I finished reading The Christian Delusion ed. by John Loftus recently. I had a number of disagreements with chapters in this book, but the most prominent one is with how Loftus articulates his “Outsider Test for Faith” (OTF). He frames it in an extremely unreasonable way (strange, since people of Loftus’s rank often make reason the king of everything, nearing the point of worship). Initially, he says that ince there are many cultures and religious viewpoints people are born into, there’s a likelihood yours is wrong, and you need to examine it as though you were an outsider from that religion. Fair.
But he goes on to say, “I’m asking believers to change their assumptions and/or become agnostics. This is what I call the ‘default position.’” (Kindle Locations 1036-1037), And “The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences. Science alone produces consistently excellent results that cannot be denied, which are continually retested for validity.” (Kindle Locations 1050-1051).
This is bad epistemology. Is agnosticism axiomic? To overcome cultural biases and subjective opinions to find Truth, does one need to leave aside belief in the transcendent totally and be a pure naturalist? Does a Christian have to stop believing in God, the Bible, prayer, and everything else to find if the Christian faith is true? Does a Muslim need to do the same (except stop believing the Quran)? Or a Sikh? Or any other religious person?
While I think the concept of an Outsider Test for Faith is actually a good idea (which, contra Loftus, could pass Christianity) when researching religions, I don’t think you can make blanket eliminations of epistemologies like that. You must avail yourself of whatever epistemology the religion you’re studying holds dear to determine the truthfulness or falsity of it – if not, your race horse is dead out of the gate. You don’t even give it a fighting chance. By throwing out a religion’s epistemologies to use only your personal, narrow, western, culturally defined epistemology (science), in effect you’ve already decided the religion is not true prior to your journey of study, making your study no longer objective, and therefore subjective and biased. Mr. Loftus is parameterizing the discussion to the philosophical position of Atheism and Naturalism, throwing out entire ways of knowing something as invalid already, a priori. This is anti-intellectualism on level with the worst of religious fundamentalism.
You should use the epistemologies inherent within the Christian faith, and see whether they hold up to their own standards, besides scrutinizing those epistemologies themselves to see if they fit with all the others.
Christianity has something to say about how you find truth, and it would be unfair in any test of the veracity of Christianity to leave these out: prayer, seeking God, the spoken revelation of God (the Bible itself), the work of the God’s Spirit on the human heart, prior assumption of a revelatory God, and of course the broader epistemologies of reason, experience, etc. that are also found in the Bible.
But this goes for testing any faith. For Islam, you need to avail yourself of Islamic epistemology. Same with Buddhism and the others. Without doing this, it’s like testing to see if Einstein’s E = mc2 is really true but taking out m. Or saying I’m going to test if evolutionary theory is true but you can’t have natural selection, or biology, or genetics considered at all. You never even give the belief system a chance.
Loftus says, “With the OTF I’ll argue that we should adopt a skeptical predisposition as best as possible prior to examining the evidence, if we adopt any predisposition at all” (Kindle Locations 939-940). This reminds me of Philip Johnson’s comment, “One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.” This is very true in the typical Atheist’s case. He’s already swallowed the antisupernatural bias of the Academy, believing in naturalistic evolution as the explanation for the universe, existence and everything else. Radical skepticism doesn’t go far. Even skeptics believe in something. Can’t we be both cautious/skeptical and open-minded?
Now, what I’m saying is hotly debated, and it’s no easy thing to develop a model for how to test whether a certain religion is true. But this is not all. There’s another way Loftus frames OTF that is even more indefensible: He assumes an agnostic position on God’s existence in the OTF.
I’m sorry, but belief in God doesn’t equal religion. Belief or assumption that a god exists is totally independent of a particular faith! A simple theist/deist “outsider” to a faith who desires to search and examine that faith should not leave his belief in a God’s existence at the door. As many philosophers have argued, belief in some Deity can really be a properly basic belief, just as I believe reason exists and that I was not born as a clone in some science experiment. Many people who were not religious believe in some sort of God, at least the God of the philosophers (Aristotle, Spinoza, etc.). As John Dicksonwrites, the arguments and pointers to the existence of a Deity (Deus) are so strong, it’s a “fundamental” belief. He adds, “Where believers of the various faiths part ways is in the particularization of the Deus… Deism is common sense.” Atheists may not agree, but if we’re developing an Outsider Test for Faith that anyone can use to test a religion, this is significant. If you are a deist or theist searching various religions to discover if God has spoken or not, then prayer to God, seeking his guidance, and contemplation of what he could be like are all vitally important.
I’m going to say something that Atheists and Christians should agree on: The question of God is the most important question anyone can ever think about. Atheists are obligated to agree with this statement. Otherwise, why are atheists spending their lives writing books and debating the issue? Therefore, is it not reasonable, while contemplating whether or not God exists and the nature of this God, to pray? How harmless is it to say “God, if you’re there, help me find you? Where are you?” This requires some faith, at least as much to say that if there is a benevolent God, then he will answer me if I ask him.
