Ten Responses to Ten Pitfalls

It’s actually kind of funny how I find some of these things.  I was actually looking for a picture for this post when I came across this post on another blog.  The picture got me reading the article and now, even though it’s a couple of months late, I’m going to respond.

Now I will say, the original author of the piece does say that these are things that apologists should not do, I’m not going to disagree because that’s true.  However, I don’t know that you can come up with any things that an apologist should do, that would work in an argument with someone who is well-versed in Christianity and Christian apologetics.  One of the points of being an apologist in the first place is being able to defend one’s beliefs, hopefully in a rational manner.  Is there anything whatsoever rational about Christianity?  I don’t think so.

But let’s evaluate these pitfalls, shall we?

1. The foolish apologist speaks before listening. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” Not only does he communicate to others that he couldn’t care less about what they have to say, but he also becomes unable to give a well informed answer. The wise apologist is patient, seeks to understand, and avoids monologue.

I can agree with that and it goes far beyond apologetics.  You cannot have any kind of discussion on any topic if one side is going to monopolize the time and not let the other side talk.  That’s Debating 101.  However,  if what Mr. Auten says here is true, then maybe there aren’t any good apologists anywhere because in all my years of debating, listening to debates, watching debates, I’ve yet to see any apologist fail to fall into criteria #2 above.  All Christian apologists are unable to give well-informed answers because all Christian apologists approach their position on blind faith.  I’ve never met any Christian apologist who can present objective evidence to support their claims.  Certainly I’ve seen people who will claim to have become a Christian through rational means, but when you really discuss the meat of their claims, you find they’re guilty of all manner of logical fallacies, wishful thinking and, again, blind faith.  And frankly, none of them care.  They don’t care a whit what anyone has to say about their faith.  If you point out their fallacies, they ignore them.  So my question really is, does this disqualify all apologists, period?

2. The foolish apologist overstates his argument. The foolish apologist doesn’t have “good reasons.” Instead, he can prove it. He can show something beyond the shadow of a doubt. His arguments are presented with all confidence — and of course he can’t be wrong. Even when using good arguments, he exaggerates what they actually show. No modesty here, and people balk. The wise apologist argues confidently, yet with modesty.

That describes a fanatic, and again, I agree entirely.  However, once again, I have to ask if there’s any such thing as a wise apologist because I haven’t seen any who argue confidently, except those who misplace their confidence in fanaticism.  I’ve yet to see a Christian apologist ever admit that they can be wrong.  Is it possible that God doesn’t exist?  Nope, absolutely not!  A lot of them are pleased as punch about their fanaticism as well.  I recently had a debate with a fundamentalist Christian who finally admitted that he was both immature and insane, but he’ll never change his mind no matter what and nothing anyone says will ever make him question his beliefs.  Lack of modesty?  In spades.  However, I haven’t seen any theists that I remember who aren’t supremely confident that their beliefs are true and they are incapable of being wrong.

3. The foolish apologist wants to win every point. When the conversation gets complex, he needs to make sure to correct every single error he sees with another person’s view. Never mind that his conversation partner is getting offended by his “attention to detail.” This apologist is the fallacy police, the fact-checker, and grammarian all-in-one. If he makes an error, back-pedaling is in order, with little or no admission of wrong. The wise apologist can discern what really matters in a conversation.

That’s just not my experience.  Most apologists don’t want to get down into the details, or at the very least, there’s a level of detail beyond which they simply do not want to explore.  The majority of apologists are relatively well-versed in apologetic ideas, but only because they support what the apologist already believes.  If the atheist wants to examine what those ideas are based on, the apologist loses interest, especially if things don’t go their way.  They make excuses and change the subject.  Most apologists can quote the Bible until the cows come home, but if questioned about the origins of the Bible, what passages mean, etc., they really have no clue.  The majority of their arsenal is only enough data to support what they want to be true, usually come up with by other people who wanted to specifically support their beliefs.  None of these people followed the data to a rational conclusion, they started with an emotionally-comforting conclusion and then only dug deep enough to justify those pre-existing beliefs.

