Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Skeptical Difficulties

Part of the appeal of Paul Tobin's chapter in The Christian Delusion, from the perspective of a skeptic, is that it discusses so many of the weakest aspects of the Bible in so short a space. As Richard Carrier put it, "seeing such a succinct summary of it hammers home its significance". And that's one of the reasons why lists of Bible difficulties are so popular on the web and in other contexts ("100 Biblical Contradictions", "500 Errors In The Bible", etc.). Many non-Christians will read a chapter like Tobin's or a list like what I just described and ask how anybody could be a Christian after learning of such things. Often, those who reject Christianity after having been a professing Christian will comment about how relieved they are to no longer have to respond to objections like those. They're relieved to not have to defend Biblical inerrancy, Biblical morality, the resurrection, and other aspects of Christianity.

But as John Piper notes:

"Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian's philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case. Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves....If the Christian must produce proof, so must others." (Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], pp. 273-274)

When addressing people's motives or potential motives for rejecting Christianity, things like sex and money are often mentioned. And those are relevant factors. But some other factors that are often underestimated are laziness and carelessness. If defending Christianity seems too difficult, some people will abandon the religion as a result, yet make little or no effort to think about the difficulty of defending the alternative. They point to lists of Biblical difficulties while ignoring lists of difficulties (weightier lists, I would argue) that could be produced by critics of their new belief system. They act as if abandoning Christianity somehow puts them in some sort of neutral or easy territory. But there is no such thing. There is no worldview that makes a person neutral, with nothing to defend, that has an easy answer for every question, or that can't have a long list of objections raised against it by critics.

Just as somebody like Paul Tobin can put together a list of what he considers some of the weakest aspects of the Bible, critics of Tobin's belief system could come up with a list against his beliefs. Think of all of the philosophical difficulties surrounding Tobin's atheism. Think about the difficulty involved in dismissing the historical testimony of so many ancient sources who agreed with Christianity (regarding Biblical authorship, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, etc.). Think of the difficulties involved in dismissing the evidence for modern paranormal accounts that are inconsistent with a worldview like Tobin's. What if we produced a list of every difficulty for Tobin in the paranormal cases documented by researchers like Stephen Braude, Rupert Sheldrake, and Michael Sudduth? We could list every reported event he has to dismiss, every aspect of every witness' testimony that he has to try to reconcile with his worldview, etc. Just as critics of Christianity search through the Bible, trying to come up with as many problems as they can think of, critics of a worldview like Tobin's could do something similar.

Whenever you see something like Paul Tobin's chapter in The Christian Delusion or one of those online lists of Bible difficulties I referred to above, think about the corresponding list of skeptical difficulties.


  1. Tobin doesn't have to prove atheism is true in order to raise questions for revealed biblical religions. For instance, there's always deism or mysticism for Christians to fall back on.

    In fact, the book, The Christian Delusion, is more about raising questions concerning how and why people believe in Christianity, and questions raised by studying the Bible itself, rather than attempting to disprove all paranormal phenomena or tackle all possible arguments for God.

    J.P. Holding has likewise admitted that should his attempts to defend revealed biblical religion fail, his default position is "deism."

    There's also "errant" varieties of Biblical religion, so deism isn't necessary. Such varieties include the recognition of more questions and do not assume the certainty of knowledge that many conservative Christian theologians presume they can dig out of the Bible.

  2. Tobin's appeal to "mainstream/critical" scholarship, which turns out to be a euphemism for the secular outlook of the Jesus Seminar, is implicitly atheistic. Driven by a functional denial of the supernatural.

    Likewise, his rejection of typology is implicitly atheistic.

    So, yes, Tobin does need to prove atheism as a necessary presupposition of his attack on Bible history.

  3. Edward T. Babinski wrote:

    "Tobin doesn't have to prove atheism is true in order to raise questions for revealed biblical religions."

    I didn't suggest otherwise. Why don't you interact with what I said?

    You go on to mention alternatives to Christianity, such as deism. I'm aware of the alternatives. But I was citing my worldview and Tobin's as my primary examples. It doesn't follow that I'm denying that there are alternatives or that I'm unaware of those alternatives.