It’s a familiar charge: Christian apologists are accused of being dishonest, of spinning the facts to suit their purposes. While I find no evidence that apologists for Christianity are on the whole any more likely to spin the facts than apologists for atheism, or naturalism, or the Republican Party, or any other topic, that hardly excuses Christian apologists from putative instances of dishonesty.
In this article I want to raise a concern about a common practice I’ve seen among many Christian apologists which strikes me as potentially misleading and thus dishonest. I speak of the practice describing one’s ministry history (often in a public introduction or website bio) by including statements like this: “Smith has lectured on dozens of university campuses around the world.”
To be sure, I don’t dispute the literal truth of the statement. No doubt, Smith has delivered lectures on dozens of university campuses. The problem lies not with the statement itself, but rather with the implicature.
And just what is “implicature”? The term refers to all that which is implied in a statement. And effective communication includes the ability to perceive implicature as surely as that which is literally and explicitly stated.
For example, imagine that Dave asks Sheila, “Will you marry me?” Sheila replies, “Dave, you’re a great friend!” The literal and explicit meaning of Sheila’s statement is complimentary, though it seems to provide no response to the question posed. However, the implicature of Sheila’s statement provides a direct response to Dave’s question … and it isn’t a favorable one!
Long story short, the implicature of a statement is important. Indeed (to borrow a dated idiom), sometimes the implicature wears the trousers in one’s linguistic utterances. The person who grasped Sheila’s literal and explicit meaning but who missed the implicature would have completely failed to grasp the substance of that exchange.
And this brings me back to the statement in Smith’s bio that he “has lectured on dozens of university campuses around the world.” The literal and explicit meaning is clear enough. But what is the implicature of the statement? And how might it be misleading?
Well ask yourself: if you hear that Smith delivered a lecture at Stanford University on the existence of God, what would you assume? I would assume that the lecture was at the invitation of, and hosted by, an academic department of the university. And that’s significant because university faculties and administrators generally extend invitations for academic lectures to recognized academics. Consequently, one would assume that Smith’s delivering a lecture at Stanford University indicated the recognition by Stanford of Smith’s status as an academic.
But what if the reality is that Smith simply delivered a lecture to a Christian student group who rented a room on Stanford’s campus? Now the picture is completely different. After all, virtually any group can rent space on campus. To rent space for an event, you contact facility rentals, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the university faculty and administration.
So consider: if Smith’s lectures on “dozens of university campuses around the world” were all at the invitation of private Christian groups renting space on the campuses of those dozens of university campuses, then all the positive implicature — the implication that dozens of university faculties and administrations recognize Smith’s academic status — dissolves.
To the extent that Smith’s invitations to speak are from private groups rather than the universities themselves, one can conclude that Smith’s bio has been subtly spin-doctored by benefiting from the assumption that lecturing on a university campus entails lecturing at the invitation of the university. And that seems dishonest … not to mention ironic given that the apologist presents himself as a defender of truth.