Archive for April, 2011

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This is Your Brain on Apologetics

April 30, 2011

The title of this post comes from a line in Thom Stark’s recent review of Paul Copan’s new book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

Copan is a Christian apologist. His book attempts to fend off the challenge (leveled most recently by various “New Atheists”) that the God of the Old Testament is a rather unpleasant fellow. A straightforward reading of the text might lead one to conclude that the OT God endorsed ethnic cleansing, slavery, unjust laws, draconian punishments and the oppression of women (to name a few of the biggies). Copan comes to the rescue with a variety of alternative interpretive suggestions and the idea that God was accommodating his message to the Ancient Near Eastern culture. In other words, it wasn’t perfect, but it was the best God could do given the cultural baggage of the people he was working with.

Thom Stark’s review of Copan’s book is, to put it bluntly, scathing. Stark systematically pulls apart Copan’s arguments, one after the other, to show that Copan’s interpretive strategies are little more than wishful thinking. He also makes a strong case that Copan’s accommodation argument fails on the grounds that other ancient legal codes, such as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, frequently contain more progressive (i.e. less morally repugnant) laws than those in the OT.

Stark’s review is over 300 pages long and is worthy of a book in and of itself. I’d encourage you to take the time to read it for yourself. The content is fascinating. I’ll whet your appetite with an excerpt that resonated with me in light of my own frustration with Christian apologetics. Stark writes as follows at pp. 132-33:

Politicians and their supporters engage in this sort of thing incessantly, defending immoral policies and laws in the name of this or that ideology, or attempting to hide their existence by distracting attention. This is what Paul Copan does, alongside so many other Christian apologists, and Christians need to get wise and stop accepting dishonest answers just because they’re the kind of answers we’d like to hear. If our faith is such that we have to be dishonest in order to maintain it, then woe to us!

Moreover, apologists like Copan need to get wise and realize that when Christians figure out that the apologists have been lying to them, they’re usually going to become disillusioned and leave the faith. Most likely, they’ll read an argument from an atheist that displays how lame the standard apologetic arguments are, and they’ll assume the only alternative to lame apologetic answers is atheism. People like me, who remain Christian, and who seek to help struggling Christians find ways to maintain their faith without being intellectually dishonest, are fewer and farther between than the fundamentalists on either side of the theistic divide. Christians who are looking for quick answers to throw at non-Christians, in order to buttress a faith they refuse to doubt, will continue to buy books like Copan’s and without any intellectual effort choose to be persuaded by them. But Christians who are genuinely struggling with the horror texts in the Bible, Christians who have heard the apologists’ answers and continue to struggle, they’re not going to be persuaded by these cheap, easy apologetics books. They’re going to read these books, see right through them, throw them down in disgust, and walk away from the faith. Christian apologists create atheists. I know, because atheists have told me so.

Christians need to start sending a message to these pious spin doctors. We demand the truth, and if the truth messes with our comfort, with our institutions, with our doctrines, then we’ll wrestle with that honestly, and figure out how to have a more mature faith. But a faith based on lies is no faith at all—no faith to speak of. If God is truth, then a faith sustained by lies is nothing other than faith in a false god. Apologists like Paul Copan are perpetrators of a false religion, and we have to call them, forcefully yet compassionately, to repent. We understand that they’re trying to be pious. We understand that they’re not being intentionally malicious. We empathize with their need to salvage the Bible in order to feel secure in the faith. But if we’re going to say we believe in a God of truth, then we must condemn any and all less-than-truthful efforts to defend the God(s) of the Bible. Enough is enough!

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How Historically Probable is the Resurrection?

April 22, 2011

The question of what claims historians can make about the resurrection is a thorny one. If you’ve ever heard Bart Ehrman debate this issue, you’ve probably heard him make an argument along these lines:

1) Miracles, by definition, are highly improbable events.

2) Historians can only establish what most probably happened in the past.

3) Therefore, historians will never be able to tell us that a miracle probably occurred.

The problem with this argument is that #1 and #2 are talking about two very different kinds of probability.

