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Why Christian parents get nervous about evidence

It's been a while since we had a post on Christian evidences.

I've recently been led to reflect on the fact that there remains a Christian subculture that is somewhat uneasy with Christian evidences. Here I'm not referring to modernists or even postmodernists. I'm not referring to the unorthodox who don't like evidence because they like to keep Christianity hazy so that they don't really have to believe anything. I'm thinking of the fervent and utterly sincere, orthodox, Bible-believing Christians who nonetheless feel a bit...worried, somehow, if their young people start asking questions about the evidences for Christianity. Worried even if the young people are studying and reading and getting answers. Why might that be?

The reasons why that occurs (and if you aren't familiar with the phenomenon, just take my word for it that it does occur) are varied, and some are better than others.

Here are a few:

1) The idea that faith is contrary to reason and that therefore it is bad for one's faith if one has good reasons for believing Christianity. This premise is just plain wrong. It's been discussed and addressed in many books by many people. Here, here, and here are just a few of my own posts on the subject. (More posts tagged explicitly with the label "evidentialism" are also found here and here.)

2) The rather vaguer idea that one will be distracted from a "real relationship with Jesus Christ" if one is focusing on intellectual matters such as evidence. Now, the Devil is real, and he can, of course, use any good thing for a bad end. C.S. Lewis once wrote that he never felt less convinced of a Christian doctrine than when he had just finished defending it. (Words to that effect.) It is no doubt true that, for certain personality types, the intensity of one's feeling of commitment to God will be lessened if one is thinking of God more prosaically--whether in terms of systematic theology, natural theology, or historical evidence.

But then again, heaven knows that there are plenty of "dry" passages in the Bible, too. And no, I don't just mean the genealogies. I mean, for example, all that heavy doctrine in the Pauline epistles. I imagine that most of the same people who would get nervous if their college-age kids were reading, say, Butler on natural theology and Christian evidences don't mind at all if their pastor preaches exegetically through every verse of Ephesians. Unless, I suppose, they are Pentecostals who don't like exegetical preaching either. (With apologies to my Pentecostal brethren.)

My point here is that God Himself doesn't seem to be too worried about our thinking about Him in a sober and unemotional fashion. Apparently He thinks that our having a good grounding and understanding of meatier matters is worth the danger that some of us might find intellectual thought a bit dampening to our emotions. Emotions, even the emotional part of our love for Jesus Christ, come and go. Facts and theology, once understood and grasped, remain and can tide one over dry periods. And emotionally dry periods in one's spiritual life will come, from one cause or another, even if one is as uneducated as a rock when it comes to either theology or Christian evidence.

3) The concern that their young people might read some really pernicious material that will lead them astray, perhaps in the attempt to read the opposition in order to answer it. Now, I think this worry has something to it. That can indeed happen. No wise Christian mentor will just hand a 17-year-old a copy of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and say, "Go for it, kid. Heh. Let me know if you can answer him."

So what does that mean? It means that, if one is going to read atheist apologists, one should read them with guidance from people who really do know how to answer them.

Nor should one think of teaching young people Christian evidences as being primarily about reading "the other guys." The highest priority should be showing how much good evidence there is for Christianity. There is a wealth of material available. See this post for a tiny sample. More material in the posts tagged here and here (these tags were mentioned above). See also this page at Apologetics315.

4) The idea that, if a young person gets deeply interested in Christian evidence, he will go out on the Internet (or at his public high school or secular college) seeking giants to slay and will get overwhelmed. Again, this worry has merit as a sociological matter. That can certainly happen.

That is why we should say loud and clear to Christians interested in this topic: Don't do that! What do I mean? Just this: Being committed to investigating the evidence for Christianity does not mean that one has to find out every possible thing that anyone has ever said about or against Christianity and know the answer to it. That would be impossible because of the sheer bulk of (ultimately unpersuasive) objections which skeptics can bring up as though they were real problems.

In this context the words of George Horne, an 18th century bishop, from his Letters on Infidelity, are wise and helpful. (Emphasis added.)

