Is Apologetics Intellectually Dishonest?


 
From time to time someone will announce here that Christian apologetics is a sham discipline because it presupposes the truth of what it sets out to discover. Given that apologists are theologically biased from the outset, they must cherry-pick their facts in order to support the truth of Christianity and at the same time spurn unwelcome alternative views of the world. Thus apologetics is a grand exercise in question-begging. Or so we're told. This purportedly intellectually deficient – or worse, intellectually dishonest – apologetic approach is usually contrasted with the virtues of "science," in which discoveries are confirmed only as they clear various objective methodological hurdles like repeated observations, consistent measurements, careful experimental designs, statistical analysis of findings, peer review, and so forth. 
 
Now at first blush there seems to be a grain of truth in the charge. Having personally experienced the presence of Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit upon encountering the Word of God, Christian apologists like me are indeed thoroughly convinced that God exists and has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. As a result we are naturally confident that Christianity is true, and thus "biased," in a sense, toward it actually being true. Such confidence is in keeping with the authoritative pronouncements of Christ and the apostles: that what we preach is not "cunningly devised fables" or delusion, but "the words of truth and reason" (2 Pet. 1:16; Acts 26: 24-25). My "bias" is grounded in compelling arguments from natural theology, in historical facts, and most of all, in personal experience. It would be foolish for me to write off a self-authenticating and eternally significant revelation of divine truth just so that other people might think me more broad-minded, or intellectually nuanced, or whatever.
 
Clearly the gospel is not a "tentative hypothesis" subject to scientific testing or falsification, and apologists should not have to pretend that it is. Defending the truth of that gospel (apologetics) would be irrational or dishonest only if it were a self-evident truth that propositions must be scientifically testable in order to be true; and I don't know anyone who actually believes that. The axioms of logic, mathematics and probability, to name some examples, are certainly not subject to scientific confirmation or falsification; nor, for that matter, are the very assumptions that underlie the scientific method itself. Yet the scientific enterprise could scarcely get off the ground apart from logic, mathematics and probability – and of course, the scientific method – applied to the observable world. It turns out that numerous undeniable and indispensable propositions, while obviously not scientific, are just as obviously true. There is nothing intellectually dishonest about recognizing all this.
 
The history of science itself indicates that scientific theories only reflect our current understanding of the universe, and therefore can only approximate the truth – whatever the truth may be exactly. As I argued recently in my book: "This is not to say that scientific inferences are false…, only that they have no reliable truth function. Inductive reasoning and inferences to the best explanation are indispensable tools within the larger scope of natural science, but hardly the keys to unlocking eternal verities. Scientific discovery depends primarily on the collection and analysis of empirical data. Because these data are constantly in flux, the inferences drawn from them are ever subject to revision, and often, replacement."[1] Scientific knowledge must apparently remain incomplete for as long as we are housed within this universe. Anyone honestly seeking truth should consider looking beyond this finite, contingent universe to its eternal creator: "Heaven and earth will pass away," said Jesus, "but My words will by no means pass away" (Matt. 24:35).
 


[1] Transcending Proof: In Defense of Christian Theism (Houston: Christian Cadre, 2016), p. 47.  

Comments

Don McIntosh said…
(For more on this theme, see Joe Hinman's previous post, "Why There is No Empirical Proof that God Exists.")
Joe Hinman said…
The history of science itself indicates that scientific theories only reflect our current understanding of the universe, and therefore can only approximate the truth – whatever the truth may be exactly. As I argued recently in my book: "This is not to say that scientific
great Post Don!

you say:

"inferences are false…, only that they have no reliable truth function. Inductive reasoning and inferences to the best explanation are indispensable tools within the larger scope of natural science, but hardly the keys to unlocking eternal verities. Scientific discovery depends primarily on the collection and analysis of empirical data. Because these data are constantly in flux, the inferences drawn from them are ever subject to revision, and often, replacement.""

IO agree and that;s good but I just finished a book on my new God argument and I couhed in terms of best explanation,these are categories we can use although they are lkimited,

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