If Christianity Was Proven True Would You Become a Christian?

Frank Turek, in his “lectures” (a word I use loosely, but is probably the most accurate word to describe it), is often asked how to deal with people who don’t find the evidence convincing. He offers the advice to ask the following question: “Ask this person if Christianity was proven to be true, would you become a Christian?” His point is that those who say no have a heart problem, rather than an evidence problem. I’d like to respond to this.

Let’s suppose that we had sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Christian is true, namely that:

Jesus Is God
There is an afterlife
What I believe about Jesus directly affects my afterlife

I would accept that these propositions are true, as I would no longer need faith to support these propositions. I could (at least by most Protestant standards) be considered a Christian, because of what I believe is true. But here’s the rub: I wouldn’t worship Jesus, and I most certainly wouldn’t become the sycophant that most Christians are. I would still think that Christianity is an immoral system, which requires me to accept an immoral sacrifice (I do not accept that it is moral to allow somebody else to suffer for my mistakes.) I also do not know if I would want to have a “relationship” with God.

Why is that? According to most Christians, God created the world in a state where he knew that we would sin, and fall short of whatever standard he has. He knew that most people in the world wouldn’t find the seemingly arbitrary set of rules that are required in order to be saved. God knew that the limited evidence we have for Christianity wouldn’t be sufficient for rational people, and essentially condemns those who use their brains.

Further, God would have known about the immense amount of suffering that would happen in the world. The idea that this is somehow the best possible world is not one I can easily accept. For these reason, I do not think that God deserves to be worshiped.

So, Frank, I would become a Christian in the most nominal sense of the word, but I doubt I would ever become a Christian like we see Christians as today: Blindly worshiping a being that really doesn’t appear to deserve it. Without having good reasons to believe that God is much better than what I understand the God of Christianity to be, I simply cannot worship, and love, God. In that sense, I can’t see myself becoming a Christian.

Why I Dislike Frank Turek

There are a subset of Christian apologists who severely annoy me, and Frank Turek is one of them. There are several reasons for this.  The first I want to address is because his willingness to accept the scientific consensus for the Big Bang, the age of the universe, and the age of the Earth, probably because it doesn’t hurt his case for Christianity. Where he goes off the rails is in rejecting the Theory of Evolution, probably because it doesn’t help support his arguments.

Science is not some buffet you come to in order to score points for your ideas, and ignore when it’s inconvenient to your message. I find it completely hypocritical when apologists appeal to science to support their arguments, and turn around and then appeal to debunked pseudoscience like Intelligent Design. But then again, most apologists have little shortage of hypocrisy. Turek’s arguments against Evolution don’t help his cause much. Either Turek doesn’t understand his Evolution at all, or he simply misrepresents it in the hope that his audience is generally ignorant of the science behind it.

In this video Frank states that “Darwinists must explain the vast dissimilarity between living things.” The problem is that this is exactly what the Theory of Evolutionary does. I hate to attribute malice to people who make such mistakes, but it’s really hard to believe that after all the debates he’s been engaged in, and how he seems to understand other areas of science, that he does not actually understand this. Evolution is the scientific explanation for biodiversity. I think it’s far easier to write this kind of stuff off as him playing his audience.

To paraphrase Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to accurately represent something when his salary depends upon him not presenting it accurately.” I think this is the problem for apologists who work with large numbers of ignorant, Biblical literalist, fundamentalists. Even his statement about accepting the age of the Universe seem to be couched with the idea that science relies on some basal assumptions, and that these assumptions may be shaky. I honestly think he doesn’t want to piss off the fundamentalists who insist that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. They likely represent a large portion of his audience.

Turek also has this annoying habit of using what I’ve heard called the “road-runner tactic.” You’ll know it when you see it. Rather than trying to address the problem brought forward, he pounces on some “gotcha” of the question, and tries to make it when it presents itself. It’s great for showing how quick witted you are, but doesn’t do anything to actually help people come to a better understanding of real philosophy. In many cases the replies are simply dishonest. For instance, if I made the statement “there are no absolute truths.” Somebody could reply by asking “is it absolutely true that there are no absolute truths? The idea of there being no absolute truth is self-defeating.” The point raised doesn’t actually deal with substance of the objection, but rather tries to score cheap points in trying to make the statement look incoherent. Truth is an evaluation of a proposition, and all evaluations rely on axioms which cannot be proven.

The fact is that most of the people who ask questions at his events aren’t professionals, and often don’t have the background to know how to ask the questions they want to. And here’s my pointer for every would-be apologist out there: If you want to look credible, to people who actually have a reasonable understanding of the topic you’re addressing, make sure you’re addressing the best possible interpretation of the question being asked!

Nothing pisses me off more than an apologist who weakly deals with problems presented to them. It’s my opinion that Frank rarely deals with the strongest version of anything. Apologists, just like lawyers in a court room, they are out to score points with jury (in this case, his audience  of faithful followers.) You don’t necessarily score points for being truthful, accurate, or even helping people come to a better understanding of their position, or reality. Apologists score points when they convince people that they’re right, even if they aren’t. And in the end, truth isn’t about “points” anyways. And that’s why Frank Turek seems like such a joke to me!

Near-Death Experiences

I still don’t understand why Christians like pointing to reported near-death experiences as somehow being good evidence for an afterlife. What we have are anecdotal stories (that we really have no way to confirm) of people’s subjective experiences, while they are unconscious (and in some cases after cardiac arrest), about being “outside their body.” I simply don’t see how this can ever be considered good evidence for anything except that people have subjective experiences about being outside their body while unconscious.

Even worse to me is the title of Cameron’s video: “Two Near-Death Experiences that Can’t Be Explained Away.” His title implies that there is no way to offer a natural explanation for these two experiences (I disagree), and that somehow these experiences are best explained by an afterlife and a soul. I can’t help but feel like this is simply confirmation bias, and the Christian is leaping at anything that might confirm what they believe.

Frankly, whenever I hear stories that seem incredible, my first thought is “there’s probably some kind of deception going on.” If you want me to accept what was reported, when we have no ability to verify the claims, you’re going to have to demonstrate to me that trickery is much more improbable than the explanation being offered (in this case, real out of body experiences). When I listened to both of these stories, it seems very possible that they could have been told to report what they did, by somebody else, and simply not told anyone else about this deception. We know that there are people who love attention, and will do anything to get it, so why would somebody not lie like this?

To anyone who takes these claims seriously, I have to ask some questions: Why is some kind of deception so much less likely than an afterlife, which we have never detected? What makes you think that a soul, and an afterlife, are ever a well justified explanation for these experiences?

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that I cannot offer any coherent natural explanation: How does that make me justified in believing your explanation? Isn’t this just an argument from ignorance/incredulity?

Most People Don’t Want Truth

I was looking around on Facebook, and found the above meme posted from Inspiring Philosophy (Michael Jones). The irony of the image is that this is exactly what I think about when I think of Christians who find apologetics convincing.

I know that Christian apologists are convinced that their religious beliefs are true, but when I, as an outsider, look at what they’re making claims for, and what how little they can actually support with good objective evidence, this meme just shows off the lack of self-awareness they seem to exude. In the end, this is why apologetics is successful. Apologetics doesn’t have to demonstrate that the claims are true, rather it only has to give reasonable sounding attempts at buttressing the faith.

There are lots of reasons that people hold onto their religious beliefs, and may desperately want them to be true. When so much of your life centers around your religious beliefs, the sunk cost fallacy can make it extremely painful to finally admit that your beliefs are wrong.

But really, I sometimes just love looking at the irony of what people post, and take note that this irony has probably flown right past them. That’s when I simply sit back, snicker to myself, and then feel a little bit of pity for those who feel they need their religious beliefs to be true.

Habermas and his Minimal Facts

In the following video Gary Habermas lays out six facts that he thinks make for the best historical case that Jesus was resurrected:

His facts, which I have no interest in trying to dispute, are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ disciples had experiences that the believed were of the resurrected Jesus
3. The belief in the resurrection turned the world upside down
4. The Resurrection was proclaimed early
5. James, the brother of Jesus, believed that Jesus was resurrected
6. Paul, an “enemy” of Christianity, eventually believed that Jesus was resurrected

According to Habermas, and other Christian apologists, the best explanation for this is that Jesus really was resurrected from the dead, and that no naturalistic explanation is better.

Problems with these facts

When we look at these points, 2, 5, and 6, are claims about what people believed. I don’t really care what people believe, when I’m trying to figure out what is true, because people believe all kinds of nonsense without having sufficient reasons for their beliefs. All of these are variations of “people believed that Jesus rose from the dead”, and adding more of these doesn’t really improve the quality of the argument.

Point 3 is also largely irrelevant. Belief that Muhammad was the messenger of Allah certainly turned much of the world upside down, as people fought in his name. The fact that people believing some idea has far reaching consequences doesn’t tell us that the belief is true. For this reason, I really don’t care about this claim, when assessing the resurrection.

Given these points that I’ve raised, I would say that the essential points of Habermas’ “historical argument” boils down to:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. Soon after people believed that Jesus was resurrected

But so what? How does this establish the likelihood of resurrection? Unless we include a premise like “so many people couldn’t possibly be wrong about the resurrection” (which is an argument from personal incredulity), I really don’t see that it gets us anywhere close to “and so we can be safe in our belief in the resurrection.”

Cherry-picking the facts to support his conclusion

On Habermas’ list of facts, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the following facts are, very conveniently, missing:

1. Nobody has ever established that miracles, let alone resurrections, are even possible
2. We have never establish that any gods exist
3. The religion of Christianity was a colossal failure with the Jews, the very people who should have been convinced
4. Any natural explanation, no matter how convoluted, is going to be a better explanation than a supernatural one.

Habermas selects the facts that support his argument, and proceeds on those. Truth is not determined by minimal facts, but by maximal facts. Picking out some subset of the fact, particularly the facts that you like, and ignoring the problems inherent in his position, is not a good way to determine truth. We have no idea if resurrections are even possible, and nobody can actually demonstrate a resurrection, or even anything like it. This argument only “works” by starting with some Christian assumptions, namely that God exists, and that miracles happen, and by ignoring facts that would be a serious problem for them.

And yet, once again, listening to Christian apologists, I’m pretty well convinced that apologetics is really nothing more than an effort to help bolster that faith of believers. The arguments, when examined carefully, turn out to be flimsy, but that doesn’t stop the faithful from accepting them. It seems that the goal of apologetics is to find ways to protect sacred ideas, rather than show that the ideas are actually true. I would love to start seeing Christians point to these arguments, and acknowledge how bad they really are, but that might just be hoping for a miracle, and I think we know that kind of thing just doesn’t happen.

I Tried to Follow PragerU

In an effort to expose myself to things that are outside my comfort zone, I went and followed PragerU’s Facebook page. I generally consider myself a centrist, with a strong leaning towards personal freedoms, and a disdain for authoritarians. I see that there is a place for government in our society, and that government can be a tool to help shape our society.

After just three days, I had to stop following them. The hysterics, inflammatory titles, science denial, and the utter conviction that “the left” is out to completely destroy society, was just too much for me. The comments were often much worse than the videos I was watching.

Having read a number of the postings, my unprofessional opinion is that the followers have either lost much of their ability to be objective, have a completely delusional worldview, or simply love to ratchet up the rhetoric. I don’t know which is the best explanation.  I hope it is the latter, but I fear it leans toward the first two. It was, in many ways, like reading the nonsense of fundamentalist Christians about their religion. It seemed to me that many of these people have turned their political beliefs into a virtual religion, and that what comes with it is sacrosanct. Along with the hyperbole, being treated like it was objective truth, I was given the impression I was listening to a cult.

That said, there are some interesting political topics that they’ve given me ideas for, mostly to do with the right, and their obsession with tradition, and the founders ideas. I plan to write a few posts about my view of American politics, as an outsider with no real stake in the game.

While this experiment was painful, it certainly has taught me something. I would encourage everyone to try engaging with people who don’t share your political beliefs. It may not be a rewarding experience, but you’ll probably learn something about yourself, and others.

On Doctrinal Faith Statements

Why is it that so many of the popular “scholars”, that are used by Evangelical apologists, largely belong to organizations that require statements of commitment to dogma? I’ve talked about this topic before, and it leads me to treat these people with significantly less credibility than I would otherwise.

Christians love to point to scholars like Gary Habermas, and his work on the historicity of the resurrection. The problem is that Habermas, being employed by Liberty University (an ironic name I have to say, given the lack of liberty that students and employees live under) has presumably signed the doctrinal statement of faith, and that he will never say anything that goes against these faith statements. They have a strong a priori bias toward one set of conclusions, regardless of where the actual evidence leads (or doesn’t lead.)

My main problem is that I’m not an expert. As a layman I’m virtually forced to follow the consensus position of scholars, but scholars who are intellectually committed to a preferred conclusion aren’t a reliable indicator of truth.

And so my question to any Christian, who wants to point me to one of these sources: Why should I consider what they have to say when they clearly aren’t committed to truth, but are instead committed to their religious beliefs?

And a special note, for those out there who want to claim that I’m engaging in some kind of genetic fallacy, I want to point out that my position is not that they are necessarily wrong because they’re committed to a single position, but rather than their prior commitments makes their scholarship questionable, and significantly takes away from their credibility. As far as I’m concerned, these people aren’t scholars, they’re defense lawyers, intellectually committed to finding ways to argue that their client isn’t guilty.

When there is a broad consensus of scholarship on a subject, I’m willing to be swayed, but that scholarship must not be a priori committed to that position.