Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Doubting, avoid Thinking

I remain on Credo House’s mailing list, receiving notification of C. Michael Patton’s recent blog entry concerning doubt.

What struck me was how the response proposed was one-sided when doubts arise regarding Christianity. The first point, recommended focusing on the Resurrection, rather than minor issues such as inerrancy or evolution vs. creationism. (Curiously, this came across as a concession minor issues were a lost cause.) He states:

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate tohere and here . Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection.

(I was secretly pleased I guessed the books before clicking on the link. Habermas & Licona’s “Case for the Resurrection” then Licona’s “Historiography of Resurrection” and finally N.T. Wright’s “Resurrection of Jesus.”)

Notice what is missing from the list? Yeah…any skeptical books. Now I will grant you, there are not many non-theists writing on the Resurrection, but even a mention of “The Empty Tomb” or possible Loftus’ work, or Erhman’s concerns would have been interesting. What was more interesting was the suggestion to “set down” conversations “with those who are representing another religion.”

Why? Why, when doubting, must one only look to one side of the issue?

The third point Patton makes solidifies his intentions—he recommended “fellowshipping” (that’s Christianize for “socializing” or “relationshiping.”) He notes:

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

I believe his concern is for Christians to begin assuming the beliefs of non-Christians because of emotional attachment. Ironically, the very action he fears is the very action he suggests the Christian engage—only hang around flat earth society….er….Christians…and one will become emotionally attached to the arguments one assumes.

I find it very telling skeptics not only encourage fellow skeptics to read non-theist literature, but ALSO theistic literature. I, too, would recommend Licona if one wants to study the Resurrection. I, too, would recommend non-believers engage with Christians, or “fellowship” with them. But I go farther and recommend one also engages and reads people holding to alternate views.

What would you think if I told you to ONLY read what non-theists write, or ONLY associate with non-theists? Does that sound like a person who is confident regarding the strength of their position or one who fears weaknesses would be exposed if someone dares inform themselves?


  1. Does that sound like a person who is confident regarding the strength of their position or one who fears weaknesses would be exposed if someone dares inform themselves?

    Well put, and I think it goes to prove that faith is somewhat of a feeling and an intellectual (self-deceptive) affair with no real substance. If you know a real Jesus and talk to a real God, how is it that hanging out with people who do not know Jesus or talk to God would make you doubt? If I hung out with people who didn't think my wife existed, I wouldn't suddenly start doubting.

  2. This certainly highlights problems with those of us doubting or even losing our faith. If you talk to a fellow Christian about your doubts they will all tell you to only "fellowship" with other Christians and only recommend Christian reading. If your faith is so tender that being exposed to those outside the faith and spending time with them will drag you emotionally out of the faith you were not serious about your faith. It was only emotional. What Patton doesn't talk about is those of us who were serious about our faith. It wasn't merely an emotional ascent to faith but a dedication of our very selves. He says that our faith need not be on a "house of cards", but it really is. Really? The resurrection is the best probability? I knew even as a Christian I was choosing to believe something farfetched, not something that was easily believed.

    So the answer is "don't expose yourself to opposing beliefs because you're only a follower". I knew following the "crows" would be big trouble. ::sigh::

  3. I used to look at Parchment and Pen much more frequently than I do now. I've always admired Patton's honesty about his personal struggles, but when it comes to theological questions, he does seem to willing to accept the most simplistic solutions.

  4. Within lawsuits, we have “discovery”—an opportunity to obtain information about the opposing party. Records, questions, depositions, etc. Very often attorneys have developed a standard form of questions & requests for documents that they fire off to the other side, regardless the nature of the action.

    Of course, this ends up asking questions completely irrelevant to the particular case. I always tell my clients to provide everything, and answer everything even though the other side may not be technically entitled to it, or it may be irrelevant. When asked why they would answer something they needn’t have to, I give the following example:

    “Imagine you came in this room and I said, ‘You can look at anything here…only you can’t look in this one drawer!’ Now—what is the one drawer you are solely interested in looking at?”

    They get my point immediately. By barring access—even if irrelevant—that response generates heightened inspection when none is warranted.

    The most dangerous responses are, “Here. You can everything and then some.” Because such a person has nothing to hide, and the openness demonstrates honesty.

    The same way, when studying (as a Christian) it really, REALLY bothered me how many times I was informed to stop reading skeptical books. Stop having conversations with non-theists. Stop thinking about what the other side might say.

    If we held truth…er….excuse me….TRUTH…why would I care what the other side said? Why couldn’t I interact with them? Why was it that the method I used in my daily practice indicated avoidance was a sign of a weak argument, yet when it came to Christianity or theism, such avoidance was embraced?


    Oh, and D’Ma—I should mention C. Michael Patton (as typical for Christians) doesn’t understand the “house of cards.” It wasn’t our losing inerrancy by realizing the accounts on Judas’ death didn’t match and we immediately tossed the whole thing. It wasn’t one incident at church, or one discovery of a person’s indiscretion.

    It was that one instance provided us with (the first time) a method to make objective claims about what we believed, and upon application of the method, the rest of the cards equally failed.

  5. "What would you think if I told you to ONLY read what non-theists write, or ONLY associate with non-theists? Does that sound like a person who is confident regarding the strength of their position or one who fears weaknesses would be exposed if someone dares inform themselves?"

    Well said. This is NOT what secure, healthy faith looks like.

