Conversations with High School Students

October 27, 2011

Yesterday I went to a local high school in the area to hangout with some students after school.  These students are your typical students in some aspects but not in all aspects.  These 60+ students are members of the Secular Student Alliance Club at Parkview High.  These students meet every other week to discuss topics ranging from the existence of God , to the possibility of morals without God to other issues like animal rights and other social issues.  If you are new to apologetics and are not familiar with the term “Secular” it just means activities and attitudes that do not have a religious or spiritual basis.  The students members hold a variety of different beliefs or positions.  Some are atheist,  some are agnostic,  many of them are might label themselves as skeptical or searching, and there was a Christian in the group also.

I meet them about a year ago through Michael, one of the students in my student ministry, at the church where I am student pastor.  Michael had been going to the Secular Student Alliance Club each week to talk and share his Christian beliefs with the students and to jump in to the debates and discussions they had each week.  I really admire Michael for doing this, I don’t think I would have done that at his age if our school had a SSA Club like they do.  (We had to fight to even have the right to a Christian Club when I went to South Gwinnett High School 20 years ago.)  The SSA club invited me to speak a few times last school year thanks to the invite from Michael.  After Michael has graduated and gone to college I have stay in contact with the students and we talk weekly through Facebook about different subjects.

Let me first break some common misconceptions about the students in the SSA club.  They are nice, polite, smart, and funny.   Just like the average teen.  Many of them are active in community doing things to take care of environment.  A few weeks ago they held a can drive to collect food items for a local food bank in the area.  There are certain feelings that are associated or arise when you mention the word “atheist” or “skeptic”, or even “Christian” for that matter.  I think these feelings come from a past where perception was different.  Any time I have gone to talk with them I have always felt at ease and comfortable with talking to them.

Part of the reason I wanted to write this blog was to help you break down those areas of misconception and also to get a feel of what is like to have conversations with students like these or anyone else for that matter.  Yesterday I went to the meeting not really knowing what I might talk about.  I usually have an outline and prepared talk, but yesterday I just felt like being very low-key and open to where the conversation may go.  I had been in some intense discussions recently online with some of them and I really felt it was important to just be a good listener this time.  I admit, I think I have become addicted to the feeling of being in the moment with apologetic discussions.  Not knowing what questions may come up and not having all the answers, I know the best thing I can do is offer up a quick prayer for help and rely on the Holy Spirit to help me give an answer that is Biblical and is easy to understand.

As the meeting started they allowed me to open with a small discussion about some things that I have noticed through the online conversations as misunderstandings about the Christian worldview.  I talked about Blind faith vs. a Biblical Faith.  Biblical faith is based on evidence just as scientists make thesis and hypothesis based on evidence in science.   From there the conversation morphed into the different types of knowledge that we can obtain.

After I finished talking I opened it up for anybody ask questions.  They asked some really good questions that I could tell that they really wanted to know the answer to.  Some were easy to answer, some questions I had to ask a question in return to get some clarification over, and some I had to pause and think a bit before responding.  We were discussing free will, and one student asked a good question, that caught me off guard, one I had never heard before.  A student asked me if God took part of Mary’s free will when He chose her to be the mother of Jesus and to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  After a brief pause, and another silent prayer for some help from God I thought and went back to the story.  We know from the text that Mary was already a follower of Jehovah God and like most Christians today, we want God’s will to be our own will.  I made a personal reference to my life to back up the thought.  The other Christian in the room, the student,  chimed in and said that Mary still had a choice of whether to keep the baby or to accept God’s desire for her life.   In the text it says that she had been chosen by God, but it didn’t say that she was already pregnant yet.   That was an insightful question.  We ended the meeting talking about Homosexuality a bit and then finished talking about worldviews and how that there can only be one right worldview.  They can’t all be right.

