Do Christian Apologists Spend Too Much Time Focusing on their Weaker Opponents?

Refuting the “New Atheists” is all the rage among Christian apologists these days. Among professional philosophers of religion, however, it’s well-known that the new atheists are not the best representatives for atheism. So why do Christian apologists continue to harp on the new atheists and ignore what atheist professional philosophers of religion have to say? For example, you’d think, after the 1,000th refutation of Richard Dawkins, that they would move onto something else.  You’d be wrong.  For example, compare the bibliography found here to the typical targets of Christian apologists. Most of the arguments in that bibliography are ignored.

I’m not suggesting that apologists should never criticize popular authors. Rather, my point is this. Christian apologists, especially those who are professional philosophers, should surely devote at least some of their time to the best arguments for atheism. They should not spend all or most of their time on its weaker (but admittedly more in your face) representatives. For example, Daniel Howard-Snyder has always impressed me as an excellent Christian philosopher who seems to go out of his way to interact with the best arguments against whatever position he writes about. Why can’t more Christian philosophers be like him?

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Ryan M

    I agree. I think that is also true of atheists, but the situations might be different. For example I doubt Graham Oppy or Herman Philipse will write books rebutting Ken Ham while many of their theist peers will focus on weak opponents such as Dawkins. I’m not even sure if any atheist philosophers in the past two decades have wrote books rebutting popular theists unless they are about William Lane Craig.

    • Greg G.

      I’ve seen many books rebutting Lee Strobel.

      There’s more money to be made rebutting a popular author than to rebut something the public never heard of. Making a living is a strong motivation.

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

        “Many books?

        Okay, you’ve got me curious. I can think of one by Robert Price. What are the other books?

        • Greg G.

          When I went to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago, I was astounded by all the Lee Strobel books that started with “The Case for…”. Then I saw a few books with titles like “The Case against Christianity” near the Hitchens and Harris books, I must have assumed they were playing on Strobel’s titles but wasn’t interested enough to examine them. When I tried to look them up on Amazon, the ones I found with similar titles are not related to Strobel in particular. I now believe I was wrong.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      And, to be fair, WLC doesn’t deserve to be placed into the same category as Ken Ham.

      • Ryan M

        I agree. I’m not a fan of Craig, but I think he is harshly criticized by many of my fellow atheists, and most often due to misunderstandings on their part.

  • Malek

    They’re apologists, they want to convince people of their religion, so long as people don’t read the best arguments for atheism, they have no reason to attack them.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Exactly.

      The problem is Christian apologists who do this and claim to be acting like a philosopher. So far as I can tell, they are failing miserably.

  • Eli Horowitz

    Do you have any examples of apologists (especially professors) who do this? I feel like I’ve seen this behavior in action, but lazy google searching isn’t coming up with much.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Eli — I do, but I am reluctant to name names as it is not my goal to intentionally antagonize people. But it should be pretty easy to spot examples of this. For example, sample some blogs by theistic philosophers and then do some searches to see how many of the authors in my bibliography get discussed on the theistic blogs. If your search doesn’t return any hits (but you are able to find replies to Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens), then you’ll have found an example of what I am talking about.

      You can do the same thing with blogs by atheist philosophers. See if they directly interact with names like Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig, Moreland, Geivett, Evans, Collins, Feser, Rauser, Stump, either of the Adams, Sinclair, either of the McGrews, and so forth. If they don’t mention any of those authors (but you are able to find replies to Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Duane Gish, Ken Ham, and so forth), then you’ll have found an example of an atheist philosopher who is focusing on his or her weakest opponents.

  • Kenny Pearce

    The key point here, it seems to me, is to distinguish philosophers from apologists (I have written about this before). Insofar as the apologist is trying to reach the general public, he or she MUST address the arguments people in that audience are actually considering, and that means he or she has to address the atheists whose books are being read, no matter how bad their arguments are. I don’t see anything wrong with that. On the other hand, it is absolutely shameful and inexcusable to go around acting like once one has refuted Dawkins (or Strobel) one has refuted atheism (or Christianity).

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, Kenny. I make the exact same distinction you do between apologists and philosophers. Obviously, as WLC shows, professional philosophers can be apologists. The question is whether the person is a philosopher first or an apologist first. I think even WLC would admit that he is an apologist first — he views himself as an apologetic evangelist. In contrast, theists like Daniel Howard-Snyder and Wes Morriston strike me as philosophers first.

      ETA: I should mention that–on this topic as many others–I’ve been heavily influenced by Paul Draper’s work. He co-authored a really interesting paper that talks about partisanship in the philosophy of religion. It is primarily because of that paper that I made a conscious decision to avoid being an apologist for atheism and instead try to be an atheist who does philosophy of religion. I interpret that to mean that, from time to time, I should try to formulate and strengthen arguments for theism as a way of testing the strength of such arguments.


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