Why I've Adopted My Control Set of Beliefs.

If I have a focus when it comes to debunking Christianity it is with control beliefs. Control beliefs are those beliefs that control how we view the evidence, and so my critique is generally philosophical and epistemological in nature. I'm interested in how we know what we know. How we view that which we know is the difference that makes all of the difference.

How we each look at the evidence is controlled by certain beliefs of ours. Since this is so, I want to know how to justify those control beliefs themselves. For me it's all about seeing things differently. It's not about more and more knowledge. It's about viewing what we know in a different light. I must share how I see things on a host of topics before I hit pay dirt where theists will consider how I see everything differently. And when that critical juncture happens, if it happens at all, they'll see how I see things, and maybe it'll make some sense. For them it will take place all at once, or not at all. It's basically an all or nothing happening.

How do we decide which approach, which bias, and which set of control beliefs are preferrable when looking at Christianity? That’s the biggest question of them all! Why? Because the set of control beliefs we start with when looking at the Bible is usually the same set we will come away with.

I think I have better reasons for starting with my control beliefs, presuppositions and biases. Let me briefly explain, once again. These are the reasons why I start with my skeptical control beliefs.

One) Sociological. I believe that the control beliefs a person adopts are the ones he or she picks up based on when and where he or she was born. Since that is overwhelmingly the case, I am right to be skeptical whenever I examine any religious set of beliefs, including Christianity.

Two) Philosophical. Miracles are by definition very improbable based upon natural law. In fact, the less probable a miracle is,then the more of a miracle it is. I have never seen a miracle, even when I was a Christian. Because of this I don’t think one happened in the past. Besides, a believer in the Christian miracles has a double burden of proof. For he must show that miracles are very unlikely, and at the very same time show that they are likely. What confirms that they are unlikely, discomfirms that they are likely, and vice versa. As a result there isn't any reasonable way to show that a miracle occurred at all, even if one did. That's right. Even if one actually did occur! So an additional problem becomes why God didn't know this, or why he doesn't do miracles for us to see today, especially if he desires that we believe in him?

Three) Biblical. When I look at the Bible itself, I see things in it that are barbaric and superstitious to me living in today's world. These things are obvious to me. So it's more likely to me that Biblical people were superstitious than that the stupendous miracles took place as recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, the God of the Bible seems barbaric to me, and such a God is not worthy of any worship even if he did exist. That's right, even if he did exist. The fact that Christians refuse to see this doesn't change anything, for it's also obvious, according to Sam Harris, that they "choose what is good in the Good Book." They "cherry-pick" the good out of the Bible, rather than dealing with what it actually says about their God.

Four) Historical. Christianity is an historical religion which says there are certain things that actually happened in history. I should believe that these things happened in history in order to be acceptable to God (like the incarnation and the resurrection). But if God chose to reveal himself in history, he chose a poor medium to do so. This is especially true when that history is a history or miracles. There are many historians who don't think we can be sure about much in the historical past. History is always subject to revision upon further evidence and findings. Historians must also be skeptical, because they have found many forgeries and frauds in the past.

Five) Scientific. Science has taught us to assume a natural explanation for every event based upon methodological naturalism. We who live in the modern world operate on this assumption ourselves everyday. This assumption is the foundation of modernity. We now know how babies are made and how to prevent them; we know why it rains; why nations win and lose wars; why trees fall; why most people get sick and how to cure most of them, etc. In previous centuries people either praised God for the good things that happened to them, or they wondered why he was angry when bad things happened. If they lost a war, there was sin in the camp. If someone got sick, it was because of sin in his or her life, and so on. Now we have scientific explanations for these things, and we all benefit from those who assumed there was a natural cause to everything we experience. The problem is that Christians believe in the claims of some ancient superstitious text as a fact, when they don’t do that with any other claim in today’s world. Christians themselves assume a natural explanation when they hear a noise in the night. They assume a natural explanation for a stillborn baby, or a train wreck, or an illness. If Christians were placed back in time with the same modern mindset they have today, they themselves would ask for evidence if someone claimed that an axe head floated, or a donkey talked. But because it’s in the Bible they adopt it unquestionably, and I find that to be holding to a double standard. Why do they operate on a double standard like this? Ancient people didn't even have a firm conception of natural law. For all they knew anything could happen in nature when acted upon by God, gods or goddesses. Ancient people just didn't have the required scientific understanding of natural laws we do today for them to question a miraculous story when they heard one. Scientifically literate people today are simply not that gullible to believe any such story. All of us ask whether an unusual event can be explained naturalistically, unlike them.

