Skepticism and Gullibility

Which side has them? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently on the Unbelievable Facebook group, there has been a discussion about skepticism and gullibility. The idea is some people are rational and thus skeptical of the fantastic stories in the Bible and God decides to give them Hell for this whereas as the gullible Christians believe everything they read and get rewarded. Some of you are already seeing problems with this.

At the start, it assumes that if someone believes the Bible they must be gullible. Now we could say if someone was skeptical of the Bible, they are a skeptic, but there is a rational skepticism and an irrational skepticism. It is also possible to be a Christian and also have a skeptical mindset. I would describe myself as one such person.

For an irrational skepticism, I was in a discussion not too long ago with someone on Facebook who was making statements about the invalidity of prayer, so I pointed him to Candy Gunther-Brown’s work. He insisted I didn’t know what peer-review was to which I gave a definition. He then wanted to know this work was peer-reviewed. I pointed out it was published by Harvard University Press which does peer-review and that wasn’t enough.

I then emailed the author who told me it went through a rigorous peer-review process since that is what Harvard has. I then had to take a screenshot of the email to show that it was real and that this had been done. Then the skeptic kept insisting I give parts of the book to them so they could see the claims. I was already getting tired of that and decided to move on. I consider this definitely an irrational skepticism.

One other sign of this is that it asks for unreasonable amounts of evidence. If you insist the only way you will believe in Jesus is if you have a personal experience, then there is really no point in debating. After all, you have already decided the evidence will be insufficient.

However, while it is the case that too many Christians can be gullible, atheists can also be gullible. How many buy into the idea that Jesus never even existed as if this is a hot debate in the field of scholarship? What is amusing is how many of these people go after young-Earth creationists.

I realize some of my readers are YECs and I think they would certainly admit that yes, their ideas on the history of Earth are not accepted within the academic community. So are they not outliers like mythicists are? Yes, but there are more PhDs in a relevant field who are YECs than there are in corresponding fields who are mythicists. Not only that, at least YECs can say that they base their arguments on the authority of God, which I can understand even if I disagree. Mythicists don’t have that.

There are other myths that are believed. What about accounts such as millions being killed in the Inquisition? What about the idea that the Middle Ages were a dark period where all science was banned? What about the idea that if you found one contradiction in Scripture that all of theism and Christianity would be disproved?

And where are many of these claims found? On the internet. Ideas that were tossed aside decades ago are given new life on the internet and treated like a big secret that is being covered up. These are conspiracy theories for atheists.

Someone could be a skeptic, read both sides, and decide Christianity has the better arguments. Remember, skepticism is for a purpose. It is to help keep you from believing false beliefs, but it is not to keep you from believing anything and too many Christians and atheists both are very prone to believing something that already agrees with them. (This also happens in politics.)

As for if God will reward someone for being gullible, such a person just goes in the right direction and God doesn’t cast them out because they have bad epistemology. A non-Christian will not be punished because they were skeptics per se. It will be for the sins that they committed. Christianity is a faith that tells us to examine all things and hold to what is true. We should still do that.

I encourage skepticism, especially in the age of the internet. Go out and read the best books as the best material will not be found on the internet, and I say that as one who regularly puts material on the internet. If you are skeptical, be an informed skeptic and not an irrational one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Science Skepticism

Why are many of us skeptical of the reigning paradigm? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I blogged about Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage about the transgender movement. In it, I found that if anyone went against the reigning narrative in transgenderism, then they were shut down and not allowed to speak. Color me skeptical then when I hear that all the leaders in thinking on this issue in the world of science go with the movement. After all, if someone in the field who is a leader speaks and disagrees, they no longer qualify, and who knows how many others don’t speak out of fear of losing their livelihood?

Not only that, but many of us today find it absurd to say that the reality of male and female which has been attested to since as long as man has been around, is suddenly no longer real based on that science of the day. It would make as much sense as science telling us that rape is not wrong. It would be like telling me that blue is really red.

