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Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
Benjamin Franklin[1]

The word apologetics derives from the Greek ἀπολογία (meaning "apology" or "speaking in defense") — an ancient Greek legal term that refers to the defendant's response in opposition to charges.

The Apostle Paul introduced the term "apologetics" into the Christian context in several epistles to refer to his defense of the Gospels. In this milieu, Christian apologetics developed as a group of related ideologically-defensive theological, philosophical, and pseudoscientific disciplines concerned with attempting to defend and/or advance Christian truth-claims abusing reason and/or evidence. One who practices apologetics is called an apologist.[note 1]

Apology doesn't have to relate to religion, however. One can be an apologist of almost any crappy concept that needs the aid of special diversionary tactics to give it a chance to get out of bed, never mind to stand up (to scrutiny) — even a Stalin apologist.[note 2]

While this article treats Christian apologetics specifically,[note 3] the practice of apologetics operates in most religions — including Hinduism,[2][3] Islam,[4] and Judaism[5][6] — as a form of "intellectual asbestos" (i.e. fire retardant) against the withering flames of science and naturalism.[note 4] (Meme-theory might interpret apologetics as an inoculation against viral-style infection with some weird ideas.[7])

Framing the debate: burdens and methodology[edit]

Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanor. Philosophers stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense. They give the name of "God" to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves; having done so they can pose before all the world as deists, as believers in God, and they can even boast that they have recognized a higher, purer concept of God, notwithstanding that their God is now nothing more than an insubstantial shadow and no longer the mighty personality of religious doctrines.
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an IllusionWikipedia[8]

Regardless of the specific area of concern of the apologist, there are two overarching approaches to the debate: negative and positive apologetics.

The names of these approaches do not refer to their tone. Negative apologetics is aimed at negating or refuting a claim or criticism of an opponent while positive apologetics is aimed at offering positive justification for Christian belief. These defenses are most often based in evidentialist and presuppositionalist epistemologies.

There is a debate within the Christian apologetic community regarding the function and utility of the various apologetic methods. Some apologists — like William Lane Craig, who never saw a Christian truth claim he didn't like — accept the ability of positive apologetics to adequately substantiate affirmative truth claims. Others believe that the most apologetics can achieve is overcoming objections to Christian truth claims, rather than affirmatively proving the claims themselves.[9]

Negative apologetics[edit]

Purely defensive apologetics, or negative apologetics, "is concerned with responding to direct attacks upon the truth or rationality of Christian faith[,][note 5] trying to show that such criticisms are unjustified. This apologetic method is commonly associated with Reformed Epistemology. The objective is to show that the believer is justified[note 6] or is not in violation of any rationality norms or is within his or her 'epistemic rights' in accepting Christian beliefs."[10] Negative apologetics attempts to refute arguments perceived as contrary to Christian faith by showing them to be internally inconsistent or by showing them to be irrational according to Christian presumptions.[11] As negative apologetics is framed in terms of permission to maintain a belief despite objections, it makes no attempt to justify the belief as warranted. Thus, where negative apologetics is the sole apologetics presented, as is common among Young Earth creationists, the apologist implicitly makes an argument for the existence of a god or some other religious proposition that remains unsupported.

Positive apologetics[edit]

Purely offensive apologetics, or positive apologetics, is concerned with offering positive justification for Christian belief or the Christianity of a school of Christian belief, implying that direct attacks upon the truth or rationality of Christian faith or the Christianity of a sect of Christian faith are unjustified. The objective is to show how the believer is justified (or simply Christian) or is not in violation of any rationality norms or is within his or her 'epistemic rights' in accepting Christian beliefs. Positive apologetics demonstrates arguments perceived as compatible with Christian faith and objections to their internal inconsistencies, including the Christian presumptions according to which they are rational. As positive apologetics is framed in terms of warrant for maintaining a belief despite objections, it takes permission to maintain this belief as given. Whereas the ability of negative apologetics to adequately overcome objections to Christian truth claims is all but uncontroversial within the Christian apologetic community, positive apologetics must either respond to direct attacks upon, or offer positive justification for, its ability to adequately substantiate affirmative truth claims, especially those about Christian belief itself. As positive apologetics has this extra burden, where there is any presented, as is common among evangelicals, it is stereotypically for the Christianity of their school of Christian belief. This is an easy case to see in the light of the various theories of truth that hold currency in epistemology:

