J.J. Blunt (1794-1855) gave some advice in his book Undesigned Coincidences (freely available at that link–copyright expired) that ought to be applied by we apologists to every single argument we consider. His own book put forward the argument from undesigned coincidences, which is essentially an argument that looks across the Bible to compare books to each other in order to see if details in one might be confirmed in another. Blunt, however, did not feel every single one he found would be seen as useful to his overall argument, and that is where I think his advice might be applied to apologetics generally. He wrote:
I could add several other examples of this class [referring to an undesigned coincidence], i.e. where allusions in the prophets are very sufficiently responded to by events recorded in the historical Books of Scripture, but still the want of precision in the terms makes it difficult to affirm the coincidence between the two documents with confidence; and therefore I have thought it better to suppress such instances, as not possessing that force of evidence which entitles them to a place in these pages… the internal testimony is not so strong as to carry conviction along with it, of such being really the case; and this failing, it is folly to weaken a sound argument by a fanciful extension of it (253).
Here we see that Blunt has more arguments and instances he believes may carry at least some tiny weight, but that he decides it is better to “suppress” (i.e. not share) them, for doing so might take away from the stronger evidences that carry the proof. This, I think, presents an admirable way to approach doing apologetics, and one that we need to take to heart. It is all to easy to present an argument and then either (1) press the argument’s conclusion so far beyond what is warranted that we undercut the conclusion itself or (2) give continual, weak evidences.
Regarding the first potential difficulty, an argument can easily be pressed beyond its conclusion. Thus, for example, we may argue that a form of the cosmological argument demonstrates a first cause, and go on to argue this first cause is omnipotent, which seems a strong enough inference. But then we may go on and say the first cause must be free, to bring something out of nothing, which involves a choice. And then we may argue this implies omniscience for what could be free and able to create a universe as intricate as ours? One can see how quickly we’ve gone beyond an argument’s conclusion (a cause of the universe) to the point that we need to construct many more arguments to make our case. It may be better to let the cause be what we conclude, and use other arguments to establish other conclusions.
The second difficulty is one that is difficult to nuance. For example, a “cumulative case” approach is a good way to present arguments, but we need to balance that cumulative case with whether the arguments we are using for cumulative effect carry enough weight to be considered. We ought to be careful not to include arguments that, due to their weakness, may distract from the strength of the overall case. This applies even if the “weak” arguments do, in fact, provide some positive evidence. Sometimes it is best to let the case stand as it is. Other times, it is not.
As far as Blunt’s specific instances, I kind of wish he’d at least preserved them somewhere for us to browse, even if they are weak enough he doesn’t think them convincing. That way, we could look them up ourselves and see if 160+ years may have shed more light on the potential coincidence. Alas, we will not know what they are until the hereafter. As it stands, though, Blunt’s work is a giant of apologetics.
We apologists need to be careful not to unintentionally weaken our argument by being tempted to include every possible line of evidence. Sometimes, that can make our case appear weaker than it actually is.
J.J. Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings both of the Old and New Testaments: An Argument of their Veracity (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855).
Library of Historical Apologetics– A massive wealth of resources, with links to many, many books freely available (copyright expired) for those interested in historical apologetics.
Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– I explain the argument from undesigned coincidences in more detail, with several links for further reading.
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