Friday, September 24, 2010

Do Apologists Just Not Care?

My uncle worked in a profession resulting in his testimony being taken on occasion. He didn’t enjoy it, and tended to make it as difficult for the attorneys as possible. Once he was instructed by an attorney to answer a question and ONLY the question being asked, to which he replied, “I cannot.” When asked why, he said, “Because I swore to tell the whole truth, and by just answering that question, it isn’t the whole truth.”

When do we expect full disclosure? When do we expect a person to provide not only the positives, but the weaknesses of their position? When do we rely upon someone entirely and when do we realize we must do some study ourselves?

Imagine the following three situations:

1) A lawyer arguing their position in a court.

We expect this (due to the American adversarial position) to be one-sided. To be biased toward the attorney’s position. No one is shocked, when the opposing counsel has its chance, to discover not ALL the facts were presented by the Plaintiff. Attorneys expect the other side to do their research and present a conflicting argument.

2) A doctor prescribing a treatment.

Here we tend to expect full disclosure. If the doctor is receiving monetary contributions from the company providing the treatment, this would cause us concern. Especially if we discovered 9 out of 10 doctors (who do not receive such compensation) would recommend an alternative treatment.

Would we accept the doctor’s excuse of, “Well, you should have researched this on your own”?

3) A friend who suspects your significant other is having an affair.

Again, we would expect the friend to tell us their suspicions. The friendship would be in jeopardy if they later said, “I only told you what supported the position they were not having an affair. It was up to you to research the rest on your own.”

I have been contemplating the question—to what extent do we expect full disclosure from a theistic apologist? Do we expect it to be one-sided? Or should we expect them to recognize the weaknesses in the claim?

This blog entry about Jericho over at Parchment & Pen is one in a series on archeological discoveries that “support” the biblical accounts. I put “support” in quotations, because this particular discovery causes consternation regarding the Exodus account—namely when it must have occurred.

Originally, the Jericho destruction was dated to 1400 BCE (fitting nicely with the Tanakh), but subsequent work demonstrated the date was actually 1550 BCE (which does not fit so well.) The blog entry author gives some treatment to this controversy, and then relies upon the 1400 BCE date (of course) without much comment.

Causing me to wonder—did the author have a duty to fully disclose both positions? Or do we expect our apologists to act as litigants and only provide their best arguments; leaving it to the opposing position to present any conflicting evidence?

I would submit there are two (2) factors impacting our expectation of full disclosure—importance of the information and intimacy of the relationship.

Think back to our doctor example. If this was medication for a cold—would we be that upset for not receiving full disclosure? Generally not, a cold will resolve with a variety of methods, and one is probably not much different than another. However, if this was chemotherapy, we would be extremely concerned over the doctor’s one-sided presentation. Cancer treatment is more important than cold treatment.

Likewise, if our friend was not completely honest with us when she brought a ringer to play soccer against us with a “Oh, she’s not very good” and they turn out to be fantastic—we again are not as bent out of shape. Soccer is less important than a spouse’s affair.

And, of course, we do not expect the same complete truthfulness from a person who is an enemy, as compared to an acquaintance, as compared to a friend. One is far more hurt if a close friend fails to be fully honest as compared to a co-worker.

Assuming I am correct (and feel free to disagree, providing your own factors)—that it hinges on intimacy and import—why is it apologists so rarely give full disclosure? In the blog entry above, why was the 1400 BCE date assumed, with little attention given to the dating problem?

First, because the facts are not that important to the apologist; conformity in belief is. All the evidence in the world against a global flood is not important to most Christians who hold to it—belief that it occurred is.

How many times have we seen the following conversation:

Apologist: Do you believe the global flood occurred?
Christian: Yes.
Apologist: Great, here are some facts that support it. [ignoring the mountain of evidence that does not.]
Christian: Great. Confirmed my belief.

Apologia is a defense—it has come down to finding something—anything—that can possibly support one’s position, and as long as that bare fact exists (regardless of any other), then one can hold their position. The moon is moving away from the earth? Bam—the world must be young. Ignore any other dating methods, or any problem with Young Earth Creationism—cling to any fact in support of one’s position and believe.

Getting the right belief (regardless of how one gets there) is what is important. Not the support of the position.

Apologists do not give full disclosure, because the important consideration—what one believes—is already firmly in place. Any facts supporting it are merely props—icing on the cake, as it were.

Second, it would appear there is either not a close relationship expected between apologist and reader OR the import of similar belief is so overriding that such intimacy is not a factor. Again, there are situations where we don’t expect full disclosure even from our closest friends.

