This continues my writeups of material from the 2020 annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA). Here I will summarize and comment on talks by David Geisler, Ray Ciervo, and Prem Isaac. Most of these items deal with classic apologetics themes such as what the Christian message is and how it is best presented and defended in our modern milieu.
My previous treatments of talks from this conference can be found by scrolling to the top of the blog window and scanning down the “Recent Posts” column on the right-hand side. The title for those writeups will have something like “…[2020 NCCA, 4]” in the title, as noted with red marks in the figure below.
What is “Apologetics”?
“Apologetics” is the traditional term for the discipline of making an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally denoted a speech of defense or an answer given in reply to some accusation. Plato’s “Apology”, for instance, was the defense that Socrates made against the Athenians’ charges of impiety. Likewise, Paul’s made a public “defense” (apologia) before a Roman magistrate in response to accusations by local Jewish authorities (Acts 24:10). The first epistle of Peter enjoins Christians to always be ready to give an answer or “defense” to anyone who asks them to “give an account” for the “hope” they have:
In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. ( I Peter 3:15, NIV).
This passage seems to presume that Christians are displaying such optimism, peace, and joy that outsiders are challenging them to justify why they are so happy.
As a minor point, I think a new word should be found, because “apologetics” is easily confused with the quite different modern connotations of “apology” or “apologize”. To “apologize” in current usage connotes that you were wrong (but are admitting it and perhaps asking forgiveness), whereas the presumption in Christian apologetics is that you are right, and are rationally explaining why you are right.
Three Dimensional Apologetics: Being A Certain Kind of Apologists , by David Geisler
David Geisler notes that the general culture in North America has changed significantly in the past few decades. In the 1960’s-1980’s there was a good chance a person you talked to shared a roughly Judeo-Christian consensus on morality and on God, such that you could mainly approach him or her as being a backslidden believer who was simply not living up to the truths they knew. But now a secular, post-modern worldview is more the norm. The world we deal with has changed, so the ways we as Christians engage that world must change.
We need to be clear as to what we believe and why we believe it. Using apologetics (i.e., giving intellectual reasons) in our witness is now essential. A Barna Group study showed that about 80% of children reared in church will eventually leave their faith by the time they are 29. A great percentage of church youth begin to have doubts about their faith while still in high school. Thus, it is important as parents to know what and why you believe, and to discuss that with your children while they are still in high school. (See links to resources below)
The earlier approaches to explaining our faith are less effective now:
A 2019 poll found that nearly half of practicing Christian Millennials felt that sharing your faith is wrong, yet 94 to 97% agreed that the best thing their friends and love ones can do is to come to faith in Christ. David thinks that this apparent contradiction exists because they are uncomfortable with the type of “evangelism” they have seen or feel they are expected to do. It’s not that Christian millennials don’t want to share the good news, they simply want better methods for doing so. Many have not been taught that witnessing can be a happy experience, and the reason we don’t think it can be a happy experience is because we are not equipped to communicate the message in ways that the world will understand.
Our approach needs to be more conversational rather than confrontational. We need to demonstrate that we care more about the truth than defending our position, and that we care about winning the person than winning the argument.
That said, there are intellectual resources, such as those developed by David and his father Norm Geisler, which can be of use. Norm Geisler was a huge force in apologetics; two of his books dealing with criticism of the Bible and with overall reasons to believe sit on my bookshelf. The Geisler web site, www.ngim.org has free resources to help such as the Twelve Points shown in a slide below. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will send links to videos with training materials.
How we see the world will impact how we interpret the observable facts:
We can no longer assume that most people believe in the biblical God. Folks with an atheistic worldview will (and logically, perhaps should) always dismiss any evidence for miracles, no matter how strong:
Thus, as David’s father Norm Geisler argued, we must use a two-step approach. First, we need to establish the existence of God (the infinite, eternal Creator). Only then can examining more specific evidence (e.g., the documentary evidence for the resurrection of Jesus) get any traction.
Thinking About the Existence and Attributes of God
Some key arguments for the existence and attributes of God are the cosmological arguments. They reason from the existence of the observable physical universe to a creator and sustainer of this universe. Perhaps the most common cosmological argument cites the need for a creator to initially form the universe:
David calls this the Horizontal or Beginning Cosmological argument (this is also termed the Kalaam argument). Dave thinks this argument is valid, but in observing Christian/atheist on-line debates, he has noticed that if this is the only cosmological argument used by the theist, its impact can largely be blunted by the atheist in a debate format. 
What David recommends (and I think this approach was pioneered by his father, at least among Protestant apologists) is to include a second “Vertical” form of cosmological argument:
This second form demonstrates the need for an ongoing, sustaining cause for the existence of the universe, not just a cause for the initial appearance of the universe. Dave did not have time to unpack the details of such an argument, but he regards it as an essential piece of Christian reasoning for today’s world, one which is intellectually robust and which resonates with many hearers.
There are shorter and longer versions of this reasoning from ongoing dependency. Short versions can get you to the existence of a powerful, intentional supernatural being. The longer versions can get you to a wider range of attributes of this being (see next slide), but typically plunge you deep into the unfamiliar categories and vocabulary of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and are hard to present in just a few minutes or a few sentences. I wrote up a version of this argument for an ongoing sustainer of the universe as presented by a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary: Brian Huffling: Science Cannot Prove the God of Christianity But Philosophy Can [2020 NCCA Confc, 4].