In the thirty sections of their pamphlet, they have produced a list of difficulties to be met with in reading the Old and New Testament. Had I been aware of their design, I could have enriched the collection with many more, at least as good, if not a little better. But they have compiled, I dare say, what they deemed the best, and, in their own opinion, presented us with the essence of infidelity in a thumb-phial, the very fumes of which, on drawing the cork, are to strike the bench of bishops dead at once. Let not the unlearned Christian be alarmed, “as though some strange thing had happened to him,” and modern philosophy had discovered arguments to demolish religion, never heard of before. The old ornaments of deism have been “broken off” upon this occasion, “and cast into the fire, and there came out this calf.” These same difficulties have been again and again urged and discussed in public; again and again weighed and considered by learned and sensible men, of the laity as well as the clergy, who have by no means been induced by them to renounce their faith.

[snip]

Many and painful are the researches sometimes necessary to be made, for settling points of that kind. Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject.

Think about the approach you take to other issues. There is a theory that men never walked on the moon and that the moon landing was a hoax. Do you investigate every detail of the argument given on the "hoax" side of that issue? What about Holocaust denial? (No, I'm not inviting a discussion in the combox of Holocaust or moon landing denial.)

The Internet is in some ways antithetical to the well-balanced operation of man's mind. The man with a well-balanced mind gets firmly in place the bulk of the evidence on some subject and then realizes that everything does not hinge on whether he can, right now, answer this or that objection which he happens not to have heard before.

So if I tell you that Christianity is faith founded on fact and that you should find out those facts and ground your faith in them, I am not suggesting that you trawl Internet Infidel sites to test your evidentialist biceps by trying to answer every objection that atheist "pertness and ignorance" have raised, often have raised repeatedly over the centuries. Far from it.

(Digression: Has anyone else noticed that people seem to have forgotten the word "trawl"? They think it is "troll" and will use "troll" where it should be "trawl." The word "trawl" is taken from fishing and, used metaphorically in a reading context, is a rough synonym for "browse." End of digression.)

5) The unspoken fear that Christianity cannot stand up to scrutiny and doesn't really have good evidential support.

Here I do not blame the parents, but not because I share the unspoken fear. I do not blame them, because in most cases no one has ever taught them otherwise. How many pastors and priests have really taught apologetics to their congregations, or even offered such studies as an option? Too few. How many courses on sharing your faith have explicitly taught people not to get involved in responding to questions and objections but just to "share their experience" because "no one can argue with that"? Too many. It's no wonder then that the congregation comes away with the sneaking suspicion that our Christian faith is no better grounded than Mormonism and that we, like they, must depend chiefly on the burning in the bosom.

And one can always push the blame further back. Perhaps the pastors weren't taught Christian evidences at their seminaries.

In fact, I would not be surprised if all too many theologians who give high-falutin' rationalizations for being anti-evidentialist are actually making a virtue out of what they deem to be a necessity. Since they don't think Christian faith is founded on fact, they might as well make up some profound-sounding theological theory that tells us that it shouldn't be.

When Nathanael asks Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip simply says, "Come and see." (John 1:46) And he brings him to Jesus. If you as a parent or mentor to the young are opposed to the study of Christian evidences partly because deep down you suspect that they aren't very good, I can only say to you as well, "Come and see."

Comments (39)

Doesn't the Bible implicitly endorse these kind of arguments, with the story of Gideon and the fleece? Granted, there's a difference in that Gideon was testing God - which didn't seem to bother God in the least, though maybe I'm remembering wrong. But Gideon was still relying on "mundane," empirical evidence.

Anyway, I think there's a reason number (6) that you didn't list. Correct me if it's really one of (1)-(5). That reason is, if you base your apologetics on mundane, historical facts, then it's possible that you really will lose the argument, even assuming of course that your belief is correct. This is different from a novice not knowing the correct argument to use; it's the possibility that this particular type of reasoning really is not objectively persuasive. Maybe historical facts really don't sufficiently support your belief.

I'm thinking of a particular example, taken from "born again" Jewish apologetics - a fairly recent practice that seems to have been taken mostly from Christian apologetics, by the way. About twenty years ago there was a lot of attention given to the "Bible codes," which you might remember. One "born again" Jewish organization ran with that full speed, basing a large part of their "conversion" preaching on those codes. Some Jews who were Orthodox from birth really didn't like it, partly for some of the reasons you give here, but also because of the question, what if it turns out that there's nothing to the codes after all? And sure enough, after a few years, it was finally proven pretty persuasively that while the statistical methodology was fine, the data itself had been cooked.

So, is that a sixth reason?

The important point for us today is not to dwell on past fabrications against Christianity but to move forward and forge a new (or, rather, reawaken a very old) sect of Christianity that is not hostile toward people of European ancestry (unlike much of mainstream Christianity today). Just look at all the religious leaders supporting mass Third World immigration. Our real enemy today are not the deniers of Christianity but rather Christian Cultural Marixsm, which is much more pervasive. We must defeat Christian Cultural Marxism.

There are two possible meanings to your suggested sixth reason, Aaron, and only one of them duplicates one of mine--my #5. One meaning is that the person fears that the facts do not really support his religion (in this case, Christianity). That is my #5. The other possible meaning is, in a sense, one level back: The idea here is that since it is *in principle possible* that the evidential facts would turn out not to support any particular conclusion, it is wrong to attempt to support that conclusion by facts, "just in case" they turn out not to support it. The idea is that, the more important some conclusion is, the more we should treat it as a matter of bare faith lest we risk losing it by subjecting it to empirical test.

In that second meaning, I agree that you are describing a #6 that I didn't discuss in the main post. So I'll throw in a discussion here.

Now, this #6 is particularly puzzling as a position since it does not square with the way that we deal with anything else that is important to us. Suppose that you had a huge amount of money invested with a particular fund, so that you would lose a great deal if that fund were to crash. No one would say, "Because this mutual fund is so important to me, I must never investigate how well it is doing. My financial adviser tells me it is doing great and wants to show me charts, but I don't want to look at them. If I start testing this fund by looking at charts of its record, then someday it might not be doing so well, and in that case, I would lose a great deal. This is so important to me that I must not gather any empirical data that pertains to it."

Even in interpersonal matters, it would be unreasonable to refuse to think with satisfaction of one's evidence _for_ the loyalty of a particular friend because one realizes that it is in theory possible that this friend might one day prove to be disloyal.

The "I don't want to know what can be said for this lest someone someday find out something against it" attitude is really a form of superstition.

Moreover, what people don't seem to realize is that you can't just make it, by fiat, sensible to hold something without evidence.

The anti-evidentialist will sometimes imply that his approach "makes" Christianity invulnerable, because he does not accept evidence either for or against it. But how can he just make it invulnerable by saying that he will never change his mind? He may make himself a dogmatist in that way, but objectively speaking he does not actually make what he believes invulnerable to disconfirmation simply by refusing to consider either confirmation or disconfirmation.

Original Thomas T., please do try to stay on-topic. Believe it or not, unfortunately those old objections to Christianity are being brought up by skeptics right now, in 2013, and are "deceiving many."

Digression: Troll vs. trawl -- there is a fishing usage of 'troll' as well, which means pulling a lure or bait behind a boat in the water (some fishing boats have low-powered "trolling motors" for this purpose). But I'd say that the vast majority of people who confuse troll and trawl aren't aware of that usage. Hence, nowadays when most people hear or read about someone "trolling for an answer" or something along those lines, they probably think of internet trolling, not fishing.


Thank, NM. It looks like I was just wrong in that I thought _only_ "trawl" is used for fishing. Apparently "trawl" is used for trailing a net, and "troll" is used for trailing a lure on a line. So either could refer metaphorically to browsing around on Internet sites looking to "catch" something or find out some new fact or idea.

This Pentecostal parent likes exegetical preaching and loves reading on Christian evidences! As my boys get older I'm going to have them start with Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace and have them work up to Greenleaf, Paley and hopefully even Lardner.

Great job, Erik. No offense. Please take it as a throwaway line.

Lydia, yes, I meant what you understood as your second meaning, a new reason number (6), except for this important difference: I'm not suggesting "bare faith" as the alternative to empirical, historical evidence. I'm including reason in there, too. I'm suggesting that you should avoid historical, empirical arguments, which are by nature fragile, in favor of stronger support.

One alternative would be a Thomist argument that takes the existence of the world as "evidence" that God exists. Metaphysical arguments like that can't be shaken by new empirical findings. They're hard if not impossible to refute philosophically, and anyway it's rare that someone switches metaphysics based only on rational argument.

Another, stronger alternative could be called mystical, but without all the woo-woo associated with that word. For instance, you experience the fact that prayer or whatever causes certain replicable changes in the world or in yourself. As some have pointed out, mystical experience has a lot in common epistemologically with scientific experiment. So you could call this empirical as well, but not scientific in the sense that, say, a critical study of the evidence in the Gospels would be scientific.

None of these kinds of arguments works for everyone, of course. But I think that both of these rational alternatives are inherently more robust, less fragile than the kind of evidence you're talking about.

Finally, your comparison with financial investing is a comparison between truth and facts, between apples and oranges. Maybe you're arguing that there's no distinction between truth and facts, maybe that's your whole point, I don't know. But even if there isn't, the only way you can know about the financial situation is through mundane, empirical evidence. Philosophers and mystics can't help you manage your portfolio.

Correction: "avoid" was too strong a word. I think you should de-emphasize the mundane empirical arguments and emphasize other, stronger support.

Unless, I suppose, they are Pentecostals who don't like exegetical preaching either.

I was raised Pentecostal; at various times, my parents were members both of "megachurches" (*), likely with more congregants than any church you ever attended growing up, and of storefront churches, likely with fewer congregants than any church you ever attended growing up. And the thing I most remember growing -- of church services or of the conversations between my parents and neighbors or friends -- is the exegetical (and expository) preaching/teaching and discussions.

(*) Keeping in mind had that term been in use fifty years ago, it would have refered to a concregation of 1000, rather than of 10,000.

Aaron, I doubt that most people who use the argument #6 you suggested would prefer Thomistic a priori (or semi-a priori) arguments instead. However, let me point out, if you are in fact _advocating_ that position, that the Thomist does not claim that his metaphysical arguments support Christianity as opposed to some other form of theism. Ask Ed Feser. He'll tell you that some sort of different approach needs to come in when it comes to supporting Christianity per se.

As GKC said, God could not save the world by philosophy, so he had to save it by a story. Now, I myself cringe a bit at the word "story," because it's being abused by post-modernists nowadays, but what Chesterton meant, rather than anything postmodern, was that God had to save the world by _history_.

I'm not at all hostile to metaphysical arguments. Let a thousand flowers bloom, is my approach there, though I'm not _convinced_ by all of them.

But it won't get you the Apostles' Creed.

As for mystical experience, however good it may be, people in other religions also have, or claim to have, mystical experience. It's very difficult to make any distinction or support a particular, concrete religious position on that basis. Plus, as you note, not everyone has such experiences. (I certainly don't, myself.)

In (5), replace 'Christianity' with 'an inerrant Bible, literally interpreted' and parents' fears will be much more difficult to allay.

Conservative Christian parents don't just want their children to remain generically Christian. They want them to keep believing the Bible. They don't want them to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they believe; and anyone who admits to historical inaccuracies in the text, or who interprets an apparently historical text as "poetic" or "mythical" seems to them to be doing just that. Many of them are inclined to think people who "play fast and loose with the Bible" in this way are not really Christians at all.

