Sunday, October 7, 2012


"Order.—Men despise religion; they hate it, and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it; then we must make it lovable, to make good men hope it is true; finally, we must prove it is true.
Venerable, because it has perfect knowledge of man; lovable, because it promises the true good." --Pascal, Pensees 187
There are three parts to what is called "apologetics," which have a certain order which they ought to follow. The first is a defense of Christianity, which is what Christian apologetics has traditionally been. The second may be called aesthetic apologetics, showing that it would be a good thing if it were found that Christianity were true. The third is what I find comes to mind most quickly for me when I hear the word "apologetics," that is, proofs of Christianity.


Defenses of the Christian faith must come first. This is the attempts to bring down the barriers that a person may bring to listening to arguments for the truth of Christianity. The problem of evil is a common barrier that is often addressed by those who offer defenses, while others argue against arguments against the historicity of Christ, or people's issues with the possibility of miracles, or problems with a God who commands worship.

Defenses do not need to prove anything but that it is possible that the arguments brought against Christianity are not strong enough to invalidate belief. All I need to be able to do to have succeeded in a defense of Christianity is to show that there is no contradiction between what is seen in the world that we must believe and the truth of the Christian faith taken as a whole.


Aesthetic apologetics, as I have termed them, are those arguments that show that one ought to at least be disappointed if Christianity is false. Pascal's wager falls into this category. An aesthetic apologetic may raise eyebrows, and should when alone, because it looks a lot like a fallacy of the form
  1. It would be nice if A were true.
  2. Therefore, A is true.
Or of the form
  1. I wish that A
  2. Therefore A
Which look like incredibly stupid lines of reasoning, and indeed are unless there are certain metaphysical beliefs backing them up (some form of solipsism or existentialism, perhaps).

It is therefore important to note that aesthetic apologetics are between the defenses and the proofs. The defenses are intended to help the person become less forcefully biased against Christianity, and the aesthetic apologetics are intended to show the person why we believe ourselves blessed in holding our Faith.

As an example from within Christianity, I have believed in a form of determinism for about as long as I have thought about such questions, but in this semester I have pushed myself to try, first to find out how it is possible to hold a view of totally free will, and second to try to discover why people love this idea so much. I have done this, not because I want to believe in such totally free will, but because I do not think I can hold a view strongly without having attempted to delve into the other side and find their reasons for believing the opposite of what I believe.

Once a person has reached the point that they can see why others are not only not stupid, but are reasonable in being pleased to hold a view, then they can be curious in such a way that is open to being persuaded.


 It is only in the last part of apologetics that we ought to expect people to find themselves with sufficient reason to become Christians. Not that we can convince people of the truth of the Christian faith, but at this point we can show them what we see that gives us reasons to believe, and expect them to hear them without assuming them to be preposterous. If we were to offer proofs right off the bat, then we could only expect people, having already reached the conclusion that we are wrong, to come up with all sorts of problems with our proofs. A biased person cannot helpfully find errors on proofs, because they cannot hear the proofs from a point of view that says either "Yes" or "No," and then finds the reasons for these judgements.

Consider the cosmological argument: The world exists. Everything that exists must have been caused by something else. We cannot go back ad infinitum, therefore there is a first mover, i.e., God.
The nonbeliever may respond in various ways: "How do you know everything that exists must have been caused?" "Why can't you go back ad infinitum?" "What makes you so sure this god is the god you believe in?" But if the nonbeliever has been shown that there is no contradiction in holding the Christian faith, and once they have come to feel that it would really be nice if Christianity were true, then they can hold those questions, but not necessarily so strongly. Then they can look at the many proofs that have been offered by many people over the ages and weigh them. Then the evidence can be allowed to build up, rather than being shoved off once it starts getting uncomfortable, since the biased nonbeliever will be uncomfortable with anything that makes him think that he might be wrong, but the nonbeliever whose bias has been removed is not troubled by the evidence pushing him one way or the other.


I would like to emphasize that, if one wishes a work to be convincing to nonbelievers, one ought to include all three of these in this order. If I have not shown that Christianity is not contrary to reason, then any nonbeliever will hold me to be a fool who clings to his faith in order to make himself feel good, and to explain gaps in my understanding of the world. If I leave out the aesthetic arguments, then many may look and feel that I hold a faith that, even if true, is not of any good to the world, and then I must defend against the accusation that God has made his worshipers dull, and that he must not love them, since he leaves them working in fear. In a sense, aesthetic apologetics is a branch of defense, though it is largely concerned with the outworking of the grace of God in the lives of sinners. What of proofs? If I leave them out, then I have brought the person to the brink of the river, but denied them any assurance that the river will not destroy their soul. There is a leap to be made, and the river is dangerous, but it need not be of this sort. God has given us enough evidence to assure ourselves that he exists, and we must seek him. The proofs are not to remove the leap, but to show that leaping is the best choice.

If all I give is a defense, all well and good, perhaps they will find the rest elsewhere. If all I give is an aesthetic apologetic, and not identified it as such, hoping that it may save souls alone, woe is me, for I have asked rational beings to behave contrary to their nature as made in the image of God. Yet God may still use it, for a person may have before found other parts of the puzzle, and this book may allow them to see those pieces in a new light that allows them to accept the truth of Christianity. If all I give are proofs, very well, they are good for those who are saved to meditate on the nature of God, and perhaps some who are not Christians, having found the other pieces elsewhere, may be convinced by these proofs of the truth of Christianity.

Some will not be convinced even by a thorough, three part apologetic such as I have here advocated. Their hearts may be hardened too far, and thus their bias may never be overcome. Or they may not see what is desirable about the truth of Christianity, if their desires have become so far twisted, or they may not follow the lines of reasoning given in the proofs. We have all stood in these places, but God is able to overcome all of these, and so we ought to pray to him, that he would open hearts to his good news, and lead many from darkness into light.

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