Dusting Off the Feet

You’re doing the hard work of learning the evidence for the truth of Christianity and how to employ  logical argumentation. A skeptical family member/friend/acquaintance approaches you with challenges against the faith, challenges you happen to be very familiar with. So, you respectfully point out the flaws in their logic and/or the factual errors of their claims.

Rather than heed your rebuttals and offer a counterpoint, they flippantly dismiss your responses and change the subject to yet another objection they have against Christianity.

Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

Frustrating, yes?

I hereby give you permission to extricate yourself from these non-productive engagements. Dusting off the proverbial feet and moving on is often the wiser decision (understatement). There are only so many hours in a day, and we must be good stewards of the time and abilities we’ve been given. How do we know when a conversation has reached the point of utter futility? I believe we can use certain criteria to determine when it’s time to declare our mission accomplished and await instructions for the next.

Note: “mission accomplished” means that you’ve done the work God led you to do in that particular situation, although the end result of that work will rarely be immediately apparent. Sometimes, a productive conversation on the Christian faith can carry on for years before it reaches a dramatic, positive conclusion. I’ve seen this happen with formerly “committed” atheists. Other times, a short exchange may seem entirely fruitless, but you later learn that an observer was profoundly affected by your words. 

In any case, it’s probably time to end the interaction if:

1. The skeptic uses one logical fallacy after another and doesn’t recognize this even whenever it is clearly and politely pointed out to them. You cannot productively dialogue with a person who refuses to acknowledge (or doesn’t understand) the rules of reason. The most common, in my experience, is the use of the ad hominem fallacy (attacking the person making the argument instead of the argument itself). Example: “That scholar is a moron!”  Another frequently committed fallacy is circular reasoning. For instance, the skeptic may say, “There’s no objective morality because morality is the product of evolution!” and five minutes later: “Morality is the product of evolution, so it cannot be objective!” You patiently explain the problem and they respond with something like, “You’re ignorant of science.” (This example actually contains multiple fallacies.) You know you’ve reached an impasse with the skeptic whenever you point out the flaws in their logic to no avail.

2. The skeptic accuses you (and everyone who holds your viewpoint) of using “bad arguments” but never once explains to you which laws of logic they believe have been violated. Whenever you ask them to elaborate, they don’t. This is often the skeptic’s way of attempting to discredit an argument whenever they have nothing of substance with which to counter (or they don’t grasp your point in the first place).

3.  It has become glaringly obvious that the skeptic is not open to any answer you have to offer. They want to debate for the sake of debate. They’re trying to evangelize you for the cause of atheism, and anything you say to them seems to go in one ear and out the other. After a lengthy exchange, there has been no progress whatsoever; perhaps there’s even been a digression. The skeptic has resorted to retreading their own arguments and you’re frustrated by having to repeat your rebuttals.

Don’t feel guilty for respectfully but firmly ending a conversation that looks like this. There are skeptics out there who genuinely want to know if there are good responses to their objections to Christianity, and they thoughtfully consider what you have to offer. They don’t insult your intelligence, and they’re careful to avoid fallacious reasoning. In this context, the practice of apologetics can be enormously productive. Invest the majority of your time and talents in these conversations rather than in exchanges that turn out to be nothing more than diversion tactics.