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Top 30 Apologetics Books (#17): Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics
By Rob Bowman | Plus, John Lennox on Science and Faith
Confusion about the nature of faith leads many people to another serious error: thinking that neither atheism nor science involves faith. Yet, the irony is that atheism is a belief system and science cannot do without faith.
Physicist Paul Davies says that the right scientific attitude is essentially theological: "Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview". He points out that "even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith [emphasis mine] . . . a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us". Albert Einstein famously said:
. . . science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive a genuine man of science without that profound faith [emphasis mine]. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
Einstein evidently did not suffer from Dawkins' delusion that all faith is blind faith. Einstein speaks of the "profound faith" of the scientist in the rational intelligibility of the universe. He could not imagine a scientist without it. For instance, scientists believe (= have faith) that electrons exist and that Einstein's theory of relativity holds because both are supported by evidence based on observation and experimentation.
My lecturer in quantum mechanics at Cambridge, Professor Sir John Polkinghorne, wrote, "Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science's founding faith [notice his explicit use of the word] that this is so..." for the simple reason that you cannot begin to do physics without believing in that intelligibility.
On what evidence, therefore, do scientists base their faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe, which allows them to do science? The first thing to notice is that human reason did not create the universe. This point is so obvious that at first it might seem trivial; but it is, in fact, of fundamental importance when we come to assess the validity of our cognitive faculties. Not only did we not create the universe, but we did not create our own powers of reason either. We can develop our rational faculties by use; but we did not originate them. How can it be, then, that what goes on in our tiny heads can give us anything near a true account of reality? How can it be that a mathematical equation thought up in the mind of a mathematician can correspond to the workings of the universe?
It was this very question that led Einstein to say, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible". Similarly the Nobel Prize winning physicist Eugene Wigner once wrote a famous paper entitled, "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences". But it is only unreasonable from an atheistic perspective. From the biblical point of view, it resonates perfectly with the statements: "In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God . . . All things came to be through him" (John 1 v 1, 3).
Sometimes, when in conversation with my fellow scientists, I ask them, "What do you do science with?"
"My mind," say some, and others, who hold the view that the mind is the brain, say, "My brain".
"Tell me about your brain? How does it come to exist?"
"By means of natural, mindless, unguided processes."
"Why, then, do you trust it?" I ask. "If you thought that your computer was the end product of mindless unguided processes, would you trust it?"
"Not in a million years," comes the reply.
"You clearly have a problem then."
After a pregnant pause they sometimes ask me where I got this argument—they find the answer rather surprising: Charles Darwin. He wrote:
. . . with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.
Taking the obvious logic of this statement further, Physicist John Polkinghorne says that if you reduce mental events to physics and chemistry you destroy meaning. How?
For thought is replaced by electrochemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong—they simply happen. The world of rational discourse disappears into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly that can't be right and none of us believe it to be so.
— John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (The Good Book Company, 2019), 45-48.
Note: Below, Dr. Rob Bowman continues his series on the 30 most important apologetics books in church history. See his earlier posts in previous weeks of Useful Things.
#17: Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (1948)
In the 1930s and 1940s, Calvinist philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic developed distinctively Reformed approaches to philosophy and apologetics. At the Free University in Amsterdam, Herman Dooyeweerd published works seeking to show that theoretical thought was always rooted in a set of religious presuppositions. At the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Cornelius Van Til taught his students (through course notes unpublished at the time) a new approach to apologetics in which the truth of Christianity was to be set forth as the only adequate basis for knowledge, reason, and fact. Gordon H. Clark, first at Wheaton College and then at Butler University, developed a dogmatic approach to apologetics in which the truth of the Bible functioned as the “axiom” of the Christian’s belief system. These “presuppositional” approaches to epistemology and apologetics posed direct challenges to classical philosophical arguments for God’s existence and to modern evidentialist defenses of Christianity. We will highlight Van Til’s and Clark’s contributions later (chapters 18 and 20).
