Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt. 3: The Role of Arguments in a Post-Argument Culture

You can find the first two in this series here and here.

As apologetics have been traditionally understood, it has been comprised of arguments for doctrines like the existence of God, God’s creation of the universe, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. And indeed, from the very inception of Christian thought, those arguments have played an important role in staking out the doctrinal territory of Christianity.

Many are claiming that we live in an era in which arguments, as they have been traditionally understood, are passé. For one reason or another they are declared to be pointless and/or philosophically corrupt. Does argumentation still have a place in a world where arguments are supposedly a thing of the past?

Apologetic Arguments Specifically

By “specifically” I mean the traditional arguments for God’s existence and so forth. First of all, there has been a recent success, if you will, when it comes to one of the oldest arguments for God’s existence, the Design Argument. The noted and erudite atheist Anthony Flew has decided that some form of Higher Being exists as a result of the science behind the ID movement and the argument from design. There are those who are denying that apologetics had a role to play, but if you read the interview I linked to in that post, it should be abundantly clear that it did.

Secondly, there is a certain kind of fallacy involved when someone says or implies that the culture does not understand or like argumentation any longer. Cultures are not monolithic things like giant globs of cheddar cheese. Saying that we are now a postmodern culture can entirely miss the reality that many people (yours truly included) simply are not. There may be dominant cultural trends, but never a homogenous one. So if we were to abandon apologetic arguments for reasons of postmodern deconstruction, we would leave a great deal of the culture behind.

And third, apologetic arguments have served to identify the boundaries for Christian theology. What makes us different from Mormons? Muslims? Buddhists? This was actually a matter of great concern for the early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Augustine. They went to incredible lengths to clarify what was true Christian teaching over and against false philosophies and religions. There is no good reason to change this exercise.

Argumentation in General

For the purposes of this post, I want to mention two serious lacunae in the pomo/emergent view on apologetics and argumentation.

First, they fall on their own rhetorical sword when they argue for an end to argumentation. Argumentation is one of those realities that cannot be avoided no matter the philosophical leanings of the interlocutor. When they assert that I should change my mind and agree that apologetic arguments are a thing of the past, they produce reasons why I should do that. What they have done is argue for a certain point of view and lined up reasons for one point of view and against another. To produce an argument against argumentation is to argue yourself out of the argument.

Secondly, and this is a point I want to expand on later, Jesus himself laid out arguments. In addition to that, the apostles caught on and did the same in their Gospels and Epistles. As a couple of examples (I may stop to produce more later), John says he wrote his Gospel and included certain things so that people would be convinced of the divinity of Christ, “But these are written that you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31. Paul lined out an extensive and fairly complex argument for the doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Again, I don’t see any good reason to not continue to do the same.

Evangelical Outpost is hosting a symposium of sorts on “Jesus the Logician.” You may want to check back there to catch the updates to his virtual database.