Addressing Skeptical Challenges, Part 2

shutterstock_483553246I’m not sure if the internet and social media as a whole are either an intrinsic good or an intrinsic bad, but as technologies they do afford opportunities to discuss Christian apologetics issues. In part one of this series I responded to an objection by a skeptic who raised questions about what I wrote in “The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science.” Here in part two I’ll address his other major objection (summarized below).

Skeptical Objection

The incarnation is a central Christian belief, but it contains an inherent contradiction. If Jesus is God and man, then his unlimited divine nature clashes with his limited human nature. The two natures are incompatible. This seems both illogical and false—thus, Christianity is based on nonsense.

My Response

The skeptic argues that the Christian doctrine of the incarnation (Jesus being both God and man) violates the law of noncontradiction (A cannot equal A and non-A). Before I answer that criticism on the coherency of the incarnation, I would ask the skeptic a question: In a world without God in which only matter exists, how does a naturalist account for abstract, nonempirical entities such as the law of noncontradiction?

The formal laws of logic (law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity) are the foundation that makes substantive thought, speech, and action possible. Since these laws are cognitively necessary (no meaningful thought is possible without them), ontologically real (they define the very nature of reality itself), and irrefutable (any attempted refutation of the laws must first assume them), where did they come from? Humans could not have invented them (mere conventions) because man would have had to know them to learn anything at all. How is it possible to have immaterial, invariant, abstract entities in an atheistic world? Can the worldview of naturalism explain and account for logic? From a Christian theistic point of view, the laws of logic flow from the rational mind of God.

Concerning the alleged incoherence of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation (Jesus as a single person with both a divine and human nature1), the doctrine can be formulated in a way that is not logically contradictory. One could argue that the way in which Jesus was limited (human nature) is in a different respect from the way in which he was unlimited (divine nature). The law of noncontradiction asserts that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. Formulated as I have stated it, the incarnation does not formally violate the law of noncontradiction.

Also, the union of the two natures in the person of Christ need not imply contradiction for another reason. The orthodox definition says that the two natures in Christ (divine and human) are in union with one another but remain distinct. In other words, the natures do not mix or intermingle and thus do not conflict.

Summary

Finite creatures cannot comprehend exactly how a single person can have two distinct natures (one divine and one human). But as defined by Christian orthodoxy, the incarnation is not a formal contradiction because the two natures do not negate or limit one another (the two natures neither clash nor mingle).

So historic Christian theology insists that the incarnation is not a logical contradiction, but instead a divine mystery.2 This doctrine defies full human comprehension but it does no damage to reason. I hope this brief thought piece helps you to reason respectfully with nonbelievers on social media, in person, or in any context.

Reflections: Your Turn

How does Jesus’s having a human nature impact his serving as our high priest?

Endnotes

  1. For a discussion of how Jesus Christ can have both a divine nature and a human nature, see Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions, chapter 9.
  2. To appreciate how logical contradiction differs from mystery, see my article, “The Difference between Mystery and Contradiction,” Reflections (blog), Reasons to Believe (December 18, 2018), https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/the-difference-between-mystery-and-contradiction-in-theology/.

  One thought on “Addressing Skeptical Challenges, Part 2

  1. Taylor Sealy
    January 22, 2019 at 7:49 am

    I would say that one explanation of the two natures of Jesus can be accounted for by the spiritual and physical natures of humans. As human beings we have limited awareness and knowledge compared to God, as a part of God’s design, and the same was true of Jesus, although he was much more aware of the spiritual than most humans (maybe all humans). He said he only said and did what he saw his heavenly father say and do, which is an example for us to follow with our limitations. He was able to be tempted like we are because of his human limitations. Jesus had the spirit of God while his heavenly father still ran the universe in the same way as the end of a balloon pinched off to some degree from the rest of the balloon is still part of the same balloon with the same air. Staying close to his heavenly father in the spirit helped him to overcome temptation and to know his father’s will at all times. One way of looking at the trinity concept, in my current opinion, is that God created the spiritual and physical worlds and he has ways to directly interact in each of those realities. Jesus in the physical, holy spirit in the spiritual, and father God who created both of those worlds. Just a thought.

    • January 22, 2019 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Taylor.

      Ken Samples

  2. Mike
    January 22, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I’m curious about your thoughts on what you have written here and Paul’s writing about his internal struggle with the flesh vs the spirit? Do we not also have two contradicting forces at work with in us?
    Thank you for anything you can offer on this subject and I really appreciate your contributions to RTB

    • January 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm

      Mike:

      I definitely think our old sin nature clashes with our new nature in Christ.

      I address the issue of original sin and regeneration in my book 7 Truths That Changed the World (see chapters 9 & 10).

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

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