#1 is talking about probability in the sense of the relative frequency with which an event occurs.  Statistically, how often does event X occur over time? Ehrman is obviously correct about #1. Miracles are highly improbable events. That’s why we call them “miracles”. Statistically, most dead people stay dead.

#2 is talking about Bayesian probability – probability as a measure of a state of knowledge. It’s about the degree of confidence that one can have about a hypothesis as a function of various factors, including its prior probability and the evidence for it. Ehrman is correct about #2 as well. In order to gain access to the past, we must rely on the evidence that’s been left behind, whether it be eyewitness testimony, artifacts, photographs, etc. Our data will always be incomplete. Thus, history (especially ancient history) will never be able to say that something happened with 100% certainty. In that sense, historians can only say that an event “probably occurred”.

But it is demonstrably wrong to say that, because of these limitations, historians can only conclude that an event probably happened if the event has a high prior (frequency) probability.

In reality, historians routinely conclude that improbable events probably occurred. They are able to do so because they don’t limit themselves to considerations of frequency probability. That’s a proper starting point for weighing competing explanations, but the craft of the historian is all about evidence. And sometimes the evidence leaves little doubt that a highly improbable event did, in fact, occur.

In 1990 heavyweight champion Mike Tyson faced James “Buster” Douglas for what was supposed to be little more than practice for the unstoppable Iron Mike. Las Vegas bookies put the odds at 42-to-1 in Tyson’s favor. [Spoiler alert if you recorded the fight, but still haven’t watched it] Douglas K.O.’d Tyson in the 10th round. This was a highly improbable event. Yet I doubt you’d find any historian unwilling to affirm that it probably occurred. One could think of all sorts of improbable events that are, nonetheless, historically secure.

Ehrman is a smart man and I’m sure he gets this. His strategy is to argue that miracles will always be the “least probable” explanation. That is, there will always be more probable natural explanations for an event. If he’s talking strictly about frequency probability, he is correct. But to make his point, he needs to go further and argue that, even after a Bayesian analysis which factors in the evidence, the miracle explanation will still inevitably be the least probable.

And it is that contention which, I say, cannot be stated so categorically. What happens if you factor in the evidence and find the naturalistic explanations hopelessly inadequate to account for the data? An explanation with a minuscule prior probability can become the most probable explanation where the evidence strongly supports it and appears to rule out all alternatives. The problem is that such evidence is hard to come by.

Earlier this week (in a post discussing Brian LePort’s review of Michael Licona’s new tome, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical ApproachJames McGrath said the following:

It seems to me that the attempt to find ways to get history to investigate and pronounce on miracles is misguided. It doesn’t seem that any methodological adjustments will allow one to claim that it is more probable that a miracle occurred than that either a miracle story was fabricated, or a mundane event took on supernatural interpretations in the course of retelling. History deals in probabilities, and miracles are by definition improbable.

McGrath’s final sentence (if I may be so bold) suffers from the same confusion about probabilites as Ehrman’s formulation. But in large measure, I think McGrath is right. Our data with respect to historic events is typically quite limited. As a result, we will rarely (if ever) have sufficient data to be able confidently to exclude the naturalistic explanations.

But we should be clear on what the problem is for miracle hypotheses. It’s not that miracles are by definition improbable and therefore historians, who only deal in probabilities, couldn’t ever affirm one. The problem is that our data sets are invariably inadequate to rule out the more probable naturalistic explanations.

But what if that wasn’t the case? Here’s a thought experiment: Suppose that Barack Obama were to suffer a tragic accident wherein he lost a leg. The accident happens in a very public setting and is viewed by millions in person and on television. Doctors try in vain to reattach the leg, but are unsuccessful. With the proceeds going to charity, the leg is purchased by a Las Vegas casino and is permanently displayed next to a grilled cheese sandwich bearing the image of Christ. In the months that follow, Obama is clearly seen by millions to have only one leg. He vacations in Hawaii and is photographed repeatedly wearing only a Speedo. It is self-evident that the leg is gone.

