2018-01-22

Does Christianity Need Evidence?

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by Tim Widowfield

A straw man takes a break.

Neil offered his “Four Atheist Responses to a ‘Theist’s Three Easy Questions,’” and I was tempted to chime in myself, but I just don’t have it in me. The days of arguing on CompuServe and Usenet about this or that esoteric point in Christian belief or even general theism are over. The time has passed.

I was telling my wife just recently that the older I get, the less comfortable I am with the terms atheist and atheism. I’m weary of being defined by what I am not. You will recall, I’m sure, the old discussions about being called a “non-stamp-collector.” Letting others define you by what they are is to live your life in the shadow of the majority culture.

I’m just a guy who’s curious about the world. True, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but it’s all right. I won’t bite. And I don’t wish to change your mind. We’re just not wired the same way.

A straw man atheist would doubtless be much more fun to spar with than me — especially one who “hides the goalposts.” I’ve heard of moving the goalposts, but never hiding them. I suppose it must mean something like demanding that theists kick the ball without knowing where the goalposts are. And then I, the mean, nasty atheist, will call out, “Nope, you missed! Try again. . . . Oh! So close!”

Anyhow, I have no idea how I would answer Question 1, so we’re already dead in the water. But that’s all right, because I don’t want to “defeat” James Bishop. Nor am I hiding the goalposts, because I honestly don’t know what evidence would convince me. It would be an act of “intellectual dishonesty” to say otherwise.

The problem with wilder and more sensational miraculous acts is that I would be more likely to believe I’m suffering from severe schizophrenia. Hallucinations and mental illness are much more likely explanations.

What strikes me, however, is the new fervor for “evidence” in Christianity. Consider titles like Evidence That Demands a Verdict. These sorts of books, sermons, pep-talks, and videos have nothing to do with converting atheists, of course. They’re all about shoring up one’s own defenses and building barriers against doubt. More than anything else, they keep the believer’s brain busy. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, but an idle mind is his playground.

I tried my best to keep my brain busy as a teenager, and my fundamentalist church tried as well. I joined Bible Quiz, and practically memorized entire books of the Bible. But there were two problems working against us. First, my high school was too easy for me, which gave me too much free time. Second, I had long bouts of insomnia, during which I either read (not good) or thought (even worse).

The wandering mind asks questions, but not the right kind of questions. Bible Quiz for me fulfilled two pressing needs: (1) answering questions and (2) providing the right questions to ask. It is a sealed system, designed to keep you occupied, like a dog chasing his tail. Mr. Bishop’s apologetics perform the same function. They train the mind not to go where it shouldn’t.

Quiz Master: “What was the sound the apostles heard on the Day of Pentecost?”

Me: “A rushing mighty wind!”

Looking back on those days and how my mind worked, I’m astounded at how much mental labor one can expend and yet know next to nothing about the subject at hand. I had nearly memorized Paul’s letter to the Romans, but did I understand it? Not really.

It was always in my nature to doubt, and I saw this as the most dangerous sin. Yet I knew the scripture. Paul had said, “Prove all things!” And surely that must mean God knew that under even the most intense scrutiny, the Bible would prevail.

Still, the doubts lingered.

I remember as a small child asking my mother about Jesus being tested in all things. She said, “Yes, he was.” But I protested, “He could never doubt, though. He knew who he was.” Only humans can suffer the temptation of doubt: the nagging suspicion that all of this singing and praying and wailing and hand-waving is merely bad play-acting.

Christianity is not an evidence-based religion. We shouldn’t forget that fact. It may pride itself on being a historical religion — that is, one that points back through apostolic succession to a real savior who really lived on Earth, really died, and really rose from the dead. But it does not present the world with overwhelming physical evidence as the primary motivation for belief.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

And here is where I would offer James Bishop some advice. I see on his blog that he studies philosophy and religion, which is good. James, read up on the Leap of Faith. Stop scrapping with atheists over questions of evidence — evidence that you neither really want nor truly need.