4. The foolish apologist chases red herrings. If the topic is the resurrection, just bring up evolution. The foolish apologist will happily hop down any bunny trail that appears. The conversation goes in all directions. He can’t make any progress in an argument because he can’t spot red herrings, distractions, and non-issues. In fact, he may often enjoy these deviations from focused dialogue, because he’s proud of his expertise in his own pet subject areas. The wise apologist knows how to stick to one point.

This is absurdly common.  We see people who purport to be “professional apologists”, who use this as their main method of debate.  They know they can’t defend their own beliefs so they have to resort to attacking everyone else’s, usually very badly and with virtually no evidence.  Most apologists do chase red herrings because they get easily backed into a corner and have no other option but to try an end-run around their beliefs.  Let’s not forget that red herrings are one of the mainstays of Christian debates.  They named it the “Gish gallop” for a reason, throwing out so many absurd claims and unjustified arguments that the non-theist simply doesn’t have time to refute them all, then declaring victory.  More professional apologists engage in these “failed techniques” and that leads the amateurs to do the same.  It’s patently dishonest for any of them to pull.

5. The foolish apologist is proud of himself. He likes the fact that he knows terms that make the “novices” around him cock their heads. He secretly commends himself for reading more books in a month than most people do in a year. He enjoys the sound of his own voice, and thinks he does a pretty good job in an internet forum. Apologetics is his tool to show the world he can flex his intellectual muscle. He’s received his reward. The wise apologist humbles himself before God, and looks upon himself with sober judgment.

This is also just bad debate form, but very popular.  Apologetics, indeed all debate, should not be a mechanism for making someone bigger in their britches.  This is a problem, not just for theists, but for everyone.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen atheists doing the same thing, trying to be a celebrity, trying to act important and smarter than everyone else.  This isn’t a contest between theism and atheism, or between theists and atheists, it’s a contest of the truth.  It’s a competition between two people, or groups of people, who make contradictory claims.  Both of those claims cannot be true.  The challenge is to figure out which, if any of them, is factually correct.

6. The foolish apologist seeks popularity. He enjoys the accolades of others, speaking to lots of people, being a big name. Name-dropping becomes a normal tool to show others just how connected he is to what’s happening in the scene. He doesn’t choose the lowly place. The wise apologist blooms where he is planted.

I can agree with this, hero worship tends to piss me off and it doesn’t matter what side it comes from.  Someone raving about hanging out with Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers bores me to tears.  I just don’t care.  I don’t do hero worship.  Unfortunately, there are far too many “heroes” who milk it and bask in the glory of their followers.  Sorry, this is a debate.  It’s not about who you know, it’s about what you know.  Dropping names doesn’t impress me.

7. The foolish apologist neglects spiritual disciplines. He finds reading philosophy more interesting than reading the Bible, so he neglects the Bible. Prayer is seldom and rushed. In fact, prayer, meditation, Bible study, worship and fellowship take the back seat to study. The foolish apologist deceives himself that he is being spiritual, all the while drifting away. The wise apologist sits at the feet of Jesus.

That’s a hard one because most of the apologists I encounter know very little outside of the Bible.  They can quote you chapter and verse for just about any argument but they have no clue what any of it actually means.  They treat the Bible as their whole arsenal and when the debate leaves anything applicable to the Bible, they’re lost.  As above in #4, the apologist will bring up evolution, but have no clue what evolution is all about.  All they know is that it disagrees with what they believe about the Bible, therefore it must be wrong.

Most apologists claim to be spiritual, the problem is, they’re not rational.  They’ve got beliefs they can’t back up, claims they can’t justify, and their entire argument rests on a book that they cannot demonstrate is worthwhile.  They’re not concerned whether or not their beliefs are true, it’s just something they’re going to cling to, come hell or high water.

8. The foolish apologist has not love. He can speak in the tongues of philosophers and of theologians, but he has not love – he is only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. He has the gift of intellect and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge; his arguments can move mountains, but he has not love – he is nothing. He gives all his time and energy to study, and surrenders his finances to university degrees, but has not love – and has gained nothing. The wise apologist is motivated by love for God and love for others.