Now suppose that one day Obama goes to church and receives prayer for healing. Suppose he comes bursting out of the church with two good legs, claiming to be remarkably healed. Countless doctors examine him and agree that he now has two legs. DNA tests confirm that both legs are his and that this is indeed President Obama. He vacations again in Hawaii and the Speedo pics portray him clearly in all his bipedal glory. The old leg is still keeping company with the grilled cheese sandwich. Skeptics test the DNA from the old leg and find that it too matches Obama’s DNA.

What now? Must the historian still insist that the miraculous explanation is the least probable explanation?

If you rule out supernatural events categorically, well then yes, the miracle is still the least probable explanation. But only because you’ve decided that miracles have a frequency of zero. If you allow for the possibility of miracles, then it would be possible for a historian to affirm that a miracle probably occurred (at least in theory) where the data set was so compelling as to allow the historian to rule out all competing natural explanations.

There is merit to the idea that history, as a science of sorts, ought not to dabble in the supernatural. And if this is Ehrman’s position, I would probably agree. But we should not treat this methodological limitation of the discipline as though it were an argument against miracles. If historians have decided to exclude the miraculous from consideration in their discipline, the fact that historians cannot affirm that a miracle probably occurred does not mean that a miracle probably did not occur. It simply means that the discipline of history is, by definition, incapable of affirming the miraculous.

There is evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, found largely in the evidence that persons in the first century claimed and seemed genuinely to believe that they had experienced the risen Christ. But it’s probably safe to say that the evidence is nowhere near the threshold that would allow even a miracle-permitting historian to say that the event is “historically probable”. To answer the question posed in many an Ehrman debate, no, historians cannot prove the resurrection, but neither should we expect them to.
 
 
[Disclaimer: I am neither a statistician nor a mathematician. If I have butchered Bayesian probability theory, please forgive me (and please let me know).]

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Rob Bell & “Silly Questions”

April 14, 2011

I was really enjoying this video … until he started making his point.

The video was produced by Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, home of Douglas Wilson.

Apparently, people who struggle with the concept of God consigning Gandhi to eternal torment are asking “silly questions”.

Apparently, those who want to explore non-exclusivist views of salvation are “talking like idiots”.

Apparently, asking questions at all is bad because the church is in the business of dispensing ANSWERS!

And Christ Church certainly has answers. Their “What We Believe – Creeds and Confessions” page is over 48,000 words long. How could I possibly have any questions left? Silly me. It’s all been figured out for me.

I feel no need to defend Rob Bell. I’m not even sure I agree with him.

But personally, I’ve had 3 decades worth of churches that pretended to have all the answers. And it was in that context that I encountered “the cover up of shallow thinking.”

I say, bring on the questions.

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Tips on Not Getting Duped Again – Part II

April 13, 2011

Part II on the perils of bad apologetics and tips for ferreting out the truth (Part I is here). Here are two more lessons I’ve learned the hard way:

4. Don’t reject the consensus view of experts unless you truly understand it.

First, the caveats: (1) There isn’t always a consensus on a given question. There are some issues – the field of historical Jesus research being one example – where there seems to be almost as many opinions as there are scholars. (2) Even when there is a scholarly consensus, as James McGrath recently pointed out, it can take considerable effort to determine where that consensus lies.

However, the fact that there is uncertainty on some issues does not give you permission to conclude that everything is up for grabs. There are many, many questions in science, history, biblical criticism, etc. on which the evidence has reached a critical mass such that scholars are quite confident about particular conclusions.

What then should you do when you encounter an argument that runs contrary to such a conclusion?

Where there exists a significant consensus among the scholars working, studying and publishing in a given field about a matter within the scope of their expertise, that consensus ought to be accorded great deference by those outside the field. I have learned that I should not reject the consensus view until I am able to explain why it is the consensus view. If I can’t articulate why the consensus view is so popular, I clearly don’t understand it and I shouldn’t presume to challenge it.

Scholars and scientists, on the whole, are not idiots. If at any point you find yourself thinking, “These experts are all fools. How can they believe something so obviously wrong?” chances are, you’re the one who doesn’t get it. There are usually very good reasons behind widely-held conclusions.

