Minor Thoughts from me to you

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch.2, Part 2)


Sorry about being a day late, Folks. Traveling.

Last post, I endeavored to show why atheists, despite often being accused by Christians of having "volitional reasons" (ulterior motives beyond sound reasoning) for not believing in the Christian God, have far less motivation to believe what they do than your average churchgoer.

Many Christians, of course, will automatically discount the points I've made. What's interesting, however, is that many of them will justify doing so by noting that I was clearly writing with strong emotion.

Why would that possibly matter? It's not that they think strong emotions invalidate arguments. Rather, they have been taught, as a staple element of their religion, that all arguments for and against Christianity are ultimately beside the point.

In my first post concerning the central proposition of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, I expressed surprise that two believers in Biblical inerrancy would agree with skeptics that one should believe whatever theory best explains the available evidence. I was, of course, being facetious; I know that Geisler and Turek are just pretending that they think logic and evidence are the most important arbiters of belief. What they really believe, as do the overwhelming majority of Christians, is what preeminent apologist Dr. William Lane Craig proclaims in his own book Reasonable Faith, which is notably addressed to believers rather than I Don't Have Enough Faith's more skeptical audience:

Unbelief is at root a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. Sometimes an unbeliever will throw up an intellectual smoke screen so that he can avoid personal, existential involvement with the gospel... [Your attitude to the unbeliever] should be something like this: "My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself."

Dr. Geisler is on record as agreeing with this view. He once said:

I commend to you that disbelief is not rational; it's volitional. Disbelief is not because people don't have enough brain power; it's because they don't have the will power.

So you see, when Messrs. Geisler and Turek say us nonbelievers "often" make their decisions based on volitional grounds, that's just a bone thrown our way for the sake of continuing discussion. To their minds, we have nothing but volitional reasons which we've disguised with intellectual objections. Every argument against Christianity is in truth just a skeptic's dishonest excuse for not bowing to God's authority.

Thus, any exhibition of strong emotion only confirms to Christians like them that my resistance to Christianity is the result of some personal grudge. Perhaps, they think, this wound for which I am blaming God instead "giving it to Him" goes all the way back to the Lord not saving my parents' marriage. Maybe it was His refusal to cure my grandmother. Or was I sexually abused? Y'know, it could be I would just feel so guilty about my sinful activities that I've decided to relieve myself of the pain by pretending God's not real.

Thing is, the Christians aren't entirely wrong here. If I'm honest, I do have a volitional reason for opposing Christianity.

That's right, yeah: I admit it. Ya read it here first. I am ticked. Carryin' around some hurt inside.

I'm mad - justifiably so - that I spent the first quarter-century of my life believing Someone existed who didn't; that I put myself through a lot of anguish I didn't have to endure because I thought that was what this Person wanted; that as a result I missed out on opportunities I will never have again in this one chance I possess to live; and that my former brothers and sisters in Christ can be so unfair as to suggest, after I did everything they asked, that my heart just wasn't in it.

And this outrage isn't solely directed at the Christian faith and its leaders, either. To some extent, I'm also put out with myself. I look back on my time in the church and I regret telling completely unloved wives they should stay with their deadbeat husbands. I regret when I dismissed nonbelievers' experiences in the same way many Christians now dismiss mine. I contributed to other people's pain in those instances, and fully believing I was right to do so at the time doesn't absolve me. Let me tell you, there are several people to whom I feel I'm going to have to apologize next time we meet.

Conventional wisdom with which I basically agree says I should untangle myself from such negative emotions as soon as possible. Let it go. Put it in the past. Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch even writes in his introduction to Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that he fondly remembers his time as a believer even as he continues to spend his life studying those ex-beliefs, which is a level of peace I find almost excessive but guess I wouldn't mind achieving, if indeed my personality is capable of it. Regardless of what "peace" means for me, I think venting and investigating my thoughts about Christianity is in fact a step toward it. Everyone who has made peace with something started by talking about it.

So instead of doing something else with my time, I'm going to quote rather liberally from an article by Dr. Robert Price (entitled with typical cheekiness "By This Time He Stinketh") to explain the folly of Craig, Geisler, Turek, et al.'s take on nonbelievers.

Craig... freely admits his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door-knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it's true...

It almost seems Craig has embraced a variant of the Double Truth theory sometimes ascribed to Averroes, the Aristotelian Islamic philosopher... Can it be that Craig is admitting he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds, but maintaining that he is lucky to discover that the facts, objectively considered, happen to bear out his faith? That, whereas theoretically his faith might not prove true to the facts, in actuality (whew!) it does?

... But what might first appear to be a double truth appears after all to be a half-truth, for it is obvious from the same quotes that he admits the arguments are ultimately beside the point. If an "unbeliever" doesn't see the cogency of Craig's brand of New Testament criticism (the same thing exactly as his apologetics), it can only be because he has some guilty secret to hide and doesn't want to repent and let Jesus run his life. If one sincerely seeks God, Craig's arguments will mysteriously start looking pretty good to him, like speaking in tongues as the infallible evidence of the infilling of the divine Spirit.

Dr. Price identifies this as "[committing] the fallacy of ad hominem argumentation even while projecting it onto the opponent."

He's right. And it's one Christian apologists need to drop if they are to be taken at all seriously by nonbelievers. Ad hominem assertions are not by definition wrong - sometimes it's clear that a person is being dishonest about where he or she is coming from (like Geisler and Turek in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, just for example) - but to incorporate into your religion a blanket statement to that effect about everyone in the world who doesn't agree with you, regardless of their countless different reasons, is transparently self-serving sophistry. Once you add to it the notion that evil spirits are probably involved in holding closed the doors to heathen hearts, you have a view of other people only slightly more respectable than a mental patient's paranoid suspicion everyone around him is a robot.

To the credit of Drs. Geisler and Turek, they understand this at least well enough to only touch very lightly upon it in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Thanks to their forbearance, we can at least pretend for the remainder of our reading that Geisler and Turek really do believe one's beliefs should match the evidence at hand. A conceit on which both the book and this blog post series depends.