In philosophical apologetics, the aim is often either to defend Christianity from objections or else construct arguments either for Christianity’s truth or for the falsehood of other worldviews. These are worthy goals—goals which I attempt to do from time to time on this blog. However, we often find ourselves unable to push (or to be pushed) past a certain point; at some point, our interlocutors are simply unwilling to accept our premises, or instead are willing to face the consequences of the views they hold. Why is this?
Instead of examining psychological factors, I plan to discuss one of the purposes of philosophy and accepting a particular position. Philosophy is about evaluating the various options on a given problem or question and seeing what problems are present. There are, inevitably, problems that arise with any philosophical position of any real consequence or involved in any controversy. Philosophy is about finding your favorite set of problems. That is, philosophy is about being able to live with some set of problems over another.
This leads to an interesting corollary: philosophy that attempts to critique a view also should not be primarily about proving, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you are correct and the other person’s view is wrong. Instead, it should be about setting the cost that one must pay in order to accept a view.
Here is an example: if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. That is to say, if there is no God, then we have no objective moral obligations. We may have things we like and don’t like, and we may have things society likes and doesn’t like, but in the end, nothing is really right or wrong. Now an atheist may shrug his shoulders and simply say, “Well, that’s why I say nothing is really wrong.” You may not convince him to believe in God, but you’ve shown the cost of accepting his view: it is not wrong to kill babies for fun, or to beat one’s spouse or significant other, or taunt someone for being different, etc.
And in philosophy, showing the costs and being willing to live with problems can be some of the best and most powerful tools in the apologist’s arsenal.