Fitch’s Case Against Apologetics (2)

WAYM2In a previous post (see here), we concluded that David Fitch’s initial salvo against evidence-based apologetics substantially misses the mark. First, it is nothing less than a strawman to represent the evidentiary apologist as invoking the “authority and objectivity” of science as a whole to put through her claims. Secondly, it is false and self-defeating to claim that since scientists are subject to bias, it follows that there is no objective scientific basis for saying what is an error. If that were so, we noted, there would be no objective basis for Fitch’s claim that his brand of postmodernism is true while evidentiary apologetics is in error. For of course he is no less agenda driven than the rest of us.

The “Superior Source” Problem

According to Fitch, however, there is a “bigger postmodern problem,” namely, “the way evidentiary apologetics undermines Christian authority in a person’s conversion” [1]. Well, that certainly doesn’t sound like a good thing. How does this undermining take place?

The logic goes like this: if I can prove it scientifically, then Scripture must be true. In the earliest moment of one’s conversion, science and historiography are set up as final arbiters of truth, not the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, or the church.

Consequently, evidentiary apologetics falls short and fails in postmodernity because it trains the new initiate to depend upon science as a higher source of truth than the Scriptures given in Jesus Christ [2].

Now while Fitch takes this to be a “bigger postmodern problem,” it seems to me to be even less a problem than the first. To begin with, consider the apologist’s “logic” on Fitch’s reckoning: “if I can prove it scientifically, then Scripture must be true.” Cleaning up this conditional a bit, we have:

(A)  If Scripture can be scientifically proven, then Scripture is true.

If by a ‘proof’ we mean a sufficient condition(s) for the truth of some statement or claim, then (A) is analytic; in which case neither Fitch nor the evidentiary apologist is in a position to deny it. To do so, they would have to affirm

not-(A)  Although Scripture can be scientifically proven, Scripture is false

thereby committing themselves to the falsity of Scripture. I think we can safely assume neither wants to do that. So (A) is thus far secure.

Clarifying Fitch’s Terms

Now Fitch’s point, I take it, is that if we believe (A), we shall also have to believe that science is the “final arbiter” and a “higher source of truth” than, e.g., “the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, or the church.” Here Fitch is speaking rather loosely. An arbiter is a person who judges or decides some disputed matter. So even if what Fitch says is true, it wouldn’t be that science turned out to be an arbiter (let alone a final arbiter); rather, science would be the basis for someone arbitrating – in this case, on the issue of whether Scripture was true or not. Perhaps Fitch wouldn’t deny the point; he speaks, after all, about the “source of truth” by which I assume he means its ground or basis.

But of course even that sort of talk is problematic. Neither science nor history is a source of truth per se. What makes (say) Jesus resurrection true is a set of extra-mental facts. At best, science or history would serve as our means for ascertaining the facts.

Examining Fitch’s Inference

Now with these points of clarification in mind, for Fitch to say that (A) teaches science is the “final arbiter” and “higher source” of truth is to say that science is our only (or best) means of determining the truth of Scripture. In other words, Fitch apparently thinks that (A) implies

(B)  Scripture is true only if Scripture can be scientifically proven

which expresses the dependence of Scripture’s veracity on science or scientific proof. But this is all quite mistaken. For one thing, the inference is logically invalid. From the fact that p implies q, it doesn’t follow that q implies p. Sure, if Scripture can be scientifically proven, it is true. It hardly follows that it’s true only if it can be scientifically proven. Here the crucial thing to see is that the apologist’s believing (A) in no way commits her to (B). But it is (B) that Fitch must impute to the apologist to put through his claim that her evidence-based approach to defending the faith trains the new believer to “depend upon science as a higher source of truth than the Scriptures.” I’m afraid it’s another non sequitur.

What Fitch fails to grasp is that (A) in no way commits the evidentiary apologist to the view that science or history is the sole or superior means for determining truth. However, to say that it isn’t even a means, so that we must look rather to “the Scriptures given in Jesus Christ,” is not only guilty of circular reasoning, but it also robs the original eyewitnesses of their grounds for knowing Jesus rose. They didn’t know that the tomb was empty or that Jesus appeared bodily after his death by consulting the church or the Scriptures. Far from it. Instead, they saw, heard, and touched the risen Lord (John 1:1-3). And here it’s probably not a bad idea to remind ourselves just who it was that gave these empirical evidences. It was Jesus who “showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3). If appeals to evidence are out of order, then it’s ultimately Jesus’ fault. Food for thought for postmodern critics of traditional apologetics.

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2 comments on “Fitch’s Case Against Apologetics (2)

  1. […] Does Apologetics Undermine the Authority of Conversion? [ link […]

  2. […] for the “evidentiary apologists” to worry about here. In our previous two posts (see here and here), we noted that Fitch’s criticisms are very poorly established. Some are based on unsupported […]

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