Instead, be the good in the world that you think Jesus would want to see. Feed the hungry, comfort the sick and dying. Don’t waste time looking for word tricks that will stump some stranger who doesn’t believe in God. If you need something to keep your mind busy, go build houses for the poor, read to the blind, buy groceries for the elderly.

I will tell you from experience that apologetics is a dead end. Eventually, and this may sound counterintuitive, it will generate doubt. Every time you try to account for a contradiction in the Bible, you sprinkle a little sand in the gears. Each time you harmonize scripture into a neat little package, you put a burr under the saddle. Apologetics is a drawer full of bright, shiny, razor-sharp knives; even the handles can cut you.

For me it’s too late. Faith is like romantic love. You cannot make yourself love someone. You cannot force yourself to jump across the abyss of unbelief using nothing but rational thought. I fell out of love with God over 40 years ago, and nothing (probably) can change that.

If you want to remain a believer, get busy believing. Don’t sit around brooding about it. And don’t waste your time getting bloody knuckles from punching straw men. If you want to keep your faith, act on it. Prove the value of Christianity through your own actions. Make people say, “I want what he’s got.”

19 Comments

  • Bob Jase
    2018-01-22 19:31:44 UTC - 19:31 | Permalink

    Acting requires actions, apologetics only requires cutting, pasting and numbness toi repetition.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2018-01-22 19:54:23 UTC - 19:54 | Permalink

      Today’s apologetics does have a certain paint-by-number feel to it. But that emptiness is part of the problem. It’s so superficial that it invites skepticism.

      • Eliza
        2018-01-24 09:06:59 UTC - 09:06 | Permalink

        Maybe the reason is that apologetics is only a cover for disbelief in its authors? Or rather side-effect of their internal struggle… Kind of mantra to calm poor mind constantly forced to believe (my experience from old not-so-good times).

  • Neil Godfrey
    2018-01-23 00:57:27 UTC - 00:57 | Permalink

    Very well said, Tim.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2018-01-23 03:48:35 UTC - 03:48 | Permalink

      Thanks. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if we could all sit down and have a beer or two.

  • Ross Cameron
    2018-01-23 08:56:50 UTC - 08:56 | Permalink

    Arguing with the religious always reminds me of the collision joke:-

    Skipper: I insist you alter your course, this is the USS Pride and Joy.

    Keeper: Nah, you alter your course, this is a lighthouse.

  • 2018-01-23 18:04:09 UTC - 18:04 | Permalink

    It’s just as much a paralogism to think (i) There is sufficient evidence to conclude there is such a thing as the supernatural, as to think (ii) There is sufficient evidence to conclude there is no such thing as the supernatural. Both theism and atheism are factually incorrect and intellectually lazy. Agnosticism is the “Thinking-Person’s Position.”

    • Lowen Gartner
      2018-01-23 19:39:18 UTC - 19:39 | Permalink

      As with most subjects on this blog I follow Russell’s advice and suspend judgment while continuing to study, learn and think.

      Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics
      1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.

      2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.

      3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

      • 2018-01-23 22:29:14 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

        I agree with Russel’s point that if I died and found myself before God asking why I didn’t believe, I would have to be honest and admit I simply wasn’t given enough “evidence”.

        Atheists have no “evidence” the supernatural doesn’t exist, and so atheism is just an “evidence-less” bias.

        *I use quotation marks because I don’t know how to do italics on a blog comment, lol

        • Arkenaten
          2018-01-24 13:08:37 UTC - 13:08 | Permalink

          @John MacDonald

          For italics,put your comments between these <em></em>.
          It will look like this

          Or, if you wish them to read as a quote put the comment between these: <blockquote></blockquote>

          like this

          To bold a comment, put between these: <strong></strong>
          such as: Faith is not evidence.

          And to strike a comment, put between these: <del></del>
          Like so … Jesus of Nazareth Nowhere.

          Takes a bit of practice, especially to remember to close the comment, but you can try it out on your own blog then simply delete afterwards.

