Apologetic Nonstarters: Arguments to Avoid in Defending Christianity
By Douglas Groothuis
Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). This lost world needs to hear and believe the gospel of God, so, when unbelievers ask questions about the truth and rationality of Christianity, we must be ready with sufficient answers, trusting in the Holy Spirit to apply the message to their souls (Acts 1:8).
Some apologetic arguments, however, have virtually no chance for success and are destined to fail right from the start—no matter how sincerely or repeatedly stated. These nonstarters fall flat and do not serve the cause of Christ simply because they are bad arguments. Four of these arguments are so common and so detrimental to the cause of rational Christian witness that they need to be addressed. As T. S. Eliot wrote in his play Murder in the Cathedral, “The last temptation is the greatest treason/To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent is right; to do so for the wrong reasons is wrong.
Nonstarter #1: Since we do not know everything, no one can disprove the existence of God. God might be somewhere outside of our knowledge. Moreover, if we knew everything—which is the only way to disprove God—we would end up being God ourselves and, thus, atheism would be false!
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This argument starts from a legitimate insight, but extends that insight wrongly. It typically is harder to prove a universal negative statement than it is to prove an affirmative statement. A man once insisted to me that the Bible contained the sentence, “God helps those who help themselves.” (It is regrettable that many Christians believe this as well.) I denied this and informed him that I had read the Bible many times, but never read those words. He replied, “It must be in there somewhere.” (This encounter occurred before computer searches made things simpler.) Proving that the Bible does not contain this statement was considerably more difficult than proving that the Bible does contain the statement: “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
The existence of God, however, is not like the placement of a statement in the Bible. God is not a finite object that can be perceived empirically the way that a sentence is perceived. God is not directly visible under normal conditions. (Theophanies—or divine appearances—occur in Scripture, but are unpredictable. At death, however, we will all see God.) Arguing for or against God’s existence is, therefore, a more involved and multidimensional endeavor.1 Simply appealing to people’s ignorance as finite beings in no way by itself shows that unbelief in God is not justified…