My Case Against Christianity

If you want to read my case against Christianity. It's here.

11 comments:

spoosmith said...

My problem with Christianity in particular is the absolute mental gymnastics followers must practice to explain away the tremendous suffering in the world when they themselves define god as just, good and benevolent. According to Christians (the ones I've met and read about anyway), we are all born into sin because Adam and Eve ate some fruit. That means that every child that starves to dead or person who is mutilated through the actions of others suffered because 2 people (at the beginning of 'history') made a choice. If free will is what they use to explain away suffering, then they must concede that not every person would have eaten the fruit, and that every single human born is being punished because of the FREE WILL actions of 2 people. I think that most thinking people would consider it wrong to hold descendants of wrong-doers liable FOREVER – unless they are willing to concede that their god is sadistic prick.

I call bullshit.

withinreason said...

wow, another ignorant assessment of Christianity..

keep us informed ;-)

Jim Holman said...

This is an interesting essay, and it covers quite a bit of territory. I would like to respond to a few pieces.

"I argue that I think skepticism about religion in general, and Christianity in specific, is the default position. Anyone who investigates religion in general, or Christianity in specific, must begin with skepticism. Anyone who subsequently moves off the default position of skepticism has the burden of proof, since doing so is making a positive knowledge claim, and in the case of Christianity a very large knowledge claim that cannot be reasonably defended with the available evidence."

First, I'm not sure why religion is singled out as something that must be approached with skepticism. Exactly why is that the "default" position? Are we supposed to approach all other beliefs with similar skepticism? If so, why?

Also, I think there is a basic misunderstanding about the concept of "burden of proof." One only has the "burden of proof" when one is trying to "prove" something.

For example, I believe that my wife loves me. I confess to never having approached that belief with skepticism. Also, I don't have the burden of proof with respect to that belief, because I'm not trying to prove it to anyone. I'm not trying to convince anyone, and I don't care whether anyone else believes it or not. I could provide reasons for that belief, but those reasons might not convince others. That doesn't mean that my belief is irrational or delusional.

That said, there is a point at which it would be reasonable to question the belief. For example, if someone gave me a videotape of my wife trying to hire a hit man to kill me, then it would be reasonable for me to call my belief in her love into question. But there are very few times when such rock-solid counter evidence is available.

Likewise with religion. There are many arguments against Christianity, but not much "smoking gun" evidence against it, especially the non-fundamentalist versions of Christianity. Many Christians don't belive in biblical inerrancy or that the first few chapters of Genesis are literally true. Many do not believe that every other religion is totally false, or that non-Christians will burn forever in hell.

That there are arguments against Christianity does not entail that Christians are necessarily delusional. And many of what are said to be "arguments against Christianity" are really just reasons why other people don't believe. But a "reason not to believe" in Christianity does not constitute an "argument" against Christianity.

For example, the fact that people tend to accept the religion of the area in which they live is not an argument against religion. People also tend to adopt the moral values of the areas in which they live, but that is not an arguments against morality.

The fact that philosophical arguments for the existence of God are not conclusive is not an argument against religion. Philosophical arguments for various theories of morality are not conclusive either, but that does not mean that morality is "false."

People who believe in the reality of certain miracles do not have the burden of proof, unless they are trying to persuade others of the veracity of the miracles in question.

Concerning miracles and science, many Christians do not believe that many of the miracles in the Bible are literally true. Instead, they see them as sacred myths that are designed to communicate a spiritual or existential truth.

While it is true that the Bible records many barbarisms, the Christians that I know do not accept those as examples of how to live. For example, I dont' know of any Christians who look for Caananites to kill or who wish to kill Babylonian children.

Concerning history, the claims of all religions are problematic. Most Christian scholars are very aware of these problems, and many are quite comfortable acknowledging those problems. Many also feel that doubt is a necessary companion of faith.