I can be an outsider to every religion, every faith, but still believe in a Deity, because no religion has a corner on simple theism or deism. Therefore, if I step back and examine my own religion as an outsider in an attempt to be objective, I need not throw out God. If I’m justified in believing in the existence of a Deus for other philosophical and scientific reasons independent of religious dogma, then I can use prayer to this Being as part of my OTF. The idea of an OTF is a good one. But an OTF model that throws out potentially valid epistemologies is flawed. It will not lead you to Truth. And isn’t Truth the whole point?
I’m on break from school and have done a lot of web-surfing. Good stuff this month so far, and many are worth sharing:
From the BBC –
“A Point of View: Churchill and the birth of the special relationship” on the Churchill’s stance on the relationship between Britain and the US.
Also found a significant article on the Chinese economy and need for reform China is one of the most influential nations in the world right now, so an economic reform there would surely affect the world.
“Encylopedia Brittanica ends its famous print edition.” Thus ends a 244 year era of those precious volumes of knowledge. This made me sad. No more pulling out random volumes and flipping through pages to peruse any article that catches your fancy. They continue their digital version and online prospects… but it’s not the same! 😦
LED bulbs: The end of the lightbulb as we know it? LED is being demonstrated as a much better lighting option. It looks like Edison’s 150-year old invention is going the way of the dinosaurs. End of an era! This makes me sad too… Am I too sentimental?
Other News and Views
From The Economist, The rise of evangelicalism is shaking up the Church of England. The article implies that this new fervor is influenced by America, which may be true, but it ignores that this is really the fruit of British Evangelical intellectuals like the late John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin.
Nice piece from CNN, Saudi Women: Pampered or oppressed?Do the restrictive laws on women painfully violate their rights or does it pamper them and make “men the slaves of women”? This article challenged my prior opinion a bit, and shows there are varied viewpoints even among women… Oh, and sorry, can’t help but link to singer M.I.A.’s strong opinion on the issue in her song, “Bad Girls.”
“Eyewitness India” from World Magazine. An upstart news agency is giving the people, even some of the rural poor, the power of journalism.
Seth Godwin youtube video, says, “Be curious!”
From the Christian blogosphere:
Tim Nichols at Full Contact Christianity has an excellent series on the necessity of the ordination of women, part 1, part 2, and part 3 Some will say he goes too far; others, not far enough. But it’s exegetical and made me think.
“Some Preach from Envy and Rivalry” by Nick Bogardus. Very pertinent points in light of the severe problem of sharp polarization in Christianity right now.
Jim McNeely “The Life of Jacob According to Grace” The last few paragraphs really took me. Grace is a powerful thing.
An article on the fact that the atheist gathering, “The Reason Rally”, invited Westboro Baptist Church to their conference (but not legitimate Christian groups). This is yet another example of my long list of disappointments with atheists today.
Parchment and Pen featured Paul Copan on “Longings and Needs as Reasons for Belief in God.” Despite its brevity, I haven’t read anything this good on longing/reason relationship to God’s existence since the hefty bio article on George John Romanes I read last year.
The White Horse Inn posted a thoughtful article by Brooke Mintun in honor of National Women’s Day analyzing Dorothy Sayers on men, women, and humanity. Yes, there is such a thing as National Women’s Day, and must have trended big this year since this is the first I’ve heard of it. Maybe that’s why so many of these links here are women-related.
Clay Jones, Why I Look Forward to Eternity is a fun read to end with.
I’ve been pensive lately. I write plenty of messy notes, but nothing blogworthy – mainly book-reviews. But, reflecting on 2011 I thought I’d include some of the top webpages and articles I just so happened to collect in 2011 that had a major influence on me or unusually good. Just sayin’ in advance, almost all of them are religious or philosophical… but hey, that’s what I read. There are more than this, but I didn’t think to favorite all of them. Anyway, here’s ten categories, somewhat in order of importance.
10) Top tens. Starting out recently is this article from Collin Hansen, top ten theological stories of the year. Christianity Today has their own top ten stories as well. As far as international news, AP’s Top Ten News Stories of 2011 is pretty comprehensive, though I’m baffled as to why the American pull-out of Iraq didn’t make the cut. Isn’t the end of a big, controversial 7-year war big news?
I would have added William Lane Craig/Richard Dawkin’s spectacle or the economic/environmental disasters that have caused more theological reflection in these top ten, but overall very good choices.
9) Future theology debate trends. It took me a while of thinking before I agreed with him, but Andrew Wilson’s article The Biggest Theological Debate of the Next Twenty Years is very insightful. What will it be? Read and see!
8) God to Jesus. This article by John Dickson, Jesus: God’s Tangible Sign, is so well-reasoned and well-written, especially on how rational it is to at least move from atheism to deism, then from there to theism, and on to Jesus.
7) All the boys and the girls… This has been an interesting year in public discussion of marriage, sex, and dating and all the current issues with that, especially on the Christian scene. A few good articles are
Christian Boy Meets Christian Girl from World Magazine – the best of the bunch, and hilarious.
