The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

The Reason for God — the open-mindedness of Christians

A common misconception among skeptics is that Christians are narrow-minded and ignorant, and that skeptics and atheists are open-minded “free thinkers.” Perhaps these generalizations are true in some cases, but it was my pleasure Sunday morning to spend an hour with a group of fifteen Christians who certainly don’t fit the narrow-minded stereotype.

Yesterday at my church was the first session of a three-month adult Sunday School class in which we will be going through the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. The chapters in this excellent book include:

  • There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  • How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  • The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  • Science Has Disproved Christianity
  • The Knowledge of God
  • The (True) Story of the Cross
  • The Reality of the Resurrection

Many skeptics I have met haven’t investigated both sides of these issues. They “know” that science has disproved Christianity, or that religion is the root of most evil in the world, or that the resurrection didn’t happen. So why bother to dig any deeper? Case closed, and mind closed too.

On the other hand, many Christians, including those in this class I am teaching, have had to face the skepticism of the world towards Christianity. They have themselves asked the tough questions, and come through with their faith intact. Or perhaps for some, they are still asking the tough questions (that’s OK) and still seeking answers. In our discussion, I asked them to come up with a list of objections to Christianity, and they had no problems coming up with a rather comprehensive list. I also had them write down a list of evidences for the validity of Christianity, and they came up with a pretty good list there too.

Too many free-thinking, open-minded skeptics are content with a “Christians are ignorant morons” approach, and wouldn’t be able to come up with a comprehensive list of the reasons to believe.

I had a blast leading the discussion on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to going through the book with this group of people. My objectives are to build up the faith of the believers, and to equip them to give good answers to a world that has been misled into believing that there is something irrational about the Christian faith.

thereasonforgod.com

Grace and Peace

September 13, 2010 - Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity | , ,

16 Comments »

  1. Yes, an interesting series by the look of it. I recently had a debate with an atheist on Facebook over the recent claims by Stephen Hawking that there is no need for God in the current scientific understanding of the universe. My friend said that the nature of faith meant that I would dismiss any attack on my faith as irrelevant. I pointed out that I was engaging with what Hawking and the New Atheists were saying, whilst atheists dismiss every argument from Christians and theists as ‘mumbo-jumbo’. He became a lot more reasonable after that.

    Like

    Comment by Steve Carroll | September 14, 2010

  2. Kevin,

    Jim Keena, the pastor at E. Free church of Bozeman, preached a sermon series on the first half of Tim Keller’s book from Sept. 27 – Nov. 22, 2009 (http://efcb.org/sermon/2009.htm). He did an excellent job of it. The sermons might be useful to you as you prepare for your Sunday School class.

    Like

    Comment by Carol K | September 14, 2010

  3. Carol:

    Thanks. This will give me some good material to listen to in the car as I commute in the upcoming weeks.

    Like

    Comment by geochristian | September 14, 2010

  4. I find it frustrating when arguments are made arse-about. That is, with the conclusion fixed, with the supporting evidence explored in detail, and the refuting evidence marginalised.

    That said, what do you think of the Outsider Test for Faith, from John Loftus?http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/03/outsider-test-for-faith.html

    What method do you use to remove personal bias?

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 14, 2010

  5. Boz,

    I cannot get onto the link you have attached, but I find it hard to take the ‘personal bias’ argument seriously from atheists when they claim that atheism opens up so many possibilities for things like sexual freedom, whilst the Christian walk is hard and, in today’s climate’ getting harder.

    That’s the method I would use.

    Like

    Comment by Steve Carroll | September 15, 2010

  6. Steve Carroll, that is strange that you cannot reach the link but I can. Maybe you have a filter?

    Everyone has personal bias, from a variety of sources. For example, a person’s upbringing, the culture they live in, the people that influence them, what they want to be true, what they currently believe, etc.

    I have found that I naturally tend to more easily accept arguments that support the beliefs that I currently hold (even if they are bad arguements), while being more resistant to arguments that oppose my current beliefs (even if they are sound arguemnts).

    In order to combat this bias, I have to consciously remind myself to be more skeptical of arguments that agree with my current beleifs, and more charitable towards arguemnts that disagree with my current beleifs.

    This is one example of how I attempt to compensate for my personal bias.

    From reading your comment, is the method that you use to remove personal bias just ignoring it? or not having sex? I don’t really get what you are saying.

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 15, 2010

  7. This is the outsider test for faith. Do you agree with this approach?

    1. Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

    2. Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one’s religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

    3. Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

    4. So the best way to test one’s adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This ex-presses the OTF. (82)

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 15, 2010

  8. Boz:

    Have you considered that point #3 in your argument (“the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false”) works against western secular skepticism just as much as it works against any other religious viewpoint. Though it sounds rather noble, the “outsider test for faith” gets one absolutely nowhere in the end. Being that all viewpoints, even the one that led to this test, are culturally produced, none will pass the test.

    Perusing the “Debunking Christianity” site you linked to (it worked for me) reminded me somewhat of Carl Sagan’s baloney detector. Some helpful ideas, but a refusal to apply the same principles to one’s own foundational beliefs.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Kevin N

    Like

    Comment by geochristian | September 15, 2010

  9. Boz:

    The main point of my post was that, in general, Christians in our society are aware of the arguments against Christianity, but that skeptics are not aware of the arguments in favor of theism or Christianity.

    What do you think are the strongest arguments in favor of theism or Christianity?

    Like

    Comment by geochristian | September 15, 2010

  10. geochristian, you are right that the outsider test for faith can be used in other areas where there are competing opinions. Which political party to support, which sporting team is better, which economic system is most accurate, which religion is correct. It can even be used for individual issues. How old is the earth? Do condoms prevent AIDS? Was the Hindu Milk Miracle a real miracle?

    It is basically a rephrasing of ‘The Golden Rule for assessing claims’. Treat other truth-claims in the same way that you would like your truth-claim to be treated. It is used to reduce our personal bias.

    I don’t think that it is correct that no viewpoints will pass the test. Take for example the shape of the earth. Roughly spherical or flat? or something else? We would agree on what the conclusion of an unbiased assessment of all the available evidence would be.

    Do you agree that we should use the outsider test for faith, or the Golden Rule for assessing claims, when assessing whether a claim is true or false?

    —-

    geochristian, I have an experience opposite to you, that most theists have never think much about why they hold religious opinions, and most atheists have given the issue more consideration. maybe we hang around with different groups of people!

    For arguments in favour of theism, I have found the cosmological argument to be the strongest of the group, with the design and moral arguemnts less strong, and all the other arguments I have encountered are extremely poor.

    As for arguments in favour of christianity, that is very difficult for me to say. Because; In order for someone to accurately say ‘Christianity is true’, there needs to be 20? 50? 100? 200? 1000? truth-claims, all of which must be true. And if one is false, then we can’t say ‘Christianity is true’. For example, if everything that christianity claims is true, but souls don’t exist, then we can’t say ‘Christianity is true’. Similarly if everything that christianity claims is true and Ahura-Mazda exists. So, Christianity can’t be shown to be plausible with just one argument.

    That said, I love being shown to be wrong. If you are willing, choose one issue where you think we disagree, and show me how i am wrong.

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 15, 2010

  11. Boz,

    Thanks for your reply and clarification. Being in the UK and in a different time zone my contributions will be entered while you are all still asleep, so bear with me.

    The point about bias and sexual freedom is really to introduce the fact that there are motivations beyond pure science that influence how a person believes and lives. I live in a country that has ‘Christian’ Prime Ministers and the Queen as the head of a state church, but to be a Christian in the UK is and always has been to be an outsider and constantly the butt of jokes – I think even more so than in the US. Many friends from the States and elsewhere are shocked at how attacking Christians is ‘fair game’. For a young person like my son to follow Christ in the UK is a constant upward struggle and is getting even more so with ‘political correctness’ now banning any mention of faith or even the wearing of crosses in the work place. It is very difficult to be a Christian in Britain without knowing WHY you believe.

    In your well thought out entries you appear to be looking for a single answer, but I think to follow Christ is to have your own answers and they are many. At baptism ceremonies I hear many testimonies to how people come to faith, from supernatural occurances, to the love shown them by Christians, and also being intellectually persuaded. When I hear of why people are atheists it is either because they don’t care about the question of God or because they think they are more intelligent than theists.

    More and more I am finding that atheists define ‘intelligence’ as ‘anyone who agrees with me’. Intelligence is actually about the ability to form coherent arguments, it is not about a conclusion. Many people of differing faiths and beliefs can form coherent arguments without being atheists.

    Like

    Comment by Steve Carroll | September 16, 2010

  12. Steve Caroll said: “When I hear of why people are atheists it is either because they don’t care about the question of God or because they think they are more intelligent than theists. More and more I am finding that atheists define ‘intelligence’ as ‘anyone who agrees with me’.”

    haha, I agree that it is pretty dumb to say “I am more intelligent than you” based on only one specific opinion. Actually, it’s almost always pretty dumb to say that!

    I have found that around the internets, even though people have left religion or never been involved, the ingroup-outgroup dichotomy is still very strong. So, Christians that say: “Islam is of the devil”, or “Atheists can’t be good people”, become atheists and say: “Theists are stupid”, “Catholics priests are child rapists”, even thouse these are all false. Go to http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/ for examples of this attitude.

    I have also found it is becoming more common in my country to have atheists or agnostics or none’s that have the attitude: “I’m not interested in any of that religious crap”. From memory, in Australia, there are about 40% who describe themselves in the Census as ‘No Religion’.

    Do you agree that we should use the outsider test for faith, or the Golden Rule, when assessing whether a claim is true or false? What method do you use to remove personal bias? Are you Interested in explaining to me where I have a wrong opinion?

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 16, 2010

  13. Hi, Boz.

    Sorry it has taken a while to reply. I’m guessing you live on the East Coast?

    I do agree with your Golden Rule approach to arguing. It has been said that in Christian/muslim debate each side compares the best side of their faith with the worst side of the other, so it becomes a bit of a tedious exercise.

    I’m not sure, other than that, that I can give you the kind of answer you would want. I’m interested in science, but not one professionally – I’m an artist I’m afraid. My approach to faith is that I have one life on earth, I’m 50 and not getting younger, and the best kind of life I have come across is the one taught by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. My enquiries into science have just proved to me that there is no good reason not to follow Christ.

    Keep posting, Boz. I have also found that arguments from people like yourself have helped me see the futility of some Christian arguments. This has been a maturing process.

    God bless,

    Steve

    Like

    Comment by Steve Carroll | September 17, 2010

  14. Hi, Boz.

    Sorry that it seems so long since I wrote. I did post a reply, but this site appears to have lost it.

    I agree with you about the Golden Rule approach. In Christian/muslim debates the parties often use the best examples of their religion against the worst examples of the ‘other’s’ religion.

    As for an argument for my own position, I cannot give one nice clean scientific explanation of why I believe. I think the reason for anyone’s beliefs is a dove-tailing of logic and experience. The problem with ‘fundamentalist’ communities is that we/they disapprove of contact with other cultures and ideas. As someone who practices and teaches art, I have to constantly come up against ideas other than my own. I thinks it is impossible to be a true artist and a fundamentalist.

    Do you live on the East side of the States? I just notice you reply earlier than other people. I live on the south coast of England. I love it.

    Steve

    Like

    Comment by Steve Carroll | September 18, 2010

  15. Boz (#10):

    I’m a bit slow in responding; I hope you are still here.

    You said, “In order for someone to accurately say ‘Christianity is true’, there needs to be 20? 50? 100? 200? 1000? truth-claims, all of which must be true.”

    I am not sure that anybody makes their decisions following that sort of reasoning.

    We don’t use that kind of reasoning in much of science. My training is in geology, where we think we put together pretty good reconstructions of past events, such as environments in which certain sedimentary rocks were formed, or of current processes that are difficult to access, such as physical and chemical conditions in magma chambers beneath volcanoes. We come up with a hypothesis based on the evidence and experience, and sometimes make major decisions based on our reasoning (to drill or not to drill, to order an evacuation or not to order an evacuation), even though we are never 100% certain.

    Likewise, we don’t use that kind of reasoning in other areas of life: politics, economics, love. Why are you setting a different standard for faith?

    If you are an atheist/agnostic/skeptic, it is because many things seem to you to line up with that position. You haven’t solved 100% of the problems with your position, but you have chosen, for whatever reasons, to put yourself in that camp. You acknowledge, for example, that there seems to be some sort of validity to the cosmological argument. That means that you haven’t answered all of your doubts about unbelief, but you choose unbelief anyways.

    I agree that if Christianity is true, then 100% of its core claims must be true as well. That is not the same as saying that I have to be able to prove 100% of its core truths in order to accept it as true.

    I have found sufficient reasons to believe, such as the cosmological argument, the historical reliability of the Bible, a better answer to the problem of evil than that of atheists, seeing the Gospel as the best hope for the world, and evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. When I run into something that I don’t understand, such as the way certain genealogies in the Old Testament fit together, I just don’t worry about it anymore. I have seen enough “Bible problems” solved through additional prayerful study that I now start with the assumption that there is a good answer. Most of the time I can find that answer; occasionally I cannot.

    Like

    Comment by geochristian | September 21, 2010

  16. geochristian said: “You said, “In order for someone to accurately say ‘Christianity is true’, there needs to be 20? 50? 100? 200? 1000? truth-claims, all of which must be true.”
    I am not sure that anybody makes their decisions following that sort of reasoning.
    Likewise, we don’t use that kind of reasoning in other areas of life: politics, economics, love. Why are you setting a different standard for faith?”

    It depends on the specific claim, and how many other things are included in that claim.

    If it is just one individual claim, such as “I love you” or “There will not be a double-dip recession in Australia in 2010-11”, then these are just tested individually. For example, measures of quarterly GDP growth will determine whether there is a double-dip recession. Only one thing needs to be true for me to say “There was not be a double-dip recession in Australia in 2010-11”.

    However, if the claim contains sub-claims which MUST be true, then this kind of reasoning is appropriate. For example, the claim: “I have 4 6-sided dice, and the next roll will give a total of 24.” This requires that:
    I have the dice; and
    I roll the dice; and
    the first dice will show a 6; and
    the second dice will show a 6; and
    the third dice will show a 6; and
    the fourth dice will show a 6.
    All of these things have to be true for the calim to be true.

    Religions contain many claims which must be true, in order for the religion to be true. This is why I use this method to determine their accuracy. You have agreed with this method, in your previous comment.

    —-

    geochristian said: “If you are an atheist/agnostic/skeptic, it is because many things seem to you to line up with that position. You haven’t solved 100% of the problems with your position, but you have chosen, for whatever reasons, to put yourself in that camp. You acknowledge, for example, that there seems to be some sort of validity to the cosmological argument. That means that you haven’t answered all of your doubts about unbelief, but you choose unbelief anyways”

    I don’t CHOOSE to believe anything, ever. I am forced to believe things based on the way I assess new information, and the information that I discover. I could not choose to beleive something that I thought was false, even if you paid me $1bn. I could not force myself to beleive that heaven exists (without receiving any new information), for example.

    I don’t think that you choose what to beleive either. Could you choose to believe that the earth is flat, and made of cheese, and 6000 years old? Given one year to try, could you honestly convince yourself that this is true, even if I gave you $1bn if you were successful?

    I am an atheist, and that is just one opinion. It is not 100% absolutely provable to be true; and nothing is.

    I don’t think that the cosmological argument is sound, though most(all?) do have valid-forms. It is the strongest of the theist arguments, though it still fails.

    —–

    Geochristian said: I agree that if Christianity is true, then 100% of its core claims must be true as well. That is not the same as saying that I have to be able to prove 100% of its core truths in order to accept it as true.

    I agree. I accept as true many things which I think are only 99% likely, or 90% likely, or 60% likely. I scale my confidence to the level of likelihood.

    Just like in geology, you might say: “This strata is 450m years old, (95% CI: +/- 8m)

    I’m not saying that things must be 100% absolutely proven before they can be believed. That is an unreachable standard and no one implements it.

    —-

    geochristian said: “I have found sufficient reasons to believe, such as the cosmological argument, the historical reliability of the Bible, a better answer to the problem of evil than that of atheists, seeing the Gospel as the best hope for the world, and evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. When I run into something that I don’t understand, such as the way certain genealogies in the Old Testament fit together, I just don’t worry about it anymore. I have seen enough “Bible problems” solved through additional prayerful study that I now start with the assumption that there is a good answer. Most of the time I can find that answer; occasionally I cannot.”

    Do you want to respond with a version of the cosmological argument, and I might be able to find where the fallacy lies?

    Like

    Comment by Boz | September 22, 2010


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