    I've met more than a few fundamentalists who avoid reading anything that contradicts their beliefs or spending time among non-Christians (or the "wrong" Christians). When I asked a Christian acquaintance about this, he used the Israelites being corrupted by their contact with pagan cultures as an example of what could happen (!).

    Consciously or unconsciously, I think these people know how fragile their belief system is, and that much of it is a sham. Why else would they cover their eyes and plug their ears in the face of conflicting information?

  6. If Patton only spends time with flat-earthers he thinks he will eventually be persuaded by their emotional pull? Bull. I don't buy it. As far as I am aware, I am the one and only atheist that I know. That means 100% of my acquaintance is with believers of one kind or another. Using Patton's logic, I should have been overwhelmed by the emotional pull of Christian Fellowship long ago. It's simple Patton, I don't buy it due to skeptical reasoning, and am not persuaded to change my mind on matters of truth because of my emotions. Skepticism is nothing more than a BS filter, and it keeps one from being a flat-earther even if surrounded by flat-earthers. It's a frame of mind. Embrace it.

  7. Patton seems to be addressing Christians who want to maintain their faith, and if that's the case, his advice is spot on. Looking at contrary evidence could certainly lead to deconversion! However, I'm not sure I could have continued to fool myself forever, even with perpetually ignoring the evidence. I would have continued to have a deep nagging feeling that something wasn't right. I've tried to remain somewhat balanced in my reading and studying to avoid cognitive biases that plague all humans, such as the recency effect or confirmation bias. I do find myself more drawn to reading skeptics, probably because I agree with them more and it's gratifying to see my thoughts validated.

  8. DoOrDoNot -- Agreed. I think many apologetics books are intended to affirm Christians' beliefs rather than convince nonbelievers.

  9. DoOrDoNot,

    As you know, most deconverts did want to maintain their faith. None of us went into it, thinking, “Hmmm…how do I rationalize this pesky Christian belief away?” More like, “How can I support my current position?”

    What is fascinating to me is where the tipping point is. What is the difference between myself, who kept on going toward atheism, and the Christian who “tips back” if you will, to Christianity? We all had (have) doubts. We all look at information to resolve those doubts. Why do some fall on one side and others fall elsewhere? (And still others stay on the fence.)

    No easy answer to those questions. Just wondering out loud.

  10. I agree with your criticism of Patton's blog but thought I'd offer some perspective anyway. I don't think you can look at Christianity and atheism exactly the same because one is personal and the other is not. It's not like you're merely trying to decide between two different ideas. Being an atheism might entail subscribing (or refraining from subscribing) from certain ideas, but being a Christian entails, not only subscribing to certain ideas, but to also involves loyalty to a person. If you were trying to decide whether Merriwether Lewis was murdered or committed suicide, you'd probably approach the question differently than if your daughter was accused of murdering her roommate, and she insisted that she was innocent. You'd want to be loyal to your daughter. You'd want to believe her. So there's a bias that works with religious people that is absent from non-religious people. There's a motive for wanting to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt. So maybe it's understandable that a Christian who is having intellectual doubts might just want to reinforce their beliefs rather than trying to be totally objective about the whole thing. I'm not saying an approach like that is the best way to get to the bottom of things--to find out what's actually true. Like I said, I agree with your criticism. I'm just trying to get you to understand where a Christian might be coming from. I think you're too quick to attribute sinister motives (e.g. they're afraid) to Christians. I've seen you do it before.

  11. Sam,

    Thanks for the link. 2006 seems such a long time ago, now. (On that note, and totally unrelated to the present situation, I have met deconverts and atheists in person now. And, I can say some atheists are just as blind to information as some Christians are. Humanity.)

    There is an interesting difference in doubt. Not sure how to typify it. There is the doubt coming from a bad situation—a bit of “Where is God in letting a 16-year-old be killed in a car accident?” Or there is the doubt coming from a plaguing question that never seems to get quite resolved. In those situations, I do understand C. Michael Patton’s point that this is a “hump” and how to get over it.

    But then there is a deep-seated, ever-growing doubt that rocks one to the very foundation their lives are built upon. Where one is concerned that everything they have depended on is false. (A bit of hyperbole, but that is what it feels like.) In those situations, C. Michael Patton’s advice is some of the worst to provide. It only solidifies the strength of doubt.

    I can’t say it is always easy to tell the difference between those types of doubt.

    I do wonder this, though, after re-reading through my 2006 blog entry and our discussion—have we mellowed, you and I? It seemed more…confrontational...than our more recent interactions.

  12. Yeah, I think we have. I sometimes go back and read some of our discussions from way back, and they were definitely more confrontational then than they are now.

  13. DagoodS,
    I'm just now seeing your comment to me. What I meant by my comment was that some with doubts aren't really seeking the truth. They are scared by the doubt and looking for a way to rid themselves of it. For those people, his advice meets their needs. Like you, I went into all this hoping to keep my faith intact, though I was also interested in finding the truth, no matter how terrifying the search.

    I wish I understood the varying responses to doubt myself. However, I will say that in my case, it's my personality to be slow to come to decisions, to see lots of shades of gray, and to have a certain attraction and openness to the mystical. All this would surely predict that I would not quickly or easily deconvert and become atheist. In fact, this process has been underway for 3 years now. I feel largely deconverted from Christianity but still open to the idea of God and friendly in large part toward religion.