What Type of Critique of the Christian Faith Do I Have to Offer?

There are different types of critiques of Christianity. Each one of them stresses something different coming from different areas of expertise. Some of the major areas of criticism come from 1) The sciences, especially evolution and brain science; 2) Biblical and historical criticism; 3) Philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion; 4) Archaeology; 5) Cultural anthropology; 6) Psychology; and, 7) Social and moral criticism of the Bible and the church. There are others. Which one do you think is more effective? Christian which one gives you the most trouble?

I suspect we won't all agree. Without the sciences (#1) we probably don't have much of a critique at all, at least no reasonable alternative to a creator God, so that has got to be the highest on the list. But here's the problem. Christians denigrate the sciences in favor of their holy book. In every era Christian believers have repeatedly said that reason must bow down before faith, you see. That's the problem when using the sciences in getting Christian believers to change their minds. We must first help believers see that their holy book has holes in it. To do that we must speak to them in their language by critiquing their beliefs in terms they will understand and appreciate. Otherwise we're preaching to the choir.

While I see the value of ridicule, the most effective critique of the Christian faith will be one that can best be described as a counter-apologetic. An apologetic offers reasons from several different areas of expertise on behalf of the Christian faith. A counter-apologetic does the opposite. A counter-apologetic must take believers where they are and move them (or push them) in the right direction, the direction that the sciences have shown us. But since believers usually denigrate the sciences (# 1) I start with the other areas of criticism (#'s 2-7), especially biblical and historical criticism (# 2), and philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion (# 3).

From having studied these issues as a former Christian insider for a number of years this is what I think. Take it for what it's worth. But I think I know what I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong. Every area of expertise is important if we want to change the mind of the believer. But this is the type of critique of the Christian faith I offer.

That's why I really like what Dr. Jaco Gericke does since he is a philosopher of religion who also is a Biblical scholar.

16 comments:

stamati anagnostou said...

What did me in was a combination of philosophical conundrums and biblical errancy. However, I'd been willing to chalk up to mystery the difficulties of competing ideas like free will versus predestination until I was convinced of the falsity of historical claims and claims to inerrancy.

I think it takes everything to bring a strong believer down, and like you've said before, the goal is to overwhelm.

Andy said...

Hi John,

I agree that the sciences, as valuable as they are to more open minds, are almost completely inefficacious for deconversion. While the remaining categories of critiques you list are important, there is one not listed that I've found particularly effective: everyday experience.

The truth is that to be an average American Evangelical Christian is to trade in absurdities that contradict everyday experience by the hour, if not the minute. The doctrine of Christian exceptionalism, for example--the position that Christians enjoy an exclusive advantage in living the good life--is demonstrably untrue. When Christians venture far enough from their community, they are bound to run into deeply satisfied, moral, and loving people who are free of religion. I've noticed that Christians grow weary after years of harboring the contradiction. If "a-vangelists" can properly tease out this intellectual discomfort and, by way of naturalistic explanations, offer a satisfying solution, they have a better shot at deconversion.

Christian exceptionalism is just one example of a belief that regularly contradicts everyday experience. Belief in the efficacy of prayer, God's goodness, an ability to hear the "voice of God", etc. are all similarly doomed.

My guess is that the desire to reconcile these sorts of contradictions plays an important role in many, if not most, deconversions.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

John,

I think former Christians like you and I have a much better understanding of how evangelicals think and therefore what may really cause them to reconsider their beliefs. While Dawkins, Hitchens, and other new atheists have some good things to say, I don't think they are as effective as former believers in critiquing Christianity.

John W. Loftus said...

Ken, yes, agreed, and that's why I really like your work as well. There are more and more of us every year.

Lynn said...

Big factors for me were praying, then thinking "What is there truly IS NO GOD?" That would certainly explain prayers not getting answered, etc.

Plus, reading criticisms of the Bible. I learned alot. I guess the problem is-some are readers, but mainly read apologetics. Many are not readers. For those, I think someone in their life that they know who is atheist or agnostic could make an impression.

So, for me, prayer issues and the Bible.

Laughing Boy said...

1) The sciences, especially evolution and brain science
Although many ex-Christians point to this as a major factor for their disillusionment with Christianity, I've never understood why. I personally don't have much confidence in Darwinian Evolution as a theory to explain bio-diversity, much less origins. But even if I were to accept evolution it wouldn't be any reason to reject Christianity or theism in general. Enough renowned Christian scientists hold to some form of evolution that I, as a non-scientist, don't worry that it's just a lack of knowledge on my part that keeps me ignorantly Christian. That said I have read more than most non-specialists about evolutionary theory (by it's most prominent proponents) and I recommend that all interested Christians do the same. I expect many will find what I found...that Evolution as atheistic apologetic is paper tiger.

