Tactics: the worst mistake a Christian can make when doing apologetics

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.

6 thoughts on “Tactics: the worst mistake a Christian can make when doing apologetics”

    1. When I listen to Dennis Prager and Michael Medved and Ben Shapiro, their focus in presenting Judaism is on behavior, not truth. They are concerned that people act morally more than they are concerned with true theology. When I watched rabbi Singer debate, it was like watching a charismatic preacher, not an analytical philosopher.

  1. There is a quite a bit more debate history that makes discussions difficult. The Disputations of Paris, Tortos, Rome, and Luther’s failed attempt just to name a few.
    Given the bloody history & persecution by Christians the last thing is needed is a “debate”. The concern “that people act morally” is in line with the Tanach (and NT) of which Jews haven’t seen much of by “Christians” over the centuries.
    Btw, for a classic debate check out Rav Yosef Mizrachi. He is an Israeli that lives in New York (Rabbi M. Skobac also has a excellent presentation as well).
    Comparing the USA & Israel situation (Most rab’s are far more educated and have a command of the Hebrew language). In Israel, the haredi (religious) Jews are many anti-missionary and well versed and better educated in the NT than the local pastors and messianic leaders.
    It is very sad and dangerous due to persecution by the haredi – they come into churches, messianic meeting, and have incurred violence and damage.
    If Christianity can win Jews “as to provoke them to jealousy” then any non-Jew will be easy.

      1. Yes I have heard them and read his book ” TOur Hands Are Stained with Blood”. However, his debates “cherry picked” and a dog & pony show. There is a vast gulf between orthrodoxy vs. orthopraxy.

        At the yeshiva’s in Jerusalem the rab’s and students are much more diligent and the discussions much more “robust” and factual.
        For example, if a discussion begins with “Jesus” – it is done. There hasn’t been a single Jew born in the history of the world named “Isous / Jesus”. They are very well versed with the NT and quite aware that Yshua was a observant Torah keeping Jewish rabbi who ate tahor, kept YHVH feast days, read the Tanach, and kept Shabbat.
        In other words, there can’t be a smidge of Western Evangelical Christianity and the church councils.
        The Judaism of Ha Derek is a diametrically opposed to rabbinical Judaism. Even the messianic Jew orthropraxy & orthrodoxy is contrary to the NT writings – this presents a huge problem.

        The messianic congregations here in Israel are visited quite often and sometimes attacked by the harerdi (Orthodox) for practicing idolatry (Christmas & Easter wasn’t celebrated here till the Russian immigrants came). Imo, the haredi are correct in their viewpoint (it is a 3rd century practice based on Mithra and Ishtar and has a documented history of anti-semitism).

        What I have found that works is comparing rabbinical Judaism (Rab Akiva & Bar-Kokhba) to Ha Derek Judaism of Rabbi Y’shua and where there was the split. In addition, taking them back to the written Tanach vs. the Oral Law.

        Telling Jews to exchange their man-made traditions (talmud, mishna, and gamara) for Christianity man made traditions is a double standard.

  2. In my experience many Atheists, especially former Theists, are convinced all their views are based on science, evidence, and logic. It is almost as if the mere fact of being an Atheist makes one scientific/logical.

    I am not a presuppositionalist, and find that such tactics often simply annoy people and drive them away, however one must address certain presuppositions they may have because there is something in their life that causes them to refuse to accept the science. For example Big Bang is being challenged because Theists accept it, and many accept Evolution simply because it is presented as settled science even though most know little about how it is exactly supposed to work. Many are surprised to hear that scientists like Stephen Hawking don’t even believe their own theories are true, but merely that they are useful in doing the math and if you gave him a contradicting theory he’d accept it if it predicted the same thing and made the math more convenient but not consider it more true ( see The Grand Design).

    I think a good start is to establish that you are just as scientifically/logically capable as they are despite your “disability” of being a Christian. If they accept that you understand what you are talking about, and you are accurately presenting the science rather than parroting something you heard an apologist said ( ie your interpretation of their interpretation), I think that they may be more willing to listen to your view of where that is pointing. That is, once you have identified and addressed whatever the blocking issue is.

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