As I see it, there's lots of pretty strong evidence in favor of the key historical claims of Christianity, the general reliability the NT and even much of the OT is on pretty solid ground. But learning how to investigate evidences and to reason well about history really will weaken a young person's confidence in literal 6-day creationism, the historical accuracy of every detail of the Abraham narrative, the unitary authorship of Isaiah, etc. Proponents of these beliefs must treat the Biblical texts with vastly more respect than any historian gives to any secular text. So I can understand why conservative parents would be nervous about their children acquiring the habits of reading and reasoning about the Biblical texts in the same way historians read and reason about other texts.

will weaken a young person's confidence in literal 6-day creationism

Probably yes.

the historical accuracy of every detail of the Abraham narrative

Not so clear.

the unitary authorship of Isaiah

Nah. Biblical "higher scholarship" is too often an emperor with no clothes, at least as much as, if not more than, 6-day creationism.

Not that I'm attempting to launch into a rousing discussion of the authorship of Isaiah or 6-day creationism.

But let's suppose a parent does have the worry that you are talking about, Christopher.

Think about what a colossal mistake it would be for such a parent to object to his child's learning about evidence *for* the historicity of the Gospels (for example) on those grounds. Basically, what that would be saying is that the parent is risking the child's throwing over the whole kit-n-kaboodle, because he was never taught to defend it, rather than taking the risk that the young person will _modify_ his beliefs on an issue like the age of the earth while becoming _stronger_ in his confidence in (say) the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ.

That's extremely short-sighted. I don't doubt that there are people who are that short-sighted, but I only wish they could have a long conversation with parents whose children have lost their faith, have deconverted. Believe me, the latter would give everything--indeed, would give their very lives--to have their beloved adult children return to the Faith as, say, old-earth creationists.

Basically, what that would be saying is that the parent is risking the child's throwing over the whole kit-n-kaboodle, because he was never taught to defend it, rather than taking the risk that the young person will _modify_ his beliefs on an issue like the age of the earth while becoming _stronger_ in his confidence in (say) the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ.

Then again, there are some people who are inclined to say, "Hey, if I can't believe the first page of the Bible, why should I believe the rest of it?"

Moreover, if there is evidence that proves the Resurrection and the Gospels, and there surely is, then the reasonable person should ask himself why a loving God would throw His faithful believers an anchor by prefacing His inspired word with a fairy tale destined to be exposed as such one day by a bunch of atheist scientists. The answer, of course, is that He wouldn't. So given the Resurrection, 6-day creation necessarily follows. Therefore, why is there any fear that an investigation of the evidence will subvert the belief in 6-day creation? I assure you, the young-earth creationists have no such fear. Go read their websites, and see for yourselves. There's a sense on these sites that the more evidence is uncovered, there more they own this issue.

Statistically, George R., I would say that you are wrong, at least about Protestant 6-day creationists. They generally think of apologetics (when they use the term) _only_ in terms of arguments for their position on *that* issue and are uneasy about a generally evidentialist approach across the board. In fact, they tend to be what is known as presuppositionalists in overall apologetic approach.

I'm all for apologetics and philosophy, but I cringe a bit when I hear the argument about people that "lost their faith", with the implication that they wouldn't have if they studied this or that.

I think it is a good thing to do, and encourage it wherever I can, but I'm doubtful that fear of losing one's faith is a legitimate or fruitful reason to study anything. Wanting to serve or defend others and/or be a wise person I think are the real reasons why people actually do it.

Well, Mark, I don't know about "fear" but it seems to me to be only common sense that if one thinks it important that some proposition P is true, one tries to find out what can be said for P! Suppose one wakes up some fine morning and reflects, "Hey, I'm really heavily invested in the truth of P. My life turns around P. I am committed to P. I would consider my life to be much less meaningful if I didn't believe P. Yet, as it turns out, I have no idea why I should believe P to be true. I was just raised believing P and kind of picked it up by osmosis. In fact, a lot of people in the world believe ~P (in various versions), some of them having raised to believe things incompatible with P, just as I was raised to believe P. Some of them would challenge my belief that P, and I have no idea what I would say to them." Now, it seems to me only reasonable to say, after such a reflection, "Gee, maybe I'd better get off my tail and find out if there are any actual good reasons that can be given for P."

