Commentary on The Need for Quality Apologetics
Mark McFall, part 4.
Commentary on The Need for Quality Apologetics
- History so far...
- Mark wrote The Need for Quality Apologetics and asked for my comments.
- I wrote my Commentry on The Need for Quality Apologetics (this page).
- Mark responded with A Discussion With Steve Locks On Apologetics And Christianity
- I wrote a response.
Mark McFall originally wrote to me on 08 January 2000 to ask my opinion on whether Jesus was a myth. If you've read his feedback so far, you will know that this became a long discussion, covering much diverse ground including the historicity of Jesus, reliability of the NT, evolution and other matters!
Two years later I re-contacted Mark to update my link to his website. In his reply he asked for my response to a piece he recently wrote on "the need for quality apologetics." What follows is my response to his piece Apologetics In Practice In Light Of Evangelical Atheism (The Need for Quality Apologetics).
----- Original Message -----
From: Steve Locks
To: Mark McFall
Sent: 24 October 2001 19:34
Subject: Is your website still available?
You may remember me from a discussion we had back in January 2000! http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/feedback/mark_mcfall.html
I can't get through to your website "In the Word Ministries" that was at http://www.bright.net/~bielski/
Is it still available, as I would like to keep a link to it from my website if possible?
I hope all's well.
Leaving Christianity: www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html
----- Original Message -----
From: Mark McFall
To: Steve Locks
Sent: 25 October 2001 03:37
Subject: Re: Is your website still available?
Good to hear from you Steve, its been a while since we last spoke. My new address is http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/ . I would be interested in some type of response from you regarding an essay that was posted on my site today. You can reach it directly by clicking here http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/Apologetic_skepticism.htm (Abridgments appear at the end). Should you decided to write some type of *relatively* short critique, I may decide to run it in the *paper* version of IN THE WORD.
Mark (ID Tag: Mac)
Apologetics In Practice
IN THE WORD Ministries
----- Original Message -----
From: Steve Locks
To: Mark McFall
Sent: 31 October 2001 23:09
Subject: The Need for Quality Apologetics
Thank you for inviting me to comment on your essay, "Apologetics In Practice In Light Of Evangelical Atheism (The Need for Quality Apologetics)" at http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/Apologetic_skepticism.htm
Here are my comments. Although it's not as short as I hoped, I have kept it to half the length of your article. Any shorter and I feel I would not be responding to significant points you made in your interesting piece. More can be found by digging into my website http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html, in particular my discussion with Dr. Garrett starting at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/feedback/garrett/1.html
When I was still a Christian I read a book of apologetics that started: "If you do not appreciate the strength of the arguments for atheism, then you probably don't understand what we mean when we say we believe in God."
Both my own prayerful searching through doubts and my reading of such authors led me to expect to find a new level of profundity in the exposition of the Christian life that would make ever more pressing criticisms of Christianity look like distant bleating - off the point and minuscule compared to the glories of God. C.S. Lewis makes a similar point in his description of the afterlife in his book "The Great Divorce."
However, for all the inner riches we felt as Christians, we ex-Christians have found no apologetics that are up to the mark. You make the point that ex-Christian and former preacher Farrell Till has a knowledge of the Bible that is not to be underestimated. It should be pointed out that he is far from unique. Plenty of other formidable Christians have left the fold such as Gerd Lüdemann, Michael Goulder and hundreds more of the well-churched who can be found via my site at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html.
If it is thought that quality apologetics already exist then one has to think seriously about why so many knowledgeable Christians leave Christianity. Why would God go to the trouble of incarnation and crucifixion only to allow Christians to find Christianity untenable, or give "spurious" experiences and "incorrect" interpretation to those who spend so many years trying to live the Christian life? It is a common misapprehension that those who leave Christianity never understood what Christianity was "really about." The full range of Christian types leave Christianity, from all denominations, doctrines, and persuasions. From the most liberal to the most fundamentalist. Apologists, theologians, missionaries, ministers, and the common fundamentalist, through moderate to liberal from the pew. The broad spectrum from professional to lay Christian of all Christian types.
