I would hope that everyone cares deeply about truth, exactly as I do.
Unfortunately, I’ve encountered people who seem to care less about the truth than they do about being right and convincing others they are right by any means necessary. Usually, those means include things like “lying for Jesus” and appeals to fear or other emotions, rather than focusing on having a logical and rational basis for one’s conclusions.
Yes, I’m talking about bad apologetics, and why you should discourage the use of bad apologetics, no matter what you believe theologically.
I have at least one friend who thinks that all apologetics is bad, and when I have seen all apologetics, I might agree, in the sense that all apologetic arguments are flawed due to lack of empirical basis or logical flaws. However, for my point here, I mean a particular brand of apologetics. In general, by “bad apologetics” I mean any argument that weakens the position of the one using it, rather than strengthens that position. These are arguments so flawed that it becomes difficult to believe the person making the argument gave it any thought at all, but just pushed out the first words they thought up to silence opposing viewpoints.
I’ll go through a few examples. All of these are examples I have encountered from Christians, either personally or through books.
1. Christianity is a properly basic belief.
If this were true, there would not be an entire hemisphere that had to learn about Christianity through missionaries, rather than being able to figure it out for themselves. Self-evident beliefs do not need to be spread through missionaries.
2. Christianity and the Bible are true because they are veridical.
Even if this reason were accurate (an argument I can’t accept), the statement is a glaring example of circular reasoning. The Bible does not prove the Bible. If you would not accept the argument that The DaVinci Code or Sherlock Holmes is true because it is veridical, you should not make the same claim about the Bible.
3. You can’t prove God does not exist.
This is a classic example of shifting the burden of proof. As you are the one claiming your god exists, it is up to you to provide at least some evidence supporting that claim. You cannot prove fairies, yetis, leprechauns, vampires, or werewolves don’t exist. Do you believe in those things? Would you believe I had a pet unicorn, or would you demand to see it? Of course you don’t believe in fairies, and of course you would want to see a pet unicorn before believing it was real. The same logic applies to all real things. (See also: Bertrand Russell’s teapot)
4. If man could prove God existed, we would be superior to him.
I hope this is ridiculous on the face of it to anyone, but as I encountered it in a book that was recommended to me by someone I saw reading it, I know that it is not. By this logic, cats are superior to humans, because they can prove that we exist. I need not go into further detail about why this argument is ludicrous.
5. Only a truth-teller would say that he would not say something if it isn’t true, so the fact that Jesus says he would not say a falsehood proves his claim of Godhood.
I would not say something if it were not true. Christianity is a lie.
6. God must exist to explain mathematics.
There is no connection between these two ideas. At the very basic level, mathematics is little more than counting, and objects exist whether a god created them or not. An apple plus another apple will always equal two apples, or whatever symbol the beings doing the counting use to represent the idea of two. There is no need for a deity in this picture. For a much more involved debunking of a better statement of the “argument”, see this post by Boxing Pythagoras.
I hope those are enough examples, although I’m sure I could find more, to show my point: arguments that are this easy to refute, that are this ridiculous on the face of them, simply make the position of Christianity worse, because they make Christians who use them (and all Christians by extension) look like idiots.
If you want to earn my respect as a Christian apologist, you have to behave as I did when I tried to be one. Accept the burden of proof. Back up your claims with evidence, or at least try to. Avoid logical fallacies, or at least cease using an argument when it has shown to be flawed.
A large portion of this blog is and will continue to be addressing Christian arguments and showing flaws in them. I was raised in Christianity, so it is the religion with which I am most familiar. It is also still the largest religion in the world, followed by Islam, which shares some of its problems. The day may come when I show flaws with Islamic apologetics as well, but I have no immediate plans to go there.
However, I have no wish to stoop to arguing that Christians as a whole are dumb, deserving of ridicule for their beliefs, or simply suffering from a mental illness. I remember all too well what it was like to be a Christian, and I did not magically gain intelligence or the ability to think rationally simply by losing my old beliefs.
Therefore, it is always my goal to frame the religious arguments in the way most favorable to them, at least when showing whether they are illogical. I have no wish to attack strawmen.
Just to not be entirely one-sided, atheists have their share of bad arguments as well, and it upsets me just as much to see them. Many Christians and many atheists just don’t understand the other’s position, and meet it with ridicule rather than giving the arguments an honest examination. Pro tip: If you tell a Christian they are wrong because of a talking snake in the Bible, then you don’t understand Christianity at all.
3 thoughts on “On Bad Apologetics”
Gotta a bit careful with the properly basic belief bit. It’s not traditional formalism, but reformed epistemology which forms it.
It’s different enough that it escapes your criticism. You should do a google search on Plantinga and criticisms of his ideas.
But it’s so dumb!
I will check it out, though. I don’t have a valid excuse for not learning about it, especially after saying I don’t want to attack strawmen.
It is dumb. Plantinga doesn’t actually establish that Christianity is properly basic under his own made-up rules and there is no reason for any other belief to not also apply.