl: In short—and I know you will have objections to this—I believe in God and his word based on a higher authority than myself.

Madeline: Oh, let me guess—you believe in the Bible because God says so?

Carl: It’s a bit more than that. Before I answer your question—and I will give you an opportunity to cross-examine me, can I ask you a few questions as well?

Madeline: Ok, I’ll bite.

Carl: We all have ultimate authorities—

Madeline: Wait, you mean absolutes! I don’—

Carl: Just let me finish. That’s not what I am getting at, although we will discuss that later. I will ask you a question: What is your authority?

Madeline: I don’t have any authorities. I am free, independent.

Carl: What do you believe in, then? If not God, then what?

Madeline: I believe in reason; I believe that people should be free to live how they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

Carl: That’s a good, clear answer. Your answer actually demonstrated your worldview.
Madeline: There goes that religious jargon again.

Carl: No, I was giving you a compliment. Few people can state their worldview so clearly and succinctly.

Madeline: So you think I am right?

Carl: No, you have a naïve epistemology and your ethical system avoids the hard questions.

Madeline: So now you will engage in name-calling?

Carl: No, that’s not my point.

Madeline: Can we get back to your original discussion? You were going to tell me how “I believe the bible because the bible tells me so” isn’t question-begging.

Carl: Sorry for getting distracted. Ok, back to the issue. We live in terms of our ultimate authority. I am going to use a technical phrase but I will unpack it if I need to. I believe the Bible because God has spoken.

Madeline: You better have a back-up argument. That would fail a sophomore logic class.

Carl: And if God has not spoken, then all is chaos.

Madeline: Strike two

Carl: Therefore, the argument now looks like,

If P, then Q.
Therefore, Q.

Let P stand for “intelligibility” and let Q stand for God’s self-revelation.

Now to the second horn of my argument (same terms).
If P, then Q
Therefore, ~P.

Carl: If we deny God’s revelation, then we will have no rational discourse.

Madeline: But that’s circular reasoning!

Carl: My logic is fine. I gave legitimate modus pollens and modus tonens arguments. But I know what you are talking about.

Madeline: So if it’s not circular reasoning, then what is it?

Carl: By the way I have set it up it is linear reasoning. Watch.

If God’s rationality, then human faith; if human faith, then human reasoning.

Carl: God’s rationality is the basis for human faith. Human faith is the basis for human reasoning.

Madeline: Ok, you played logical games to avoid circular reasoning, but you can’t expect me to take this seriously. You are presupposing God!

Carl: That is true.

Madeline: But that’s not rational!

Carl: That is the issue under discussion.

Madeline: Ok, fine. Perhaps this God of yours does exist. How do you know that?

Carl: If I answer your question, you will object that I am engaging in circular reasoning, objections that I have already answered.

Madeline: I will ignore that for the moment. Let’s assume there is a God, now how can you know him?

Carl: I am confident, through what theologians call general and special revelation, that he has revealed himself to me in His word.

Madeline: Your mind, it seems, is rather made up. “God spoke in his word,” huh? Maybe. But I doubt we can ever know for sure or even exactly what he meant. Why do I make this assertion? Well, how about the idea that language isn’t mimetic. It doesn’t mirror reality because it’s a product of social interaction.

Carl: Pretend that I don’t hang out in postmodern coffee shops. Please explain what you mean.

Madeline: For instance, a simple statement like “It’s 9:00 AM” isn’t “objectively” real. Given that the earth rotates around the sun at varying speeds and orbits, the correspondence between your Timex and the position of heavenly bodies is more complicated than it seems. In short, time is an intersubjective construct that we impose on the world. Meaning—even the meaning of 9:00 AM—is a moving target.

Carl: And you accused me of being abstract! If that is indeed the case, how can you:
1) Be sure of what you just said? 2) Be sure that others will accurately comprehend what you said? This is why postmodernism is self-referentially incoherent. I can use big words, too.

Carl: Secondly, God isn't a timex. You're objection only applies in the temporal world. If God were finite--like universalist or Arminian concepts of god--you would have a valid objection. But God transcends that and has revealed himself. Your mind seems rather made up that language doesn't mirror reality. You are no less dogmatic than I am.

