I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t have any idea who Esther O’Reilly was until I saw a retweet by Amateur Exegete yesterday. This is quite strange because I pride myself on following or subscribing to people I don’t agree with. But anyway, I became aware of Esther and read the blog post entitled Has Christian Apologetics Failed? It is certainly interesting to hear Christians talk about apologetics because they clearly don’t view this in the same way I do (I have famously said a non-theist saying someone is the best apologist is like saying having chlamydia is the best STD). So to hear someone who obviously does value apologetics offer their own sober and lucid analysis of it is always interesting for me because clearly, I have zero respect for apologists and apologetics. But as with Amateur Exegete, I picked up on the same passage in this blog which states:
It’s ridiculously easy to generate a long list of objections to Christianity. The phrase “ridiculously easy” is carefully chosen. It takes ignorance ten seconds to ask a question that requires careful scholarship ten pages to answer carefully. Some will automatically take such thoroughness as a sign that the lady doth protest too much. Of course, a brief response will be waved away as embarrassingly insufficient. For some skeptics, this truly is a “heads I win, tails you lose” affair.
So when I read this blog post and saw this retweet, I found it fascinating because, like Amateur Exegete, I can certainly say that when it comes to apologetics, this is my experience of apologists. They offer claims which are incredibly easy to present which often takes many, many times longer to understand and then defend which is unfortunately rarely done. I have already explained this in terms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument but the same principle applies to virtually any apologetic argument.
As I have already mentioned in my post responding the Lee Strobel’s Case For Christ, when reading anything on the emergence of Christianity, or the historicity of the existence of Jesus or perhaps most significantly, the resurrection, Christian apologists often insist upon an incredibly simplistic account. They maintain that the Gospels and New Testament writings were written by the named authors, recorded everything (or at least, a lot) very accurately and died for what they believe in. Yet, after careful analysis of this, it clearly shows that not only is the most obvious answer is not always true but if one takes the accepted wisdom without carefully examining the evidence, then it is very easy to come to the wrong conclusion. This for me, perfectly epitomises my own journey when it comes to coming to my own conclusions about Christian theology, in particular the resurrection of Jesus.
While I fully acknowledge that internet atheists have a bad reputation, that they just repeat the same arguments from the New Atheists or what they’ve heard from The Atheist Experience and there is certainly some truth to that, but this is a double-edged sword! Because in my experience, apologists just repeat the same arguments they’ve heard from their favourite apologist without engaging with the complexities of the issues.
As I mentioned in my reply to this retweet, I’ve been working on a book which contains a refutation of the apologetic assertion that “Jesus’ brother James was a sceptic who converted to Christianity” which is usually presented as less than a paragraph and is usually tied to the apparent “conversion” of Paul (but don’t worry, I deal with that in my book too!). While I’m coming to the end of this section, it is literally over 100 pages. So while I agree atheists can and indeed do often come up with poor arguments or refutations, this certainly happens with apologists too. And hopefully the above shows that something as simple as the apologetic slogan of “James was a sceptic who converted to Christianity” takes one hell of a lot of unpacking, which I have never seen a Christian apologist do! Don’t get me wrong, it is so easy to turn this into an “us vs. them” bashing session. Instead, we should always consider that the issue is not that one side or the other has the monopoly on careful, sober, rigorous scholars. But that both Christians and non-theists can and do present bad arguments, or even good arguments badly.