Because of a conversation I had recently with someone who felt it necessary to criticize my thoughts regarding a certain subject, I thought I would challenge not only Christians, but also non-Christians, concerning the act of criticism in western culture today. Do we have a right to criticize others and to what degree? What does it mean that we should be constructive in our criticism? Is there a point at which we should stay silent? To what degree must we defend our own criticisms of someone else’s worldview or another’s argument concerning a worldview he or she does not hold?
First of all, allow me to state that I am open to criticism. I believe criticism spurs people of good conscience on to maturity. It causes us to look over what we think about the world and to rethink what may be false in our own belief system. Considering this, I would like to briefly outline the conversation that took place between myself and this other individual.
This conversation took place about something I wrote concerning the rationality of human thought in relation to the natural world. For sake of conversation, we will refer to the other party simply as “skeptic”.
Skeptic (in response to what I wrote): Your blog is flawed right off the bat. Atheists do not claim we came from “nothing”.
Me: From where do you think we came?
Skeptic: With respect, I’d like to have a conversation that goes shorter than 11 days between responses 🙂
Me: Do you wish not to answer, then?
Skeptic: “Where did we come from” is a loaded question. We KNOW that humans were preceded by a different hominidae.
Me: and they came from where?
Skeptic: You’re looking for an infinite regress. What’s your finality? The Big Bang?
Me: assuming a finality in the big bang assumes a non-existence without such an event. From where did the bb originate?
Skeptic: We don’t know, but no one thinks literally nothing. Science is silent on the matter because there’s not anything concrete.
Skeptic: All of the energy required to produce what we know and see today was present in the singularity. Not sure beyond that.
Skeptic: No one think that unimagineable amount of energy just randomly appeared out of non-existence.
Me: thus was my point. Intellectuals must believe in more than nothing. Sadly, many do not.
Skeptic: That’s not so. A coming misunderstanding is thinking cosmologists believe the Big Bang originated from nothing.
Skeptic: Science makes no statements on “before the Big Bang” because at the moment it’s a non-sensical proposition.
Skeptic: And that’s not really it. Before the Big bang is a mystery. Offering “God” as an hypothesis is a bigger mystery.
Skeptic: Replacing a mystery with a bigger mystery is not a responsible approach to science or epistemology.
Skeptic: Thus science rejects the “God” hypothesis not out of non-belief, but literally out of not being satisfied to stop there.
Me: wow. I think you may have misunderstood. You are welcome to reread my post and write a well reasoned developed response.
Skeptic: I stopped reading when you wrote “Many scientists think we came from nothing.”
Me: again, you are welcome to write a well reasoned, developed response.
Skeptic: Pass. I don’t feel inclined to write a response based on something fundamentally flawed from the word go.
Me: then why did you respond at all, friend?
Skeptic: I thought a smart person like yourself would like to know your blog commits a straw man argument. If not, disregard.
Me: usually accusations require explenation:well reasoned, developed response. Without it, i cannot adequately address your concern.
Skeptic: No scientist believes that we came from, literally nothing. End of well-reasoned, thoughtful response.
At this point, I stopped responding until I could produce this well reasoned response. I do so because 1) I wish to uplift this individual by showing what a well reasoned argument looks like, 2) I wish to uplift and challenge God’s people to respond to apparent threats to the faith and 3) I wish to challenge every individual to think critically regarding his or her own worldview.
Thoughts on this conversation
First of all, Skeptic himself made this admission: “I stopped reading when you wrote ‘Many scientists think we came from nothing.’” To this, I invited Skeptic to reread what I wrote because the words “many scientists think we came from nothing” are not present, anywhere within. In fact, what I wrote did not concern the discipline of science directly. The only way skeptic could derive the word scientist from what I wrote would have been to read the word into the text himself. Skeptic was doing nothing more than looking for an argument, and so created one in his own mind. At least, this is how it seems. What I wrote concerned the naturalist and the materialist, who admit worldviews in which they do believe that there are only natural or material realities and nothing more. While there are scientist who proclaim naturalism and materialism, there are also scientists who are Dualist, Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Deist, Pantheist, Hedonist, Apatheist, Jihadists, Agnostic, etc… Some even concern themselves with more than one of the listed worldviews. In his effort to defend science, Skeptic misread and missed the direction of the entire text.
