Sunday, February 17, 2019

The apologetic mask

Again, a map of an apologetic argument (and its structure) is not the same thing as a position on what the documents actually are. Recommending a "map," in this case, is simply recommending not question begging...There is a certain structure to one's overall set of propositional beliefs, and circularity is not legitimate in reasoning structure.

– Lydia McGrew

i) On the one hand, a Christian apologist should avoid invalid or unsound arguments. 

ii) Apropos (ii), one apologetic gambit endeavors to begin where the unbeliever is. Seek common ground. Have rules that both sides agree on. Have mutual agreement on what counts as evidence.

iii) On the other hand, what does it mean to beg the question? Suppose I get into a conversation with a philosophical Buddhist. He believes the sensible world is illusory. When I appeal to empirical evidence, that's begging the question from his standpoint. However, his position is begging the question from my standpoint. Which side is begging the question? 

Or take a methodological atheist. If I play by his rules, I lost the argument before I began. I can't win by his rules. But since his strictures are arbitrary, who's begging the question?

Which side has the burden of proof in cases like that? 

iv) I expect many unbelievers are suspicious of Christian apologetics precisely it's often so calculating. The apologist dons a mask. He's feeding the unbeliever reasons the unbelief might find plausible. 

But I expect many unbelievers don't want to be on the receiving end of an apologetic strategy. They don't like to be manipulated or pandered to, as if this is a sales pitch. They don't want the apologist to second guess what they're prepared to believe. 

Rather, they wish the apologist would take off the mask and just tell them why he believes what he believes. Honestly tell them what his reasons are. 

Are the reasons you're feeding me the same reasons for your own faith? Are those your true reasons? I want to know the reasons you live by and die by. Your unfiltered reasons. Not arguments customized for my consumption. 

That's why many readers find writers like Augustine, Pascal, Newman, and Kierkegaard compelling. They show their face. They don't hide behind a mask. You're in touch with the real person. 

The problem with an apologetic strategy is that it frequently creates a dichotomy between the reasons the apologist has and the reasons he gives. It thereby fosters the impression that he's afraid to share his real reasons because they're weak. If he seems to be concealing his true reasons, his personal reasons for why he's a Christian, the message that sends is that he doesn't have good evidence for what he believes, and his official apologetic is P.R. 

I think it's best for a Christian apologist to say, this is why believe what I do, and this is why I think these are good reasons for what I believe. You may not find that convincing or credible, but at least you know I'm not trying to play you. 

1 comment:

  1. This may help partly explain why Steve's own "Why I Believe" series (part 1 & part 2) is so compelling to many people (including myself). I believe John Frame has used the series in his classes. And I believe it's now been shared on multiple websites including websites that seek to provide free seminary-level education to everyone (e.g. ThirdMill).