1) Is there anything distinctively Christian about apologetics? Why or why
not? Do all religions include apologetics? Why or Why not?;2) How much do
you think natural human reason can accomplish in religion? In general?;3)
What good does it do to argue for your faith? What harm can it do?;4) How
useful are merely probable arguments?;5) Can there be truth without
knowledge? Knowledge without Certainty? Certainty without proof? Proof
without scientific methods? Why or why not?
Whew!!! You have a lot of questions here. The word apologetics comes
from the Greek word apologiawhich means defense. Apologetics in general
refers to logical, reasonable answers to questions. Christian apologetics
is a response of reason to questions about the validity of Christian
claims. There may be nothing distinctively Christian about apologetics,
but there is something about the nature of the New Testament which quite
naturally lends the believer toward the use of apologetics. Peter tells
his readers(2 Peter 1:16-21)that what he has testified to is not a matter
of speculation, but rather that it is a matter of direct experience. He
also encourages his hearers (1 Peter 3:15-16) to prepare themselves to be
able to answer questions about their faith. Paul gave his apologia
(defense) to Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26:2f. The Bereans in Acts 17 are
commended for checking the facts behind the claims of the apostle Paul.
This tendency to ask reasonable questions about truth-claims may be
partially due to the fact that the Christian church was established in an
intellectual world dominated by the Greeks. The Greeks were the most
careful logical thinkers in the ancient world. So although there is
nothing completely unique to Christianity about apologetics, it is not at
all surprising that believers in Jesus Christ have spent a LOT more time
developing rational arguments for the validity of their truth claims than
all other religions.
Do all religions include apologetics? There are a number of apologists
for Islam. Outside of Christianity, my experience tells me that Islam is
the world religion which is most likely to be defended by apologists. I
do not have real numbers in front of me, but I would guess that there are
five important Christian apologists for every Muslim apologist of a
similar stature. I have not seen any apologetical work from believers in
Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Sikkhims, Jaina, Taoism or other world
religions. There is a reason for this. These religions do not deal with
real historical events. This does not mean that they are, by definition,
false religions, but there is little if any of historical content in the
scripture of Hinduism which would lend itself to factual support. If one
looks at the “science” (for example the cosmology) in Buddhism or
Hinduism, these cosmological systems do not make any sense when compared
to scientifically-derived evidence. Bottom line there is very little
rational “apologising” to do in the case of Buddhism, Hinduism and other
Eastern religions. There are relatively few truth claims in Buddhism,and
Hindu scripture contains obvious fantasy and fable, which does not stand
up very well as apolologetic material.
Islam is in between. There is much less historical content than in the
Old or even the New Testament, but there is some historical content which
can be checked for accuracy. The Koran, in general, does not contain the
wildly fable-like material such as in Taoism or Hinduism. For this
reason, one will find some apologetic material produced by Muslims.
I believe human reason can support but not “prove” the belief system of
any world religion. Faith in the sonship of Jesus is supported by
messianic prophecies and evidence for the resurrection for sure, but
ultimately the kind of faith which is required to make it to the end
faithful to the Christian belief is that which is based on things which we
cannot see. This is the entire point of Hebrews 11. is that the faith
which is key is in things which cannot be discerned by sight. Belief in
heaven is by faith. It cannot be proven by any sort of apologetics.
Apologetics does not help one all that much to come to the point of
repentance for one’s sin. This has more to do with emotion than reason.
For some, apologetics is absolutely key to their coming to faith. For
others, it has very little importance to their faith.
The same can be said for the role of reason in general. Human reason does
not help us all that much in the things we really care about. Human
reason can help us to make ethical decisions and to create a path by which
we can make a lot of money. However, it does not answer questions of the
heart. Love is pretty much immune to reason. Beauty, art, inspiration,
joy and pretty much the gamut of emotions which are at the core of what
makes us human are not accessed by reason. Reason is very important, but
it is not the most important thing. This is true in Christianity and in
the human experience in general.
