What is Apologetics? The Oxford American Dictionary defines apologetics as “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.” The term comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning speaking in defense of something. (In the Classical Greek legal system, when someone delivered an apologia meant that he or she made a formal speech and/or explanation to rebut charges against them.)
While apologetics can be used to refer to the defense of any doctrine or belief, it is most commonly used in the context of religion. As the Wikipedia article on the matter puts it: “Religious apologetics is the effort to show that the preferred faith is not irrational, that believing in it is not against human reason, and that in fact the religion contains values and promotes ways of life more in accord with human nature than other faiths or beliefs.”
Apologetics is mainly associated with a logical defense of the Christian faith, although Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Pantheists, among others, all have apologetics and apologists within their respective faiths. These formed as the direct result of the need for people of different faiths to interact with one another to defend what they believe.
Most people in the world are what we would call “people of faith.” Those who live by natural reason alone are in a minority. That means a large majority of human beings think the meaning of life (and the afterlife) is not to be found scientifically or in the material world itself. Most people of faith do not claim their faith to be rationally provable, but believe it is at least as reasonable to live by faith, than to live without faith in a world of blind chance or materialistic determinism. Apologetics is a demonstration of the reasonableness of a faith.
The Need for Apologetics: According to a 2007 study of religiosity and American professors:
– 10.0 percent do not believe in God, and an additional 13.4 percent said they do not know whether there is a god and do not believe there is any way to find out, meaning 23.4 percent of the professoriate is atheistic or agnostic.
– Psychology and biology have the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics, 61 percent each, followed by economics, political science, and computer science. By contrast, 63 percent of accounting professors say they have no doubt God exists, followed by professors of elementary education, finance, marketing, art, criminal justice, and nursing.
– 40 percent of the professoriate reported attending religious services at least once monthly.
These statistics may be a bit outdated, but the point is that regardless of their religious faith, youth who go off to college are going to be faced with challenging questions about what they believe about God and the world around them. The study of apologetics, then, is an important tool in working with youth.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. If you believe in God, do you think you can prove God’s existence to an atheist?
2. Has any atheist ever proved there is no God?
3. What, in your mind, are the strongest arguments against the existence of a creator, all-good and all-powerful God?
4. Can you see that apologetics is needed (by people of faith) to answer these arguments?
5. If someone, who as been taught to believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, finds out there are no such real creatures, do you see how they could easily come to doubt religious teaching they received as children?
6. If much of secular education teaches (or implies) truth can only be gained through the scientific method, don’t people of faith need to demonstrate other avenues to truth?
1. A basic tenet of our apologetics says that all human thinking begins with some kind of faith. Scientific reasoning has faith in the workings of our senses and logical thought-and the reality of the material world, none of which can be proved without basic assumptions.
2. To those who believe in a God who creates, it seems as if it takes more faith for someone to view the beauty and order and complexity of life as a matter of blind chance than to believe in an intelligent Creator.
3. The strongest arguments of bright, sensitive minds against the existence of God are (1) How could a good and all-powerful God create and maintain a world so full of suffering-especially the suffering of innocent children? And, (2) How can there be one God when the world’s people hold so many different views of God (and Buddhists in no god)?
4. Apologetics is needed to deal with these questions, and to explain/demonstrate the reasonableness of faith in God.