Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Tips on apologetics

Christian apologetics is primarily the purview of bachelors. Once they have to juggle wife, kids, and full-time job, they no longer have the same leisure time for apologetics. 

I've been doing apologetics for many years, and it isn't possible to have an intelligent, constructive dialogue with some people. So I simply avoid arguing with certain kinds of people. 

1. Hobbyhorses

Some people have a hobbyhorse like creationism or cessationism or a millennial position or even geocentrism. In their eyes, you can be right about everything else, but if you're wrong  on that particular issue, that nullifies everything else you believe. They're obsessed with their hobbyhorse. That's their litmus test. That's all they want to talk about. And if you let them, they will make their hobbyhorse your hobbyhorse. 

Life is short. You have to pick your fights. You need to have your own priorities. 

2. Convince me!

There are unbelievers who imagine Christians have a duty to convince them. I don't. I have a duty to give you my reasons for what I believe and respond to objections. That's where my duty begins and ends. I'm not responsible for what you believe. That's on you. I really don't care what you do with your life, especially if you live in willful disbelief. If you're just uninformed, I'm happy to correct that. 

3. Illuminati

Many laymen believe the Holy Spirit is their teacher. He gives you the correct interpretation of Scripture. The Bible doesn't actually promise that. It's folk theology. But it's impossible to have a reasonable debate with someone like that. They view themselves as God's oracle. To disagree with them is to disagree with God. 

4. Onion peelers

Some unbelievers have faulty assumptions that go layers deep. Every time you correct or clarify one of their faulty assumptions, there's another layer underneath. It's just too time-consuming to peel back all the layers. And they're usually not listening anyway. Don't invest time in people who are a waste of time. 

5. Self-selected consensus

Some unbelievers appeal to consensus. It's a self-selected consensus where they preemptively disqualify anyone who doesn't think alike. For instance, you're not a real Bible scholar unless you're committed to methodological atheism. It's not possible to have a rational discussion with someone who appeals to a circular standard of consensus. 

6. Loaded questions

There are unbelievers who ask loaded questions. Questions that beg the question by framing the issue in prejudicial ways. That build contested assumptions into the formulation of the question. Often they don't even recognize that they are asking loaded questions. If you refuse to answer their loaded question, they think you're being evasive. But the proper response to a loaded question is not to answer the question but to challenge the question. Point out that the question assumes the very thing that needs to be proven. 

7. Foils

In public debate, the objective isn't generally to persuade your opponent. However, some people are worth debating because they are good spokesmen for the other side. You debate them, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of lurkers. 

8. Burden of proof

Some disputants fail to appreciate that both sides have a burden of proof. They imagine that you only have a burden of proof if you affirm or assert something. But that's a fallacy. To deny something is also a truth claim. Likewise, to be noncommittal is to say the evidence is insufficient. 

9. Spoonfeeders

Some unbelievers say there's no evidence for God or the Bible or miracles. The Bible is full of contradictions, scientific and historical blunders. The problem of evil sinks Christianity. OT ethics is abhorrent. And so on and so forth.

When you point them to accessible resources to consult, they refuse to study the resources. They demand that you spoonfeed them examples and arguments. But it can't mean more to you than it does to them. If they refuse to do the most elementary research, if they refuse to study the evidence when you refer them to good resources, then you've done your job. You're not responsible for their intellectual frivolity. 

10. Moving the goal post.

Some unbelievers will raise an objection. When they lose the argument, they simply change the subject. They raise a new objection. So it's unclear what their real reasons are for their disbelief. The reasons they give don't seem to be their real reasons because it makes no difference to their position when the reason they give is debunked. They just keep moving the goal post. 

11. What's your best argument for Christianity?

Some unbelievers demand that you provide your best argument for Christianity. But that's simplistic. That assumes there's one best argument for Christianity. But there are many good arguments for Christianity. Many independent lines of evidence for Christianity. And some people find certain kinds of evidence more appealing than others, viz. historical, philosophical, scientific, personal religious experience. Christianity would be apologetically impoverished if the case for Christianity was reducible to one best argument. 