This is why I still accept the existence of the hypothetical Q source to explain the agreements between Matthew and Luke where Mark is silent. Mark Goodacre makes (seemingly, to me at least) a compelling case against Q, but I know that I don’t understand the field well enough to weigh his arguments properly. I can’t yet articulate why the majority of scholars reject Goodacre’s hypothesis (that Luke used Matthew as a source) in favor of the Q explanation. Until I can, I have no basis to reject Q in favor of Goodacre’s view, as much as I love Goodacre as a teacher, biblical scholar, and blogger.

Once you do have a good understanding of the rationale behind the consensus view, then by all means, challenge it, deviate from it, side with a minority viewpoint if you think it most persuasive.

Just don’t jump the gun by reading the book of one rogue scholar and suddenly decide that you know better than the rest of the experts in that field.

5. Don’t justify your theory’s lack of acceptance by appealing to a conspiracy

I’ve learned to be very skeptical when someone defends their fringe viewpoint by alleging that there is a latent conspiracy to silence critics of the prevailing theory. This conspiracy apologetic was the strategy behind the embarrassing Expelled movie which attempted to persuade viewers that the reason Intelligent Design isn’t getting a warm reception in scientific circles is that there exists a conspiracy to silence those who challenge accepted evolutionary theory. The real reason, as anyone who works in the field will tell you, is that ID lacks scientific rigor and is continually eroded by further scientific discovery in which natural selection is found doing what ID says it can’t.

The idea that academic institutions hover over their members threatening termination to any scholar foolish enough to rock the boat is nonsense. In the larger academic world, scholars are given considerable freedom to challenge the status quo and rip each other’s ideas apart. In fact, scientists (and academics in general) are always looking to challenge prevailing theories. That’s how you make a name for yourself. That’s how you win a Nobel prize. Scholars who simply toe the line don’t get noticed. The conspiracy excuse betrays a failure to understand the way science and scholarship work.

I don’t mean to suggest that the scientific or scholarly enterprise isn’t beset with internal politics or a reticence to reject established theories. Sure it is. Sometimes new, valid ideas are criticized by the broader academic community at first, only later to be proven correct and gain widespread acceptance. The reluctance of scholars to overturn well-established ideas is a good thing. If scientists readily abandoned the accumulated knowledge of the past in favor of every exciting new idea that came along, the scientific enterprise would be hopelessly confused. It can take time for a novel or minority theory to gain acceptance.

Consequently, there’s an important distinction to draw here. If you’re reading a scholar with a minority viewpoint who laments that others in his field are too wed to the prevailing theory and have not given sufficiently serious thought to alternative explanations, that’s okay (and, yes, I have Goodacre in mind again). That may be true.

Your spidey-sense should kick in, however, when you read someone who claims that his theory is not widely accepted because there exists some sort of conspiracy to hide the truth. These claims usually allege that the establishment knows the prevailing theory is bunk but is afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal (9/11 “Truthers”, for instance, LOVE this argument). As I mentioned above, this excuse betrays a failure to understand academic freedom and competition.


The more sophisticated cousin of the conspiracy-of-silence argument is the one that claims that detractors refuse to consider the merits of an argument, not because they fear reprisal, but because they fear the theory’s implications. The idea is that the majority of scholars are constrained by some sort of a priori philosophical/religious/political commitment that prevents them from seeing the obvious truth of the theory. i.e. They refuse to acknowledge the validity of my theory because they’re materialists/atheists/liberals and are threatened by my theory’s implications for their worldview.

Examine what the opponents are actually saying. If the only objection they have to the theory is that it conflicts with their worldview, then maybe your source has a point. But more often than not, you’ll find that the opponents are taking issue with the theory on its merits. The proponent of the fringe theory is simply flinging ad hominem labels at his detractors while dodging their substantive criticism.

Be skeptical about people who offer these sorts of justifications for their theory’s unpopularity.

