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On the futility of evidence-based apologetics

Discussion in 'Christian Apologetics' started by gaara4158, Apr 20, 2019.

  1. gaara4158

    gaara4158 I prefer you trust your reason.

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    It’s common in discussions between theists and atheists for the subject of “evidence” to come up. Atheists will often state that the evidence for God is not sufficient to warrant belief, and the theist will either agree and appeal to faith, or they will disagree and provide what they think to be good evidence. The problem is, either way the theist chooses to defend their belief in God, the two parties hardly ever end up talking about the same thing, as it’s rare to see them take the time to agree on definitions for evidence, faith, and God. It’s hard to blame them for this, because trying to tie down a strict definition for either one of these words could send them plunging into a philosophical rabbit hole where it’s very easy to lose your way.
    Because of this, when we see theists and atheists locking horns, the discussion often devolves one of two ways: A) into a frustrating, repetitive bout of talking past each other that escalates into lost tempers and name-calling or B) into an in-depth examination of the epistemic tools being used by both parties, in which case the more experienced/educated interlocutor wins by mentally exhausting the other and the subject matter at hand doesn’t even get discussed.
    That’s not to say it always goes those ways, but I’d go so far as to say it happens more often than not, at least in the threads in which I tend to participate. While not entirely pointless, these discussions rarely ever end up being about the question that’s asked originally.

    I think the fundamental difference between theists and non-theists here isn’t in the arguments they’ve heard, the experiences they’ve had, or the facts they’re aware of. Rather, it is their approach to belief itself: what constitutes sufficient reason to believe something? Is it important for a belief to comport with reality? What beliefs must we take as self-evident before forming the rest? These are the issues that have to be settled up-front or else our discussions will end up devolving in the ways described above. And yet if we were actually able to accomplish that we would probably end up all on the same side anyway.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is none of the discussions we have here are likely to sway anyone from one side to the other. Instead these discussions serve to display how different people justify their views based on their own idiosyncratic epistemologies. The best we can do is point out each other’s inconsistencies.

    Just something to keep in mind when you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over and the bonehead on the other side isn’t “getting” it.
     
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  2. Hammster

    Hammster Sometimes nothin can be a real cool hand. Staff Member Site Advisor Supporter

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    That’s why I hold to the presuppositional view. I believe what Paul wrote in Romans 1, and see no need to try to “prove” God when the atheist actually knows He exists.

    We aren’t called to prove God. He doesn’t even try to prove Himself. We are called to proclaim the good news, and be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2019
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  3. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter

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    I think evidential apologetics works perfectly fine, but nothing satisfies the die hard skeptic. I've tried any number of evidential arguments and the first casualty is invariably, the evidence. A Van Till Presuppositional argument is almost pure rationalism, reminds me so much of Immanuel Kant. If you really wanted a New Testament example of an apology (literally a defense in court) it might be helpful to look at Paul's testimony before Felix, Festus and Agrippa or even the Lord's trial before Pilate. An apology in the New Testament is quite literally a defense in court, obviously evidence is an issue. I've found evidencial apologetics to be invaluable, even if the reaction to it is less then intellectually satisfying. It has it's place, but I think it serves the believer far better then it ever could the skeptic, who will respond to neither evidence nor rationalism.
     
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  4. cloudyday2

    cloudyday2 Generic Theist Supporter

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    The presuppositional view seems to take nuggets of truth and make extreme conclusions. I agree that assumptions are a necessity, but I don't agree that "there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian" ( Presuppositional apologetics - Wikipedia ). That seems extreme.
     
  5. Hammster

    Hammster Sometimes nothin can be a real cool hand. Staff Member Site Advisor Supporter

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    It assumes that Paul was correct.

    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
    19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. - Romans 1:18-19

    Also

    The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Corinthians 2:14

    So unless and until the Spirit does His work, a non-believer will stay a non-believer.
     
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  6. Halbhh

    Halbhh The wonder and awe of His Creation! Supporter

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    God is a being, a Person, and is thus able of course to decide who can have a chance to relate with Him. And He sets standards, as one would expect. We learn in the communications (scriptures) that He wants faith from us -- humbleness and 'faith', which is trust -- seeking Him is an act of faith, or trust. Considering this, one can see it implies the only possibility for evidence (compatible with the requirement of faith) can only be evidence given after the requirement is met for faith (seeking Him is a leap of faith), and evidence is then to the individual. There cannot be an easy evidence or proof of God, since that would obviate, preclude His stated goal for us -- that we come to faith. (Wonderfully He has made a way for this to happen, and it's possible for the earnest seeker to come to faith through the word of Christ).
     
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  7. Eight Foot Manchild

    Eight Foot Manchild His Supreme Holy Correctfulness

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    All I need to refute the assertion that "the atheist actually knows He exists" is to be aware of at least one atheist who does not. As it happens, I am aware of one such atheist - me. I therefor know, with complete logical certainty, that the assertion is false.

    So the best case scenario for you is that you are wrong in your interpretation of Romans 1. The worst case scenario is that you are interpreting it correctly, and it's the Bible itself that is wrong.

    It is extremely unwise to predicate an assertion on information you have no access to. I suggest you refrain from doing in the future.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
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  8. Soyeong

    Soyeong Well-Known Member

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    The only way that it is possible for someone to be a theist is if they think that the evidence is sufficient to warrant belief, so if someone agreed that the evidence is not sufficient to warrant belief, then they wouldn't believe and therefore wouldn't be a theist. Faith is about keeping our minds focused on the fact that we have been given sufficient evidence and has nothing to do with believing something while considering there to be insufficient evidence as though that were even humanly possible.

    Faith/Faithfulness

    “These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

    For example if you had a friend who you were going camping with who told you that they would bring all of the food and water that you needed for the week, then by acting as though what they said they would do is as good as done, you would be putting your trust or faith in them. Your decision to rely on them even though the future is unseen would be based on the evidence of what you know about them and your past experience with them. So even when it is beginning to like they might not do what they said, having faith is about keeping your mind focused on the good evidence that you had of their reliability by continuing to act like what they said they will do is as good as done.

    For example, there are endless lists of claims of contradictions in the Bible, and even if I were to convince an atheist that something was not a contradiction, then they would just move on to the next. However, even if I were to somehow convince an atheist that the Bible is free of contradictions, they most likely still wouldn't believe that it was true. So the lists of supposed contradictions are just an distraction when we should be focusing on the underlying issues.

    Two people can look at the same evidence with one considering it to be sufficient to warrant belief while the other does not, so the problem is that there is not an objective standard for what constitutes as sufficient reason to believe something or as self-evident, but rather it is a subjective "I known when I see it". Under Naturalism and Evolution, what is important about a belief is whether or not it is more likely to lead to survival, not whether or not it comports with reality.

    I've changed my views a number of times over my years on various forums, but for the most part Christians and atheists who engage in discussions in regard to apologetics are firmly entrenched in their positions, so it is unlikely to convince someone. However, as with formal debates, it is not about convincing the other debtor so much as it is about convincing the audience.
     
  9. Hammster

    Hammster Sometimes nothin can be a real cool hand. Staff Member Site Advisor Supporter

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    I have to stick with scripture. But I also understand what you are saying.
     
  10. gaara4158

    gaara4158 I prefer you trust your reason.

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    Evidential arguments work only if both parties agree on what *counts* as evidence, and I find that to be rare around here. Sure evidence is an issue, but it’s secondary to epistemology.
     
  11. Eight Foot Manchild

    Eight Foot Manchild His Supreme Holy Correctfulness

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    I have to stick with reality.
     
  12. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter

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    I'd say very rare, when I was doing the creation/evolution thing I generally went to the peer reviewed journals they exalted so much. Aside from screening my posts for an occasional or nonexistent error there were few actual detailed discussions of the material. The worst was probably the evidencial approach to the resurrection, Wilbur Smith in Therefore Stand had tons of stuff along evidencial lines. The fulfillment of Messianic prophecy is another good one, the specificity makes a compelling evidencial case. What is remarkable is that no matter how many detailed specifics it's remarkable how fast they are dismissed, rationalized and buried in fallacious logic.

    That doesn't disqualify evidential apologetics as a valid study and a persuasive voice. I've seen little better results from presuppositional apologetics. Even the five classical arguments from St. Thomas Aquinas hardly get noticed. Jesus performed an unprecedented number of miracles in defense of his message. For example, the Feast of Tabernacles is over in Jerusalem, the day before he had just had a blistering encounter with the Scribes and Pharisees. When he returns he tells them I am the light of the world, walks down to the pool called Shiloh and heals a man born blind. With this man right in front of them they still don't believe. Simon Greenleaf said it best:

    Christianity does not profess to convince the perverse and headstrong, to bring irresistible evidence to the daring and profane, to vanquish the proud scorner, and afford evidences from which the careless and perverse cannot possibly escape. This might go to destroy man's responsibility. All that Christianity professes, is to propose such evidences as may satisfy the meek, the tractable, the candid, the serious inquirer." (Simon Greenleaf, Testimony of the Evangelists)
    But that evidence still exists for the serious inquirer, and while those investigators are generally drowned out by the proud scorner he is still worth reaching.

    Grace and peace,
    Mark
     
  13. ananda

    ananda Early Buddhist

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    Agreed, we all hold different standards for belief, and those standards might vary depending on topic as well.

    Some might just believe whatever their elders and other authority figures claim. Others require more, like belief based on various established standards for evidence and burdens of proof (legal, archaeological, historical, philosophical, etc.). Some require direct experience (like myself, on "spiritual" topics relating to my highest good).
     
  14. Tone

    Tone Star Fish Radiant Supporter

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    You never knew that He exists...not even in your childhood...where, perhaps, you have no recollection? How can you be sure?
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
  15. Tone

    Tone Star Fish Radiant Supporter

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    There is more than just rational evidence...we are multifaceted beings and a Personal Creator meets us at every aspect of our beings; mind, will, emotions, imagination, etc....all touches to these being evidence , of a kind.

    *He meets the whole person.
     
  16. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    It's a mistake to think that everyone is the same. I'm pretty sure that the reasons people believe are different.

    * Many are Christians because they grew up that way and find it a rewarding way of life.
    * Some are converted by experience. I have a friend whose life was saved twice, in very different ways, once as the direction of his life was turned around by involvement in the Church, and once by something that to avoid biased terminology I will say was a very low-probability event.
    * Some are convinced by argument. A former pastor grew up as an atheist, and says he was converted by the ontological argument. The example of Anthoney Flew has some ambiguities, but it appears that he was convinced by the fine tuning argument and related evidence.

    Apologetics also has two functions. The OP seems to be thinking in terms of trying to convince atheists. But historically (and I think today) another purpose is to provide a rational defense for someone is already Christian or interested in Christianity for other reasons but wants to make sure it is intellectually defensible.
     
  17. Eight Foot Manchild

    Eight Foot Manchild His Supreme Holy Correctfulness

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    Not once. Ever.

    Even if I did used to believe, that is impertinent to the point.

    Because I know what my own conscious thoughts are. It is, in fact, one of few things I can be completely certain of.
     
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  18. Tone

    Tone Star Fish Radiant Supporter

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    If you did used to believe, this is very pertinent to confirming Scripture.
     
  19. Eight Foot Manchild

    Eight Foot Manchild His Supreme Holy Correctfulness

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    No it isn't. The assertion was that I currently believe.
     
  20. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    Evidence and belief are broad categories, and it is difficult but not impossible to hone in on agreement. I would agree that epistemic paradigms between believers and skeptics are often quite different, with skeptics treating God as a kind of scientific hypothesis and the believer leaning on relational considerations and criteria.

    I think a successful discussion requires the ability to listen, reverence for the truth, and some logical prowess. Oftentimes on forums like these at least one of those conditions is absent, and that is why I am fairly selective about which individuals I engage. The other thing to remember is that changes of position come slowly, over time. I have never caused a large shift of position within a dialogue, nor have I been persuaded to myself make a large shift. But I have received messages from old dialogue partners who admitted that their position changed over a period of years due in large part to conversations we had. The same has happened to me with my own positions.

    Lots of forum posting is vanity and impatience, and in many cases the lines of attack are towards the weakest posters on either side. Further, in order to make a dent you have to understand your interlocutor on more than a superficial level. That's why I wish the philosophy forum still existed--because it would give lots of opportunity to interact amiably on hills that we don't need to die on. I think it would aid understanding of positions and people generally, and would weed out some of the trolls.
     
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