  • Correspondence theory: A true statement is one that is in accordance with reality. This tradition follows Aristotle's definition, is still the most widely accepted by far, and (along with empiricism) an important epistemic foundation of the scientific method. This theory is the major source of objections to Christian truth claims about supernatural events that supposedly occurred, but not of substance for those about the natural ones. However, it is a slam dunk for justification that evangelicals are Christian because evangelicals use the same Bible that mainline Protestants use.
  • Coherence theory: A statement is considered true if it is logically consistent with an already established system of other statements. Another, stricter version of this theory only accepts statements as true that are logically deduced from (or "entailed" by) an existing set of propositions.[12] This approach is most prominently employed in mathematics, and used to be favored by some 20th century philosophers of science. This theory is probably the major source of substance for actual Christian truth claims about what is literally in the Bible, especially the supposed words and deeds of Jesus.
  • Constructivist theory: Truth itself is seen as a true social construct, and therefore contingent upon tradition, convention, and perception. This approach is usually favored by relativists who like to deny that there could possibly be any "true" system or method of deriving objective truths. Moderate constructivists hold that while objective knowledge is possible and there most likely is a shared truth, individually diverging perceptions of truth are of greater importance for how people interact with each other and the world. Apologists never use this theory because it contradicts their Christian presumptions that Christianity is the “true” system or method of deriving objective truths and of the greatest importance for how people interact with each other and the world.
  • Consensus theory: The truth is whatever is agreed upon, or at least whatever would be agreed upon as the result of a truly free, rational discourse. This variant was strongly promoted by Jürgen Habermas in the 1970s, who seems to have given up on it nowadays.[13] Except for sounding like a certain fallacy, the group of people who are allowed to settle the debate over some issues would necessarily have to be restricted to a much narrower one, since there are only so many people who are truly informed enough about complex topics to participate in such discourse. The consensus theory does not provide a satisfying solution for situations in which expert opinion (a.k.a. "Scientific consensus") has reached a consensus, but one that is truly different from opinions within society at large.[note 7] Apologists primarily abuse this theory to stick to their established beliefs.
  • Pragmatic theory: This variant was introduced by the American pragmatist school, and most notably held by Charles Peirce and William James. In a nutshell, truth is whatever works — if belief in a certain proposition has beneficial consequences, it can be considered true.[14] "Beneficial consequences" are usually defined as anything that allows humans to navigate the world successfully — so, for example, belief in one's ability to fly (without the aid of technology such as airplanes or jetpacks) is false since it is harmful. This approach also shares common ground with the scientific method: Dewey's update on this theory consisted of defining "truth" as the end product of the process of scientific enquiry. For pragmatists, it does not matter all that much whether a highly abstract theory (like much of modern physics) actually represents a true picture of reality or whether it is just made up of useful assumptions and analogies, as long as its predictions are true. William James himself used this theory to apologize for theistic belief in general.
  • Deflationary theory: Deflationists reject the idea that the word "truth" refers to a substantive property held by statements. They hold that there is no difference between the statements "Snow is white" and "It is true that snow is white", since they both hold if and only if snow is actually white. Other properties attributed to statements (such as peculiarity; e.g. "It is surprising that snow is white") do not have this property, which suggests it is not a true property at all. Deflationists generally do not deny that there are statements which actually describe the world, but hold that assigning the word "true" to them is equivalent to asserting them. Apologists would most likely never label themselves as using this theory because they like to believe they are going to change people’s minds, but even the most prominent realize that the people with changeable minds barely or don’t exist and this is the theory they look like they are using to non-believers.
    • Disquotationalism: a position within deflationism which explains the nature of some statements attributing truth as functioning grammatically, not semantically. The sentence "Bob's statement is true" is interpreted by disquotationalists not as assigning the property "truth" to Bob's statement but simply as shorthand for accepting it; the word "true" is understood to be useful in that it allows us to reaffirm Bob's statement without repeating it word-for-word, in a truly grammatically acceptable manner.


Christian apologetics can be further divided into a number of substantially overlapping ad hoc categories by their primary focus, whether it is arguing for the existence of god, special creation, or the compatibility of science and Christian faith.

A few categories core to RationalWiki's Mission Statement are discussed below.

Philosophical apologetics[edit]

Ever since Plato most philosophers have considered it part of their business to produce "proofs" of immortality and the existence of God. They have found fault with the proofs of their predecessors — Saint Thomas rejected Saint Anselm's proofs, and Kant rejected Descartes' — but they have supplied new ones of their own. In order to make their proofs seem valid, they have had to falsify logic, to make mathematics mystical, and to pretend that deep-seated prejudices were heaven-sent intuitions.
Bertrand Russell, A History of Western PhilosophyWikipedia[15]

Philosophical apologetics is primarily concerned with arguments for the existence of God, including:

  • The Argument from design claims that the universe exhibits Intelligent design and that design requires a designer, God. This argument is criticized for its highly subjective and arbitrary claims of "design" and is thought of as the current form of God of the gaps. This is by far the most popular argument because it almost sounds like science.
  • The Cosmological argument or argument from First cause claims that everything that exists has a cause, and since the universe exists, it must have a cause which exists outside the universe itself — which Christians naturally presuppose to be the Christian God. The question of why God does not need a cause inevitably leads to special pleading, often by restating the argument in terms of things that begin to exist and defining their God to be eternal. These arguments are flawed because they conflate the appearance of matter in a certain form — which we know from experience to have a physical explanation — with the existence of matter itself, which we have no reason to believe is conditioned on any prior cause or dependent on any prior form. A variation called the Kalām cosmological argument is a favorite of notable apologist William Lane Craig.
  • The Ontological argument defines God as the single most perfect being that could ever be thought of, and then argues that existence is part of perfection, so that God must exist or the definition would contradict itself. It begs the question by assuming that man cannot imagine a being greater than one exists. The idea that the nature of the universe depends on the construction of human language is illogical and a non sequitur. Another problem with this argument is that one cannot define something into existence, as would be possible by creating a unicorn whose attributes include existence, the Realicorn. If anyone claims he does not exist, they are clearly not talking about him — thus, it follows that the Realicorn exists.[note 8]
  • The Argument from morality attributes all moral rules and all intrinsic good to God. This is largely disproven by ethical systems that do not invoke the supernatural, like secular humanism and Confucianism. Ultimately, it is a false dilemma: morality must either be fixed by God and transcend human experience, or it is nothing more than a matter of preference. Another problem is that it has never been demonstrated that intrinsic goodness exists, so, as far as we know, goodness (and badness) are merely human constructions. Another notable issue that arises from the argument from morality is that it renders good and bad entirely dependent on God's caprice — or, to look at it another way, anything that God tells you to do is acceptable, even if it would be horrifying otherwise.[note 9] William Lane Craig has expressly endorsed this position with regard to the slaughter of children on God's orders.
  • The transcendental argument for the existence of God, probably the weakest of all, holds that logic, induction, and morality could only be justifiable in a world ruled by the Christian God. This argument gets used to shift the burden of proof by saying that anyone who uses logical reasoning has presupposed the existence of God. It is refuted easily enough by the observation that basic laws of logic are derived from properties of the universe, so all someone attempting to use logic is presupposing — or, more technically, taking as an axiom — is that the universe exists.
  • The Argument from beauty is that beauty is a metaphysical property that can only be attributed to a supernatural entity, such as God. The argument from love is similar, but replaces beauty with love. Both are non sequiturs, and try to claim that something has an intrinsic value — which has not been demonstrated — instead of it being just a human construction.
  • Pascal's Wager is a form of the argument from adverse consequences: disbelief in God could result in burning in the Lake of Fire forever (argumentum ad baculum). Just like disbelief in vampires could have horrid consequences: better start spreading the garlic around!

Presuppositional apologetics[edit]

See the main article on this topic: presuppositionalism

Perhaps the most controversial variant, presuppositionalism tries to flip the entire apologetics process on its head, much to the chagrin of anyone interacting with it. Presuppositionalism is essentially the idea that, since all logic requires presuppositions to function, the presupposition that God exists is completely justified and is no more unreasonable than any other presupposition. Even worse, while a typical apologist will try to use logic and reason to prove the existence of God, presuppers will often claim that logic and reason cannot exist without God in the first place.

Young earth creationist apologetics[edit]

Contemporary young Earth creationists, including outfits like Creation Ministries International, which along with the anti-gay hate group[16] Traditional Values Coalition is responsible for the Question Evolution campaign, employ an extreme method of negative apologetics in defense of their religion of biblical literalism. YEC apologists presume the truth of their ultimate conclusions and then rigidly hold their challengers to the fatuous burden of proving their theories to the exclusion of all others, not just that they are more plausible than not and accurately describes the physical reality. As CMI puts it, "A Christian should point out that we should not budge unless he can show conclusively that his view is the only possible one."[17] This follows the advice of Calvinist minister and antebellum racist Robert Lewis Dabney:

We consider that the theologian, who asserts the infallibility of the Bible, and the independency and sufficiency of its own laws and interpretation, is entitled to the preliminary presumption; and therefore the burden of proof rests upon the geologist, who asserts a hostile hypothesis. … The defender of the Bible need only stand on the defensive. That is, the geologist may not content himself with saying that his hypothesis (which is opposed to Bible teaching) is plausible, that it cannot be scientifically refuted, that it may adequately satisfy the requirements of all the physical phenomena to be accounted for. All this is naught, as a successful assault on us. We are not bound to retreat until he has constructed an absolutely exclusive demonstration of his hypothesis; until he has shown, by strict scientific proofs, not only that his hypothesis may be the true one, but that it alone can be the true one; that it is impossible that any other can exclude it. And we, in order to retain our position, are not at all bound to construct any physical argument to demonstrate geologically that Moses' statement of the case is the true one; for, if the Bible is true, what it teaches on this subject is proved by the biblical evidences, in the absence of all geologic proof.[18]

Thus, the YEC apologist engages dishonest question begging by merely asserting but not proving his conclusions while both hypocritically holding his opponent to the impossible task of proving a negative yet rejecting any conclusion contrary to "biblical evidences".