Madeline: That still doesn’t prove that your westernized version of “God” spoke.

Carl: Not yet, it doesn’t, but it removes your objections and allows me to set forth my system unhindered.

Madeline (rolls eyes): Go ahead.

Carl: I maintain that "Divine revelation is the source of all truth, the truth of Christianity included; reason is the instrument for recognizing it; Scripture is its verifying principle; logical consistency of a negative test for truth and coherence a subordinate test. The task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole."

Madeline: That sounds pretty. I will now see if it can stand the test of logical scrutiny.

Carl: Be my guest. If you would, would you critique it point-by-point?

Madeline: Sure. You began by saying that divine revelation is the source of all truth. Are you really suggesting that we can find principles of plumbing in the bible, for example?

Carl: No. I am not maintaining that the Bible is a “how-to” textbook, although many Christians unwittingly give that impression. I am arguing on a deeper level, that of epistemological considerations. I am saying that God’s revelation gives the foundations for knowledge.
Madeline: But that clearly doesn’t hold! You ignored my rebuttal. The Bible doesn’t mention plumbing, electromagnetics, or a host of other issues. In fact, I will turn the tables on you. You keep talking about how irrational I am and that the Bible provides the truths of logic, but the Bible clearly does not discuss logical theories!

Carl: You didn’t hear what I said. I said God’s revelation is the source of all truth. I did not say “the Bible is the source of all truth.”

Madeline: What’s the difference?

Carl: Christian theology holds that God has revealed himself in two ways: by means of special revelation—the Bible and other direct manners of speech—and by means of general revelation. General revelation, or what some theologians call “natural revelation,” includes the truths of the created order, logical truths, mathematics, etc.

Madeline: Can general revelation contradict special revelation?

Carl: No, God being a rational Being, and divine revelation being a self-disclosure of the mind of God, God’s two-fold revelation of Himself will be eternally consistent.

Madeline: But modern scientific theories contradict Genesis 1 and 2.

Carl: Says who? I know where you are going with this. This will take us into a discussion of the philosophy of science and the pros and cons of evolutionary theory, in particular. Suffice it to say that on the outset my explanation allows for the unity of science and theology.

Madeline: Ok, moving on to the next part of your thesis: you said that reason recognizes truth and Scripture verifies it. Aren’t you in danger of collapsing reason into faith, or vice-versa? This is just saying that “faith comes in where reason gives up.”

Carl: No. I hold to an Augustinian epistemology. St. Augustine placed faith as the foundation of reason. If it were not for my faith, then we couldn’t have rationality. If it were not for the revelation of the Christian God, all would be chaos.

Madeline: Your final sentence in your position said something about setting forth the Bible’s teaching in an orderly whole. Isn’t that saying the Bible is imperfect and that we need to improve it?

Carl: That is a very good question. No, I do not believe that inference is warranted. If I can answer your question another way, the Bible does not claim the degree of specificity in all cases that you assume it does.

Madeline: Are you saying the Bible is not specific enough? What about the sufficiency of Scripture? Doesn’t that contradict your belief in the sufficiency of Scripture?

Carl: You are very sharp. No, the bible is adequately specific for the task at hand. It tells us what we need to believe of God and gives us moral principles on how to live. However, it leaves many of those formulations vague so that we may apply an unchanging value in changing cultures.

Madeline: How is that not some form of relativism?

Carl: We are to take absolute principles and wisely apply them in different settings. It will look differently in some cases, but there will be a corresponding similarity. In other words, when we apply God’s word in our lives, we come to a more specific formulation. This is how Christian theology developed. See the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, for example.

Do you have any more questions on the theory of knowledge?

Madeline: No, I guess not. Let’s move to ethics.
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Puritanboard Clerk
To make it real you need to have Madeline cussing and cursing at Carl.:)

That actually happened in real life in my own situation. I edited that part out ;) . I had one classmate ball up his fist, his eyes got red and bloodshot, and then I diffused the situation before he expelled himself from school.
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