‘Christianity leads to cosmos’: DeWitt talks new apologetics book
EDITOR’S NOTE: In what follows, Boyce College Dean Dan DeWitt talks about his new apologetics book, Christ or Chaos, with Towers editor S. Craig Sanders.
CS: You write, “Every worldview is a novel.” And even though this book has a lot of short stories, how have you been able to portray this idea through your Owlings novella series?
DD: James Sire in his book The Universe Next Door, which he wrote years ago, has revised it and written a new definition of worldview and it includes that a worldview is a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed either through a story or a set of presuppositions.
I think that one way to deal with worldview is through a set of presuppositions. But even the presuppositions I think are generally communicated through a story. So some people only talk about their worldview in story, and I think most people talk about their worldview as a story. It’s the elite few who really say, “Yeah, here’s my set of presuppositions.” I think that we understand the worldview in terms of a story and there are good stories and bad stories. That doesn’t mean that they’re true or false based on how developed they are. But I do want to paint the picture that every worldview has a beginning, there’s an author to it, or whether the author is chance in a way that everyone is the author.
With The Owlings, I try to give the story of these kids trying to ask the big questions and be confronted with some pretty heavy ideas in a way people would communicate those ideas the way to kids. The Berenstain Bears, for example, begin one chapter in their book on nature with the statement, “Nature is all there is or ever was or ever will be.” Well, that’s a paraphrase of Carl Sagan. And Richard Dawkins has written a children’s book. So I felt like, “How can I write a story that kids can read and enjoy and there’s kind of a worldview parable in the story?” One example that’s really encouraging to me is a girl in 6th grade read The Owlings, and it helped her understand what her church group been talking about. They were approaching it in terms of realistic presuppositions. I just told a story, but it illustrated this big worldview idea.
CS: This dichotomy Christ or Chaos is a sort of parallel to previous book Jesus or Nothing. How can you best summarize what that means?
DD: Dorothy Sayers years ago gave a prophetic speech after Hitler invaded Poland, and the title was “Creed or Chaos.” And she argued that we will either have the Christian creed — and her words were the dogma which is the drama, the real thing is the heart and meat of Christianity — and we either have this orthodox, robust Christian faith that upholds all of culture or we’ll have inevitable chaos, and by that she meant Hitler. She even went as far as saying, “Hitler’s not being naughty,” like he’s not betraying a principle; he’s actually living out a principle. He sees himself as being consistent. She was saying these are two worldviews: If you’re consistent with Christianity it’s going to lead to flourishing; if you’re consistent with something else it’s going to lead to chaos. So I use it in that term. I also a couple times in the book play off of the idea, Can we really call the cosmos an orderly system, even though the word itself means an orderly system; can we really call the natural world “cosmos” under atheism, which traces its roots back to eternal, impersonal, mindless matter? You know, if it’s all irrational than chaos seems to be a better term. So I use that word more broadly than that, that Christianity leads to cosmos. One of the early titles was Cosmos or Chaos, and we felt like cosmos could be less clear what you’re saying there. It’s a Christian understanding of the cosmos.
CS: The character in your first book was someone who left the faith. But Thomas is someone who is going through a crisis in college. Did you have a specific audience in mind that can identify with Thomas?
DD: Yeah, I think that most Christian young people upon leaving the home are going to move into a very different plausibility structure than they experienced in the home. So that in the home, Christianity is highly plausible, it’s affirmed everywhere they turn: in the church, in their home, perhaps even in their Christian school or homeschool — in some parts of the South public school principals are Christian. And they’re about to step out of that plausibility structure into a world in which Christianity seems less plausible. So I think that for any Christian who is entering a new plausibility structure, this is going to help them, and you don’t even have to leave home since North America is shifting through secularization. So I think that everybody has changed. I quoted How (Not) To Be Secular, he says, “We’re all Doubting Thomas now. We’re haunted by transcendence.” Doubt and faith and trying to figure it out. My goal, if I were to have one ideal person in mind, I’m writing it for them, Thomas is actually the person I’ve written it for. It’s this college student who believes Christianity to be true but has close friends who are leaving the faith, he’s in a secular university. And if I had one ideal person, it’s Thomas in the book.
CS: When you look at Lewis’ apologetics, it really came out during a specific crisis in World War II. How do you see yourself serving to speak out against a specific crisis in our culture?
DD: When Lewis wrote Narnia, it was during a time of peace and stability, post-World War II — the economic boom, family boom, all of that. The way I understand what Lewis did is really in terms of his first apologetic book, The Problem of Pain, and he has a famous quote in it that pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. I think Lewis during war spoke directly because he didn’t need a megaphone. People were listening during war. You know the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” which there are atheists in foxholes but the point is well-known. I think Narnia came about as Lewis would say using a different metaphor, to smuggle theology in. How do I get people’s attention and draw them in? And for him it was through story. During times of war, people were listening. For me I try to do a bit of both, but I try to have a captivating story but also to give a big warning.
CS: How would you counsel someone when they’re ministering and witnessing to A person who is aggressively rejecting the faith that they once held?
DD: To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “We can’t overcome hate with more hatred,” and so I think that’s a good reminder for Christians and helpful for what’s powerful enough to overcome hate in this life. To constantly love them, be consistent with them, but never back away from the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the power of the gospel. He is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, which is both a positive and negative. Positive because he is suppressing something he knows to be true at the deepest level. It’s negative because he is suppressing it in unrighteousness. One gives me comfort, one gives me concern, but at the end of the day, they know there’s a God, even with all the vitriol when they just crank the volume up.
CS: What is your hope for this book?
DD: I hope that there’s some young Christians who step back and go, “Wow, the gospel is really beautiful and really it accounts for the human experience.” That’s one of the things that I think is helpful about the outspoken atheists is they really show us that either everything that is meaningful to us is an illusion that evolution has passed on to us, that we don’t make decisions, that our personhood is an illusion, the religious longing, our moral longings — these are all illusions that are helpful. They’ve helped us survive, developed heard morality. Either the human experience, the whole thing, is an illusion, our optimism. You know I quote Tyler Sherritt from Time, when he talks about optimism bias and that serves in evolution. You look at everything meaningful to us and you’ll find someone who will, in an academic paper, say it’s an illusion from evolution. So I hope something beautiful. Secularism cannot account for what it means to be human, so either all my human values dissipate or they’re redeemed and they’re real and I have moral instincts because moral categories are real; I have the idea of self because I have a soul, I have a longing for God because God exists. And that’s where I think reformed epistemology is really helpful. Alvin Plantinga says we don’t even need to give an argument for God any more than we need to give an argument for the trustworthiness of our senses. The idea of the sense of the divine should be regarded in the same way as our senses and our understanding of the external world. So I hope that very young people, to be concise, who are truly impressed by the gospel’s ability to explain what it means to be human. I hope there are a few people who maybe are leaving Christianity or maybe flirting with atheism who at least doubt their doubts, to quote Keller, which is really a quote from Pascal. He said few people speak charitably of charity and skeptically of skepticism, which is essentially to doubt your doubts.