Adam Lee and the Apologist’s Turnstile

10 Feb

Adam Lee has defined what I think is an important aspect of apologetics that needs to be pointed out and denounced at every turn:

[T]he idea that no particular level of knowledge is needed to assent to a religion, but an impossibly, unattainably high level of knowledge and expertise is needed to deny it. In the minds of many believers, the entrance to their religion is like a subway turnstile: a barrier that only allows people to pass through in one direction.

This is similar to the tactic called the Courtier’s Reply, the silencing argument often used against atheists which holds that no one is qualified to criticize a religion in any particular unless they’ve completed a total study of its most esoteric doctrines. The difference is that the Apologist’s Turnstile adds the assumption, implicitly or explicitly, that none of this knowledge is necessary to join or to be a member of that same religion.

This is a very good point, and it’s slightly related to my previous post. Most people join religions for unsophisticated reasons, yet one is only lauded if you leave the religion for sophisticated reasons. It should be the other way around, at least for the “joining” part. No one that I know of was a disinterested bystander of Christianity and then read a ton of apologetics and weighed them against a ton of skeptical books before converting.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in apologetics


4 responses to “Adam Lee and the Apologist’s Turnstile

  1. HeIsSailing

    February 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    “No one that I know of was a disinterested bystander of Christianity and then read a ton of apologetics and weighed them against a ton of skeptical books before converting.”

    What about Lee Strobel's claim that he was a hardened skeptic until he thoroughly investigated the evidence? Do you believe him?

  2. HeIsSailing

    February 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    This is an excellent point, and on first blush I want to agree with it. But I have to play Devil’s advocate and try to look at it from their side also. My culture is one of Christian belief. It is the norm here, and it is most unusual not to born into and raised in this culture. People become Christians by default. It is tradition. Nobody is expected to have any good reason to keep a cultural tradition, it is just part of a paradigm. But they better have a good reason for rejecting a cultural tradition.

    Most Evangelicals that I know would reject that their beliefs come from tradition. I agree, apologetics are bogus. Nobody converts based on apologetics. People do not need reasons to convert to a religious belief. But let us think of another analogy … how about Barrack Obama’s birth certificate? Nobody that I know doubts that President Obama was born in the United States, yet they have not investigated the issue very thoroughly. They have not scrutinized his records, or demanded longer forms of his birth certificate. He is taken at his word. It takes no work or effort to accept what most people accept. But if I deny that President Obama was born in the United States, and I instead say he was born in Kenya, people would rightly demand that I back up my claims with some serious study, investigation and evidence.

    True, all analogies have holes. All I am trying to say is that religious beliefs do not require evidence to join because belief in them is a societal and cultural norm. Most people are not philosophically bent, and do not investigate those. They just adopt it as a part of life. I wish people would investigate their religious beliefs more than they do, but I think I understand why they don’t

  3. J. Quinton

    February 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    I actually agree now that I think about it. Before someone investigates something, they usually assume the prior probability is high. Tradition and cultural language give the illusion of high probability to the untrained. It can't be helped that people don't know that stuff since it's not taught in school; I had to take some college courses before I understood that tradition isn't a good reason to believe something.

    The same would apply to your analogy of Obama. It's pretty extraordinary to claim that a president was born in Kenya so we go with the more mundane conclusion that he's an American citizen.

    As for Lee Strobel, I can't comment since I haven't read his books. But he doesn't have a reputation for nuance and honesty so I take his claim with a grain of salt. Also, just because I don't know of any stories like that doesn't mean it's impossible. It just doesn't seem very common.

  4. Jake

    March 3, 2012 at 6:26 am

    “…but an impossibly, unattainably high level of knowledge and expertise is needed to deny it [religion].”

    This is asinine. There are many many uneducated people that deny God for terrible reasons and fallacious arguments.

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