Why Science- and History-Based Apologetics Fails So Dramatically

Why Science- and History-Based Apologetics Fails So Dramatically May 6, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been kicking around an Easter-themed video from evangelical apologist Sean McDowell. We’ve already picked apart the three assertions he made. Now, though, I want us to turn our steely gaze toward the very backbone of those assertions. Apologists — especially in evangelicalism — love to lean hard on arguments based on science and history. Out of everything they could reach for, these are the silliest possible tactics in their limited arsenal. Today, I’ll show you why.

laboratory with old time equipment
(Sieuwert Otterloo.) A lab containing gear once used by Thomas Edison in his search for a good rubber formula.

(Previous posts about Sean McDowell’s video: First QuestionSecond Question2B: The Cruel DilemmaThird Question; The General Problem With Resurrection Claims. I think I’ve now officially put more thought into this video than its creator did.)

(Also, please check out these posts about apologists’ tactics and worst flaws: Overview; Classical ArgumentsScience and History Based; Wishful Thinking Based; Apologists’ First Big Mistake; Their Second Big Mistake; Arguments From X.)

A Love-Hate Relationship.

Evangelicals have a long-running streak of science denial in their collective psyche.

I understand why.

I mean, nothing that comes out of real scientists’ work aligns or even agrees with their beliefs. They work with reality, and the scientific method does a decent job of weeding out false claims like those apologists make. Even worse, perhaps, real scientists’ work also condemns all of evangelicals’ social rules and practices. That’s a problem because evangelicals like to claim Jesus himself told them to do stuff that way.

Just as a start:

Yikes!

But don’t worry. Evangelicals soon figured out a way out from here.

Evangelicals’ Dilemma.

Long ago, evangelicals worked out a solution to reality’s lack of validation (and constant stream of contradictions) regarding their claims:

They simply demonize science, real historical work, and everything related.

Then, for good measure they smear anybody who prioritizes reality over whackadoodle religious claims.

Often, evangelicals sneer at what they call scientismThey use this term to describe their ideological enemies: anyone who considers reality more persuasive than apologists’ work.

Demonizing and smearing people is a weird look for a group commanded to love their neighborsgo the second mileforgive seventy times seventurn the other cheek, and go like lambs to their own slaughter if need be. But that stuff’s boring.

Tribalism and cultural dominance are way more exciting to them.

The Solution. Obviously.

In order to sell an ideology that’s not based in reality, evangelicals must make reality look inferior and untrustworthy.

In effect, they must gaslight potential recruits and existing flocks. Their victims must feel like their perceptions of reality are untrustworthy.

The goal is that those victims will begin using their Dear Leaders’ fake reality as their basis for evaluating those leaders’ claims.

Apologists — and by extension those who support their nonsense — are happy to go to all this effort. Heck, knocking reality is a full-time job for some of them!

And yet evangelicals all absolutely ache for the validation that scientific or historical agreement would grant them.

The moment evangelicals think they’ve hit upon a talking point that kinda-sorta gives their claims a veneer of scientific or historical credibility (like this stuff, for a while), they leap on it like white on rice

Obviously the Best Sources of Reality-Based Information.

Alas for them, those moments don’t happen much or last long!

So in the meantime, evangelicals have come up with their own homebrew disciplines to mimic the real things. Beginning decades ago with Creationism, evangelicals began to painstakingly build huge libraries of misinformation in the fields of science and history. They went to incredible lengths to mimic the output of these real disciplines, even producing loads of “papers,” “studies,” and scholarly-ish books that easily convince people who don’t understand how to interpret the real things.

Even more than that, apologists market themselves as real scientists and historians, and they operate within a marketing network of fellow salespeople who validate each other constantly.

The homebrew disciplines created by this long process of misinformation development are pale imitations of the real things. However, they give evangelicals what their real counterparts could not: support, validation, corroboration, and even exoneration.

When someone’s not trained even a little in real science or history, evangelicals’ offerings can look convincing. The moment people learn to critically evaluate what’s there, though, the glaring problems within this stuff surface immediately. (Example: this particular expose by Hector Avalos. Also, basically all four of my college years.)

And yet evangelicals still look to their apologists for information about science and history. They’ve been taught to deeply distrust the people doing real science and history. These are evangelicals’ enemies, even when those folks are actually Christian themselves.

Instead, evangelicals see evangelical apologists as the only trustworthy sources of reality-based information: Crusader-Knights defending the One True Faith.

The First Absolutely Most Hilarious Problem With Using Fake Science and History in Apologetics.

Evangelicals use literalism as a marker belief. They don’t think someone can even be Christian without holding this belief. So they think their faith is made or broken on that hill: If it’s not all 100% literally true, then they can’t be Christian at all. 

In effect, they idolize literalism itself.

(Evangelicals weren’t like that when I was Christian, incidentally. Even as a fundamentalist, I wasn’t a Young-Earth Creationist and didn’t have any problem there. Evangelicals were even less literalist than we were. A lot’s changed since then.)

But then millions of fervent Christians who are not literalists rain on their parade by telling us they’re fine without it!

When evangelicals finally figure out the truth, many do deconvert, yes. But many others simply move to other flavors of Christianity. They do that because they perceive something else about the religion that’s worth their time and resources. Even without literalism, Christianity appeals to them.