Philosopher Peter Kreeft has summarized a short form of the “argument from contingency” as:
If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
That is, there must be something that does not exist conditionally/contingently; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself. What it takes for this thing to exist could only be this thing itself. Unlike changing material reality (whether local universe or multiverse), there would be no distance, so to speak, between what this thing is and that it is. Obviously, the collection of beings changing in space and time or quantum fields cannot be such a thing. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist cannot be identical with the universe itself or with a part of the universe.
If the implications of these arguments are followed, they lead to a whole set of attributes for the Creator/Sustainer, which happen to be the attributes classically understood to be those of God:
One can further reason that certain types of observed effects are best explained by appealing to appropriate types of causes, which again point to a theistic God :
David noted that if someone will open their mind to theism, a number of common objections can evaporate. If there is a Being who brought matter itself into existence, then this Being can surely accomplish more specific results such as healing or resurrection or guiding the inspiration of the Bible. “If God can do the big miracles, then he can easily do the little miracles”:
If (as indicated by thinking through some of the issues above) this Being is not only powerful but morally good, the redemptive work of God in Christ may become more plausible.
Some non-believers are willing to admit that they don’t even measure up to their own standards. If they don’t measure up to their own standards, perhaps God’s standards might even be higher than their own, which in turn can hinder our relationship with him. If God is not only infinitely powerful but also infinitely good and loving, it would be consistent for him to do extraordinary things to fix this problem. Thus, redemptive miracles are not only possible, but more likely in the person of Jesus if his appearance and death and resurrections are the solution to our dilemma of being alienated from our creator.
It is possible to answer all legitimate intellectual questions that a person has, but that person may simply not want to commit to following Christ for various personal reasons. We accept that, and respect the other person’s right to make their own decisions. That said, in some cases there may be ways to help address these non-intellectual barriers, via sensitive listening and by demonstrating the love of God in our actions.
David closed by articulating the three dimensions of doing effective apologetics evangelism:
( 1 ) In conversational style, being sensitive and authentic conversation partners
( 2 ) In content, using a two-step model (start with establishing theism, then move to the particulars of Jesus and his work), and use both forms of the cosmological argument
( 3 ) In deeds outside evangelistic conversations, demonstrate compassion and integrity in our lives.
My Comments on David Geisler’s Presentation
This talk covered a lot of ground and did it very well. It included both high level strategic thinking and numerous specific usable content examples. My main caveat is that Christians should not base their case on trying to prove mainstream science wrong on evolution or the age of the earth. Thus, one needs to be careful in pressing the “Beginning” cosmological argument, to state it in ways that are not open to easy dismissal by anyone who understands astronomy, geology or biology . (See below for further discussions on evolution and apologetics). As David noted, the “Sustaining” cosmological argument seems less open to rebuttal, and is also more productive in that (in its longer versions) it can provide some clues as to the attributes of the Creator/Sustainer of the cosmos.
His call for Christians to demonstrate good will and intentional caring as part of their “apologetic” is well taken. I just ran across the following by Matt Owen, stating the same thing in different words:
We need bright minds to help us obey the mandate to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15). The historicity of the Scriptures and the reliability of the Gospels is important. Archaeological finds are immensely corroborative and helpful. Indeed, we should seek to surface the weaknesses of competing worldviews. But another apologetic method draws much less press. As Jesus was giving some final instructions to his disciples before he went to the cross, John’s Gospel records these words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)
…He intended his disciples to display a living, breathing, embodied apologetic for who he claimed to be. Jesus wanted the conduct of his followers to be persuasive…Just as an unbelieving husband may be “won without a word” due to the godly conduct of his wife (1 Pet. 3:1-2), and just as people can see our good works and glorify our father in heaven (Matt. 5:16), so too may those around us be drawn to follow a living Jesus by the way we love one another.
The Big Story and Christian Case Making, by Raymond Ciervo
Ray Ciervo runs a ministry aimed at helping churches, especially in the Northeast, engage with apologetics issues. He wrote a book called “Apologetics for the Rest of Us.” His web site is www.rayciervo.com and email is email@example.com.
Everybody has some position they defend. Every Christian should know how to make a reasonable defense of their faith. The word “apologetics” scares people. Ray recommends talking about “Christian case making” instead. He summarizes the “big story”, the story of redemption which is the heart of the Christian message as the following three-part drama:
God made it, we broke it, and Jesus fixed it
Ray puts a big emphasis on the Genesis creation narrative to inform his “case”. This includes not just the initial creation and Fall (chapters 1-3), but also subsequent events such as the Noahic Flood and the Tower of Babel. Ray does not publicly argue with other Christians over how long creation took. He knows scientifically literate people on both sides of young earth/old earth and pro/anti-evolution positions.
God created man for specific reason, which can be found in the first two chapters of Genesis. In the third chapter of Genesis, we see how man falls, departs from God‘s plan, and gets separated from God. As a thought provoker, he asks people in church: What was the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What did Eve give to her husband, that so drastically affected man’s relationship with God? He suggests studying the word “Eden” through the Bible, and to look at the significance of trees in the Bible.
It is useful to look at the beginning and the end of scripture. We see a garden at the beginning, and also in the chapters at the end of the book of Revelation. Why did God forbid Adam and Eve to eat to eat from the tree, why was it right there? This is part of the big story.
Ray thinks that the significance of “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is that as rational beings God gives us the ability to either choose that we are the ones who decide what is good and evil, or we look to God to define what is good and evil. Instead of choosing the tree of life, they made the other choice, they wanted to be wise in their own eyes, they wanted to be independent of God. Part of the story is that the serpent comes and tempts Eve, claiming that God lied to them about them dying if they eat the forbidden fruit. So you have a portrait of temptation, how the devil works, and what happens is that man chooses to become the arbiter of good and evil. What we see in the world today is the maturation of humans deciding what is good and evil. There’s confusion now because we don’t look to God to be the one to tell us what is good and evil.
