Christian apologists, if you ask them, will attest to the fact that they are meant to conduct their engagements with integrity and respect for others. Apologists are bound to adhere to their own religious texts and ought to adhere to their principles, one of which is to give a defense with “respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
However, it appears in recent news that false information regarding atheism and atheist adherence within the US has not only been written for an influential website, Daily Wire, but has also been shared by at least one notable Christian apologist of whom will be noted shortly.
The article presents a false depiction of atheism in several obvious ways. First it depicts atheism as a religion by referring to it as now constituting “the largest religious group in America”. However, those who are aware of atheism will know that it is not a religion, and likely fails to satisfy nearly every definition of religion that has ever been proposed. They will also know that it is not particularly large in terms of those who are atheists or identify as such, as statistics show it falls well below 10%. The article then seems to go on arbitrarily about mental illness. One might get the impression that the author is attempting to link some causal chain between the rise in atheism within the US and mental illness. It then goes on to list a few studies which say that being religious has some benefits. If this link is being drawn, the way the author has stipulated these views which appear to rather assume certain things as opposed to demonstrating them will come across as offensive to many readers. As such, many will view the article as a sermon for the choir.
This article was shared over social media by an influential Christian apologist, J. Warner Wallace. Wallace used to be an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity, and is to some extent notable because he was a detective. He is also active within the atheism-Christianity debate. As such, readers would well expect him to possess a familiarity with atheism, which explains why a number of Christians in his thread distanced themselves from his sharing of this article. While many reveled in reaction to the article’s false information, others saw through it. A few of these comments are worth noting (each one from separate individuals),
“This article is incorrect (at best), or is intentionally misleading. I’m disappointed that J. Warner Wallace would post this as though it is truth. First off, not having a church affiliation does not mean one is an atheist. Second, in about 5 minutes, I was able to access the GSS which the article refers to. In its data, only 5% of respondents stated that they don’t believe in God (7% responded “don’t know” – which is agnostic). Please don’t repost misleading/poorly researched articles like this. It only adds to the ammunition that atheists use to paint Christians as unthinking and unintelligent.”
“This article is misleading. The only way that atheists become the majority religion is if Evangelicals, Catholics, and main line Protestants are divided up into separate groups. But, putting these Christian groups together still comprises around 75-80% of the American population. And, the percentage of America that believes in God is still over 90%.”
“This article and poll are kind of misleading. Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants seem to be separate categories, and they are describing those with “no religion “ as atheist. If you grouped the various Christian sects together and made a distinction between actual atheists and those who just don’t follow a particular religion I think it would show a much different picture.”
“No religion does not mean atheism. It usually means spiritual but not religious. I doubt that high a percent denies God’s existence.”
These voices show more of an awareness concerning atheism than the article’s author as well as Warner himself. And because they don’t knowingly present atheism unfairly, there is a far greater level of integrity and respect in their voices. One must wonder then how Warner’s sharing of such false and misleading information renders him, or other Christian apologists, any better in terms of integrity and respect than those atheist apologists who share false information about Christianity, religions, and religious beliefs? Many would say that it doesn’t for it commits the same error. For apologists, it is important that research is done before sharing and expressing views. It is also important to show a familiarity with those views one will share over social media, and doing so while always keeping in mind that ideological opponents will read what one puts out there.
Because this would seem to be missing, not only in the original article but also in its sharing by at least one notable apologist, it shows how apologetics can too lack integrity and respect when it is misused by its own advocates.