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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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17 comments

  1. I would add…
    Don’t assume the congregation of your church has the right answers, even if they too have phds (i live in a highly educated area but it is amazing how few are aware of what you and i know.. i too was oblivious until last year).


    • Good point. If their PhD wasn’t in the specific field in question, it probably doesn’t make them any more likely to have the right answers than the average person.


  2. I’ve never seen that video – so good! This is good advice – you definitely can’t just blindly accept the opinions of the experts – and I love what you say about reading the best of both fields. That takes genuine interest – and most people are just trying to further their own argument.


    • Too true. There is a real difference between reading to search out the answer and reading to find arguments to bolster your opinion. Fear of having one’s world view shaken prevents a lot of people from doing the former.


  3. […] Last weekend, Chris Massey blogged about his difficulty trusting Christians. This week he shares helpful tips on how not to get duped again. […]


  4. […] […]


  5. Great series of posts here. Was glad to see The Jesus Creed reference them today.


  6. […] sursa: link […]


  7. It all boils down to honesty in the end. Intellectual honesty. And you can’t be intellectual honest without actually reading/listening/talking to what the others have to say. In the academic world it’s common sense that you need to read almost everything that matters about the subject you want to have an opinion about.

    Regarding evolution, though, so many think that those that are skeptic about it don’t actually get it at all. It’s like you have to go through this layers before you finally see the light. But its core and at its surface the evolution is what it is: a long series of extremely improbable, yet fortunate, genetic mutations that lead from one single cell organism to humans.

    That’s it. And they call it a fact. But if you go into details, like how multicellular organisms evolved, or how sexual reproduction appeared, they have theories but they are far from being satisfactory. They’re only satisfactory to the agressive evolution suporters.

    Whenever I read the skeptics or those in my camp, I constantly have the fear the I miss something. So I go to the other camp. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll find the ultimate authoritative source of opinion there. There’s no such a thing as the other camp, actually. There’s a bunch of them.


    • Cristian, I agree that there are often multiple “camps”.

      On the issue of evolution, it is important to distinguish between evolution as a theory and evolution as a fact. The evidence form the fossil record, genetics and biogeography (to name just a few lines of evidence) provides incredibly compelling proof that evolution did in fact occur. There simply is no competing explanation that can account for the data. The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is the attempt to explain how evolution took place. While there are many gaps in evolutionary theory (i.e. pieces of the puzzle that haven’t yet been adequately explained), this does not mean that we should remain agnostic on the fact of evolution. It clearly occurred. The incompleteness of the theory is inevitable when you are trying to unravel a process that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.


      • I’d argue that the fossils record, the DNA, the biogeography, are observations that need further interpretation.

        If you look at a rock, it’ll tell you its age? No. You can observe it’s composition, but that will not tell you its age either. It’s only when you start building up a theory, with a set of hypothesis, that you get to have an idea of its possible age. And depending on the hypothesis, you get different results.

        If you assume the all X atoms came from Y atoms with a half-life of billions of years, of course you’ll get an age in billions of years. That’s what you assumed in the first place. The exact number makes no difference. Your mind is already set on a paradigm of interpretation, you’re in the middle of a specific camp already.

        Look at the geological strata, from the Earth’s core to the surface. Is this the result of a process of formation/evolution, or is it creation? Can you tell a priori? Why did God choose to create the Earth in layers and not in, say, spirals. Why atoms, why electrons, why gravitation, why photons, why particles and not just uniform continuous matter?

        Evolution and modern cosmogony have at their root the belief that everything we see has formed naturally in the virtue of the elementary laws of Physics. That’s the camp, that’s paradigm of interpretation. And I personally don’t find the proofs to be ‘incredibly compelling’.


      • The things you call “assumptions” are actually well-established principles of physics and geology. You are free to believe that “God just made it that way” if you choose. But don’t call it intellectual honesty. There is no reason for God to create rocks with multiple, independent yet consistent radiometric dates. There is no reason for God to create hundreds of thousands of years of annual ice layers or lake bed sedimentary layers. There is no reason for God to create a human genome with the remnants of the genes for making eggs. Unless God is trying to trick us. And that is the one a priori assumption I do make: that God is not a deceiver.


      • I don’t see the difference between “assumptions” and well established principles? Could you please detail?

        I have no knowledge about the egg making genes, if you have a reference article, I’d love to find out more about it.

        The ‘God did it’ explanation offends people because since the birth of modern science we’ve become so obsessed with how things are done, that we forgot about why they were done.

        Maybe not for you, but for the atheists camp, there’s an explanation race going on. ‘God didn’t do that, here we have an explanation that doesn’t need God’.

        About the deceiving God, see it the other way around too. Do you think that would God deceive billions of people throughout thousands of years of civilizations that He created the world in 6 days, just to let people know the real truth in the last few centuries of the existence of this world? And not all people, but only the very educated that can grasp the scientific theories?

        I tried to google for the ‘hundreds of years of ice layers’, but couldn’t find anything. I assume that’s a part of the radio-metric dating circle too.


      • Atomic decay rates have been observed and measured to precision. The results have been double-checked for accuracy by comparison with other independent measurements. Radiometric dating is not a matter of “assumption”; it’s a matter of empirical observation and logical inference.

        The discovery of the egg making gene in the human genome is explained here. The article is written by the Chair of the Biology department in one of Canada’s leading evangelical Christian Universities.

        Ice-layers are unrelated to radiometric dating. At the poles and elsewhere, ice layers are laid down annually forming layers like tree rings. Cores drilled in Antarctica go back 740,000 years. You might also want to read up on varves.

        Re deception: Have you considered that young earth creationism is not, in fact, what everyone believed up until the last few centuries? Many of the early church fathers urged the faithful to read Genesis in a more symbolic/allegorical way. Time has proved them right. YECism is actually a relatively recent phenomenon.


      • I meant ‘hundreds of thousands of years’. Sorry!


  8. […] sursa: link […]


  9. Great post. Really really great post. If people followed these few cautionary principles fundamentalism would rapidly decline. It is amazing and tragic just how conspiratorial much of evangelical apologetics is. Why do almost all biologists accept the theory of evolution? They’re all blinded by a set of God-hating anti-Bible assumptions! You hit the nail on the head though. Theyre not anti-biblical assumptions. Theyre founded on tens of thousands of experimental observations. I think many evangelicals are able to swallow it because they dont understand the science, and they often dont know many scientists in these fields, nor do they grasp just how many people have put just how many hours studying their field of expertise.



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