Apologetics


Joseph Joson


Although Turkel rips on Robert Miller’s book, “The Jesus Seminar and its Critics,” the work nonetheless has very valuable and relevant information regarding the type of apologetics practiced by Tekton. I wrote this little essay as a sort of “introduction” to Christian apologetics in general some time before I conceived of this site. I thought, after re-reading my “Welcome” page however, that it could find a spot here. Miller wrote of apologetics in his book,

 

Apologetics exist only because there are people who reject, doubt, or simply do not share a given belief. An apology for a belief is essentially a response to whatever casts doubt on it or questions its truth. The root meaning of the word “apology” is “defense,” and something can be defended only if it is, or is perceived to be, under attack. A good amount of apologetics is intended to refute the thinking of those who challenge the truth the belief being defended. By its very nature, apologetics presupposes a context in which there are insiders and outsiders (for example, those who share the belief being defended and those who do not).

 

Apologetics is thus unavoidably adversarial. This doesn’t mean that apologies have to be belligerent or mean-spirited, though some certainly are. It simply means that apologies always presuppose opponents. It is only natural, then, that apologies generally seem to be addressed to outsiders. They look like attempts to persuade others to change their minds and adopt new beliefs. But is this impression accurate? Are apologies really meant for outsiders? This is a crucial question. The way we answer it helps to shape our perspective on another issue: how we approach the vital question of the historical accuracy of the gospel stories.

 

Who is the real audience for apologies? One way to determine this is to refocus the question, asking not who seems to be the intended audience, but asking instead who actually reads apologies. Start with yourself.

How often do you read material that tries to persuade you that your religious beliefs are wrong and that other beliefs you reject are true? Unless you are yourself an apologist scouting the opposition, the chances are that you’ve never studied an apology to which you were an outsider. If apologies are actually intended for outsiders, they have to be judged colossal failures.

 

In the few cases when outsiders do read or listen to apologies, they seldom take them seriously (for example, in the spirit in which they present themselves). Outsiders approach apologies with caution, for the simple reason that apologies ask them to change their beliefs. Most outsiders assume that apologies are strongly biased, that they tell only one side of the story. The very few outsiders who read apologies almost always do so out of curiosity, or out of a desire to figure out how to refute them. It is exceedingly rare for outsiders to approach an apology with a willingness to give up their own beliefs*. (You can check this by asking yourself if you were to read literature from the Hare Krishna movement, how seriously you would open your heart and mind to the possibility that Krishna is the Supreme Lord of the Universe.)

 

*- Outsiders assume (correctly) that the apologist is not willing to give up his beliefs. Outsiders thus suspect (again correctly) that the apologist is, in effect, saying to them, “I’m asking you to be more open-minded than I am,” even if an apologist would never be so crude in his actual wording. (pp. 127-128)

 

Miller also wrote about why such apologetics rarely succeed in convincing skeptics,

 

Why is it that very few, if any, outsiders are persuaded by apologies? They often give the impression that nobody who is informed, rational, and sincere could disagree with them. So why don’t they work? Apologists seldom have a good answer to this question because there are really only two alternatives: the apology fails to convince either 1) because it is unpersuasive, or 2) because outsiders defeat the truth, usually by reasoning incorrectly and drawing the wrong conclusion, or by seeing the truth but not accepting it. In other words, there is a defect either in the apology or in the “apologee,” and since few apologists present an argument they believe is defective, they are more or less forced to blame the apologee for failing to see, or admit, the truth.

 

 

The problem with blaming the apologee is that not only is that self-serving, it is also gratuitous. What evidence is there that the apologee is not smart enough to follow the apologist’s reasoning, or not sincere enough ot want to know the truth, or not honest enough to admit it? The only answer the apologist can give is that if the apologee really were rational and well intentioned, he or she would agree with the apologist. Needless to say, most people are not impressed by this line of reasoning. (pp. 134)

 

Basically, Miller concludes that apologetics are not written for outsiders, but insiders who already share the apologist’s beliefs. They are meant not to persuade the unbelievers but to reassure the faithful.

