In this post on The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter hits the nail on the head. Why is it that some people can be persuaded by arguments for God’s existence, while others will look at you as if you’re trying to prove the existence of Santa Claus? According to Carter, it all has to do with a society’s “plausibility structures” (a term coined by Peter Berger). Based on our personal experiences and cultural expectations, we all develop mental filters by which we evaluate any truth claims. Carter describes these plausibility structures as “a belief-forming apparatus that acts as a gatekeeper, letting in evidence that is matched against what we already consider to be possible.”
Normally plausibility structures aid us in quickly discarding bogus truth claims (“I caught a fish this big”). But sometimes they work against us, as when they keep us from accepting claims that are true but run contrary to our previously held beliefs and experiences. This is what seems to have happened in Western societies today. Our plausibility structures have become saturated with modernistic notions of religious neutrality and naturalistic notions of scientific authority.
So what role does Christian apologetics play in a culture of unbelief? Well it’s true, as the saying goes, that you can’t argue someone into the kingdom of heaven. But when Christians present a rational defense of their faith, they are working to undermine a culture’s anti-Christian plausibility structures. This has the effect of tilling the soil that allows the seeds of faith to be sowed.