Christian, How Could You Know You're Wrong?

Eheffa asks an important question: "If the Christian belief system is false or based on fabricated source documents - how exactly under your current set of suppositions with the Bible as the only authoritative admissible evidence, would you ever be able to detect the falsity of that belief system?"


Emilio Mejia Jr. said...

That's the inherent problem in such a belief system. Which is why the biggest obstacle when trying to reason with a believer is to challenge them to go out and seek information themselves. If they are not willing to accept any other written source as factual, then there is nothing you can say or quote from non-Biblical sources that will make them question their beliefs. I would assume that if you ask most of us non-theists what it was that convinced us, it is that we searched out information and found proof that dissolved our Bible-centered belief system.

krissncleo said...

I think that if you look at other disciplines/philosophies and see that they all have similar fallacies, then you can look at your own & recognize that your belief follows the same pattern and then you believe what you want to believe.

Look at the existence of chi, other religions, UFOs, aroma therapy, conspiracy theories, and one will see that they follow the same patterns: anecdotal evidence, indoctrination (often times at a young age), money, denial of common sense, the list goes on....

I guess the thing is that if you don't seek out any new or other information, then you will never find out. Good Luck.


bob said...

A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports the myth.
-- Edward De Bono

Brother Crow said...

Christians ultimately do not base their religion on the Bible...but on subjective experience of doctrine. Look at how much of the Bible they ignore, or excuse away. Even the teachings of their savior are ignored: "if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out"; "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off"; "I did not come to bring peace but a sword"; "if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other to him".

What they focus on is what their feelings tell them are true, based on experience. "For God so loved the world", "every hair on your head is numbered", "ask and you will receive," etc.

Most Christians - of Protestant and Catholic persuasion - pick and choose what in the Bible they want to believe and observe. When challenged, eventually it will get down to "I was once lost but now am found." In the most of the comments at this blogsite, the Christians will eventually say - "you don't know God like I know God."

And that much at least is true.

Greg said...

I don't think evidence and fact has anything to do with religious belief. You believe it because it feels right and you're not going to bother looking to falsify while you believe. You might look for confirming evidence, but you're just rationalizing your emotions.

To leave any religious belief, it has to make your life miserable. Then you can examine it technically and say, "Wow! I was dumb to believe that!" But by then, you've lost the desire to believe, so it doesn't matter anyway.

eheffa said...

You raise an interesting point Greg.

Do we ultimately believe or disbelieve on the basis of what we truly desire or want to believe?

Some theists will accuse atheists of not believing on the basis of desire rather than because of any empiric or rational process. The Biblical condemnation of unbelief is based on the assumption that not believing is a willful act of disobedience to the "Lord".

A friend of mine who is a retired Anglican minister sent me this:

Towards the end of "The Brothers Karamazov", the oldest brother, Ivan, the free-thinking rationalist who believes that everything is permissible, has a nightmare. He's actually having a mental breakdown and in his dream he talks with the devil, or, with his alter ego posing as the devil Here’s the paragraph.
“Don’t believe it then,” the gentleman [devil] smiled sweetly, “what good is faith by force? Besides, proofs are of no help to faith, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw the risen Christ but because he wanted to believe even before that.”

Wanting something to be true will make us more favorably disposed towards that possibility than to favor a more negative alternative. Some of the Christians in my life tell me that they could not entertain the possibility of the falsehood of Christian faith because they would have no more hope of eternal life or meaning in their lives. The belief then is clearly dependent on the desirability of the belief.

I think that denial is a very commonly used instrument in our lives when we encounter negative or undesirable circumstances. (I am a physician & work in palliative care as part of my practice - I see a lot denial as a very common first response to bad news.)

I would like to think that wishful thinking can be overcome with a bit of effort and ruthless self-honesty but one must be always on the alert for our ever-ready ability to selectively interpret the data to suit our prejudice (even as a disbeliever).


Jim Holman said...

emilio mejia writes: ...the biggest obstacle when trying to reason with a believer is to challenge them to go out and seek information themselves.

Of all the Christians to whom I have recommended books over the years, there is only one fellow who did read the book. So I'm probably running about a 1/2 percent success rate. Frankly, I was surprised he read it, but he did.

But really the "getting more information" is what apologetics is all about. When the fundamentalist Christian decides to inform himself on, say, evolution, he won't read a book actually explaining evolution. He'll read an apologetic book talking about why evolution is wrong.

I look at apologetics as a kind of "vaccination." In the same way that a vaccination involves the introduction of a weakened form of a virus so that the body develops an immunity, apologetics involves the introduction of a weakened form of an anti-fundamentalist argument so that the mind develops an "immunity."

Thus the fundamentalist feels like he has "dealt with the issue." He feels like he knows something about it. But because he has no other information about the topic, he doesn't realize that he has only been exposed to a weakened form of the argument. He doesn't realize that he has only been given a few "talking points" whose sole purpose is not to inform, but to make him feel that he has been informed.

