At any given time, I am reading a non-fiction book and a work of fiction literature. I never choose one based on the other, but occasionally I am surprised by a marked correlation between the two. That very thing happened to me over the past two weeks as I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The End of Christianity by William A. Dembski.
As an apologist, I often dialogue with non-believers on the evidence for the philosophical, historical, and scientific veracity of the Christian faith. While I have the utmost confidence in the various lines of evidence that beautifully converge to support the case, the most important and persuasive evidence is, by its very nature, inaccessible to the non-believer. It is something that I have first-hand knowledge of, that I can describe to them, but that they cannot personally know in the absence of belief.
This post is part 2 of 3. Part 1 can be read here.
The Realities of the Witch Hunts
The period of European witch hunts is generally defined as the four centuries between 1400 and 1800. Perhaps in part because of the intriguing, sensational nature of the subject, witch hunts have been blown well out of proportion in terms of their prevalence and victim estimations. According to Stark, “Few topics have prompted so much nonsense and outright fabrication as the European witch-hunts. Some of the most famous episodes never took place…and even the current ‘scholarly’ literature abounds in absurd death tolls.”  A responsible estimate for the number executed is approximately 60,000, with the bloodiest period of hunting occurring between 1550 and 1650. 
“A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” –Leviticus 20:27
Few topics have suffered the plight of revisionist history as severely as the European witch hunts. Christian fanaticism is often blamed for the atrocities that took place in the name of snuffing out witchcraft, but like other events in human history, the actual explanation is extremely intricate and will likely never be understood comprehensively. However, much fact can be teased out of the abundant folklore; recent scholarship can be analyzed for a better understanding of witch hunt history and the involvement of the Church. This article, the first in a three-part series, will briefly outline key facts of the European witch hunts of the 15th through 19th centuries and seek to demonstrate that, while the Church certainly played a part, claiming that it deserves the ultimate blame is misleading and a gross oversimplification of the complicated dynamics involved.
An acquaintance asked me an interesting question the other day:
“How should we respond when someone says they are skeptical of Christianity because of its low view of science?”
It isn’t surprising to me that such accusations are still being made towards Christianity. Historical myth and misconceptions that support such an idea run rampant in our society. For instance, there are high school teachers and college-level instructors that still use the historically inaccurate film, Inherit the Wind, or highly embellished accounts of Galileo’s censure to teach students about the so-called “war” between science and the Christian faith. Textbooks are slowly improving in this regard, but misinformation still abounds, unfortunately.
The American Humanist Association has launched a website called “Kids Without God” aimed at promoting and glorifying atheism. It abounds in the usual fallacies (seriously, haven’t these folks ever taken Logic 101?) and is blatantly evangelistic.
The slogan across the bottom of the home page reads:
“Welcome to Kids Without God, a site for the millions of young people around the world who have embraced science, rejected superstition, and are dedicated to being Good Without A God!”
Let’s unpack that, shall we?
Over the past few years, I’ve had increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances becoming involved in foreign missions. I find great blessing in offering practical and prayerful support to their assignments; I greatly admire their obedience to God in answering the call to be fishers of men in poor, often dangerous areas of the world–places where false religion abounds and the death penalty for “infidels” is the harsh reality. The stories of men, women, and children being set free in salvation through Christ stirs my spirit with an otherworldly joy.
There is no doubt that missions activity requires preparation, hard work and financial backing. Missionaries are faced with learning a new language and culture so that they may not only survive, but be effective in their ministry. There is serious equipping that must be done, by the individual and by the church, if the people in these impoverished, spiritually-oppressed areas are to be reached. Why do churches and missionaries put forth such efforts in return for little to no practical benefit to themselves? Because the souls that come to a saving knowledge of Christ as a result are PRICELESS. Heaven rejoices over every single one. Jesus gave his followers a Great Commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples in His name, and missionaries are carrying out this command.
I’ve thought about this a great deal in recent months, and it has occurred to me that churches are doing a great work in emphasizing the importance of foreign missions, motivating more laypersons to participate as they are called. But what I’ve come to realize is that there’s an entire mission field that is going unnoticed by many churches, or if it’s noticed, the church doesn’t know how to approach it.
There seems to be a widespread misconception, even within the church, that the ambition of Christian apologists is to argue nonbelievers into submission to the truth of Christianity. I admit that up until a few years ago, I even held a version of this idea myself. I thought that if your arguments were “good enough,” the person they were aimed at would hit their knees in repentance. I believe that this falsehood may be a significant reason why so many churches place very little importance on apologetics education and why many Christians ignore the subject altogether. “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the heart,” they (rightfully) believe, therefore it isn’t fruitful to try and debate someone into a saving faith.
But that is actually not the mission of the Christian apologist. I’ve learned through my formal studies and through many personal encounters that apologetics is indeed an essential facet of the Great Commission, but in ways that are often not recognized by those outside the discipline, and sometimes not even by those new to the discipline. Here I will outline the more significant duties of the apologist.
In Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, John Lennox addresses the science and theology relevant to the age-of-the-earth debate. This is a controversy that continues to escalate within the church, as young-earth advocates claim that acknowledgement of biblical authority and inspiration requires a young-earth interpretation of Scripture, an assertion that old-earth proponents vehemently deny. Lennox explores the relevant biblical text to argue that a high view of Scripture can be appropriately and effectively harmonized with a responsible interpretation of scientific data.
John C. Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Cambridge University, a D.Phil. from Oxford, and an M.A. in Bioethics from the University of Surrey. He was awarded the D.Sc. for his research at the University of Walesin Cardiff. He is a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He serves as Adjunct Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics as well as the Trinity Forum. Dr. Lennox authored the 2009 book, Has Science Buried God? and has lectured across North America and Europe on mathematics, philosophy of science, and Christian apologetics. He has debated Richard Dawkins on Has Science Buried God? and Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. He has also debated the late Christopher Hitchens on the question, “Is God Great?”
Lennox begins Seven Days that Divide the World by establishing his reasons for taking on this hot-button topic. He says that an improper view of Christianity’s relationship to science is an obstacle to the faith for some unbelievers, and for many believers, the earth-age controversy is disturbing in itself–with some Christians holding dogmatically to one particular interpretation, one that other sincere Christians completely disagree with. However, argues Lennox, there are excellent reasons why Christians shouldn’t give up hope on this issue: Continue reading