Two recent posts about apologetics
Here are two recent statuses from my Facebook about apologetics method. This topic has become important to me lately, and more so as I’ve been gearing up to finally read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. My blog may begin to focus on it more as well. My goal in the long term, I guess, is to think of apologetics in terms of theological anthropology — how should we share the truth of the gospel, given what it means to be a human being? — but we’ll see how that goes. For now here are the two posts; click the links to see comments from some of my friends. (More pushback on the second one).
(unrelated: first snowfall of the Winter was the very day we left for a Fall retreat at camp.)
1. About presuppositionalism (here)
It has taken me an entire college degree in Philosophy to realize that “presuppositional apologetics” is just Christian Philosophy but done in an annoying way.
The presup tactic is to expose the other person’s unspoken assumptions, and show how those assumptions make their non-Christian answers a foregone conclusion. “I don’t believe in God because I only believe in the 5 senses” is exposed by the question “can you know that the 5 senses are reliable using the 5 senses?” which implies that the person does not have good grounds for disbelieving in God. They had to chose that starting point (the 5 senses) and of course their conclusion is atheism; but we could have just as easily chosen any other starting point (“I believe in what seems rationally intuitive” or “I believe what my traditional community tells me”) and get any other number of results.
What I am just now realizing is that, in addition to being the most annoying tactic a person can possibly use during an in-person conversation… this is not much different from the extremely annoying dialectic that Socrates used. “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” “Ah, I see that we’ve reached bedrock, but do you have reason for believing this particular claim?”
The presup method is not much of a method at all. It is just Christian philosophy. But can’t we be so much more straightforward, so much less annoying, and so much more clear by just stating our epistemic grounds right at the beginning, instead of waiting for the other person to imply theirs and then question it into existence?
2. About religious epistemology and the Apologetics Industry (here)
So many times I have heard folks associated with the apologetics industry argue that we need a “cumulative case” approach to proving Christianity. Maybe one argument does not convincingly lead to the conclusions we want, but it almost does; another argument also almost does; so do these other ones over here, and look over there! More arguments that almost work.
But obviously, two 50% convincing arguments do not make a full truth. Nor do four 25% convincing arguments, nor do four-thirds of a 75% convincing argument, or even one-hundred ninety-ninths of a 99% convincing argument. If every single argument can be ruled out as flawed in some clear way, then they all fail. Full stop.
The solution to this does not seem to be “make better apologetics arguments” seeing as that has not worked well to date, but rather, “rethink apologetics methodology” or “rethink religious epistemology altogether.” This is why presuppositionalism has become the standard brand of Christian philosophy, along Plantinga’s lines.
But there is no reason why that has to be so. Why can’t there be other ways of understanding religious epistemology? Paul Moser in The Severity of God and his other books seems to have a viable competitor, and one that lines up more closely with the faith that apologetics tries to prove.
I am working on a paper right now (literally right now) on this topic and while writing it, it has become more and more obvious that there is an entire Apologetics Industry that feeds on bad arguments and shallow epistemology by failing to reckon with any new developments in epistemology since… say… the 1700’s. Why do we give them so much credit? And why are they, of all people, the ones whose work is popularized so that it reaches the common student in youth ministry?
This underscores the point I made in the post a few weeks ago about presuppositionalism: that what we need is not a shortcut method that leads to our conclusions, but a full-fleshed Christian philosophy that unashamedly grounds itself in the Gospel of Christ — both in content and in method.