Van Til had taught a generation of students when one of them, Edward John Carnell (1919–1967), published a textbook on apologetics advocating an approach that integrated Van Til’s presuppositional method with other perspectives. The book, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, was published in 1948, the same year Carnell became a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Carnell evidently suffered from clinical depression, and in 1967 he died from an overdose of sleeping pills. His emotional turmoil perhaps made him identify more sympathetically with Kierkegaard, and in fact he was one of the first American evangelicals to write a book about Kierkegaard’s thought. With the passing of time Carnell came to place increasing emphasis and priority on the experiential and ethical dimensions of faith. However, his apologetic method remained essentially unchanged from what he set forth in his Introduction.
Carnell held a mixed view of the classical approach to apologetics. On the one hand, he strongly emphasized the fundamental undeniability of the law of noncontradiction. On the other hand, Carnell rejected traditional arguments for God’s existence, such as Thomas Aquinas’s five ways, and he endorsed David Hume’s skeptical objections to those arguments. Instead, Carnell advocated integrating rationalist and evidentialist epistemologies in a criterion he called systematic consistency, internal lack of contradiction in one’s belief combined with external agreement with all the facts of one’s experience. Using this standard, Christianity may be tested as the “hypothesis” that the God revealed in Scripture exists. In some ways, Carnell speaks of testing this “hypothesis” as one would test any scientific claim, but he qualifies this perspective by noting that this particular hypothesis is an “ultimate postulate” that must be assumed in order to understand the world. Here Carnell displays some indebtedness to both Van Til and Clark while proposing a somewhat different approach.
Carnell’s apologetic thought was much richer than this brief survey of part of his Introduction might suggest. His approach influenced many other evangelical apologists, notably Gordon Lewis, whose textbook on apologetics we will discuss later (chapter 24).
Note: This series originally appeared in the Apologetics Book Club group on Facebook and was revised for publication as a book, Faith Thinkers: 30 Christian Apologists You Should Know (Tampa, FL: De Ward, 2019). The book includes an introduction, additional quotes from each of the 30 books, readings for each author, and a list of other recommended readings. For a free excerpt from the published book, please visit https://faiththinkers.org.
—Rob Bowman Jr.is an evangelical Christian apologist, biblical scholar, author, editor, and lecturer. He is the author of over sixty articles and author or co-author of thirteen books, including Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, co-authored with J. Ed Komoszewski. He leads the Apologetics Book Club on Facebook.
*Unless otherwise noted, descriptions are those provided by the publisher, sometimes edited for brevity.
Can science explain everything?
Many people think so. Science, and the technologies it has spawned, has delivered so much to the world: clean water; more food; better healthcare; longer life. And we live in a time of rapid scientific progress that holds enormous promise for many of the problems we face as humankind. So much so, in fact, that many see no need or use for religion and belief systems that offer us answers to the mysteries of our universe. Science has explained it, they assume. Science and religion just do not mix.
Oxford Maths Professor and Christian believer Prof. John Lennox offers a fresh way of thinking about science and Christianity that dispels the common misconceptions about both. He reveals that not only are they not opposed, but they can and must mix to give us a fuller understanding of the universe and the meaning of our existence.
"I am delighted that my colleague and friend John Lennox has invested time to offer a wonderfully readable summary of his work in science. Here he offers each of us what his parents gave him as a young lad growing up in Northern Ireland: the welcomed space to think for ourselves and the tools to dig deeper into questions of science and faith. I have learned so much from Professor Lennox over the years as I’ve watched him interact with critics and skeptics with grace and boldness. I believe you will find this book immensely helpful and enjoyable."
— Ravi Zacharias, Author and Speaker
"Clear, fresh and brilliantly simple, John Lennox answers questions, dispels myths, and clarifies controversies like the seasoned master of the subject that he is—and all in an admirably irenic style. I highly recommend Can Science Explain Everything?"
— Os Guinness, Author and Social Critic
Table of Contents
Introduction: Cosmic Chemistry
1. Can you be a scientist and believe in God?
2. How did we get here: from Newton to Hawking
3. Mythbusters I: Science
4. Mythbusters II: Christian faith
5. Can we really take the Bible seriously any more?
6. Miracles: a step too far?
7. Can you trust what you read?
8. How to disprove Christianity
9. The personal dimension
10. Entering the laboratory: testing the truth
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