I was a lowly student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California when I first heard what seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal had to say about happiness and the search for happiness. It blew me away and still does. Here's what he said:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end... This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves" (Penses, # 425).
So what does Pascal have to say about this?
All complain, princes and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.... What is it, then, that this desire [for happiness] and this inability [to find it] proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the comfort he does not receive from things present... But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss [inside us] can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, by God Himself.
Our problem is that our tendency is to seek our happiness in all sorts of things. We look to wealth, celebrity, experiences, adventure, fame, power, pleasure. But because we've been created "by God and for God, only in God will we find the happiness we never stop searching for" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 27). These other things can't fill the "infinite abyss" Pascal talks about.
It's in this spiritual and theological context that the unhappiness of so many who seem to have everything one could want in this world begins to make sense.
It's also in this context that the words of Jesus appear are so mind-blowingly staggering in their audacity. While every other religious figure in history pointed others toward an idea or a path ("Go that way!") Jesus called people to find everything they needed and were looking for in...himself.
I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).
"If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37).
Apologetics as Reminding
In our last lesson, In His Image and Likeness, we likened evangelism to the work of reminding others of things they have, for whatever combination of reasons and motives, forgotten. These things. The precise issue Pascal raised and Jesus answered.
Of course the best way to "remind" others is to be a living illustration of the message. Hands down.
This is the secret to the effect Jesus had on people. In him they saw "the radiance of God's glory and exact representation of his being" (Hebrews 1:3). His very presence reminded everyone of the God whose image they bore, of the answer to their continual search for happiness.
This is the secret of the effect all the great saints of history have had on those around them. By their example they reminded everyone of what they were really looking for. (Humbling, I know...)
We also "remind" others when we tell our story. "This is what I have found..."
But often "reminding" includes going a step beyond being and telling to presenting evidences and arguments that what we believe is true. This is where apologetics comes in.
When it comes to those who doubt or deny the existence of God (and this is where we're going to start), apologetics is the fine art of putting your finger on the tension that exists between (a) who they are as the image and likeness of God and (b) the worldview they hold. It's the work of putting your finger, with gentleness and reverence, on the contradictions that exists between what your friend says is true of the world in which we live and what his experience as a human being tells him is true.
If that went over your head, read it again.
If it still went over your head, do not worry. We're going the spend the next eight to ten lessons unpacking it's meaning with illustration after illustration. By the time we're done you'll be able to hum it like your kids and grandkids hum the theme from Frozen. Everything will become clear.
So for now, just... let it go.
Worldviews, Wile e Coyote and the Anvils of our Better Natures
In the remainder of this lesson I want to outline in a series of three main points the basic apologetic approach we're going to be taking. (For an in-depth treatment, see The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, by philosopher J.P. Moreland.)
1. Everyone has a worldview
A helpful image is to think of a worldview as the philosophical eye-glasses each of us wears and through which we interpret the facts that come to us. It's the network of fundamental beliefs each of us has about the nature of the universe we live in. Christianity is a worldview. Eastern pantheism is another worldview. Materialism is another---the view that nothing exists but material substances and that everything we are can be explained in terms of material substances.
However we come to it, each of holds to some essential "worldview". Our worldview functions on the philosophical level like an explanatory hypothesis in science. We hold it so long as it seems to best explain "the facts", to make the best sense of the data of our experience.
2. A "recalcitrant fact" is a fact that cannot be made to fit our worldview.
A "recalcitrant fact" is simply a fact that stubbornly refuses to be assimilated within one's worldview. It's an uncooperative fact. It's a fact that resists explanation in terms of your view of things. It doesn't fit. No matter how hard you try, the recalcitrant fact just sits there.
It's like an anvil in the throat of Wile e Coyote. It won't "go down".
And (here's the point) by its refusal to "go down" a recalcitrant fact is a fact that serves as evidence that the worldview in question isn't true. Easy example: a corpse, somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the corpse of Jesus, would be a recalcitrant fact within the Christian worldview. It would be a fact that demonstrates that Christianity isn't true.
3. Your agnostic or atheist friend is himself the recalcitrant fact that provides the strongest demonstration that his naturalist worldview isn't true.
Now, your friend may be an eastern pantheist (for later lessons) but chances are extremely high that the worldview he holds is what we call philosophical naturalism, sometimes called scientific naturalism.
I'm sure you're familiar with the view: The universe is a massive material machine and science is "the measure of all things." Reality is a closed system of natural (physical) causes and effects, and what we "know" about it is essentially what science has shown us to be true. Everything else is speculation. Needless to say, there is no God, there are no human souls, no spirits, nothing but matter and energy.
This is the worldview of popular atheists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. This is the worldview of virtually every garden variety atheist you will ever bump into as you stumble through the green fields of life or the barren wastelands of Facebook.
The argument we're going to be making (I'm merely stating the argument at this point) is simply that we are the recalcitrant fact that demonstrates the falseness of the naturalist worldview.
The most basic, fundamental aspects of our being and experience as human persons---meaning, value, morality, personality, free will, consciousness and mind---utterly resist explanation in terms of the naturalist worldview. That's not strong enough: they don't merely resist explanation, they cannot even in principle be accounted for in terms of the naturalist worldview.
Naturalism as a worldview cannot make sense of the image and likeness of God that is written all over you as well as your unbelieving friend. It cannot rationally account for man as man.
The image of God sits like an anvil in the throat of naturalism.
It's not like atheists don't perceive the problem. They do.
Listen carefully to what atheist philosopher of mind John Searle has said. He puts his finger precisely on the tension I'm talking about here and intend to elaborate fully over the coming weeks:
There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy… How do we fit in?… How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?
That's the question we wish to ask in the lessons to come.