And something similar applies, mutatis mutandis, if you think your child ought to believe P, might even go to hell if he doesn't believe P, but you suddenly realize that you've given your child no good reason for believing P. Get a move on, already, and find out what can be said in favor of P.

That seems to me to be only a rational decision-making process.

Lydia, I never doubted you could make the best case for the weakest reason. :) Look, in my view we have a whole lot wrong with our way of thinking about these things. Why not recreate in the church a culture where we could actually admire and seek to emulate what the wise *do* in being wise? In India and other parts of Asia they have good matheticians because they have a society that respects it and rewards those who do it well. If the church respected philosophy as much as many parts of the world respected mathematics we wouldn't need to appeal to what I think are arguably the weaker reasons.

So given the Resurrection, 6-day creation necessarily follows. Therefore, why is there any fear that an investigation of the evidence will subvert the belief in 6-day creation? I assure you, the young-earth creationists have no such fear.

I have never understood the portion of modern Christianity that insists on the "days" being 24 hours in length when as far back as St. Augustine (at least) the days and the creations in them were understood to refer to matters not touched by hours and such. For example, the creation of "the light" being understood to refer to the angels. Nor, of course, why "days" had to be 24 hour periods when "evening and morning" clearly were not references to rising and setting of the sun.

I suppose it would be fun to take one of these men and ask "have you ever committed the sin of lust because of something you saw? Then why haven't you plucked your eyes out, as Jesus commanded?", if it weren't for the danger that they might actually do it.

Mark, please, I'm not going to get involved in another situation where the entire thread is taken up with your preoccupation of the moment. I simply don't agree that, "Gee, turns out I don't have any reasons for believing the most important thing in the world to me" is a "weak" reason for trying to find out if there are reasons for the most important thing in the world! Good grief. But if you're obsessed with answering my every comment to that effect, I'm simply not going to let you tie up the thread with that obsession, as you do so many other threads.

Yes, of course, I want our churches to have a pro-apologetics culture. That would be wonderful.

Leave it at that.

Tony, you know not your peril! I'm sure George R. is only too happy to make this thread be about 6-day creationism. I actually know of one apologetics group that has banned its discussion because it's one of those "zombie issues" that take over the entire organization.

Sorry.

Thank you for writing this out. The fear that perhaps we as Christians are going to ultimately find out we aren't on the side of the most sound beliefs is definitely a sentiment I am familiar with. I'm embarrassed to say, at one point I even shared that concern. For the sake of my kids, I'm very grateful I looked anyway. The more I've "come and seen" the more comfortable I've become in my Christian skin, surrounded by a sometimes snarky, soundbite culture.

I absolutely loved the quotation from Bishop Horne, a sentiment that many of us have expressed no doubt!

It's amazing how timely that Horne quotation is. It just never stops fitting the time, whatever time one lives in.

I admit, I had no idea that this was a thing. Maybe it has partly to do with parents not wanting their own ignorance exposed. Maybe another aspect is that apologetics typically smacks of strong belief, and parents don't like that, either because they don't have such strong belief themselves, or they don't want their children to be harassed.

I doubt very much that it is the latter, at least in the somewhat pietistic subculture I have in mind. There is instead a general notion that an interest in the intellectual side of Christianity is antithetical to strong Christian commitment and in particular to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

As a corollary to what you said about being committed to the intellectual side of Christianity being supposedly anti-ethical to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ I tend to note, per my own observations, that Catholicism tends to downplay the "personal" aspect of a relationship with Jesus. This fits with your point in that Catholicism is a sect of Christianity that prides itself on its intellectualism.

Personal relationships with Jesus do exist in Catholicism, of course, but in my experience Catholics tend to emphasize God's sovereignty and Jesus's relationship to us as our Lord more than we emphasize Jesus as somebody we can confide to,

I myself think both are needed. It's important to emphasize something like a "personal relationship," which in Catholic terms I would refer to simply as prayer and meditation. In fact, from a Catholic perspective, eucharistic adoration has a connection to a "personal relationship."

