Friday, September 24, 2010

Do Apologists Just Not Care?

My uncle worked in a profession resulting in his testimony being taken on occasion. He didn’t enjoy it, and tended to make it as difficult for the attorneys as possible. Once he was instructed by an attorney to answer a question and ONLY the question being asked, to which he replied, “I cannot.” When asked why, he said, “Because I swore to tell the whole truth, and by just answering that question, it isn’t the whole truth.”

When do we expect full disclosure? When do we expect a person to provide not only the positives, but the weaknesses of their position? When do we rely upon someone entirely and when do we realize we must do some study ourselves?

Imagine the following three situations:

1) A lawyer arguing their position in a court.

We expect this (due to the American adversarial position) to be one-sided. To be biased toward the attorney’s position. No one is shocked, when the opposing counsel has its chance, to discover not ALL the facts were presented by the Plaintiff. Attorneys expect the other side to do their research and present a conflicting argument.

2) A doctor prescribing a treatment.

Here we tend to expect full disclosure. If the doctor is receiving monetary contributions from the company providing the treatment, this would cause us concern. Especially if we discovered 9 out of 10 doctors (who do not receive such compensation) would recommend an alternative treatment.

Would we accept the doctor’s excuse of, “Well, you should have researched this on your own”?

3) A friend who suspects your significant other is having an affair.

Again, we would expect the friend to tell us their suspicions. The friendship would be in jeopardy if they later said, “I only told you what supported the position they were not having an affair. It was up to you to research the rest on your own.”

I have been contemplating the question—to what extent do we expect full disclosure from a theistic apologist? Do we expect it to be one-sided? Or should we expect them to recognize the weaknesses in the claim?

This blog entry about Jericho over at Parchment & Pen is one in a series on archeological discoveries that “support” the biblical accounts. I put “support” in quotations, because this particular discovery causes consternation regarding the Exodus account—namely when it must have occurred.

Originally, the Jericho destruction was dated to 1400 BCE (fitting nicely with the Tanakh), but subsequent work demonstrated the date was actually 1550 BCE (which does not fit so well.) The blog entry author gives some treatment to this controversy, and then relies upon the 1400 BCE date (of course) without much comment.

Causing me to wonder—did the author have a duty to fully disclose both positions? Or do we expect our apologists to act as litigants and only provide their best arguments; leaving it to the opposing position to present any conflicting evidence?

I would submit there are two (2) factors impacting our expectation of full disclosure—importance of the information and intimacy of the relationship.

Think back to our doctor example. If this was medication for a cold—would we be that upset for not receiving full disclosure? Generally not, a cold will resolve with a variety of methods, and one is probably not much different than another. However, if this was chemotherapy, we would be extremely concerned over the doctor’s one-sided presentation. Cancer treatment is more important than cold treatment.

Likewise, if our friend was not completely honest with us when she brought a ringer to play soccer against us with a “Oh, she’s not very good” and they turn out to be fantastic—we again are not as bent out of shape. Soccer is less important than a spouse’s affair.

And, of course, we do not expect the same complete truthfulness from a person who is an enemy, as compared to an acquaintance, as compared to a friend. One is far more hurt if a close friend fails to be fully honest as compared to a co-worker.

Assuming I am correct (and feel free to disagree, providing your own factors)—that it hinges on intimacy and import—why is it apologists so rarely give full disclosure? In the blog entry above, why was the 1400 BCE date assumed, with little attention given to the dating problem?

First, because the facts are not that important to the apologist; conformity in belief is. All the evidence in the world against a global flood is not important to most Christians who hold to it—belief that it occurred is.

How many times have we seen the following conversation:

Apologist: Do you believe the global flood occurred?
Christian: Yes.
Apologist: Great, here are some facts that support it. [ignoring the mountain of evidence that does not.]
Christian: Great. Confirmed my belief.

Apologia is a defense—it has come down to finding something—anything—that can possibly support one’s position, and as long as that bare fact exists (regardless of any other), then one can hold their position. The moon is moving away from the earth? Bam—the world must be young. Ignore any other dating methods, or any problem with Young Earth Creationism—cling to any fact in support of one’s position and believe.

Getting the right belief (regardless of how one gets there) is what is important. Not the support of the position.

Apologists do not give full disclosure, because the important consideration—what one believes—is already firmly in place. Any facts supporting it are merely props—icing on the cake, as it were.

Second, it would appear there is either not a close relationship expected between apologist and reader OR the import of similar belief is so overriding that such intimacy is not a factor. Again, there are situations where we don’t expect full disclosure even from our closest friends.

This one surprised me a bit. Christians, as a general rule, expect themselves to be better. Closer. More friendly. A cohesiveness stronger than heathens. Yes, they still sin amongst themselves, but you are supposed to be able to trust a Christian with your purse—even if you just met them 10 minutes ago.