A genuine scholar with a valid idea will pursue the hypothesis through further research published in peer-reviewed forums. If the evidence is there, it will eventually gain traction. If, after much effort, a theory is not gaining any traction amongst the best and brightest in the profession, in most cases the problem lies with the theory, not with a shadowy conspiracy to silence dissent.

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Hope these tips have been helpful. What do you think? Got any tips of your own?

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Tips On Not Getting Duped Again – Part I

April 11, 2011

In my last post, I discussed my epiphany that evangelical apologetics isn’t the repository of all truth. I’ve given a lot of thought to how it was that I got steered in the wrong direction so many times. How did I become convinced that I had unassailable truth when what I really had was a truckload of bad arguments and gross misunderstandings?

What follows are some lessons I’ve learned that will hopefully help me, and maybe you, avoid being sucked in by spurious claims in the future …

1. Don’t reject an opposing view until you’ve read the best available material in support of that view.

Never think that you’ve properly considered both sides of an argument when your knowledge of the opposing view comes only from sources that support your view. It’s self-evident that you should consider both sides of an argument, but rare is the person who genuinely investigates both sides. More often, we rely on people who support our view to summarize the opposing view for us.

This is why so many Christians still reject evolution. Their exposure to evolution has come predominantly through what they’ve heard in church or read in anti-evolution material. I can completely relate to Christians who think evolution is preposterous, because I once held that view. I thought I understood the theory, but I didn’t – not even close. The theory sounded implausible to me because I’d only heard it explained by people who (a) didn’t understand it; and (b) were explaining it in such a way as to make it look ridiculous.

Kirk Cameron demanding to know why evolutionists havent found any crocoducks.

Case in point: the Crocoduck.

I used to tell people that I was open to the possibility of evolution, but wasn’t convinced by the science. In reality, I had never read a book by anyone who actually subscribed to the theory. I had just read lots of material by evolution skeptics.

Here’s the Key: Don’t trust the people in your camp to give you an accurate picture of the opposing camp. Take a visit to the other camp. Poke your head inside their tents. Read their stuff. If you’re worried about being brainwashed or hoodwinked by atheists, find Christians who hold the view you reject and begin with them. The important thing is to read supporters of the view you reject, not just detractors.

2. Don’t assume that because someone has a PhD, he knows what he’s talking about.

It is a fundamental law of the universe that for every crackpot idea out there, there is at least one person with a PhD willing to endorse it.

Please don’t mistake this for anti-intellectualism. Proper credentials are extremely important. But there does seem to be a tendency amongst evangelicals to grant instant credibility to any believer with academic credentials, no matter how incredible his ideas. The less experience people have with the academic world, the more prone they will be to fawn over the apologist who happens to have earned a graduate degree of some sort. In fact, in some circles, you’re considered brilliant if you’ve published a book, worn a white lab coat, or served in the Reagan administration.

Obviously, the first thing to check is whether the person’s credentials are relevant to the claims they’re making. If the book you’re reading on genetics & information theory was written by a guy with a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, be extremely wary (bonus points if you can name one).

Even if the topic is within the individual’s field of study, beware the single expert in isolation from his herd. Scholarship is a group exercise. Remember that one kid in school who annoyed the heck out of everyone but still insisted on running for class president (and losing) every year? Well those people exist in the academic world too. They are blind to the opinions of their peers. So convinced are they of the merits of their own ideas that they dismiss the sea of voices trying to point out their error. Knowing that their claims would not survive the proper peer-review process, they publish books aimed directly at lay audiences.

And you might just be reading that book!

Here’s the Key: There will be outliers in any field. Don’t let your opinions rest on the views of a single expert, no matter how impressive his resume.

Which leads me to my next tip…

3. Always find out what other experts in the field have to say.

Are the opinions of your source shared by others working in the relevant field? If others with expertise in this area think your source is wrong, this should raise a big red flag. Why do they think he’s wrong? Has the source responded to these criticisms? Does his response actually address the criticisms or merely dodge them?

When trying to assess what other scholars think, make sure you aren’t just reading other like-minded people. If your opinion comes from a conservative evangelical at Liberty University, you are not doing your homework by checking with another conservative evangelical from Bob Jones University. Did Norman Geisler tell you something? Don’t go to Josh McDowell for a second opinion.

