As the good folks who sell apologetics materials will tell you, apologetics is of dire importance to evangelical Christianity. For evangelicals, that notion is likely more monolithic than evangelism itself. But the reality, as we’ll see, is far different. Today, we’ll dive into the first part of an apologetics seminar to see just what the fuss is all about. And once again, we will find that evangelical hucksters and the sheep they fleece are trapped in a box of unreality that they can’t escape.
(From introduction: If you need to know what a Gallifreyan Time Lord is.)
(This post first came out on Patreon on 11/9/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available right now <3)
An overview of apologetics
In Christianity, apologetics is a field of rhetoric and debate that utilizes arguments to defend the claims made by Christians. In practice, an apologist sounds a lot like a defense lawyer in court. Apologists even use something similar to the Socratic Method used in law schools: Coming to a decision, or guiding someone else to one, through the use of questions.
And apologetics has a long history. Almost from the beginning of Christianity, Christians found themselves having to persuade heathens that their claims were true. We can see this fact from the Epistles, which exhort Christians to learn how to defend their claims:
Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you. [1 Peter 3:15]
(Naturally, almost all evangelicals ignore the rest of that verse, which advises apologists to do this with so much “gentleness and respect” that it shames anyone “slandering” them.)
Other verses, like Ephesians 1:13, suggest that “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” given by evangelists and apologists persuades heathens.
So early on, we find prominent Christians using and creating apologetics arguments. According to the evangelical Biola University, Justin Martyr (100 CE – 165 CE) was the first great apologist, though they admit that this distinction might more properly belong to the Apostle Paul.
The dealbreaker problem of apologetics
Almost all apologetics arguments boil down to logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an informal error in logic (sometimes called a paralogia). That means that the structure of the argument is fine, but its premises don’t work to bring about its conclusion. Here’s a famous Christian apologetics argument, the Appeal to Beauty (often also called the Argument from Beauty):
- Gosh, sunsets and babies’ smiles are sure pretty. This universe sure has a lot of pretty things in it!
- Only Yahweh could possibly have created such beauty.
- Therefore, Yahweh created the universe.
Structurally, this argument looks fine. However, the second claim never actually gets supported anywhere. It’s a claim without evidence that is taken as factual. So the conclusion just belly-flops to “therefore, Yahweh” without any steps in between to support the claim made.
By contrast, a formal error is an argument with inappropriate structure somehow. Examples include: Straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks (invalidating the claimant rather than addressing their claims), shifting burden of proof, appeals to authority, arguments from ignorance, circular reasoning, and more. Apologists love this kind of error too, of course, but almost always, they play in Informal Fallacy-Land. It’s their very favorite place to be.
But apologetics’ reliance on fallacies and formal errors isn’t their biggest dealbreaker.
The very existence of apologetics is.
It’s extremely important to note that apologetics developed because Christians had no factual evidence to support their claims. It is what they must use in lieu of real evidence. If they had real evidence, they wouldn’t even bother with apologetics. And they wouldn’t need to!
Nobody has to use an Appeal to Beauty to PROVE YES PROVE that the sun exists. Or people. Or daisies. Nor does anyone have to write libraries’ worth of apologetics books to PROVE YES PROVE anything about the Theory of Evolution. Because all that stuff is real, scientists only need to use the Scientific Method to ask questions about something, then answer those questions with real-world observations and measurements, and finally make predictions based on that real-world data.
There’s no way for apologists to do anything like that.
Nothing about Yahweh or his activity can be or ever has been observed or measured in the real world. He leaves no footsteps behind at all, though apologists insist that he meddles in reality all the time. And nobody can predict anything about him or his activity.
Everyone, meet Areopagus: An apologetics clearinghouse
Areopagus is a website that functions as an apologetics clearinghouse. There, you can find just about anything an apologist could ever desire. Jefrey Breshears, an apologist and author who’s been around a while, founded the site some years back. He’s a standard-issue fundagelical culture warrior who wrote a whole book criticizing Barack Obama’s faith. As his blogging on Areopagus reveals, he also gets upset with critical race theory, liberalism, and Joe Biden.
The name is based on a place named in Acts 17:19. It’s a huge rock cliff outcropping northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. And I mean it is huge. From its top, people can see pretty much all of Athens.
Many centuries ago, Athenians used this rock as a gathering spot and trial location. A governing and court body, also called the Areopagus because they met there, held important trials there. (It wasn’t that rough-hewn back then; one recreation of it has a nice retaining wall built around its outer ledge, with flat paved ground and statues and trees decorating it.)
When Paul visited the Athenians in Acts 17, the heathens there took him to the Areopagus. There, Paul issued a sermon to them, which is recorded in Acts 17:22-34. It’s the famous “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” sermon. He’d noticed an inscription to that effect in town. So in his sermon, he informs the Athenians that this unknown god had always been Yahweh.
The creators of this website explain on their “About” page that they feel that they, along with their target audience, are just like Paul. They walk among heathens who are, like the Athenians, “skeptical—if not blatantly hostile” to Christians’ claims and culture-war grabs for power. So they aim to fix all that:
The mission of The Areopagus is to help equip Christians for ministry and to effectively engage our society and culture with the transforming truth and love of Jesus Christ. To this end, we offer a substantive curriculum that expands their knowledge base, stimulates critical thinking, and challenges them to live faithfully and consistently in accordance with the principles and practices of a Biblical Christian worldview.
Equip for ministry is Christianese. It means stuffing Christians with talking points and fallacious arguments that they can regurgitate upon command. Engage with culture means having apologetics arguments with heathens. The transforming truth and love of Jesus Christ means winning those arguments, thus gaining control of heathens.
And not a single evangelical can actually use critical thinking skills on their own claims. If they actually did that, they wouldn’t be evangelicals for very long. That’s how the guy behind the brilliant, exhaustive, epic takedown of that TV show Ancient Aliens can manage to utterly fail to use those exact same skills on claims about his own fundagelical beliefs. It’d be jarring to see that debunk video alongside tons of Jesus-blahblah videos, if I didn’t already know how compartmentalized in thinking Christians can be.
Incidentally, Areopagus claims to be “interdenominational.” Their doctrinal stances, however, are just like their founder: pure fundagelical culture-warrior stuff.
Areopagus and the Apologetics Seminar
To fulfill its goals, Areopagus held an apologetics seminar this past spring. Their seminar landing page contains video and audio feeds. (DO NOT CLICK THESE while signed into a Google account; the feed links go to Google Docs pages.)
It also includes a slew of handouts. We’ll be looking at the handouts today. (I’ve archived the landing page, but a lot of these handouts are in PDF form, which archives don’t tend to like.)
The “course syllabus” is nothing more than a sales brochure for Areopagus itself:
Christians are often caught unprepared when confronted by honest questions by spiritual seekers, serious challenges by religious skeptics, and ridiculous comments by argumentative contrarians. Such encounters can be frustrating, unnerving and even embarrassing, and often leave Christians wishing that they were better equipped to handle such situations.
A major reason why so many Christians are hesitant to share their faith is because they feel unprepared to handle tough questions and challenges from non-believers.
Doesn’t that sound like one of those late-night informercials?
GOSH DARN IT! THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO ARGUE WITH HEATHENS!
Never fear, Christians! With Areopagus’ no-fail seminar, now YOU TOO can learn to banter with the best of heathens!*
(*Not included: Any real-world facts that could support your claims.)
Areopagus founder Jefrey Breshears himself led the seminar, so you just know it’s gonna offer us the top-of-the-line apologetics available in the modern age.
The questions that Areopagus thinks scare Christians out of arguing with heathens
I like seeing lists of questions from Christians. They tell us what those Christians know, don’t know, and want to know. They also tell us about the listmakers’ worldview and what they want their readers to think about a topic. They’re like putting a lead on a horse: they’re directional markers more than much else.
According to the syllabus of this seminar (relink), here are the questions that Areopagus thinks scare Christians out of trying to persuade heathens of their claims:
- “Why should I believe that the Bible was divinely-inspired?”
- “Why should I believe in Jesus? What evidence is there that he even existed?”
- “Everything is relative; truth is just a matter of opinion.”
- “There is no such thing as objective truth; we each create our own reality.”
- “Reality is shaped by forces beyond our control.”
- “Even if there were such a thing as objective truth, we could never know it.”
- “Christians are intolerant and judgmental hypocrites.”
- “There are many paths to God; it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere.”
- “If Jesus is the only way to God, what about all those who have never heard of him?”
- “I’m not a Christian, but I’m comfortable with my belief system; it works just fine for me.”
- “Modern science and Christianity are incompatible.”
- “The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is an illogical superstition.”
- “What’s wrong with homosexuality? Aren’t some people just born that way?”
- “I believe abortion should be a matter of personal choice.”
- “I’m a Christian, but I also believe in evolution.”
Interestingly, some of these work completely against Areopagus’ claim to be “interdenominational.” It’s very clear that Areopagus caters only to fundagelical culture warriors. Many other supposed tough questions are ones that it’s hard to imagine exist in the wild. They’re on the list mainly because their answers function as indoctrination.
Our apologetics ride begins now!
First up, we have three handouts covering “The Case for Christian Apologetics.” This is a sort of sales brochure for fundagelicals; it explains why they should use apologetics in the first place. And it uses nonstop strawman arguments.
The first handout calls itself a “preface.” It offers a course outline, which I’ll amend as we go along:
The ultimate issue: Truth. [This is Christianese for “Christian beliefs.” It doesn’t mean actual little-t truth.]
• Does the Christian faith correspond to reality? [Not in the least.]
• Theology and apologetics:
< Theology: What the Bible clearly teaches.
< Apologetics Why we should believe what the Bible teaches.
• The bases of apologetics:
< Factual evidence (historical, archaeological, scientific, etc.). [There isn’t any.]
< Logic and reason. [There’s only bad arguments here.]
< Personal experience. [Anecdotes cannot substitute for real data, especially considering how dishonest Christian testimonies tend to be.]
< The testimony of Scripture. [“Scripture” is the claim. It cannot also be the evidence for the claim. If that were a valid persuasive strategy, then it’d mean Hogwarts and Spider-Man are real, since “the testimony of Harry Potter books/Spider-Man comics attest to their reality.]
• Two purposes of apologetics:
(1) To edify believers. [Well, this is true. It exists for them and them alone, really.]
(2) To engage non-believers. [I can’t deny we were “engaged,” using the real sense of the word, but the Christianese sense fails.]
• Two fields of apologetics:
(1) Classical apologetics.
(2) Cultural apologetics.
What’s truly hilarious here is that the preface harshly criticizes fundagelicals’ anti-intellectualism. It even contains Mark Noll’s famous quote, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn’t much of an evangelical mind.” Somehow, Areopagus thinks that stuffing indoctrination points and logical fallacies down fundagelicals’ throats will totally solve that problem.
The handout also attributes that anti-intellectualism to four key components, none of which are fundagelicals’ fault obviously and clearly and totally:
(1) Home life.
(2) Secular (godless) education.
(3) Popular culture.
(4) Church-based “education”.
See? If everybody else, including all those ickie fakey-fake fake Christians with their scare-quotes fakey-fake fake “education,” would just shut up and let fundagelicals drive, then everything would be perfect.
It also offers us the “five pillars” of apologetics, which are:
(1) Historical facts. [Again, there are none. The historical record between CE 25-50 contains no contemporary references whatsoever to Jesus or Christians. Only through vastly expanding what “contemporary” means have apologists been able to say anything different.]
(2) Scientific evidence. [None. Not a single Christian claim about their god or his doings has ever been supported by observations or measurements in the real world.]
(3) Rational interpretation of facts and evidence. [They’re using their own fundagelical-friendly definition of “rational,” not the real one.]
(4) Personal/existential factors. [Again, anecdotes aren’t anecdata no matter how much of it they gather together.]
(5) Special revelation via the Bible. [“Source: Trust me, bro.”]
We’re off to a flying start here.
The Strawman Cometh: Apologetics strawman arguments
The second handout starts to talk more about apologetics. And it includes that beloved fundagelical apologetics tactic, the strawman argument. Christian apologists use these arguments because they can’t possibly defeat their opponents’ real position. So instead, they invent a new position—a strawman figure—that is much easier to defeat.
Here’s our first strawman:
What good does it do to proclaim that “Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life” if people reject the whole concept of objective Truth?
In reality, most people accept the idea of objective truth. What they reject are apologists calling their beliefs capital-T “Truth.” That “Truth” is not based in little-f facts. So what apologists are really offering are claims about an imaginary being, its realm, and its doings, but they’re labeling that stuff “Truth.” That’s the “objective Truth” that people reject.
When it comes to real objective little-t truth, it’d be hard to fathom anyone, even fundagelicals themselves, rejecting something like “the wavelength of the color most humans see as red ranges between 620 and 750 nanometers,” or “the Eiffel-Tower-containing capital city named Paris is located in the country of France.” But the mere existence of thousands upon thousands of denominations in Christianity, plus its long history of schisms and heresies, should tell anybody that nothing about fundagelicals’ “objective Truth” is really objective.
Though I had to laugh at this little complaint:
We can no longer assume that people share our belief in the historical reliability or the doctrinal and moral authority of the Bible.
Translation: Gosh, y’all, recruiting heathens was a LOT easier when we could just assume basic beliefs in our marks. Now we have to start at ground zero by convincing them that there really is an all-powerful god existing in a magical fantasy realm who will torture people’s ghosts forever after they die if they don’t psychically swear obedience and fealty to him and obey our commands!
Projection: They’re soaking in it!
The second handout also contains this absolutely hilarious bit of projection:
Wisdom redefined: What was once regarded as wisdom is now merely opinion.
< The underlying assumption: There is no universal standard of right and wrong.
• The new criterion: We define reality and morality according to what sounds or feels good.
In reality, that is what fundagelicals do. What they call “wisdom” is really just their opinion. It’s not based in reality; often, it contradicts reality itself. Because their definitions are purely subjective (and often relabel evil as good and good as evil), fundagelicals completely lack a standard of right and wrong. In effect, they are the ones defining reality and morality according to what sounds or feels good—not their marks.
Out here in the real world, we’re still figuring some parts of morality out. But we can usually measure the morality of an idea or action by considering real-world harm done or avoided. Since fundagelicals’ sense of “evil” often does no harm to anybody (except in fundagelicals’ imaginary world), and their sense of “good” results in very real harm done to others (their cruelty toward the poor, throwing atheist or LGBT kids out of the house, etc), they can only assign labels and hope nobody looks too closely at them.
We can also consider those ideas and actions in the context of human rights. Abortion, for example, is a moral good, or at least a moral neutral, because it upholds a number of human rights that most societies respect. Among them is personal sovereignty: All humans each own their own body and owe no other humans its use. Alas, fundagelical culture warriors don’t care about human rights, so their entire anti-abortion argument boils down to authoritarian power- and control-lust. They act like they think their god said abortion is a no-no, so that makes it a no-no. The very real deaths and butcherings that occur in areas with abortion restrictions don’t matter; in fact, many forced-birthers feel that they’re a moral good because any women seeking abortion care deserve the death penalty.
As well, Trumpism and fundagelicals’ increasing escalation of aggression and control-grabs has been an absolute disaster for their credibility as moral authority figures.
The second handout ends by putting relativism on blast. Yes, we’re talking about fundagelical culture warriors, who only became a big flavor of Christianity a few generations ago, who hold hilariously-debunkable and childish doctrinal stances that arose about 130 years ago, and are always changing as they become more and more extreme, control-hungry, and polarized. Yes, and they are very upset about people not seeing fundagelicals as eternal, changeless, and absolute authority figures.
Also, this handout constantly misspells “holistic” with a “w.“
It ends by strawmanning non-Christians, smearing their entire existence:
This is the condition of those without God: adrift in their own little life raft on the river of life, they are swept toward their own existential Niagara Falls with no sense of why they are here or their ultimate destiny. This is the fate of those lack the courage and the resolve to face reality. This is also the absolute truth about relativism.
But this time, this strawman functions to frighten fundagelical flocks out of really using critical-thinking skills on their own claims.
More strawmen creep out of the rustling dark
Our handout’s third part gripes more about relativism and objective Truth.
The Scandal of Christian Exclusivism.
• Nothing could be more controversial and “intolerant” than to claim that
the Christian faith is uniquely the one true belief system.
• The critical question is this: “Are the exclusively truth-claims of the
Christian faith factual, rational, and defensible?”
Oh, yeah. It’s very clear that whoever prepared this handout has been BTFO many times by marks refusing to accept that fundagelical-style Jesusing is the only real capital-T Truth for humanity. When we go through this one, remember that when it talks about, capital-T Truth, that just means fundagelical opinions.
This part also admonishes Christians to conduct their apologetics fights with a “patient” outlook, but only with “sincere spiritual seekers.” That’s Christianese for marks who let the fundagelical apologist lead them by the nose. Everyone else can be dismissed by calling them fools, dogs, and pigs—with Jesus’ own blessing!
Types of encounters:
< Some people are sincere spiritual seekers.
• Their questions and comments should be handled seriously,
respectfully, and patiently.
< Some are argumentative contrarians – resistant to the truth and
interested mainly in arguing, distracting and confusing us.
< Some people are so mentally confused or morally perverted as to be
beyond our ability to help.
• Spirit-led responses:
< Jesus: “Do not give that which is sacred to dogs, or throw your pearls to
pigs.” – Matt. 7:6
< Prov. 26:4-5 – “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him
yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
• Be patient with honest and sincere spiritual seekers.
< Don’t argue or become emotional, and don’t take criticisms personally.
< Don’t apologize for what the Bible clearly teaches or try to make the Christian faith
correlate to modern humanistic sensibilities and political correctness.
< Stand your ground and don’t back down amid pressure, but always share the Truth in
Aww, how loving. The handout also tells apologists that if a mark stymies them with a topic they don’t understand, they should tell the mark they’ll research and get back to them with an appropriately Jesusy answer. (Nota bene: I’ve never once in my life encountered a Christian who actually did that. Ever. Usually fundagelicals offer that reply as an attempt to save face before their ensuing strategic disengagement.)
Our handout preparer also advises that asking marks questions is a grand way to get them to lead the recruitment conversation. In particular, it allows the fundagelical to shift burden of proof onto their mark. Yes, that is in the actual handout:
Questions also shift the burden of the argument onto the other person
Ouch. Just ouch.
Toward the end, though, the handout makes two astonishing concessions.
Accidentally giving away the entire game here
This was absolutely amazing, folks. Here’s what we find at the end of the third handout:
• A belief system that does not correspond to truth and reality, or cannot provide rational, factual, coherent, consistent and comprehensive answers to the basic questions of life, is ultimately worthless.
• A belief system “works” only to the extent that it helps us relate honestly and truthfully to God, to oneself, to others, and to reality in general.
I saw that and was just stunned. Not stunned because OMG IT’S ALL REAL Y’ALL. No, stunned because it’s such a simple and effective refutation of every single thing apologetics offers. Whoever wrote that pissed on both their own feet with these two simple assertions.
Here’s their problem:
Christianity is not described in those two bullet points.
I’m not sure what is, maybe stoicism or perhaps humanism. But it sure as hell isn’t fundagelical Christianity. Even more so than other flavors of Christianity, fundagelicalism exists to give its adherents easy (if false) answers to humanity’s biggest questions, easy (if false) certainty about their false answers’ correctness, easy (if imaginary) senses of safety and superiority, and a permission slip to hurt and control other people’s lives. And apologetics exists to distract Christians from two fundamental facts that destroy their entire faith system.
I’m just blown away by this truth. This reality. This essential understanding.
As I said last time we met up, if Christianity actually worked the way Christians claim, if they actually were what they said they were, they’d already have conquered and tamed the entire world. But it doesn’t, and they’re not. Apologetics couldn’t exist otherwise; nobody would need it.
Suddenly, I’m filled with gratitude for all the weird and largely scary and harmful events that slammed together to result in my deconversion. It all sucked at the time, sure, but it woke me up at last. I had next to no critical thinking skills when I was Christian. All I had was stubbornness and a fixation on my beliefs being based in reality.
Like Katya in The Russia House (1990), I wanted my life to have “room only for truth.”
Like so many other ex-Christians, I cared so much about little-t truth that I chased it right out of the religion.
The fundamental problem with apologetics
Even then, I understood that life is short and finite. That’s something the handout also says, though they take it in a whole other direction than I did—and still do.
Do not settle for mediocrity.
• We have but one life to live.
• We have limited time, energy, and resources.
• Therefore, we must focus on priorities.
Their priorities are purchasing and memorizing apologetics blahbah to convince heathens about their imaginary world and god. Mine became living in reality and making the most of my brief, finite lifetime while I’m here.
As for the word “truth,” I stopped using it in the Christianese sense as “their opinion about Christianity.” I wanted no big-T “Truth” bullshit that could not be backed up by real-world facts. No. Instead, as my deconversion began its slow burn, I realized I wanted the little-t truth that is made up only of little-f facts. I wanted to build my beliefs about the world, humanity, the cosmos, and everything else using only those little-f facts.
Christianity—even the less toxic and directly harmful flavors of it—is, at its essential base, not made of little-f facts. Not one single assertion made about its god or his doings can be supported in reality. The further right we travel along the spectrum of flavors, the more false claims we encounter—and the worse the apologetics, and the more heavy lifting it must do.
So every single time I encounter apologists or apologetics, I’m reminded of why they must use their fusty, fuddy-duddy silly arguments, push their fallacies, avoid their burden of proof. It’s such a cowardly display. Those consuming it might not realize yet how to evaluate apologetics on a critical basis, but those creating and pushing apologetics products, like Areopagus, should certainly know that every argument they fart out is another potent and brightly-lit sign that they have no real evidence to support their claims.
If they did, there’d be no reason to hold apologetics seminars at all.
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