I'm not offering all of this as a defense of Christianity. Rather, I'm saying that many Christians, especially of the non-fundamentalist type, are neither irrational nor delusional. In fact, many of them have sophisticated and nuanced beliefs many of which, though perhaps not all, are consistent with a modern worldview. I'm not a Christian, but I don't find a "scorched earth" criticism of Christianity to be very helpful.

GordonBlood said...

According to Christians (the ones I've met and read about anyway), we are all born into sin because Adam and Eve ate some fruit.

You havent met too many then... or read a whole lot either. Honestly.

Evan said...

First, I'm not sure why religion is singled out as something that must be approached with skepticism. Exactly why is that the "default" position? Are we supposed to approach all other beliefs with similar skepticism? If so, why?

It's not singled out. The proper approach to all forms of knowledge is the amount of skepticism should go up the more improbable the claim is.

If I tell you that I like to wear red socks, your proper amount of skepticism should be to never question it unless you see that I have either a pattern of lying about other clothing preferences or you frequently see me wearing green socks. If you know me very well, this degree of relative dishonesty might matter to you as an insight into my overall character. If you don't know me at all, don't depend on me for anything, and our relationship is not important to you, than my footwear should not matter regardless of what I say.

We use the same level of skepticism in the law. If someone is deposed and they make an error regarding a trivial point irrelevant to the case at hand they are not at risk for a prosecution for perjury (in most circumstances, all things being equal). However, if someone says something that can be proven to be germane to the case at hand, knowingly false or highly improbable and something the person would have good reason to know was otherwise, we consider that highly relevant and will prosecute the person for perjury.

So when I hear someone like you, Jim, talking about how many Christians aren't young-earth creationists or doubt the existence of miracles, I'm wondering what data set you are using.

40% of AMERICANS -- not Christians mind you, but AMERICANS, believe the universe is less than 10000 years old. At maximum 26% of AMERICANS believe humans arose through natural selection.

You then go on to say:

People who believe in the reality of certain miracles do not have the burden of proof, unless they are trying to persuade others of the veracity of the miracles in question.

I really don't know what social circles you circulate in, so I can't speculate, but have you really never had a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon knock on your door? Have you never seen a TV evangelist? Have you never heard the President of the United States say that atheists shouldn't be considered patriots?

Really?

Liberal Christians, Jews and Muslims who think that the world is no different than it would look if there were no God are still nefarious. They propagate the Bible or Koran as an authority, and allow the resurgence of fundamentalisms in the future.

The history of religion is littered with periods of relatively stylized and theoretical interpretations of scripture being fashionable in one period, and then more literalistic interpretations regaining fashion.

Unfortunately, the second type of situation can be deadly (See 9/11), and the only way to get rid of it is to destroy the idea once and for all that there was a book written by a God.

Books were all written by men.

The books written by the Palestinians of the 4th and 5th centuries BCE are no more authoritative than those of Shakespeare, Gandhi, Aquinas, Boethius, Spinoza, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, or Muhammad.

If you believe the Bible or Koran is a book like any other, and that God does not interact with the universe I think you and I are in pretty close agreement and we are both unlikely to kill someone or fly a plane into a building over what we believe.

But if you believe the Bible or Koran is a special book that was written, inspired, or dictated by God and that it is better than all other books than you are leaving the door open for someone else to be a fundamentalist again.

Remember 40% of Americans (minimum) think the earth is less than 10000 years old.

GordonBlood said...