So all these evangelical apologists and their customers are spending their precious time and money to develop, learn, purchase, and then parrot these ridiculously failed arguments, and none of it’s even necessary to most Christians.

The Second Absolutely Most Hilarious Problem With Using Fake Science and History in Apologetics.

Even if any of evangelicals’ claims were true — sure, even if all of them were — that doesn’t make Christianity a religion based on reality, any more than it would make anybody feel compelled to join up. True claims wouldn’t change the reality of what evangelicals are today.

Let’s say Jesus really existed in the form described in the Gospels. Hey, let’s even say that today, this very day, someone finds actual credible support for all of the Gospels’ stories. Perhaps tomorrow someone will locate a letter written between 30-35 CE talkin’ about this rockstar weirdo Jewish prophet called “Jesus” causin’ a ruckus down in J-Town.

Would any of that change the disgrace evangelicals have made of themselves in the name of their god?

What Would Change?

Would these discoveries change the fact that “Jesus” doesn’t change anybody for the better or reliably help anybody escape harm? Or would they change the fact that a world-with-a-real-Jesus looks exactly like a world-with-no-Jesus-at-all?

Really now, would any confirmations of Christian mythology change the fact that miracle claims always turn out to be exaggerations, wishful thinking, and/or flat-out lies?

Would any credible support for Christians’ science and history claims change the wreck evangelicals make of their relationships (and those of others, if they can manage it), excuse their hypocrisy, cruelty, aggression, and dishonesty, or alleviate the great suffering they cause?

Would it ever negate the damage they cause through their cynically-engineered culture wars?

No.

Why Nothing Would Change for Them.

Ultimately, literalism isn’t why people overwhelmingly reject evangelicals. If literalism matters at all, it’s because of the naked control-lust it represents and encourages — not the literalism in and of itself.

What any given Christians do about reality’s contradictions matters more than the untrue source documents themselves, to me, and well, maybe to lots of other folks too. I can respect a Christian who wrestles with the religion’s contradictions but still accepts them as valid, but not one who flat denies that there exist contradictions at all.

And especially, I couldn’t respect one who reaches for hucksters’ swill like what Sean McDowell offers to hand-wave away those obvious contradictions to evangelicals’ claims.

In short, evangelicals minus all their fake history and science lies would still be evangelicals, and they themselves constitute the big problem they’re having nowadays with recruitment and retention.

Why Evangelicals Glommed Onto Fake Science and History Anyway.

But evangelicals must concentrate on fake science and history. They go for broke trying to find PROOF YES PROOF that all their history and science claims are true, that the Bible is literally true, and that Jesus and all the gang really existed.

They do it for (at least) two reasons:

First off, it’s way, way, easier to poorly-solve the problems posed by literalism than it is to grapple with anything that would actually demonstrate Christianity’s validity. More than that even, attacking people’s rejection of literalism effectively keeps evangelicals from confronting the real reasons why people reject them.

Second, literalism is to a great extent the basis for evangelicals’ authoritarian power-grabs. If they can’t have a literal Bible, then they know they can’t even half-begin to wage their culture wars, much less rule uncontested over their flocks.

Evangelical leaders need the rank-and-file pew-warmers to fear a literal Hell so they can be reliably manipulated. Hell-belief requires a literal Jesus who literally died and literally resurrected and then literally floated away on a cloud into the sky. And that belief requires a literal Adam and Eve to literally fall-from-grace so that humankind would need a literal Jesus to literally save them from his literal self. That, in turn, requires a literal Creation. And so on and so forth.

If any one card in evangelicals’ precarious house falls out, the whole thing collapses.

(Also, this is why evangelicals overwhelmingly think if they can just knock down the Theory of Evolution, then their targets will be morally obligated to immediately convert to evangelicalism.)

The Downside of Literalism.

Evangelicals have gone for broke on literalism at the expense of cultivating any good reasons for anybody to want to join their groups.

There’s just nothing appealing about their culture to anyone who isn’t a die-hard authoritarian. They fight against human rights, lie to and deceive anyone they can, and mistreat their very own group members. They treat their declared enemies even worse. Nothing whatsoever about evangelicals, much less about evangelicalism itself, appeals to most people.

Worse for them, most people also very clearly think that nothing evangelical groups offer is worth the resources demanded. Church attendance tracks downward in every community according to how optional it is there. And that applies to evangelicals themselves as much as it does non-members. Even most of the people who buy into these false science and history claims can’t be arsed to get their butts into pews every Sunday (or tithe a full 10%).

Literalism made evangelicals lazy, and it continues to do so. But it’s what they’re used to. They like feeling superior to others, like they know something others don’t, and that one day — ohhh, one day soon — they will get to spit in their suffering enemies’ eyes and tell them We told you so, and now you’re getting what you deserve.

Again, it’s a really weird look for Christians. Perhaps evangelicals’ continuing decline speaks to people’s growing perception of their sheer hypocrisy.

But as long as literalism represents a handy way to control evangelicals, we can count on apologists like Sean McDowell to regurgitate fake science and history for them.

NEXT UP: Speaking of decline, we have new data to review! Let’s just say Christians’ losing streak hasn’t bottomed out yet. See you tomorrow!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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