      • 2018-01-26 23:10:42 UTC - 23:10 | Permalink

        Here is a good quote from Bertrand Russel in his 1953 essay, ‘What Is An Agnostic?’ Russell states:

        “An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time. Are Agnostics Atheists? No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial … I think that if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next twenty-four hours, including events that would have seemed highly improbable, and if all these events then produced to happen, I might perhaps be convinced at least of the existence of some superhuman intelligence.”

        This reflects my view as well. I’m a Theoretical Agnostic , because I don’t know if the supernatural exists (although I have seen some pretty weird stuff), and a Pragmatic Atheist , because I live my life “as though” the supernatural does not exist.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2018-01-23 23:02:18 UTC - 23:02 | Permalink

      Your definitions need work. Here, this will help:

      https://vridar.org/2012/04/13/jesus-agnosticism-believing-vs-knowing/

  • Eliza
    2018-01-24 09:23:55 UTC - 09:23 | Permalink

    <>

    I think that is not enough. That sentence seems similar to me with buddhist saying that tradition of christian meditation is sometimes close, or even the same as his own. That well may be true, but that is not the whole story. In christianity is, as we all know, great dose of dogma, alongside meditation and works of christian mercy. And the NT books put huge emphasis on question of truth. And I think that person need truth, even more if she is to give her life for that truth. If not, there can be great amount of good deeds with as great amount of personal unhappiness, coming from doubts and internal struggle to find a way to believe in all that strange christian stuff. From my experience, there is no comparison between normal doubts and religious one. When atheist doubts something, it has not (for most cases) so much existential value as when the christian does.

    • Eliza
      2018-01-24 09:25:04 UTC - 09:25 | Permalink

      Sorry, I mean last sentence:

      If you want to remain a believer, get busy believing. Don’t sit around brooding about it. And don’t waste your time getting bloody knuckles from punching straw men. If you want to keep your faith, act on it. Prove the value of Christianity through your own actions. Make people say, “I want what he’s got.”

  • Lowen Gartner
    2018-01-25 04:53:03 UTC - 04:53 | Permalink
  • Martin Klatt
    2018-03-10 13:31:18 UTC - 13:31 | Permalink

    Does Christianity need evidence?

    In the end it is all about communication. Between people. People exchange information, ideas and opinions.
    Every time we communicate with other people we tend to weigh the validity of the information, ideas and opinions of the other person. Sometimes we ask for evidence or clarification. In that case we are the ones that need the evidence, or do we? By asking evidence we force our need on the other, who needs to provide the evidence needed or endanger the intended result of communication, or even end it completely. Human communication is a bitch. We would be better of being computers, all data transferred being valid even if it makes the system crash. Who does the receiver shoot then, the messenger or the message, whatever it’s still a mess. Communication did it then? Or the programmer?

    Back to Christianity. Does it need evidence? It’s a programmed application so it doesn’t need evidence, all data within is evidently valid. Christian people have the computers that run it. Only when they communicate with unbelievers there is a problem. Though unbelievers have similar computers they lack the application called Christianity. They often communicate with christian computers and get annoying pop-ups warning for an error, after a while they click it away without even reading the causes or trying the troubleshooter that can’t solve the problem this time. Unbelievers can even stop communicating with christians because of sheer annoyance of having to click away the pop-ups all the time. Or unbelievers start running an application of their own called Atheism. They try to communicate with the christians but they cause annoying popups of the same kind on christian computers and just fill in the rest. Does Atheism need evidence? It’s a programmed application so ……, you catch my drift.

    So who needs evidence? The christian obviously not, if they even ponder about it they say the salvation by Christ dying on a cross and his resurrection three days later is evident in itself. The atheist then, obviously not either. They don’t feel saved just because somebody died 2000 years ago and people who die evidently don’t get well ever. Even proving it happened won’t save them or make them feel like it did.
    Funny thing is both parties project needs for salvation on the other without any evidence. Boy, that circle is vicious.

    Does it matter? Well, I hate those popups but I can live with annoyance. If the system crashes nothing else matters.

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