Now, we should understand that the apologist’s line of interrogation here is not motivated by some deep love of knowledge and how the mind works. Quite the opposite is the case: the apologist is on a mission to undermine any non-believer’s confidence in his own mental faculties. Such simple questions are thus intended to accomplish three things:
1) to keep the focus of the exchange on the non-believer’s worldview so that the believer’s own worldview is kept safely out of view;
2) to put the non-believer on the defensive; and
3) to push the non-believer further and further towards saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t answer that.”
But there is something profoundly ironic here. The question “How do you know that?” is indeed a legitimate philosophical question, at least when the goal to discover how the mind works and increase one’s understanding of the process by which knowledge is acquired and validated is what one sincerely has in mind. But in the context of an exchange with a Christian attempting to bamboozle a non-believer, there is no such sincerity on the apologist’s part: he really doesn’t care how you know what you know – he just wants to erode your determination to rely on your own mind. And yet, the irony is: while we are supposedly not to have confidence in our ability to know that the we got up this morning and had breakfast, we are supposed to “just know” that the believer’s god is real and that his worldview is true. Perhaps the underlying implication here is that an individual is certainly able to believe, but he is never able to know.
Since apologists insist that we accept their worldview’s claims, non-believers are naturally curious as to understanding the basis on which one might accept them. So it is not unusual for non-believers essentially to turn the apologist’s same pet question back on them: How do you know that your god is real? How do you know that the universe was created by an act of consciousness? How do you know that the 10 commandments really came from the Judeo-Christian god and not some primitive bureaucrats to assembled them from their progenitors and simply asserted that they came from a supernatural being? How do you know that Jesus rose from the dead? Etc.
Such questions put the focus back on the believer’s worldview, and in response to them some apologists attempt to shift the focus back onto the believer’s worldview and its (alleged) shortcomings, some use this as an opportunity to begin ridiculing the non-believer (“you’re so stupid,” “you’re so naïve,” etc.), while others abandon the conversation altogether. Very few seem either willing or prepared (and even fewer seem to be both) to address the non-believer’s questions in a mature and thoughtful manner. This is especially difficult for many apologists because they know that they will have to drop façade of being all-knowing in order to do so. They will have to let their guard down and be willing to acknowledge any inability on their part to answer questions they don’t know the answers to that may come up. In spite of all the talk of “humbling oneself” that Christians like to pump, it is in contexts like this that they expose this too to be part of the apologetic façade.
But seriously, if I cannot know that I got up this morning and ate breakfast, how am I supposed to know that there’s a supernatural being out there that created the universe and everything in it, including me? Indeed, if I am unable even to have confidence in my own faculties – to the point that I cannot be certain that I got out of bed this morning – this would not speak well for any supernatural designer alleged to have created me. So the irony of the apologist’s predicament just grows.
When apologists do make responses to the question “How do you know?” when put to their worldview claims, they typically only indicate the means by which one cannot know that their worldview claims are true. For instance, one cannot come to know that their god is real by means of science, because their god is supposed to be “a part of reality that is not capable of being confirmed by empirical experience and reason based thereon” (B.C. Hodge in this 16 Oct. comment), which means that one cannot come to knowledge of their god’s by means of reason as well. So reason and science are out – these cannot be the means by which one comes to what apologists claim as knowledge.
In fact, thinking as such seems entirely to be the wrong mode involved in coming to belief in the Christian worldview’s supernatural being. For what is thinking if it is not thinking one’s own thoughts, indeed thinking for oneself? But we are told that:
"thinking for oneself" means "thinking according to whichever cult in which one finds himself," i.e., "being brainwashed." The fact that you think you can transcend the philosophical and finite box in which you live and have been philosophically-conditioned, an ability necessary to "think for oneself" in some autonomous manner, and to experience all of reality directly, another condition necessary to "think for oneself," shows how utterly naive your view of humanity, culture, and thought really are. (B.C. Hodge in this 25 Oct. comment)
But apologists do not seem to be uniform here. In the same thread, another apologist characterizes using one’s own mind, thinking his own thoughts, thinking for himself, forming his own judgments, etc., as follows:
you are your own highest authority. You decide what is right and what is wrong. You decide what is true and what is false. You decide what is a good reason and what is not. You decide what sufficient proof and what is not. You have faith in yourself. You are your own highest authority. You worship at the authority of Self-Autonomy. Self-Worship. (Truth Unites… and Divides in this 25 Oct. comment
The apologist sees all human activity in terms of obedience to some authority. Either one submits to the right authority, or he submits to the wrong authority. It is unclear, given such a premise, how one is expected to discover which authority is the right one, for any such mental action involved could be counted on this premise as evidence that one is presuming himself as his "highest authority." And yet presumption of obedience to some authority remains unquestioned. This is just another expression of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: since it is assumed by the religious mind that reality conforms to conscious dictates, there must always be some authoritative consciousness calling all the shots. And since human beings are error-riddled, inherently naïve, bespotted and depraved, they have no alternative (for as we have seen, reason, science and thinking for oneself are out) but to put their faith in some authority figure, whatever it may be. The believer wants to believe that he has put his faith in the real authority and that the non-believer has put his faith in a false authority.
It does not occur to such individuals that the proper alternative to religious hysteria is not presuming oneself to be the “highest authority” and deciding what is right and what is wrong on the basis of some whim (like a god!), but that we have the ability to discover what is real and what is not real, what is true and what is not true, what is good and what is not, etc., by rational means. The apologist thus trades on a false dichotomy: either swallow whole what his religion tells you to believe (whether you could know any of it is true or not), or presume to be able to dictate what is true and what is not true from the vantage of “Self-Worship.” Thus reason and rationality are systematically excluded here.
Thus, since the religious view is essentially that faith in some authority to whose dictates reality automatically conforms is inescapable, it can only mean that objectivity is impossible. Consequently, since the human mind is incapable of governing itself objectively, reason is impossible. These are the inescapable implications of any religious worldview, including Christianity. The opposition of faith to reason could not be any clearer. Thus when defenders of religion insist that reason and faith are compatible, we can safely conclude that either they are simply being dishonest, or that they simply do not know what they’re talking about.
In their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, authors Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli tell us point blank that “Religious faith is something to die for” (p. 14). The Christian is welcome to his faith. It has only one end: an end to life.
As for me, I will go with reason. It gives me something to live for. And it's certainly not the Christian god.
by Dawson Bethrick