There is a greater level of intimacy, supposedly, because you both have fish stickers on your car. For me, personally, one of the greatest shocks in deconversion was NOT all the evidence against my Christianity—it was the fact this evidence was either entirely ignored or spectacularly mishandled by those I trusted the most. If all this stuff was out there—why hadn’t I heard it before I was in my late 30’s? More importantly—why hadn’t I heard it presented with full disclosure as to the other person’s position, not strawpeople?

Part of the reason I continue to talk to people going through a faith crisis, or even a deconversion is not to convince to “my side.” I am walking proof that deconversions are personal experiences—you don’t “argue” people into them, nor out of them. The reason I do, is to let them know there are other arguments—there are things they haven’t heard that are good, strong and robust arguments against the classical Christianity they’ve been taught.

If they reject the arguments—fine. At least they have had an opportunity for full and complete disclosure and a chance to make up their own minds on all the available arguments.

Why do apologists not feel the same obligation? Why are they so afraid of acknowledging the real and heady barriers to their own position?

Do they not care?


  1. Well, apologists are indeed like legal advocates. They almost have to be, given that they know their beliefs are true by direct or indirect divine revelation, in much the same sense that an attorney-as-advocate must in some sense (a very broad sense) "know" the truth of the matter before he puts it to the jury. The advocate's task is not to convince herself, but to convince the jury of the position the advocate already has.

    Personally, I think the whole task of "rational" apologia is a confession of weakness, or a bid for power. As Don Draper said, "You either have Jesus in your heart or you don't." If you do, all the arguments in the world won't take Him out; if you don't, all the arguments in the world won't put Him there.

    It's a curious contradiction: If the apologist already believed, he wouldn't need an apologia; if he didn't already believe, he would act as an investigator, not an advocate.

    One of the few intelligent things that Ayn Rand said was, "If you spot a contradiction, check your premises!" Some premise underlying our analysis of the apologist's motivations must be incorrect: Why is the apologist advocating a position that fundamentally cannot be altered by advocacy?

    I suspect the apologist's motive is fundamentally to undermine rational thought.

  2. I wonder if Pascal's wager is a factor. Let's say you become convinced of Christianity, but it turns out Christianity is wrong. What's the harm? Maybe you waste some money and time, but there's other benefits, like church community, etc. It's unlike cancer in that if I'm wrong I don't really harm you much. Or I suppose they'd think you benefit from Christianity even if it is false.

    And then if it turns out they're right of course you benefit substantially. So there's little incentive to show both sides.

  3. When I embraced evangelical Christianity in my late teens, one of the first books I bought was Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict because I wanted to know the objective evidence and arguments for my beliefs. I was profoundly disappointed. I really couldn't believe that anyone would think that those were good arguments. My father had a Phd and a J.D., my mom had a college degree before that was common for women, and most of my eight older brothers and sisters had advanced degrees. There wasn't an argument in ETDAV that I would have expected anyone in my family to take seriously. Sometimes I think that jackasses like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel just don't care about the holes in their arugments, but I'm not sure.

    I think a lot of it comes down to confusing scholarship and advocacy. When acting as an advocate, a lawyer is not required to address the weaknesses in his case, although he may choose to do so as a tactical matter. It is the job of the lawyer on the other side to make that case. On the other hand, A scholar is supposed to base his conclusion on objective analysis. Part of that analysis should be addressing all the relevant evidence and the strongest arguments for conclusions contrary to his own.

    I think there are probably some apologists who just don't care, but I think many of them successfully convince themselves that their case is convincing. Since their conclusion has been divinely revealed to them as infallibly true, they know that all contrary arguments are necessarily unsound. Therefore, they feel any obligation to address particular arguments and evidence just because some skeptic might find them persuasive.

  4. I have found the situation with apologists to be very similar to a lawyer arguing their position in court. Presenting their best possible case for one point of view. The outcome is the only thing that counts. In the same way that for a lawyer, winning is all that counts.

    And considering my experience, above, along with the doctrine of hell and heaven, it makes sense to me.

    Assuming that hell and heaven exists, would you trick a hell-bound person in to changing their opinion and becoming heaven-bound? I certainly would.

    I would do anything to change a person's destintaion. I would torture many thousands of people to save one soul. It is the most humane thing to do.

    This is why the doctrine of hell and heaven is amongst the most baneful of human ideas.

  5. I would add a third factor to intimacy and importance, though it doesn't start with "i": expectations based on role. (Maybe we could say inferred trustworthiness based on role.)Some professionals have codes of conduct that require them to be honest with clients, such as in my field of psychology. I think we generally expect that health care professionals will be honest with us, given their role. (Not that they always are, of course.) Maybe authority has something to do with it. I think we have expectations that those in authority over us and those speaking as authorities in their given field will present information in an honest manner. I think this is largely based on our dependence on them and need for them to be honest.