The trouble with de-emphasizing a personal relationship is that one can come to rely too much on something like, say, having been baptized as an infant or going to church regularly, without actually spending time speaking to God, bringing one's worries to Him, asking Him to make one aware of sin in one's life and of the need for repentance, interceding for others, and so forth. This can lead to a situation where one says, "I'm okay, because I did x long ago," and one isn't in fact being "conformed to the image of His dear Son."

I applaud the Protestant and evangelical emphasis on, as it were, bugging your kids to urge them to continued devotion to Christ. When one takes a kind of "gentlemanly" approach (I'm okay, you're okay, we don't do vulgar things like urging each other to have a personal relationship with Jesus), this can lead to coldness, and coldness which even seems to have the approval of parents.

However, there is absolutely no reason why devoutness should be at odds with apologetics and intellectual formation.

My _guess_ is that Catholics have their own version of "you just have to have faith." For example, would I be far off if I guessed that a young Catholic person with apologetic questions might sometimes be told simply to pray the rosary and go to Mass and ask God to give him faith? I find it all too easy to imagine a well-intentioned priest doing that, just as a well-intentioned Protestant pastor might say, "Just believe the Bible."

If anything, it seems that statistically the interest in evidentialist apologetics, especially of the historical variety, is right now higher among Protestants than among Catholics. That need not be the case, and Catholics are more than welcome to avail themselves of the information!

The trouble with de-emphasizing a personal relationship is that one can come to rely too much on something like, say, having been baptized as an infant or going to church regularly, without actually spending time speaking to God, bringing one's worries to Him, asking Him to make one aware of sin in one's life and of the need for repentance, interceding for others, and so forth.

Perhaps we are close to the same page. In terms of speaking to God and bringing one's worries to him I most definitely pray to God both in thanks and intercession. Like I said, in Catholicism a personal relationship DOES exist. When I do it though I never really think of Jesus as anything close to a friend. He's doing me a favor; He doesn't need to listen to me at all, and I try to be humbly aware of that. For that reason I think it tends to separate the "personal" aspect a little bit because you're always aware of your insignificance in comparison to Him.


The trouble with de-emphasizing a personal relationship is that one can come to rely too much on something like, say, having been baptized as an infant or going to church regularly, without actually spending time speaking to God, bringing one's worries to Him, asking Him to make one aware of sin in one's life and of the need for repentance, interceding for others, and so forth. This can lead to a situation where one says, "I'm okay, because I did x long ago," and one isn't in fact being "conformed to the image of His dear Son."

Prayer is definitely emphasized in Catholicism. The Rosary is always strongly encouraged, as is adoration.


My _guess_ is that Catholics have their own version of "you just have to have faith." For example, would I be far off if I guessed that a young Catholic person with apologetic questions might sometimes be told simply to pray the rosary and go to Mass and ask God to give him faith? I find it all too easy to imagine a well-intentioned priest doing that, just as a well-intentioned Protestant pastor might say, "Just believe the Bible."

I think that tends to happen sometimes, yes. You hear horror stories about people who left Christianity completely because they went to Priests for help and were admonished for not having faith!

If anything, it seems that statistically the interest in evidentialist apologetics, especially of the historical variety, is right now higher among Protestants than among Catholics. That need not be the case, and Catholics are more than welcome to avail themselves of the information!

I can't say I really know for sure. My favorite philosopher is Dr. Feser, who played a huge role in keeping me Catholic at a time when I had a lot of questions; his defenses of Aquinas's proofs, and his utter dismantling of the gnu atheists, are brilliant.

I DO know that when coming up with the theology behind her doctrines the Church draws extremely heavily on philosophy and on the Church Fathers as a rule. Benedict the XVI and John Paul II were both great intellectuals. I think John Paul II's Theology of the Body is the best defense of traditional sexual morality you'll ever find, and Benedict XVI of course has his brilliant Jesus of Nazareth trilogy.

