Book Plunge: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

What do I think of Andy Bannister’s book by Monarch Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I have studied apologetics more and more, sometimes reading apologetics books now gets boring. It’s a lot of the same-old, same-old. You’ve heard it all several times before and there’s nothing new so what’s the big deal. Honestly, getting Bannister’s book, I was expecting I’d get a good primer on some apologetics issues and put it down thinking that I had had a decent enough read and that’d be it. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Many of these books are fine for beginners after all and I read them wanting to learn how well this would help someone who was starting out in the field.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I started going through Andy’s book, from the very beginning I saw that it was different. Now the content is still a good basic start for most people. You’re not going to get into the intensely heady stuff here. You will discuss the issues, but it is just a start. What makes this book so radically different and in turn one of the best that I’ve read on this kind of topic in a long time is the presentation. Bannister is quite the comedian. His humor shines throughout the book and this is one book where I had great joy whenever I saw there was a footnote. Normally, you tend to just pass those over. Do not do that with this book! You will find some of the best humor.

That makes the content all the more memorable. Bannister deals with a lot of the soundbite arguments that we deal with in our culture such as “You are an atheist with regards to many gods. I just go one god further.” He deals with scientism and what faith is and can we be good without God and can we really know anything about the historical Jesus? If you spend time engaging with people who follow the New Atheists on the internet, then you need to get your hands on this book. With humor and accuracy, Bannister deals with the nonsense, which tells us that in light of all the work he invested in this that first off, Bannister is highly skilled as an apologist and second, that Bannister has way too much free time on his hands to be thinking so much about this stuff.

I really cannot say much more because it would I think keep you from enjoying all the surprises in this book. There were many times my wife had to ask me as I read “What’s so funny?” Some parts I even read to her. If there was one thing I would change, it was the chapter on the question of goodness. I don’t think Bannister really answered the question of what it means to be good. He said we need a God to ground it in, and I agree, but that does not tell me what good is. Even if we say the good is God’s nature, that still does not tell me what the good is, yet we all know that people know the good and the evil without knowing who God is.

Still, do yourself a favor. Get this book and then sit down and prepare for a fun and worthwhile time. You’ll laugh and you’ll enjoy yourself so much you could lose track of how much good apologetics is sinking in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Andy Bannister’s book can be purchased here.

Three Things Youth Need To Relearn

Has youth ministry gone the wrong way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, Addie Zierman wrote an article that appeared in Relevant Magazine about three things she had to unlearn in youth ministry. Unfortunately, looking at the list, it looks like three things that we still need to learn about youth ministry.

So let’s look at the first. The first item to learn is that youth are not going to be persecuted for what they believe. So what is Zierman’s evidence for this?

I spent the duration of junior high and high school braced against the entire student body, sure that they secretly mocked/hated/despised me. I wore Christian T-shirts like some kind of bullet-proof vest. I memorized all of the brilliant apologetic arguments in favor of Christianity in case any teacher or student ever cornered me in the hall and forced me to debate my faith.

But no one ever did.

What actually happened is that I distanced myself from everyone who didn’t believe like I did. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me—it was that I had barred my arms in an eternal defensive pose, and no one could even get close. So after a while, they stopped trying.

So all we have is her anecdotal evidence. Okay. If that’s what counts, then I will give anecdotal evidence of people coming to me talking about youth or youth themselves talking about how they receive this exact same treatment. I could point to how young atheists like David McAfee are developing followers among their own young people. I could talk about how you can find many teenagers and other young people on YouTube more than happy to tear apart anyone who does anything Christian. I could talk about how many young people on Facebook and even some in ministry that I saw had the equals sign on their Facebook page showing they were interested in redefining marriage and how my own wife had people going after her because she dared to do something horrible like go to Chick-Fil-A on Chick-Fil-A day. I could also point to the numerous people who go off to college and lose their faith because they were not intellectually equipped when a challenge to it came. Yes. All of this is going on.

I could also point to the research done by sociologists like George Yancey on the problem of changing attitudes towards Christianity and Christians, and they’re only getting worse. While I think it’s an insult to call this persecution in light of real persecution going on around the world, it is foolish I think to look at our world and think it’s not coming and each year, people are getting more and more hostile to the Christian message and that is going to affect our youth.

So the first lesson to learn for youth? You are a soldier of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world is radically opposed to the Kingdom of God. If you are not ready, then you will be ineffective or you will be a casualty.