In the third chapter of Genesis, when God shows up on the scene, he has a word for each of them. He pronounces that the woman’s “seed” is going to defeat the devil, is going to crush his head, although this hero would have his heel bruised by the serpent in the process.
That’s the beginning of the big story. Ray comments on other events in Genesis 4-11, but states that it is in chapter 12, in the call and promise with Abraham, that the main thrust of God’s redemptive strategy is revealed:
Go from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you into a great nation…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1,3)
God further tells Abraham:
In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 22:18)
Paul in Galatians 3 describes how Jesus (as the descendant or “seed” of Abraham) fulfills these promises. So even in chapters 3, 12, and 22 of Genesis, you have Jesus coming to “fix it”. That’s the whole story, no matter what you look at in the scripture. Ray notes other places where Christians find foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament.
More on the “Big Story”
Some further remarks on the course of redemptive history: Moses gives them the law, but the law doesn’t make them holy. The people say they’re going to do it, but what do you actually see is failure. The Tabernacle reveals something of the nature of God, you see very specific, particular instructions on the construction of the tabernacle and the sacrifices. But the people of Israel aren’t changed, they remain corrupt through the whole Old Testament. They still don’t accomplish what God wants to accomplish. God is after reconciliation, fellowship, relationship with his creatures.
Which brings us to the New Testament. Ray pictures the books of the Bible like a stone archway:
The four Gospels are like the keystone at the top of this arch. All those other stones represent all the other books of the Bible. What holds them together are the Gospels. If we remove the keystone from that archway, it would simply fall apart. The Bible doesn’t make sense without the Gospels, it doesn’t make sense without Jesus. The gospels reveal to us the Messiah, who was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The scripture gives us this picture of how God is going to do things. We continually break it, but Jesus continually brings it back together.
He thinks “The Bible Project” on YouTube does a good job helping people engage with the what is going on in the scripture. The Bible is one big story that leads us to Jesus. Jesus is the compilation of all the other things that are necessary to get us back in relationship with God. All the individual doctrines, God becoming flesh, living a sinless life, etc., are necessary, but not sufficient for salvation. What is sufficient for salvation is that Jesus pays for our sins on the cross. His death and resurrection produce life in us, when we have faith in his death and resurrection.
One of the ways to break this down is to understand the parts of the Big Story. We have already noted the three-step overall Plot of the story. Another aspect is who are the Players in the story. Obviously you have God and mankind, but you have the devil and his demons. Those are the three main actors in the Big Story. We need a worldview that includes both the seen and the unseen realms; the unseen includes both God and an angelic being that is on the dark side, who is a player in this life.
After the Players, there’s the Predicament. The Predicament is sin. No matter what man does, he’s not going find his way back to God on his own. There is no way back to God other than the way he has provided, through Jesus. We have to be clear that we believe that the gospel is exclusive, the same way that truth itself is exclusive. We can attempt to follow moral codes and to establish our own righteousness, or we can accept Jesus into our lives and let him be holy and be the one who changes our hearts.
Another aspect of the Big Story is that we have a Priesthood. Now that we have found Jesus, we ourselves have a role to play in this Story. The predicament is that we are fallen, we are separated from God, we cannot get back to God’s original intention. But we have a Promise of reconciliation and redemption, and that promise translates into us functioning as priests, as we declare those things to the world. A priesthood brings people to God, represents God to the people and the people to God. The book of Revelation ends declaring that the holy tabernacle of God is with men. That’s a great picture of what God intends for us, to dwell with us, that’s what he’s been after all along.
The way you know where the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit is by looking at the box top of the puzzle. Biblical theology is the box top for us. When we understand the Big Story of Scripture, we can see how all the pieces fit together. The Bible indicates that truth exists, and it’s by his word that God speaks the truth to us.
In the brief Q & A at the end of this session, someone asked Ray how to get local churches more engaged with apologetics. Ray recommended working through the church pastor, and the way to do that is by establishing a good relationship with him or her. Pastors have many issues and people vying for their attention, and you are more likely to get a hearing if you have proven yourself to be a reliable, supportive partner. There are, of course, events and courses that are offered outside of any particular local church, some of which Ray conducts.
Side comment: Ray no longer engages in online debates. They typically get nasty, turning to personal attacks. Also, he found people were not being intellectually honest, and such debates typically had no positive effect.
My Comments on Ray Ciervo’s Presentation
Ray does an excellent job placing the life and work of Jesus (which is the heart of the Christian message) in the larger framework of the Biblical narrative. Two thumbs up for that. Also, I agree that the term “apologetics” probably needs to go. His “Christian case-making” seems like a reasonable replacement, and his biblical theology should build the faith and understanding of people who are already believers.
I do have three reservations about his approach, all of which center around how well it would play with skeptical, biblically-illiterate younger folks. These are not criticisms, just potential problems or limitations that arise in my mind. The thrust of this particular talk was not evangelistic apologetics, so Ray may well frame his presentation differently for a skeptical audience.
First, this approach seems to presuppose a good deal of Bible literacy and acceptance in the audience. I am sure the older generation of evangelicals would be enlightened and heartened by his talk. I was edified listening to his exposition of details regarding Old Testament events, but I hardly know any anyone under that age of 35 among my Christian acquaintances who could relate. They mainly stopped carrying their Bibles to church or regularly reading them about fifteen years ago, when smartphones came in. “The Bible Project” on YouTube does reach this demographic, including the normally-resistant young males, with much of the content that Ray espouses (i.e., relating Old Testament themes to the redemptive work of Christ), but there you have a cool, fast-talking skater dude producing short (six-minute) video clips with lush graphics. Average Christian speakers may not have similar appeal.
