Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Religious apologetics has its place in history’

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Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

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Far East USA, SC

Who can really argue with the idea that there are Religious Scholars and Religious Scholarship?
By definition, isn't it really just the study and research of religion and the knowledge gained?

And, isn't an apologist just someone who argues in defense or justification of something?
So, all three terms can apply to religion. And they could just as easily be applied to Santa Clause and Unicorns.

But in practice, I see religious apologists as someone whose starting position is set and only looks for, or at, evidence that supports their accepted position. Any information that does not support the "accepted" position is disregarded or discredited.

It is almost the antithesis of true science.

Religion and religious belief is a matter of faith. And no, you don't get to redefine the term "faith" (as the LDS have)

Simply put Faith is a belief not based on proof. And, there is no evidence or proof. At least not by accepted definition of those terms.

What you have "faith" in is not necessarily true (or false for that matter).

Of the hundreds of religions, isn't either one, or none true? But heck. Maybe you got lucky.

sandy, ut

There have been many apologists for DIFFERENT religious.. So then we are no closer to knowing which one, if any, are true. I would make an educated guess that it is none ot them. I believe it is what you do, not what you believe, that will matter in the end.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

Apologetics is not without merit. I accord the same to debunkers who are the flip side of apologists. But being out to prove or disprove a hypothesis obligates one who undertakes such an endeavor to forthrightly disclose his disposition on the subject and issue an appropriate caveat. The public has a right to know where he’s coming from.

Ideal scholarship cannot be attained by attempting to predetermine the outcome of a study. An honest scholar will follow the trail of evidence to wherever it leads, even if that means arriving at conclusions at odds with what he had hoped to find. His academic peers should demand nothing less of him.

That’s no mean task in such a highly subjective field of study as religion where faith is the standard.

Chandler, AZ

Dr. Peterson,

I know I've been critical of many of your previous articles, and not without good reason. But in this particular article I don't find anything I can object to. Excellent article.

Your note that atheists have their own apologists is so true. They accuse us of playing fast and loose with the evidence, and yet they disregard everything that theists present to them on the basis of metaphysical naturalism. They reject our evidence a priori. If anyone is being dishonest with the evidence, it's the atheist. The case for traditional theism is stronger now than it has ever been in history. Atheists, open your minds! Get beyond this petty metaphysical naturalism!

I'm sure in the future, Dr. Peterson, that you and I will find ourselves at odds again, but for now, I simply find myself grateful for a well-written article.


Chandler, AZ

For LDS and atheists alike, I would highly recommend the writings of William Lane Craig, whom Dr. Peterson referenced in his article. And Alvin Plantinga may be the greatest theistic philosopher of our time.

Brahmabull wrote, "I believe it is what you do, not what you believe, that will matter in the end." On what evidence do you expect us to accept this religious claim? On whose authority have you accepted this moral axiom?

JoeBlow, everyone has a core body of truth in their worldview that is non-negotiable, even you. One example would be your scientism-- your epistemology. For you to wag your finger at theists concerning this is highly hypocritical. If you tell us that we can't have a core body of truth, then you're telling us that truth can't really be known. It can only be known provisionally, at best. And so there is no such thing as real knowledge. Atheists are giving up a whole lot when they go as far as they do.

Craig Clark, the "following the evidence wherever it leads" epistemology leads to intellectual arrogance-- as if each individual has the resources and skill to do this without being deceived.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@ Joe Blow

Excellent comment!

The only reason apologetics is taken seriously is not because it engages in factual inquiry, but because it is engaged with beliefs still held by millions of people.
If a university professor were to write an apologetic paper on, say, Zeus, Poseidon, Baal, Anath, Osiris, Ceros, Cronos, Venus, Odin, Istar, or any of the other historical gods, many who were said to be omniscient, omnipotent and immortal, well… I doubt they would have their job very long.

And once again Dr. Peterson has to throw in some distortions (virtually ever article he writes contains at least one) of other views or people. It is a huge stretch to say Socrates was condemned due to his “religious beliefs.” As is claiming that what folks like Dawkins and Hitchens (RIP) are doing is being “apologists” for another set of beliefs (presumably on equal footing with religious belief); rather than simply poking huge holes in the superstitions of religion.

That’s like claiming that a non-astrologer is an apologist for a “belief” in non-astrology.

Portland, OR

There are numerous debates between various religious apologists and atheists/agnostics available online which are seldom dull and there is much to be gleaned. One thing that stands out for me, is that each of the various religious apologists often claims surety of their particular belief system, while those in the other camp claim no certain knowledge and admit that scientific knowledge brutally tramples over that which has been disproved; nothing is static, nothing is sacred. If you listen carefully to Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris, this becomes apparent.

Those of the religious persuasion rely on texts written by the Holy, often centuries ago, which may be reinterpreted and massaged but it seems obvious that they cannot all be correct, can they? It seems that an all knowing Deity would make things much simpler and straight forward.

Far East USA, SC


"everyone has a core body of truth in their worldview that is non-negotiable, even you. "

My apologies, but I am not sure what a "core body of truth" really is.