Six) Philosophical (again). The problem of evil. When we compare the world we see with all of its intense suffering, and we ask ourselves what kind of world we should expect to find if there is a good, omnipotent God, there is a huge disconnect. This is not the world we would expect if this God exists. Even though Christians attempt to explain intense suffering in this world, it is still not the world anyone should expect, if this God created it.

I call our modern ways of thinking the Achilles' heel of Christianity.

So, I have several really good reasons for starting out being skeptical when I examine the Christian evidences for belief. They are Sociological, Philosophical, Biblical, Historical and Scientific. I just don't see how Christians can refute any of these reasons for starting with a skeptical attitude, since they are all practically undeniable (and even obvious) to modern educated scientifically literate people. How much more is this so when these reasons are all taken together as a whole. So it is no surprise that I look at Christianity with the presumption of skepticism. And it is no surprise that I reject it.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I'm interested in how we know what we know."

Isn't it that people search for answers? And sometimes people get revelations from God. As for Christians, our God has told us things and they haven't been proven wrong. Or what have you found that is wrong?

What do you think of the Fairness Act?

Anonymous said...

May I recommend taking a look at Richard Dawkins' essay Viruses of the Mind? It has a lot to say on why humans end up believing and what they believe.

es said...

Jeanna,
Exactly what things has god told you that have not been proven wrong? And are they things that can be proven?

Anonymous said...

Sociological- I agree with your reasoning and suggest this aided in bringing about your skeptisim
Philosophical- you have not seen a miracle and therefore do not believe in God. I would argue that there are many things that you have not seen, but do not doubt their existence.
Biblical - do you not see things that are barbaric and superstitious in our modern world?
Historical - Christianity is not a historical religion. Christianity is a lifestyle choice
Scientific - I don't believe that there is a scientific reason for war, unless you mean Geopolitical. I also submit that scientifically literate people are sufficiently gullible.
Philosophical - your pattern of reason should lead you to the fact that this world is in it's present condition as a result of the actions of humanity

Jeff said...

John,
I think you did a good job making a summary of how and why a person would be skeptical of Christianity. I think what is interesting is that these skeptical approaches are used by Christians when it comes to every other miraculous claim that someone other than a Christian makes and they are right for doing so. No Christian just assumes that a Muslim is correct in their claim that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a magical winged horse. This is a highly dubious claim that a person is perfectly justified in being skeptical of.

SteveJ said...

"Know" is a strong word. I don't know a lot of things with utter certainty, but there are a lot of things I believe. Of those beliefs, many are based on or influenced by 1. what I was taught growing up, 2. my culture, 3. my life experiences. Any honest person -- believer or skeptic -- must admit this.

The third influence is probably the most powerful and trumps purely philosophical considerations. I've had at least one concrete experience that convinced me of the divine reality and God's activity in the Christian tradition (not that He's necessarily confined to that tradition). Had you challenged me immediately afterward with, "I can give you five compelling philosophical reasons that this was not a divine encounter," I probably would have laughed.

That doesn't mean I'm right in any absolute sense. Despite my conviction, I may be wrong. But I can live with the provisional nature of belief.

Rusty Cuyler said...

I would argue that there are many things that you have not seen, but do not doubt their existence.

