Saturday, February 27, 2010

Apologetics is for the Weak-Minded

or maybe just those who have deluded themselves with misplaced zeal to argue “proof” for something they’ve already subscribed to as “belief” by faith that should, therefore, need no proof (Heb 11:1-3).

I lost interest in apologetics because it seemed so pointless. Why bother looking at evidence if your conclusion is pre-determined? The answer Christian apologists would give is that the evidence needs to be interpreted through the lens of the Bible as ultimate authority.

Special pleading aside, why is it that when we try to approach evidence as objectively and honestly as possible, we are accused of having a secular agenda, driven to undermine the Bible’s truth?

I came across a newsletter recently from a Christian creationist group and a few things struck me that led to this musing. First, all their experts are scientists who approach the Bible with a literalist hermeneutic. Clearly, this is the only way to correctly read the Bible. Otherwise, we’d be accusing God of not being able to clearly communicate what he wanted to say. (Note sarcasm behind the previous two sentences. The second sentence is actually an argument they make.) That argument for a literalist hermeneutic actually conflicts with one of the traditional assumptions driving biblical interpretation – the Bible is a cryptic document.

Second, why don’t they have any experts who are trained first in biblical interpretation? Because they’ll have a very different perspective on the significance of Genesis 1 for the creationist debate. See books by John Walton and John Sailhamer, for examples. I’m sure the apologists will have ready answers deconstructing any but their literal approach to the biblical text.

To me it requires much more intellectual honesty to start humbly with evidence to test my presuppositions and theological conclusions, rather than start with presuppositions to test the evidence.

In closing, a word about the blog post title. If you’re an apologetics nut who’s bristling with a flaming response provoked by my title, you’ve played right into my hands. Take care lest your comment prove my point.

For the rest of you defenders of the faith, what are you really defending? Your view of Scripture? Your ability to believe in God? What? Because true faith doesn’t require a defense.


  1. Apologists whould retort with 1 Peter 3:15 - "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you".

  2. Yes, but I have a feeling Peter had something different in mind than what is often defended by apologists. Giving a reason for the hope that is in you is different from making Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch or literal 6 day creationism or any other non-essential issue the crux on which your hope depends.

  3. The context of 1 Peter 3 covers a lot more than apologetics. First, the persecution by the Gentiles is a lot more than the fall of American culture or something like that. It's real, physical, thrown to the lions persecution. That's where your "hope" will be on the line.

    Second, verse 13 says, "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?" The idea I read here is why do others matter if you're honestly trying to do what's right?

    What I'm reading in that context is to keep your mouth shut, unless you're drug up to the authorities. Then make your defense in hope. This kind of apologetics sounds a lot different than what Doug is receiving.

  4. Your issue seems to be with one peculiar flavor of "apologetics" by one particular type of group.

    These exist, of course, and may influence what too many think of as good apologetics. But they hardly represent the usual understanding, much less the history of the discipline. For starters, do you think the two biblical scholars you cite above would share your understanding of, much less dismissal of the whole field of apologetics?

    Again, would you similarly dismiss the legitimacy and value of such popular efforts to present arguments in defense of the faith as those made by a C.S. Lewis (as in *Mere Christianity*)or by Tim Keller in *The Reason for God*. Aren't these apologetic works of quite a different sort from those you object to? I don't believe any of these are focused on defending a particular view of creation or narrow biblical hermeneutic. And aren't they closer to what many (most?)would have in mind?

    One other issue - your final declaration that "true faith doesn't require evidence" is, at best, ambiguous. Perhaps you are opposing "evidentialism" (or at least some forms of it). Fine. But your formulation sounds like pure fideism. Is that really the direction you want to go?

  5. Bruce,

    Yes, it is a peculiar type of apologetics that annoys me. It's the type where the apologists are so zealous for their cause because if they give an inch their entire faith system collapses. My comment was directed to those who having faith, feel compelled to prove it correct by reason to those who do not share their presuppositions.

    I think the scholars I noted in passing would agree that the "answers in genesis" style of apologetics is not helping the world's perception of Christianity. I don't mean to dismiss the whole field-just the narrow-minded, unwilling to be self-critical sub-set. My headline was intentionally over-the-top. I agree Lewis and Keller are of a different sort.

    I don't intend to go to pure fideism. That remark was pointed at those who make apologetic arguments where (reading btw the lines) it becomes clear (to me anyway) that they're desperately trying to prove to themselves that there is no evidence that disproves their faith decision.

    In retrospect, I did paint with too broad a brush against ALL apologetics. For me, blogging is more of an ongoing thinking out loud discussion.