Tag Archives: Christian apologetics

Are You Arguing Badly?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever been arguing (holding a rational discourse where you are giving evidence to support your position) with someone and realized that they are not arguing against your position at all?  Instead, they are arguing against a distorted or false version of your position.  As I’ve discussed the beliefs of Christianity and the evidence for those beliefs over the last 7 years, I’ve seen this happen frequently.

What is going on when this happens?  After all, it’s pretty hard to get going with an argument if you can’t even agree what you’re arguing about.  There could be several reasons why your opponent is arguing a different version of your position.

  1. They may not understand your position even after you’ve explained it.
  2. They may assume they know your position before asking you.
  3. They may understand your position but purposefully distort it because the distorted version is easier to disprove.

Regardless of the reason, if your opponent is arguing against a false or distorted version of your view, then he is committing what philosophers call the “straw man” fallacy.  The fallacy is thus named because it is easier to knock down a straw man than a real man.

An example might be helpful.  Recently a Muslim commented on the blog that when Christian apologists are confronted with the inconsistencies and contradictions in the New Testament Gospels, they admit the contradictions but argue that the Gospels are still inspired and inerrant because each of the Gospels still contains the same basic message about Jesus and his life.

The problem is that the Muslim has distorted the apologist’s position.  First of all, apologists typically do not agree that there are contradictions in the Gospels.  Second, when Christian apologists are discussing the differences in the Gospel accounts, they are not discussing inspiration and inerrancy at all; rather, they are usually talking about the historical trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts (see this post for more on this topic).

The trustworthiness of the Gospel narratives and the inerrancy of the Bible are two disparate topics that our Muslim commenter is confusing by mashing them together into one phantom argument that no apologist makes.  So our Muslim friend is committing the straw man fallacy.  He is arguing against a false view that no Christian apologist holds.

If you are ever arguing with someone, make sure you understand their view before you engage.  I know this can be difficult sometimes (I struggle to do it myself), but it is so important.  If you don’t engage your opponent’s true viewpoint, you will never make any progress toward understanding his point of view and then making rational arguments against it.  All you’re really doing is knocking over straw men.

Are Religious Folks More Irrational?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Not according to an article published last year by the Wall Street Journal.  The columnist cites research which indicates that people who never worship at a traditional house of worship are more likely to be superstitious.  Below is an excerpt:

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

It seems that the modern, secular myth that traditional religious folks, especially Christians, are generally more irrational and prone to believing things without evidence, is clearly false.  It turns out that everyone, and especially the non-religious, believes some things without evidence.

No group of any size has the market cornered on cold, hard, rational thinking.  In my life, I have met irrational Christians, atheists, Muslims, and Mormons, to name a few.  Each group has its share of irrational followers.

Instead of poking fun at the irrational followers of a movement, why don’t we seek out the rational and reasonable members, and speak to them?  I think it’s because those people might actually make us think, and reconsider some of our cherished beliefs.  That wouldn’t be as fun, would it?

How Should We Disagree With Each Other?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most difficult things to do is carry on a rational and calm conversation with someone that disagrees with you.  When I first started studying Christian apologetics, I figured that all I had to do was learn all the evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity and then tell people that evidence.

Boy, was I wrong!  I have learned  a great deal of that evidence through my seminary courses and also through the great past and present apologists, but often when I pass that information on, I find myself in a heated conversation where rationality has gone out the window.

One of the best apologists of our day is Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.  In a session I attended at an apologetics conference, Koukl reminded the audience of some simple guidelines when conversing with someone who does not agree with you about Christianity.

First, he stressed that we must listen carefully.  Instead of trying to talk first, listen and let the other person do the talking.

Second, when your conversation partner makes a claim with which you disagree, instead of attacking him, ask what he means by his statement.  In other words, dig for more information and try to find out what the other person is really saying.  Often, what you think he meant is not what he meant at all.

Third, after you have learned exactly what he means, ask how he came to his conclusion.  Why does he believe what he believes?  What is the evidence or the argument that convinced him?

Once you have listened to your friend and tried to understand his point of view, you have earned the right to present your side.  Only then will your friend will be more willing to listen to you and consider your viewpoint.

This same advice can be applied to the online world where we have heated exchanges on blogs and Facebook.  I have noticed that there are precious few people who consistently try to understand what the other person is saying before attacking.  We all have a lot of information and a lot of opinions, but we stink at discussing those things with people who may not see things our way.

My hope and prayer is that Christians (including myself) can greatly improve in this area.  What about you?  Can you do better?

Is Extraordinary Evidence Needed to Prove the Resurrection?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I sometimes hear skeptics say that they need extraordinary evidence to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  The reason they need extraordinary evidence, they claim, is that the resurrection is an extraordinary claim.

It is true that the resurrection is an extraordinary claim, but there are many extraordinary claims made about the past that we accept based on historical testimony.  For example, how do you get more extraordinary than the conquests of Alexander the Great?  His accomplishments are virtually unparalleled in history, yet we believe they really happened.

Or take a look at the Guinness Book of World Records some time.  Most of us have no trouble accepting the things recorded in there, but none of us were there to see all of them.  We have to rely on the testimony of those who were there.

The point is that multitudes of bizarre and outlandish marvels have transpired in the past, but for some reason skeptics are quite willing to accept these marvels as real, but not the resurrection of Jesus.

The standard for proving the resurrection should be trustworthy testimony from those who saw what happened, just like any other historical event.  In fact, all we need is eyewitness testimony that Jesus was alive, that he died, and that he was alive again.  If we know from history that these three things occurred, then we know Jesus rose from the dead.

There is nothing difficult about understanding this line of thinking.  If you are a skeptic, go study the historical testimony that shows Jesus lived, that he was then killed by crucifixion, and that he was then seen again by over 500 people.  There are libraries of both scholarly and popular level books that delve into these historical evidences.  Why not go read some of them, with an open mind to the evidence?

If the historical evidence is there, as I claim it is, you have some serious thinking to do.

Should Catholic Apologists Be Invited to Speak at an Evangelical Apologetics Conference?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a recent post, I mentioned some of the speakers at an upcoming apologetics conference sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary.  One blog commenter noticed that Catholic speakers were being featured at the event and argued that they should not be.  He believes that Catholics are not Christians, and therefore cannot properly defend the Christian faith (which is the goal of apologetics).  Specifically, the commenter mentioned the fact that Catholics do not agree with evangelical views of justification by faith alone.

I disagreed with the commenter and argued that Catholics are Christian and should be able to present at the conference, but I want to know what readers of this blog think.  Should Catholics be allowed to speak at an evangelical apologetics conference?  Tell us what you think by voting in the poll below.  Also, share your comments on this issue by commenting on this blog post.

2009 National Apologetics Conference

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Southern Evangelical Seminary is hosting their annual apologetics conference on Nov. 13 and 14 in Charlotte, NC.  The conference will feature speakers such as William Lane Craig, Chuck Colson, Dinesh D’Souza, Greg Koukl, Gary Habermas, Hank Hanegraaff, and Peter Kreeft (click here for the full speaker list).  These men are all incredible defenders of the Christian faith and many of them have deeply influenced my journey into Christian apologetics.

If you can possibly make this conference, please come.  You will learn so much that your mind and heart will be bursting by the end of it!  I have attended the conference several times and have always thoroughly enjoyed it.  I promise you’ll have a great time and you will be challenged to grow in your faith more than you can imagine.