What happened to me years ago is that I stopped reading apologetics, and started reading the original sources. It makes all the difference.

eheffa said...

Well said Jim.

This is an excellent summary of the phenomenon of how apologetics allows Christians to bask in the illusion that they have "dealt" with the issues.

I was deluded for years about this very thing. When I finally mustered up the courage to read the unadulterated defense of the atheist / non-christian position, I realized that I had been hiding from these ideas all these years. Once you see through the apologetic holes you can never go back to accepting these lame apologetic arguments again.

Thanks for summarizing this so concisely. I am in the middle of writing my own deconversion story & might quote your vaccination analogy if that's OK. (?)


Jim Holman said...

eheffa writes: I am in the middle of writing my own deconversion story & might quote your vaccination analogy if that's OK.

Dude, you go for it! I don't have a copyright on it. Use whatever helps explain.

mikespeir said...

And sometimes it doesn't even go that far. Instead, after reading an apologetic work they are often comforted by something like this thought: "Well, Lee Strobel's smart. He understands the issues and he still believes." It's not even necessarily that they have faith in God. It's that they have faith in Lee Strobel's faith in God.

Greg said...

Eheffa, that's why I sometimes wonder at the attitude of new atheists toward their former religions.

It's common for them, as it was for me, to lash over and over again at biblical contradictions, technical absurdities and the like.

What you don't realize, until much later at least, is that you probably didn't leave your old religion for technical reasons. You left because you found something in it that didn't "work" anymore, in the emotional sense.

That's why I prefer to take the tactic of pointing out the moral flaws (e.g.) Christianity. It's Original Sin that's an evil concept. It's Abraham blithely listening to the voice in his head saying "set your son on fire" that's evil. Whether you could fit all those animals on Noah's Ark is completely moot for most religious people.

David said...


Thats an interesting point because I just heard Bart Ehrman interacting with Dale Martin at the Greer-Heard conference, and he made it very clear that he did not convert to agnosticism because of textual criticism or finding out about new variants. Not having read much of him (only Misquoting Jesus) I would have assumed that his deconversion was heavily influenced by his textual work.

franith said...

David & greg,

I think it's a really good point that doesn't quite come up often enough here. It's quite easy to say Christianity is impossible, illogical, banal and contradictory on a huge number of factual grounds, but Christians will simply lash out at such materialist imperialism. Religion isn't about science or logic.

For example, the two breakthroughs I made to deconvert from catholicism were:
1. People can be, and are, good without God
2. If God punishes and rewards people for being good, then that contradicts Jesus' and my own philosophy of doing good for its worth to others.

And even if they sound simple in retrospect, it is complex emotional gymnastics to think far enough to twist out of the religious viewpoint. It's pretty hard to communicate them on a blog, and surely impossible on one openly advocating atheism (a blog which i would have regarded as clearly sponsored by Satan himself, with Screwtape personally assigned to John W Loftus).

i mostly come here for the flamewars.

CR said...

On NPR, he said it started with the Problem of Evil.

Emilio Mejia Jr. said...

i mostly come here for the flamewars.

That's the most honest thing anybody has said here. Hehe.

Robert_B said...

The Christian can use an interesting contradiction in the Bible to falsify Christianity and the archeological record to falsify Judaism. A contradiction entailed between the alleged revelations of Christianity and Judaism is the formers glorification and dependence upon symbolic consumption of blood offered in sacrifice. 1 Cor. 11:23-25 relates “ 23: For I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread, 24: and having given thanks broke [it], and said, This is my body, which [is] for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25: In like manner also the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye shall drink [it], in remembrance of me. “

Judaism’s alleged revelation in Lev 7:22-27 states “22: And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, …. 26: And no blood shall ye eat in any of your dwellings, whether it be of fowl or of cattle. 27: Whatever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, that soul shall be cut off from his peoples.”

Jesus is identified as Jehovah in the following passages. John 1:1, John 1:14, John 8:58, John 10:30-31, John 10:38-39, John 14:9, John 20:28, Acts 20:28, Col 1:16, Col 2:9, 1 Tim 3:16, Titus 2;13, Phil 2:6, Heb 1:8, Rev 1;17, and Rev 22:13.

The Bible assures the reader that Jehovah cannot lie as expounded in the following passages. Num 23:19, 1 Sam 15:29, 2 Sam 7:28, Titus 1:2, Heb 6:18.

The Bible also relates that the Law of Moses is a perpetual Covenant that cannot be rescinded ever. Gen 17:19, Ex 12:14, 17, 24, Lev 23:14,21,31, Deut 4:8-9, 7:9, 11:26-28, 1 Chron 16:15, Psalm 119:151-2, 160, Mal 4:4, Matt 5:18-19, Luke 16:17.

