Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed is posting reactions to chapters in a book he has (I believe) contributed to, focusing on the sociology of conversion: that is, conversion from an to various forms of Christianity, and other beliefs like atheism. The most recent reaction focused on common characteristics of conversions from Christianity to deism/agnosticism/atheism, and I thought I might add a few thoughts about the comments that were made by “RJS” there.
Firstly, RJS focuses on what he takes to one of the underlying reasons for deconversion; now I haven’t read the book (nor do I need to, since I’m really just responding to the reaction, not the book itself), but my guess is that the reason given here is one that has come out of the mouths of those deconverted. In this case, the reason given by such people is “a quest for intellectual coherence.” This does indeed seem to be one reason universally given by people who convert to these types of position, so it would seem reasonable to believe that this is in fact the case, and I assume that is what RJS has done here.
But the matter is more complicated than this, because, as Paul tells us, YHWH has made himself known to all people in such a manner that they have no excuse not to worship and thank him. Further, he adds that everyone who has not converted to worship of YHWH is suppressing this knowledge of God in some manner.
The implication of this for our understanding of apostasy is that we must understand the reasons given for deconversion as somewhat disingenuous, since we know that the deconverts know God exists; intellectual coherence cannot be achieved by suppressing knowledge of the truth. This may seem arrogant, but it is only so if we’re just making this up; if God has in fact revealed this, then it is not arrogant to recognize the truth.
Following upon this underlying point, RJS brings up three issues that are given by atheists/agnostics/deists for the deconversion, and they will probably not be new to anyone who reads/comments on this blog on a regular basis. They are: Scripture, Theology, and the practical lives of Christians.
Under Scripture, RJS essentially means the doctrine of inerrancy coupled with a belief in young earth creation. RJS mentions that science has proven the earth is old, and young earth creationists both give pitiful scientific arguments against old earth arguments, or else simply believe in a young earth because of the text and not because the physical evidence is unconvincing.
In reply, I would say that if God tells us that the world was created miraculously, then we have grounds to think that reasoning as if it were not created that way (i.e., by assuming that it was created through natural processes) will lead us to incorrect results. Further, if God has in fact told us the approximate age of the universe, then we have grounds for believing it is that old. It seems to me that the question ultimately comes down to: did God reveal the age of the universe to be younger than current estimates, and/or do we trust God? But it should be noted: if one can trust God, and if he did in fact reveal the earth is “young”, it is not unreasonable to believe such a thing. If he did not reveal such a thing, it is still reasonable to trust God. Thus ultimately the issue is irrelevant to the intellectual coherence of believing in God. Because of this, one would be justified in thinking that using it as a reason to disbelieve God is actually disingenuous.
The second reason that deconverts give for disbelieving God is “theology”, by which it is apparently meant: it seems that God is unjust according to (some) traditional theologies, and according to Scripture. Essentially, this is the problem of evil again. However, once again, since we know everyone knows God exists and is good, we have reason to suspect that such arguments are disingenuous. And there is indeed good reason to think so, as if I’ve mentioned in a previous post: both the stronger and weaker forms of the argument presuppose things that Christianity teaches are false (i.e., that God can do literally anything, and that we would always be capable of knowing and evaluating whatever reasons God might have for allowing evil, if he had them). Both of these things also follow from the fact that we know God is good: since we know he is good, apparent evidence to the contrary must not be what it seems.
The third reason given by deconverts is the behaviour of Christians, that is, the bad behaviour of people who are (apparently) not supposed to be bad. The problem with this argument is that it is a straw man; Christianity does not claim that people who claim to be Christians will never do anything unfitting of that claim. Further, it does not claim that people who have the Spirit working in them will always behave perfectly, or even decently. Now, sometimes these points may not be clear to some Christians who are struggling with the temptation to apostasize, and thus perhaps we can take this complaint at face value as sincere; when this excuse is used as a reason to disbelieve in the goodness of YHWH, however, we know it cannot be, for the reason I’ve repeated several times now. And once again, there is good reason for this: as I’ve just said, God does not promise that the activity of the Holy Spirit will make Christians noticeably better, or even decent, in every situation, and thus the fact that it doesn’t doesn’t make God untrustworthy.
Now, I’m sure that any fairly attentive person will notice that this entire time I have been begging the question; that I’ve been assuming Christianity is true in order to prove it true. But this is not invalid, for two reasons: firstly, I’m partly talking to Christians on this blog, and thus these are assumptions taken for granted, and secondly, if Christianity is in fact true, then I’m simply assuming the knowledge we have (according to Paul in Romans 1), so all these arguments are sound.
RJS’ “But” brings up an important related issue: the culture that Westerners inhabit is one that has most fundamentally taken for granted that the Christian God does not exist. And for those looking for possible explanations for disingenuous arguments against the Christian faith, this is one important place to start looking: as we all know from grade school, peer pressure is incredibly hard to resist, and even more so when one doesn’t feel very strongly that one wants to.
The last point that RJS raises is in relation to Intelligent Design. In my mind, the relevance of intelligent design is fairly negative and minimal. That is, it serves to show that arguments used defend an alternative explanation to the Christian one (or even ones just closer to Christianity than to classic Neo-Darwinism) aren’t reasonable. Really, someone with a faith-commitment sufficient to deny YHWH will hold to the alternative explanation anyway, with full conviction that it either has or will solve every problem with itself, which means these arguments are of limited value when considered apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit. Considered apart from an apologetic context, however, it is an edifying issue for Christians to study if only because it makes clear in yet one more way that God is incredibly wise and involved in creation.
To bring this response to a close, I want to make explicit my central point: ultimately, whether you think there could be evidence against the truth of Christianity depends on whether you think Christianity is true in the first place. Some (or even most) people (including Christians) may not see this, but this logically follows from the both the truth of Christianity and from the claims it makes about what all people know. Or, to put this all another way: there is no neutral way to even consider whether God is untrustworthy or not, because to do so is to already have listened to the voice of the serpent.