At What Point Is An Answer Not An Excuse?

I would say the most frustrating facet of debate with others is the constant rehashing of previous subjects.  I have often wondered if it’s worth putting in the effort.  Over the years-decades-millenia Theists and Atheists, for instance, have debated the same issues, with the same arguments, with the same rebuttals.  It’s like a really bad factory job.  I can sympathize with people who must feel like they will never make headway with others, but plug on.  And on, and on nonetheless.  Why do we do it?  I know why I do it.  I like the debate.  I like knowing why I believe the things I do.  I like thinking through important issues and coming to what I see is the correct view.  We all have a view, and we all have reasons (well, most of us have reasons) we hold them.  For the most part, we all know the objections our detractors have against our worldview and we all have responses to them, for the most part.

With all the answers given to us, why then are we all relatively unconvinced by our ideological opponent’s answers to our objections of their views?  There is a tendency to dismiss their answers to our questions as excuses.  Of course, excuses don’t require any serious consideration, right?  When we think we’re being offered excuses, we keep bringing up the same questions even though they’ve been addressed ad nauseum.

Here’s the problem:  Sometimes answers really are excuses.  But we never think our answers are excuses, do we.  The important thing is being able to differentiate between the two, and being honest enough to credit your opponent with an answer and not an excuse.  So how is this done?  At what point is an answer not an excuse?

Answers have substance.  They provide information about the question being asked.  An answer need not compel you to change your mind on the issue.  No one can compel someone else to believe anything because they can always gainsay your responses.  Even when evidence is offered, many times the evidence is confused with the strength of the evidence, or its power to compel.  Evidence is the facts of a matter, but the strength of evidence is a subjective assessment which may or may not lead someone to concede their position.  People tend to think that if something is evidence it will force a particular conclusion.  But whether any particular evidence becomes proof depends upon who interprets it, not the one who offers it.

Excuses on the other hand steer clear of the subject at hand.  You can tell when someone is offering an excuse when they answer questions which haven’t been asked.  Excuses offer emotional responses where evidential or reasoned answers ought to have been.  They contain sparse amounts of information parsed in broad generalities allowing for back-tracking and prevents them from being pinned down to a particular answer.

We all hate excuses.  When we are given excuses where answers ought to be, we feel cheated, and a little insulted.

So my questions to readers are: How do you differentiate between answers and excuses?  When will you concede that someone has given you an answer and not an excuse?


  1. Marshall Art says:

    In my experience, a real answer leads me to research or analysis that excuses simply can’t. For example, if I put forth a position it will lead to a counter position, followed by my reasons, then his, and finally a back and forth with evidence of some kind. From this point, there will inevitably be two means of providing excuses.

    One will be dissecting my evidence in a manner that attempts to dismiss one piece as irrelevant or less than compelling as if that piece stands alone, rather than as a member of a body of evidence. OR, the opponent will purposely regard the piece of evidence as implying something it never really could without being so forced. This is typical in debates on “marriage equity” in excuses such as “so then all hetero couples that don’t want to have kids shouldn’t be allowed to marry?”

    The second excuse will simply be the opponent saying something along the lines of “I just don’t buy it” or “that’s YOUR interpretation” as if nothing was presented to show why that interpretation is more sound than his.

    As long as the other person continues to provide substantive facts or pieces of evidence, I feel I’m dealing with someone who is serious about his own position and has at least put some thought into it.

  2. Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t believe in God for example, there is no way to prove Him to them; every answer will be seen as an excuse because such a person doesn’t believe the bible either. The bible is essentially a historical book and a testimony or eyewitness of events that occurred. Militant and even moderate atheists see it as an excuse though. There is a huge communication gap that cannot be bridged, it would seem.

    • I agree warrioress,

      I wonder though how they judge arguments defending the bible or theism as excuses. And from my perspective, many denials of defenses for theism are excuses. I think if you grant any ground for the bible, you run the risk of having to believe its message.

  3. I suppose this post is directed at “the Other Atheists” again, but I’ll do my best to explain what I believe.
    I believe that most people who have these “conversations” are not arguing in good faith. Most will tell you that they just want you to answer a question so that they can tell you that your answer is merely an excuse. I think that answers are in the eye of the beholder in many circumstances- I try my level best to remember that what I see as rationalizations are answers to the person making them.

    Most people (and by most I mean almost all) enter into “debates” not to learn but to teach. That’s okay though, the purpose of them is to “win” or defend your point of view. Sometimes we, as people, end up losing far more than a debate by losing sight of an opportunity.

    The difference between an excuse and an answer is that one is an explanation and the other is a distraction.

    • George this wasn’t directed at any particular group. If you got the impression it was at “the other atheists” its probably because this is from my perspective. But it wasn’t passively poking at anyone.

    • I think you make a good distinction saying one is aimed at explaining the other at distracting.

  4. Also, I think John’s comment on why atheists don’t take stock in the bible is ridiculous. I am more than happy to admit that the bible gets some things factually correct. Some of the historical allegories are not entirely false.
    To help you understand- I don’t deny that London has a train station just because one appears in the Harry Potter series. It is certainly a fictional book, but it has elements of truth. There are in fact boarding schools. There are double-decker buses. Snakes, owls, rats, and spiders are all real creatures. I can separate the mythology from the history.
    So why should I not accept that the bible isn’t entirely false? Who argues that?

    • You’d be surprised who argues that. In fact Z was making that argument. Likening himself to a juror who believes one part of a testimony is false he is free to deem the entire thing false.

      But not just him. I see it on a semi regular basis, that the bible is a grand work of fiction.

  5. God never intended that our “winning the argument” with atheists would draw them into belief. The intellectual argument only goes so far with people who refuse to see, or more accurately, are blinded so that they can’t see. See II Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

    It’s not that thinking is unimportant. Thinking is essential. Thinking is how we know and love God. Thinking is how we know what is real and true. It’s that thinking is only the conduit through which the light of truth enters one’s mind.

    Think of it this way in the terms of electricity and wires. Man’s reasoning and thinking are like the wires running to a light bulb. The light bulb is not illuminated by wires, but by electricity. The power of the Spirit is the electricity running along the wires of our thinking to allow us to see the truth of Christ. II Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

    God calls us to make the arguments, to present the evidence, to offer the logical case for the truth of the Gospel. Once we’ve laid the wires in the minds of people, the “hound of Heaven” will pursue those to whom he will offer grace.

    This truth has changed my approach to people. No longer do I get frustrated at what seems to be willful blindness. They don’t see because they can’t see. After laying out the arguments, my work is done. Only if the Holy Spirit will “flip the switch” will those in darkness see.

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