If Jehovah exists, then either Judaism is a true revelation or it isn’t. If Moses got a true and correct revelation, then that revelation is incompatible with and contrary to Christianity, and Jesus and Paul were wrong, self-deluded, and Jesus cannot be equal to Jehovah. On the other hand if Moses was a deceiver or a myth, then Judaism is a fictional religious fairy tale, and Jesus and Paul were incorrect, self-deluded, and Jesus cannot be Jehovah because Christianity presupposes Judaism to be a true revelation. Either way Christianity is false, and Jesus is not Jehovah. If Paul had the truth and his Law of Moses as school-teacher argument was true, then Jehovah lied to Moses. If Jehovah is a liar, then it is not most worthy of worship. If Jehovah is not most worthy of worship, then it cannot be God. Both Moses and Paul cannot be correct, but both can be wrong. If Moses, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, the Davidic-Solomon-Reboaham unified empire are myths cooked up by the eighth century BCE Judean Jehovah cultists in response to the prosperity of the Omrid dynasty of the northern Israel kingdom, then Moses, Jesus, the Jews, and Paul were all wrong and self-deluded. Christianity presupposes and requires Judaism to be a true revelation from Jehovah, but if the Bible minimalists are correct, as they appear to be, then Judaism is just another mythological religious fairytale, and the New Testament’s equivocation of Jesus and Jehovah is a lie. This would be fatal for Judaism and Christianity.

Shygetz said...

To leave any religious belief, it has to make your life miserable. Then you can examine it technically and say, "Wow! I was dumb to believe that!" But by then, you've lost the desire to believe, so it doesn't matter anyway.

I stand as a counterexample--I was never miserable in my religion. I do think that you are right in many cases but certainly not all. It is possible to convince some people through rationality; however, making the emotional appeal and attacking the belief in belief is essential to reach the rest (and it doesn't hurt in reaching the rationalists, either).

Such attacks will, of course, be useless against faithful who are happy with their faith. Indeed, I have little problem with faith for the sake of happiness so long as it is accompanied by a lack of certainty. Such unzealous faith, in my opinion, does those people more good than harm.

goprairie said...

I was never miserable in any religion either: It just never made SENSE. As a kid, I had questions. The questions that people answered with science, how a plant grew, the chemical signals, how weather worked, all made sense. The religion questions lead to more questions and the answers never made sense. The Bible is God's perfect word but why are there contradictions and that is because people have translated over the years and introduced mistakes. Huh? And just the many variations - if any of it were true, how come there were so many versions? One school does not teach that the water goes up the xylem and down the phloem and another school teach it the other way. something that is true can be found out and be consistently told. even history might nake new discoveries but they are logical and the mistakes made were logical and made sense, and everyone in history changes their view based onthe new information from the new dig site. i tried to beleive because everyone else seemed to but as ai pared away the parts i could not accept, not much was left. still it was hard to give it up because it was not normal and there is such a stigma against being an atheist. I still do not admit it to most friends because it is a rejection of so much of what they believe in and offensive to them. what a releif to discover places like this where I am 'normal'!

themofessional said...

For a proposition to be true or false, it has to be falsifiable. Clearly Christianity doesn't satisfy it, and thus it joins the ranks of mythology, psychics and UFO cults.

Stephen Shea said...

Nicely put, goprarie: "I was never miserable in any religion either: It just never made SENSE. As a kid, I had questions. The questions that people answered with science, how a plant grew, the chemical signals, how weather worked, all made sense. The religion questions lead to more questions and the answers never made sense."

For my part, I grew up without religion, and went straight to the science, except in those odd places where religion seeps into an atheist's life. (I imagine Jews feel approximately this way about Christianity in places like the US.)

I, too, found satisfaction in wondering about the legs of a grasshopper (look really closely - they're totally fascinating), and the changing of the seasons, the boldness of scrub jays, and how the sun caused my skin to burn.

All of this sciency stuff was confirmed and enriched by experience, later elucidated by book learning, and never undercut by "deus vult" explanations.

I bring up the reputed chorus of the knights at Clermont, at the launching of the First Crusade, because "God wills it" can be both a quashing of inquiry and a justification of future actions.

So I disagree with Shygetz when s/he writes "Indeed, I have little problem with faith for the sake of happiness so long as it is accompanied by a lack of certainty. Such unzealous faith, in my opinion, does those people more good than harm."

I think that the unzealous faith leads to a lack of independence, a signing over of the will to authorities, which allows those authorities, in the extreme cases, to use the same impulses and conditions that lead to unzealous faith for woeful ends - Crusades, jihads, child abuse, genocide, human sacrifice, etc.

For individuals, like my late and very Catholic grandmother, unzealous faith is fairly benign. How does a society guard against dangerous zealotry while encouraging unzealous faith? I think they're too connected, unfortunately.

