Sunday, October 19, 2008

Should Christians do apologetics?

Some Christians eschew evidence-based apologetics. They reason that if our faith is based on, say, historical evidence and other evidence turns up that casts our historical conclusions into question, then our faith may be weakened or destroyed. Indeed there are some anti-apologists who say they used to be Christians but lost their faith because of contrary evidence.

There are several reasons why I find this thinking problematic. First of all, if our faith is not based on evidence for the truth claims of Christianity then what is it based on? Our own subjective feelings? Certainly subjective considerations have a lot to do with belief (regardless of what one believes), but I don’t see how this makes a better foundation for faith than arguments based on evidence and sound application of logic and reason. Feelings can change. Likewise if our own experience is the basis for our faith, that can be outweighed by other experiences (or perhaps by arguments that call our experiences into question).

Second, in every case that I’m familiar with of Christians who have lost their faith, there were significant factors at play other than strictly evidence-based arguments against Christianity. Often it’s the case that Christians lose their faith because of some personal crisis where they doubt whether God is really watching out for them. It starts with a loss of trust in God and then proceeds to full-blown apostasy, perhaps aided by skeptical arguments. But the arguments themselves are not terribly persuasive based strictly on their merits.

Third, my own experience of studying historical apologetics has always had the result of strengthening rather than weakening my faith. In particular, my study of arguments for and against the Resurrection has shown the weakness of the skeptical position very clearly to me. The striking thing is the lack of any coherent explanation for the evidence from the skeptical side. The traditional skeptical arguments have been shown to be full of holes. The evidence is too early for it to have been the result of legendary accretion, even though that’s usually the leading theory these days. There’s also no evidence for any development of the belief in the Resurrection – it appeared very suddenly and very early, serving as the foundation of the beliefs of the early Christians. Other skeptical theories have been repudiated time and again, including theories such as that the disciples hallucinated Jesus’ appearances to them, that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but revived in the tomb and managed to escape, that the women went to the wrong tomb, or that the disciples made the whole thing up and hoodwinked a gullible Jewish audience.

N.T. Wright says he sent the manuscript of his impressive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God, to his former tutor at Oxford, an atheist. The tutor said, “you’ve made a very impressive argument. But I simply choose to believe that there is some natural explanation for this other than Jesus rising from the dead.” Ultimately the skeptic falls back on the argument that says, “there must be some natural explanation for it.” But that, of course, is simply an assumption on the part of the skeptic. If all options are on the table including the supernatural one, the superiority of it is clearly demonstrated.

Thus I see no reason for Christians not to engage in historical, evidential apologetics, and many good reasons to do so.

11 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Wright knows all about 'The Empty Tomb' , edited by Lowder and Price, and has written not one word of rebuttal.

I guess he knows there must be a supernatural explanation for all of this, no matter how impressive atheist arguments are.

John Fraser said...

Steven,

You said, "Wright knows all about 'The Empty Tomb' , edited by Lowder and Price, and has written not one word of rebuttal."

Is this supposed to be an argument of some sort? Lowder is not even in Wright's league, so I'm sure Wright wouldn't waste his time refuting him. He can't be expected to refute every hack that comes along. Price is part of the Jesus Seminar, and Wright has written quite a bit against that group. So if you're trying to insinuate that Wright ignores or can't refute his critics because he didn't respond to this one book, I'd call that a howler.

From what I know about this book you've mentioned based on reviews, it sounds like warmed-over versions of these same skeptical arguments that have been refuted time and again. Unfortunately, some gullible people don't realize these same arguments have been around for more than a century in some cases, and have been thoroughly discredited in scholarly circles, but they keep showing up in the popular literature.

But if you have an actual argument to put forward, go ahead and give it a go.

Steven Carr said...

So sceptics can't answer Wright, and when they do, Wright doesn't have to 'waste his time refuting' them?

Well, there is somebody who is open minded...

Seriously, The Times Literary Supplement has a different view TLS

Wright doesn't 'waste his time' dealing with sceptical arguments, but sceptics are very happy to read Wright and tear his 'arguments' to pieces.

We are not the ones afraid of facts and debate.

We are not the ones who 'refute' the arguments of opponents by claiming it is a 'waste of time' to refute them, and so never have to actually address them.

John Fraser said...

Steven,

You said, "So sceptics can't answer Wright, and when they do, Wright doesn't have to 'waste his time refuting' them?"

Do you even read what I write? I said Wright doesn't have to refute every hack that comes along (like Lowder). I also said he has responded often to Price and the rest of the Jesus seminar. Just go to Wright's website and see his voluminous writings. I also said, "So if you're trying to insinuate that Wright ignores or can't refute his critics because he didn't respond to this one book, I'd call that a howler." That was a howler, but this most recent comment of yours takes the cake. It really shows that you're not interested in debate at all. You still haven't produced an argument.