I can't speak for Mr. Loftus, but this doesn't have much bearing on whether we believe in any supernatural being. If you're proposing that every human being should reject any claim about the existence of any object-- or of the occurrence of any event-- if it has not been personally witnessed by that human being, then how does that support a case for the existence of a supernatural being?

Biblical - do you not see things that are barbaric and superstitious in our modern world?

Again, I'm not sure how this supports any particular theistic claim. Since the modern world is still full of barbarism and superstition-- that validates an acceptance of the barbarism and superstition as it appears in ancient holy books exactly how? Except to note that we as humans seem to have always had a certain proclivity for the barbarous and superstitious?

That doesn't really help the case. That would be like a modern physician throwing up his hands in the face of terminal (or potentially terminal) disease and saying, "Well, I'm out of options. But, hey, people used to die of this disease way back when, too, so . . . uh, you're not alone? Or something. Anyway, good luck with the terminal cancer!"

Just because they existed before and still continue to exist is no reason not to condemn superstition and barbarism and do what we can to put an end to them (as opposed to encouraging it via the continued exaltation of ancient holy books).

Historical - Christianity is not a historical religion. Christianity is a lifestyle choice

I don't even know what to make of this. "Christianity is not a historical religion"? Do you mean to say Christianity has no history? Or perhaps, that Christianity has always been this static belief, that a Christian from the first century C.E. is no different than a Christian from the twenty-first century? Because, seriously, if that's what you're saying, then I have two words for you (just as one of many points in the history of Christianity that demonstrate the fallacy of such thinking, mind you)-- Protestant Reformation.

And Christianity is a "lifestyle choice"? Again, going back to history, er, not so much. Plenty of people were given no such option down through history. Just one word, this time (although again, it's just one example among many that demonstrates that "choice" didn't tend to enter into the equation): Inquisition. If you made the wrong "lifestyle choice" during certain periods of Christian history, or were even merely accused of having done so, you'd likely be quickly disabused of any quaint notions involving "choices."

Or perhaps you mean to suggest that modern Christians have finally chosen correctly (or at least have the capapbility of doing so), where their predecessors all invariably got Jesus' message wrong somehow. If so, I'd like to point out that it is merely by accident of birth that you were born in this more enlightened and options-laden era-- had you been born in Eurpope in the twelfth century, you most likely still would have been a Christian, but unless the 21st century version of your faith is Roman Catholic, you'd probably be in for a surprise (and even then, much of the twelfth century variety of Christianity would likely seem alien to the practicing Catholic of the 21st century).

I also submit that scientifically literate people are sufficiently gullible.

What exactly does this mean? Gullible to what? A gullibility for requiring empirical evidence before accepting anything as fact?

Philosophical - your pattern of reason should lead you to the fact that this world is in it's present condition as a result of the actions of humanity

That's pretty much the point. That is, we are what we are and nothing more. But if the prior milennia were filled with multitudes of faithful praying to their gods for solutions to humanity's various problems without rendering any desirous results, why should we conclude that more of the same is going to help?

For my part, I'm perfectly willing to admit that we got ourselves into our various messes (and always have/will), and therefore, it's up to us to get ourselves out of same (provided that's actually something we all want).

Admittedly, many problems confronting humanity are not easy to solve, and many may very well *not* have solutions. But that aspect of reality doesn't strike me as a particularly compeling reason to look for solutions within the various religions of the world.

Rich said...

We do share one thing in common, a quest for truth. While they take on different arenas I believe the quest is the same. I have to agree with point one, it's to obvious to dismiss. I also like to feel the truth is out there, regaurdless of your beginnings/roots. I have been taught to be skeptical, to question and study. I have to remeber, and I am reminded daily, that we are all human and make mistakes. that said I don't take what someone says, even high church officials, to heart without my own discovery of it's truth.