This doesn’t help in other areas either as we naturally then have skepticism there. Some of these beliefs that are held to be mainstream could be true. Some could not. The most obvious case upfront is evolution. I am someone who does not care about evolution one way or another, but I do understand the skepticism that many of my fellow believers have.

It’s important to notice also that another reason for that skepticism is many Christians get the idea that the matter in science is either/or. You can either keep your belief in God or have belief in science on these issues. For many people, the idea of God is a greater reality to them than the idea of thought that has shown up only recently. In their minds, they have firsthand knowledge of what all God has done for them.

By the way, it doesn’t help when it goes the other way either. It doesn’t help when Christians tell atheists that they have to disbelieve in evolution or some other scientific idea in order to be a Christian. The first step in being a Christian is believing that Jesus died and rose again for your sins. If one has other false beliefs, which they will have and do have, then work on those beliefs later.

Climate change is another one. I can remember a time in my day when the fear was that there would be an ice age that would come upon us all. I am forty years old which means it was not too long ago and yet, that was the science. Today, I am told the exact opposite. Not only that, I am told the measures I have to take to stop this are rather extreme. Consider also that since I believe God won’t let the planet be destroyed this way, I am skeptical.

I am reading a book right now on the Coronavirus panic that echoes many of my thoughts. There was one time I was majorly concerned about it, but it lasted only a day and got help after talking to some knowledgeable friends. Other than that, I have seen a lot of hysteria, but you dare not question the paradigm. After all, if you do that, you don’t really care about the other people do you? This, despite the fact that my concern is those other people have jobs and they need to be able to provide for their families and we’re not helping by keeping them from doing that.

This also can show up in other fields, such as in history. Today, many schoolchildren grow up believing that Columbus sailed to show the Earth was not flat. That’s what I grew up being taught. That’s a complete myth. Many atheists talk about the Inquisition as if it wiped out half of Europe. That’s also a myth.

The difference with the science is we are often told that if anything is true, it must be able to be scientifically demonstrated. Whatever the science shows, this kind of idea is nonsense. Not everything can be scientifically demonstrated. These scientific ideas also, lo and behold, often seem to be tied to the political paradigm of the day as well. Isn’t that convenient?

If anything, I find it amazing that the people I meet who claim to be skeptics are the ones who are least skeptical in these areas. Whatever the reigning paradigm is, they jump right on board with it immediately. The questions that those on the outside have, well those are the questions of the ignorant masses and they’re not really worth taking seriously.

Which cases are wrong and right in science? Not mine to decide. Some I think are definitely inaccurate, such as the transgender movement. Others, I could not speak authoritatively one way or the other, though I have my skepticism of them. Those on that side need to instead of shouting down the skeptics (And this applies to Christians also when we encounter skeptics of Christianity) need to be able to hear our very real questions and concerns and be able to reply. Shutting down the other side for speaking differently never changes their minds. As a recent example, I seriously doubt any conservatives changed their mind on politics just because the Parler app went down. If anything, that only makes our concerns look more plausible. Keep one side from talking, and it looks like the side in charge has something to hide after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Pulling Back The Green Curtain Part 1

What do I think of Jim Hall’s new self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

While the book says it’s by Stephany Chase, an interview has been done and Jim Hall is apparently the real author. We’ve dealt with Jim Hall a few times on this blog. We are quite confident he won’t engage back since any time I have challenged him on any point, he has refused to address it.

At any rate, this book is supposed to be 666 things your priest, rabbi, imam, etc. didn’t tell you. Nice to know Hall is expanding his repertoire. In all of this, I will not be able to fully comment on matters relating to Islam, though I might on some with some positions like Mormonism if I think I know enough about the subject matter. I also think it’s important to do that since I don’t want Hall misrepresenting anyone else’s religion any more than I want him misrepresenting mine.

Rather than go through the list of teachers each time, I will simply say a holy man. Hall says there are specific parts they avoid in teaching. First, I don’t doubt this on many points since many of our ministers are really quite shallow and have no wish to educate themselves. Second and more relevant here, there is nothing in the book of mine he can show me to surprise me since I’ve read the whole thing many times.

