The Limits of Apologetics

The term “apologetics” is typically defined as the religious discipline of defending doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. It has nothing to do, of course, with the common concepts apologizing or arguing. And it has an honorable tradition, in Christianity, going back at least as far as the Apostle Paul’s trial in Acts 26. But while apologetics is conceptually legitimate, there are risks. Most crucially, the apologist can assume that which needs to be proved.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Apologetics is problematic for the theologian who is engaged in discovery about God because apologetics assumes:

  1. The truth is already known
  2. The truth must be defended by hindering the voyage of discovery of the theologian
  3. God has chosen the apologist to defend him.

For example, while the theologian may seek to know what color tie God wears, the apologist already knows, resents the theologians questioning of it, and makes sure everyone conforms in understanding to what God is wearing.


Good essay. I’m deeply troubled by the GC/Ted Wilson/Ed Zinke creation conferences being held throughout the world. Your use of the descriptor “propagandized” is on the mark. Before Wilson’s era, the scientists and theologians in our denomination used to have open discussions regarding science and faith, but those regular meetings have long been shut down. Open, honest dialogue is now deemed dangerous by the powers that be.

Sadly, some of the church’s scientists have been complicit in this–which is shameful. These individuals know who they are, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually read this remark. You know I’m speaking to you. My plea to you: Follow your conscience. Make truth rather than apologetics your modus operandi. Grow a spine. Advocate for change. Do the right thing. Truth has nothing to fear.


Can you tell us more, Rich, about the Grand Canyon book? Why did you single it out?

Because the book is very “lay accessible”, speaks to both the geology and YEC, is written by people who have relevant expertise and are Christian. I was steered initially to the book by one of my best friends, who is a PhD geologist, and he said this book was such a help to him, as it laid out the case for an old earth - validly - and somewhat relieved him of the burden of trying to start from scratch in dialoging with people who have a religious commitment to YEC but lack scientific literacy, yet are open to considering evidence/arguments. So I bought it, read it, and have the very same opinion. There are other, earlier books out there. Notably “The Bible, Rocks and Time”, and “Christianity and the Age of the Earth”, but this one is recent, heavily illustrated and used the Grand Canyon as illustrative, not as a limit of focus. Unfortunately it is not really cheap (somewhere in the $20 range) but it’s cheap for what you get.


I cannot find the thread of any principled argument you’re making, Rich, if you’re making one. You seem to be arguing that you know the “truth” about Earth’s history, and those of us who argue against what you “know” are making bad arguments, or are cherry-picking, or are assuming what needs to be proved.

I would gently suggest that none of us knows the truth about origins, and each of us must make a faith decision regarding what we believe, and then do our apologetics accordingly. I have no trouble accepting what Scripture and Ellen White teach about Earth history, and constructing my apologetics to defend what those inspired sources teach. Which is not to say that I’m trying to “prove” anything; my faith is just that–faith. In my apologetics I’m only trying to show that what, by faith, I believe is also consistent with evidence and reason.


Thank you Dave for demonstrating exactly what Rich Hannon was talking about.


DC, would you say that you are “positioned” on this subject? Which by the definition above could make you a non-truth seeker. Why seek truth when you already know it, right? However, if your statement below is really what you think, why wouldn’t you be an open minded truth seeker?

If none of us, including you and me, does not know the truth about origins, why wouldn’t we be open to new possibilities? Does apologetics get in the way of that endeavor?

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What you are saying is entirely consistent with his description of the problem. Can you say that if you are resisting fact, you really want to quit?

I would recommend that you buy a used copy of The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood by David R. Montgomery–and give it a chance. (About five bucks plus postage, on line at Amazon. It doesn’t talk down to you.)

Incidentally, does your faith require you to believe that the serpent in Genesis 3 was able to talk because of his intrinsic intelligence, as the Bible says, or was it a trick, as EGW says?

Do you accept Gen 3:'s declaration that the heavens and the earth were created, in a single day, “the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”? (Genesis 2)

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So its a quandary about the age of the earth. The Bible puts no dates on the creation of the earth, but strongly implies that is is young in several places. None of us was there when it was created, and every scientific dating methodology known at this time makes assumptions which may or may not be founded; if a given dating methodology is unfounded then we can’t trust the dates it gives us. EGW says in many places that the earth is around 6000 years old. So it seems like the prophetic gift/authority is at stake when we argue about this.


If you guys would please note, this (YEC) topic is not what is being discussed here. It’s only an illustration of a point being made. Rich H. knew (highly suspected) that the discussion would devolve into a defense of YEC. So, my question to the both of you - do you understand what is actually under discussion? Hint - it’s not about the age of the earth.

After about two decades of joining the SDA church, I decided to “nail down” its unique beliefs I had accepted at 16. In those two decades I had been to college and even minored in religion, but I decided to lay aside all the books and “apologetics” tried to tackle the Bible - alone. Interesting experience. Like someone once said - “it’s not for the faint of heart”.


@Sirje, I have taken the same journey. You’re right - its not easy. The Bible’s main thrust is to preach Jesus Christ and the kingdom of Heaven, not do apologetics or measure the age of the earth.


The age of the earth is not so important as who made it and what He did to reclaim ownership of the earth and all that dwell in it.


The question is Who, not when. There is a conflict between chaos and design. But that is preceded by conflict over Who. So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us that belief in Him Who is able to restore, even as He could lay down His life and pick it up again at the call of His Father. We now have a High Priest Who was tested and won. So our confidence is in Who not when.


Only if one ascribes inerrancy to EGW, which I don’t believe she did herself.


Back in those days EVERYONE was going by Ussher’s Chronology of the World.
THAT was Before all those preacher in Scandinavia and Swiss began looking
at rocks and streams. Finding weird things that should NOT be there.
Knowing Latin, they could converse with each other all over Europe.
In the US, Latin was little known, so letters back and forth across the Atlantic
Did Not Happen.
SDAs were really Very Late in learning about all the years of conversation in
Europe about rock finds.


Genesis 1
Is it a SONG?
Is it a History?

@pierrepaul - What do YOU mean by “inerrancy?” I know how the dictionary defines it.

Thank you for the article. If every SDA were to take a critical thinking course, much of our dogma would melt away. We should all strive to be as open minded as Anthony Flew, who renounced atheism when confronted with DNA code.

But, unfortunately many SDA feel a sense of safety with their protective hedge of “truth” - whatever that may be (creation, only sda’s saved, etc.). Let’s face it, it can be a bit unsettling when admitting there may not be clear evidence, biblically or scientifically, for reaching grounded conclusions.


The prophetic gift/authority is not at stake. It’s the claim that’s at stake.