The second lesson is that your friends’ salvation does not depend on how well you can defend Christianity.

It’s a wonder Zierman knows the friends of people she’s never even met before.

Zierman in this part refers to our giving of trite answers which yes, I must admit happens too often, but I would say I’m more impressed that anyone is actually giving answers because when I was growing up in youth group, no one was discussing this kind of stuff, and I know of many who have undergone the exact same situation. Zierman wants us to understand that we are not the savior and we are not going to save anyone. (This despite Paul said he lives in such a way in 1 Cor. 9 that through all possible means he might save some. Apparently, Paul didn’t have the hesitancy of language that many of us have today.) Of course, if this is meant to say no one can give an argument to force someone to convert, then this is absolutely true.

In the same way, no one can do a loving action to force someone to convert either.

So by that standard, we should cease to be doing loving actions for other people as a means of evangelism.

If trite answers are a problem, and I agree that they are, how about giving real and effective answers that will help those outside the faith to be refuted and to provide assurance for those that are within. Zierman goes on to say

Later, when they begin to grapple with the inconsistencies and the doubts and the hard things in their faith, it won’t be trite answers that see them through. It will be that glimpse they’ve had of the beauty of God. It will be the muscle memory of having dived deep into something real. And if and when their friends question them about their faith, it won’t be about showing them a diagram. It will be about showing them Jesus.

It’s really sad that I can picture Mormon leaders saying this to Mormons. It would work just as well. “You might come across challenges to your faith and inconsistencies between archaeology and the BOM or the BOM and the Bible or other such things. When those times come, do remember that you have a burning in the bosom and let it be that people will see that passion you have for Jesus and know that your faith is real. Show them Jesus.”

Of course, I have no opposition to showing people Jesus and I have no opposition to people having powerful religious experiences. What I have opposition to is the foundation being someone’s own personal experience. This feeds into our rabid individualism that is destroying the church. I can already tell you is that if all you have is the love of Jesus, new atheist types out there will chew you up and spit you out. They will not be persuaded. You might get a “Well I’m happy you found something that works for you” or they could just think you’re still a deluded person and your delusion will be harmful if it spreads.

There are people like Peter Boghossian out there who want to get 10,000 street epistemologists out there and each one is to have the goal of deconverting 100 people. These people will not respond if you simply point to feeling the love of Jesus. Well, they will respond, but it will not be in the way you’d like. Also, when someone comes home from college having been hit with Zeitgeist or evil Bible or Jesus mythicism or the problem of evil or any number of problems, it won’t be feeling love that will get them through. It will be having an intellectually robust faith where they know that there are answers and those answers inform how they live.

The third belief we need to get rid of is you have to do something to make a difference for God.

Yes. She actually says that.

Now I do think she is right when she says

The Christian walk is a long journey—so often mundane and difficult, putting one foot in front of another—seeing nothing, feeling nothing. And linking faith with extraordinary actions and extraordinary feelings makes it so much harder for us when we slam into the inevitable ordinary.

Of course, there won’t be constant mountaintop experiences and exciting adventures every day. Not everyone is going to be a famous evangelist or apologist or what have you.

But if you want to make a difference for God, yes, you have to do something and yes, you should be striving to do more than you are. Zierman goes on to say that

You can’t do anything to make God love you more.

You can’t do anything to make God love you less.

You are already enough.

God is already doing amazing things through you—even if it all feels hopelessly average.

How does Zierman know God is already doing amazing things through the reader? Maybe the reader really isn’t growing and striving in their faith at all. Maybe the reader never says a word in evangelism. Maybe the reader has no prayer life and does not study the Bible and simply comes to church because their parents make them. An article like Zierman’s can lead to great complacency and notice where the focus is at the end of this.

God can’t love you more.

God can’t love you less.

You are enough.

You are already being used by God for amazing things.

You. You. You.

And this is part of the problem. Most of us in our culture think way too much of ourselves already. You can’t do anything to make God love you more or less. Okay. I agree. So what? What does that have to do with your evangelism and how you are to live? Do you really do what you do because you’re wanting God to love you more or less? You have a pretty bad theology already if you do. Would such an attitude work in a marriage if you had it? “I don’t really need to strive to do something amazing for my spouse because they already love me as I am and they think I’m amazing enough already.”

God have mercy on me if I ever approach my Allie with that attitude.

Should I give God any less?

All the things Zierman says she thinks we need to unlearn, I would prefer if we relearn them and actually teach them.