12. Give me your best example of miracle

By the same token, some atheists demand that you provide your best example of a miracle. But that assumes there is one best example. Yet that's unreasonable. The argument from miracles is a cumulative case argument. A collection of well-documented case-studies. That allows for a margin for error. The argument doesn't rise or fall on one particular example but a wide-range of credible reports. 

13. Hypotheticals

Some unbelievers evade the actual evidence by raising hypothetical objections to Christianity. Hypothetical defeaters or undercutters. How can you be certain? 

14. Psychology

Some unbelievers focus on the psychology of faith. What are your motives to be a Christian rather than what are your reasons to be a Christian? 

15. Personal testimony

Some unbelievers demand that you give personal examples. While there can be a place for that, it's only as credible as the witness. An advantage of public testimony is that it may include corroborative evidence. 

16. Anecdotal evidence

By contrast, some unbelievers automatically discount anecdotal evidence.  But while it may be fallacious to generalize from anecdotal evidence, anecdotal evidence can be perfectly legitimate to establish that certain kinds of things happen or exist. You just can't extrapolate beyond the sample.  

17. Dictionary fallacy

There are people who imagine you can resolve a philosophical dispute by consulting a dictionary definition. One problem with that appeal is that dictionaries simply describe popular usage. In addition, many philosophical debates use technical jargon. The words have a more specialized meaning. And it's about more than the meaning of words. It's about intricate concepts. Even at that level of analysis, an encyclopedia of philosophy doesn't tell the reader which position is right. 

18. Pseudointellectuals

Many critics who are not intellectuals raise intellectual objections to Christianity, or Calvinism, or the Trinity and the Incarnation, or the Protestant faith. Although they raise intellectual objections, they lack the aptitude to understand an intellectual explanation. They raise a philosophical objection, but they can't follow the explanation. It sails over their heads.

So they're not listening. They tune out the explanation. They just wait for you to stop talking, then launch into their flashcard objections. 

On a related note, some people are able to grasp the explanation if they gave themselves a chance, but they don't think you have anything worthwhile to say. You must be wrong. So if you present a sophisticated explanation, they screen that out. They dismiss that as a snowjob. You're just trying to hoodwink them with a blizzard of evasive technicalities. They're too suspicious to think you could possibly be right. So they don't seriously consider what you have to say. Even though they raise rational objections, they lack the rational patience to process and assess the answer. 

19. Authority-mongers

Many Catholics reduce every issue to authority. By what authority do you justify the Protestant canon? By what authority to you justify your interpretation of Scripture. It never dawns on them that the appeal to religious authority is regressive. At some stage in the process they must fall back on their fallible personal judgment. 

20. Low standards

Many people get their arguments from lightweight popularizers. They don't study the best their own side has to offer. For instance, they imagine that Leighton Flowers is a competent critic of Calvinism and competent exponent of freewill theism. They don't study serious Bible scholars on their own side like I. H. Marshalll or Brian Abasciano. They don't study philosophers of libertarian freedom like Robert Kane of Kevin Timpe. They don't study philosophical freewill theologians like Alvin Plantinga, Alexander Pruss, Peter van Inwagen, or Richard Swinburne. And they don't study the best the opposing side has to offer, in terms of exegetical or philosophical theology, viz. Don Carson, Ramsey Michaels on John's Gospel, Tom Schreiner on Romans, Steven Baugh on Ephesians, P. T. O'Brien on Hebrews, Karen Jobes on 1-3 John, Greg Beale on Revelation; Paul Helm, James Anderson, Greg Welty, Paul Manata, and Guillaume Bignon on philosophical objections to Calvinism. 

A parallel example is Catholics who get their information, not from reading Catholic academics, Bible scholars, and church historians, but outfits like Catholic Answers. 

Likewise, many atheists get their arguments from hack atheists. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, I spent more than a couple minutes on some guy who loved the dictionary fallacy. Faith is believing without evidence? Ok, according to what? Merriam-Webster. One of the many definitions could be read that way, therefore that's what all Christians meant, including the one saying otherwise.