Is apologetics (often) a waste of time?

Those are interesting and provocative questions. Regarding the church shifting its focus, it’s easy for me to think in terms of the church at least in the last century having become too big or “too successful” (if you will) at climbing the power ladder of culture, and because of that there’s now the piper to pay because humans (short of Christ himself) seem unable to do power without it becoming rank idolatry for us.

But that leads to a paradox then of what to do with apparent success. If church (numerical) growth is more a sign of lapse into idolatry than it is drawing closer to Christ, then what is a church supposed to do with that? I guess making sure they see success the same way Jesus saw it (reflected in faithfulness first and foremost) may be the answer to that. Which, if it leads to church growth, would be a radical sort of growth that doesn’t glory in its own success but glories instead in discipling others as well as existing disciples to themselves grow more faithful, in ever costlier and more rewarding ways.

But we generally prefer comfort, and spiritual affirmation (that we’re on the ‘right’ team), over challenge and rebuke. And we cultivate or choose our fellowships accordingly.

What fertile soils and sacred grounds do you see going forward?

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I like that series of the “Four Views,” etc, @heymike3 . We had a thread on Robin Parry, too.

You have many great thoughts here. I think you see the paradox and the challenges pretty clearly. It’s pretty messy, to be sure.

I’m going to try to answer by posting a photo I took on a recent trip to London, England. While I was there, I spent a morning at St. Paul’s Cathedral (and since I now identify best with the Anglican Church, this was a treat for me). I found the space within St. Paul’s to be welcoming and light-filled, and I even took my 66 y.o. bones up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery that runs around the base of the dome. (My legs were rubbery afterward). I left the church feeling it was a space where many people would be able to feel God’s presence.

Then I went hunting for a nearby church called St. Mary Aldermary, which was also built by Sir Christopher Wren. Somehow, I took a wrong turn – well, more than one wrong turn – but up ahead I saw a church tower that looked kind of Wrenish to me, so I headed toward it.

What I found instead of St. Mary Aldermary was the most delighftul and unexpected gem in the middle of the city. The tower I’d followed was part of the ruin of a Wren church (he built a lot of churches in London after the Great Fire!). Some of the outer walls remained, and inside this space, the city had planted a lovely garden. People could sit there and read a book or enjoy their lunch or just enjoy the quiet space. It felt so sacred to me, as if it were a metaphor for how we can take a space that was sacred in one way and turn it into something new to bring us closer to God today.

I think God knows where the ruins are, but instead of tearing them down, God finds unexpected ways to turn them into something new.

P.S. I never did find the church I was looking for, but I think I found something better!


No, that is not what I was saying. For example, I think it is pretty widely regarded that humans are moral creatures. We have a moral intuition. Through apologetics, we can show that a certain world view has no grounding for that intuition. A lot of people say atheism has no grounding for morality, and through apologetics they try to show that they will require more “blind faith” than reason to believe that their world view does have a grounding for morality when they have no reason to believe so. For me, it is not faith vs reason, but rather faith and reason vs emotion and imagination.

Ah yes, the Moral Argument. That argument makes the mistake of thinking that objective morality is the only valid grounding for morality. They forget that a subjective morality based on the wants and needs of humans is just as valid, and it doesn’t require any faith.

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Every human being has a moral code. The biological brain can’t function properly if it doesn’t have some sort of moral code through which the brain triages incoming data and sorts through possible responses to the data.

Christians have a moral code, but not every Christian embraces the same moral code. There are many variations of the rules a person could follow and should follow when faced with a choice about how to act “virtuously.” (There are probably as many definitions of virtue on the planet as there are religious traditions.)

Often, there’s an overlap between a person’s moral code and a person’s desire to justify actions that others in his or her culture might deem unloving or unethical or downright criminal. For instance, a member of a gang or a secret society might place such a high value on loyalty to one’s vows and initiation rites that almost any action (e.g. violent revenge) can be justified as necessary under the particular moral code of the gang.

I personally believe that underneath the moral codes used by our biological brains are universal codes of the soul that include such universal traits as empathy, service to others, self-discipline, love, and self-knowledge. These traits may be linked to a religious tradition, but they can also found in non-religious individuals who have a sort of nebulous faith in a creative power beyond themselves. Many people consider themselves both religious and spiritual. But despite their differences in belief, all these individuals have a moral code that may or may not be intertwined with the religious and/or spiritual dimensions of their lives.

The Pew Research Center has done some interesting research on the spirituality and religious experience of Americans – for example this paper on “Spirituality Among Americans.”


I disagree, if it is subjective then there is nothing actually wrong with what Hitler did. He thought it was better for the needs and wants of humans for Jews to be gone. Of course, I read in your article that you can say he was wrong, just not objectively. Subjectivity seems to make itself infalliable without any justification. That is exactly what I’m claiming though, basing your entire moral system on “feelings” is absurd to me. Why do we even assume certain human feelings are “good” and others are “bad”? That appeals to an objective standard of “good” and “bad” doesn’t it?

If it is not objective, then scientifically (the objective side of reality), they are neutral. There is no reason for us to choose any certain feeling or way of living. Unless you want to argue that science is subjective and go into Karl Marx’s quote that you can’t know anything about reality (objectively).

Personally, I’ve never understood how someone can believe in a creative power beyond the universe but not call it God. Maybe I just haven’t talked to many people who believe that, but if there is a power beyond the universe, it would be God IMO.

There are many things that appear absurd but are still true. A photon can act like a wave or a particle? Absurd, yet true. As the article states:

Why do we prefer good feelings over bad feelings? I think that is pretty obvious.

When consider the question of whether Hitler was evil you refer to your own values. That’s what we all do. That’s a subjective morality, one that is founded on our human values.

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Yeah, of course. That’s why I said absurd to me, not just absurd.

That’s not what I asked, nor is it a satisfactory response. I asked why do you consider certain feelings “good” and others “bad” to ground your morality on in the first place. That’s why appealing to human emotion as a grounding for subjective morality doesn’t work. It requires you to say that certain feelings are objectively “good” and others are objectively “bad”

And so if someone agrees with Hitler, they are right? Founding our morality on values is a circular argument. Morality is what we hold to value.

Because that is how those feelings feel. Don’t you have good and bad feelings? Don’t certain actions feel wrong to you? Do you have an inner sense of morality?

Why? All it requires is for me to say that I think certain things are moral and others are immoral. That’s what we all do.

What do you think? I don’t think they are right. Turns out, most of the world didn’t think they were right, and that opinion was the foundation of finding people guilty at the Nuremburg trials.

The reason is our wants and needs as humans, the most important things we have.

You didn’t answer the question. Saying “because that is how feelings feel” is a circular argument. It is also not answering why they feel that way.

If I were to say murder is moral, would I be wrong (objectively)? If I am not, why should I be stopped?

And the people who supported him weren’t wrong except because you said so? Or because majority said so? Does the majority rule dictate truth?

Except there is still no grounding for WHY we choose those or WHY our wants and needs are important. Why are they the most important things we have anyway?

Then it’s a circular argument. Feelings just are.

I would disagree with you, as would nearly all of human society. It is a subjective opinion, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.

Because the rest of society does not want to live in a world where murder is allowed, so we will stop you. We decide that you should be stropped based on our subjective human values.

The majority dictates morality.

The WHY is human psychology. It’s how we work. For me, my values as a human being are the most important things I have. It’s what makes me a sentient human being.

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Ok, first, I would like to apologize because I think the way I’ve been asking questions and engaging in dialogue with you has been rude. Please forgive me. I will try to respond with a less passive aggressive

So then could I say that the bible says it is true, so it just is? Is that not an issue?

Yeah, it isn’t unimportant, but is it wrong. If it is not wrong, why should we give care? If subjective is all that matters, then most of the world will claim the bible is true, or God is real, but does that mean that it is true?

The majority dictates God is real too, so why are they wrong according to you?

Alright, I can accept that first part. If they are the most important thing to you, then that is fine, but you can’t claim that they are the most important thing or things WE have right? That would not be subjective.

So, the apologist misrepresenting a worldview in order to construct a faulty argument helps build the case for Jesus being the Son of God and the Savior of the world?
If you say so.

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? I am only pointing out that it is widely considered true that we are moral creatures. If you have already gotten to the point where you believe that, then making a case for a world view not being in favor of something you have come to believe seems natural. It is trying to make a certain world view more reasonable or to show a different world view is not reasonable for X reason. It was an example of what you asked me to present to you, which is what an intellectual price-tag is supposed to mean and how you would raise it. I am not asking you to believe it, only elaborating on what you asked me to elaborate on.

Hmmmm. Your explanation of “intellectual price tag” was really unclear to me. It seems like you’re saying that “raising the intellectual price tag” is trying to show someone that their world view requires a greater leap of faith than the one you wish to promote does.

Assuming that that is what you mean, I don’t understand why you would choose an example that fails to show what you intended to demonstrate.

And down the rabbit hole it all goes. The focus becomes arguing about the process of argument, etc. This seems entirely tangential to the point: God loving the world through the saving work of his Son.

Ah, ok I think I understand what you’re saying. I am saying that, however, I am not saying you should do it by any means. I was trying to convey that apologetics can be useful for achieving this goal through reason and faith in that reason. Not that you should misconstrue the words of other people in order to achieve this goal. I feel as though my point did convey what I was trying to say, maybe I was wrong. It was only to point out that if you were to follow the reasoning I presented in your second quote from me, it would take more blind-faith to believe in grounded morality as an atheist than a theist.

This is true, it does not completely relate to that. Some people can’t accept that without a reasonable (or so they say) basis. That is where apologetics and raising the intellectual price tag comes in. If someone were to say that reason is convincing them one way or another, being on their turf of reason is the point of apologetics in my opinion.

And I was pointing out that in attempting to do what you claimed to be doing, you had to misrepresent the atheist’s world view in order to build a faulty argument. That doesn’t strike me as what I understand “raising the intellectual pricetag” to mean. If that is the way apologetics functions, then I don’t see the point of the exercise.

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