For those who are of an intellectual frame of mind, it can be very
important to argue for one’s faith. The reason for this is that the
“world” is constantly bombarding us with reasons to NOT believe. It can
be very helpful for us to inocculate ourselves against such attacks from
the atheist, the humanist, the Islamist or the Mormonist by being
supported by reasonable responses to this ever-present bombardment of
alternative arguments. For those who do not think about such questions as
the nature of evil or the problem of Hell, such preparation is relatively
less key to belief.
Can it be harmful to argue for our faith? I believe that it can be if the
argument devolves into personal attacks and useless arguments over
non-important issues, especially when focusing on unimportant issues
becomes an excuse for ignoring important issues. Paul warns us in Titus
3:9-11 to avoid divisive and foolish controversies which can be
unprofitable and useless. I have at times found myself having a fighting
spirit which is about myself rather than being about defending and
supporting belief in the truth of the gospel. I believe this is more
about letting our own personal sin enter into our mode of discussion so
that apologetics/defense of the faith becomes arguments. Some can become
so caught up, emotionally and intellectually with arguing for the faith
that they can lose their own faith and lose focus on the thing they are
defending which is the hearts of people.
What is the use of probable arguments? These are the only ones we have.
The arguments for truth of the resurrection of Jesus comes down to
“probably arguments.” The only reasonable explanation of the events and
facts we know about is that Jesus was physically raised from the dead.
Having said this, the arguments against the “swoon theory” or the “stolen
body theory,” is that these are extremely improbable, to the point that a
rational person would not choose these alternative. The argument for the
historical accuracy of the Bible is to some extent a probably argument.
The sum of the details of historical fact contained in the Old Testament
provides strong support that probably the entire Old Testament is inspired
by God. As in testimony in human courts, the goal of the prosecutor is
to provide a probable argument which rises to being beyond reasonable
doubt. The same holds for the apologist of Christianity. We cannot
provide a-priori, logical evidence that Jesus is the messiah, but we can
present a case which is so strong?whose probability is so great?
a madman would choose the alternative. However, such a case does not
amount to deductive “proof” that Jesus is the Messiah.
Can there be truth without knowledge? This is a rather esoteric
question. I will need some help from you on where you are going with this
question. I think the answer is an absolute yes. It is true that the
universe exists even if there is no sentient being to “know” that it
exists. There is moral absolute, created by God, even if no human being
“knows” this absolute moral truth.
Can there be knowledge without certainty? I may need your personal
definitions of these words to give a good answer. By at least one
definition knowledge is certainty. I will duck this question until you
give me clarity to your definitions and what you really want me to answer.
Can there be certainty without proof? Again, this is a matter of
definition. Different people use the word certainty with different
connotations. I believe the two are corollary to one another. Be
definition, certainty is created by proof. I mean absolute certainty is
created through iron-clad deductive reasoning. If so, then the answer is
no. So, can we be certain that heaven is real? The answer is yes and no,
depending on how you are using the word certain. John wrote in 1 John
5:13 that his letter was put to paper so that people can “know” that they
have eternal life. We can be certain we are saved, yet this certainty is
not the same as the definition I think you are using. I need clear
definitions to give you a clear answer.
Can we have proof without scientific methods? Again, this depends on the
meaning of proof. If we use this term carefully, scientific methods never
provide proof of anything. We cannot deduce from scientific experiments
any absolute truth. Science does not give “truth.” Rather science gives
explanation consistent with evidence. One cannot “prove,” in the
classical sense, anything through the scientific method. Now, I am
guessing you may be using the word “prove” in a different sense. If you
are asking can we create an argument so strong that any open-minded, clear
thinking person would rationally have to agree with a certain conclusion
without using the scientific method, then the answer is yes. We can prove
that Abraham Lincoln existed as a real person and that he was president of
the USduring the civil war. We can prove this without using scientific
methods. We can prove that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Bible is
inspired by God without resorting to scientific methods. In fact, I
believe we can establish levels of rational certainty on these things to
as great a level as anything established through scientific methodology.
Some of this is rather on the philosophical end of things. If you provide
more concise definitions of your terms I may be able to give more useful
answers. Feel free.
John Oakes, PhD