Anti-science biblical literalists Answers in Genesis, curators of the Creation "Museum", also adopt this approach.[19]

Historical and modern apologists[edit]

Early Christian apologists include Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, and Augustine of Hippo. Their surviving work provides insight into the theological milieu of the early Christian church. Medieval theologians St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas put forth several arguments for the existence of God, including the ontological and teleological arguments, that influenced Renaissance and modern theologians. Thomas Aquinas's late 13th Century Summa Theologica is an extensive compilation of teachings of the Catholic Church that provides apologetic justifications for many points of Christian faith. Well known modern apologists include Cornelius Van Til,Wikipedia C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Gordon Clark,Wikipedia Greg Bahnsen,Wikipedia John Frame,Wikipedia Hugh Ross, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, and Ken Ham. Oh, and Jack Chick. Apologetics Press specializes in resources for apologists.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Arguments for the existence of God.

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Русскоязычным вариантом данной статьи является статья Апологетика

External links[edit]


  1. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr383794.html
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Vivekananda.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Sri Aurobindo.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Ahmed Deedat.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Aristobulus of Paneas.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Contra Apion.
  7. Selbrede, Martin G. (16 November 2013). "The Ultimate Meme". Chalcedon Foundation. "Enter here the science of memetics to "explain" how Christian memes "inoculate" their proponents against the rational results of scientific research. [...] Replication being the defining feature of a meme, it is no surprise that memes can act as a virus. It is for good reason that we speak of a meme that goes viral." 
  8. The Future of an Illusion,Wikipedia part VI.
  9. See, e.g., William Lane Craig, et al., Five views on apologetics, p. 321, Zondervan, 2000.
  10. Harold A. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: the challenge to Christian faith and mission, p. 260, InterVarsity press, 2001
  11. Alvin Plantinga and James F. Sennett, The analytic theist: an Alvin Plantinga Reader, Ch. 13., Wm. B. Eerdmands, 1998
  12. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The Coherence Theory of Truth
  13. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Habermas's Theory of Truth and Knowledge
  14. About Atheism: Pragmatic Theory of Truth
  15. A History of Western Philosophy,Wikipedia page 835.
  16. SPLC
  17. http://creation.com/presuppositionalism-vs-evidentialism-and-is-the-human-genome-simple
  18. http://books.google.com/books?id=_m7UAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA256&ots=RFT7QWqECR&pg=PA256#v=onepage&q&f=false
  19. http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v15/i1/chronology.asp


  1. And despite what the name implies, apologists rarely actually apologize for spreading their bullshit. (Then again, they probably don't see it as bullshit that needs to be apologized for. That's one of the many funny quirks of human psychology — people can and will jump through all sorts of hoops (no matter how bizarre) to perceive their own worldviews as correct and rational, no matter how obviously incorrect and irrational said worldview may be to a more… uninvested and objective analysis.)
  2. See our article on cranks for more details.
  3. This is largely because RationalWiki was founded in America, and Christian fundamentalism is one of the biggest intellectual headaches for American rationalism in particular. If we were, say, an Indian website, we might be more inclined to use, say, Hindutva as our framing device. The greater point is that we'd be here all day end up with an article as long as a novel if we were to try to comprehensively describe all practitioners of apologetics, and besides, that's more of a job for Wikipedia; RationalWiki isn't intended to be a fully comprehensive encyclopedia.
  4. The presentation of science and naturalism as something that is destructive and must be warded off is not exactly accurate to reality, but it is a rather accurate depiction of how fundamentalists perceive any viewpoint (including the scientific viewpoint) that is not identical to their own.
  5. Or the Christianity of a school of Christian belief — various sects of a religion aren't necessarily above sniping at each other, after all…
  6. Or simply Christian… or as justified as a Christian can be, given that the definition of faith is believing without evidence
  7. See, for example, the continuing debate over global warming and denial of said phenomenon in spite of the issue being largely settled among climatologists.
  8. On a similar note, just because someone claims that there is a teapot floating around somewhere in the solar system does not mean that there actually is such a teapot.
  9. Omniscience can be invoked to excuse this by arguing that horrific acts can be justified if they serve some greater good, even if that greater good isn't immediately obvious to the non-omniscient, but that comes with its own set of problems.