The Handbook: The First Fundamental Mistake Apologists Make.

The Handbook: The First Fundamental Mistake Apologists Make. February 22, 2015

Last time we talked about the various ways that I got induced to believe in Christianity. I briefly made a mention of apologetics, and wanted to start talking about some of the arguments that specifically held my attention. Before that, though, I want to talk about apologetics in general.

Apologetics has a more or less official definition: “the defense and establishment of the Christian faith.” I prefer the definition given by a UU minister and seminary graduate I know, who explained it more or less like this: “the attempt to make bullshit more believable.”

What apologetics really does is try to make Christianity sound more factual without actually referring to or discovering any actual facts that support its own underlying assumptions about reality. That’s its first fundamental mistake.

Long, long ago at the very start of the Renaissance, a lawyer in Rome was having a wine cellar dug for his villa and accidentally ran across a very famous ancient site–right in his own basement. At the time, Rome was a backwater, a disreputable and shabby little town where peasants crowded the Tiber (because the aqueducts had been destroyed centuries ago), hunted in the forests and fields around what had once been the Campidoglio, and wondered what all those ruins all over the place had been long ago. The Catholic Church was officially centered there (most of the time), sure, but it certainly wasn’t the glittering, glamorous, art-packed metropolitan city we know today; shepherds led flocks of animals down the main streets at night and just about none of those streets were even paved. So this discovery the lawyer made was one of the ones that kicked off what was to become a genuine craze for archaeology and the first beginnings of Rome’s rebirth.

The Piazza del Campdoglio in Rome. (Credit: Bruno, CC license.)
The Piazza del Campdoglio in Rome. (Credit: Bruno, CC license.)

But these first “archaeologists” didn’t actually go digging for their finds.

Instead, they consulted ancient texts to try to ferret out where Classical landmarks might have been.

To us their approach might sound nonsensical, but then, since we’re 500 years removed from that lawyer, we know that the only way to find this stuff out is largely to get your hands dirty. We examine satellite images, or we get an idea of where ancient people settled from other archaeological finds, and we go dig. If someone tried to make a case for the location of the city of Troy by just going by Homeric epics, we’d rightly think that person was daft.

That’s how I think about apologetics. Instead of actually looking at facts, apologists consult an ancient document to try to get a feel for how the supernatural world works and they make arguments about what they think it’s like, all based on that document.

The first fundamental mistake apologists make is that they don’t actually refer to any facts to make their various arguments, making their conclusions highly suspect.

Indeed, apologists really can’t do that. It’s almost unfair even to make the request that they do so. After all:

There is not one single demonstrable bit of objective evidence about the supernatural to which they actually could refer.

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