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Answering the Skeptics

by Avery Foley and Ken Ham on April 21, 2015
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Skeptics of the Bible often grasp at straws trying to find a contradiction in the Bible so that they can justify dismissing the Bible as what it claims to be—the Word of God. One place they often point to is Proverbs 26:4–5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” A superficial reading of these verses suggests a contradiction but, ironically, these verses actually provide a profound strategy for answering the arguments of skeptics.

Don’t Answer

Verse four says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” Presuppositions play an important role in apologetics. Everyone has starting assumptions (presuppositions) that they assume to be true at the onset of an argument. For example, an atheist has the presupposition that God does not exist and that the universe and life arose naturalistically. Bible-believing Christians, however, have the presupposition that God exists, He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, and that the Bible, because it is God’s Word, is the true history (and future!) of the universe. These two sets of presuppositions are quite obviously very different. It is through our presuppositions that we interpret the universe as we seek to answer questions about past events or the purposes involved in those events.

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Often when a Christian is debating with a skeptic, the skeptic will want the Christian to give up their presuppositions and approach the debate “neutrally.” For example, the skeptic may ask the Christian to “prove” that there is a Creator without using the Bible. But Christians cannot give up their presuppositions because this results in adopting the skeptic’s presuppositions, forcing us to answer the argument on their terms. To agree to think like the skeptic is to violate the command of Paul to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–6). There is no such thing as achieving “neutrality” in an argument. Jesus makes this clear when He says, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). When a Christian gives up their presuppositions, they are walking into a battle unarmed and unprotected because they no longer have the proper framework of biblical revelation through which to interpret evidence and present arguments. If we agree to the terms of the skeptic, we are answering the question in accord with the foolish assumptions of their unbiblical worldview. We are not to do this. “Do not answer a fool according to [the terms of] his folly, lest you also be like him.”

Don’t Accept Atheist Presuppositions

Here is a practical example of this. Let’s say an atheist and a Christian are having a cordial debate and the atheist says, “Prove to me that there’s a Creator, but you can’t use the Bible because I don’t believe it’s true.” The Christian says, “Sure! I won’t use the Bible; there’s lots of evidence for a Creator in the universe.” What the Christian has done is accepted the atheist’s foolish presupposition—that the Bible is not true—and now they are arguing according to the atheist’s terms. The Christian then begins to point out some great examples of design in the universe, like hummingbirds, butterflies, and peacocks. But then the atheist says, “That’s all well and good, but what about animals that tear each other apart? What about parasites and deadly bacteria? What kind of a Creator makes all that kind of stuff?” The Christian is stuck on a path of folly. Without the Bible, she cannot explain how God’s creation was originally perfect (Genesis 1:31) but death and suffering came into the world with Adam’s sin (Genesis 2:17). By accepting the atheist’s presuppositions and giving up her own, the Christian is unable to properly answer this skeptic’s objection.

Open the Scriptures and show the skeptic why they are mistaken.

What should be done instead is to proclaim the truth of who God is and how He created the universe just as He describes in the Bible. Just as a soldier would not put down his weapon because his opponent doesn’t believe his weapon is real, a Christian should never lay aside the Word of God, which is a powerful sword given to us by God (Hebrews 4:12; cf. Ephesians 6:17). The skeptic knows that God exists because God has made it plain to everyone through the general revelation of creation. They know there is a divine and powerful God, but they suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18–23). Open the Scriptures and show the skeptic why they are mistaken. Read Genesis 1, John 1:1–5, and Colossians 1:15–18 to them and explain how God created all things through Jesus Christ who is the Creator. Call them to look to God as the foundation for their thinking, not their own thoughts and opinions. As we proclaim the truths of the Bible, we trust that the Holy Spirit will work to open the eyes of the skeptic to the truth of God’s Word and convict them of their own sinfulness and need for Jesus Christ as the Savior (Romans 10:5–16).

Do Answer

Verse five reads, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:5). Just because we refuse to accept the skeptic’s terms of debate does not mean that we should leave their arguments or objections unanswered. We are commanded in Scripture to answer the skeptical questions that people have about the Christian faith and point these people to the hope we have in Christ and the forgiveness He offers (1 Peter 3:14–17; cf. 2 Timothy 2:23–26). This is the essence of apologetics from a biblical perspective.

After we explain that we will not give up our presuppositions but will use the true history recorded in Scripture to interpret the evidence and present arguments, we can “answer a fool according to his folly” by showing him the logical consequences of his presuppositions. To do this, we help the skeptic see where his thinking leads when it is followed to its natural conclusions—we point out the foolishness of his thinking so he doesn’t think he is wiser than God. For example, you can ask, “If you believe that animals killing one another is simply part of nature and humans are just smart animals, then why is it wrong for humans to kill and eat one another? We don’t get mad at a big salmon eating a smaller salmon.” This type of question reveals the skeptic’s inconsistent thinking, exposing the foolishness of a worldview without God.

Never Assume

Most atheists assume several things to be true. For example, they assume the existence of morality, logic, and the consistency of the laws of nature. And, yet, according to their own presuppositions, none of these things should exist. And yet they do! Let me explain why their assumptions are inconsistent with a worldview that assumes only matter and energy exist, helping the skeptic to see the foolishness of their materialistic or naturalistic worldview.1

Assuming Morality

Most skeptics believe in the existence of morality. Indeed, they will often argue against the biblical God by claiming that God is an immoral monster for acts of judgment like the global Flood of Genesis. But what standard do they have to claim that God is immoral? If life just evolved naturalistically from matter and energy, then where do immaterial laws of morality come from? And who establishes these laws? Government? Society? The individual? If it is government, then one government cannot call the actions of another government wrong. So was Hitler wrong in trying to exterminate the Jews? If it is society, then they run into the same problem. They can’t look at a cannibalistic society and claim that what they are doing is wrong because their society approves of the practice. Is it the individual? If this is the case, and murdering and stealing are right for me, then why shouldn’t I murder and steal from you? They can’t tell me it’s wrong! It’s just wrong for you.

The world cannot operate based on such arbitrary standards of morality.

Each of these scenarios is ultimately inconsistent, and the world cannot operate based on such arbitrary standards of morality. We all intuitively know that these things are wrong because God has written His law on our hearts (Romans 2:15). But in an evolutionary worldview, there is no absolute standard for morality and no reason why anyone should even have a sense of right and wrong since morality is immaterial. After all, if humans are just highly evolved animals, why should we care about evil? Isn’t it survival of the fittest that drives evolution? And if murdering and stealing helps me survive better, why shouldn’t I murder and steal? When presented with these questions, the skeptic is likely to attempt to give a reason, but that reason is not based on absolute truth but the opinions of individuals. Apart from a standard from God, each man does what is right in his own eyes.

Assuming Logic

Skeptics also assume the existence of logic and use it to frame their arguments. But in a random, naturalistic universe, why should immaterial laws of logic exist? Where did they come from and why do they consistently apply everywhere throughout the universe? In a naturalistic universe there is no explanation for laws of logic that is not arbitrary, and yet they exist and everyone uses them.

Assuming Natural Law

Skeptics face yet another problem. They assume that the laws of nature exist and that they are consistent. Indeed, to be able to do observational science in the present you have to assume that the laws of nature won’t change tomorrow. We can only do experiments, make predictions, and repeat those experiments and get the same results because the laws of nature don’t change from day to day. They are immaterial and constant throughout the universe. But why is this? How can we be certain that tomorrow the law of gravity won’t just randomly change? If these natural laws are just the result of random, natural processes, then why should they remain consistent? And how do immaterial laws of nature come into being in a material, naturalistic universe? Secularists have no logical explanation for the existence of these laws and yet they assume their existence as they deny that God is the one who put them in place.

The Biblical Worldview

All of these—morality, logic, and natural laws—exist only because the Bible is true and because the Creator God of the Bible exists. We have laws of morality because there is a Lawgiver who has given us a firm foundation for morality in the Bible, His revelation to us. We have laws of logic because there is a Mind behind the universe and laws of logic are a reflection of His image in us (Genesis 1:27). Natural laws are consistent because there is a Creator who made these natural laws and who consistently upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, we should expect the laws of nature to be constant (Genesis 8:22).

Whether they recognize it or not, they are assuming that Christianity is true in order to argue against it.

It’s only in a biblical worldview that these things can exist. There is no explanation for these immaterial laws in a naturalistic worldview. And yet an atheist must assume these things in order to argue against the Christian worldview. This is like someone who doesn’t believe in air arguing against the existence of air. He must use air as he breathes and talks to make his argument, and he must use air for his argument to travel to the ears of his listeners. In order to argue against the existence of air he must assume the existence of air! It’s the same with those who argue against a Christian worldview. Whether they recognize it or not, they are assuming that Christianity is true in order to argue against it. The fact that they cannot sufficiently account for these and other ideas from their own worldview demonstrates that it is internally inconsistent and does not meet the test of being a rational foundation to stand upon. In the end, they use the very minds and air given them by God to argue against His existence.

Don’t Answer—Answer!

When we are engaging skeptics with the truth of God’s Word, we can apply the “don’t answer/answer” strategy found in Proverbs 26:4–5. We don’t accept the skeptic’s “folly,” his terms for the debate. We stand firmly on our presuppositions. Instead, we show the skeptic the logical consequences of his foolish presuppositions and point him to the truth of the Christian worldview. Ultimately, our goal in biblical apologetics is to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to call sinners to repent and trust in their Creator and Savior.

Footnotes

  1. Most atheists and many skeptics of the Bible believe that the universe is made of only matter and energy. This worldview is known as materialism or naturalism since it assumes that everything in the universe can be explained in terms of matter and energy interacting. As a consequence, things that are immaterial should not exist in this worldview. Another view, humanism, is related, but many humanists acknowledge a spiritual or immaterial aspect of man, but they maintain that man is the measure of all things.

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