Q&A: Ifs and Buts and The Effectiveness Of Apologetics

Q&A: Ifs and Buts and The Effectiveness Of Apologetics

Please skip my initial little rant/personal thoughts and go straight to my question at the bottom if you are pressed for time. The beginning of my question will be marked with a row of asterisks

*.Hello Mr. Minton, it was to my utmost surprise and great pleasure to see that you had responded in a mere five days. I have had actual family members not respond in five days, so it was quite the shock when I checked back into the blog and saw the blog post. It is a shame that people are not avid readers as they once were, but worry not Mr.Minton the blog is still useful if only to help some teenager with questions or an inquisitive atheist. But I must agree that podcasts and YouTube videos are more efficient ways of transporting information, if only for the power of the human voice. Now on to your list, it is quite wonderful really, I went over to each and every apologist you mentioned and surveyed their work and was most pleasantly surprised. Thank you very much good sir, this is a most welcome resource for youth who might not be partial to listening to a musty old philosopher. You make some valid points about how God raises people in every generation, I hadn’t considered that before but it is true. As to your ending on whether to take bets on who will become the next big name apologists, I am not brash to admit I enjoy some low risk bets so here is my wager.

1. William Lane Craig -> Michael Jones: the reasons you mentioned are good and I agree with them

2. J.P Moreland -> Tim Stratton: his flagship argument, the freethinking argument, is meant to deductively prove an immaterial aspect of humans (the soul) and libertarian free will reminds me of J.P.Moreland as those are often his focus. 

3: Alvin Plantinga-> Joshua Rasmussen (apologies for spelling): I don’t have a good reason for this, just a feeling in my gut, perhaps because they are both very philosophy heavy apologists. 

4: Frank Turek-> Cameron Bertuzzi: both are very good at presenting apologetics through media formats, Frank Turek’s website is most elegantly designed and as a photographer Cameron obviously has good experience in making videos and photos that are beautiful and pleasing to the eye. Also they both seem to have a bit of a catchphrase, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist and BTW Christainity is true

5. Norman Geisler-> Evan Minton: yup, that’s my bet on who you will become. Here’s why, both have similarities to coming into apologetics and started at similar ages.  Both of your books (I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist and Case for the one true God) have charts comparing different belief systems (or I might be completely wrong). The two of you are unafraid to answer skeptics question directly, you’ve both taken part in a fair share of debates and wrote a cluster of books. I am sure there are other young apologists who fit the description of the current greats much better, but I only included the apologists that I was familiar enough with to make a good decision. Of course I haven’t even mentioned people like Gary Habermas, John Lennox, Lee Strobel or J.Warner Wallace but I don’t know enough young apologists to make a decision.

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Sorry for my little rant up there, I need to learn to be more concise. But onto my question, a common claim that atheists make is that christainity has too many ifs to be true. If we aren’t a simulation, if the universe had a beginning, if there isn’t a multiverse, if there is objective morality, if there is a good answer to divine hiddenness ,if the free will defense is good, if jesus existed (like the common Richard Carrier/Jesus mythicist claim that the odds Jesus existed are 1/3) if the gospels are credible, if the apostles didn’t hallucinate ect,ect. There are hundreds of more ifs I could have listed, each of which would destroy an argument for God or the arguments for Jesus if they fall. So the question is, don’t all of these ifs make Christainity improbable? If Christainity hinges on so many :ifs” and if one of them falls chrisatinity is not true, than isn’t it more likely christainity is false?

If that isn’t enough to chew, here’s another one. The above claim is often accompanied by the claim that apologetics isn’t actually effective. The claim continues on with that if apologetics were actually true/effective than there wouldn’t be any atheists. It also said that apologetics only keeps christiains in the flock but it doesn’t actually change the mind of those who don’t have a bias for having their preheld beliefs affirmed. Thus apologetics isn’t true/effective. So MY question is as follows: is this true? Is apologetics only effective at keeping christians in christainity? Does apologetics only work for those who have a bias toward christainity being true? What’s the evidence to the contrary to these claims? Post Script, I know this is many questions, but I am just phrasing them in a cluster, like a compound question.

  • Andro

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I’m flattered to be told that I’m going to be the next Norman Geisler. That’s pretty high praise! Frank Turek has referred to him as “The Michael Jordan of Apologetics” and I don’t think that was unwarranted. I’ll try not to let that go to my head. I agree with the rest of your comparisons. 

Now, onto your questions.

1: The Many “Ifs”. 

For one thing, all worldviews have a lot of “ifs” that need to be met in order for the arguments in favor of them to be sound. For atheism, *if* there is a multiverse, *if* the universe is eternal, *if* Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, *if* God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering, etc. then atheism becomes more plausible than Christian theism. 

For Mormonism, *if* Joseph Smith hallucinated angels, *if* Jesus claimed to be God and *if* the New Testament writers taught he was God,  and *if* God can be demonstrated to have the attribute of eternality – He’s beginningless – which would require major reinterpretation of some biblical passages and a refutation of theistic arguments like the Contingency, Kalam, and Ontological Arguments, then Mormonism is probably false. 

So, the having a lot of “ifs” needing to be satisfied isn’t something Christians have to deal with. All worldview adherents have this problem. This leads to my second point: can the “ifs” be evidentially or logically substantiated? 

Secondly, a lot of these *if*s can be evidentially substantiated. As I’ve done in many blog posts, podcast episodes, and YouTube videos, we can show that there are no grounds for a multiverse, but even *if* there was, it wouldn’t serve as the escape hatch the atheist wants it to because the multiverse must have had a beginning. So even granting that The Big Bang was not the ultimate origin of everything, there still has to be an ultimate beginning of all physical reality at some point. You can’t have an infinite regression of great grandmother universes spawning babies. Of course, what I’m talking about here is the multiverse or mother universe’s implication for The Kalam Cosmological Argument. What about The Fine-Tuning Arguments? Well, as I have pointed out in my video on the Fine-Tuning Argument and in my book “The Case For The One True God”, there’s no evidence that a multiverse even exists, and since we rightly reject appealing to the multiverse to explain other improbable events that look designed (getting a royal flush 10 times in a row), then we shouldn’t appeal to it to explain away a divine hand in the fine-tuning either. 

And of course, I can give a defense of The Free Will Defense, the existence of the historical Jesus, and the historicity of His resurrection from the dead as I have elsewhere on this site. If the skeptic wants to argue that one of these “ifs” doesn’t obtain, he’s going to need to refute my case. Let’s debate! I want to add one more thing; if (pun intended) the ONLY argument for God that could survive scrutiny was The Modal Ontological Argument, atheism (as I point out in “The Case For The One True God”, non-Christian forms of theism) are toast! It doesn’t matter if the universe is eternal in an eternal multiverse and if there’s no good arguments for objective morality. If The Modal Ontological Argument goes through, then so is Christian Theism. If The Minimal Facts argument for the resurrection stands as well, then Jesus rose from the dead and Christianity is true. We don’t need every last theistic argument to be sound to say that theism is more probable than atheism, even Christian theism! We just need one of them to survive the fire. However, if a whole bunch of them can stand up under scrutiny (and I think all the ones I defend can), then that’s even better.

Thirdly, none of these “ifs” (except maybe those last three pertaining to the historical Jesus), if they didn’t obtain, would effect the truth of Christianity. At worst, they would undermine the Arguments for the truth of Christianity. In other words, they would undermine some of our epistemology, not our ontology. We would just have to find different arguments to support our truth claims that there is a God, that Jesus rose, etc.

And of course, apologetic argument revision has happened in the course of church history. For example, not many Christian Apologists appeal to fulfilled prophesy anymore to argue for the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. Why? Because the skeptic can always say “Well, it looks prophetic because the author was writing this book after the fact.” They do this with the gospels. They date the Gospels of Matthew and Mark post-A.D 70 because Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. And “obviously”, Jesus couldn’t have known about this ahead of time so there’s no way the gospels could have been written in the 60s. Now, of course, that’s circular reasoning. The skeptic is presupposing that there is no God endowed with foreknowledge who could inform the writer (or Jesus) of future events. But nevertheless, this kind of argument meets a stalemate. The Christian can say the skeptic is presupposing a later date because of his anti-supernatural presuppositions, but the skeptic can accuse the Christian of presupposing the books were written before the event because he presupposes the authors got their info from God prophetically. So neither side gets anywhere. Hence, a stalemate. 

Now, in the defense of prophesy apologists, there are some prophesies where this kind of post-dating argument just won’t work. I wrote a blog post on that several years ago, but I can’t seem to find it. It was titled “Prophesies That Make Non-Christians Uncomfortable” or something like that. 

2: The Effectiveness Of Apologetics

The argument that “If Apologetics were actually effective, there wouldn’t be any atheists” is a bad one. For one thing, I often hear this from fideists or other fundamentalists who are just too lazy to think hard about their faith and actually do the work of showing their non-Christian neighbor it’s true. And with these people I usually say “Well, if the simple preaching of the gospel were effective, there wouldn’t be any non-Christians” or “If Revival meetings were so effective, there wouldn’t be any non-Christians.” If the sword cuts at all, it cuts both ways. However, I have also heard this claim come from atheists too. With atheists, I use a different reductio ad absurdum. I say “Hey, if scientific argumentation were so effective, there wouldn’t be any creationists.” or “If apologetics for atheism were effective, there wouldn’t be any theists”. If you’re confused by my use of “apologetics for atheism”, remember that apologetics is just defending a claim, coming from the Greek word “apologia”. Atheists do indeed practice apologetics for atheism when they defend, for example, the argument from evil. Well, if THAT were really effective, don’t you think the whole world would be secular? 

But the claim is even worse. There have been people who became Christians because of apologetics. Most noteworthy examples are people like Lee Strobel, C.S Lewis, Frank Morrison, Nabeel Qureshi, and J. Warner Wallace. 

I’ve gotten a few e-mails from people telling me that my podcast lead them back to the faith. Michael Jones has posted some testimonials on the Inspiring Philosophy Facebook page of people who commented in the comment section of his YouTube channel saying either that they used to be atheists but his videos convinced them to become Christians, or that they’re currently atheists but are really seriously considering becoming Christians. 

Lee Strobel receives e-mails all the time from people telling him how his “Case For” series convinced them that Christianity was true and resulted in their conversion. 

A Facebook friend of mine, Travis Worth, also came to faith in Christ from atheism because of apologetics. He doesn’t have an online platform like I do, but you’ll see him on YouTube here and there because people like myself and David Pallmann keep inviting him on our programs. 

Do our arguments fall on deaf ears most of the time? Yeah. But so does simple preaching of the gospel. Even in The New Testament historical records, look at how many people rejected Jesus and His teachings. In Acts 17, Paul preaches to the Athenians and even pulls from their own pagan sources to make his points. When he says that God raised Jesus from the dead, most people ridicule him and leave, but there’s a small handful who remain and ask Paul to tell them more. Nothing’s really changed in this regard. Most of our evangelistic efforts in general (whether they involve apologetics or not) aren’t going to get non-believers to turn to Christ, but we do it for the sake of the small handful who will. Every soul is precious to God. He wants all people to be saved and none to perish (1 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4). This is why there is rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:9). 

So is apologetics effective? Well, if your criteria for effectiveness is for every atheist who hears the Kalam or Minimal Facts argument to immediately fall down on their knees and say “Jesus is Lord!” then no, it’s not effective. But that’s an unreasonably high criteria that we wouldn’t hold any other area of argumentation to. 

 

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Andro Rizk

    Well done Mr.Minton, you have answered my questions quite well. But a little bit of follow up for each of them, just for my own edification. 1. If a worldview has more “ifs” than another, and the arguments for each are equally matched, doesn’t that mean the worldview with more ifs is more unlikely? 2. What about the claim that apologetics is only effective in keeping christians in the flock, so to speak. Does this not make apologetics hold less weight if its best use is in keeping christians instead of brining atheists?

    1. Evan Minton

      1: I’m not sure I understand the question. *if* an Argument For God’s existence is sound, then atheism is toast. *If* Jesus rose from the dead, all non-Christian religions are false. It’s not as though worldviews win by having the most arguments. If those arguments are no good, then they’re no good.

      2: This is essentially a repeat of the question in the article. Could you explain why what I said wasn’t a satisfying answer?

  2. Andro Rizk

    On a different note, I would like to ask you of your opinion on an article I read. I can’t recall the source but the gist is that most atheists become atheists during their teen years. This coincides with the fact that the decision making part of the brain develops later (21 I do believe). 3. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Evan Minton

      I don’t know anything about these studies, so I can’t comment. But what argument for Christianity’s truth would these studies undermine if that were the case? Should we really care?

      1. Andro Rizk

        1. Thank you very much, that cleared it up well. I just needed a little boost, which your reply provided.
        2. I assure you,your answer was satisfying. I just wanted to bring a more mild atheist claim to the table. Instead of something extreme such as “if apologetics were effective there would be no atheists”, I often see something more mild. Perhaps on the lines of “apologetics is *more* effective in keeping christians in, instead of converting atheists”. Then it usually goes that the atheist concludes (somehow) that apologetics isn’t true. My question is what can one say in response to this claim? I am asking because I am not experienced in talking with atheists, however you are.
        3. I was just asking for your opinion, nothing more. No, I don’t see a reason we should care. I just thought it was interesting.

        1. Evan Minton

          I see. In terms of sheer numbers, I think apologetics is more effective in building up the faith of believers than it is bringing in unbelievers. But I think the same can be said for the arguments atheists give for their position and against Christianity.

          But I’m happy doing either. Whether God uses the material I put on this website to keep someone already in from falling away, or to bring it outside or in. It’s good. 🙂

          1. Andro Rizk

            Thank you very much for your replies, I will be cooking up another question for you soon.

          2. Evan Minton

            No problem. I’m glad to help. 🙂

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