William Lane Craig, Apologetics and Women:A Rational and Relational Response

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Dr William Lane Craig last week caused a stir by making two observations on his web-site.

The first was that:

“…apologetics seems to have far more interest for men than for women. That observation is based upon an enormous amount of experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and in classroom teaching.”

If I was feeling cheeky, I might say that only a man would notice more men than women in his audience and draw the conclusion that Christianity has been feminised! There are other explanations for that male-female ratio: for example, candidates for evangelical ministry would be more likely to attend such conferences and they tend to be male. Furthermore, Dr. Craig often addresses, and is an expert on,  the relationship between Christianity, cosmology and physics. Women are under-represented in the hard sciences (for reasons that might include gender discrimination).

In any case, perhaps women are more interested in apologetics than Dr. Craig fears. After all, conferences are not the only places one can learn about apologetics. I admire Dr Craig and appreciate his lectures and books for their clarity and logic. However, I don’t foresee attending his conferences due to family commitments, distance and cost. Perhaps other women are too busy to attend conferences. Maybe women have a different approach to family responsibilities, especially in America, where evangelicals stress the importance of stay-at-home-mums and home-schooling.

Craig’s second observation was that

“this disparity is to be explained by the fact that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to respond more to relational approaches…Most women do respond better to relational appeals, whereas men tend to like the rational approach. Books on marriage improvement strongly emphasize this difference.”

Well, then, most books on marriage should probably stop talking nonsense. How do we separate the relational and the rational? People in relationships need to inquire, learn and build on what they know about each other. Relationships characterised by thoughtlessness are going nowhere and we cannot trust others without testing their trustworthiness. We should build relationships in a rational way and we should use rationality in a relational way. The Christian faith is about a relationship with God and like any other relationship, this requires thought. So is it inconceivable that we should use rationality to deepen our relationship with God? Or that we should be interested in sharing God’s reasons for trusting him?

If women are interested in building relationships with God then they ought to be interested in apologetics. If women are not interested in apologetics we might ask questions about how it is being “marketed”[i]. Dr. Craig’s debates with prominent atheists are useful and important; but they do not provide the best model for discussing your faith, one-to-one, over a cup of coffee. There is more opportunity for reason in a simple conversation than one might imagine.  Apologetics is not only about winning arguments with atheists. Apologetics is also about conversing with sceptics and seekers ,day to day, in a relational and rational way.

[i] It was not helpful to compare a “Downton Abbey Q&A” with an apologetics conference. Downton is melodrama with a tenuous link to history. It does not ask us to change our lives in any meaningful way. It merely asks us to feel nostalgic about a time and place that never existed. It might more useful to compare the male-female ratio at Dr Craig’s conferences with those at Amy Orr-Ewings or Nancy Pearcey’s.


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