Reasons Institute, Certficate Program, review.Colin Burgess.
Getting qualifications in the field of apologetics is not as cut&dry as one would assume, it is offered as a component of pure theology programs, but rarely is this offered as a full program, especially in Canada, from where I write. A full Master’s degree in this field is very expensive and will rarely gain one employment in the field. In response to this problem, I have put together my own apologetics training, which is more customized and specific to my interests, as apologetics can range from utilizing mathematics, science and even poetry. My interest and emphasis in apologetics has taken the route of philosophy and the philosophy of the sciences. I would take it as complimentary if someone said I was JP Moreland’s lightweight buddy. My background, academically, has been Biola’s certificate in apologetics, and various courses on Coursera in philosophy and astronomy. Ultimately my studies led me to exploring Reasons Institute’s certificate in apologetics and science.
I stepped into this program with a great deal of wonder and caution, because I noticed the absence of reviews on the internet about it, and here I was about to put a great deal of money and time into the program. Luckily Hugh Ross and the staff at RTB are some of the most trusted Christian scholars I have ever studied, prior, so I knew I was in for an academic treat and challenge, my disagreements on aside issues, such as soteriology, not even being a huge issue. This program does not require one adopt a specific view on soteriology, although accepting an old earth model is not necessary to pass the courses, but the apologetic method employed presupposes the uniformity of nature and some sort of cosmic beginning, ie: a Big Bang, a finite period of time ago, and explores String Theory and Progressive Creationism, based on these premises. A Young Earth Creationist may find it difficult to employ the apologetic arguments presented. One will find the, very well informed, instructors are welcome to challenges and disagreement in the discussion forums.
I was up for the academic challenge of doing all 3 certificate levels in one year, although this is not necessary and was exhausting, even with my apologetic and philosophical background. There are time constraints and the assignments cannot be done at one’s leisure, so be prepared to work hard, especially into the higher level courses. Many of my Saturday’s were devoted to catching up on book reviews and written assignments. I believe the challenges offered by this program gives it a great deal of credibility and these are not certificates RI hands out like some sort of diploma mill.
I took the program with an emphasis in astronomy, although one may do this with an emphasis in biology. No matter what, Creation&Evolution is a mandatory course which introduces the student to the evolutionary paradigm and Progressive Creationism, so the exposure to evolution is unavoidable, but not being a biology enthusiast, astronomy was my natural choice. I was nervous, thinking the astronomy courses would require strong knowledge of mathematics, which I do not have, but was assured this was not necessary and my lack of strong mathematical skills never came up as being problematic.
The courses I took, in their order, were:
Creation and the Bible.
This course is very informative and not overly challenging, but seemed to be designed to introduce the student to the RI teaching method and, of course, the Old Earth model. If you are unsure about Old Earth Creationism, take this course and get a taste for the reasons people hold to it. I found the rebuttals to the Young Earth models to be fairly respectful and the best scholarship in favour of this was presented in defence. RTB seems to highly frown upon misrepresentation of ideas they disagree with, in order to refute the very best anti-Christian scholarship which exists, with the gentleness and respect deserved.
Here the student is also introduced to a Concordist view of scripture, that a true revelation will correspond with a true nature. RTB defends the notion that the more we learn more about the record of nature and revelation, the more each will shed light on the other. Given that both general and special revelation share the same cause, it makes sense they would both point to this source. Be prepared to learn how to defend this scripturally, not just philosophically, or the instructors will hold your feet to the fire.
For follow up reading to this course, I would suggest JP Moreland’s “Christianity and the Nature of Science.”
Astronomy and Design I.
Here one will gain understanding of different models of the origin of the universe. Those who find the Kalam Cosmological argument useful in defending the notion that God exists will find this course useful in defending this philosophical argument and buttressing it with space time theorems. The introductory reading was not difficult, yet it was informative. In the year I took this course, 2015, the main text was “Origins of the Universe for Dummies” which was very useful. The reading may change year to year, as each course develops and changes.
For pre-reading, I suggest “Astronomy for Dummies.” For follow up reading, I would highly suggest “Fingerprint of God,” by Hugh Ross, as this elaborates on the first astronomy course and will groom the student for the next, which is much more challenging and less forgiving…
Astronomy and Design II.
This is the course where you’ll wish you paid attention in the first astronomy course. The assignments are much more challenging and the instructor, in my case, was much less forgiving. Here, you will learn about the weak and strong anthropic principles and String Theory and how it plays a role in God’s extra dimensionality. Here you will learn more about God’s relationship to time and space, while being a Transcendent First Cause.
The main textbook was not too intimidating, (String Theory for Dummies) and additional books related well to it.
This course will make you want to either cry, or do follow up studies in Quantum Mechanics. Once I finished the crying stage, I went to Chapters and bought “Quantum Mechanics” by Leonard Susskind. It lacked the mathematical proofs, which I–as a philosopher–appreciated. I was glad to have read, prior, Stephen Hawking’s “Grand Design” and “A Briefer History of Time.” Those more comfortable with physics may enjoy “A Brief History of Time.” I needed the toned down version, but plan on reading the heavy version eventually.
Here, the student learns about multiverses and the different levels of multiverses. The philosophical absurdities that arise from pushing out a designer in favour of an infinite array of actual universes is well worth the price of admission. The conclusion here is anything beyond a level 1 multiverse starts becoming metaphysical speculation and leaves the realm of physics. As Bill Craig notes, the multiverse theory is a desperate attempt, on the atheists part, to escape the notion of a designer.
Learning how the atheist abuses Quantum Mechanics to sweep the notion of a God under the carpet was also worth its weight in gold. This argument from ignorance, on the atheists part, needs to be put to bed.
As a follow up, one may enjoy reading William Lane Craig’s “Time&Eternity” or “Creation&Time” by Hugh Ross.
As a secular follow up, to this course, I would suggest Victor Stenger’s, “God and the Multiverse!”
This is a base course, for if the student wishes to get the RTB certificate with an emphasis in biology.
I stepped into this course with little knowledge of biology, but this course acquaints us all more with the progressive creation model and with how evolution is an insufficient model to explain mass speciation events after mass extinction periods in earth’s history and how the complexity in life increases after every extinction period. Just learning this was worth the price of admission. One needn’t be an expert in evolution if they know how it is an insufficient model, at least in the absence of a designer. This course teaches the student, however, not to be too dismissive of evolution, but points to its strengths and forces the student to empathize with a position they needn’t agree with.
As a follow up, I highly suggest Fazale Rana’s “The Cells Design.” For a good secular read, go get Jerry Coyne’s, “Why Evolution is True.” RTB has recently rereleased “Who Was Adam?” and is also an excellent follow up read.
My disappointment with this course is that it did not interact much with the reading material which I had to buy. I followed along with assignments, just fine, having, “Creation as Science” in hand. This book is written by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross and is very informative. Those taking the program, with an emphasis on biology, may appreciate the full array of reading material prescribed for future reference.
Here things get more philosophical and theological, and the student will appreciate what was previously taught to them, especially with regards to String Theory. How other major religions stack up to the record of nature and our consciences is explored. Here these religions are explored with a great deal of reverence, by Dr Kenneth Samples, who abhors misrepresenting other views, in order to refute them. The prescribed reading material is engaging and is sufficient as a follow up, in itself. Christianity is juxtaposed with major religions, such as Mormonism, Islam and even Buddhism. The thesis of this course seemed to be that all men have an ability to search for God, due to our rational capacity, but fall short when we find God purely on our terms and fail to recognize the top down component of revelation, that true revelation will correspond to true science. This course highly respects the notion that all truth belongs to the God of the Bible, but pieces of truth are found in most, if not all, world views. Theological distinctions, not necessarily moral distinctions, are how we should evaluate different religions in this age of so-called enlightenment and religious pluralism. Who we say God is, is key to differentiating between God and non-god.
Critical Thinking Skills.
Here things continue to get philosophical and one gains insight into both Systematic Theology, by reading Ronald Nash’s book, “The Word of God and the Mind of Man.” This course deeply ties into the World Religion and Science Course and they certainly compliment each other. Here the student learns that revelation exists in the mind of God, but as it comes to us it is propositional. Those familiar with the works of logicians, such as Norman Geisler, will appreciate how this course utilizes the immutable laws of logic through which we may know God and assign true propositions to His nature and worship Him in spirit and in truth.
For the philosophically minded, I would suggest reading the prescribed material on your own time, after the course is wrapped up. For those really interested, Patrick Hurley’s, “A Concise Introduction to Logic” should serve you well.
I reveal my bias and love for Norman Geisler, but would suggest his Systematic Theology and his book on Christian Apologetics as a follow up.
In these reviews, I have suggested supplementary follow up reading, but in all of these courses the main reading texts were not exhaustively covered. One may first reread the main study material, on their own time.
I did see a lot of weaknesses in this program and hope to see the program developed as student feedback is further given. However, this program makes for an excellent substitute for those not wishing to remortgage their houses for a degree that may not pay off in the end.
I do not think school, in any field, is intended to give the graduate an exhaustive education, but is meant to spur the graduate on to further learning and to do work in the field. I would suggest becoming a blogger, in addition to becoming a lifelong learner in whatever aspect of this program interested you the most. I, myself, have chosen to follow up with this program by getting into “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian WorldView” by William Lane Craig and JP Moreland. I had done numerous courses on Coursera prior to this, but would suggest looking into additional courses on astronomy, logic and philosophy, of Coursera or EdX, if you are a thirsty learner. Biola’s certificate in apologetics would also go well with this certificate.
For prereading, before the next RI semester begins, I suggest acquainting oneself with apologetics, so you are not caught off guard by all of the material. Alvin Platinga has written an exellent book, called, “Science&Religion,,Where the Conflict Really Lies.” I hope to see RI use this in future courses. William Lane Craig’s “On Guard” or “Reasonable Faith” would also gear the future student for the challenges of this program.
I suggest this program and its different levels, for those with their specific needs.
If you are a homeschooling parent, I would suggest at least the Basic certificate, if your kid is coming home from college with some tough questions, I suggest the Intermediate to Advanced certificate. This program is a must for youth and church pastors, who need to start teaching less self-help and more intellectualism from the pulpits. Those involved in Bible studies, or wishing to start a Reasonable Faith, Reasons to Believe, or a Ratio Christi chapter, will find this to be essential.
My conclusion is to use this program as a platform for further learning, to better promote the gospel that desperately needs it, especially in an age swarming with misinformation. We are called to love God with our hearts and minds, so let’s start doing so.