Miracles are especially a difficult area for the believer and for the reasons you point out. I also think the scientifically literate people of the era would be skeptical of miracles. We certainly have our share of superstitious people right now. there are claimed miracles recently that I, being a believer mind you, scoff at. The virgin Mary in toast for example. based on the miracles descibed in the bible, I would expect something more along the lines of toast raining from the sky with the image of the Virgin Mary burned in more in line with a biblical type miracle. I don't really think miracles fall outside of natural law, but more like someone(God ) having a much better understanding of natural law then I do. For this reason I find it no surprise that science could explain how a miracle happened. This runs together with your next point so I'll just add on here a little. We use the KJV of the bible and I also realize it's not the best translation. I just read that the greek word used for baptism in the KJV was translated as babtized instead of immersed because King james wasn't immersed. I can't attest to the accuracy of this myself, I'm sure someone here can. This is what makes inerrancy unbelievable to me. Someone deliberatly changed what was in the biblke to fit their own personal agenda. How often has that happened?

Why do christians so quickly jump all over science? they do a great service to us. Maybe the truth is that those contradictions you find in science are more accuratly YOUR lack of understanding? I have to say that if the bible is the "complete" word of God, He gave us just enough to be completely confused about almost everything. To limit yourself to just the bible is to miss alot.

The problem of evil is something I see that will never come to an accord between belivers and non-believers. While I agree that the isn't a sufficient explaination for the PofE, I also don't agree that this isn't the world we should expect from omni God. What purpose does this world serve to him? If this world was created for us, Why? We could certainly live in ignorant bliss forever and be happy. So why do we need to suffer here? Did we progress to a point of our exsistance that made this time on earth necessary for further advancement of our exsistance? Did we come here to gain expereince and knowledge here that only this life can provide?

John you and every single individual has every right and reason to be skeptical of christianity. In fact I think it should be encouraged because questioning what we are told is what brings about truth, is that not accurate?

Sidney said...

Concerning sociological: It's curious that both of my brothers became Christians as young men, one is a fundamentalist, while I am a non-believer. As a family we went to church early on and then stopped. Religion was never pushed and my mother had a liberal spiritual view. I, as a young man tried various things including Christianity and finally ended up deciding it was not true. So here's three brothers growing up in the same environment with 3 different outlooks.

Concerning philosophical: Rich I would say that the miracles portrayed in the Bible do indeed fall outside of natural law as we know it. I personally have never witnessed or heard of anyone else rising from the dead or turning water into wine. It suits your purposes nicely to say well God just knows more, but that is a convenient assumption.

Historical: Despite what anyone says the history as portrayed in the Bible and what scientists are discovering in the field do not line up. So which do you choose? The one you can visit, see, feel, study facts about? Or the one based on an ancient book that itself claims to be the truth and you have to take on faith.

Scientific: I just don't understand how anyone could shrug off science and then go to the doctor when they are sick. If the bible answers everything wouldn't one just have to look there? Which causes me to wonder about people who claim the Bible contains all the knowledge we need to live life. The Bible says nothing about the kinds of things we deal with in life today and although the Bible is static, ethics, values and morals are constantly evolving.

Rich said...

"Concerning philosophical: Rich I would say that the miracles portrayed in the Bible do indeed fall outside of natural law as we know it."

As we now know it sure but maybenot really outside of natural law. Isn't our understanding of natural growing more each day? I haven't seen anyone raised from the dead either but how many people are brought back from death? If humans can rivive someone why would a God we supposedly breath life into mankind have trouble raising someone from the dead?

God knowing more as a convinient assumption? Well if I believe in God I certainly don't believe I know more then he does, kind of takes the all knowing part away.

I think people get a little carried away with the purpose the bible has. It's not really about telling us every single thing we need to do, it doesn't contain nor does it claim to have the 100% complete knowledge of everything we could posibly need to ever know. It's meant to guid us in what we need to know and do to return to God and heaven.