As for Francis, time will tell. I try to refrain from criticizing him because when I look around the Catholic blogosphere I'm rather appalled at how little support he's getting; even his supporters, like Fr. Z, seem to feel the need to justify what he says a lot of the time, and I think that as Catholics we should have more faith in the Holy Father. But that's getting a bit off topic.

Time was (I'm told by those who know better) when _historical_ apologetics, not solely metaphysical Thomistic arguments, received positive attention from Catholic writers, but this disappeared over time.

Unfortunately, Cardinal Dulles has extremely negative (and IMO extremely misguided) words for historical apologetics in his book on apologetics. He regards the entire approach as Enlightenment tainted, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, Cardinal Dulles has extremely negative (and IMO extremely misguided) words for historical apologetics in his book on apologetics.

Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth series was, by all accounts, a fine piece of historical scholarship.

MarcAnthony,

I agree with you to a point that Pope Benedict's Jesus series has good historical scholarship -- or perhaps a better way to put it would be to say that Benedict was friendly to historical scholarship and wrote as if the historical reality of the resurrection (and obviously life and works) of Jesus were true facts that Christians should be willing to defend. I just read the first book in that series this summer (From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration) and shared a couple of passages with Lydia and while I know she has her differences with the Pope about particular Biblical interpretations he might make, she would definitely agree he takes the idea of a historical Jesus seriously!

So we need more Pope Benedict and less Cardinal Dulles when it comes to Catholic apologetics!

I want to make clear that I'm going off of good recommendations, from Fr. Z mostly if I remember correctly. Perhaps Jimmy Akin too, though I might be misremembering. Not that I don't want to read it! My local library doesn't have it and I certainly don't have the money to get it, though.

Ahh, let me suggest some _free_ old books (most by Protestants, I admit) on the historical evidences for Christianity. There's tons of this stuff that is out of copyright and just sitting around on Google books, Archive.org, etc. Some of these are linked from here:

http://historicalapologetics.org/collection/annotated-bibliography/

Click on a work to get a brief discussion and a link to a copy.

Also, if you're interested, browse the links in my post to get to lectures by Tim McGrew (to whom I'm related) on historical evidences. I think I can say they are guaranteed ecumenical-safe.

re: "Perhaps the pastors weren't taught Christian evidences at their seminaries."

No, they nearly always are not. Unless things have recently changed, many seminaries don't even offer a course in apologetics, and it would be a rare exception if it were required, if offered (I've never heard of such a case). And, having talked to a number of pastors about apologetics over the years, they seldom seem to feel it necessary, even if they feign interest out of politeness.

That's a scandal. I often think of that kind of thing when people talk about how the ordinary man doesn't know the evidence. There's an idea in the air that the evidence for Christianity is too hard for the ordinary layman to grasp. That isn't true. It's just out of style. The pastors need to get on the ball. I think there is a real hunger in the pews for apologetics.

Lydia, it certainly is a scandal. That said, I'm not sure most pastors really could take on such a task very well.... unless things REALLY changed in the church with deacons and elders picking up many of the duties. I just wish pastors would wake up and start working WITH apologists, rather than against us, and that the church would start to value it so our ministries could self-support or grow.

And, that seminaries would require at least a course in apologetics so pastors are familiar with the concept and feel comfortable reaching out for resources and help. I think you're totally correct about the hunger in the pews, even if they couldn't explain what for.

I believe that a "one size fits all" approach to debating Christians is misguided. I recently wrote a post on my blog entitled, "How to Debate a Christian". I believe that the key to debating Christians is to know which type of Christian he or she is: a Liberal, a Moderate, or a Fundamentalist. I believe that each of these three types of Christian has a different weakness in their Christian belief system; a weakness which the atheist/skeptic can take advantage of to win the debate. I would be interested in a Christian critique of my post if anyone has the time and inclination.

Blog: Escaping Christian Fundamentalism
Post: How to Debate a Christian

Thanks,
Gary

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