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Tag Archives: Apologetics

Guidelines for addressing controversial issues

Controversies are a staple of today’s world, whether on the news media or the minds of people dealing with changes and counter-changes, or charges and counter-charges. In most cases reporting of controversies is very poor. Partisans have a difficult time even understanding their opponents and make points that are often irrelevant. What follows are some guidelines for handling controversial issues that draw from my experience with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, intelligent design, and the creation-evolution controversy.

Informal fallacies to avoid

Arguing against a position that your opponents don’t hold. This is surprisingly common. It may make points with your side but is irrelevant to genuine argument and confuses those on the sidelines. Check out your opponents before arguing against them.

Arguing against a position held only by fringe elements of your opponents. This is also very common. There are always those on the fringe who have foolish ideas and are easily criticized, but so what? Arguing against fringe elements may make your opponents look bad but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. And they can make you look bad in the same way, so it accomplishes nothing.

Arguing against a position that is a poor way of expressing your opponents’ position. This is very common. People usually express their opponents’ position in their own words, which can be a way of showing that you understand the matter. But what if you’re wrong? Your opponents can simply say you’re arguing against someone else.

Insulting your opponents. Insults are so common they almost need not be mentioned. After all, what’s a controversial issue without insults? You may not even be aware of some insults, either by insensitivity or casual use of negative language. But your opponents can use the same tactic on you, and may be better at it. Trading insults accomplishes nothing good.

A good response

It is good to assume good intentions of your opponents. Much heat and little light characterize much writing and speaking about controversial issues. You may not like your opponents, you may even be suspicious of your opponents, but unless you have specific evidence of ill intent by leading advocates you oppose, don’t go there.

It is good to quote your opponents on their position, rather than only using your own words. You will need to put things in your own words but first quote your opponents so everyone can see you are not making this up. You should at least try to get their position right. This may be the most difficult part because you and your opponents see things so differently. But at least show you are trying.

It is good to focus on the most common argument that your opponents use. This is where the crossfire is focused. Whether it’s a strong or weak argument, your opponents have a favorite argument that is repeated over and over. It’s your task to take it apart and show how it is false or weak or non-persuasive.

The best response

It is best to assume the best of your opponents. You will garner good-will by assuming the best in others. For one thing it makes you look good. For another it is the right thing to do. Opportunities to speak will open up because of your gentlemanly or ladylike behavior.

It is best to quote your opponents liberally, being careful of their context. Go over something they have written and show in detail where it breaks down. Use their own words against them, without ignoring their context. That is a powerful and focused argument.

It is best to focus on the most persuasive argument your opponents have. Go after the best argument your opponents can muster and, if you can knock it down, your opponents will be permanently weakened if not defeated. Let there be a battle of your best against their best. That is the best way to settle an issue.

Approaches to apologetics

First, for those who want an introduction to apologetics, I suggest this video by Dr. R.C. Sproul on Defending Your Faith, lecture 1: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/defending-your-faith/introduction-2/.  Note in the second part he addresses Greek philosophy.

One way to compare different approaches is to look at what they consider believers and unbelievers have in common and how to build on that.

(1) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity.

With this approach one does not address questions about the existence of God, different worldviews, how scientific evidence relates to the Bible, etc., there is no recourse but to preach the Gospel again or go on to the next audience.

(2) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also live in a common world.

With this approach one can address questions about science by showing them how scientific evidence may be understood to support the Bible.  But questions about the existence of God or different worldviews cannot be addressed because the ability to reason is not sufficiently held in common.

(3) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also a common ability to reason.

With this approach one can address questions about the existence of God by showing them how reasonable it is to believe that God exists.  One can also address a worldview which excludes God by showing them the inadequacy of such a worldview.  But questions about how science supports the Bible cannot be addressed because the world of science is not sufficiently common.

(4) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity, a common ability to reason, and live in a common world.

With this approach one can address the most questions – questions about the existence of God, a worldview which excludes God, questions about science, etc.  One has the most resources in common with which to remove impediments to the Gospel.

I support approach (4) because I think Christians do have that much in common with unbelievers and because it gives the apologist the most tools to address the most questions.  The other approaches lack tools to address some questions and so impediments to the Gospel may remain.

July 2014

Revelation and detection

I think the following principle is true:  For every divine revelation there is a detectable effect.  Whether this effect is a miracle or not is a separate matter.  How science or history explain the effect is also a separate matter.  The point is that Christian apologetics can show the detectable effect and then point to the divine revelation as its proper cause and explanation.

If we do not accept this principle, we open ourselves up to spiritualism and gnosticism, in which revelation is in a separate reality from what is detectable, and the Bible may be contrary to fact but spiritually true.

I had a theistic evolutionist try to tell me that revelation is undetectable by science.  He gave the example of Communion (the Eucharist) as including a spiritual element completely undetectable by science.  I pointed out 1 Co. 11:27-34 where the apostle links sickness to wrong spiritual attitudes about Communion.  We may not be able to connect sickness to a spiritual attitude but sickness is detectable.

Of course some revelations are about the future and so may not be detectable yet.  But the trustworthiness of the revelation may still be established by the trustworthiness of those giving the revelation and those transmitting it.

In any case, divine revelation has detectable effects.

December 2013

Apologetics and creationism

Are apologetics and creationism independent of each other?  No.  For example, there’s the creationist appeal to the Bible as the Word of God.  Without a defense of this proposition, it is immediately rejected by those not already convinced, which would undermine creationism.  Even among those who accept the Bible as the Word of God, that means different things to different theological positions, many of which have no problem supporting theistic evolution.

But creationism does not need the full proposition that the Bible is the Word of God.  All that’s needed is that the Bible is a reliable source concerning the matters it addresses.  This could be accepted by Christians and non-Christians.  So creationism does need some apologetics.

Does apologetics depend on creationism?  Yes, because an evolutionary mindset must either conclude that the Bible has errors or does not mean what it says.  A creationist mindset has no problem with the Bible as a reliable source, and hence can readily accept biblical realism.

So apologetics and creationism are interdependent.

December 2011