TGF Topical Studies

The Matrix & Presuppositional Apologetics

James Hilston
22 December 2000

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0. Introduction: Following is a brief examination and treatment of Christian apologetics using the Warner Bros./Wachowski Brothers's film, "The Matrix," as the nexus of the discussion. This movie is one of my recent favorite products of Hollywood, primarily because of the fundamental philosophical question it poses: "How do we know what we know?" Below are several excerpted lines from the script of the movie, accompanied by some context for those who may have forgotten the premise of the film. Following each excerpt are my remarks about how the dialogue relates to the presuppositional apologetics method and, by contrast, how the evidential approach to apologetics is unbiblical and insufficient. (Warning: To those who haven't seen the movie, I encourage you to rent it before reading this. Otherwise, this discussion will reveal and spoil some of the plot twists.)

I. Excerpt 1: "Following the white rabbit."
Neo (Keannu Reeves), the main character and hero of the movie, has been learning about the Matrix. Apparently, it is some well-kept secret. He doesn't know what it is, and the movie isn't immediately clear about how Neo knows about it. What is clear is that Neo had been searching for, and has finally found someone who he thinks will tell him what it is. This mysterious man is named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).

Morpheus to Neo: "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life."

This line from The Matrix unwittingly touches on and parallels the question of the knowledge of God's existence: How do humans (all humans, according to Ro. 1:19ff) know God exists? While all humans know both mediately and immediately in a reciprocal fashion (see definitions below), the idea of innate knowledge (immediate) is intimated in Morpheus's remark. He is basically saying, "You know there's more to this. You can't explain it, but you nonetheless know it."

Mediate knowledge: The knowledge of God's existence based on inferences and conclusions drawn from discursive reasoning and progressive arguments.

Immediate knowledge: The preinterpretive aspect of the knowledge of God's existence. This is essentially the recognition facet of evidence. In other words, it is one thing to see design in the universe. It is another to know this Designer is the God of the scriptures. This is immediate knowledge that everyone without exception has.

This can be described in Matrix terms in how that Neo recognized Morpheus's words as having a ring of truth. Similarly, when a human hears the words of God, he knows that they are true, but will most often go to great lengths to deny and to rebel against it.

II. Excerpt 2: Choosing the red pill
The main premise of the movie is the "world is a hoax, an elaborate decption spun by all-powerful machines of artificial intelligence." Each human is actually not experiencing the day-to-day activities of existence. Rather each person is physically trapped inside of a caccoon-like capsule, plugged into a vast network, a Matrix, which feeds "perceptions" into their brains. They in turn, provide energy from their mental activity to the artificial intelligence that enslaves them.

Neo is given the choice to pursue the "truth" by taking the red pill, or to go back to his previous life by taking the blue pill. He chooses to "follow the white rabbit" by taking the red pill, which is actually a "trace program" that will "free him" from the Matrix. As Neo is beginning to feel the effects of the disruption (interference in his connection to the Matrix), his begins to hallucinate. Morpheus asks him a question:

"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"

Morpheus's question deals with the epistemological question: How do we know what we know? From there, we must ask what IS reality? In my opinion, one who attempts to answer this question on the basis of evidence alone cannot adequately do so and is left with merely probability (i.e., "My senses and reason *probably* comport with reality, so I guess I'll just take my chances"). However, the scriptures speak of "full assurance" and not just probability (Ac 2:36 Col 2:2 1Th 1:5 Heb 6:11 10:22). The scriptures describe strong confidence and certainty, being fully persuaded without wavering, and knowing the certainty of the word of truth: Lu 1:4 Ro 4:21 Heb 10:23 Pr 14:26 22:17-21. The Bible exhorts us to pursue and to have a detailed and precise knowledge (Greek: epignosis, rendered in English [KJV/AV] as "knowledge" or "an acknowledging") of God and the truth: Eph 1:17 4:13 Php 1:9 Col 1:9,10 2:2 3:10 1Ti 2:4 2Ti 2:25 Tit 1:1 2Pe 1:2,3,8. How does one come to such certainty, assurance, full confidence, and unwavering commitment to the truth? Is it to come by way of evaluating evidence for God's existence provided by an creationist expert with an advanced degree in paleo-microbiology?

III. Excerpt 3: How deep does the rabbit hole go?
Neo has been freed from the Matrix. He is learning about his new surroundings and is being confronted with some of the larger questions. As an object lesson, Neo is seated in a contraption while a cable fitted with a device not unlike a giant and frightening headphone jack is inserted into a receptacle in the back of his skull (which everyone rescued from the Matrix has). Suddenly, he no longer seems to be where he was before. All he sees is white all around him. Then there appears a chair, a television, and Morpheus, who informs Neo that he — actually his mind — is now within a simulated Matrix-like environment:

Neo (Incredulously, feeling the chair): This isn't real?

Morpheus: What IS "real"? How do you define "real"? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then "real" is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Indeed. How do I know I'm not just a brain in a vat? Or like Neo in the Matrix? I have debated and am acquainted with atheists who are deterministic in their worldview -- they do not believe in free will. They claim we are merely bags of molecules who have these neurological control centers (our brains) that comprise and process electrical signals, biological reactions, and somatic impulses influenced by internal chemical processes and stimuli from our environment. The ultimate conclusion of this is no responsibility or morality, only conventions of behavior. "Good" and "bad" are defined by the consensus of a society of bags of molecules reacting to one another. The Christian on the basis of scripture (presuppositionally) can adequately answer such futility and darkened reasoning. The evidentialist cannot.

IV. Excerpt 4: Is that "air" you are breathing?

Morpheus and Neo are "martial arts training" within another Matrix-like simulated environment. Neo is frustrated and "out of breath". Keep in mind, both Neo and Morpheus are actually just sitting in the aforementioned contraptions with a jacks plugged into the backs of their skulls.

Morpheus to Neo: Do you think that's air you're breathing right now?

Again, it is all in Neo's mind: the training, the physical interaction, his being out of breath. How do we know, as we claim to be rational beings, whether or not our experience actually aligns with reality? Are you really sitting there reading this? Or are you just a brain in a vat, getting "sensory" data from cables and connections from a mainframe? How would you know? How would you go about finding out?

Excerpt 5: What is the Matrix?

Further explanation to Neo from Morpheus:

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. When you're inside, you look around you, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters; the very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that System, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged; and many of them are so hopelessly dependent on the System that they will fight to protect it."

Amazing how Hollywood can be so unwittingly insightful. Allow me to modify Morpheus' statements in terms that ar e more germane to the debate:

"Atheism is a system. That system is our enemy. When you're in their midst, you look around you, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters; the very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until that happens, these people are still a part of that atheistic System, and that makes them our enemy. Many of these people are not (and may never be) ready to be submit to the Word of God; and many of them are so hopelessly committed to their atheistic System that they will fight to protect it."

V. Closing remarks: What is the problem with atheism? Why do atheists not believe in the existence of God? Is it a lack of evidence? Or do they hold to the wrong presuppositions? Is the problem systematical? Or evidentiary? Do they simply need more evidence and more persuasive arguments? Or do they need a new system by which to understand the evidence and the arguments?

The problem with atheism is not a lack of evidence. They already know God exists, it's just that they choose to suppress what they know (Ro. 1:18-20). Neither is it a lack of persuasive arguments. Jesus said:

Lu 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

An atheist will not yield and accept what they know to be true will not be persuaded by evidence. What needs to happen is a challenge to their overall worldview and a subsequent regeneration of their spirit.

2Ti 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

This alone can change their willful rebellion into a trusting belief and acceptance of what they've known to be true all along.

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