A related reservation is assuming that one’s audience is on board with seeing Christian symbolism in apparently unrelated Old Testament stories and statements. Again, this would not have been an issue in earlier generations, but today’s younger, more skeptical Christians may push back on some of this. That rock in the wilderness that Moses whacked to get water out of it – – was Christ? Really?
I don’t think this is an insurmountable obstacle, as long as one acknowledges it up front, and briefly makes a case for why this is a legitimate exercise. I myself have gotten more comfortable with this way of seeing Christ pervasively in the Old Testament, as a result of working through some related 2020 NCCA presentations. 
The Fall: Literal or Figurative?
My final concern regards treating the Genesis creation story as perhaps actual history. I respect Ray’s decision to finesse this issue. If he wants to maintain good relations with pastors and elders of typical evangelical churches, he cannot afford to come across as “compromising” on the apparently literal teaching of the Bible on the origins of humans and the earth.
Older evangelicals may be comfortable with the story with six days of creation, and two naked people formed instantaneously (out of dirt and out of a rib), and a talking reptile and two magical trees and an angel with a flaming sword, but I wonder how many 20 or 30 somethings could take such a tale seriously. I won’t rehearse it all here, but there is overwhelming evidence that the universe came into existence some 13 billion years ago, and the elements of the earth were formed by thermonuclear reactions in previous generations of stars, and the continents have taken several hundred million years to reach their present positions, and humans evolved physically from other primates. And there was no recent global Flood, as evidenced by, e.g., undisturbed lake sediments going back over 10,000 years. We have a pretty good fix on all this geological history, and the literal Genesis creation story cannot be remotely reconciled with it .
Some Christians who accept modern science try to reinterpret the six creation days as long (millions of years) actual epochs of cosmic evolution, and try to reframe the Fall episode in Genesis 3 as involving some representative couple amongst a Neolithic Near Eastern population maybe 5,000-10,000 years ago, or some earlier couple perhaps 100,000 years ago. I wish these efforts well, but I suggest that it might be better to treat the Genesis Fall story as a dramatic portrait of how we all behave here and now, rather than any kind of historical account of how sin entered an otherwise sinless world some thousands of years ago .
That is how a parable functions: on the surface it is told as a story of events in the past, but typically you, the hearer, are supposed to figure out that it is actually a representation of behaviors in the present, and (crucially) that you might be one of the characters in the story (e.g., Mat. 21:45: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.”) Understood in this way, the Genesis 3 narrative becomes immediately relatable for people today: we all shift blame, we all wrest control of our lives back from God, and we all believe lies about his character and purposes. We have all experienced the consequences of cutting ourselves off from the Source of life, and we all need a way back to him.
The names in the Eden narrative support this approach of viewing Adam/Eve as representative of humans in general. “Adam” and “Eve” are not individual names like “Stephen” or “Stephanie” or “Abraham” or “Sarah”; “Adam” simply means “man” or “the man”, while “Eve” means “living one”.
This point of view can come as a shock to those of us who are steeped in Reformed theology. The overarching meta-narrative of creation-fall-redemption has structured our worldview for so long that losing the literal Adam seems like losing “historic Christianity.” But taking the full witness of the Scriptures into account, we find that that the doctrine of original sin is not core to the gospel. The alarm over the loss of a historical Fall is groundless .
Just to clarify, nothing here softens the need for the atonement. I have argued elsewhere ( The Atonement Wars: What the Church Fathers Actually Wrote ) that the historic Protestant understanding that Jesus took on himself the “legal” penalty for our sin, as our substitute, is a key aspect (though not the only aspect) of his atoning work on the cross. The point here is that for me as an individual, the atonement was directed towards remedying the sin that I actually have and the sins that I actually do, independently from what some other man did or didn’t do many thousands of years ago.
Introduction to Cultural Apologetics, by Prem Isaac
Prem Isaac holds an undergraduate degree with a double major in Physics and Computer Science, and has worked for years in software development. He also has an M.A. in Philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary and works and teaches extensively in theology and apologetics. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The description for his talk reads:
Every worldview is espoused through a narrative or story, and if a culture is to be reached for Christ, intellectual arguments need to be embedded in a persuasive narrative that addresses both the mind and the imagination. This lecture dwells on the cultural history of the secular narrative, its effect in narrowing and flattening our lives, and then demonstrates how the Christian narrative and its intellectual defense addresses the human condition.
Similarly to Ray Ciervo, Prem stresses the importance of “story”, as opposed to talking in terms of “worldview” or engaging only in abstract intellectual arguments.
C. S. Lewis held that there is a narrative in the created order which enables and shapes the construction of human stories. According to J. R. R. Tolkien, we mirror our creator by subconsciously creating stories to echo the Supreme Story (of Christ entering human history).
Secular humanist Salmon Rushdie notes that religion can serve significant functions in society:
Further, according to Rushdie, we need answers to the really big questions like: How did we get here? How did “here” get here in the first place”? Is this brief life all there is? Is there any point to it? Also, we need some kind of codes to live by, which religion can provide:
He traces the trajectory of what is the background, life-orienting story (or “meta-narrative”, though he does not use that word) in the Western world. In medieval and Renaissance times, people lived in what he calls an “Enchanted World”, populated with a hierarchy of God, angels/demons, humans, animals, and plants. Everything in the world was imbued with meaning, depending on the purposes of the Creator. God’s character and purposes gave an objective reference point so society could define objective common goods. (For more on this, see C. S. Lewis on the Medieval Mind).