The most common reason for deconversion appears to be that through research and thinking, many Christians come to honestly believe supernatural Christianity is untenable. This is seldom confronted as possibly being the real reason by Christians. Christians do not believe Christianity is untenable and many have a hard time accepting that anyone who has really experienced Jesus/God can abandon their faith ("it could never happen to me"). Therefore our problem with it "must have been" due to a bad experience etc. or that we were never "true Christians" in the first place (just as ex-Muslims are accused of never having been "real Muslims" http://www.secularislam.org/testimonies/index.htm). If we have really all been unable to find the "real thing" then it conflicts with Jesus' purported claim that those who seek will find http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/seek.html. So instead ex-Christians get diagnosed all kinds of spurious flaws. However, it is not because the churches are corrupt, wishy-washy, we missed a certain book recommendation/website, were sucked into a "false Christianity" or anything else, but rather that honest thought into religious beliefs often leads people out of that belief much to their surprise and indeed frequently shock. Our Christian backgrounds are too diverse and too educated for it to be likely that there is an apologetic we have missed.
Matt Bell claims that the bottom line is faith (fideism). The obvious problem is why *Christian* faith? As soon as a believer gives a reason then one is back to apologetics. Indeed, unless one merely continues as a Christian unthinkingly from a childhood upbringing then something must have convinced you to remain, or become, a Christian. Even if this was a religious experience you will have believed this to be veridical enough to have faith in, rather than it being some idle thought. Moreover you will have to claim that your religious experience is veridical whereas a Buddhist or Daoist's (or even an atheist's) religious and spiritual experience is not. Yet again fideism intrinsically contains apologetics if it is to be anything other than purely arbitrary. So I do not believe fideism is an honest statement of anyone's approach to Christianity.
I do not find that "faith" is responsible or virtuous. More honest - and powerful for finding things out - are working hypotheses about life, always open to refutation. I find a strong bedrock of religious faith is dangerous and stultifies examination of one's beliefs and experiences. The men who flew into the WTC and the suicide victims of the heaven's gate cult all had faith in abundance. The dishonesty of faith was made explicit by William Craig when he wrote: "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa." [Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 1994].
Honest belief is something that happens to a person based largely on the knowledge and understanding they have and how they perceive the world. If that is the kind of faith a Christian has then that's fair enough in my opinion. However, the very notion of needing apologetics makes me suspicious. Why apologetics rather than open research? It looks like an attempt to buttress a belief system rather than honest examination - a desire for dogma greater than a desire for truth. I also guess that there is some fear at work, maybe based on the common false idea that life without Christianity (or without religion at all) is likely to be empty and nihilistic. The great surprise for those of us who loose faith is that once the shock is over our lives do not become spiritually empty. Ex-Christians frequently describe an enormous life affirming nature to the discovery that their beliefs were false, even if the initial discovery was traumatic. Reports from deconverts are of a life of honesty, free, and more loving, and often a passion for knowledge and interest in the world. No divine judgementalness, spiritual separation from others or easy condemnation of different lifestyles. Instead the discovery of the poignancy and vulnerability of life. The desire to be moral because we can truly empathise with others in their messy humanity. Connection with the world rather than running against it.
I would be surprised if a new apologetic angle comes along, given the quality and range of ex-Christians out there, and the asymmetry of their counterparts given the lack of well-read critics of Christianity who subsequently become Christians. As you know, the frequently touted ex-atheist Josh McDowell is not up to the mark! If the evidence for Christianity is so good then priests, missionaries and hosts of well-churched Christians would not be deconverting. Matt Bell writes: "the Christian religion is ultimately a matter of having faith and not empirical evidence strong enough to convince the sceptical unbeliever." The lesson to learn from ex-Christians is that the "empirical evidence" is also not enough to keep many Christians in their faith. It was not through lack of apologetics that we lost faith - but the paucity of the reasons for remaining Christian in the face of the problems with Christian belief.