2) Biblical and historical criticism
This would probably be the most promising angle to attack my beliefs. The downside for the want-to-be atheist evangelist is that the area is so highly specialized and technical that it's hard to engage the data with any level of confidence. On the popular level, e.g. the works of Bart Ehrman, the arguments are pretty superficial even though I have seen the effect they have on the uninformed. I put a great deal of confidence in the Bible and if that could be shaken it would be a significant problem for me.

3) Philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion
No way. This is Christianity's strong point as far as I'm concerned.

4) Archaeology
Again, too technical to be an effective argument against Christianity for the average person. Beyond that, there are enough cases of archaeology eventually confirming previously "debunked" Biblical details that any pronouncements from this field should be taken with a grain of salt.

5) Cultural anthropology
Like what exactly? The Enuma Elish? What would you consider an argument against theism or Christianity from this field? The soft sciences are not very fertile grounds for apologetics in my opinion.

6) Psychology
...nor are the downright mushy sciences.

7) Social and moral criticism of the Bible and the church.
Social and moral criticism of the church may be a great source of anti-Christian and atheist invective, but we all know that people of all persuasions do bad things. It's a problem with humanity, which Christianity plainly identifies, not with Christianity itself. As for such criticism of the Bible, again, it's functions better as fodder for atheist bloggers than as de-conversion material for the Christian.

So there, for what it's worth, are my two cents regarding the anti-Christian apologetic arsenal. Each of them might be effective against certain people, but more likely, such attacks will either be ignored (by fideists, anti-intellectuals, or the simply uninquisitive, for example) or they will serve as an impetus to learn more and better defend one's beliefs. I know that being exposed to such attacks over the years has significantly strengthened my knowledge and my faith.

I am thankful for all the resources that are available to help Christians not only defend their beliefs, but challenge others on their own worldview turf. And thanks to the popularity of anti-Christian books, etc in the recent past the volume and quality of pro-Christian material has grown in response.

I am also thankful for a intellectually vital home church and good friends that encourage questions, doubts, and investigation—things no Christian should be afraid of. Unfortunately many people aren't in such an environment. If you're one of them, my prayer is that you seek out a church, a group, or a well-read, mature Christian friend that will welcome your questions and help you find answers.

Amy B said...

I'm still a Christian, though I'm in the midst of a faith crisis and have changed my beliefs significantly during the past year. What started everything was not making sense of how so many people could be condemned for not believing in Christ when so many haven't even heard of Him or have a very poor chance of believing him given their cultural/family background.

Once I felt comfortable questioning, it allowed me to explore evolution with an open mind for the first time. Once I accepted it and saw an alternative explanation for our existence here, I then began examining the Bible more critically. Now that I no longer view the Bible as inerrant, my faith is on much shakier ground.

I've pondered what it would take me to lose my faith, and I think one factor would involve deciding that there is not enough reason to believe the resurrection occured. However, that only addresses the Christian God, not all possible higher beings. I still struggle with accepting how the universe and life got started without God. I guess I'm looking for an answer that seems probable, not just possible. Actually, any answer for the origins of the universe seems implausible. I also am hung up on the fine tuning of the universe and on the morality and spirituality we have evolved. Why would these things be if there is not God?

I think for many people, issues need to be addressed on many levels, as your book does, John. I read it and found it helpful. I have a long list of books to read based on all your footnotes.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Laughing Boy, Lynn, Amy B and others. Glad to know Amy, that what I wrote helps.

Cheers.

feeno said...

Amy B

Your response was thoughtful and honest. And many Christians struggle with their beliefs. A lot wont finish the race. Some will even "convert" to Atheism.

I too, have read Mr Loftus' book. (Yes, it's well done) It helped me answer many questions I had, some I didn't even know I had until I read his book. I was a naive Christian, I never really had my faith challenged until I found myself answering questions found on "Debunking Christianity".

Through this process I feel my relationship with the Lord has grown and I have experienced a closeness to Him I may have never encountered, had it not been for this search. I do struggle tho, why my search brings me closer to God, then some one like Mr. Loftus' search and many others have them leave that relationship?

I wasn't planning on typing all that, I really just wanted to answer your concern with your question of "how so many people could be condemned for not believing in Christ...." I do believe in Hell, however I don't think the Bible teaches that those who haven't heard of Christ wind up there. Ecc. 3:11 tells us that God has set eternity in the hearts of man. Then Rom. tells us that we have a conscience, if we can sense that there is a God based upon creation, our conscience and the fact that god has placed something inside of us that cries out there is a God, and are hearts and attitudes reflect that and a change occurs in that individuals life, I believe that a Just and Faithful and Righteous Judge will do what is right. (Rev. 19:11) and then finally the Bible says that Jesus blood is enough to cover the sins of the whole world.

