My father taught me many things growing up. He taught me that it isn’t wise to always say what you’re thinking. I should probably work on that; I’m sure he thinks he so. He also taught me that it isn’t wise to tell everything you know. I’ve always loved watching shows where the “bad guys” are plotting against the “good guys” and you know exactly what they are up to. It seems like they are going to take the “good guys” by surprise, but lo and behold, the “good guys” knew all along and were only pretending to be ignorant. It isn’t always wise to reveal your hand.
Similarly, it isn’t wise to overplay your hand. It especially isn’t wise when you are involved in a dialogue, or debate. I see this a lot when I’m in dialogue with an atheist, or Darwinist. Sometimes they’ll say, “Darwinian theory is a proven fact.” Immediately, I know they must be bluffing because Darwinian theory attempts to reconstruct natural history. We cannot reconstruct natural history with certitude. One reason is because of the limited amount of fossils we have. Darwinian theory may be the best explanation (I doubt it), but it cannot be a certain fact. Saying that it is would be a bluff, or an overplaying of one’s hand. On the other hand, theists will sometimes say, “Science proves that God exists.” No it doesn’t. They’re overplaying their hands. Scientific evidence provides premises for a structured argument. Then, we can use reason (philosophy) to arrive at a conclusion with theistic implications based on those premises. For example:
- Things that begin have causes.
- The universe began.
- The universe has a cause, God.
Don’t get hung-up on my cosmological argument here. The point is that science can prove, or disprove, the first two premises. The conclusion, however, is arrived at by logical reasoning. Science doesn’t prove God, it provides premises.
René Descartes famously set-out to see what all could logically be doubted. He arrived at the conclusion that everything could be doubted except one’s own existence. His skepticism used certainty as its guide. What could he know with certainty? He could know with certainty that he exists because in order to doubt his own existence he would have to think, and thinking is only present in conscious, existing creatures. Everyone else could be logically doubted. Descartes couldn’t know with certainty that he wasn’t actually just a brain somewhere that a mad scientist was tweaking with to make him think everything else exists. As annoying as that sounds, he has a point. There is, logically, room for doubt in many things we hold to be true. However, doubting the external world isn’t reasonable. You would need overwhelming evidence to suggest such a thing and there just isn’t any.
Our goal should be to arrive at truth. If we set our standard of truth at certainty, like Descartes, we can’t really hold much as true. Our standard should be the best explanation based on evidence and good reasoning. We should also hold what we believe to be true somewhat loosely. We may find more evidence, or someone may come along with better reasoning, and our beliefs will have to change accordingly. Our level of belief should be as strong, or as weak, as the evidence and reasoning. If the evidence and reasoning are strong, we should have equal confidence.
Regarding Christian apologists, we especially shouldn’t overplay our hands. Our aim is to win a person to Christ, not to win an argument. We won’t win people, and probably won’t even win an argument, by bluffing and overplaying our hands. Why? Because we’re essentially lying! Who wants to believe something if you have to lie to “prove” it?
I’m not a theist because I know with certainty that God exists. I’m a theist because I believe the best explanation of the evidence, using reason, is that God exists. I’m not a Christian because I know with certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. I’m a Christian because I believe the best explanation of the evidence, using reason, is that Jesus rose from the dead. I say I’m not certain, which means I could be proven wrong. This may worry some Christians, but I don’t need certainty to give myself wholly to Jesus. I don’t operate on a day-to-day basis thinking, “Oh no, what if I’m wrong?” I live my life under the Lordship of Jesus, that is, imperfectly. So, don’t overplay your hands. It isn’t necessary and it doesn’t do anyone any good.