Notes from the Field: Clarifying, Sparring, and Making Progress

This past weekend, my church hosted its first ever apologetics conference. We had a lineup of eight Christian apologists speaking on a variety of topics such as “Why God Allows Evil,” “An Atheist’s Journey to Faith,” “The Challenge of World Religions,” and several others. J.P. Moreland was our keynote speaker for the weekend, and in true J.P. fashion, he inspired, motivated, and made our brains sweat.

I taught a session entitled “Intelligent Design 101.” This was my second opportunity to publicly present that particular set of material. SO MUCH FUN! How awesome to have a room of about 70 people who are interested in hearing you talk…for 45 whole minutes…on your FAVORITE topic?! Heavenly, I tell you. I discussed the origin of life issue and the inference to an intelligent agent.

Three things that are very important to me whenever I address an audience on any ID-related topic are:

1) Teaching them to correctly define all terms

2) Showing them how to detect straw-man arguments

3) Explaining where to draw the boundary lines in real-life discussions about design versus naturalism 

The talk proceeded as planned, and I managed to finish on time (for a change). The Q & A time started off with some great questions about the Stanley Miller origin of life experiments, chance and necessity, and engaging with skeptics. Then, something crazy fascinating occurred. A gentleman in the second row, one that had listened with rapt attention through my entire presentation, spoke up in response to another audience member’s comment.

He opened his statement with,I’m an atheist and…”

I wish a video camera had been rolling, rather than just the recording microphone on my lapel. Many heads in the room whipped around in shock. It was as if those cartoon thought clouds appeared over their heads with the words, “Oh my! There’s an actual atheist in our midst!” They turned in their chairs in order to better see this curious phenomenon.

What followed was a discussion between this gentleman and me on the nature of Intelligent Design and the reasons why skeptics refuse–on metaphysical grounds–to consider it an option in origin of life scenarios.

It. Was. Beautiful.

We engaged with mutual respect, and I was able to tease out the points on which he and I were in agreement as well as those about which we were not. I believe he may have been a bit surprised by the former–that we did agree on some important points about scientific investigation. I could tell that he had never been shown why ID does not commit the “God of the gaps” fallacy or that stringent naturalism can be a handicap to science. Furthermore, I believe it surprised him to learn where the inference of intelligent design theory stops and other branches of apologetics enter the picture. Interestingly, the conversation precisely displayed ALL THREE of the main principles I mentioned above.

At the end of the exchange, I expressed my sincere thanks for his attendance as he and the other attendees got up to make their way down to J.P. Moreland’s final talk of the weekend. By and large, I think he went away with a few crucial points to chew on and a great deal of clarification about what ID theory is and what it is not.

In the empty classroom, I sat alone for a few moments, decompressing and rehydrating after an hour of talking. I thought to myself that it was unfortunate that the remainder of attendees with questions did not get the time to ask them. I hoped that they were not too disappointed and that they would perhaps email me later on.

Then, God blessed my heart deeply and in a very unexpected way. As I spent a few more minutes in the vacated classroom, and later, whenever I stood by the resource tables at the conclusion of the conference, men and women sought me out to express how much it blessed and encouraged them to see apologetics “in real life action.” Seeing such a candid yet respectful debate before their very eyes was instructive and exciting for them–a true “Aha” moment.

Glory be to God for working in such a brilliant, serendipitous way. 

I believe the weekend conference as a whole was a smashing success, and that its effects will reverberate into eternity. I eagerly anticipate the surprises God has in store for future apologetics training events!

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