How do you connect with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs? Tune in to Home School Heartbeat as author Bill Foster gives some starting points for understanding and engaging with skeptics.
Mike Farris: My guest this week is Bill Foster. Bill is the author of Meet the Skeptic. This is an apologetics book that’s designed to help teens and adults understand the objections that they might encounter as they talk about the gospel. Bill, welcome to the program.
Bill Foster: Thanks, Mike! Great to be here.
Mike: Bill, tell our listeners about the model you’ve created to help Christians talk confidently with skeptics.
Bill: Sure. What happens is that many believers get discouraged or intimidated when they try to answer a skeptic because they don’t see how they can possibly remember answers for all of their objections. But instead of thinking about skepticism as a tangled mass of unrelated questions, what if we started seeing it as categories instead?
Virtually all objections can be grouped into four general categories: moral, spiritual, scientific, and biblical. And at the heart of these categories is a root idea shared by the objections in that category. Trying to give an answer to one objection after another usually just results in a ping pong match that may lead nowhere. But if we ask questions that dig up the root idea behind the objections, we can steer the conversation in a more meaningful direction.
Mike: Bill, please explain some of the root ideas of spiritual skepticism.
Bill: Okay. Spiritual skepticism includes both formal religions outside of Christianity as well as self-made spirituality. But one thing that all forms of spirituality besides Christianity have in common is that they rely on the works of flawed people in an attempt to reach a perfect place. So we can say that this spiritual root idea is good works get you to heaven, or wherever it is that you’re trying to go.
Mike: What are some of the red flag words that might indicate that a person is dealing with a spiritual skeptic?
Bill: Red flag words are those words that people redefine in order to slant the conversation in their direction. A red flag should go up in our head when we hear them. For example, words like “enlightened,” “karma,” and “organized religion” are spiritual red flag words. So when we hear words like these, we need to stop and ask, “What do you mean by that?” Because the actual meaning is usually not what the skeptic thinks it is. Is so-called organized religion a bad thing because it relies on established doctrines and sacred text, or is it bad because the skeptic didn’t create those doctrines himself? Probably the latter.
Mike: Conversations with skeptics can really become heated, and that makes it hard to stay focused. What are some of the root ideas of moral skepticism that we should address?
Bill: Moral skepticism is prevalent in our culture because it relies heavily on emotions and preferences. Moral relativism, the worldview behind moral skepticism, is popular because it sounds so tolerant and inclusive. The root idea here is that people should decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Relativists say that they want to liberate the world of moral absolutes—yet they evaluate their own preferences to the level of absolutes, and expect others to follow them.
Mike: Bill, it seems today that disagreeing with someone is considered intolerant. How do you deal with this?
Bill: Many moral objections are based on contradictory or self-defeating ideas. The skeptic’s charge of intolerance is a prime example. Disagreement is not the same as intolerance. In fact, disagreement is the foundation of true tolerance. If I already agree with someone, then I don’t need to tolerate his view. Disagreement is often a good thing because it requires both sides to examine their views.
To bring the point home to the skeptic, we could ask, “Are you being intolerant of my alleged intolerance?” True tolerance means respecting a person’s right to express a view while also having the freedom to disagree with it.
Mike: In my experience, a vast number of skeptics assume there is a conflict between science and faith. Bill, talk about the theory of evolution and how it plays into this whole problem.
Bill: Sure. Naturalism is the belief that the natural world is all there is. But naturalism requires nature to do what only an intelligence can do. For example, evolution is based on the idea that complex creatures can arise part by part from simpler creatures. However, there is no simple creature! Even if there were an early creature that was as simple as a mousetrap, unless all of its parts randomly and instantly appear as a working system, the creature would suddenly go extinct.
Mike: Bill, given the weakness that you’ve just revealed about naturalistic science, why do you think naturalism is so prevalent?
Bill: Well, I think there are three basic reasons. The first is that nature makes no moral demands. It’s easier to credit nature as being the source of everything than to believe in a higher power to whom we’re accountable. The second reason is fear of the stigma of creationism. The Genesis account seems too simple. The third reason people choose naturalism is that theistic explanations seem like an intellectual cop-out. They fail to see that a God-caused universe should stimulate scientific investigation rather than stifling it.
Mike: Bill, please summarize the roots of biblical skepticism for our listeners.
Bill: Biblical skepticism is often difficult to refute in a brief conversation, because many skeptics have gotten their information about the Bible from secondhand sources rather than looking at it for themselves. I believe we need to challenge their perception of the Bible before we try to answer their objections to specific Bible passages, because it’s their perception that clouds their interpretation.
The root idea of biblical skepticism is that the Bible is man-made. The Bible is merely an old, biased, and irrelevant book.
Mike: Bill, you’ve just said that they think the Bible is irrelevant in our modern age. How do you answer that?
Bill: Well, even if a person rejects some aspects of the Bible, it is still at the very least relevant because it describes human nature and history very accurately. I think the bigger question is whether it is authoritative. If God really gave us a book, shouldn’t we expect it to contain amazing claims such as fulfilled prophecies and miracles, as evidence that it has a supernatural source? But if the skeptic accepts this, he must also accept that he is now accountable to what it says.
Mike: Listeners, Meet the Skeptic is a great resource to equip you to defend God’s Word and His truth. Bill, thank you for this incredibly helpful book. I’m Mike Farris.