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.

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

  1. Yes, Jesus even set up stumbling blocks multiple times to prevent people from following Him because they were not ready at all.
    That’s the opposite of the “come as you are” approach we see so much. Which is why only a tiny fraction, maybe 10%, of those who “convert” using that approach actually convert.
    My reply to “which denomination?” is “the Christian one. Now, back to the evidence.” My reply to “am I going to Hell?” is “almost certainly. Now, back to the evidence.”
    I also sometimes use presup when the other person is hostile, because, truth be told, they are not even ready for evidence. Like with the deathscorts, when they start screaming in my face that “there is no God!” I just say “We both know you believe in God, because you believe that what you are doing is objectively good and what I am doing is objectively evil. Otherwise you wouldn’t be so emotionally invested and hate me so much.”
    The Catholic case is intriguing to me, because at least some of the students believe in God and are willing to brainstorm on what their toughest questions are. I think that those who are asking those questions and who do believe in God can benefit greatly from a book like “Hard Questions, Real Answers” by William Lane Craig. I found that book to be surprisingly helpful as a new Christian.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Don’t feed the trolls. Some people on person are no different than an online troll and they aren’t going to listen. So be the one that does pay attention in the conversation.

    If you notice by third cues and responses that they really aren’t listening at all then you don’t need to spend that much time on the conversation that time. Wait till they may be receptive and come back with honest questions.

    It really isn’t that hard to know a genuine person, reading body language and tone gives a great idea in person, olong with if you can tell if they even paused long enough to think for a second about what you say or if they cut off your answer for another question.

    After a point it is up to God to do the work of changing a person’s heart and doing the rest of the work.


  3. Speaking as an atheist, you won’t get converts by say, being out to get converts! We know all about those tactics… Just as you won’t automatically buy the product that door to door salesman is selling. However, simply showing the world Christians are kind accepting people who will make good friends will lead the way for more openmidedness. Many in the secular community have had bad experiences with fanatics, some even ostracized from thier own families! To them, Christianity is what caused such deep pain. Meeting christians not out to just convert and conform them, but who will be friends and show goodwill to them even if they don’t convert are lines they will listen to the most. Much of it is gaining trust and breaking the negative stereotypes of the annoying radical fundamentalist…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On its face, your points are valid. I grew up in a strict evangelical Christian home. My late father was a deeply devout Christian, and his best and closest friend was an atheist. Yet the atheist was never disrespectful, nor combative, and the two men were like brothers. My father simply lived his faith. My mother’s best and closest friend was a deeply pious and devout conservative Roman Catholic woman. Despite my mother’s well intentioned efforts to convert this woman to evangelicalism, she both defended and held to her faith tradition. Ironically, our family never socialized with people in the churches I grew up in. Later in life, I inquired why. My mother simply stated that it was because they had common interests and hobbies with these specific individuals, but somehow, I knew it had something more to do with avoidance of, and the preponderance of, irritable pastors and laypeople in said churches. IMO, I submit that often the animus towards Christianity from wounded individuals, be it valid to a point, can also be a cop out and broad brushing of Christianity. I’ve always been put off by both impious arrogance and ulterior motives. The “I want to be friends just to convert you” technique in particular. 20 years ago, at the then age of 40, I left evangelical Protestantism and converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. For me, evangelical Protestantism was “an inch deep and a mile wide”. Case in point, I recently saw a book put out by the Southern Baptist Convention titled “How to Witness to the Eastern Orthodox”. Need I say more.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. @LadyofReason
      Well said. I believe Jesus himself said to his disciples that all people will know you are truly my disciples if you love one another.
      That said Jesus is the most loving of all and beckons you to trust him to put to rest whatever burdens you carry if you’ve been hurt by other Christians and/or family members of the faith. For what it’s worth I’m truly sorry for whatever has happened to you by the church (see Matthew 11:28-30).
      For me, the church has been a tremendous blessing overall. Oh yes, there have been hurt feelings and unnecessary controversies here and there over the past 25 years. What has kept me from walking away is love and commitment to the person of Jesus, not the performance of the church though I would not stay long in a congregation that I thought was abusive and outright unloving.
      I’m praying for you.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. I had sort of the opposite experience in my atheist years. I believed that ALL Christians were just atheists with one fewer hour on Sunday mornings, because I saw no difference between Christians being nice and atheists being nice, between Christians living worldly and atheists living worldly, etc. (And, sadly, I STILL see no difference with way too many professed Christians.)

      In my case, and as an engineer with a PhD, WK’s approach would have at the very least made some significant headway with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t encounter any Christians going that route, probably for reasons that WK has discussed many times. So, my conversion was dependent on self-discovery (yes, I realize that was the Holy Spirit from THIS side of things).

      These are the 3 pieces that fell together for me personally – after much deep reflection:

      1. Leibniz’s Contingency Argument (this video didn’t exist but represents the thought process I went through, even if it was not quite this formalized: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPCzEP0oD7I)

      2. The Moral Argument (again, this video did not exist but represents the thought process I went through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxiAikEk2vU)

      3. Finally, after I began homeschooling under a Christian covering, I discovered that my strawman about Christians was not completely true. There ARE people who actually LIVE like Christians instead of like the world. In my pre-Christian days, I called such Christians an “Underground.” Since I agreed with these Christians on every single major issues (like them, I was already very conservative), this third piece opened me to Christ. I didn’t convert only on that final principle, but it did remove my last stumbling block, given that my intellectual side was satisfied.

      So, that is also why I was attracted to WK’s site – it provides the kinds of things that would have been helpful to me, had it existed and I had found it.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Right on! God has to exist, and the evidence for that case is very strong. I would also add immaterial things like information and mathematics, miracles, and intelligent design to your list. There are many more, but a short list that one knows well and can present clearly is best. I like to use the analogy of a Ford motor car. Obviously designed by Ford engineers, but does not compare in complexity to a living cell that can replicate itself, feed itself, regulate salinity, make repairs, etc. but only appears designed and is actually the result of time and chance, or so we’re told. Good article! I will use it in my worldview class. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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