Since the 17th century, however, there has been a “disenchantment”. The rise of a mechanical, naturalistic worldview has discredited the old cosmic orders and brought a new sense of freedom, but we have lost objective meaning and value. “The world has become flat and narrow, the Symphony is gone; there is nothing to hold the past, present, and future together”.
The brilliant, troubled thinker Friedrich Nietzsche in the late 1800’s remarked that the loss (“death”) of God in European culture left a gaping hole in human orientation :
What has modern thought brought us? Scientific materialism holds:
Prem applies the term “Darwinism” or “evolution” to the new secular “story” and its out-workings regarding origin, meaning, morality, and destiny:
Prem noted that people who embrace this worldview often experience deep existential pain in their lives. Christians ought to be sensitive to that pain, and prepared to show how the Christian message addresses these human needs. He said, “It’s not sufficient to simply prove Darwinism to be wrong, or to show what is wrong with evolution and why evolution doesn’t work. You can learn arguments to refute evolution, but that doesn’t mean you have actually met a need. If you want people to connect with you, you’re going to have to go beyond merely refuting their position, you have to address these other issues.” (Here Prem is making refuting evolution an integral part of his apologetic, a matter I will address below).
Another hallmark of modern life is “radical expressive individualism”. It’s fine to have an individual identity, but this is a radical individualism. This involves a self-authorizing morality: whatever you choose is good, because you chose it. That leads to the loss of any kind of common good, and the loss of the ability to critique evil. This in turn leads to the dominance of “instrumental” treatment of people. Since the intrinsic value of humans is lost, people can be used as raw materials for anybody’s political or commercial schemes. Examples of instrumental reasoning in practice include totalitarian political regimes (e.g., Nazis) and various forms of economic exploitation, which in turn can lead to self-contradictions. For instance, the Jeep Renegade is mass marketed using non-mass-sounding slogans like “Be Unique”, “Be Authentic”, or “Unapologetically Me.”
With all this as background, Prem moved to how Christians can connect with people, given the current cultural climate. The next two slides summarize his approach:
The importance of “story” comes through here. First, to genuinely understand the other person, it is important to acknowledge their personal and social arc of experiences. From there, you may find areas where the Christian worldview helps them make better sense of things in their world. In presenting Christianity, Prem recommends doing that in terms of story, as well. The big story involves Creation, Cross, and Resurrection. There are also many specific stories within the Gospel narrative, and stories (parables) told by Jesus himself.
Rather than leading off with rational arguments trying to prove theism and the historicity of Jesus, he suggests starting off with a narrative approach, and then let any philosophical or scientific concerns surface naturally. One should try to be prepared to answer the various genuine intellectual questions that people will have regarding these matters. Some helpful approaches include arguments for causation, arguments for design, the moral argument, the law of non-contradiction and so on. If people push us and say ,”That’s just your story,” we can say it’s not just a story, it’s true, and we can defend all the major points of it.
Further resources are shown below. The first two books give examples of telling the Christian story to secular audiences. The books by Charles Taylor build understanding of the rise and import of secularism; A Secular Age is dauntingly long, but The Ethics of Authenticity is more accessible.
From the Q & A Session at the end of Prem’s talk:
Prem aims to first critique the secular story and show the holes and contradictions, then share why the Christian story doesn’t have those problems. In a panel discussion, he is often the faith-and-science guy, whose key role is to critique evolution. The main problem he claims is that evolution cannot account for the information in the genome.
Before you create something with design, there has to be a source of information; but there is no information from nothing. Randomness means there is no pattern. That is the whole meaning of randomness, that there’s no recognizable pattern, which we would normally refer to as information. According to Prem, the theory of evolution lacks information and resources to be able to answer why life is so diverse and complex and yet so unified.
But the Christian story actually starts with this basic premise , “In the beginning was the Word and all things were made through him”. So it is understandable that the world will look the way it does, if information existed before the world existed. The Christian story starts with [divine] information. Information is what is needed to produce the types of objects and beings that we have in the world.
He goes on to mention other areas of life where he would say Christianity gives better answers than “evolution”. He would ask an evolutionist, if someone were suffering, how would you console them? If someone wants to commit suicide, what help would you give them? Why you should be faithful to your marriage partner? Why should you care about the weak , why should you hold yourself to a high moral standard? It doesn’t give you any hope for the future.
The Christian story starts with information, so there’s no real problem talking about how things [e.g., the earth and its life forms] came to be. However, the Word then became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory. So the Word is not just abstract information. It is information personified. The Word is a person. He became flesh and lived among us.
Christ is truth embodied. He gives us a lot more than just explaining where plants and animals came from, he also comes to meet human needs, to give us eternal life. He came back from death to show us that there’s something on the other side of death. It all comes together like a symphony.
My Comments on Prem Isaac’s Presentation
I thought Prem did well at addressing both the head and the heart. He combined keen analysis of current cultural trends with genuine concern for the persons he interacts with. Christians do need to come to grips with the fact that the mainstream culture has undergone profound shifts just in the past two decades. Some apologetics approaches that were widely impactful some decades ago, like the evidence for Christ’s life and resurrection as presented by Josh McDowell in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, seem to get little traction today. Back then, there was a widespread (if vague) theistic consensus. Nowadays, people don’t know if God even exists.
