The Futility of Apologetics

Now there’s a title post to grab some attention, eh? Since I’m posting here for the first time, at the invitation of my longtime friend Metacrock, I figured I’d better make it a good one. But fear not, it’s not an announcement that I’m quitting the game. It’s more like an observation after many years of playing it. Let me give two illustrations.

Recently I was hired to do a freelance writing assignment for the magazine associated with Creation Ministries International. They’ve asked me to write several articles over the years, ever since I first broke into the field in 1998. (The stuff I write for them has always been exegetical in nature, so we won’t need those YEC vs OEC swords out for this occasion.) 

This most recent assignment was a review of a fairly decent book, which contained some exegetical arguments CMI wasn’t too keen on, and it also happened to be on roughly the same topic I also recently wrote about for the Christian Research Journal.

The punch line: This book was also making the same arguments I once addressed for the same journal by CMI…in 1998.

I also just recently put up a new ebook on failed end times theorists. One of the newer subjects was Jonathan Cahn, author of the far too popular “Harbinger” series. It’s full of exactly the sort of bad arguments you’d expect from popular eschatology, and it’d hard to pick just one as an illustration, but I’ll try anyway.

Cahn makes a great deal of the fact that many of the greatest stock market collapses in history have taken place in September and October, corresponding with the Jewish month of Tishri. He finds this very odd, and supposes God must be involved in this pattern, somehow divinely programming these collapses to happen around the same time as Jewish holidays in that part of the year. Cahn blithely says, “if there was nothing more than the natural at work in the greatest collapses in history, then the greatest financial collapses in history should be more or less evenly distributed throughout the year” and not occur only mainly in October.


It didn’t take me long to figure out why that line of argument is bogus. Yes, it’s true that October is historically the most volatile month for stocks. It’s also true, as Cahn points out that September is usually a bad time for stocks. So, is God judging our economy based on the Jewish calendar? Not likely. The more likely explanation is far more prosaic: Stockbrokers return from summer breaks in September, and when they return they enact plans made over the summer to divest themselves of certain stocks. All that selling at one time leads to a stock market decline. Then, in October, these brokers start to reckon with the results of all this selling. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, which is precisely the reason why October is then the most volatile month in the stock market.

It’s simple, straightforward, and it has nothing to do with Jewish holidays, with one small exception: as a study by Nova Southeastern University found, Jewish investors in the stock market behave in a certain way because of the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which occur, respectively, in September and October. (I’ll let the study explain itself in a link at the end of this article.) The holidays do contribute to what happens in the stock market, but it’s not for the reasons Cahn thinks.

By now you can see what I mean by the “futility of apologetics”. I don’t mean it’s a fruitless exercise from the perspective of apologists, or that we can’t find satisfying answers to questions. I mean that no matter what happens.

First: We’re bound to run into the same arguments over and over again, no matter how many times they’ve been refuted. (As I said in my very FIRST article for the Christian Research Journal, also in 1998, critics today use some of the same arguments that Celsus used.)

Second: There will always be those like Cahn who will not bother to find out if there are better arguments or explanations for some phenomenon or position that they find serves their purposes.

Inevitably, this means that you need a particularly thick skin to be an apologist. You also need to get satisfaction from apologetics for reasons other than that people are convinced by it: Maybe you cherish the joy of hunting for the right answer to a tough question, for example. Or maybe you like finding creative ways to get that answer published. I wouldn’t have been at this work for 20 years now unless I’d learned these lessons.

Ecclesiastes is my favorite book in the Bible, and the advice it gives is still pertinent: “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” It sure sounds like even Solomon had his own Jonathan Cahns to deal with.


Thanks J.P. Welcome to the Cadre!
Don McIntosh said…
We’re bound to run into the same arguments over and over again, no matter how many times they’ve been refuted.

How true that is. Apologetics is not just defending the faith through intriguing intellectual discourse, though that sort of thing is part of it. Apologetics is also labor, the expending of energy to somehow address those same tired old arguments and objections in a way that remains fresh, creative and interesting.
Jason Pratt said…
(Okay, okay, keep cool, don't squee like a teenaged girl when welcoming JPH to posting at the Cadre...)



...argh! Dangit!!

Oh well. Squee to JPH. {g}


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