I find the way that most Christians approach apologetics to be pretty frustrating. Apologetics is a fine thing and it’s pretty interesting to see how your faith fits into the framework of the world outside of theology. But I find that most people are either “Great! Now I can definitely convince x with this loose collection of facts” or will furiously push back at any argument that doesn’t coincide with their faith. The first is a lot easier to deal with than the second.
After so many of these classes, I think that I’ve been able to get a feel for the scope of these things. These classes are fine for providing brief answers to common tough questions. They are not sufficient for providing enough background and context for a serious debate with someone. See, no matter what you’re debating, if you’re going to try and argue with someone, you had better be sure not only in what you’re arguing, but what you’re arguing against.
I’ve used all three of Windows, OS X, and Linux for years, each as my main OS. I’ve taken a basic OS course and a basic computer architecture course. I have a pretty good understanding of how computers work. Are you, guy with a Dell laptop running Windows and studying business, going to tell me Macs suck and that I’m an idiot for spending so much money on a Macbook Pro? If you’re going to say my computer is a pile of crap, you’d better be damn well prepared to talk about stuff like UI or file system design.
I’ve never gotten into evolution debates. Why? Because I don’t know enough about it. I didn’t take grade 11 bio, so how would I expect to argue with a biology major about evolution? And honestly, it’s inconsequential to me either way. I would need to be pretty arrogant to forge ahead and try to argue with someone like that.
The most dangerous thing about apologetics is the tendency for us to miss the point. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is our favourite dead horse to keep flogging. Yes, it’s hilariously full of ridiculous inaccuracies, which are substantiated only with his claims that he totally researched it all, man. Anyway, it’s an interesting starting point for exploring the history of the church after what’s recorded in the New Testament. But then, we start to become eager to strike down anything that’s inaccurate, without understanding the context, making us look like pedantic jerks.
One of the “arguments” that writers and speakers love to trot out is pointing out how inaccurate Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, would be if Mary Magdalene were depicted in the painting and that it’s not supposed to be a literal rendering of the real Last Supper. Well, of course not, Da Vinci kind of existed hundreds of years after. That’s not the point of the painting though. If someone had done some basic research, like read the book, it’d be immediately obvious that the painting has nothing to do with “proving” that Jesus and Mary were married and has everything to do with the fictional plot, in which the painting was a vehicle for Da Vinci to communicate his message through his works. Suddenly, the relevance of the painting in this context is useless.
So what is the point? It should really only be used to clear up misunderstandings or to answer some questions that someone who’s curious might have. You can’t use your patchwork knowledge to confront someone or wage a long campaign to convince them. If you do, you’ll likely only aggravate things.
The other danger is if the class degenerates into an echo chamber. In this case, the teacher gives standard, generic answers and the participants take it in. In the other case, the teacher provides counterpoints and the students rubber-band to treating those counter-arguments with derision. The danger here is that that derision carries over to conversations with non-Christians.
What bothered me was a claim that a BBC documentary about Jesus was biased, because it focused too much on naturalistic evidence rather than also providing Christian arguments. Even worse, it was compared to the Paul Maier interview, where the interviewer was asking fairly obviously pointed questions for Paul Maier to blow off silly secular arguments. Pretending that a BBC documentary, which has proper journalism, is as credible as a staged interview means that you’re being deliberately obfuscating and obtuse. Yes, technically, there is no true neutral stance, but bias is not a binary value.
It’s the sorts of arguments like those against naturalistic viewpoints that are harmful to these sorts of things. We can’t just write them off as obviously wrong or biased, because this is the perspective of the people we’re trying to talk to. And if you wouldn’t blow off an argument as ridiculous in front of someone you’re talking to, why would you need to do it while we’re trying to understand that viewpoint? Trying to dissect an argument so that we can know how to respond to it is much more easier when we don’t poison the well with our own bias.
I guess I’m really tired of the “here’s why we’re right” version of apologetics where we don’t consider why people might think the way they do. Thankfully, the iteration of the class I’m in right now is doing a pretty good job, what with the healthy amount of processing alternate viewpoints and arguments and trying to deconstruct them properly.