Failure to read outside one’s comfort zone is probably the biggest reason that bright young evangelical minds get hornswoggled. The conservative evangelical world is large enough to produce pockets of scholars/scientists/apologists who share each other’s views and advance the same arguments. If you read 5 books by 5 different conservative apologists and they all say the same thing, you can be left with the false impression that their view is widely accepted.

This is how Lee Strobel works his magic in his books and videos. He finds a group of people with impressive looking credentials and presents their opinions as though they are representative of the views in their field. The effect is a powerful one: Look, here’s a whole bunch of scholars and they all say the same thing. This must be the prevailing scholarly view. What Strobel is actually doing is interviewing only a small subset of scholars whose views are not representative of the majority view within the discipline.

Here’s the Key: Try to determine what view is held by scholars in mainstream academic circles, not simply the view within your particular corner of the intellectual world.

I don’t mean to suggest that the view held by the majority of mainstream scholars is always right or the conservative evangelical view always wrong. Not at all. I simply encourage you to read broadly enough that you are able to situate your view within the larger academic context. If you find that your view is a fringe one, you may want to dig deeper to see why this is so.

[Tips 4 and 5 are now posted here.]

In the meantime, this seemed like appropriate wisdom for today’s theme:

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Why I Have Difficulty Trusting Christians

April 2, 2011

I was raised with a pretty strong Christian ethic. It was a black and white world in which right and wrong were easy to identify. One thing that was definitely black was lying. I was pretty strict with myself when it came to lying. I just wouldn’t do it, even if it got me in trouble. Of course, I got pretty good at dissembling to avoid having to lie. But if you asked me a direct question, you would get a truthful answer. I was a little George Washington.

The corollary of holding myself to this ethic of honesty was that I assumed other Christians did the same. Non-believers could (and probably would) be expected to lie to me. But no mature Christian would think of being dishonest.

This expectation of honesty from fellow believers provided me with a very straightforward truth filter. When missionaries came through town regaling us with tales of the miraculous from the darkest corners of Papua New Guinea, I knew they were telling the truth. When a Christian with scientific credentials taught us that the earth was young and the fossil record could be explained by Noah’s flood, I knew it must be true. When I read Christian apologetics books by Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel explaining that the Bible was demonstrably accurate and reliable, I knew I could trust them.

They were in my camp. They were fellow Christians. And Christians, more than anyone, could be trusted to tell you the truth.

It wasn’t hard to come up with reasons to doubt those who challenged the “Christian” view of things. Secular scientists or scholars all had an agenda to disprove the truth of the Bible. Of course they would lie or twist the facts in order to persist in their stubborn disbelief. Thus, mainstream scholarly consensus could easily be discounted in favor of the handful of Christians in those fields of study who were unbiased enough to let us in on the real truth.

Then one day my truth filter broke. Irreparably.

It started with science. I read a piece by an old earth creationist who presented compelling evidence for a universe that was billions of years old. Because he was a Christian, my defences were down. I couldn’t deny the obvious implications of the science. Neither could I discount him as someone with an obvious agenda. After all, he was one of us.

I became hungry to know more. Why hadn’t I heard this before? How much of modern science had I unfairly rejected? I soon dove headlong into science, opening doors that had always remained closed to me for fear that I would get my head filled with faith-destroying disinformation from a scientific conspiracy. I read and read and read. I still figured that Christians were going to be the most trustworthy, so I started by reading material by Christians who accepted the consensus views of modern science. Then I read some atheists. Lo and behold, the evolution-affirming Christians and the atheists pretty much agreed on the proper interpretation of the scientific data – that the diversity of life was the product of a long evolutionary process and that all life was related through common descent.

But more importantly, I found that I no longer needed the assurance of the Christian scientists to tell me that evolution was true; it was self-evidently true. The evidence was overwhelming. Even if every single Christian on the planet denied evolution, I knew I could not.