 

However, some apologetics are dishonest. Some manipulate data and facts so that what they present sounds more convincing than it actually is. A few Christian fundamentalist apologists prey upon the ignorance of their audience and, because they can reasonably bet that an outsider will not read what they have to offer and call them to the mat over their presentation, distort the evidence in favor of their position. Most of the apologist’s audience will not investigate the claims of the apology and will instead be satisfied with its conclusion. The fact that their faith is reassured will be enough for the apology to be accepted. This is how some fundamentalist Christian apologists operate.

 

Using half-truths and ignoring contrary evidence, some Christian fundamentalists create elaborate apologetics to maintain the notion of biblical inerrancy. They also often subtly rewrite the text in order to bring it more in align with modern facts so that the narratives in question seem more reasonable, thus duping their audience into believing that the text is far more historic and/or scientific than it really is.

 

In the following I take a very famous nursery rhyme and, using techniques common to fundamentalist Christian apologetics, put a spin on the rhyme to make it sound historically and scientifically plausible.

 

The Practice of Mother Goose Apologetics

 

Hey Diddle Diddle

 

The opening line of this rhyme is indicative of an oral tradition as its source. Oftentimes in preliterate societies, stories were told in large social gatherings. Because these societies lacked writing, certain professional storytellers, or bards, were commissioned to memorize the stories of these cultures. Opening lines were often made to be memorable to aid the storyteller in recalling the lines that follow. (See Cooper, P.J., Collins, R., & Saxby, M., The Power of Story, Melbourne, Macmillan Education,1994.)

 

The Cat and the Fiddle

 

Nothing here suggests, as the skeptics claim, that the cat actually is playing the fiddle in this line. What we have here is a simple combination of two unrelated subjects. This is no different than saying, “the sun and the moon.” Both may be heavenly objects, but both are clearly different from one another. There is no implication in the phrase, “the sun and the moon,” that each of these objects is in direct relation to one another. Clearly the moon is a satellite of the earth. It is composed mainly of rock. The sun, on the other hand, is not a satellite of the earth. In fact, the earth orbits the sun. The moon does not orbit the sun, it orbits the earth. The sun is composed of gases, not rock. It is a nuclear furnace. It is not cold and “dead” like the moon. So you see, those later artistic depictions of a cat playing a fiddle, based upon this line of the rhyme, are false. Therefore critics who claim, based on this line, that the story of “Hey Diddle Diddle” is somehow unscientific, unhistorical, and false are simply blowing smoke. Their argument is based on a misunderstanding of the text.

 

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon

 

Now, for many Mother Goose apologists, this line causes the most difficulty. It shouldn’t however. The moon is receding from the earth at roughly 4cm per year. What that means is that the moon was much closer to the earth in the past. Now, accounting for the gravitational pull of the earth, no one is certain that this gravitational pull has remained constant over time. If a skeptic tells you that gravity has had approximately the same pull on objects on the earth 4 billion years ago as it does today, ask them, “Were you there?” (See Ken Ham’s “Were You There?” essay. http://www.icr.org/pubs/btg-a/btg-010a.htm) They have no way of measuring the gravitational pull of the earth in the distant past than they do of proving that pond scum somehow evolved into men. No one was there to witness these things so their “guesses” are as good as anybody else’s.

           

So, if the moon were much closer to the earth in the past, it is possible that a cow—in an environment that had much less gravitational pull than we experience today—could have jumped over it. In fact, if the moon were closer in the past, and if the gravitational pull of the earth was lower, then the moon’s own gravitational pull could have helped the cow make the leap necessary to clear the lunar surface. There is nothing in the above passage that is completely impossible once the facts are considered.