I don't know why you think I would be impressed by the view of the Times Literary Supplement, or more specifically by Robin Griffith-Jones who wrote the article you linked to, which is just a review of the book you mentioned. In fact the review you linked to shows that I was right - the book is just a re-hashing of old, failed naturalistic explanations. There's the hallucination theory, the wrong tomb theory, the stolen corpse theory and so on. These theories have appeared in many different forms over the last couple hundred years. They get refuted, they go away for awhile, then they come back in another form. These arguments have been soundly refuted by many, many people, not just N.T. Wright. I was only using him as an illustration, though you seem to be fixated on him for some reason.

Tellingly, Griffin-Jones writes about this book that, "The authors will simply have no truck with non-natural explanations". Precisely. They start with an anti-supernatural position and then seek to explain away the evidence with failed and debunked theories. As I said in my original post here, "If all options are on the table including the supernatural one, the superiority of it is clearly demonstrated." Skeptics only work by taking that option off the table at the outset and then fighting over which bad theory is the best of what remains.

Your insinuation that Christians are afraid of facts and debate or that they never address skeptics is just ridiculously laughable. You know that's not true, and I can say that because you spend so much time on the "Unbelievable?" forums arguing with Christians. It's on the website of a radio program where Christians debate skeptics. I could link you to site after site and debate after debate where Christians take skeptics head-on. In fact, I could link my readers here to those forums where they could see how often you engage with Christians whom you now claim don't respond to their critics and are afraid of facts and debate. Shame on you, Steven.

I can only conclude that these comments of yours are deliberate distortions of what you yourself know to be true. That's a little ironic for a guy who repeatedly accuses Christians of lying.

R.a.v.e.n.h.o.l.m. said...

Steven,

I've had experience with John here. Notice his tactics. Say things like "laughable," "been refuted," "you haven't offered an argument" etc while he himself hasn't offered an argument. It's straight out of the creationist debater playbook except he's co-opted it for his resurrection canard. Use rhetoric to cast doubt on the opponent's position and hope this casts the choices in a false dichotomy. "So you see my bright audience evolution CAN'T be true because I said so, therefore Genesis is literally true." "So you see my bright audience, the stories in the NT can't be accounted for naturalistically because I say so, therefore the supernatural explanation is correct.”

The fact is that the resurrection doesn't even need refutation. It's an indirect report in partially pseudonymous books that report things that should be recorded in secular history if they really happened (such as city-wide walking dead in Matt 27:52,3) written decades after the fact and do not even offer a harmonious account.

John Fraser said...

Well, bless my soul! Hello, Ravenholm. Believe it or not, I'm actually glad to hear from you, even if you've engaged in nothing more than an ad hominem attack on me.

I haven't offered an argument? You haven't been paying attention. I have offered many arguments, although I happen to know that you know that also, because you and I had so many debates in the past. I didn't put them all on this one post, that's true, but I'm happy to take up the specifics of any of them. And for your information, I've had quite a few arguments with Steven and at least one of his cohorts elsewhere. So your "he hasn't offered any arguments" ploy will not work. It's disingenuous, as you know quite well.

Of course, your statement that "the resurrection doesn't even need refutation" really says it all for the skeptic's position. Well, we can't refute it (just like N.T. Wright's former tutor), but that's okay. We'll just dismiss it, because we don't believe it. You can take that position if you like, that's fine with me. Makes my job a lot easier.

These skeptical theories that I've referred to have in fact been refuted many times, and have in fact been around for a long time. It's not just my say-so, I can point you to the sources.

I also need to give you fair warning: I won't allow posts that are nothing more than personal attacks. This comment of yours would have been rejected except that it's the first time you've commented on my blog. But this is not Ed Gordon's blog, and things won't be done here like they were there. I moderate all comments. If you're seriously interested in debate, okay. If you're just interested in personal attacks, then I won't allow it.

r.a.v.e.n.h.o.l.m said...

Well bless my mind too John, I’m glad to see you remember me. But I won’t be around for long. Trolling isn’t in my resume nor is legitimizing magical worldviews with attention. It was a pure accident that I found your site. I was seeing if our old pal Eddy Gordon was up and running somewhere else (as I suspected but it seems he isn’t) and I ended up finding your blog.

I’m also glad to see you still can’t see the difference between personal attacks and legitimate critiques. I didn’t attack you personally as is clear in my hasty response above. I attacked your rhetorical technique as it mirrors your intellectual buddies Hovind and Ham.

You said: “Of course, your statement that "the resurrection doesn't even need refutation" really says it all for the skeptic's position. Well, we can't refute it (just like N.T. Wright's former tutor), but that's okay.”

You can’t refute Mohammed’s ascent into heaven. But you dismiss it too. Seems you have the dreaded “skeptic’s point of view” on this issue. Why is this John? (Go ahead and launch into your ‘but the NT is historical’ garbage if you want.) But the fact remains that the “virgin birth,” the walking dead, and the walking on water, the feeding the hundreds from one lunchbox, etc, etc are all superstitious legends. Ah? Some “expert” said that legends can’t accrete in that amount of time? We aren’t talking about a complete cross-section of the population. We are talking about a religious cult. We are talking about the segment of the population similar to those of alien abduction groups. Legends start up very fast. And if you think this isn’t so, you have to prove that nobody believes in Big Foot.