The people who should worry about these things are the ones that have heard of this message and reject it for what ever reason. I hope that doesn't sound to mean to anyone else reading this, I don't want it to be that way. But the Bible does say to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Peace be unto you, feeno

Mark Plus said...

I've concluded that theism just doesn't solve the problems that people want it to solve. A god could have created us without any meaning or purpose. Meaning and purpose seem like modern obsessions, any way, luxuries for people in developed countries who don't have to worry about their subsistence and security.

These beliefs also indicate narcissism, especially combined with afterlife beliefs. I have to laugh at stories of "unbelievers" who allegedly get religion when they discover they have a terminal illness. Yes, a god magically pops into existence just because an atheist has inoperable cancer. How convenient.

crockoduckhunter said...

Hi Amy,

I was in the exact same place very recently, for very similar reasons. The questions you're still holding onto are good ones, too, in my opinion. I'm not going to address them here, because I don't think that's what you want/need on this thread (also I couldn't begin to do them justice), but I would like to say from my experience that the answers are out there. It takes time and effort to go track down explanations and understand them, so it'll be a slow process, but you're clearly on the right track.

Best of luck with your intellectual pursuits!

DevinWL said...

I simply just do not understand people like Laughing Boy. Evolution is a proven science. Your lack of "confidence" just shows your prejudices towards the scientific method. Also man always being man is detrimental to Christianity so to accept evolution is to say that the Bible got it wrong. Also a great example of a well written and easy to understand book on evolution read Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution is True.

Which brings me to my next point. You say, "I put a great deal of confidence in the Bible and if that could be shaken it would be a significant problem for me.
" I also put a great deal of confidence in the Bible. It was the only thing that mattered to me and no one was going to take my Bible away from me. But it was shaken and this started me down my path of deconversion.

I simply don't understand how historical criticism of the Bible is too technical of an argument. It is pretty straight forward. The Bible is full of contradictions and discrepancies that can't be reconciled unless you create your own version. A version that is not in the Bible. How is that too hard to understand? We do not possess the original manuscripts so we DO NOT know what they actually say and since we don't people like Kurt Aland are just guessing. So the rational approach is one that Dr. Ehrman takes. WE DONT KNOW.

Again archaeology is pretty simple and not to technical to comprehend. The Bible says something happened in antiquity and it shows to be false. Pretty straight forward once again.

As for psychology and neurotheology, please read some studies by Dr. Andrew Newburg. It is pretty serious stuff. No mush.

You see you are in denial. You, as I was, would be devastated if all you have come to believe was fallacious. You can not get past your arrogance. You have to be open minded and willing to accept that you were wrong and so was your holy book.

stamati anagnostou said...

"Meaning and purpose seem like modern obsessions, any way, luxuries for people in developed countries who don't have to worry about their subsistence and security."

I'll say. Reminds me of Nietzsche when he says something like, "metaphysics has about as much relevance to us as the chemical composition of water does to a drowning man."

Meaning starts now, with what we can experience with the senses.

Grendel said...

Feeno,

I do believe in Hell, however I don't think the Bible teaches that those who haven't heard of Christ wind up there.

What about the Great Commission? If ignorance of Christ is not damnable, then it seems you’d simply be bringing unnecessary accountability to people by teaching them about Christ. Would it not be better to NOT tell others about Christ?

if we can sense there is a God based upon creation…

What if we can’t? In fact, I think nature or “creation” indicates quite the opposite. Richard Dawkins sums this view up as well as any:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

feeno said...

Hello Grendel

I'm not entirely sure about your comment, but I think I can try to give the same answer, only better?

All that I know for sure is that we are responsible to God for what we believe about him. We will either accept or Him or reject Him.

I believe that God is just and will judge fairly and accurately. Whatever our fate is, we brought it on ourselves.

Yes, we are told to go out and make disciples etc. and we should, but God doesn't need a missionary to reveal himself to anyone.

And your boy Dawkins should realize that it's more than just creation. God gave us the ability to communicate with him. He also gave us a conscience. And like I said earlier he has set eternity in the hearts of man. So we will be without excuse.

Now having said all that I believe there are people who have never heard of the Gospel, but because there hearts (gut) tells them there is a God, and conscience convicts them of their "sin" and they can look around at nature and know there is a God, and because of that have a change of attitude, I think they will be spared of God's judgment.

Lastly Grendel, I have a lot more confidence in God's justice than I do my interpretation of Scripture.
Even tho I'm probably right?

Peace out Sour kraut, feeno

Grendel said...

feeno,

Thanks for the response. It seems just about everything you say (God will judge fairly, God gave us a conscience and the ability to communicate with him, eternity is in the heart of man – whatever that means, and all that about finding God in nature and in and recognizing sin) is mere assertion and what you want to be true. Fine, if that is what you believe, but I see no reason why anyone should.