But, I would have to believe that it may or may not be true in the real sense of the word.
Just because I believe it only makes it true to me. And sure, I would believe that many people have that.

"For you to wag your finger at theists concerning this is highly hypocritical"

Actually, I may have been unclear. I would wag my finger at anyone on either side of the debate who claims to KNOW the truth. My argument to either would be "Maybe there is a higher being and maybe there is not, but you dont know."

I also agree that atheists can be apologists also. Looking only for info to bolster their opinion and disregarding anything else.

I am the first to admit that I dont know. But, I am also strongly convinced that you dont know either.

I think that deep down, we are all agnostic but cant bring ourselves to admit it.

But, as always. I could be wrong.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@ brokenclay – “everyone has a core body of truth in their worldview”

Yes, but you seem to suggest that the axioms holding up your worldview are on equal footing as the axioms of science. And at the same time you claim that either this is so, or we must accept a Humean skepticism that all knowledge is presuppositional and contingent, the implications of which no religious person would ever adopt for obvious reasons.

OK, I’ll grant you this… it still does nothing to support the claims of religion as a method for gaining objective knowledge (subjective knowledge, perhaps).

In the spirit of Ockham’s razor, ask yourself the following questions:

1.Name a scientific explanation about the world that was later supplanted by a religious explanation.

2.Name a religious explanation that was later supplanted by a scientific one.

Science is a better form a knowledge (in the pragmatic sense) than religion simply because it delivers the goods… it works. Religion does so only at the subjective level, and thus can make no claims to objective knowledge.

sandy, ut

Your question: "I believe it is what you do, not what you believe, that will matter in the end." On what evidence do you expect us to accept this religious claim? On whose authority have you accepted this moral axiom?

Answer: I don't have to have any evidence to support the claim, it is not a religious claim. It has no tie to any religion, therefor no evidence it is simply my personal belief. I don't have to follow somebody else's "authority" to believe something. I have my own beliefs that aren't based on any body else's. It is a belief, I will never claim to KNOW something I cannot prove (as many LDS do). That would just be rediculous.

layton, UT

RE: Brahmabull, There have been many apologists for DIFFERENT religious.

Christ is the center of Christians apologetics, In your hearts reverence ”Christ as Lord.”

Always be prepared to make a defense=(apologetics) to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence(1Peter 3:15 RSV).

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “To be ignorant and simple now-not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground-would be throw down our weapons ,and to betray our uneducated brethren who have under God no defense but us the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist ,if for no other reason ,because bad philosophy needs to be answered.

Probaly the five greatest theologians would be: Augustine, Aquinas ,Luther, Calvin and Johnathan Edwards , Christian preacher and theologian. Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian . All are monergists , saving grace is a gift from God or regeneration precedes faith versus synergism(Semi- Pelagism) God helps sinners save themselves, decision theology ,faith precedes regeneration.


Concerning Pascal’s wager, can a person who is not fully convinced that God exists really get on God’s good side by lying about believing in God? Is not one of God’s Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not lie?”

I took a philosophy class wherein we debated the popular rationales for & against believing that God exists. None of the reasons for “God must not exist because …” were rational. Only one reason for “God must exist because …” was rational: personal spiritual experience. That wasn’t proof God exists. Rather, if a person has a personal revelation that God exists then it is rational to believe.

Maybe that was “bad” philosophy. I’m not in a position to say. And, of course, unbelievers might assert that anyone who claims to have spoken to God must be psychotic by definition. It is true that some psychotics do claim to hear either God’s voice or the devil’s voice. Yet a great many perfectly sane people have indeed heard the still, small voice of the Spirit of God, and for them there is no greater proof that God exists. All the rest of religious apologetics, though interesting and supportive, is secondary.

Chandler, AZ

JoeBlow, I appreciate the humility in your answer. In the end, you rightly acknowledge that if we can't know anything for sure, then we can't know that we can't know anything for sure. This seems to make your worldview quite tenuous, to say the least. If you don't know that you don't know, then your critiques of those who do say they know ought to be mild, non-judgmental, and non-absolute. In your opinion, what would it require in order for us to actually be able to know objective truth? What if the Creator did in fact communicate with us, would that not constitute objective truth?

Tyler D, the most obvious example would be the Judeo-Christian tradition's teaching on creatio ex nihilo, a teaching that still disturbs atheists, but that was solidly undergirded by the discovery of the Big Bang in the 1920s. The standard model has the most deleterious consequences for naturalism. Science by definition can only study the material universe. Why would you a priori choose this too-narrow materialist epistemology, and then rule out any basis on which the immaterial Creator can be discovered?

Far East USA, SC


I am not saying that we can not know anything. But look at religion. Lots of people claim to know things. And often those claims are in direct conflict.

Men have KNOWN things throughout time that have been wrong. So, obviously they did not really KNOW.

Basically, I take religious claims and lump them all together as strong belief. Why? Because history has shown that I am most likely correct.

2 possible outcomes. Out of ALL the religious claims, I am wrong only once. Or Out of all the claims, I am never wrong. I like my odds.

I would imagine that you have heard the religious claims of others that you do not believe.

Lastly, many religious claims defy logic.