“These skeptical theories that I've referred to have in fact been refuted many times, and have in fact been around for a long time. It's not just my say-so, I can point you to the sources.”

Is that like the sources creationists would point me to? To where they have “refuted” the arguments of the “evilutionists?”

“I also need to give you fair warning: I won't allow posts that are nothing more than personal attacks. This comment of yours would have been rejected except that it's the first time you've commented on my blog. But this is not Ed Gordon's blog, and things won't be done here like they were there. I moderate all comments. If you're seriously interested in debate, okay. If you're just interested in personal attacks, then I won't allow it.”

I didn’t attack you personally in the previous response nor have I here. But you don’t have to worry about however you misperceive it. I don’t plan to be back. As I outlined in my first sentences, out of courtesy I won’t “troll” your blog nor do I find it productive. I also find it inane to even give attention to viewpoints that legitimize magical thinking.

So in all, John I hope you are doing well.

Goodbye,
Adam Lewis (my real name)

John Fraser said...

Adam,

Well, finally I have an actual name for you. How about that? And just when you say you're leaving and not coming back. That's almost a little sad.

I fail to see how your previous comment can be called anything but an ad hominem attack. You accuse me of using something straight out of the “creationist debater playbook” (by the way, I didn’t know there was such a book. Do you have a copy I could borrow?) and now you try to lump me together with Hovind and Ham? Come on, Adam. Don't you know by now that I'm not a young earth creationist? After all those arguments about the Kalam Cosmological Argument we had? Thus your whole gambit amounts to nothing more than “Hovind and Ham make bad arguments, so John does, too,” and basically insinuating that religious people argue disingenuously. But your whole argument is disingenuous - there’s nothing of substance to these charges and you don’t even attempt to substantiate them. You just accuse the other guy of using nothing but rhetorical devices when in fact you’re the one who’s doing just that. Well, have it your way I guess. Just like you're not a troll, except when you are.

Incidentally, I haven't even discussed or considered the evidence for Mohammed's ascension. However, this does bring up your favorite argumentative trick – when you run out of counter-arguments, start arguing about something else. Evidence for the Resurrection? Can't be true because some people say they've seen Bigfoot (I now call this the "Bigfoot defense" in respect to your favorite argument against the Resurrection. I now apply that title to all arguments of this general category). Or your argument that Christianity's not true because Mormonism, Islam, and Cargo cults aren't true. I see not much has changed in your approach. You don't seem to be able to conceive of the possibility that one religion may be true while others aren't, and that you have to consider the evidence for each one on its own merits. You can't refute Christianity by arguing against Islam, and you can't refute the Resurrection by refuting Bigfoot. We’ve been over this before but you keep doing it. In most spheres this would be immediately recognized as logically fallacious, but in skeptical circles I guess any skeptical argument is as good as any other. They're all interchangeable, as long as we're not skeptical of skepticism itself, of course!

Take care, Adam. May God shake you out your skepticism some day and into the truth.

John Fraser said...

Adam,

In case you're expecting to see me post your latest comment, I already told you I'm not posting personal attacks. This isn't Ed's blog, comprende? Or wait, let me guess. You didn't attack me personally. "Redneck", "anti-intellectual", "childish anthropocentrism", "pusillanimous", "hubristic", and "ignoramus" were all "legitimate critiques", is that it? And trying to smear me by comparing me to Ted Haggard? What exactly do you call that?

Funny how you say goodbye but then keep lurking, say you're not a troll but keep trolling. Why am I not surprised? Based on your IP address I see you've visited my blog quite a bit (27 times in all). It's a free country, so you can visit my blog as much as you want. And as I said, if you're interested in debate, that's fine with me. But if you're just going to hurl insults, go do it somewhere else.

r.a.v.e.n.h.o.l.m. said...

OK John. So you need to censor to be able to win. I get it. This is your blog. You win. Magic man done it. Satan compelled this atheist to comment on your blog.

John Fraser said...

Adam,

I made it clear what the criteria were for posting comments here and you violated them. Egregiously. I've allowed every single comment that Steven has ever posted on my blog because Steven behaves himself. So your charge that I "need to censor to be able to win" has no more merit than any of your other charges. But comments like "Magic man done it" just show that you aren't capable of a serious intellectual discussion about a serious topic that men and women of great thinking and learning have discussed and debated for centuries. Modern atheism has largely abandoned serious discourse in favor of mockery and ad hominem attacks, and you fall right in line with that trend.

And yes, this is my blog, and no, I don't have to put up with it. I do have sole discretion to publish or reject any comments on my own blog. If you want to rant and hurl insults at Christians, go do it on your own blog.

About me

My photo
My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.