I would say young-earth creationism isnt a religious problem so much as it is an educational problem. In terms of population percentages Evan its pretty clear right off the bat that 50% of churches do not believe in young-earth creationism (we call them Catholics, and the last few popes have been outspoken about young-earth creationism being silly). Indeed outside of the United States most Christians in the western world are not young-earth creationists at all. Perhaps even more damning however is the fact that though still Christian, many Americans are famously uninterested in their actual faith at all. Thus they can get away with believing the earth is 6000 years old... namely because they couldnt care less if it was 6000 or 13.6 billion. Lastly, to say that there are either complete fundamentalists or essentially deists (to believe in a God that has nothing to do with the universe is deism) is being rediculously over-simplistic. One can believe the universe is 13.6 billion years old and easily see signs that it is a creation. The same middle-position could be seen in the bible, though it was obviously written by men God may still communicate through its message. Of course that gets into a whole list of debates surounding how the bible ought to be read, especially given its authorship by different cultures in different contexts. Something you may be interested in is this, a lecture by Ronald Numbers on why the YEC position is so popular amongst Christians in America and so stagnant amongst Christians in otherwise similar countries (Canada, Australia, Britain etc)
http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/resources/short%20course%207/Ron%20Numbers%20Creationism.mp3

Jim Holman said...

Gordonblood writes: Perhaps even more damning however is the fact that though still Christian, many Americans are famously uninterested in their actual faith at all.

I agree completely. I've had the odd experience of having a conservative Christian staunchly defend the doctrine of the Trinity, without being able to articulate what it is. Many centuries ago people rioted in the streets of Alexandria over the doctrine of the Trinity; today you'd be hard-pressed to find two people who would get into a boxing match over it. And by the way, thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Gordonblood, in an earlier post, writes: You havent met too many [Christians] then... or read a whole lot either. Honestly.

Actually, I have met many and read a lot, which means that my experience with Christians goes beyond fundamentalists. Frankly I don't find fundamentalism very interesting. Fundamentalists are easy "targets," but I don't like treating people like targets. So I tend to shy away from discussions with them.

Many of the criticisms of Christianity that I have read in this venue really refer to fundamentalist Christianity, and many of those criticisms are correct. But the Christian world is much larger than just the fundamentalists, although they are the most vocal and well-known. I personally find other expressions of Christianity more interesting.

Evan writes: Unfortunately, the second type of situation [literalist interpretation] can be deadly (See 9/11), and the only way to get rid of it is to destroy the idea once and for all that there was a book written by a God.

Fundamentalist religion can turn deadly, but through the enlightenment Christianity in the West largely became "domesticated," if you will, something that has not happened in Islam. We have tens of millions of fundamentalists in the U.S., and only a very tiny level of violence propagated by Christian fundamentalists. Political opportunists will always try to stir up religious strife, but in the U.S. even that has rarely led to violence.

But let's talk practical strategy. You want to "destroy the idea of a book written by God." So how's that working for you? Not so good?

I really don't know how you approach Christians, so the following is not in any way directed toward you.

In dealing with Christians I have found that the "scorched earth" critique of Christianity simply doesn't work. It insults people, turns them off, makes them defensive, and shuts off dialog.

The rabid anti-religious folks ridicule Christians and their beliefs, and then are shocked, shocked to discover that their words have had no effect. But why should the Christian listen? Why would the Christian want to become someone like that? Frankly, I don't want to be a person like that.

People don't become religious in response to rational arguments, nor do they leave religion in response to rational arguments. That may sound strange, but let me explain.

People go into or come out of religion because of how it makes them feel about themselves. Someone may go into a religion because he feels lost, unsure of himself, troubled about his place in the world. Later on, he may go out of religion because he feels stifled, or because he feels that he has matured beyond what the religion has to offer, or because he is beginning to develop ideas that cannot be expressed in the context of the religion. As part of that process he may or may not find rational arguments helpful. Many people leave Christianity simply because it is no longer meaningful to them, not because of a rational argument.

This is a process that may take years. It is like a very slow birth and is a natural process that works according to its own schedule. The outcome is uncertain; he may change beliefs, leave the religion altogether, or change to a different religion.

Whatever the situation, I find that the scorched earth critique almost never helps, and often hurts. Again, this may sound strange, but in dealing with people and religion I find that a "pastoral" approach is best.

I'm not a Christian, but when I talk to Christians I don't try to "convert" anyone. I don't insult them or their beliefs. I don't treat them as ignorant people. I try to be always polite, even if some are not polite in return. I talk about my own life experiences and tell them about the resources that I have found helpful.