Also, if evidence was important for convincing ex and non-Christians then a God could obviously convince them very easily. However, in response to confirmation candidates asking "why faith not evidence?" the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said "to ask for faith in the way that many people do is to ask for a prouder God than He who became our brother in the cradle and on the cross." As such I think pounding ancient history, desperately trying to find flaws in evolution and all the other behaviour of demanding evangelists are way off even the religious mark. I fail to see how Christians can be doing "God's work" by taking up the task of trying to convince us when the Christian God himself (or Allah, Krishna etc.) does not seem too concerned about doing this. Frequently we poor atheists watch in bewilderment as some Christians strenuously try to shore their God up, like abused wives making excuses for their negligent (e.g. the holocaust) and violent (e.g. hell) husbands, all the time convincing themselves that it is they, who are at fault in the relationship - unworthy sinners, estranged from God, deserving of unrelenting torture unless they accept the "damnable syllogism" of the atonement http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/jordan.html#phil.
That is the most disturbing aspect for me about Christianity - its similarity to an abusive relationship. Some apologists expend enormous amounts of energy attempting to convince others (and themselves) that the God of their bible who orders baby massacre (1 Samuel 15:2-3) and pronounces on damnation (Mark 16:16) is a divine, loving and just being. "My husband hits me because I deserve it, he only does it because he loves me and my behaviour is so poor. He does so much for me - I owe him everything and would be nothing without his care." He is perceived as having complete power whilst demonstrating both kindness and cruelty. But it can't *really* be cruel - where would I go! We must deserve it. And so God stood by during the holocaust because of a "higher purpose." It just has to be so! When Mother Julian of Norwich had her "Revelations of Divine Love", she asked during her 13th revelation why the origin of sin had not been prevented (she remarks that she senselessly and stupidly fretted and upset herself over it!) In her "revelation" Jesus says "sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well". This sort of non-answer is quite like the "we shall see that it is right that people get tortured for ever when we have God's perspective" answer that Christians have given me about hell justification. i.e. it is dishonest and claims you understand something horrific that you really don't understand. Even Julian of Norwich had Jesus say it 3 times to her, as if it wouldn't be convincing just once from a deity - I suspect she felt dissatisfied with this answer herself. Indeed she asks a similar question shortly after and receives the same answer another 3 times. No real explanation for His creatures in mental anguish from the Christian God.
What exactly can a Christian know that the God they believe in has done to deserve their love when the evidence from the bible (see below), human atrocities and terrible natural disasters of the world speak so loudly against a benevolent deity? Just what should an abusive husband do to his wife before she stops loving him, and what worldly negligence or biblical cruelty would the Christian God have to commit before it became obvious that Christianity is a set of confused beliefs constructed by humans and built on a foundation of a very primitive war like god?
Consider the following verses: Hosea 13:16; 1 Samuel 15:3,7-8; Judges 21:10-12; Joshua 11:6; Deuteronomy 20:13-14; Ezechial 9:4-6. Why does the bible portray "little ones," babies and animals as if they are guilty of some heinous crime worthy of brutal slaughter? What crime worthy of such horror did those horses that were hamstrung commit and the babies that were ripped out of their mothers' wombs? In what context is it right for God to kill David's baby and arrange for his wives to be raped for a crime only David had committed (2 Samuel, chapter 12)?
Nobody really "chooses" to disbelieve in Christianity whilst a Christian - as if they were looking for a reason to reject it - quite the opposite is the case! How we can testify to pouring over books of apologetics and asking in prayer for guidance as our faith was crumbling! It is a gut-wrenching discovery that Christianity is untenable. Plenty of current Christians appear to have enormous difficulty understanding this. Most people become ex-Christians because their closer examination of Christian claims convince them that supernatural Christianity is unwarranted. We neither choose to disbelieve in Christianity nor are we responsible for the beliefs that happen to us. On the other hand, if others strive to believe things, and think that believing things is a virtue, then maybe those people are responsible for dishonesty. The responsibility issue lies in investigating ones beliefs. One can choose to investigate but cannot honestly, or morally, "choose" what to believe.
I quite agree with Glenn Miller's list, but why are such errors rife in Christian apologetics? Using fallacious arguments does not necessarily mean what one is arguing for is false. It does mean that the arguments themselves are invalid though. However, it should worry Christians that special pleading is so prevalent in Christian apologetics - i.e. are there any consequences to Christians that they use so many fallacious arguments? If not then what are such arguments trying to show? What explanatory power can a statement have if its falsity is inconsequential?