Humans seem wired to make sense out of their world through stories; even our nighttime dreams often appear to be attempts by our brains to weave our thoughts into some sort of connected narrative. So Prem does well to emphasize “story” for getting to know people’s concerns, and for critiquing the secular culture and framing the Christian message. It seems sensible to begin, as he does, with the presentation of the Christian story, and then deal with particular intellectual questions that may arise. This strategy has been termed “proclamation-defense” by Kim Riddlebarger, who sees this pattern in Paul’s evangelism as recorded in the Book of Acts.
It is fair to ask probing questions of secular people, to bring out shortcomings of that worldview. My only comment here is that many nonreligious folks may have answers to these questions that they find satisfactory and consistent with their beliefs. We should do some learning ahead of time to see what the common secular responses are, and where the Christian story may better fit. As David Geisler noted (above), we should be sensitive and authentic conversation partners, not just trying to win debate points.
Prem’s methodology relies very heavily on trying to disprove evolution. That is unfortunate, because (a) his critiques of the implications of materialistic worldviews are valid independently of the process by which God formed humans, and (b) his key claim (that evolution cannot product new information) is demonstrably false . You, yourself, are Exhibit A. In the process of cell division and union that led to your conception, something like a hundred mutations were introduced into your genome. This is in addition to the usual shuffling of existing genes that occurs in sexual reproduction; these are actual alterations of the ACGT nucleotides that make up the “code” of the DNA. Therefore, your DNA contains new-to-planet-earth information, which produced a unique individual (you).
The objection that “This is just rearranging existing genetic material” fails: a newly published book which is roughly the same length as some older book can contain new information, even though the new book may be “merely” a rearrangement of the same 26 letters plus other characters which comprised the first book. If the complaint is that mutations can’t produce any new functions, that claim is debunked here: Evolution Before Our Eyes: Complex Mutations in Microbes Giving New Functions . (And again, the fact that you are unique shows that the new information in your genome has a novel, functional impact.)
If the complaint is that even with all this rearranging, there is no way for larger genomes to have evolved from simpler genomes – – this, too, is disproven by straightforward observations. It is found that in the course of cell reproduction, sometimes large or small segments of DNA get duplicated and inserted into the final DNA strand. Thus, the genome can actually grow bigger. Sometimes these duplicated segments have immediate genetic function, and sometimes they acquire genetic function following further mutations.
Foes of evolution use inappropriate analogies between human-implemented information systems and biological systems based on DNA to argue that only an intelligent mind can create new information. There are some commonalities between these classes of systems, but there are also crucial differences. Former IBM information scientist Randy Isaac has noted, for instance, that abstract functional information is the only type of functional information that requires an intelligent mind to generate and act on. The meaning of information in human-designed information systems (such as language, computer codes, etc.) is abstract, i.e. is independent of its physical embodiment. For instance, the meaning of the command “Close the door!” can be expressed as “Cierre la puerta!” in Spanish or some very different symbols in Hebrew or Chinese, or reworded in English to something like “Seal the portal!”. This shows that the meaning of “Close the door!” is a concept which does not depend on the letters “C”, “L”, “O”, etc. being present in that sequence, or on the shapes of those letters. This abstract meaning, which can only be comprehended by other conscious beings, is a hallmark of the intelligent design of these information systems.
In contrast, in its native state the “meaning” of DNA information is its biochemical function, which is utterly dependent on its physical embodiment and environment. Specific sequences (triplets) of nucleotides, known as codons, physically bond to matching sites on specific transfer RNA molecules which cause specific amino acids to be placed into protein chains, all operating according to regular natural laws of biochemistry. Plain physical mutations in DNA will alter the resulting proteins. Thus, there is no evidence that increasing DNA information requires an intelligent agent for its source or its function .
To give a thorough debunking to the various claims that evolution is a failure would take a whole book . Suffice it to say that if Prem tried to press his case against evolution in a room full of molecular biology grad students, he would likely lose all credibility for anything else he was trying to present. These tactics (termed by unamused scientists as “Lying for Jesus”) will ultimately backfire, since they based on falsehoods; the truth eventually gets out.
Attacking evolution has an understandable appeal for Christian apologists. It earns bravos from their Christian peers, and it can be actually effective in persuading the average (non-biologist) person to consider the claims of Christianity. As a Christian, it would be fine with me if these anti-evolution claims were true and we could thereby demonstrate that supernatural intervention is necessary to explain today’s life-forms. However, the Apostle Paul “renounced underhanded ways” in the promotion of the gospel, and so should we.
A Christian Story That Comprehends Evolution
Although I assume he knows the difference, in this talk Prem did not properly distinguish between science and scientism, or between physics and physicalism, or between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. He used the terms “Darwinism” or “evolution” when he should use “physicalism” or “metaphysical naturalism”. The key issue today is not whether God used evolution over time to produce today’s biota, but does God exist at all? Is the physical universe all that there is?
Hundreds of millions of Protestant Christians and Roman Catholics accept the evidence for evolution without finding a conflict with their faith. So why do so many evangelicals loathe evolution? One factor is the elevation of their literalistic interpretation of the Genesis narrative to the same level as the Bible text itself . This is the same error that both Catholic and Protestant churchmen made when confronted by Galileo’s claims that the earth moved – those men were so wedded to a literalistic reading of the passages which describe the earth as firmly fixed on its foundations (“It can never be moved”) and which describe the sun as moving (or standing still or even moving backwards) that the science seemed like a threat to the Bible itself. But after the new science became firmly established, the theologians revisited their hermeneutical assumptions and found that a literalistic interpretation of these passages was not so necessary after all.
Another reason for this loathing is that evolution appears to threaten humanity’s status as unique bearers of God’s image. The thought that we came from apes seems somehow degrading. However, the biological reality of how you got here is even more humiliating than that. You and I come, not from monkeys, but from single-celled eggs. We, today, are all made from chemicals, starting from egg and sperm and proceeding by ordinary biochemical reactions as these embryonic cells divided and differentiated. This is true of all humans now living, and their parents and grandparents. Therefore, how God physically made the first human bodies (whether instantaneously from dust or by evolution from other primates) is completely irrelevant to the status of us today – – our humanity or value or image of God. He is well able to impart a soul to these physical bodies of ours, regardless of our far-distant ancestry. As noted above, nothing in this detracts from the need for Christ’s atonement.
Christians who have a robust sense of the providential working of God in ordinary events are in a position to present a theistic “big story” of the universe that incorporates the findings that God used developmental processes over vast eons to produce the world we have today. “The Big Story” video from Biologos is one such presentation, but there is a need for more Christians to employ their technical and artistic talents to convey the majesty and significance of this big story. The long, seemingly random and wasteful process of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution parallels the long, seemingly random and wasteful progress of God’s plan of redemption through the patriarchs and the twists and turns with the people of Israel, until the appearance of the Messiah and beyond.
This view is termed “Evolutionary Creationism.” I will end with a quote which illustrates how informed Christians need not accept the secularists’ claims that modern science favors atheism. Richard Dawkins’s famous atheistic take on the differential mortality in organisms which drives evolution is, “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”. Christian biology professor Kenneth Miller looks at the exactly the same evolutionary phenomena but from a theistic perspective:
The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of human freedom.
 I won’t go into all the back and forth here, but the atheist can appeal to a background “multiverse” to explain the appearance of our observable universe with its finely tuned properties which are hospitable for life. The theist can counter that (a) such a multiverse by its nature cannot be observed by us, so its existence remains forever merely speculative, and (b) the fine-tuning problem does not go away, since all the proposed (speculative) models for a multiverse require their own fine-tuning. And so on.
 The alternative notion, that the physical universe “just is” (for no reason whatsoever) is argued to be incoherent, e.g., by Ed Feser in the YouTube interview “Edward Feser | The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special Ep. 17”.
Atheist materialists claim that stopping the explanatory chain at the fundamental physical laws is just as good as adding a Creator and then using that as the end of the explanatory line. In both cases, the explanations stop with some fundamental Fact or Being, which “just is”. Thomists explain why these two cases are not equivalent. An immaterial, omniscient, omnipotent, intentional, necessary, non-contingent Being is a more ontologically appropriate ultimate basis than a physical space-time continuum with energy and particles and a set of laws that could just as well be something other than what they happen to be. William Lane Craig in Reasonable Faith discusses why the universe (or multiverse) does not exist by a necessity of its own nature. It is the contingency of the universe—eternal or not—that distinguishes it from God, who, as a non-contingent being, cannot have an external cause. Before endorsing or rejecting this argument, it would be well to read the two links below for more details.
A more detailed presentation of the argument from contingency is given at https://www.chroniclesofstrength.com/the-argument-of-contingency-for-the-existence-of-god/ .
William Lane Craig in his article “The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God” (
https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-new-atheism-and-five-arguments-for-god/ ) likewise discusses the argument from contingency and also presents (in an updated form) the famous Ontological Argument, which moves from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality. See the article “Ontological Argument” on Wikipedia for a critical treatment of this approach.
Feser has presented at a popular level five classical arguments (not all from Aquinas) for God in Five Proofs of the Existence of God. He gives an outline of this book here: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/04/five-proofs-preview.html . See also this printed interview: https://strangenotions.com/ama-dr-feser-answers/ .
Another YouTube with Ed Feser: “08 Mar 2019 Proving Gods Existence with Dr Edward Feser”. The interview with Feser begins at the 15-minute mark, and you have to endure some embedded ads along the way. But it gives a good summary of each of Feser’s five proofs, and goes in depth on the fifth one, the “proof from rationality”. This is based on the principle of “sufficient reason”, which underlies rational thought about the universe, including science. This approach is like the argument from contingency, with different wording and emphases
 I think the lines of reasoning on this slide can have merit, if properly pursued. However, I have repeatedly argued against common forms of the “argument from intelligent design”, which rely on trying to demonstrate the inadequacy or impossibility of biological evolution.
 I realize my position here will dismay Christians committed to Young Earth creationism or anti-evolution “Intelligent Design”. I have written dozens of articles on this blog examining the evidence on these issues. See the About page for a listing by topic, which the interested (or outraged) reader can consult. Regarding the age of the earth, see, for instance, the articles Some Simple Evidences for an Old Earth and Assessment of Evidences for a Young Earth. Regarding the fossil evidence for evolution, see Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils and Whale Origins: A Test Case for Evolution. Regarding human origins, see “Big Daddy” Chick Tract: The Most Widely-Distributed Anti-Evolution Publication and especially Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates.
 (See How the New Testament Sees Christ in the Old Testament: Talk by Mel Winstead [2020 NCCA Confc. 7], Is the Old Testament Trinitarian? by Jonathan McLatchie [2020 NCCA Confc. 8], and also Jesus in Old Testament Prophecy — Class Handout.)
[6 ] see Endnote  for links on the age of the earth and evolution.
 This raises the valid objection, “But wait, didn’t Jesus and Paul treat Genesis as literal history?” I don’t claim to have the best answer to this question, but have presented my thoughts in: Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 2 and in Adam, the Fall, and Evolution: Everybody Stay Calm .
It has been noted that if creation is through Christ, we should (based on what the Gospels teach of the progress of the kingdom of God) expect something like evolution:
If creation comes through the kingdom bringing Jesus, we ought to expect it be like a seed growing secretly. That it would involve seed being sown in a prodigal fashion in which a lot went to waste, apparently, but other seed producing a great crop. We ought to expect that it be like a strange, slow process which might suddenly reach some kind of harvest… some false starts are wonderfully rescued, others are forgotten. Chaos is astonishingly overcome.
 It is worth noting that Adam is hardly mentioned again in canonical books of the Old Testament after Genesis, and nothing whatever is made there of his relation to the sin and guilt of the race. As discussed in Adam, the Fall, and Evolution: Everybody Stay Calm , the doctrine of the “federal headship” of Adam (i.e., that the guilt of his sin is somehow imputed to the whole human race, and that God deals with the whole human race through Adam) stems simply from the fact that Augustine was not a competent reader of Greek, which was the language of the New Testament manuscripts. Eastern Orthodox Christians, who work from the original Greek text, note that Augustine’s view was based mainly on a faulty Latin translation of Romans 5:12 which implied that all men sinned in Adam. Modern translations correctly render this phrase as “because all sinned”.
Paul develops the universality of sin in Romans 1-3 with no mention of original sin. He moves from, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (1:18-21) to “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) quite apart from Adam. In all of the gospel proclamations to both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the Book of Acts, there is not a single reference to Adam’s sin.
The Fall is never explicitly mentioned in the sayings of Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus directed people away from religious speculations or blaming others, and towards a consciousness of their own transgressions and their personal need for mercy. We might have expected Jesus, in addressing the apparently random tragedies of unjust executions and the collapse of a tower (Luke 13:1-5), to tie this seemingly fallen state of affairs to Adam’s sin. Instead, he warns his hearers to be mindful of their own sin and its consequences. When his disciples asked for an explanation of why a man was born blind (John 9:1-3), that was another golden moment to teach on the effects of Adam’s fall. Instead, Jesus rejected the disciples’ suggestions that this malady was attributable to either the man’s own sin or the sin of his ancestors (parents), and then modeled a godly response by alleviating the man’s suffering.
 Nietzsche famously warned that, in their attempts to forge new identities and moralities after the collapse of the old Christian consensus, Europeans would elevate politics to the place that religion once held. This would lead to ideologically-driven wars on a devastating scale (which came to pass a few decades after Nietzsche’s writings):
The concept “politics” then becomes entirely absorbed into the realm of spiritual warfare. All the mighty worlds of the ancient order of society are blown into space—for they are all based on lies: there will be wars the like of which have never been seen on earth before.
 I am using “evolution” in its common biological sense as the development of an altered population from an existing population Such evolution presupposes the existence of some primal, single-celled life. How the very first living cells originated is the subject of “abiogenesis” rather than biological evolution. That was so long ago, and involved intermediates that one would not expect to see preserved in any sort of fossil record, that we simply have no direct evidence to work from. Thus, scientific proposals for the natural origin of life are quite sketchy. If someone wants to claim abiogenesis as a divine miracle because of this enormous gap in our knowledge, so be it. But once animals with hard body parts appear in the fossil record some 500 million years ago, the general path of evolution starts to become clear.
 Here is an example of an experiment demonstrating increasing DNA information: Suppose you start off with a single bacterial clone, and grow that out to a flask full of bacteria, all with essentially the same DNA. Pick some commonly used measure that information scientists use to quantify information, and apply it to the DNA of the bacteria in that flask. Call that amount of information “X”. Now pour the contents of that flask into twelve flasks. It will still only take “X” amount of information to thoroughly describe the DNA of the bacteria in all of those twelve flasks. Then let all twelve populations simply reproduce for several years. Each day, pour out most of the contents of each flask (only keep say 10% of the contents) and then refill with fresh nutrient solution. (This is to keep the flask from getting filled with biological sludge over time). Each of the twelve populations will accumulate a set of new mutations in their DNA. By any reasonable measure, it will take far more than the original “X” to completely describe all the DNA across all twelve final populations. Therefore, the amount of genomic information in this system has been increased.
This is not a completely contrived example – – new strains of bacteria and viruses do arise in nature, and exist alongside the original strains, at least for a time. Obviously, the combination of the original and variant strains has more genomic information than just the original strain alone, with no intelligent intervention involved.
 See Endnote  for more references showing that the evidence from fossils and genomes fully supports evolution.
It is common practice for opponents of evolution to carefully edit and take out of context statements by scientists to make it seem like they admit that the fossil record does not support evolution. Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils describes this maneuver for Darwin’s statement, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.” More generally, the TalkOrigins site has a whole section dedicated to unmasking misleading creationist quotes, e.g. by Colin Patterson or S. J. Gould. This Quote Mine Project should be consulted whenever a seemingly damaging quote from a practicing scientist is cited by an anti-evolutionist (a list of quotes arranged by author is here).
Opponents of evolution like Stephen Meyer and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute continually contrive bogus “straw man” versions of evolution and then proceed to knock down these straw men, and claim they thereby have vanquished “Darwinism”. They propose some utterly unrealistic scenario for the accumulation of mutations or for the self-assembly of a protein all in one shot, calculate that the probabilities for such a thing are really low, and pretend that they have said something meaningful about evolution. I discussed one of these straw man exercises in the previous article on this blog, Another Intelligent Design Straw Man Attempt to Demonstrate a “Waiting Time Problem” for Evolution. These exercises can seem very convincing to audiences who do not realize that these examples are bogus, so these anti-evolution arguments continue to get traction among evangelicals.
 See Endnotes  and  for discussion of Biblical interpretation.