Dishonest Apologetics

It’s no secret that Christian apologetics is not the same thing as Philosophy or Philosophy of Religion.

If there is one thing that can get under my skin about apologetics, it is the fact that many apologists will present arguments for God’s existence in an intellectually dishonest way. What’s the dishonest way? Well, I think it’s dishonest that many apologists present arguments that didn’t convince themselves that God exists. Rather, they already believed that God exists.

The Idea
One way of seeing that it’s not the arguments that persuaded a particular apologist is to ask, “If it were shown to you that all these arguments for God’s existence are bad arguments, would you then be an atheist?”. In my experience, there have been a lot of theists and Christians who say they would still believe in God’s existence. That itself is also not genuine in a way. It’s not genuine because one is pointing to all these different arguments, but (at the end of the day) they would still believe without the arguments. If the basis for your belief in God’s existence is something like an experience or seeming, then just say that.

With that being said, I have just one question for some apologists:
Why would you try to convince someone with an argument for God’s existence if that argument is not what convinced you of God’s existence?

Without engaging in confirmation bias, would/should you (hypothetical apologist) really find these arguments even close to being strong if you didn’t already believe the conclusion (i.e. God exists)? If you honestly have no idea whether you would find said arguments for God’s existence compelling if you didn’t already believe, then you’re practically admitting that you have no idea if the arguments should persuade an unbiased and neutral individual. And if that’s the case, then, for all you know, you’re wasting your time.

If you wouldn’t find the arguments for God’s existence to be good without already believing the conclusion that God exists, then be open about that. And, perhaps, stop presenting the arguments!

None of this is to say that apologists should never present arguments for God’s existence; however, the issue at hand is whether the argument is what originally convinced a certain apologist.

In addition, by “dishonest” I do not mean that certain apologists are somehow consciously aware of what they are doing (e.g. lying). Instead, I mean that they should know better.

Thirdly, nowhere did I state that one needed to have an argument in order to have a rational belief in a proposition.

Some atheists have been persuaded by arguments for God’s existence, and they became theists.
I don’t deny that this can happen, but it’s rare. But even though it is true, it doesn’t really get to the heart of this post. Fundamentally, my post isn’t directed at those who were persuaded by the arguments to become theists. In addition, the point is not whether some people became convinced by an argument; rather, the issue is whether some people should have become convinced by a particular argument.


8 thoughts on “Dishonest Apologetics

  1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

    In other words, if your belief in God is actually based on experiences/seemings, then I’d rather discuss that. Otherwise, I feel like I’m almost wasting my time discussing X argument.

  2. I was raised Atheist, kept having spiritual experiences, and decided to be a Polytheist for my sanity. I figure it is a matter of perception in how people see things. I never understood why people had to prove the existence of Gods to anyone who expressed that there were no Gods.

  3. I do not think it is dishonest for a “believer” to offer an argument for the existence of a god based upon his/her belief that his/her listener reasons using arguments … even if they themselves do not.

    What is dishonest, or at best lazy, is to offer an argument, such as Pascal’s Wager, without first understanding the argument and then not presenting the argument fairly. To present an argument fairly you must promote its strengths and weaknesses. For example, Pascal’s Wager does not specify which god (Thor? Odin? Zeus? Krishna?) in the argument. And if applied fairly, gods who threaten eternal punishment would garner more believers than gods who promise eternal rest for all and what does that say about the god in question and the argument?

    Basic to these discussions is that a philosophical argument cannot prove anything. They can lead one to understanding but not new knowledge.

  4. This is good stuff.
    Blind faith isn’t really faith. Deep down, we know we’re kidding ourselves. It is an insult to offer an argument for faith that you do not understand or support yourself. That is condescension of the highest order.

  5. Philosophy, not sure if you ever watch “The Atheist Experience”, but this seems to come up frequently. A caller will go on about some philosophical justification for a while, and the host will finally ask if that argument is what convinced them. Always no.

    Philosophical arguments only bolster the irrational belief, they dont inform it.

    Great post.

  6. Thanks for the post. I agree that we, Christian Apologists, should give good arguments. I know that my experience is what convinced me, but I find many arguments compelling, as I try to sit in the shoes of the atheist. However, I absolutely would not try to bring up an argument if it really was not convincing at all. But, I also don’t see the use in giving up presuppositional apologetics when arguing from a worldview, either. I suppose it may suffice to say that we should not offer arguments, when not presupposing God, that are not very good arguments at all.

    Thanks again,

  7. Fideism is the only coherent position. That is why people actually hold it, even though they like to talk about natural theology. ‘Cause we all love the sturm und drang

  8. Mr. Garner, I know you’re not comfortable disclosing your religious views on this blog, but you should be aware that a fair minded person who reads your posts will conclude that you are an atheist. You might already have been aware of that, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell how other people perceive us, so I thought I would let you know.

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