One of the students I have been talking with for the last several weeks was asking a lot of questions about the Bible and I asked him if he had a Bible.  He did not have one so I asked if  I could give him one.  He agreed and took it from me.   I am looking forward to going back soon, if not to talk, but perhaps only to listen and sit in on their discussions and learn what kinds of things that they deal with and question.  One thing that I can say about this group oh high school students is that they really want to know what they believe and why.  They are looking for truth and answers for life and I applaud their thirst for knowledge and truth.  I would wish that many Christians would also have the same type of fire that these high school students do.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions welcome.

Classification of Knowledge

October 26, 2011

If you have had apologetic conversation with others that disagree with your Christian worldview you may have come across a someone who rejects your  Christian worldview solely on the premise that your knowledge is not empirical knowledge.  Empirical knowledge is knowledge that comes  through experience with the 5 senses or the scientific method.  Perhaps it is the strongest level of knowledge, but it is not the only type of knowledge.  In fact, it makes up a very small percentage of a persons total  knowledge in whole.  Before you disagree with my last sentence, think about all you know and how you came to “know it” especially in the realm of science and biology.  You most likely have read several books on the subject rather than done the empirical experiments and experienced it yourself.   Empirical knowledge is not absolute either, there is no way to be able to claim total absolute knowledge unless we had total transcendence in life.

What are the different classifications (types) of knowledge that we have at our disposal?  Below are some of the different classifications and some examples of knowledge.  I want to note that these are my classifications, ones that I have seen in use by people and in the general ways that most people use the terms today.  I am not attempting to give a breakdown of proper Epistemology.

Ideological – This relates to knowledge that is a priori (before experience) that usually comes as concepts or ideas from the human mind and is philosophical.  Reason is often the center of ideology.

Empirical –   This relates to knowledge that is a posteriori (after experience) through the 5 senses or the scientific method.  An example might be that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.

Experiential – This relates to knowledge gained through the 5 senses.  It does not have to be in a scientific method.  It can relate to an individual or a group of people.  i.e. personal experience or say human experience.  An example might be that it gets colder at night when the sun is not up.

Logical – This type of knowledge is often used with in  philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science.  It often looks at the arguments that are being made and looks for fallacies in what is inferred by statements to determine truth.  An example of logical knowledge would be that a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant, because she cannot be both at the same time.

Rational – This type of knowledge is a combination of Ideology and Empirical knowledge in that knowledge can be rationalized by past prior empirical knowledge or experience.   An example might be that if I had wings I might be able to fly like a bird.

Historical –  This type of knowledge is a combination of some of the types of knowledge listed above.  It can no longer  be proven through the scientific method or through repeat experience.  It may be based on physical evidence that we have knowledge of by writings, audio and video recordings, or other people’s experience.  An example might be that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States.

These types of knowledge above are often used in debates and discussions between different worldviews.   The Christian worldview is unique in that it can be a part of all these different types of areas of knowledge and does not fall apart unlike some of the other worldviews when you attempt to debate in one of these areas of knowledge above.  Over time I will cover the specifics of that statement.

Occasionally I have found that when a religious discussion gets to the point of not accepting knowledge outside of empirical knowledge it is because they do not want to deal with the other logical and rational explanations that are being brought forth in an argument.  This is a flawed approach to knowledge that is impossible to live out in life.   If you feel like this is being used on you to avoid responding to your statements, here is how you can show them that there statement is flawed.

When someone says that “Empirical knowledge is only knowledge that counts as knowledge” ask them for the empirical evidence that backs up their statement of belief about empirical knowledge.  There is none.  Therefore you don’t have to accept their statement of belief about empirical knowledge.  Ask, them, “If you don’t have any empirical evidence, then why should I believe you?”  They make a deadly flaw by stepping outside of empiricism trading on reason and philosophy while claiming only empiricism.

Many people put their guard up during a discussion, and will not be intellectually honest with you about what they accept as knowledge.  If you have built a relationship with the person, you can listen to them make statements that don’t agree with their own ideology about knowledge.  You should take advantage of the opportunity to ask them to explain themselves or to clarify what they just said against their own understanding related to knowledge.  For example, Your friend says that they believe that Green Bay is going to when the Super Bowl this year.  You can ask them what empirical knowledge that they have to assure then of that statement.

As always questions, comments, and discussions welcome.