This one surprised me a bit. Christians, as a general rule, expect themselves to be better. Closer. More friendly. A cohesiveness stronger than heathens. Yes, they still sin amongst themselves, but you are supposed to be able to trust a Christian with your purse—even if you just met them 10 minutes ago.

There is a greater level of intimacy, supposedly, because you both have fish stickers on your car. For me, personally, one of the greatest shocks in deconversion was NOT all the evidence against my Christianity—it was the fact this evidence was either entirely ignored or spectacularly mishandled by those I trusted the most. If all this stuff was out there—why hadn’t I heard it before I was in my late 30’s? More importantly—why hadn’t I heard it presented with full disclosure as to the other person’s position, not strawpeople?

Part of the reason I continue to talk to people going through a faith crisis, or even a deconversion is not to convince to “my side.” I am walking proof that deconversions are personal experiences—you don’t “argue” people into them, nor out of them. The reason I do, is to let them know there are other arguments—there are things they haven’t heard that are good, strong and robust arguments against the classical Christianity they’ve been taught.

If they reject the arguments—fine. At least they have had an opportunity for full and complete disclosure and a chance to make up their own minds on all the available arguments.

Why do apologists not feel the same obligation? Why are they so afraid of acknowledging the real and heady barriers to their own position?

Do they not care?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Fear Not

I enjoy glancing through the comment boxes on news stories. We can see some…interesting (to be polite)…responses. In reading through comments regarding Dr. Hawking and God I noticed a number of Christians using Pascal’s Wager as their proof for God.

The problem with effectively arguing against Pascal’s Wager using reason, is that the Wager itself is not based on reason. It is based on fear. In fact, if you look at the premise, as proposed by Pascal, it explicitly states we cannot use reason to determine whether there is or is not a God, and it comes down to a coin toss. A wager. A bet as to which is the better choice to make in light of the unknown.

Have you ever tried to use reason, logic and observation with fear? How well does that work? Anyone with a child has faced (at least once) the “monster under the bed” or the “monster in the closet.” There is a reason Pixar utilized this fear as a theme in a movie—we are all familiar with it.

And, as a parent, we inevitably first try logic and reason. “See, honey? There is no monster under the bed. The toys you left there [that we told you to pick up!] are in the same position. The dust bunnies haven’t been disturbed. No tracks, no smells, no noises—nothing to demonstrate a monster.”

Of course, a short time later, we hear the screaming again. The Monster has returned. Our logic and reason completely failed. Eventually the exhausted parents give in to the belief, and create an alternative belief to counter the fear. A special stuffed animal that keeps away the monsters. Or a ritual to protect the monsters from coming in.

Yeah, yeah—not the most intellectual responses. We crave sleep; we cave in.

We cannot remove fear by arguing a person out of it; conversely we cannot create fear by arguing a person in to it. While the parent cannot convince the child no such monster exists; likewise the child cannot convince the parent they really should be afraid.

This continues into adulthood. Some people parachute for the thrill; others are terrified. And even though one can be convinced to parachute—the fear will still be there. Those that parachute cannot be convinced to begin fearing it.

Some fear public speaking; others fear never getting married. The list is inexhaustible. And all of those fears, one cannot simply reason them away, or reason oneself into. Your heart still pounds faster when confronted by them, or your heart does not.

Of course, one of the greatest fears is the unknown. Anyone diagnosed with a medical condition of “We don’t know what this is” understands.

And what happens after we die is the greatest unknown of them all.

In books and plays and movies, there are two predominate themes for claims of life after death:

1) There are degrees of pain/pleasure in the after life;
2) What you do in this life will determine what happens in this afterlife.

We don’t want pain; we want pleasure. We want to do the thing that creates the least pain and the most pleasure in life; one would certainly want to do it for the greater pain/pleasure promised in the after life! The problem (and the Achilles Heel of Pascal’s Wager) is that we don’t know what that is.

Is there no afterlife, in which case pain/pleasure is limited to what we do? Is the afterlife dependant on works, so we perform certain acts and refrain from other acts to increase pleasure later? Is it dependent on the correct belief, or ritual or statement?

Some individuals have grasped on to a certain belief to alleviate this unknown. It reduces (but never quite eliminates) the fear. It is their magic bunny, keeping away the monster under the bed.

We cannot argue against Pascal’s Wager—they are convinced of the fear. Nor (and Christians should realize this) can they use this to convince use—we have no such fear.