The Apologist’s True Mission

Drew McCoy over at Genetically Modified Skeptic took a free Evangelical course about atheism, which turned out just to be a series of short videos by Greg Koukl repeating some of the same disinformation that we used to disseminate when I was an Evangelical Christian.

This is a video that I would so love to give to my fundamentalist family and friends, but I know that they would likely not even watch it. Drew succinctly corrects Koukl’s long-known errors and misrepresentations, criticisms that Koukl surely has known about for many years. Koukl, after all, is a professional. It’s his job to know. And Drew demonstrates how Koukl’s tactics are not likely to get you anywhere in speaking to an actual atheist or skeptic, how they will only make you look ignorant and obstinate, will only make your interlocutor stop taking you seriously. My guess is that Koukl knows this as well and that he simply doesn’t care.

Apologists say that they are defending the faith to skeptics. This course claims to teach Christians how to talk to atheists. But their audience is not really the skeptic or the atheist. Rather their audience is the true believer. Their mission is to further entrench the dogmatic beliefs of the trapped souls under their thumb.

That’s why they reiterate silly, debunked myths about atheists and atheism, because those strawmen are easy to knock down.

That’s why they argue over definitions, because they can’t win in an argument over substance.

That’s why they refuse to address the skeptic’s concerns, because they’re addressing a different concern, how to make themselves and their sheep feel better about their beliefs.

That’s why they make logically flawed arguments, because it’s easier for them to make up stories to justify their errors than to admit that they are wrong.

The apologist puts on the façade of a thoughtful, learned man. (And for some reason, they all seem to be men, not women, although I’m sure there’s an exception somewhere that proves the rule.) In reality, he values neither thought nor learning, but rather abuses them for three goals, in which lie his true expertise:

  1. Denial – The truth isn’t actually what it obviously is.
  2. Selection – The truth is out there, if we search hard enough for it.
  3. Repackaging – If we spin the truth fast enough, we can get it to mean whatever we want it to.

Two of these three, denial and selection, require that you ignore your opponents. If you were to actually acknowledge them, they would serve as a stark reminder of the inconvenient, disconfirming truth that you are so desperately trying to ignore. Only the third strategy, repackaging, allows you to acknowledge this disconfirming truth, but that’s only because you’re so perverting the truth that it no longer matters.

Any of these will make the true believer feel better about their beliefs, but none will persuade the critic. Like all self-justification, it makes you feel better about acting like an asshole, but it can’t make you less of one.

There’s a bigger lesson I think we all should take away from these displays of intellectual desecration, however: The apologist’s strategy works because their audience is made up of humans.

All of us are slaves to our own cognitive dissonance.

All of us are prone to self-justification.

Any of us can be susceptible to indoctrination and apologetics.

Ironically, acknowledging that you could be led astray makes you less likely to be so.