Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The methodology of apologetics

I was reading some of Evolutionblog.blogspot.com today. The author there quotes a fundamentalist advocate who pushes the field of apologetics. Apologetics is the field of theology that attempts to justify Christianity. Now part of the problem with apologetics is that it justifies, not the truth per se, but whatever theology the individual in question believes.

So apologetics engaged in by a Catholic would be significantly different from that used by a Baptist or a Pentecostal. The apologetics of a Calvinists would be different from the apologetics of a Lutheran. Of course they all say it comes from the same religion in spite of them all coming to radically different conclusions regarding the “clear teachings” of the Bible.

Now what I found of particular interest is the following quote from a Christian defining apologetics: “Apologetics is the discipline of defending your faith, using logic and reason. It is helping people know what they believe and why they believe it.” This sentence caused the blogger at Evolutionblog to comment: “Personally, I wouldn’t know how to believe something without also knowing why I believe it.”

Amen! What exactly is going on when people “believe something without also knowing why”?

Now, of course this is the nature of faith. Faith is “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” It is most evident in the motto of many Christians: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Early church father Tertullian put it in a slightly more sophisticated way: “And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.”

The leading Reformationist Martin Luther said something similar: “There is on earth among all dangers, no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason, especially if she enters into spiritual matters which concern the soul and God. For it is more possible to teach an ass to read than to blind such a reason and lead it right; for reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.” And if Luther wasn’t clear enough there he said: “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense and understanding, and whatever it sees it must put out of sight, and wish to know nothing but the word of God.”

Some argue that faith and reason are the same thing. But as George Smith has noted the mere fact that they use the two terms insinuates that they understand they are different. Faith is an attempt to claim knowledge without reason not because of reason.

For instance if reason is all sufficient then reason can be applied to all things and faith is not needed. But what the faithful tend to do is use reason where they think it supports their beliefs and resort to faith where they find faith insufficient. John Locke noted this: “I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly: and where it fails them, they cry out, it is matter of faith, and above reason.” Aquinas said it would be “superfluous to receive by faith things that can be known by natural reason.”

Now recently I had an email exchange with a friend in New Zealand about a Christian think tank there called the Maxim Institute. There head researcher was caught using the thoughts and words of others without attribution. It wasn’t that he even argued similar arguments. He took entire sentences and reused them without attribution or even within quote marks. It would be one thing if he put quote marks around the borrowed words or at least mentioned the source even briefly. He did not. He merely repeated what he read elsewhere.

There was another similar incident with them. They were caught citing sources that didn’t exist. In one case they claimed an author, whose name they got wrong, said something which he didn’t say. In fact it turned out his view was quite different from the one attributed to him. It appears that they surfed web sites and used quotes that they liked. They apparently didn’t actually read the source material at all.

This author friend of mine noted that she struggles with everything she writes. But then she tries to understand the issues. She tries to see if the evidence supports her views. She is committed to reason. She doesn’t necessarily know the results of her research.

But the faith driven use reason, or a semblance of reason, in an attempt to justify conclusions that pre-existed. The conclusion is not based on the evidence. The evidence is based on the conclusion. Apologetics starts with conclusions and then looks for justifications. Since this is how Christians defend their faith, which is the most important aspect of their life, they see nothing wrong with using the same methodology for all their beliefs.

They know what are their views on subject after subject. As fundamentalist Christians they have ready set conclusions handed to them by the church. Then when they engage in the process of argumentation they look only for that which confirms their belief and dismiss or ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Consider the problem they have. To them their beliefs come from God. So evidence that seems to contradict God simply can’t be true. They don’t have to weight the evidence to draw a conclusion. The conclusion pre-exists the evidence and the purpose of evidence, in apologetics, is to confirm the conclusion. And this methodology is carried through by believers into field after field.


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