Will You Wait for a Long Answer to Your Short Question?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Questions can be really short. Why is there so much evil in the world? Who is God? Why did Jesus have to die? Why do you think Christianity is true? What is the meaning of life?

Most of the time, though, answers are a heck of a lot longer. On this blog, I answer a question on almost every post with a 500-word answer. The question might be 10 words long, so my answer is 50 times longer than the question.

Most non-fiction books are written to answer a single question that the author poses. An author may use 70,000 words to answer a single short question.

My point is that there is an asymmetry between questions and answers. Answers are often far more complex than the question they are answering.

It seems that many skeptics of Christianity (actually most people in general) forget about this asymmetry when they demand short, pithy answers to their short, pithy questions. Well, here is my challenge to skeptics of Christianity. Are you willing to wait for the long answer to your short question?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a skeptic and something like the following happens:

Skeptic: “If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why is there evil?”

Me: “Well, let’s start by defining what evil is. Evil is …”

Skeptic (cutting me off): “Let’s face it. You don’t have an answer to this. You’re probably going to mention free will, but that just leads me to another question. Christians can’t really believe in free will because they believe God knows everything. How do you answer that?”

Me: “OK, so you want to discuss God’s sovereignty and man’s free will now. Maybe we’ll come back to evil. Just because God knows what I will do doesn’t mean that I’m not free to do it. Here’s an analogy….”

Skeptic (cutting me off): “Free will can’t exist because physics basically determines everything we say and do. We are a product of natural laws and the more we discover in science, the less we need God to explain anything. Aren’t you concerned that every time you assume we need God for something, that science will eventually provide the answer?”

Me: “Umm, so now we’re on to the God of the Gaps argument? I’m getting exhausted. Can we stick to one thing for a minute?”

Skeptic: “It’s not my fault you don’t have answers for these questions.”

This kind of conversation is one of the things that originally drove me to start writing a blog. I could finally answer questions without getting constantly interrupted!

So skeptics, when you’re talking to a Christian, are you willing to actually wait for an answer? Or are you just going to pepper him with question after question and never let him get an answer out of his mouth?

When I’m dealing with a skeptic who won’t wait for an answer, that’s usually a pretty good sign that the skeptic does not want answers. They just want to fight. As fun as fighting is (I used to do a lot more of it years ago), I just don’t have time for it any more. There are skeptics out there who actually will wait for the answers, and those are the ones I want to talk to.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I get the same with Christians who aren’t happy with long explanations for evil or morality or why species developed a certain way. If it’s not one sentence that involves ‘God’ then they’re suspicious.

  • Yes. This seems to be a general human tendency. I’m sure you could construct a similar conversation from your perspective.