What Is An Apologist?

I am starting a new weekly segment of Fledgeling Skeptic I am calling Tuesdays With Torquemada. The Skepchicks have the Afternoon Inquisition, so I thought it would be fun to post questions for you, the reader to ponder.

Today’s topic: Apologetics.

According to Wikipedia: Apologetics (from Greek απολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (usually religious) through the systematic use of reason

Early Christian writers (c 120-220) who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists.

In modern times, apologists refers to authors, writers, editors or academic journals, and leaders known for defending the points in arguments, conflicts or positions that receive great popular scrutinies or are minority views.

Call me crazy (and I know many of you will) but to my mind the modern times reference seems like skepticism. Skeptics defend positions that are unpopular quite often. We debate the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie and ghosts. We investigate and disprove anti-vaxers, chiropractic for asthma and more. We are laughed at and criticized for using critical analysis.

So why is it that the use of the word “apologist” when applied to a skeptic is akin to name calling? Is it that those calling someone an apologist are using the religion-based definition? Is it that the ones using the word are taking a hard line approach to skepticism? If we maintain the use of “apologist” in modern terms, why is it perceived to be so very negative?



  1. Myk said,

    November 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I would say it’s probably because apologetics is known as a process of “pure reason”, ie, rationality divorced from evidence. Skeptics consider evidence to be of equal or higher value than reason. I would certainly be annoyed to be referred to as an “apologist” for science or skepticism; I don’t think that reasoning is sufficient.

    Also, I think that the term is more intimately connected to its religious history than the definitions you give above make it out to be.

  2. jwalker1960 said,

    November 17, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    I think what it comes down to is that the terms “apologetics” and “apologists”, because of the very long history of especially Christian apologetics, are so tightly bound to the concept of “religious apologetics” and “religious apologists” that skeptics avoid it like the plague. We just don’t want to be seen as being anything like the religious apologists, defending a “faith”, which many people erroneously consider atheism, Darwinism and even science to be. I think it is an attempt to differentiate ourselves from the believers. Just as I would never call myself a “fundamentalist” atheist, I would never call myself a atheist apologist. To me, those terms have the unintended connotation of “faith”. It doesn’t matter what the dictionary definition of the word means or it’s original meaning. Language is a living, ever changing thing. It’s word are like genes that mutate and change over time from generation to generation. To me, and I’m sure to many skeptics, “apologetics” and “apologists” are inextricable tied to the concept of defending one’s faith. In fact, I’ve seen those terms used pejoratively to describe many a believer by skeptics.

  3. Myk said,

    November 18, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Another point of issue is that apologetics are based on the notion that one knows the truth, and is explaining it to other people. Skeptics are less concerned with any specific conclusion they have (aka “knowledge”) and more with the process used to reach that conclusion. To a skeptic, the search for truth is never-ending.

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