Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

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Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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Does Your Vote Matter, Statistically? Yes, It Does.

Batman voting slap.pngLetter IIf you do a Google search, ask a friend, or simply exist on Facebook, you’ll find a whole host of voices telling you that – statistically – your individual vote doesn’t matter in the grander scheme.

For instance, this article asserts that your vote making a difference is statistically “very improbable, because for your vote to affect an election, the two candidates have to be within one vote of each other without you. If Trump earns 2,000,000 votes in a given state without your vote and Clinton earns 2,000,002, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you voted. The outcome wouldn’t change.”

Now, there are a few problems with this argument:

1) It assumes that yours is the only vote that doesn’t matter.

Yes, if everybody but you votes, and there is a 2 point margin, then your vote doesn’t matter. True. The issue is that this logic only works if we restrict it to only referring to one specific person. We can say “If everybody votes except Steve Rogers, and the totals are 200 to 202, then Steve’s vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway.”

But, and this is key, it only works if we restrict our field to just one specific person”Steve Rogers.” If we shift the field to refer to a different specific person, say, Barbara Gordon, then we can then say “If everybody votes except Barbara Gordon, and the totals are 200 to 202, then Barbara’s vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway.” BUT, in that case Steve’s vote does matter, because we’ve shifted our field to somebody else.

In order for the argument that Barbara’s vote doesn’t matter to work, Steve’s vote has to matter.

So the logic of this argument from statistics can’t be applied across the board. We can’t say “Regardless of who votes, Barbara’s vote doesn’t matter.” The whole argument rests on the fact that everybody else voted and all of their votes mattered. 

2) It commits equivocation.

 But why does it sound so convincing at a glance? Because of equivocation. Equivocation is a fallacy where one word is used that has multiple meanings without specifying which meaning is being used.

Thus, if we say that Captain Hook is a codfish, it does not then imply that Captain Hook can breath underwater. We have to make a logical distinction between the pejorative term and the literal animal.

In the instance of voting, the term being equivocated is ‘you’. “You” in the English language can be singular or plural, “you specifically” or “you all”/”ya’ll.” 

When we say “If Trump earns 2,000,000 votes in a given state without your vote and Clinton earns 2,000,002, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you voted” the ‘you’ in that sentence can be taken two ways. First, it can refer to ‘you’ in the general, collective sense: “All ya’ll who read this.” Second, it can refer to the specific you reading the article at this very moment: you-and-only-you Steve Rogers or you-and-only-you Barbara Gordon.

It is in this you-and-only-you sense that the argument from statistics works, when ‘you’ refers to one specific individual at a time.

The problem is that when we read it, we tend to confuse these senses in our minds. We say “well it’s clearly true when it refers to me, so it must be true for you too.” And it is true for them too, but only when it’s not true for you. It can only be true for one person at a time.

The logic only holds if our ‘you’ in the scenario is really just one individual person, you-in-particular-and-only-you; it falls apart if our ‘you’ is a corporate you, ie, everybody who might be voting.

3) It results in a literal contradiction in terms.

If we take out the equivocation, the result is a literal contradiction in terms. The argument amounts to saying “it doesn’t matter if any of you vote, because the rest of you will.”  But if the rest of you will then each of those has to matter for the argument to work, which contradicts the initial statement.captain-america-wants-you-to-vote

So yes, your vote does matter. The argument from statistics is a fallacy ridden load of hogwash, because the only way we could say your vote doesn’t matter is if we assume that every vote except yours matters.

Tell the statisticians to go back to logic class and try again.

Statistically, your vote matters. It has also been shown voter turnout also reflects how likely politicians are to work towards policies that enact the will of their constituents (we might address other arguments – such as those based on the setup of the electoral college – at another time).

Caveat: I do agree with the central thesis of the quoted article that you should vote your conscience, however, the reason that you should vote your conscience is not because your vote doesn’t matter anyway, but because it does.

It’s the same logic that these folks use try to use to say your vote doesn’t matter that others use to say that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. It’s the same equivocation. If you-and-only-you vote for a third party candidate, then of course they have no chance of winning. But that logic cannot be spread to the collective ‘you’; if the collective “ya’ll” vote for a third party candidate then they will necessarily win, because who you vote for does count.

This is what happens when our schools don’t have mandatory logic classes.

Don’t just trust me, trust Captain America. He wouldn’t tell you to vote if your vote didn’t matter.

On Apologetics – Purpose, Why You Should Take An Interest

 

apologetics3.pngLetter Not too long ago I had a conversation with a man who has been a pastor for quite some time, and who was at the time taking a course in apologetics. He was clearly frustrated with the course, and as he spoke he attempted to explain why he disliked it so much. His main criticism? That it was pointless.hylian_shield_vector_by_reptiletc-d49y46o

As I listened further I discovered something interesting, his reason for the belief that apologetics was pointless. He said to me “I have no need for this class. I already know why I believe what I believe, and I believe the Bible. The Bible is the only reason I need.”

This statement was interesting, because it betrayed a twofold misunderstanding of the nature of apologetics.

First, the pastor’s statement betrayed a misunderstanding of how to approach belief in the Bible. If one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs, it will not do to simply say “I believe the Bible” – you must follow that up with what you believe the Bible says and why, and how that squares with your experience of the world. This misunderstanding was addressed in our article Beliefs and Believing the Bible, so it needn’t be addressed any farther here.

Second, the pastor’s statement betrayed a misunderstanding of just what it is that apologetics – more specifically a course in apologetics – is trying to do for the believer.

Somehow he had come upon the misconception that this course in apologetics was meant to give him reasons why he should believe in the truth of Christianity. In case there is some misunderstanding, or in case this view is somehow more prevalent than I realize – that is not the point of apologetics. The goal of learning apologetics is not to convince yourself of the faith; the goal is to give you 1) An understanding of other groups and other perspectives so that you will know how to approach those who come at the world from a different viewpoint, and 2) An understanding of logic and reason as it relates to philosophy and theology as a whole, so that you may know how to explain the truthfulness of your beliefs to others, so that you may give a defense of your faith. Not to give you a reason to believe, but so that you may explain to others how there are reasons to believe. The goal of apologetics is a defense of the faith; to give an answer to those who bring objections against it, and to give reasons for it.

So if you are studying apologetics and feel that you are wasting your time, remember, you’re not learning it for your sake, you’re learning it for the sake of your neighbor, so that you may answer their questions in love and provide not just a testimony of how Christ has changed your life, but also a rational explanation of how He is true.

Because many people have genuine questions about the faith, hard questions, and we as Christians need to be able to address those questions; we need to be able to explain what and why we believe.

There are answers to the hard questions, and learning the school of apologetics will help train you in giving those answers.


If you’re not already a believer, then you should know that it is right and proper for you to have questions and misgivings about the faith, but you should also know that there are answers to your questions. We as Christians have often done a poor job of educating ourselves on those answers, of not being able to explain why we believe what we believe, and we need to amend that; but that is a mistake of individual Christians, not of Christianity as a faith.