The problem with apologetics

I've spent a fair bit of time addressing apologetics arguments in this blog, from Francis Collins to the always cringe-inducing William Lane Craig. You've heard them all before – the Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Design, the Argument from Moral Law, and the most horribly face-palm-inducing of them all: the Ontological Argument.

My introduction to apologetics was C.S. Lewis' The Case For Christianity back when I was a practicing Christian. Ironically, it ended up doing more to dissuade me from belief than to reaffirm what I desired to be true, mainly because I was disappointed at how easy it was to poke gaping holes in his logic – take away a few early assumptions, and all the subsequent arguments became irrelevant. But there was something else that bothered me quite a bit, which was that Christianity is supposed to be about faith. The more I thought about the implications of "having faith", the more I doubted Christianity's veracity. If it's demonstrably true, what's the value in faith at all?

Apologists want to convince believers that their faith is "reasonable" (hence the title of William Lane Craig's website). But faith, by its very definition, is the affirmation of things that cannot be deduced by reason and evidence. I say this because if God's existence, the truth of the Bible, or the purposeful design of the universe could all be discerned through evidence and reason, faith would be irrelevant. Though it is occasionally claimed otherwise by believers, science – which is based entirely on reason and evidence – never requires that we take anything on faith. Even broad "assumptions" in science, such as the assumption that the laws of physics work the same everywhere in the universe, are derived from and supported by observable evidence and are always taken not as absolute, immutable truth, but as provisional. We always accept that future revelations may re-shape our understanding of reality.

Not so with faith. Faith by its very definition not only assumes the truthfulness of a claim, but exalts the claim as immutable (Hebrews 11:1 – "faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see"). This is beautifully (and tragically) exemplified by William Lane Craig's face-palmingly circular reasoning:
My knowledge of Christianity’s truth, while supported by strong arguments, is not ultimately based on those arguments but on the witness of God Himself.[link]
That's like saying "I believe it's true because I believe it's true", or "I believe God is real because God made himself real to me."*  As a corollary, this also means that no amount of evidence or reason will ever dissuade the believer, because faith is not derived from evidence and reason. It begs the question, then, what the value is in apologetics aside from placating doubting believers; the arguments have been debunked so thoroughly so many times that they'll never hold weight with non-believers. During my final days as a Christian, I was most discouraged that no apologist really seemed to know where the line should be drawn between faith and evidence. No one wants to believe that their faith is just arbitrary, that they can be fooled into believing anything, but that's precisely the kind of credulity that faith requires.

Relating reading: Bud at Dead Logic questions the utility of apologetics. [link]

*When I'm confronted by Christians who claim that their faith is based on experiencing the presence of God, I generally ask them if they think there might be an alternative, rational explanation for their experiences. 


  1. Enjoyed your post - thanks for sharing. CS Lewis is one of my favorites. Your view is intriguing & thought provoking.We all have our personal experiences & beliefs, but I do have to challenge you to check out an event coming up in the spring that I recently was introduced to. March 12, 2011 a simulcast called, oddly enough, The Case for Christianity is taking place that will address the very question you have asked. Led by Lee Strobel (former Legal Editor of the Chicago Tribune) & Mark Mittelberg, all of the most avoided questions Christians don't like to answer or even discuss. Both are authors of extremely intriguing books, I encourage you to check them out as well as the simulcast in March. Definitely worth the time & worthy of the debate! Thanks again!

  2. Thank you for the feedback and suggestion lesli, but I have a feeling there wouldn't be much new for me there. I've already done a three-part rebuttal to Strobel's The Case for Christ here.

  3. Yeah, an event undoubtedly soaked with and chock-full of strawman arguments.


    mike, we're gonna cut off your head...


  5. Thanks for the link over to Dead-Logic

    Some interesting stuff there.

    I checked out Lee's website, that event is just two apologists without any chance of rebuttal.

    Also interesting is their claim of presenting the latest scientific and historical evidence.
    Those discoveries tend to go against them not for them.


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