Do you have guarded reading? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
When I encounter internet atheists, I usually ask them the same question. When was the last time you read an academic work on the topic that disagrees with you? The overwhelming majority of the time, I get nothing back. I find this fascinating since these people claim to be champions of reason and evidence, but are often only interested in seeing it from their perspective.
Yes. Sadly, too many Christians who argue do the same thing. Still, I do notice that it seems we do it less. I can’t claim to have data for this, but when I see Christians engage with atheists, many of them know the atheist arguments and can in many cases articulate them better.
I’m on pages for debate between Christians and Mormons. What do I notice? Christians seem a lot more familiar with Mormon arguments than the other way around. The same happens with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses I see nowadays don’t even get the Trinity described right, confusing it with modalism, let alone know how to argue against it.
For Muslims, I still remember a day several years ago when I was engaging with a Muslim online and in it I asked him “Have you ever read the New Testament?” He replied, “No. Have you ever read the Qur’an?” I am sure he expected a negative back, but unfortunately for him, he didn’t get it. I had indeed read it. Now, I have read it twice.
When Mormons come to visit me, I can assure them I have read all of their Scriptures and a number of other pro-Mormon writings. When a new Bart Ehrman book comes out, I’m one of the first to get it. I had this last one so quickly that when it came out, some of my professors on campus asked me what I thought of it.
When I read Christian writings arguing for their positions against their opponents, I find they constantly reference primary sources they disagree with. I have written long ago that sadly, atheist writers often don’t do this. Reading through them, I can tell. When you meet atheists espousing Jesus mythicism or saying “If God created everything, who created God?” and treating it like that refutes the cosmological argument, it’s clear that they don’t know the material.
As a Christian, if you do this, the advantage you have is that first off, you know the material that you are going up against. No one can know it exhaustively, but you know it enough to be familiar. A general rule of thumb is that before you argue against a position, you ought to be able to theoretically argue persuasively FOR that position. If you can’t make that case without making it a total joke, you probably don’t know the position at all.
This also increases your humility. Doing this is a way of saying “I could be wrong and I want to know.” If you are of the mindset that you don’t have to read the other side because you already know they’re bunk, odds are the only person being fooled is you.
Third, as a Christian, this can show you flaws in your own positions that you hold. Sometimes, you might change your mind. Other times, you can see a weakness and refine your position. Sometimes, you might find something you agree with in the writing. I can say I have learned from reading the material that I disagree with.
There can be something we can learn from so many other positions. I have said before that Richard Dawkins when writing about theism or philosophy or anything outside of his area has no clue and is just a train wreck. When he writes about science, what you would consider the most ordinary of all is made wondrous and alive and I could read him all day. The best work Dawkins does for science is not when he argues against Christianity. He does great damage to science then. The best work he does is when he just writes about science as science. He doesn’t tie his worldview into it. He just describes it. If he did this more often, he would encourage more people of all worldviews to go into science and study it.
Definitely if you’re an apologist, read what you disagree with. I’m always going through at least one book I disagree with on Kindle. I started a new one just recently, but before that, I had returned to some Islamic hadiths. The learning is always beneficial.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)