Hall also says there is no such thing as too much information. True enough, but there is the problem of false information. Hall does not have good information in this. He takes run of the mill atheist tropes and runs with them. Hall’s problem is too little information and too little if any interaction with scholarly sources.

He also says something about cognitive dissonance. This is a favorite atheist trope. It’s like it’s the only psychological condition they know. Of course, Hall has likely never read When Prophecy Fails on the matter, but hey, who needs to? I wonder if it’s cognitive dissonance that keeps him from responding to my reviews.

Hall also says to not take his word for anything. Look it up. I would believe that except as I have said, Hall has refused to respond to my review of his first book and still keeps going. Odd for someone who wants to be checked on and says there’s no such thing as too much information.

Hall also says many Christians try to wiggle out of the Old Testament saying the laws are no longer in effect. He is convinced they are. Is there any wrestling with Pauline teaching on the matter whatsoever? Nope. He has several verses for us, so let’s see.

“Keep his commandments for a thousand generations.”[ 1] – “Keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, always.”[ 2] – “Remember and obey the laws of Moses.”[ 3] – “Every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever.”[ 4] – “It is easier for Heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”[ 5] – “One came and said unto him, Jesus, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”[ 6]

Chase, Stephany. Pulling Back The Green Curtain: 666 Things Your Religious Leaders Never Taught You (pp. 4-5). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The first one is from Deuteronomy 7. This is a hyperbolic statement about the keeping of the commandments. It is also given to the people who had that covenant made with them. Gentiles are not those people. The second is in Deuteronomy 11 and is much the same. Malachi 4 is the third saying to remember the Law of Moses. Yep. That settles it I guess.

The fourth is from Psalm 119 and says God’s commands are true and endure forever. Note the Hebrew word for forever can refer to forever. It can refer to things lasting forever or a long time or even to something such as great men of old.

The fifth is from Luke 16 saying not one jot or tittle of the law will disappear. Correct. We also say that Jesus fulfilled the law for us. Again, Hall does not interact with any Christian interpretation of the passage.

The sixth Hall says is Luke 19:16, but it isn’t. It isn’t 20:16 or 21:16 or 18:16 either. It is the story of the rich young ruler being told to keep the commandments. Of course, he is! He’s still under the old covenant.

So again, Hall comes up amazingly short because he does not have enough information. Strange that a man who says too much information so much ignores information. Why is this?

Finally, at the end of the introduction, he has the logical problem of evil from Epictetus. Apparently, he’s unaware that Plantinga and others have solved the logical problem of evil. Atheistic philosophers don’t use it. That does not mean that the problem of evil itself has been abandoned, but some forms of it have been. Again, Hall just does not have enough information.

So next time we look at this book, we will start looking at the 666 claims. It will take awhile to go through, but what I have read so far is entirely disappointing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are You A True Skeptic?

What arguments do you accept? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just recently, I was in a Facebook group and I saw someone share something from Lawrence Krauss claiming that there were several divine figures at the time of Jesus born of virgins (And I do affirm the virgin birth) who died and rose again. It didn’t take long for a bunch of us to show that this was wrong. What was most amazing to me was that this was accepted.

What matters to me about this is how quickly people who call themselves skeptics will cease to be skeptics. This isn’t to say that their skepticism of Christianity is necessarily unreasonable. Some skepticism is good. The claims we make are pretty intense after all and should be backed by evidence. The problem is that a scholar says something that supports Christianity or shows an attack on i is false and that’s questioned, but show someone who attacks it and that’s an immediate Gospel truth.

I also think it’s important to point out that we Christians can do the same. There are many Christians who will share something immediately if it supports Christianity, but it turns out to be false. This is also true in the area of politics. Many people will share something that supports their political viewpoint without checking up on it.

After the Florida shooting, there were news stories going around about eighteen school shootings taking place this year. Some of you might be surprised by that news. You never heard about all of these school shootings. There’s a good reason for that. They didn’t really happen, at least not the way you would think. One such school shooting was when a man was in the parking lot of an Elementary school that was closed at the time and committed suicide with a gun. Somehow, that qualifies as a school shooting.

Many of you know that I’m a political conservative, yet I have taken enough conservatives to task for sharing false stories about political opponents. Our side is not helped by sharing stories that are false and we damage our reputation by sharing those stories.

The solution to all of this is really simple. Test everything. Check it all out. If you are a Christian, don’t damage your reputation by sharing things that are false. It shows people you are gullible and undermines your witness to Christianity.

If you are a skeptic of Christianity, you should also want to be taken seriously. It’s not going to be happening by sharing copycat myth ideas or even worse, ideas that Jesus never existed. No. Carrier is not the most awesome New Testament scholar of all time. Most of us will actually discount you pretty quickly just for mentioning Carrier.

Everyone should agree to this. Test all things. If you’re a Christian and a skeptic does disprove something you believe to be true, accept it. If you’re a skeptic and a Christian disproves something for you, do likewise. Of course, you’re more prone to accept ideas that already fit with your worldview, but watch your own bias first. If we want to have more informed discussions, it starts with us.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Skepticism Is Not An Argument

Do you need a reason for your doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times I get caught up in debates on miracles and that leads to an automatic skepticism by many people. After all, we live in an age of science and in this age of science, we know things the ancients didn’t know. Therefore, we know that miracles don’t happen.

I like to point out to these people that they even knew back then that dead people stay dead, people don’t walk on water, food doesn’t instantly multiply to feed 5,000+ people, it’s not expected for blind people to see and paralyzed people to walk, and of course, virgins don’t give birth. (Although I do affirm the virgin birth.) If people insist at this point, I ask when it was that science made these great discoveries that they didn’t know about. It’s also helpful to ask which branch of science has disproven miracles.

The problem that often comes up is that someone will just say I’m a skeptic but without giving any basis for their own position. If we as Christians are often obligated to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, why should our intellectual opponents not give a reason for the doubt that lies within them. Please note that I am not saying all doubt is wrong. I am suggesting instead that we talk about a reasonable doubt.

For instance, let’s suppose you say that you will not believe in miracles because you have never experienced one. Of course, if you did experience one and you knew it, you would likely believe in miracles, but if you haven’t, do you really want to say the only way you will believe in a miracle is if you yourself witness one? If that’s the case, then no amount of arguing and persuasion is going to work with you. You’ve already decided at the outset a miracle can’t happen because you’ve never experienced it. (It’s also interesting that other people’s experience in the case of miracles is invalid, but your experience of not having one is completely allowable!)

It also won’t help then if it’s automatically decided that any story that you hear is just someone being gullible or mistaken or lying. No doubt, people are often mistaken about miracles, but the argument against miracles depends on every single case being an error in some way. Chesterton told us years ago that the theist believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

So let’s take a work like Craig Keener’s massive two volumes on miracles documenting miracles done all over the world. For the skeptic, every single miracle in there has to be false. For myself, all of them could be false and I could still have a case for miracles because I have arguments for theism and I have arguments for the resurrection.

So when pressed, what needs to be asked is why is someone being skeptical? What is behind the skepticism? Note also this can go both ways. Christians can be unreasonable in their skepticism of positions that disagree with them. I do not encourage Christians to say you will only disbelieve in the resurrection if you see the bones of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, his bones are likely long gone and even if they aren’t, you really don’t have much way of identifying them. Set the bar reasonable. I just ask for a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one the church itself gave that better explains the data.

Skepticism can be good. We should not be gullible and credulous, but at the same time, we need to be reasonable even in skepticism. If we demand our own personal experience, we’re not really entering into the discussion fairly and saying that intellectual arguments won’t convince us. That’s hardly being reasonable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/27/2014: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

What’s coming up on this week’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is becoming a much more common name around the world and this includes even in Christian households. Unfortunately, there are still several in the church who don’t know about who he is and the reality is that if they do not know now, they will surely be knowing in the future, most likely when their children come home from college and announce that they’re no longer Christians because they don’t believe in the Bible.

To those who haven’t read the other side, Ehrman’s case can seem to be a strong presentation, but is it really? The authors of “Truth In A Culture Of Doubt” say it isn’t, and one of them will be my guest to talk about it. He’s been on here before and it’s a pleasure to welcome back to the Deeper Waters Podcast, Dr. Darrell Bock.

DarrellBockimage

“Darrell L. Bock is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He also serves as Executive Director of Cultural Engagement for the Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, Luke-Acts, the historical Jesus, gospel studies and the integration of theology and culture. He has served on the board of Chosen People Ministries for over a decade and also serves on the board at Wheaton College. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and the University of Aberdeen (Ph.D.). He has had four annual stints of post–doctoral study at the University of Tübingen, the second through fourth as an Alexander von Humboldt scholar (1989-90, 1995-96, 2004-05, 2010-2011). He also serves as elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, Texas, is editor at large for Christianity Today, served as President of the Evangelical Theological Society for the year 2000-2001, and has authored over thirty books, including a New York Times Best Seller in non-fiction and the most recent release, Truth Matters, a response to many issues skeptics raise about Christianity in the public square. He is married to Sally and has two daughters (both married), a son, two grandsons and a granddaughter.”

We’ll be discussing many of the works of Ehrman and the problems in them. This will include works such as “God’s Problem”, “Misquoting Jesus”, “How Jesus Became God”, “Lost Christianities”, “Jesus Interrupted”, and “Forged.” We’ll be talking about how Ehrman is quite a skilled communicator but he unfortunately only gives one side of the argument on a regular basis and does not interact with the best opposition against his viewpoint.

If you have a child you plan to send to college one day, you owe it to yourself to listen to this program to learn about the work of Ehrman and how best you can answer it. Ehrman will only give one side of the argument. Make sure you know the other side of the argument just as well. Please be looking for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast to show up in your ITunes feed.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Do We Know

What do I think of Foreman and Dew’s book on epistemology? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Foreman and Dew have written this in order to explain epistemology to people who have never really considered it and in our day and age, it’s more necessary than ever. After all, you have people like Peter Boghossian out there wanting to train up “street epistemologists” to deconvert Christians from their faith. In addition to that, there is a rampant scientism in our society that says science is the way to know the truth. If what you say is not scientific, then it is not a fact.

So how is it that we do know anything at all and what is knowledge? Naturally, you won’t find a comprehensive refutation of positions in this work. Instead, it’s more to get you thinking about what the different positions are. The authors themselves do not come down on either side in the debate. After reading it, I cannot tell you what position either one of them holds.

The authors also go through the classical problems in studies of epistemology. One such example that will be well-known to students of philosophy is the Gettier Problem. (To which, I remember when this was discussed in my epistemology class one of my classmates immediately asked the professor about Gettier. His question? “Did he get tenure?” Yes. He definitely did get tenure after that.)

Gettier’s problem was to show that you could have a belief that was justified and that was true, but even then that might not be enough to say that you had knowledge. This is problematic since the prior definition of knowledge has been justified true belief, which means that now philosophers are looking to see if a fourth item might need to be added to the list.

Those dealing with new atheist types will be pleased to see the authors make a statement about faith and how faith is not a way of knowing but is rather a response of trust to what one is shown to be true. Of course, we seriously doubt that Peter Boghossian and others like him will pay any attention to anything that goes against their beliefs.

Along those lines, there is also a section on whether one can know through divine revelation which includes a short apologetic for Christianity. The authors are both Christians and do hold that divine revelation can be a valid way to possess knowledge.

If there’s a concern I have with the book, I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the medieval period. Too often we talk about Plato and Aristotle and then jump ahead to Descartes. A few times Aquinas is cited but not often. I do not remember Augustine being cited but that could have been something I overlooked. There were plenty of great thinkers as well in the medieval period and it does help to see how we got from the ancient to the modern era.

Despite this one misgiving, I find that this book will be an excellent start for those wanting to learn about epistemology. You won’t walk away with a firm conclusion most likely, but you will walk away hopefully knowing that you need to look.

In Christ,
Nick Peters