Honestly, I don’t know that has anything to do with anything.  Love, as a primary driver, seems rather shallow to me.  I don’t care if you love God or your friends or your dog, that has nothing to do with debate.  In a debate, we’re there to get to the truth.  We’re there to defend positions.  Emotional attachment does not make reality.  Unfortunately, that’s probably the biggest downfall of Christian apologetics, people are too attached to their beliefs to be able to examine them objectively and dispassionately.  As fun as it might be watching a theist and an atheist debate, it’s hilarious to watch two theists with different religious views go after each other.  They’re both doing exactly the same thing and they’re blind to the fact that their opponent is using the same arguments!  “This theological worldview makes me feel good, therefore it’s right!”  “You infidel!  How dare you reject my theological worldview that gives me comfort!”  It’s ridiculous.

What both sides ought to do, that they never will, is put aside their emotional attachment and just deal with the demonstrable facts.  Put forward the data, examine the evidence, evaluate with logic and reason.  Of course, neither side can do that because neither side has any evidence.  All they have are the emotions.  That’s why debates fail, because it’s just two people waving their dicks at each other, screaming “Mine is bigger!”

Dude, I’ve got a tape measure, we can settle this very easily.  Oh yeah, can’t do that.  Gotta have faith.

9. The foolish apologist isolates himself from others. He doesn’t need their input. He doesn’t appreciate correction. He has his own plans, his own agenda, and own personal ministry. He refuses to let iron sharpen iron. When he falls, he has no one to help him up. He’s accountable to himself only. The wise apologist surrounds himself with godly counsel and fellow laborers.

I’m not sure if this really works.  A lot of the big apologists really are a cult of personality.  They do surround themselves with others who have drunk the same Kool-aid that they have.  They really never learn anything new from their followers because their followers never say anything new.  It’s like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.  They’re both saying the same stupid crap.

10. The foolish apologist doesn’t do apologetics. He becomes an apologetics junkie; a consumer instead of an enlisted soldier. He does more talking about defending the faith than actually defending the faith. Debates are a spectator sport. He forgets that souls are in the balance and doesn’t even think of preaching the Gospel. The wise apologist wants to win others to Christ more than anything – and he uses apologetics as a tool to assist in this task.

The problem here is that debates specifically are not about preaching, but about proving.  I would guess Mr. Auten doesn’t understand the purpose of debating, but he’d certainly not be alone.  Most people treat debating like an attack dog instead of a discovery session.  Theists cling desperately to their religion, insisting that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, all the while engaging in nothing but logical fallacies and debate faux paus.  They’re not interested in the truth, they go into the debate already supremely convinced they have it.  Their whole tactic is based around the pre-existing assumption that they’re right.  I can’t tell you how many apologists I’ve seen who do exactly what Mr. Auten suggests, when they’re backed into a corner, all they can do is spew Bible verses, as though Bible verses are going to convince anyone that they’re right.  They treat the Bible as a weapon, but unfortunately it’s a silly weapon when nobody you’re fighting against take it seriously.  Perhaps the biggest problem with this is that it’s dishonest.  It’s saying “Hey, the promise of a debate was just to get you in the door.  Now that you’re here, I want to sell you Amway!”  Bait and switch isn’t kosher as far as I’m concerned.  First, prove your position is true, then if you want to talk about saving souls, I’m all for it.  Just don’t mix up the order.

I know lots of Christians think they’re doing people a favor by telling them about Jesus, but you have to remember, lots of Muslims think they’re doing people a favor by telling them about Mohammed and lots of Scientologists think they’re doing people a favor by informing them about thetans.  Everybody is trying to help everyone else, while thinking that everyone else has it wrong.

What you ought to be more concerned about at the end of the day is not how many people you’ve convinced you’re right,  but whether or not you actually are right!  Christians think the Muslims and Scientologists are wrong, but guess what?  The Muslims and Scientologists think Christians are full of shit!  And none of you have any better evidence that your beliefs are true than any of the others!  If you’ve got a good reason to believe what you believe, great.  Just make sure that “good reason” is better than “It makes me feel good”.  The Muslims feel good about their beliefs, so do the Scientologists.  All of you can’t be right.  All of you can be wrong.  Faith has no bearing on being right or wrong.

Maybe apologists should  be a little more concerned about being rational than they are about making empty claims.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPG only)