Saying, "I don't know!"


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I’ve noticed that there’s often a high premium placed on being able to provide an answer to a question. Whether that is a skeptic or a Christian with doubts, or simply someone who is curious, we want to be able to answer people’s questions.

However, the truth is, many times we don’t know the answer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: what are the benefits of saying, “I don’t know!”?


(Jimmy Sellers) #2

My first thought is that it puts you in good company. When ask by the disciples:

3 …And as* he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came up to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”(Mt 24:3)

Jesus answered:

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows—not even the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone. (Mt 24:36)

On a more particular level I think that it shows a person that you are open to real dialogue and that you are honestly seeking to find and communicate the truth.


(Tim Ramey) #3

It’s a great question Carson. I feel that to express “I don’t know” transmits a sense of honesty but also conveys that when you do have an answer, you believe in what you’re saying. It seems like Nabeel and David had that agreement that they wouldn’t know answers but said that they work at finding one.


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #4

I appreciate this question, @CarsonWeitnauer. The struggle for people new in Christian apologetics is that they feel they absolutely need to have an answer for every question. It’s a good reminder that the faith does not stand or fall in our defense of it. It’ll remain to be true even if we fail in our apologetic.

To answer your question, for me, the benefit of saying that you don’t know is that it removes the pressure off you in providing your burden of proof. This reminds me of a skill I learned from Greg Koukl. If you are in a scenario where you feel you don’t know the answer, and the other person knows so much more than you, instead of fighting them head on, you could switch to fact-finding mode. This will shift the burden of proof on the other person, which will help you understand more their position, then maybe give an answer after you understand it better. If you don’t know the answer still, you can just say that you don’t know, then say that you’ll think about what they said and get back at them. This removes the pressure off you, and this helps you search and have a time without pressure in thinking about what was said by the other person.

Aside from that, this gives us a better witness. Since people will see that we are intellectually honest and that we are willing to admit if we don’t know. This will help them see that people engaged in Christian apologetics are not deluded fanatics, but really people who are willing to follow the evidence where it leads.


(Jennifer Judson) #5

Great answer Omar. That is very helpful.

Fear of not having an answer can make people hesitant to engage. Knowing you can say, “I don’t know” can remove barriers.

I love the suggestion of switching to fact-finding mode and shifting to the other person. That would also remind me how important it is to listen, rather than lecture.


(Carson Weitnauer) #6

Hi friends, this week I was thinking about this again. Two experiences:

  • My kids were asking me many questions that I didn’t know the answer too. It was very freeing to say, “That’s an awesome question! We’ll have to sit down and research it sometime together. I don’t know when birds build their nests…”
  • I went to the Ehrman - Licona debate at Kennesaw State University. Many of the points raised - I didn’t have an answer to them. That’s okay! For my personal integrity, it is wiser to say to my friends, “I don’t know how to explain that” vs. making something up on the spot. I think we lose credibility when we try to patch things together on our feet vs doing our homework.

I appreciate all of your answers on this thread… very insightful, as always! I think it is fun that there are so many knowledgable answers to why we should say we don’t have knowledge on other subjects! :slight_smile: