Sunday, January 15, 2006

I recommend you settle...

When the topic of deconversion comes up, one of the first questions that comes up is naturally, “Why?” To which I always respond, “It was a combination of things.” And I get the inevitable reply, “But what was the one big thing that convinced you Christianity was not true?”

The easiest answer, I guess, would be that in reviewing all of the arguments both for and against Christianity, I realized that it would fail to persuade a neutral jury. In fact, it would bomb tremendously.

In preparing for a trial, or a case, in order to best serve my client, I must look at ALL the arguments, and ALL the evidence that both serves and destroys my case. I do not have the luxury of only reviewing the positive points in my favor. Of simply disregarding my opponents position as being “unreasonable.” I know that some day or week I will be in front of a jury of people that don’t have a vested interest in the outcome, and are even slightly antagonistic for time being wasted from their busy lives. That in every single instance I am pushing forward my proposition, I will be facing an opponent that is equally presenting their position—the exact opposite of mine. Each minute they are waiting to pounce if I present a weak argument, or poor evidence. They will capitalize on such a mistake and implement a response to their best advantage.

Imagine a client tells me that they sent a letter. A letter that helps my position. It would be easy to assume my client is telling the truth, and perform no further research. One only has to be burned by THAT assumption once to realize how foolish that is. So I research the facts surrounding this letter. When was it sent? What was the reaction of the person receiving it? What was the reaction of the person sending it? Was it ever referred to again? Were there instances it should have been referred to and wasn’t? By whom? Is it the type of letter that generates a response?

I may come to realize that the letter was never referred to again by either party, that it should been by both parties, and that for all intents and purposes it looks as if it was made up after the fact. I realize that presenting that letter would hurt my case, not help it.

Recently I had a case where my client had saved a damning voice mail for over 4 years. We played it for the witness at the trial, and asked if that is what he said. He admitted it (having no choice) but claimed the nuances were incorrect, and that he actually meant it for only a very limited situation. Not as broad as we were proposing.

Unfortunately for him, he forget that after the voice mail, he had sent a letter that indicated it WAS for the broad purpose, and not the limited nature he had just testified to. He appeared to be a liar in front of the jury. Further, the two parties acted, after the voice mail, as if it was for the broad purpose, and not the limited one.

That is what I am talking about. One has to look at all the evidence, and review what the jury would buy. A simple axiom we use: “Don’t sell what you wouldn’t buy.” Don’t try and convince a jury that the piano is worth $1 Million dollars, when it was testified that the person left it an abandoned barn for three years. No one will buy that these are actions a person would do with a $1 Million dollar piano.

In my initial interactions with atheist, I realized to my complete surprise and chagrin, that I had never subjected the most important element in my life—my Christianity—to this method. I had never reviewed the reasonableness of the non-theist arguments from the proposition of whether Christianity was “sellable” to a non-theistic audience. And what those arguments were in response.

In my mind I see a huge courtroom. We have a jury of 12 people that are neutral. No predisposition toward any particular brand of theism or non-theism. They don’t know the word “God” or who Jesus or Buddha, or Mohammed, or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy or Confucius are. They do not know the concepts of atonement, propitiation, justice, mercy, incarnation, or sanctification. They have never read the Bible, the Tanakh, the Qur’an, The Book of Mormon, or any other Holy writings.

And we line up the 100,000 (really quite a bit more, but keeping it at that number) various brands of theism. Each brand gets its chance to present its proofs. And each brand is then cross-examined by 99,998 other theists that do not believe in their god, who all attempt to show that this particular god doesn’t exist. I don’t have to do a thing. Not lift a finger. All the other theists are doing all the work showing that this god doesn’t exist.

About 56,300 witnesses in, we reach some Christian-type gods. And now the Christian is placed under the spotlight of explaining why the Bible is divine (and the others are not) where the Bible comes from, whether Jesus was historical or mythical, why their God is just (and the others not) and so on. Rather than preaching to the choir, the Christian is subjected to intense cross-examination from 99,998 other theists that disagree with their position, and is trying to convince this neutral jury it somehow rises above all of the other theisms.

Finally, it is my turn—Number 100,000. All I would say is, “If a fish could make a god, It would look like a fish. Every god you have seen is a human creation.” And sit down.

The jury would come back with a verdict of “There is no god here.”

It is only when Christians are placed in a position where they must defend their view against those that are nor predisposed to believe as they are, will they begin to see the weaknesses of the arguments, and how they would not compel a jury to find in their favor.

13 comments:

  1. Very illuminating.
    The tradition of religious family customs and schooling patterns starting in childhood and carried into adulthood are often deficient in the concept of "objectivity". There is little chance of impartial examination into the likelyhood of the existence of God and different theisms.
    Could the consequence of this conditioning process be mistaken for faith?

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  2. Very true, roman. Of course in their (and my) defense, those teaching these customs believe in them as well. We rely upon those with more knowledge to have done the research and present even-handed information. It can be a shock to learn just how biased and uninformed the Christian community is.

    What was staggering was that it chooses to be so. For the most part, Christians don’t want to look at the other side, investigate or explore. As you imply, this willful ignorance is then bolstered into a virtue of faith. “I don’t have to study it to know it is true.”

    I often state: “Faith without evidence is hope. Faith contrary to evidence is delusion.” The problem I often see is that faith becomes a dogma unto itself, and upon learning new facts, the religious community, in an ultimate act of irony, refuses to modify its faith. For centuries, various religious sects held onto the historicity of the Ten Plagues/Exodus. Within the last 100 years, archeology has shredded even the possibility of it historically happening.

    We would hope that faith, upon learning these new facts, would modify and employ an allegorical aspect to Exodus—but no. What happens is that literalists willfully ignore the evidence, or blatantly put their fingers in their ears saying, “Na na na na. I can’t hear you. Na na na na. Just because all the evidence points against it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Na na na na.”

    The reason it is so ironic, is that this will be the same religious community that will send out missionaries to other faiths, imploring people to abandon their faith upon the missionary’s “new facts.” Why should a Muslim be required to modify his faith upon “new facts” when a Christian refuses to do the same?

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  3. Great post. I think there is a lot of merit in taking the approach you say you have.

    Truth can stand up to fair and honest investigation.

    How far did you go in your personal investigation in to the case for Christianity? I'd love to know how deeply you studied...I say that because I believe that the exercise you describe would result in Christianity being vindicated.

    One of the things you keep mentioning over and over is that Christianity has the hallmarks of a man-made religion.

    There are really quite a few things that most people would consider contrary to a man-made religion. But let me just ask this: how do you know you haven't put the cart before the horse?

    You see, what might look like a God patterned after man could very well be a man patterned after God. I don't see that as a valid proof for atheism.

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  4. Jeff, how far back do you want me to go for my personal investigation of Christianity? I was a Christian for 32 years. (The five before that I attended church.) I took so many Bible courses out of interest in college that I was one class short of majoring in Biblical studies. The only reason that I didn’t finish, is that I already double majored and had taken them out of enjoyment, not some degree.

    I have read Craig, Stroble, Boyd, Plantinga (well, to be honest, only part way), Zacharias, McDowell, Borg, some Spinoza, Johnson (yckk), Lewis, Schaffer (father and son), as well as countless Christian support books over the years. Frankly, I have probably forgotten an author or two. (Sorry to whomever.) Oh, also the oldies, like Edwards, Calvin, Luther and Wesley. See, I am forgetting.

    I have taught SS (nursery to adult), small groups, prayer groups. I have ushered, janitorial, cooked, cleaned, painted, built, laid concrete, laid grass, planted, chopped, racked, hoed and pretty much done about anything one can. I have been on committees and skits. I was considered for a deacon position, but did not pursue it.

    About the only thing I have not done is sing, and if you heard me, you would know why! :)

    ….Christianity has the hallmarks of a man-made religion. What methodology do you propose to determine the difference between a man-made religion and a non-man-made religion?

    Without a god ever showing themselves, to claim it is possible that humans are patterned after a god, would mean that god can, and does, commit evil. Doesn’t say much for the god.

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  5. I would also contend that Christianity has a God who is less like man than many other religions, especially the religions of the time of the authorship of the Old & New Testaments. Their gods were very much like men in that they were contentious, lustful, certainly not "holy," even seemed to be part of the creation itself. The Christian God seems to have far more transcendent properties than His "competition." Additionally, I believe that the idea of God being outside of, and separate from, the creation — making it out of no preexistent matter — is something of a novelty.

    I once heard an observation made by R.C. Sproul that seems accurate: many religions have either an impersonal god or a less than holy god; a few have either a personal god or a holy god, but not both. Christianity's god is both holy and personal. That is a frightening thing that I wouldn't concoct on my own. I would much prefer an impersonal new age God, especially if it meant that I got to be divine too.

    Additionally, even if we find "human" traits in the biblical God (which I concede), should we not expect those if we are made by that God? Especially so if He intends for us to interact with Him or understand Him. Are you suggesting that a completely incomprehensible and absurd God would be more believable to you?

    Oh, and I see your new comment (after Jeff's)... Because we believe we have similar traits to God does not infer or demand that God is identical to us in every way, which would include our propensity for "evil."

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  6. Paul, before I respond, I want to be certain we are on the same page. When I ask, “What methodology do you propose to determine the difference between a man-made religion and a non-man-made religion?” are you saying that the method we use is a god that is “something of a novelty”? Whatever god is “something of a novelty” or different from other gods, is a non-man-made religion? I am sure you are seeing the problem already with this methodology. The fact it doesn’t exclude anything.

    The amusing part will be explaining how Jesus (god) is different from the other gods of the same era. Especially that Jewish god YHWH. Which one is god?

    Christianity's god is both holy and personal. Really? Is punishing persons innocent of the crime “holy”? Is a god that cannot speak verbally for 2000 years “personal”? This is a bit biased of an opinion, don’t you think? In keeping with the thread, you would need to convince a jury that a God that orders soldiers to kill baby boys, so that Jewish men can force-marry their sister is “holy.” You will have to convince a God that has been silent (except that elusive “inner voice”) for 2000 years is “personal.” I think you have underestimated the ability of the other side to present evidence to the contrary.

    Are you suggesting that a completely incomprehensible and absurd God would be more believable to you? I didn’t understand this. Why must arguments presented by Christians be this hopeless dichotomy? Either it is the God of Christianity OR it is an incomprehensible and absurd God. You know there are literally millions of options in-between. What would be “more believable” to me, is a God that fits the facts I observe and common sense.

    I didn’t say anything about propensity for evil. If we (the created) have the ability to commit evil, then the creator also must have the ability to create evil. If not, where do you propose evil comes from? (Logical problem of evil, not experiential problem of evil, please.)

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  7. dagoods,

    I have thought about this same scenario several times, not just in reference to Christianity, but in reference to theological debates within Christianity, and several other things. But the scenario is unrealistic, and impossible actualize. Although it may be possible to find a jury who has no interest in whether a person robbed a store or not, I don't think it's possible to find a jury who is perfectly indifferent or openminded about spiritual matters. That's because we all have a worldview. It's impossible not to have one. And everything that presents itself to the mind is filtered through the worldview. Religion, theism, etc., all deal with basic worldview issues.

    That's why when you present evidence for or against a person robbing a store, you might get a unanimous vote one way or the other. But when you present evidence for and against God, you won't. Two people of equal intelligence can both look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions, and not because of any intellectual dishonesty on their parts.

    The only reason you or I would have to speculate on what the hypothetical jury would probably say is because of what we have already concluded. I look at the evidence and find Christianity quite reasonable, so I assume any objective jury would see the same thing. You, on the other hand, find Christianity unreaonable, so you assume any objective jury would see the same thing.

    My point is that it's impossible to determine whether Christianity is reasonable or not by speculating about what an indifferent jury would say, since your speculation is determined by what you've already concluded.

    Sam

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  8. ephphatha, you are quite correct, this is a non-existent hypothetical jury. I doubt we could find 12 people in the world that don’t have at least some concept of God, or what a holy writing would be, or where the world came from, etc.

    But it is still a fun exercise. See, in my practice I come across cases all the time with facts and expertise that juries do NOT have knowledge in. How much do you know about the size/shape/location and material of the brake pedal on a 1978 Ford pick-up? I knew next to nothing before a certain case. (And it was long enough ago, I honestly don’t remember the year or the Make (sorry, Ford) but I do remember it was a pick-up! :))

    By the time I was prepared for a jury, I knew where it was made, how it was made, the engineering design, down to the millimeter of the size, how it was designed to work, etc. All things your average jury wouldn’t know. All things which I had to explain, why some lawyer on the other side was busy explaining to the jury why I was 100% wrong in every conclusion.

    I guess my point on this is two-fold. First, it is easy for Christians to convince other Christians. Take the hard fact that Jesus existed. Christians take it for granted, and would never debate such a ludicrous thought as a mythical Jesus. Now argue against someone that is prepared, and studied, and knows the facts surrounding Jesus as well as, and probably better than you do.

    By the time you are done arguing it, you may realize that a jury that has no conclusion to the existence of Jesus is not wholly convinced he ever lived. It would be like two people arguing to you as to whether Mohammed was literate. You may not have ever studied the area, but after they make their arguments, you would come to a conclusion that it is very likely he could write. Which has an impact on the creation of the Qur’an.

    The second point is that when I started this trial, I had concluded that Jesus was God, the way, the truth and the life. I did come into with pre-conceived notions. I did not come out of it with the same. I was able to see that an objective jury would never, never reach a verdict in my favor. I was able to see that my previous conclusions were wrong.

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  9. dagoods,

    I don't see how you could've come to the conclusion that an objective jury could never have concluded that Jesus was the way the truth and the life. You seem to base that on the fact that you came to the conclusion that Jesus was not the way the truth and the life.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems to be your thinking:

    1. Since the evidence leads me to believe that Jesus is not the way the truth and the life, then an objective jury would reach the same conclusion.

    2. Since an objective jury would conclude that Jesus is not the way the truth and the life, then I must conclude that Jesus was not the way the truth and the life.

    The problem I see here isn't just that the reasoning seems circular. It's also that your confidence comes in the fact that you once had an interest in defending Christianity, but you were disuaded by the evidence. There are, however, people who have had the exact opposite experience. People who have had an interest in refuting Christianity have come out believing in it. So we can't conclude something merely on the basis that somebody from one point of view changed their mind in light of the evidence.

    I completely agree with you that the arguments seem mostly convincing to people who already believe. But surely you wouldn't go so far as to say these same arguments have never convinced anybody who didn't already believe. Likewise, arguments against Christianity seem most convincing to those who don't believe, but that surely there are people who didn't believe and were convinced by the arguments to think otherwise.

    Although the thought experiment you raise is fun and interesting, I don't think it helps us one bit, because the only way we can determine what an objective jury would conclude is by looking to what we ourselves would conclude. And if we ourselves have already come to a conclusion, then what difference does it make us what somebody else would conclude?

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  10. ephphatha: : I don't see how you could've come to the conclusion that an objective jury could never have concluded that Jesus was the way the truth and the life. Because you forget that this jury of our is NOT just hearing Christianity vs atheism. It is hearing 100,000 differing brands of theism, all of which are claiming superiority over the other 99,999, and all of which are claiming are correct, and the other 99,999 are wrong. In light of those figures, Christianity (sorry) gets lost in the crowd.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems to be your thinking…. Not exactly, but I may not be communicating this well. My thinking is how I look at my own cases. I do not have the luxury of only looking at my own arguments. I have to review the arguments of the other side. I have to see which arguments would persuade a jury that has no information whatsoever regarding the matter. I have to review the evidence, and see whether what I am claiming is true from the evidence is “sellable” and whether what my opponent says from the evidence is “sellable.”

    Having done this for a bit, I have a pretty good handle on what non-interested parties will buy and what they won’t.

    What I am saying is that Christians need to improve their argumentation. Take it up a notch. Rather than state what the choir believes, rather than toss out some explanation with big words that they buy, can they provide argumentation that a non-interested believer would buy, when being confronted with all of the other various theisms.

    Let me give you an example to see if it helps. The author of Matthew indicates Judas died by hanging. The author of Acts by falling headlong and his guts busting open. An inerrantist, in front of our disinterested jury would provide an explanation. (Typically say that he died by hanging, and then his body burst.)

    But does this explanation fly? I would point out that common sense shows us two authors, when reporting an event often disagree. Often one, or both are wrong. I would show how the two accounts differ as to who purchased the field, and where the money went. I would show that the second account is not referring to Judas’ body as being important, but the fact that he died. I would show that Papias, at a time closer to the death, indicated the reverse—that Judas died from bursting and the hanging was pre-death. I would point out the inherent bias in the inerrantist, that she is using inerrancy as a bolster for the divinity of the New Testament.

    But finally, I would point out how the inerrantist, in cross-examining the 52,000 religions before her, would not accept “any” explanation as a defense to a contradiction, but would like us to accept it now. And that she is about to do it again on the next person’s testimony.

    Now what do you think a non-interested jury is going to say? You are correct that we assume what we find reasonable, others would as well. My methodology corrects for this, though, by introducing 99,998 other religions that will cross-examine on the same method. They don’t all find the same things reasonable.

    Finally, I have never met a person who had an interest in refuting Christianity and have come out believing it. Never. I know of claims of such an event (like Strobel), but have never met one, even on-line. Not saying it couldn’t happen. Just would like to meet such a person.

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  11. So is your point that claims such as Stroebel's are lies (your italics on 'claims')? Or just that the occurence is rare enough that you haven't seen it? And if so, what does the rarity of it mean?

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  12. Dag, I would love to jump in on every one of these comment threads, but I either don't have your time or your efficiency at pumping thoughts and data into the keyboard.

    There are several attorney's out there who have written books on Christian apologetics and make claims about going into their studies as skeptics. Simon Greenleaf is one, as I understand. Have you read anything by him perchance? There are other names I can toss out if it would be of interest to you.

    As for skeptics who were convinced by arguments, perhaps I might qualify, although I was never a hard atheist, or out to destroy Christianity. The discovery that Christian theism had philosophical teeth and evidential content was what planted my feet on the road in.

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  13. Jeff, Strobel is astonishingly uninformed in positions he claimed he held. Whether this is deliberate falsehood, or woeful ignorance, I cannot tell.

    "Rare" as in hard to find one. No claim as to it making it more or less true.

    Paul - I have read some Greenleaf. I must admit I don't recall much. If I remember he was hopelessly outdated. And he made some leaps that I did not think were warranted.

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