Following the truth, wherever it leads
In my previous post, I described how I came to question the Christian beliefs in which I was brought up, and how my crisis of faith came to a peak with serious depression. Following a year or so of counseling which helped to get to the root of the problem (that being repressed doubts and questions about Christianity), I began an investigation into the truth claims of Christianity as compared primarily to those made by atheism.
I wanted to perform an intellectually honest evaluation. Recognizing that the majority of my religious information was of Christianity and that the bias of belief was in that direction, I made the effort to set that aside in my mind in order to try to objectively evaluate the evidences and arguments. I began what has been a long (and still ongoing!) process of critically thinking about the best arguments in favor of Christianity, and those in favor of naturalism. I began by reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and then the various Case for… books by Lee Strobel, and I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Geisler and Turek. In the post-9/11 world in which I began studying, there were also a number of atheist thinkers stepping up to aggressively challenge religious belief in general, and Christianity in particular. I read God is Not Great by Hitchens, The God Delusion by Dawkins, and Letter to a Christian Nation by Harris. Following these books, I watched many, many debates, some live and most recorded, between Dawkins and Lennox, Craig and Hitchens, Desouza and Hitchens, and many others. I wanted to know how well the best arguments on either side fared when under attack.
Although I aimed for a purely intellectual evaluation without taint of emotion and bias, it should go without saying that we as humans are incapable of complete objectivity. I recognized early the risks of what I was doing: if I deconverted from Christianity, many of my familial relationships would come under new and severe strain, not least of which being my marriage. I realized the emotional pressure being applied to the evaluation process, but I was determined to keep my mind focused, even if it meant a radical change in my beliefs. My depression had not disappeared, but it was abating, and I did not want to go back. I realized that I could not close my eyes again and abandon the search for truth in favor of the safe and comfortable.
In time, as my studies progressed, I became more and more persuaded by the evidence for theism, and briefly considered a deistic worldview. Today, however, I have become convinced by the arguments in favor of Christian theism in particular. While it is not the point of this post to describe in any detail these arguments, the evidences that support the cumulative case and resist attacks best in my mind in favor of Christianity are:
- the cosmological argument for the existence of God
- the moral argument for the existence of God
- the design argument for the existence of God, especially irreducible complexity
- archaeological support for biblical names and places
- extra-biblical source support concerning the life and death of Jesus
- evidence for the reliable transmission through time of the text of the New Testament
- the minimal facts argument for Jesus’ resurrection
Not having received any training in formal logic or critical thinking in my schooling, this was initially a daunting task, and I was concerned that I may be making mistakes. However, as I began to study logic and formal reasoning, I realized that the basics of the art are not difficult, although application of them can at times be tricky. I began to see as I was reading the works of the “New Atheists” that, while rhetorically powerful and entertaining, there were a lot of logical errors being made. Ad hominems, straw men, and non sequiturs were rampant. [I realize that this is a statement that many will likely want to debate, but again, this post is about reporting my journey thus far, and not about presenting robust and well-defended arguments concerning these points.]
I should also point out here some of the reasons that are not why I am a Christian [I identify with these categories suggested by J. Warner Wallace in his podcast here]:
I am not a Christian today just because I was raised in a Christian nation/family/school/church. There was certainly influence due to those factors, but I was prepared to forsake those influences if they were shown to me to be misleading.
I am not a Christian today because my current social institutions make it convenient or socially beneficial to do so. I still live in the Bible belt, and while even here we are seeing the culture secularize more and more, most of the social “clubs” I am involved with are Christian. Again though, like the previous point, I was willing to abandon or change my relationship with these if the truth lay elsewhere.
I am not a Christian today because it “works.” Christianity is not a philosophy of “getting along,” but one which makes objective truth claims. In this postmodern, pluralist culture, that is certainly not a very pragmatic or utilitarian approach, but one which frequently puts me at odds with popular consent. Certainly, if Christianity describes reality, adhering to its teachings will “work” in the long run, but in daily practice, this can cause all kinds of problems.
I am also not a Christian today because of fear of hell or promise of heaven. I am convinced of the reality of these two things, but the carrot and the stick approach to evangelism seems to me manipulative and apt to produce short-lived conversions.
Finally, I am not a Christian today because of a dramatic religious experience. I have had very few events in my life that I would point to as such. Part of that, perhaps, is due to a blindness to it that I had (and still have, to a certain degree) due to a skepticism towards emotion in religion, fostered by what I consider abuses of that in my formative years in church. [When I first started critically thinking about religious claims, I remember trying to establish a standard of proof and realizing quickly that I would likely explain away any religious or supernatural experience with a naturalistic explanation.] Regardless, religious experience is not helpful as a primary validation of a religious system; every religion claims experiences in support of their claims. Experiences are not invalid as evidence, but they are interpretive and not sufficient alone to show the truth of some religious belief; how does one know that the experience is from the spirit you (or it) claim? Might it not be something else?
Today, I stand convinced of the truth of the Christian claims. However, the case is never closed; I continue to try to understand and evaluate the best arguments on both sides as new formulations arise. There will always be questions, but I have enough evidence at this point to remove all reasonable doubt and make a commitment. My trust [faith] concerning the items I can’t yet see is based on that which I can now see. Truth remains my pursuit; I can’t “unsee” the value discovering the nature of and living according to reality. A clear-eyed appraisal of reality ought to be the goal of every person, as the nature of reality has vastly important ramifications of purpose, goals, and daily activity.