 

The Little Dog Laughed To See Such Sport

 

Of course everyone has seen a dog pant in the summer. Many people have noted how, when they do this, the dog appears to be “smiling” and “laughing.” It is likely that if the moon were closer to the earth in the past then its reflective surface could have heated the earth to a higher temperature than it is today. If this were the case, which seems very likely, then of course a dog witnessing the jumping of the cow over the moon would have been in close enough proximity to the event to have been effected by the increased heat being generated by the reflective surface of the moon. Someone seeing this could easily say that the little dog was “laughing.”

 

And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

 

This line is likely a later interpolation of the original text. This can be seen by the fact that the word “and” is used to introduce the line. In ancient literature, “and” rarely preceded a line that would close a narrative. Therefore, this is indicative of a later scribal addition in order to “close out” the tale when it reached its written form. As a matter of fact, in some ancient copies of this text, this last line is missing. I think it would be fair to say that the scribe may have included this line since it rhymes with the second line preceding it (i.e. “moon” and “spoon”).

 

However, it may also have been an original line insofar as it does nicely rhyme and close out the poem. But if this is true, how could a dish run away with a spoon? What are the physical characteristics of a dish or a spoon that would allow it the ability of mobility? Like the skeptics who critique the cat and the fiddle, too much is being read into the text. There is no mention of “legs,” what most people assume are required for running. In fact, later artistic depictions of this line usually show a dish and a spoon complete with legs running away from the action of the cow, dog and cat. In these depictions also are full faces on the dish and the spoon! Sometimes you will even find illustrations showing the moon with a face! Now, I ask you, where in the text does one find warrant to depict these objects in such a way? Clearly the skeptics have been sloppy in their research into the literal understanding of this text and thus this is indicative of their poor critical thinking skills! They have swallowed hook, line and sinker, the later artistic representations of these passages and have not allowed the passages to speak for themselves!

 

Clearly, dishes and spoons do not have legs. How, then, could a dish “run away” with a spoon? Easy, once you understand basic physics. Let me make this as simple as possible. When a meal has been eaten on a dish (for what other use could there be for a dish?), utensils are oftentimes left on the plate. If left out long enough, residual food on the plate can harden. Anyone who owns a dish and a spoon, and who has left the spoon on the plate after a meal allowing the residual food to harden will attest, the spoon frequently becomes stuck to the plate. Plates are also round. What happens if you set a plate on edge? It rolls, of course! I think you can see where I’m going with this! Clearly, if this line was not a later interpolation in the text by a scribe, then what likely occurred was when the cow jumped over the moon the effects of her leaping could have tipped over a dish that had had a spoon stuck to it after the residual food had hardened on the plate. Because the plate would have probably toppled onto its side, the natural effects of gravity (even at its reduced state) would have pulled the plate down to a lower elevation. Anyone witnessing this could have mistaken (or poetically expressed) that this effect was actually a dish running away with a spoon. Obviously, there is no problem with understanding this line when it is read in context, when basic physics are consulted, and when preconceived ideas are abandoned for the facts.

 

Now, unless you were already a Mother Goose true-believer, the above apologetic was unpersuasive. Although presented “reasonably,” a number of errors are evident even to the casual reader. However, if there were such a thing as a Mother Goose true-believer, such an apologetic would have been sufficient to reassure the faithful that this nursery rhyme needn’t be taken as fiction, but as an accurate portrayal of reality. Such is the nature of Tektonics Apologetics Ministry. Turkel will rally just enough conservative scholarship, litter his essays with long, meandering sentences and take verbal pot-shots at his opponents to dazzle his readers into believing he has created a defense for biblical inerrancy. But as stated elsewhere, the sheer number of times he has to do this (the quantity of apologetics that Turkel has to create) is in itself sufficient to sink his ship. Anyone can come up with a “it-could’ve been” scenario for any given story (just see the one worked out above for “Hey Diddle Diddle”). The fact that Turkel has to create so many should give any critical thinker pause as to their cumulative credibility.

 


 

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