We have too many casualties already and it’s only getting worse in America. The individualistic ideologies being thrust onto our youth will only compound the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian

What did I think of the debate on Unbelievable? Let’s talk about it on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

Recently on the Unbelievable podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, there was a debate between Tim McGrew and Peter Boghossian. The subject was Boghossian’s book “A Manual For Creating Atheists” which I have reviewed here. It was my high hopes that Tim McGrew, a real professor of epistemology, would be the one to expose Boghossian before a listening world.

Request granted.

Boghossian could not reply to a single source that Tim McGrew had on the meaning of faith. Boghossian defined it as “belief without evidence” or “pretending to know things you don’t know.” McGrew defined it as “trust in evidence.” All Boghossian was able to use was his “personal experience” of talking to Christians. McGrew said his experience was different. Now of course, when two people get together who have different personal experiences, then they need to look for something outside of their personal experience. McGrew went to the Oxford English Dictionary and how it shows that faith is best to be understood as trust. Boghossian could not counter this nor did he ever even attempt to. For Boghossian, he was just repeating the same refrain again and again about what he encountered.

Now I don’t doubt that there are many Christians who have a false view of faith, but is that really the way to say you’re going to go around creating atheists? Boghossian says atheism is a result of criticalthinking. Of course, if atheism is true, critical thinkers should be atheists, but that is the very premise in question. Is atheism true and you don’t say “I’m an atheist, therefore I’m a critical thinker” or “X is a Christian, therefore X isn’t practicing critical thinking” nor could the reverse apply.

McGrew points out at the end that he could not define atheists as people are ignorant about reality because they deny God exists. Now of course, if God does exist, then atheists are ignorant about reality, but that would be a terrible way to define an atheist before the debate even gets started and every atheist should rightly call McGrew on that if he does that, as McGrew himself agreed.

Boghossian also asked McGrew if he had read the Koran which no doubt gave the shocking reply of “Yes.” He went on to name other holy books that he has read. I am quite confident in my position that McGrew has read far more scholarly works that he disagrees with than Boghossian has.

Boghossian also wanted to know if the Muslims believe without evidence that Muhammad flew on a horse. McGrew rightly answered that they do not. They point to what they think is the beauty and elegance of the Koran and conclude it is a divine work and then trust it. Is that conclusion right? Of course, McGrew and Boghossian and myself don’t think so, but that does not mean that Muslims lack a reason or what they think is evidence for their claims.

This is an important distinction McGrew kept coming back to. What matters most is what one counts as evidence and what is considered reliable. One could even agree with the conclusion and disagree with the evidence presented. Suppose I meet someone who is a Christian and says they are because the Holy Spirit just told them that Jesus rose from the dead. I would really want them to have something more than that, but I cannot deny that they have reached the right conclusion.

Boghossian wanted to know about the difference between faith and hope. McGrew pointed out that faith is when you’re willing to act in a way where you’re venturing something. You can’t absolutely 100% prove something but you’re going by evidence. This is a mistake I think Boghossian doesn’t realize. He had said you needed to examine every religious worldview before you could choose one. No. You just need sufficient evidence to choose one.

For instance, if that is the case, Boghossian no doubt considers himself a macroevolutionist, yet he has said he is not an evolutionary biologist. Before siding on his worldview, is he going to go out and examine every claim of say, young-earth creationism, before he’s willing to sign on the line of evolutionary biologist? He has said he is now studying the Koran. Does that mean he chose a position on God, namely that He does not exist, before studying all the evidence?

If the only way we can reach any decision is by studying all the evidence, no one will ever conclude anything. There are always books that are going to be unread. There will be arguments unheard and in fact, arguments unanswered. What one has to say is “On the whole, which explanation best explains all the evidence.”

To get back to faith and hope again, McGrew used the illustration of sky diving with the statistic that over 99% of people who jump out of a plane while skydiving land safely. The person who jumps is still venturing something. He needs more than just “I hope my instructor packed the parachute properly.” He needs to have good reason to think it was done that way. Then he acts and that act is referred to as faith. Boghossian is right one point. Faith is not an epistemology. He’s wrong on the point that he always treats it that way and unfortunately, his whole book is built on this false premise.

Also noteworthy is Boghossian’s view on how people of faith should be treated. Faith for Boghossian should be classified as a mental disorder and a virus of the mind and the person who is trying to reason someone out of their worldview is doing an intervention. It is hard to see how Boghossian is not just outright dehumanizing his opponents. For all the talk Boghossian has about practicing doxastic openness, it looks like he needs to learn some.