Still, as an atheist, I am the last to propose public (state) interference into an individual's conscience. "No one is free unless all are free."

goprairie said...

"faith for the sake of happiness"
Is it OK to beleive in something wrong if it makes you happy? It was FUN to beleive in Santa while it lasted. It was fun to think up just the right gift to ask for, not so big it was impossible, like a pony or an indoor pool, thereby guaranteeing disappointment, but not so trivial your parents would get it for you anyway, like colors or books or games and that sort of thing. Was there harm in it?

I labor under the assumption that truth is better. That even if it is harder or more unpleasant, it is better to know.

It pains me to be a a funeral and hear all the stuff about seeing our loved one on the other side. About them being in a better place. What are the effects of all that?

If I am dying of a fatal disease and i beleive my soul lives on, will I let go sooner? Is there merit in hanging on longer because I know there is no life after?

If my friend has died, and I beleive their soul lives, what will I do differently that if I know they are gone and gone forever?

It is answers to things like this that tell whether the belief is harmless or not.

I happen to beleive that it does ones self harm to not seek the truth and to settle for any less. But if we all end when we die, so what?

If I am out in a natural place and feeling overwhelmingly happy, what is the harm in calling that feeling being 'one with God' and feeling grateful for God's creation?

Does it stop one from learning about how and why things really are the way they are? Is that OK? Does everyone really need to know the details of science or it is it OK to choose the path of the deluded? What harm is there in believing if you don't spill it over to harm others?

I have an idea that it is wrong, that it is harmful to the self, that it is limiting, but is it really?

Sogn Mill-Scout said...

I disagree with Greg (April 25) when he wrote:

I don't think evidence and fact has anything to do with religious belief. You believe it because it feels right and you're not going to bother looking to falsify while you believe. ... To leave any religious belief, it has to make your life miserable.

I should say I disagree with this as a sweeping generalization. Perhaps it applies to a majority of religious believers, but there are plenty of exceptions including myself.

I've been miserable both in and out of religion - and I don't mean merely nominal religion, but the hardcore devout stuff. I haven't observed this to be a major criterion involved in my radical revisions of beliefs. I'm not claiming such psychological factors are irrelevant to conversion either way, but emotional states and dispositions are enormously complicated and idiosyncratic.

However, I do think there is an interesting asymmetry in the relation between misery and conversion depending on which direction one is converting. There is no prima facie oddity about being irreligious and miserable. For anyone lacking personalized, anthropomorphic metaphysical beliefs, shit just happens, randomly distributed. There is no mystery about it, no "problem" to be solved. However miserable one may be, it poses no philosophical problem. It just sucks.

Theistic religion, however, encourages certain expectations highly relevant to one's misery quotient. Of course the most sophisticated mainstream brands are careful not to be too specific in their promises lest they be easily falsified. Nevertheless, there is an irreducible, inescapable selling point in such religion: one is encouraged to believe that on the whole, in some rather nebulous yet still significant way, one will be better off for embracing the religion - and better off in this life, not just in the next. Yes, to be sure, it is not denied that terrible, calamitous blows of affliction and grief will befall the faithful - But! See, there has to be a "but" or evangelism would be undone. The "but" is this: through all the tribulation, as long as the believer clings to the idea that these are tests of faith or, better, means by which to strengthen both faith and character (cf. John Hick's "soul-building"), and as long as the believer perseveres in faith (cf. CS Lewis's "obstinacy in belief") and its concomitant duties such as prayer and virtuous behavior, God will provide solace in the form of a sense of his comforting presence through adversity.

Needless to say, even this program fails fairly often, and once again evasive theology comes to the rescue: Sometimes God sends us a super-duper test and opportunity for growth in the form of his apparent silence or absence - the so-called Dark Night of the Soul. The problem for religion is that the night becomes days, becomes weeks, months, and so on. At some (admittedly subjectively determined) point the agony ceases to be credible as a test and becomes simply God's abandonment or - dare we say - nonexistence.

Persistent and prevalent misery is a problem for theism but not for naturalism or other metaphysically impersonal forms of belief. And while I agree with Greg to the extent that misery can often play a role in some conversions, I think for anyone with even a modestly developed capacity for and interest in critical thinking, careful evaluation of pertinent evidence and fact will always be relevant and crucial vis-à-vis religious belief or disbelief.

NOTE: I used the masculine pronoun for 'God' because most theists still think and speak this way, not because I thing gender has anything to do with a hypothetical supreme being.

David said...

Sogn Mill-Scout, thats an interesting observation because I have always questioned if deism really makes that much of a difference over and against embracing pure agnosticism or atheism. Seems with respect to misery and "looking for" signs of God deism has nothing to offer.

Mary said...

goprairie, where is the evidence that there is NO afterlife?