Apologetics in the information age
Published: 20 October 2016 (GMT+10)
In today’s world, it is easy for someone to perform a few simple web searches and become a virtual ‘expert’ in atheism, with ready-made lists of supposed Bible contradictions. When such a person confronts their Christian friends (who often haven’t heard these objections before), parents (who are often not trained in sciences or theology), or pastor (who also may not have a broad educational experience), they often decide quickly that the evidence for atheism trumps the Bible. The lack of what they perceive to be an intellectually satisfying answer can serve as confirmation that the Bible really doesn’t have answers.
Today, it is more important than ever that Christians be equipped to “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). It can seem daunting. It is not possible to be prepared for all the possible attacks on Scripture. But it will help to remember that attacks often fall into one of several categories. Once you know how to identify and answer that category of objection, it becomes much easier to deal with a range of challenges. Some common types of objections include:
1. A priori rejection of the supernatural
When someone objects to the virginal conception of Christ because, “We know virgins don’t become pregnant,” or claims that there’s no way someone could walk on water, they are assuming naturalism. Everyone knows that virgins don’t normally become pregnant (that’s why Joseph was about to divorce Mary!) and that people will always break the surface tension of any body of water anytime they step on it. But one of the foundational claims of Scripture is that God can, at will, do unexpected things in creation. Miracles are not a violation of the natural laws God set up since God is not bound by them.
2. Argument from silence
When someone claims that “there is no evidence for the Exodus from Egypt”, or pretty much any isolated event from the history of Israel in the Old Testament, they are making an argument from silence. First, the Bible itself is a historical record, so the Bible’s record of the event is historical evidence. And Scripture has a good track record of historical accuracy, so it should be trusted on that level even before bringing in the fact that it is inspired and inerrant (which of course it is).
However, when we examine whether there is extrabiblical evidence for a particular event recorded in Scripture, we have to ask: What evidence would we expect to have been generated, and what would we expect to survive today? So when someone says “There’s no evidence for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt”, are they expecting a trail of footprints, debris, and graves from the nation to have survived thousands of years? There are two simple answers for this. First, the Bible specifically says their shoes and clothes did not wear out during their 40-year sojourn. This removes one set of potential evidences (not that organic material like this would be expected to last out in the open for 3,500 years, under most conditions). But people have also been living in the desert regions of the world for thousands of years and have left hardly any trace behind. So instead of conceding that the Bible must be wrong, we should turn the question around and question the questioner. “What evidence would one reasonably expect?” In reality, when looking for reasonable evidence in the right places, the Bible is the most historically verified ancient document ever written.
3. Equating differing details with contradiction
In the Gospels, sometimes two authors will record the same event with different details. For example, how many blind men were healed (Matthew 9:27–31 vs. Mark 10:46–52)? And what exact wording did the rich young ruler use in his question to Jesus (Matthew 19:16 vs Mark 10:17)?
In these cases, the Gospel authors, like all historical writers, choose which details to include and which to leave out. They were writing to different audiences for different purposes, and so tailored their accounts, while remaining completely accurate, to emphasize the parts of the story most important for their audience.
4. Confusing issues of textual transmission or translation with contradiction
For thousands of years, Scripture was copied by hand. While this process was generally very accurate, copyist errors did occur. Skeptics often cite these instances while trying to make the case that the Bible cannot be inspired. For instance 2 Samuel 10:18 states that David killed 700 charioteers, while 1 Chronicles 19:18 says that it was 7,000 charioteers. This is the result of a textual error that occurred sometime during the nearly 3,000 years since Samuel and Chronicles were written (1 Chronicles almost certainly preserves the correct number). Small variations in non-essential details are common among handwritten documents. However, we have better evidence for the accurate transmission of Scripture than for any other ancient writing. And, when considering all the different readings in the available manuscripts, there is no evidence for any significant doctrinal deviations. Errors in spelling and short duplications make up most all of the differences, and these are expected due to the nature of handwriting.
5. Moral outrage resulting from failure to appreciate the context
“If God was good, He wouldn’t have commanded/allowed X!” Whether it’s the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1–9), the exclusion of physically ‘imperfect’ men from serving in the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 21:16–24), or Elisha setting two bears on a gang of youth (2 Kings 2:23–24), the skeptic has an almost unhindered ability to express moral outrage about the Bible’s events and commands. However, in every case, there is important context in which the command or event makes sense. In one sense, the skeptic is actually engaging in a form of cultural snobbery by importing modern sensibilities into his interpretation of ancient events. In another sense, they are ignoring the fact that God, the Creator, has the right to judge people.
Keeping these simple principles in mind can help as you engage unbelievers in conversation. And of course, when dealing with specific objections, searching sites like CREATION.com can be a great help. And when skeptics see that Christians have intelligent answers for their objections, that can be an excellent opening to share the Gospel!