This means Boghossian is a bully and in fact, one of the worst kinds of bullies. He thinks those of us who are Christians are wrong. Okay. I get that. That is not being a bully. I have several friends who think the same way. What’s next is that he thinks that we automatically have a mental illness. This is when we start getting into bigotry. If that was where it stayed, that would be bad enough, but it is not. In his own book he says to treat faith as a public health crisis. He says that there are things we cannot do obviously due to freedoms we have here, like the freedom of speech, but it is scary to think about what Boghossian would do if he had power in a country like a Muslim country or in a place like Russia where those little restrictions didn’t get in the way.

Even worse is that Boghossian is not basing this on evidence. If his interventionist strategy works so well, why did it not work here? The simple reason is Boghossian is just highly uninformed and has unfortunately convinced himself that he is right. He is engaging in what I call atheistic presuppositionalism.

This is the idea that right at the start, he is right and a critical thinker by virtue of being an atheist. If anyone else disagrees, they are obviously not engaging in critical thinking and there must be some reason why they don’t see the light. Perhaps they are “Suppressing the truth in faithfulness” or “Their eyes are blinded by a bias they do not see and they need the scales removed from their eyes.” Either way, Boghossian knows he cannot be wrong because of his personal experience with walking his life of atheism for years and because of the inner testimony of his “voice of reason.”

In fact, it’s the same for some of Boghossian’s biggest fans who just can’t bring themselves to admit that Boghossian got, as one skeptic put it, his chickens slaughtered by McGrew. A sad example of such a fan who cannot seem to accept this reality can be seen here and you can see my comments to him on the blog.

Boghossian has strangely enough said he’s interested in a round two. We would like to see it, but it is certainly clear that Boghossian is going to have to improve his game dramatically before he steps into the ring again with McGrew. Perhaps it would help if Boghossian practiced more doxastic openness and avoided his idea of “Avoid facts.” For now, all he has his personal testimony while McGrew and those like him have data from scholarly sources. Therefore, by Boghossian’s own standards, Boghossian should be sitting at the kid’s table until he can bring forward some facts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Interacting With Street Epistemologists

What’s been my experience so far interacting with Street Epistemologists? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by an apologetics group I belong to to describe what has been my experience thus far dealing with street epistemologists. You see, I was thrilled when I heard Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I have reviewed here and interviewed Tom Gilson on here) had decided to come out with a show called the Reason Whisperer where he plans to have live conversations with people of “faith” and get them closer at least to deconversion.

I think this is a Godsend really.

I’ve long been waiting to see if there is something that will wake up the church from its intellectual slumbers and this I hope is it! We’ve had more than enough warnings and yet too many Christians are too caught up in themselves to realize they’re to do the Great Commission.

So I wanted to see what these street epistemologists were made of. Myself and some others with the same interest went to the Facebook page of Peter Boghossian. There we began asking questions and challenging what was said. It’s noteworthy that Boghossian himself never responded to us.

In fact, one post at least was a practical dare on Boghossian’s part when he linked to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said the apologists won’t post on this one. He sure was wrong! More of us posted than ever before!

I’d like to report on how that has kept going and that Boghossian is being answered every day, but alas, I cannot.

Why? Because he banned us all.

Keep in mind, this is the same one who sees a great virtue in “doxastic openness.”

What I did find from the interactions I had is that street epistemologists are woefully unequipped. They read only that which agrees with them. They will buy into any idea if it goes against Christianity. The Earth was believed to be flat? Sure! I’ll believe that! Jesus never existed? Sure! I’ll believe that! Not having the originals of an ancient document is a problem? Sure! I’ll believe that! I still think about the person who recommended I read “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”, a book so bad that even the publisher apologized for it.

For street epistemologists also, science is the highest way of knowing anything. Now this is something understandable. If matter is all there is, then the best way to understand the world is to use a process that studies matter specifically. The problem is science can never determine that matter is all that there is any more than it could have determined that all swans were white. Science is an inductive process and while one can be certain of many of the claims, one cannot say they have 100% certainty.

Edward Feser has compared the use of science to a metal detector at the beach. Let’s suppose I was looking for a treasure map I’d heard had been buried at the beach. I go all over the local beach with a metal detector and say “Well I guess the map isn’t here. The detector never pointed it out.” Sure. I found several other objects that had some metal in them, but I never found the treasure map.

You would rightly think this is bizarre. After all, a map is made of paper and while a metal detector does a great job of picking up objects that are metal, it simply will not work with paper. This is not because a metal detector is a terrible product. It is because it is not the right tool for the job.

So it is that in order to determine if matter is all that there is or if there is a God, science is not the tool for the job. Now some might think science can give us some data that we can use, but it cannot be the final arbiter.

Yet for street epistemologists, it seems enough to just say “Science!” and that rules out everything else that’s religious. This would be news to many scientists who are devout Christians and see no disconnect between science and their worldview.

Yet here, the street epistemologists once again have an out. It is why I in fact call them atheistic presuppositionalists. They will simply say that these people are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are compartmentalizing themselves and not seeing that their worldviews contradict.

This would be news to someone like Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne.

As I said, these only read what agrees with them. They will read Bart Ehrman on the Bible, but they will not read Metzger or Wallace in response. They will read Boghossian and follow him entirely, but they will not bother to read his critics. They will read about how people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat, but they will not read James Hannam’s book on the matter, see Thomas Madden’s scholarship there, or even read the atheist Tim O’Neill who disagrees with them.

Street epistemologists will also go with extreme positions. They will tout on and on about how Jesus never existed and only say “Richard Carrier” or “Robert Price” in response. They will not acknowledge that the majority of scholarship, even scholarship that ideologically disagrees with Christianity, says it’s certain that Jesus existed. They do not realize that biblical scholarship is an open field where anyone of any worldview can join and writings go through peer-review.

Interestingly, these same people will go after Christians for not believing in evolution because, wait for it, there’s a consensus that this happened! The consensus of scientists is to be trusted. The consensus of scholars in the NT and ancient history is not to be trusted!

Also, if you do not hold to their view, well you are obviously emotional in nature in some way since you only believe because you want to believe and because of how you feel. It never occurs to some people that there could be intellectual reasons. In fact, it follows the pattern that if they don’t think the reasoning is intelligent, then it is just emotional.

It’s in fact a direct contrast to what is often said in many religious circles. “Well you’re just living in sin and are blinded to the truth.” Now I don’t doubt for some atheists, they don’t want to give up an immoral lifestyle. Also, I don’t doubt that for too many Christians, their only basis for being a Christian is how they feel and an emotional experience. Both of these groups have reached their conclusions for the wrong reasons.

Yet psychoanalyzing is seen as an argument to street epistemologists. If they can say you just believe for emotional reasons, then they can dismiss what you say. Note that it is dismissal. It is not a response.

I consider this a form I see of what I call atheistic hubris. Note please as well that this does not mean all atheists are this way. It just means that there’s a sizable portion of what I call “internet atheists” that are this way. The idea is that if someone is an atheist, then they are rational and intelligent. Therefore, all their thinking is rational and intelligent and all their conclusions are rational and intelligent.

The reality is we must all be constantly watching ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to read our critics. Our critics will show us our blind spots and if we are wrong, we are to change our minds accordingly with the evidence.

An excellent example of something Boghossian and others constantly get wrong is faith. Boghossian says it is believing without evidence or pretending to know something that you do not know. Now in a modern vocabulary, I don’t doubt this. Too many Christians use faith this way and treat this kind of faith as if it is a virtue. It isn’t.

The question is, when the Bible uses the word faith, does it mean this? The answer is no.

In all of the writings I’ve read by the new atheists speaking this way about faith, not one of them has ever consulted a Greek or NT Lexicon in order to make their case. They have just said that this is what the word means. Oh they’ll sometimes quote Hebrews 11:1, but a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext. I have also given my own exegesis of what the passage means here.

Also, I do have another great source on what faith is.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.”

As it stands, the most I get told to this is that it is an appeal to authority, which indicates that street epistemologists don’t even understand the appeal to authority. Strange for people who claim to champion logic.

Sadly, they’re just following in the footsteps of Boghossian himself. Boghossian’s techniques will not work for any Christian who is moderately prepared to defend his worldview. It’s a shame that he who teaches so much about doxastic openness is so often incapable of doing what he teaches.

I conclude that if this is what we can expect from street epistemologists, then we really have nothing to be concerned about with them. Street epistemologists are just as unthinkingly repeating what their pastor, in this case Boghossian, says to them, as the fundamentalist Christians that they condemn. They are really two sides of the same coin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters