When apologetics does more harm than good

I am a believer in the importance of apologetics. Really I am! However, as I have argued previously, when apologetics is done badly it can do more harm than good.

Apologetics can go wrong in various ways. You may have a good case for faith but present it in the wrong way or at the wrong time or to the wrong person.

Apologetics can also go wrong by offering trite answers to serious and difficult questions. Here is an example I came across today.

This is a well produced little video and it is intended to provoke thought rather than to offer a detailed philosophical defence of God in the face of evil. Nevertheless, it offers a trite and simplistic "answer" to a deeply serious issue that for many people is a very existentially troubling one. As such, while it may be helpful to people who don't think deeply it is liable to backfire on many who struggle with it.

The disanalogy between the dentist and God is so glaringly obvious and also so clearly relevant to the argument that as soon as one starts to ponder the patient's case for God it falls apart like a sandcastle in your hands.

The problem is that a clearly bad argument is presented as a stunning stop-the-atheist-in-his/her-tracks argument. This makes Christians look smug and dumb (and more than a little insensitive). It raises the worry that if this is the best Christians can do then perhaps the atheists are right. Hence, the apologetic backfires.

This kind of apologetics makes me angry. I would rather a believer said that they do not know the answer to a question (if they don't) rather than offer up this kind of bullshit, albeit well-intentioned bullshit.


Terry Wright said…
You said 'bullshit', Robin. I'm telling.
Tom said…
Bovine excrement is the correct term.

I grew up on a farm, I should know. That's the term we used all the time (not).

btw agree that's not good apologetics!
Sam said…
It is certainly doing plenty more for Kingdom building than anything you've said here. Was it really necessary to tear down another's efforts? Do you not think God could be using this work for his own glory? Is it really fair to label the works of another ministry as "bullshit?" Think about it.

It's a clever analogy, I thought. It does raise a number of other questions though - which was probably the intent. It's a good conversation starter!
Robin Parry said…

It is a tricky question you raise. I have no doubt that God can use bad arguments to further his Kingdom purposes. And I said as much regarding this video in the post—that God can use it so long as you don't think too hard about the argument.

And I also mentioned that this was a well-intentioned effort. I meant that. I am pleased that they set out to make something of this sort. I think it was well made.

However, I do think that the video is a serious FAIL for reflective people and that for them it can do more harm than good. I stand by my claims that it gives a trite answer to a complex question and that it gives the impression that Christians are happy to give glib responses to suffering. And yes, this still does make me angry. I can imagine contexts in which such a response would be appropriate for a specific person in a specific context but letting it loose on the web for anyone to see is unwise.

The problem is this: when one comes across honest and well-intentioned Christian attempts at mission that are potentially damaging should one say nothing about it lest one insult the ministry of another?

Is it bullshit? That was a strong term and not one I use lightly. It was not 100% bullshit as the man's reply to the dentist has some elements of truth in it. But as a response to the dentists problem I do think that it was bullshit. If I was an atheist I would not be remotely phased by the man's response. In fact, it would reassure me that I still have good grounds for unbelief.

It could start a conversation and so long as that conversation led away from the man's response to more adequate responses then that it good.

Not sure what else to say. I do not make a habit of attacking efforts at mission but sometimes one should not stand by in silence.

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