There's nothing wrong with reason, but people respond when one speaks from the heart, not the mind. I have not always done this. But in my old age I have discovered that I have to love the person, treat him as a person, and not as an issue or a problem to be "fixed."

Evan said...

Jim,

If you really believe that the actual facts of a religion are irrelevant to whether people believe it or not, I don't have anything to say to you.

There may be many Christians who don't examine their beliefs. They are not the ones I can reach.

However, if any Christian wants to know how his/her beliefs comport with known evidence derived from scholarship, he/she is welcome to learn the facts.

You seem to think the deism/fundamentalism dichotomy is false, so I'd like it if you would unpack why that is.

What is a reasonable level of involvement for a deity that created a universe 13.5 billion years before the first man arrived to have with men? Should he/she dictate books to them?

zilch said...

I would say young-earth creationism isnt a religious problem so much as it is an educational problem.

I suppose it depends upon how you define "religion", gordon. I would say that religion itself is an educational problem: the more educated you are, the more likely you are an atheist. But I don't see how you can say that young-earth creationism is not a religious problem: its only raison d'ĂȘtre is religion. What atheist claims the world is only six thousand years old?

The same thing is true, of course, with Americans' disbelief in evolution: it's purely a religious problem.

GordonBlood said...

Firstly, Jim, I was accusing Spoosmith of not having had many conversations with Christians, not yourself (though I do vehemently disagree with you on the notion that noone comes to believe Christianity via arguments, which I believe is demonstrably false).

Evan- While it may be true that one can easily show that fundamentalist seventh-day adventism does not comport with facts, it does not follow that all of Christianity is defeated in the process, especially by reading the dismal writings of Ayn Rand. Concerning deism/fundamentalism... firstly one can easily believe that God created the universe 13.6 billion years ago and still cares about his creation. Indeed the very fact that it has spawned a world of saints and scientists who can actually investigate it seems to suggest something is at play (I realize this isnt a comprehensive answer, but that would quite literally require a book).
Lastly, in what position are you in to actually ask what the universe should be like. I myself find a 13.6 billion year old universe with its beauty and order and dynamic history far more appealing thana pokey dome in the sky supported by angels. Even Richard Dawkins agrees with me on this one.

Zilch it all depends what country you are in concerning that first of all (in some European countries the more educated you are the more religious) and besides the statistics for the United States are less than accurate anyhow, last I read there was no considerable difference. While ive never met an atheist who believed in a 6000 years old universe ive met many who couldnt tell me within a billion years how old the universe is and many many more who couldnt name the fundamental principles of Darwinian evolution. (mutation, time, selection) Remember, the % of scientists in the United States who attend church are the same as the % of truck drivers, education is not a colossal factor. I would say that creationism is a problem for religion, but that its actual impetus, its continued existence, is the fundamental failure of the American public school system. As I said, in any other western country young earth creationists are a rare breed indeed. Indeed, looking around my fellow students ive nevermet a young-earth creationists and certainly none of my professors that I have had these dialogues with would ever consider for a second the YEC position.

Evan said...

Evan- While it may be true that one can easily show that fundamentalist seventh-day adventism does not comport with facts, it does not follow that all of Christianity is defeated in the process, especially by reading the dismal writings of Ayn Rand.

Buzz!

Try again.

I'm in no way a follower of Ms. Rand. If you recall I'm the one who feels there is positive scientific evidence against design due to the endosymbiotic theory of Margulis.

You then say:

firstly one can easily believe that God created the universe 13.6 billion years ago and still cares about his creation. Indeed the very fact that it has spawned a world of saints and scientists who can actually investigate it seems to suggest something is at play (I realize this isnt a comprehensive answer, but that would quite literally require a book).

Nice evasion. I asked a really simple question. It's not going to require a book.

Would God write, inspire or dictate books to human beings?

That is a yes or no answer.

It shouldn't be tough for you.