June 1, 2012
A couple of years ago I suggested an approach to dealing with challenges that I used in my national radio debate with American atheist Michael Shermer. I explained that sometimes it’s better to move towards an objection rather than away from it, to embrace a charge, rather than run from it.*
I want to suggest a second move that is kin to the first and just as powerful to advance your case when the opportunity presents itself. Why not embrace an idea the skeptic affirms, when appropriate, then use it to support your own case.
For example, Big Bang cosmology is almost universally accepted among the secular population, though some in the Christian community are uncomfortable with the idea. Even so, what if we simply granted their point for the sake of argument because there’s an advantage in it for us? What’s the advantage? As I’ve often quipped, a Big Bang needs a Big Banger. Some powerful personal intelligence outside of nature and beyond the space-time continuum had to “pull the trigger.” The alternative—the universe popped into existence out of nowhere caused by nothing—is ridiculously counter-intuitive, by contrast. That’s how the maneuver works.
With this approach you’re essentially saying, “Even if you’re right on this point, that turns out to be evidence for our view.” In situations like these it’s going to be hard for your challenger to take exception with your facts, once he’s already affirmed them.
STR speaker Alan Shlemon uses a brilliant example of this approach when speaking with Muslims. In many ways, this is a tough group to make headway with—unless you find something they already believe that can give you some leverage.
For Muslims, the key issue is authority. Whatever God says in the Quran, they believe. They say the Bible—unlike the divinely preserved writing of Mohammed—has been corrupted. Therefore, the Quran is reliable; the Bible is not.
Here’s how Alan proceeds. Why not, for the sake of argument, agree with the Muslim? Acknowledge the Muslim’s claim to the Quran’s authority and then look closely at what the Quran says about the Bible. Does the Muslim’s supreme source of truth lend any credibility to the Christian Gospel, for example?
It does, as it turns out. A lot.
First, the Quran expresses a high view of Jesus. He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and performed miracles. More to the point, though, the Quran teaches—in more than a dozen passages—that the Bible is the Word of God. It’s the “scripture which He sent to those before [Mohammed]” (Surah 4:136). And if our Scripture is given by God, then it is impossible for it to be corrupted, according to the Muslim’s own theology.
In a word, the Quran—a Muslim’s undisputable source of authority—actually endorses our authority as the pure and uncorrupted Word of God. At the time Mohammed wrote this surah, the great ancient codices of the New Testament we use as the foundation for our own modern translations—Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus—had already been in circulation for hundreds of years.
Alan laid out this argument in more detail at a recent STR conference. Once again, I was impressed with his tactical expertise. I was also impressed with Alan’s skill as a communicator and noted what a privilege it was to have him as a colleague at STR.
Standing firm by grace,