Devotional Thought: The Failure of Apologetics
This past week I was shown a TED Talk in which Sam Harris (one of the “New Atheists”) argued that it is possible to derive morality from science. This argument, and many others like it, are put forth by atheists as an attempt to counter one of the most popular proofs for the existence of God: the presence of universal morality and ethics. C.S. Lewis famously made this point in his classic work Mere Christianity, and many others have successfully shown that the existence of morality shows that a Higher Power must have instilled such an ethic, something that could not have come about by the mere blind chance of Darwinism. Whenever I come across someone trying to make an intellectual argument for as to why Christianity is wrong, and by implication why all of its followers are naïve at best, dangerous at worst, my reaction is always the same. I want to show that they are in fact the ones being irrational and that there are many valid intellectual grounds for as to why it is possible to have a reasoned faith. Ultimately I just wish that someone would prove to these people that they are wrong and that we are right. But this sentiment only serves to highlight the two things that apologetics can never do: prove the truthfulness of Christianity, or deal with my own pride.
Saying that apologetics—the intellectual discipline of defending the faith and showing its rational viability—cannot prove Christianity is somewhat controversial. After all, isn’t that the point of doing apologetics? But the reality is that if God wanted His existence, the truthfulness of the Bible, or the reality of the Resurrection to be shown in incontrovertible fashion He could have chosen to do so. Clearly, however, He did not; thus the presence of non-believers, and thus the need for apologetics. Instead what God did give us were hints and nudges towards the veracity of these truths. We can point to the presence of morality as a hint at God’s existence, the archeological evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible, and the willingness of the Disciples to be martyred as an indication of the historicity of the Resurrection. No apologetic argument can show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity is right, but I think that is kind of the point. In our current state as fallen human beings we are forced to walk in the shadow of doubt, knowing that we will not fully know until the day in which we are fully known.
This brings us to the second failure of apologetics, the failure of pride. I have recently realized that my desires to prove the rationality of the Faith are often not attempts to save the non-Christian, but a vain attempt to show that I am no idiot. I place a lot of value on rational thinking, and if someone can’t present a rational counter-argument to Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens or any other atheist for that matter, then I am the one who is shown to be a mindless follower of an ideology. But followers of Christ are not called to the puffed up arrogance of knowing we are right, we are called to the humility that our Savior demonstrated that shows we are right. I believe we need apologetics, especially in our current culture in which some intellectuals are attempting to undermine our faith. But I also believe that apologetics should not be a thinly veiled attempt to hide our own pride.
What we need to recognize is that salvation is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit in us. Apologetics can be a tool that the Spirit uses to draw someone to Himself, but it will never be the hammer that obliterates false doctrine. Faith will always be the central tenet of Christianity, no matter what intellectual arguments come or go. Faith is not being a blind follower of some ethereal ideology, rather, faith recognizes that we all are blind and that only through faith can we see the dim shadows of our current fallenness in the midst of glory still to come. We all have faith in something, either in our own ability to know God doesn’t exist, or conversely in our need for God to save us. And at the end of the day we will all make a decision based on faith in one of those two options. Apologetics is the running start that helps us make the leap of faith, it is not the definitive answer to intellectual attacks against Christianity. And when it comes time for us to make that ultimate decision, hopefully we will have been shown the valid intellectual arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity as a way to move us closer to the target so we can make a more accurate decision.
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29