Elevator Apologetics 2: Elephant Traps

Rick Mattson Apologetics 5 Comments

A few weeks ago I sat in the student union of Santa Rosa Junior College with a cool young atheist (let’s just call him CYA).

He told me he would never believe in God, even if God appeared to him personally.

To CYA’s thinking, a supposed appearance by God would be more rationally explained by his own hallucinations than by a deity actually showing up.

You may wonder if CYA employs a certain method or set of guidelines for discerning truth. Of course:


Most of us think of science as a tool for studying natural phenomena. But this student thinks of it as a complete worldview — which is sometimes called scientism. One of the enormous implications of this view is that anything not found within the boundaries of science doesn’t even exist.

To me, scientism doesn’t sound very scientific.

Here’s an analogy I often use: Thinking that science (by itself) is the right tool for detecting God is like setting mouse traps for elephants. When the mouse traps come up empty, are we to conclude that elephants don’t exist?

What we need are elephant traps.

Christian philosophers set elephant traps — that is, God traps — by weaving together arguments and evidence from a variety of disciplines (including science).

By the way, when we pointed out to CYA that his worldview sounded very close-minded to us, he actually agreed. “Yes, I’m very uncomfortable with that,” were his very words.

Comments 5

  1. These are excellent metaphors for use in apologetics. I am going to user them. I will share any others that come to mind, for your use. One I still use from IVCF days:

    When some CYA is telling me he doesn't believe in God, I say, “Oh? Tell me about the God you don't belive in. Maybe I don't believe in him either.” Then we get on the same side of the table, and debunk myths and untruths about that god. After such decontruction, we reconstruct a proper view of God, one that the CYA can believe in.

  2. Was he uncomfortable with his closed system our comfortable with his closed view? I thought he would be comfortable given his opening statement.


  3. This evening I just finished re-reading “The Devil's Delusion – Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions” by David Berlinski. I can't recommend this book enough when talking to our friends with one foot (or both) in scientism. I have always had an appreciation for studies in science, and believe such studies generally increases sagacity, (an observation that may be debatable), but Berlinski is exceptionally good at “contextualizing” many scientific views and defining limitations and biases. One quote from Berlinski; ” . . . the doctrines of quantum cosmology are what they seem: biased, partial, inconclusive, and largely in the service of passionate but unexamined conviction”.

  4. Wow, such good comments, and several others in my email inbox as well.

    Dietrich: I too share a distaste for the particular god and the version of Christianity that some of my atheist friends reject. We Christians do not have to defend all of Christendom for all time. Rather, I wish to defend a very defined version of Christianity (what I consider to be the biblical version).

    GB: Yeah, he was uncomfortable at the sudden realization of his own close-mindedness. He just needed someone to point it out to him, which my friend and I were happy to do.

    Dave: I have read so little of Berlinski. Thanks for the reminder that he is an excellent resource.

  5. I just finished The Devil's Delusion too; excellent read. I am ready to give my copy to a friend very much on the side of science to the exclusion of all else.

    I like the visual of an elephant trap. Use the right tool for the job. Science is good at many things; it fails miserably at so many more, and primarily when it comes to truly important questions.

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