No wonder every textbook and University taught evolution. They weren’t deluded by animosity toward God. They were simply following the evidence where it led. It was the creationists who were deluded. They had lied to me. Maybe they didn’t know they were lying, but they most definitely had sold me a false bill of goods. This was the beginning of my cognitive dissonance. My beliefs had become decoupled from my faith community. I no longer knew whom to trust.

I began to wonder whether this was the only area in which the evangelical community had shut its ears to reality. One spin-off of coming to accept evolution was that Genesis had to be approached differently. This started me on a path of serious biblical study. Once again, I read and read and read. I soon realized that there was a wide gulf between what biblical scholars knew and what the typical evangelical Christian was taught in the pew. The Bible was not a consistent monolithic work without error. At times, it bore uncomfortable resemblance to the texts and practices of other ancient near eastern religions. Its earliest history was at odds with archaeology. Its various authors sometimes disagreed with each other. It did not always present a consistent picture of God. Half of the books were not even written by the people I had been taught to believe were the authors.

If my truth filter was broken before, now it was demolished. I had read so much apologetic material and most of it had turned out to be rubbish. I could now see how the authors had cherry-picked data that appeared to support their positions and ignored relevant data that contradicted their positions. When I came across Lee Strobel’s The Case for Creation, I could see exactly what he was doing. He had carefully chosen his interviewees. They did not represent leading scientists in their field. Rather, he had interviewed scientists on the fringes of the academic world with opinions that were unsupportable in the real world of science (eg. Jonathan Wells). Even I could debunk them now. But Strobel passed them off as though they represented the consensus of modern science. He reassured his evangelical readers (knowing that his was probably the only science book most of them would read) that they could continue to ignore the folly of the evolutionists.

Years earlier I had read Strobel’s The Case for Christ. It had been tremendously effective in confirming what I believed about Christ and the resurrection. Now I began to wonder whether he had hoodwinked me in that book too. I’ll make a long story short and simply say that, knowing what I now know about the historical issues surrounding the New Testament, I am satisfied that The Case for Christ presents a distorted view of the scholarship in that field as well.

It’s been a few years since I began to see my truth filter for what it was. I’ve come out the other side like a Boy Scout after a geomagnetic reversal – my compass now points the opposite direction. In the same way that I once distrusted non-Christians, I now distrust Christians. That’s not to say that I think the average Christian is likely to lie to me. On the contrary, I find that most Christians do prize honesty and usually try to be truthful, at least on a personal level.

The problem is our willingness to lie to ourselves.

It isn’t the secular world that force-fits everything into its anti-God worldview. It’s evangelicals who have taken fields of study, such as biology, archaeology, and biblical studies, and mutilated the square pegs to make them fit into their round holes. They rigidly adhere to a belief structure (typically stemming from a prior commitment to biblical literalism and innerancy) that can countenance no doubt or uncertainty. Thus, when evidence comes along that calls their paradigm into question, they have no choice but to deny, ignore or distort the data to make it fit. Those who are the best at denying, ignoring and distorting the evidence are heralded as apologists for the faith. And evangelicals love apologists because they do all the hard thinking for them, while invariably arriving at faith-affirming conclusions. Their books fly off the Christian bookstore shelves dispensing whatever ad hoc explanation or special pleading might be required to salvage the evangelical belief system from the perils of uncomfortable fact.

In assessing trustworthiness, my first question used to be, “Is this person a Christian?” Now I ask, “Is this person trying to defend a belief system to which he has an inflexible commitment?” If the answer is yes, I realize that I need to be cautious. Christians aren’t the only ones who do this. Atheists are more than capable of deluding themselves in the interests of rejecting theism or Christianity (as attested by the prevalence of Jesus mythicism). But no longer does the Christian ethic of honesty provide me with assurance that a Christian source will be credible. While it might dissuade them from knowingly lying to me, their prior theological commitments can easily lead them to delude themselves (and me in the process).

I’m incredibly thankful for those Christian writers, scholars and bloggers who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. When I see that someone has the intellectual honesty to acknowledge even those truths that unsettle his or her faith, that’s when I begin to trust again.