The earth is only 6000 years old. The world is flat. The earths population are all descended from Noah who put 2 of every animal on a boat.

Basically, I see religion as an invention of man to gain money, power and control over others. And it remains the most reliable answer.

And I am not equating the possibility of a higher power with religion. 2 separate things.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@ brokenclay – “the most obvious example would be the Judeo-Christian tradition's teaching on creatio ex nihilo”

Interesting answer, but I’m afraid it won’t fly for a couple of reasons. 1) this “religious explanation” did not supplant a scientific one, and 2) science has nothing to say about what preceded the Big Bang. When asked, any good scientist will say “we don’t know and may never be able to know given the fact that we are in time & space.”

Contrast this humility with the Judeo-Christian tradition which not only claims to know what (who) preceded the Big Bang but claims to know quite a bit about this being - namely his views on everything from the afterlife to who we should and should not sleep with in this life.

And the objective evidence for any of this is… what?

And I never claimed to be a materialist… one (non-belief) does not imply the other.

Kazbert – “Only one reason for “God must exist because …” was rational: personal spiritual experience.”

Studying William James (yes?) is never “bad philosophy” although as you rightly said, personal experience does not constitute objective proof… James would agree.

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY


You and I must have been in the same philosophy class. I was one of the few strong believers. But I helped to knock down several of the arguments for God's existence because they were such poor arguments.

Like you, we came to the point of personal experience as one of the few rational bases for belief. And 30 or so years on, I still think that is right.

It is only what which I would qualify as spiritual experiences which explain why I attend Church and believe as I do. And I am grateful for them.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Twin Lights

Always enjoy your comments… one of the voices of reason and a true gentleman here in the DN forum.

I too have profound respect for personal religious (spiritual) experiences across all traditions. I simply don’t believe that they provide access to objective reality, for the main reason that these experiences seem to have tremendous variations, sometimes even within particular sects of one religion, to say nothing of experiences across different religions (e.g., Christians don’t have visions of Krishna and Hindus don’t “see” God the Father or Jesus – at least not without some prior cross-cultural conditioning).

But it’s the claims to objective knowledge that really raise my hackles for a whole of reasons, both epistemological and historical. The history of ecclesiastical authority is a disaster and it took us centuries (of Dark Ages) to wake up and create a secular Constitution founded on reason, the rights of man, and “we the people.”

Given the very real scary side of religion, from theocratic regimes like Iran to politicians like Sarah Palin & Rick Perry (or Santorum), I think we need to be vigilant against its pretensions.

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY

Tyler D,

Thank you. I enjoy yours as well. You seek to make a point rather than to simply jab that point into whomever might disagree with you. Too rare (unfortunately).

Respect is all I could ask. I believe it to be essential for civilized society.

In a very real sense, individual revelation is supremely objective. It is something experienced alone. It can be shared with /expressed to others (and that can form the basis of a community), but the experience is essentially personal. Of course I understand that you mean objective as in what the scientific method might provide. But I just thought I would mention it.

I understand the religious history, but certainly most of the problems were not due to religion but to politics masked as such. So too with much of the “religious” conflict of today. It is far more political. There is a religious flavor, perhaps even a religious explanation for things, but it is really about politics (and economics). Standard stuff where A wants to control B (and A will use the most convenient club available to do that).

No disagreement on the value of our constitution.

layton, UT

RE: Some of the greatest thinkers compared to Mormonism.

Augustine we are born alienated from God(”original sin”) we must be born from above, if we are to have full relationship with God.”

Aquinas developed an important the Christian principle of analogy. God reveals himself in ways that we can understand on account of the frailty and limitations of the human mind. Consider God is our Father, Aquinas argues that means God is like a human father or God is analogous to a human father and other ways is not. God is not a human being nor does the necessity of a human mother point to a need for a divine mother.

Athanasius, Jesus is God incarnate (The tri-unity). Only God can save. Jesus saves, therefore Jesus is God.

Luther, Just about anybody can read the N.T. and make some sense of it. Luther insists the real theologian is someone who has experience a sense of condemnation on account of sin, and realizes that the message of forgiveness is good news (Gospel).

J. Edwards(Great Awakening)” Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", Hell is a real and permanent place

the truth
Holladay, UT

@Tyler D

There is a scary side to non religion and its politicians like Obama and Gore many many others of the extreme left.

Which you seem to conveniently ignore.

But I guess it doesn't fit your world view.


Science is often at odds with "true science". Such as pseudosciences like evolution and climate change have a starting point already set. And every fact is assumed, and forced to fit or it is discarded.

MOST religions do NOT defy logic. Stereotyping religion based on a just few minorty sects that have a very strict interpretation does defy logic and reason. I know of no specific religion that has any doctrines based the creation, of the flood or that world is flat.

Mormons clearly do not believe any of that nor ever had.

Any religious person that has an opinion on those is just their opinion, and not Gospel doctrine or scriptural fact.

Nothing that Christ taught is based any of that.

And I am pretty sure scientists and atheists also have their opinions and stories too and are not any different, such as opinions and stories you tell yourself about religion and religious people.

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