I took interest in these, because I fit some of their criticized stereotypes of young men – not asking girls out, stubbornly single, wanting to “see the world” before being “tied down” in marriage, etc. I thought of bloggin in defense of this monkish lifestyle as mine, but haven’t gotten around to it! However, Vicky Beeching’s “Honest thoughts about singleness in the church” expresses some of my thoughts already. Nonetheless, excellent points and analysis are made by DeYoung, et al. and they’re worth the read.
6)Atheist surprises. Atheist Joel Marks in Confessions of an Ex-Moralist admits morality isn’t possible without God. He replaces it with something else like morality, but I was impressed by his candor. The well-known defender of evolution and naturalism, Michael Ruse wrote another fascinating reflection, On Going to Church Christmas Morning . In “Atheists Against Darwinism” Peter Williams surveys how the debate on Intellgient Design even has some atheists thinking. Evolution is not nearly the stalwart, established scientific theory it’s purported to be, and the exposure of its weaknesses by atheists is telling.
4)C. Michael Patton. Not one, not two, but three excellent articles from C. Michael Patton:
The ability of this guy to write great-quality articles is amazing, and I had a hard time just choosing three. Look around Parchment and Pen blog if you have an hour to kill, it’s great.
3)Evil World. Related to above, this isn’t an intellectual article like the rest, but it sure leads that way: CNN article asking why is the Congo the “Rape Capital of the World”? This is among the many articles that made me think of how sad and full of evil the world really is. That’s worth thinking about. But to balance this:
2) Kimberly Klein’s “My Beautiful Mess” was an extremely thought-provoking article for me this year (many of her posts are excellent, to be honest), written some time ago while she was in Kenya – thoughts on suffering and hope. I’m not at the point of balance she is yet, but it is somewhere I hope to be someday. Read it, it’s profound.
1) George John Romanes. Another article I read that is simply profound is this one on the life of George John Romanes. If you only read one page I list here, this is the one to read: A Pilgrim’s Regress: George John Romanes and the Search for Rational Faith. His story really impacted me and the drama of the story just takes you in. The ending is a surprise!
Anyway. That’s what I got for closing the year. I have nothing original to say, but the above people are saying whatever it is better than I can right now!
On to 2012 C.E. And I hear-tell the world might end then, so better make it a good one! Happy New Year everybody!
I picked up this book as soon as I saw it. The title intrigued me, and I love Ravi Zacharias, the Indian Oxford graduate who travels as an itinerate speaker, apologist, and evangelist for Christ. Also, at several low points I’ve gotten the feeling that Christianity has failed me; and certainly many other people have left Christianity totally with some story of how inadequate this religion was in one way or another. Ravi’s aim is to discuss this question with just such people.
I liked the tone of the book. Ravi is both sympathetic to the straggler and uncompromising in his convictions. I found this commendable because it is not easy to strike that balance. It is easy to try to be so sympathetic that you compromise truth to make them feel better, but this doesn’t do anybody a favour. It is also easy to say with a hard-nose “this is how it is” without any sympathy.
My favorite chapters were the ones on who is Jesus, does prayer make any difference, and points of tension, which was about the tensions of life and how Christianity handles them. That chapter had a good sections on pain, loneliness, and sexuality. Ravi’s approach is to expound beautifully on what Christianity is, and how it answers our deepest needs.
On the negatives side, this is not a definitive defense of the Christian faith if that’s what your looking for. Ravi speaks in generalities rather than specific details, does not have much in the way of analytic argument, and tells many stories and illustrations, or “fluff” if you’re looking for carefully crafted, to-the-point arguments. But I don’t think that was Ravi’s intention. He is basically expounding on various aspects of the Christian faith in a way that is keen to the questions of disillusioned, yet open and sensitive people.
So, I think this book will only convince a certain kind of person. Someone who is already open-minded and has a keen sense of feeling, longing, and sensitivity; Who is doubting or has left the faith for emotional reasons.
It definitely made a surprising impression on me that is hard to describe. Ravi’s strengths as a communicator is to show the existential strengths of Christianity, and this book was him at his best in doing so. It’s worth a read!
“The skepticism about God arises from what we perceive as unanswered questions about life. But in spite of our skepticism, our hearts still beat with those persistent, unanswered longings, and in desperation or cynicism our minds continue to ponder the deep issues of our existence.” (p 27)
“Not only did he [Jesus] love every human being, especially the downtrodden; the core of his message is that he came to embody the rejection and suffering of every person who has ever lived.” (p 38).
“The language of lust and the language of love are much the same. Both say ‘I love you,’ but one says it for a night and the other for life.” (p 46)
“We resist pain because we think of the ‘now’ rather than of life’s ultimate purpose; Jesus endured pain in order to restore ultimate purpose to us and to our existence.” (p 110).
“To all the searches of men and women, boys and girls, kinds and emperors, cities and realms for another way to assuage their thirst for the eternal by any means other than what God has provided – digging their own streams or denying the existence of eternity or giving themselves full autonomy – the Lion of the tribe of Judah revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Bible says, ‘There is no other stream.'” (p 146).
“The paramount need in the church today and in the individual Christian is the indwelling presence of God.” (p 156).