Scott taught me to ask a diagnostic question early in my conversations on campus. A student engages me in a conversation about the pro-life argument and I say, “Do you think it would be wrong for someone to kill you? Do you think unjustly taking your life would be objectively wrong and it would be right to punish the person who did so?”
The overwhelming majority of people answer yes. This means they believe (1) in objective moral values, duties, and accountability and (2) that it is wrong to unjustly kill human beings. They reject the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to kill human beings like them. They simply fail to see or understand how unborn human life – fetal or embryonic – can be considered like them in morally important ways. Our argument then focuses on making a scientific and philosophical case that fetal and embryonic human beings are valuable human lives in the same way the rest of us are.
But what if they say, “No, I don't think it is objectively wrong to kill me.” What then? Do we just wring our hands and move on to an easier and less weird objector? We can't start making the case for life using science and philosophy just yet because they appear to reject certain important facets of that argument. What we have encountered is an entirely different worldview and that requires a step back.
I once was a pro-choice atheist that rejected the existence of objective morality. What changed my views? I tell every group that I work with that I was won over by good arguments from good arguers. Both of those elements are crucial to success. There was no shortage of judgmental and harsh Christians willing to condemn me, but thoughtful caring arguers were scarce. I was not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination - such was my distaste for the religious folks I knew - but they claimed to represent some all powerful benevolent force that loved all. I just thought we were all autonomous jerks in our own right.
How many Christians were able to get past the nasty assault and draw me into an actual conversation? One. That precious and disciplined young lady made it possible for me to change by making room for me in a discussion that was respectful and cordial even while centered on profound disagreements. She didn't change my mind while we talked, but she certainly put what Greg Koukl calls a stone in my shoe. It was nearly a year later and she was nowhere in sight when the full weight of her work and arguments came to bear on me. She was not present for the change, but she helped make it happen.
Lately I am giving more and more presentations on the Christian worldview. I passionately believe that in order to engage objectors it is vital that we understand what we believe first and how our worldview comes to bear on the topic at hand. When we appropriately grasp our own beliefs we will more clearly see the areas of disagreement and help our detractors better see them as well.
My initial worldview presentation is not an exhaustive discussion of what everyone who disagrees with us believes. Such a talk would be a monstrosity of overkill anyway. It is too much to take on effectively and – more importantly – most audiences I talk to aren't truly convinced worldview study matters to them. So I focus on a few foundational beliefs of the Christian worldview while touching on how those beliefs differ from others.
How does the resurrection differ from the experiences of Joseph Smith, Mohammed, and Buddha while answering the claims that Christianity is based on a myth? How does Trinitarian Monotheism impact the argument that we all worship the same God so what difference does it make? How does an all powerful eternal being reveal himself to us and how does that answer the claim the bible is just a book like any other? What do we mean when we say that we are God's image bearers and how does that impact our understanding of consciousness, objective morality, and our place in the animal world?
These are the very basics of our belief, but the better we grasp these basics the better equipped we are to engage people who misunderstand us. Christians ought to study their worldview because they will be challenged on it, it is rationally defensible, and there are people that need good arguers with good arguments in order to reach them with the grace of Jesus Christ.
My next three posts will draw out those last three points.