However, a quality in Christian apologetics that can be achieved (unfortunately too rare) is, despite the necessity for frank talk if we are to be clear, civility and good humour. At that Glenn Miller excels, even though I feel his reams of theodicy are an unhealthy reaction to wickedness in the bible and the world. Also Glenn's light bulb jokes are the best that I have seen, whilst his debate with James Still http://www.webcom.com/~ctt/stilltoc.html is a model of cordial discussion between two so different worlds. Plenty of other popular apologists are quick to be sarcastic or caustic with their critics as I discuss at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/jreply2sup/polemics.html
One such caustic apologist is J.P. Holding who wrote to me:
"If you're in hellfire, that's your choice. Getting disturbed about it won't help, but at least if you want to remain stubborn we can keep you from dragging others with you....deceive others into jumping into hellfire with you? I have a REAL problem with that! "
Holding writes that 21st century criticisms of Christianity are way beyond the capabilities of the likes of Josh McDowell to handle. However, despite Holding's remarks about Josh McDowell, even pre-12th century arguments remain tough for Christians.
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" [Epicurus, c. 350-270 BC]
Epicurus lived in a time and place tolerant to such thoughts. However, one should remember that "12th century skeptics" were hardly in a position to put their argument, given the appalling consequences for propounding even minor heresies down the ages! As recently as 1771 we can find the following:
"7. Certain crimes are committed more immediately against God himself; others, against the state; and a third kind against certain persons. The chief crime in the first class, cognizable by temporal courts, is blasphemy, under which may be included atheism. This crime consists in denying or vilifying the Deity, by speech or writing. All who curse God or any of the persons of the blessed Trinity, are to suffer death, even for a single act; and those who deny him (sic), if they persist in their denial. The denial of a providence, or of the authority of the holy Scriptures, is punishable capitally for the third offence." [1771 edition of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, under Law: Tit. 33 "Of crimes"]
Has J.P. Holding supplied anything adequate? There are a number of articles criticising his pages on the Secular Web. They link to Holding from these articles and have repeatedly requested reciprocal links which Holding refuses to do. If Holding's articles reflected well in the light of his critics (and I have read both sides), then this would be unlikely behaviour.
On a personal note, most of the arguments that convinced me that I had mistaken the human and natural for the divine and supernatural were not the works of skeptics. One critic labelled my arguments as "traditional atheistic apologetics." However, if that is so, then such apologetics are the work of theologians, as that is where I learnt most of my material during my deconversion. That was in the 1980's when the Internet was a small academic phenomenon and resource to books critical of Christianity was quite difficult for me to find. Instead I watched religious-historical documentaries, and read books by such "typical atheists" as Professor of Theology James Mackay, Theologian John Macquarrie and of course, Don Cupitt and Karen Armstrong. I also read much classic writing on the psychology of religion by (Christian) psychologists such as William James, Ninian Smart and Robert Thouless. James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience" is very famous and he was a "pragmatic" Christian. Smart ("The Religious Experience of Mankind") was a professor of theology and lecturer in history and philosophy of religion. Thouless gave his book ("The Psychology of Religion") as a lecture series to ordination candidates at Cambridge.
A lent course book by my university Chaplain inadvertently made me suspicious about where the NT stories came from. He drew a detailed map of parallels between the OT and new, which even as a Christian made me wonder if there wasn't some copying going on, rather than prophecy or reportage. It was from Mackay that I first obtained an inkling of the theological development surrounding the resurrection stories, and in Cupitt I came across the phrase "the Easter experience came before the Easter event." I also had access to some encyclopaedia articles by churchmen of varying degrees of liberality and conservatism. The rest is a common history. The hope for a new improved apologetic, or that none of those who now believe they have "true faith" will go on to deconvert, does not bode well given the ex-Christian stories I have collated. But the surprise is, although the ride can be rough, this is not bad news. It is mental health, wonder and emancipation.
I feel that all sounds like tough talk, but despite that I do want you to know that I was impressed by your essay. I also admire you for the hard work you have been putting into checking up on your ideas and your cordial tone.
I hope that's not too long. As I mentioned, more detail on my opinions is available via my website at www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html
Thanks again for your interesting article.
Leaving Christianity: www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html