    I agree with The Barefoot Bum that the role of apologists is that of legal advocate. I think if an apologist represents our side, we tend to treat them as an authority in the field. Otherwise, we see them for what they are: advocates for their version of the truth.

    I agree with Boz that saving people from hell is a powerful motivator for all kinds of behavior. If you believe you have the truth that will save people from that fate, then you may think you are acting in people's best interest to shield them from the "lies" of those who would send them there.

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  7. Thank you, everyone, for the comments.

    I find it persuasive that each person sees the apologist as an advocate—not a general informer. (With a side helping of considerable motivation by being afraid of hell.) And, as such, does not find the obligation to tell the whole truth—just the truth that supports his/her position and in the best possible light for that position.

    Which brings me to the question of how to have an honest conversation with apologists, then? At least with lawyers we have a day of reckoning—there comes a point in time (no matter how convinced we are of our own position) that the other side will see the light of day. We are forced to recognize we cannot avoid alternative claims. It is the very reason we settle cases—because we understand we will not win everything we desire.

    The apologist is not faced with such a day. If they have no interest in weighing other’s views, utilizing all the evidence, then what benefit of debating them? At best, as far as I can tell, it would be to enlighten some lurker who IS willing to do such an analysis.

  8. DagoodS,
    As far as your question goes, I think the primary benefit of debating apologists is the impact on observers. Reading your interactions with others online, for example, at Tough Questions Answered, has personally benefitted me as I wade through several issues. Of course, you never know when something will happen in life to open up an apologist to an opposing point of view.

  9. Believers don't come to faith by apologetic arguments so they are unlikely to be dissuaded by seeing those same arguments refuted. However, apologetics can be a source of comfort in a time of doubt and I don't think that anyone who has read your stuff on the "die for a lie" argument is going to be nearly as comforted as they once were.

  10. The most important component of an adversarial system is a neutral decider, whether a judge, jury or the physical world. Without a judge, an adversarial system is useless for making decisions. This problem is not just in religious apologetics; it's endemic to philosophy.

    The best reason, I think, to study and debate religious apologetics is educational. Apologists have and continue to use every logical fallacy in the book, and they make up new ones as they go along. There's also the advantage of knowing right up front that they're wrong, so you only have to spot where they go wrong.

  11. "... then what benefit of debating them?"

    I've wrestled with this question for some time. To me "debate" requires an openness that an apologist doesn't have (i.e., "I don't think so, but I could be wrong, lets debate"). I simply don't have the stomach for an exchange where the other person knows they are "right" to such a degree that they are no longer listening.

    Having said that, it can, as you say, benefit lurkers (if there are any). Also, there is a exercise in martial arts where you continually strike a hard and unrelenting surface to toughen your own hand (the proverbial beating your head against a wall). Then there is the optimist in me that says you never know when something you say might get through. Maybe a fourth reason would be that propaganda derives it's power from ignorance, so it's always important to confront it.

  12. **Why do apologists not feel the same obligation? Why are they so afraid of acknowledging the real and heady barriers to their own position?**

    Could this be in any way related to the idea that Satan is always ready to deceive? In terms of fundamentalist/conservative positions, I'm starting to feel as though Satan is more powerful than God. It seems to be incredibly easy for him to sway Christians into an unbiblical position, or pull them away from God. It seems to be ridiculously hard for God to hold onto His people. Given the type of power God has, I would think that He'd be stronger than a book on biology or a secular book on the history of Christianity. His influences seems too easy to throw off.

    So if Satan is always lurking to deceive the Christians, then the apologists might very well be trying not to provide Satan with a doorway.

    There's also the inbuilt bias into the system that arguments and evidence don't persuade people. God does, for He "chooses the foolish" and that the cross is ridiculous to the perishing. Therefore, any argument against the validity of Christianity doesn't have to be dealt with on its merits. Of *course* it's persuasive to the unsaved. They're all blinded by the world/Satan, and only the Holy Spirit will clarify things for them. So why even address the arguments at all?

  13. Dagoods wrote:

    "First, because the facts are not that important to the apologist; conformity in belief is. All the evidence in the world against a global flood is not important to most Christians who hold to it—belief that it occurred is"

    This comment pulled to memory (and sent me in search of) a statement made by RIchard Bentley, the Master of Trinity College during the early 1700's. He was responding to the controversy provoked by the publication of the Mill's Apparatus:

    "Depend on't; no Truth, no matter of Fact fairly laid open, can ever subvert true Religion."

  14. Not much to add, but after my interactions at churches and on blogs such as Jesus Creed and Biologos, it does feel like many high-powered apologists/bloggers don't care.