Second, Skeptic’s response to what I wrote claimed that “Atheists” do not believe we came from nothing. To which branch of atheism does skeptic attribute this fact? Atheism, by definition, is the denial of the existence of any deity. The atheist worldview as a bare view, does not concern itself with the scientific community. It is simply the denial of any deity. While there are atheists who are also scientists and those atheists will most likely admit that they do not know from where humanity came, there are also atheists who are not scientist and it would be difficult to say that “no” atheist believes humanity came from nothing because Skeptic does not know every atheist and what those atheists believe concerning the world. Though I wrote concerning why atheism does not make sense, it was specifically in regard to the naturalist or the materialist. Skeptic might have known if he cared to read passed the idea he placed into the text himself.
The importance of reading something fully before responding is great. Skeptic claimed that I was looking for infinite regress. If he had read fully what I wrote, he would have known that infinite regress is as far from my point as possible and he would have known that my question “From where do you think we came” was a probe not for infinite regression, but for the necessity of one uncaused causer. Thus, there is also an importance for all people to respond reasonably to what is actually stated or written, not what we choose to read into a text on our own. In developing a reasoned response, we are forced to ask the question “What does the author mean in the context of the entire work?” Not only do we benefit the writer in our critique, but we benefit ourselves by not appearing to be fools: assuming something that is not in the text.
After inviting Skeptic to write a well-reasoned response, however, he answered: “Pass. I don’t feel inclined to write a response based on something fundamentally flawed from the word go.” Sadly, this is one of the problems we face in western culture. We see what we think are flaws and refuse to reason against them, assuming that people should simply know better. This mentality seems to me very cowardice. There are two dangers in not responding to apparent flaws. The first, what we think to be a flaw continues to prevail because there are no reasonable responses dealing with the flaw; thus no rational purpose for denying that flaw exists. We cannot expect others to see their own flaws if we are not willing to reason with them concerning those flaws, or what we think are flaws. Second, if we are wrong, we sill simply continue to act in foolishness rather than receive criticism concerning our flaws, or even realize that we are wrong concerning what appears to be someone else’s flaw. This is the epitome of being closed-minded: neither wanting to give constructive criticism or not wanting to receive it.
While I have these concerns regarding the conversation I had recently with Skeptic, my heart is broken over the number of people other than Skeptic who approach criticism in this way or for closed minded individuals that claim to have some sort of extensive knowledge. I hope each of them come to know that knowledge means nothing without wisdom. Wisdom is something that cannot be learned in a library or in a classroom. It is something that is learned in experience and something that is given by God. My prayer is that these individuals gain wisdom especially as they are critiquing others according to knowledge. I hope that I gain wisdom to do the same.
Should we criticize others?
I have already displayed my hand according to this question. Of course I will claim that we should indeed criticize the flaws we see; I have just done it and hope to receive a well-reasoned response from Skeptic. Do we, as Christians, have a Biblical base for criticism? Here I want to be careful that I am not reading into the text of scripture what I want to see, but instead make an honest inquiry.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
The answer presented by Solomon is this: discern whether or not responding will benefit the person you are responding to and avoid arguing in vain. For, when we argue in vain we become like the fool we are responding to. When we respond reasonably to build up others, we help to keep a fool from thinking he is wise and in such we build him up to wisdom.
Thus, when I critique others, I do so only to build them up: not simply to win some sort of vain argument. It is worth a well-reasoned response to do so and Christians should be committed to responding reasonably to the problems in this world. If we do not, who else will? If we do not, how will the world know God?
 Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV