Someone alerted me last week to the new Richard Dawkins book, Outgrowing God, that was about to drop. So like good little Mama Bear Apologists, Amy Davison and I downloaded the kindle versions on release day so that we could begin talking about it on the podcast. It didn’t take long for my reservations to be on high alert. I’ve read several reviews of other apologists on the book, but with all due respect, I’ll have to disagree with their conclusions. For example, a sweet friend of mine Tom Gilson wrote for the Stream:
It’s a sad display of what can happen when an influential scientist thinks the whole intellectual world exists inside his own head. It’s not just that I disagree with Dawkins’ conclusions. I certainly do; but there’s another problem he ought to care about himself. He makes faith look ridiculous by misrepresenting it, yet without even seemingly knowing that’s what he’s doing. He’s oblivious. Not a good sign for a man of his influence.
This has seemed to be the gist of most of the reviews that I’ve read. But in my opinion, they are dismissing this book for all the wrong reasons. I believe Dawkins knows exactly what he is doing, and here’s why. The going narrative is that @RichardDawkins is oblivious to how bad his scholarship has gotten. I disagree. I think he knows exactly what he is doing. Here's why. #OutgrowingGod Click To Tweet
1. This book is not intended to be a scholarly work
This idea that Dawkins does not know what he’s doing is, I think, underestimating Dawkins’ intent. Scholars around the apologetics blogosphere will rightly denounce it for sloppy scholarship, unsubstantiated generalizations, and all-around bad research. (Just see this one extensively cited tweet-rebuttal by Assyriologist George Heath-Whyte on all of Dawkins’ factual errors regarding Gilgamesh.)
To help you understand what might be going on here, I have a completely unsubstantiated theory that may or may not be correct. But it should get the point across. [Trigger warning: I’m about to talk about Trump.] I was a never-Trumper at the start. However, I must admit, there are a lot of decisions that he has made these past several years that have made me rethink that stance. But I still can’t handle some of his asinine Twitter comments. So here’s a theory that may or may not be true: What if Trump is making these idiotic comments because it gets the media all up in arms and focusing on Twitter comments, while he is actually getting real work done behind the scenes? From all auspices, his Twitter presence is actually what he is thinking. However, if I were to find out one day that he did this on purpose, I’d give him a long, 80’s slow-clap in props for a job well done. Basically, he creates a shiny red dot that the media chases around which allows him to get real stuff done without them noticing. Again, no clue if this is true or not. If it is, mad props. If not… well… Trump is Trump. But just take it for the sake of analogy here.
If I were to compare this to Dawkins, he could very well be completely unconcerned with sloppy scholarship and poor research. And it’s not because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I may be overestimating what he’s devolved into, but he seems too smart for that. I personally think he knows exactly what he’s doing. The poor scholarship is like Trump’s tweets. It gives something for the naysayers to focus on, all the while ignoring the real impact that is taking place. Like a Dallas atheist that my husband used to debate, he doesn’t care to persuade those “in the know.” His single, solitary goal is to introduce doubt into those who don’t know better. It would seem that Dawkins’ goal is the same. He doesn't care to persuade those 'in the know.' He's already lost them as an audience. His single, solitary goal is to introduce doubt into those who don't know better--kids. @richarddawkins #OutgrowingGod Click To Tweet
2. He is making emotional arguments.
His research is bad because it’s not intended to be actual research. It’s intended to evoke emotion (which it does pretty well, I must say). We discuss Emotionalism in our recent Mama Bear Apologetics book (chapter 10). Emotionalism is basically the exchange of logical reasoning for emotional reasoning as a means for determining truth. It is probably the most popular epistemology in our western culture today (epistemology is the study of how you determine truth). All a person has to do is make vague claims coupled with a lot of emotion, and the whole world pays attention… and then nominates them for a nobel peace prize.
This is the meat of what is going on in Outgrowing God: very effective emotional rhetoric. Dawkins doesn’t make good arguments or fact check his sources because he doesn’t need to. If he can make the reader feel that something is true, the reader is not likely to go do the research to refute his sloppy scholarship. So what are other tactics he is using?
3. He utilizes the steamroller tactic
The steamroller tactic is a way to make it appear that one has won an argument when they haven’t, by presenting so much “evidence” that the listener or reader can’t begin to address it all. In actual scholarship, a person sticks to a few single lines of evidence and then defends them. This makes scholarly rebuttals possible. One can take the shortlist of arguments, find the logical holes, propose an alternate interpretation or theory that utilizes the evidence better, and voila! You’ve got a good scholarly discussion.
A person presented with a bunch of supposed “examples” will feel the weight of the perceived avalanche of “evidence.” Even though these examples are not evidence, the person on the receiving end may interpret them as evidence because the sheer number of examples, which has then turned off their critical thinking. Feeling “overwhelmed” by what seems like a lot of examples shuts down the rational thinking part of the brain and actually triggers the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala). When a person’s amygdala is activated, they have a difficult time thinking things through rationally, which is perfect for someone trying to convince with sloppy scholarship. Why is that? Given enough examples or emotional stories, a person can no longer distinguish between evidence and rhetoric, which masks sloppy scholarship. Who needs it when you've already captured their emotions? #OutgrowingGod @richarddawkins Click To Tweet
4. It is very difficult to fight emotional stories with rational evidence
This is where I think most people underestimate the impact that this book could have if given to young people. The arguments Dawkins makes are just informative enough to sound like evidence and reasoning, without actually being evidence and reasoning. Jesus knew that truths were best conveyed through story (i.e. the parables). Turns out, that’s a pretty good way to embed lies into people’s minds too. Here’s an example from the book describing the sacrifice of Isaac. Picture yourself as a child reading this:
“Imagine that, when you were a child, your father woke you one morning and said, ‘It’s a fine day, how would you like to come with me for a walk in the country?’ You might quite fancy the idea. So off you go for a nice day together. After a while, your father stops to gather wood. He piles it up and you help him because you really enjoy bonfires. But now, when the bonfire is ready to light, something terrible happens. Utterly unexpected. Your father seizes you, throws you on top of the pile of wood and ties you down so you can’t move. You scream with horror. Is he going to roast you on top of the bonfire? It gets worse. your father produces a knife, raises it above his head, and you are now in no doubt. Your father is about to run his knife through you. He’s going to kill you and then set fire to your body: your own father, the father who told you bedtime stories when you were little, told you the names of flowers and birds, your dear father who gave you presents, comforted you when you were afraid of the dark. How could this be happening?
Suddenly he stops. He looks up to the sky with a strange expression on his face, as though carrying on a conversation with himself in his head. He puts away the knife, unties you and tries to explain what has happened, but you are so paraysed with horror and fear that you can scarcely hear his words. Eventually he makes you understand. It was all God’s doing. God had ordered your father to kill you and offer you up as a burnt sacrifice. But it turned out to just be a tease — a test of your father’s loyalty to God. Your father had to prove to God that he loved God so much that he was even prepared to kill you if God ordered him to do so. . . As soon as God saw that your father was really, really, prepared to go through with it, God intervened just in time. Gotcha! April Fool! I didn’t really mean it. Yes, it was a good joke, wasn’t it?” (chapter 4)
There’s not enough theologizing in the world to get that picture out of a kid’s head. And make no mistake, that’s exactly who his intended audience is. His popularity has waned over the years (mainly from making arguments like these to adults) so he’s moved on to a group who are old enough to recognize his name (conferring enough celebrity for them to be interested), but not old enough to know that even his own people (the atheist community) have rejected him and relegated him to the c-list. It’s a little sad when I think about it. He desperately still wants to be relevant. Don’t we all? Jesus knew that truths were best conveyed through story. Turns out, that's a pretty good way to embed lies into people's minds too. #OutgrowingGod Click To Tweet
5. He uses sweeping, matter-of-fact statements that cannot be refuted quickly
People are interested in whether or not a statement is true. It’s just that their capacity to sit through the answer has diminished considerably in our Fortnight, Twitter, Instagram culture. The tactic of saying something casually is that a person is often only willing to listen to a refutation that is as brief and casual as the original claim. When Dawkins throws out a sentence-long claim which would take a dissertation to refute, a person is hardly willing to listen to the dissertation length answer. They move on, but they don’t, however, forget the claim. Instead, these claims start to build up in the head of the listener/reader until they are reinterpreted as evidence. But they are not evidence, they are just unsupported statements. Here’s a few examples from the book (I have the kindle, so anyone with the hardback is welcome to put in the comments the actual page numbers):
“In fact, Adam never actually existed…” (chapter 1)
“We have no more reason to believe [the Old Testament narratives] than we do Homer’s stories about Achilles or Helen. . . The stories of Abraham and Joseph are Hebrew legends, just as Homer’s are Greek legends.” (chapter 2)
“But nobody has the faintest idea who really wrote the gospels. We have no convincing evidence in any of the four cases.” (chapter 2) — I’m sorry, but that’s just patently false.
“It’s a shame people don’t realize it was little more than chance which books got included in the canon and which books were. . . left behind!” (chapter 2) – also false
“[Old Testament] takes us further into the shadowy realms of myth and legend, and biblical scholars don’t take is seriously as history.” (chapter 3) – They don’t? Really?
“As with the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, or King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, there may be some obscure fragments of truth buried in the Pentateuch, but there’s nothing you could call real history.” (chapter 3) — except for all the archeological evidence that keeps verifying historical accounts. You know. Except for that.
Notice how each of these examples are statements that apologists, historians, and theologians have written volumes refuting. But for young people who assume that the author is aware of current scholarship, his dismissive attitude makes it sound like no counterevidence exists. Why would a kid go looking for answers that he/she has been assured don’t exist? They usually won’t. And if they do, they’ll often bore too quickly to fully address the falsity of these statements. Dawkins is purposely introducing doubt with things that have been thoroughly refuted but require too much effort to fully grasp. It’s not that he’s unaware of the evidence. He’s just trying to convince the reader to not go looking for it. Evil genius, but genius nonetheless. The tactic of saying something casually is that a person is only willing to listen to a refutation that is as casual as the original claim. #OutgrowingGod Click To Tweet
So what can parents do?
- Help your kids understand the difference between story and evidence. When children are trained to recognize a story, they can brace themselves for someone trying to get a point across that may or may not be true. A good activity might be to tell a story from two different perspectives — one that leans heavily on making you sympathize with character A and another that makes you sympathize with character B. Show your kids how the same story can be said in different ways to manipulate what they think is true. (Kudos to any moms or dads who want to attempt this and send it to me. Shoot, let’s make it a contest. The best double short story which illustrates this point gets a signed copy of the book, and their story published on the Mama Bear blog. Send them to the contact page.)
- Possible problem: we need to differentiate between historical narratives in the Bible and the parables of Jesus. The parables are a good example of this technique being used for redeeming purposes. It’s totally fine to use stories to get ideas across. We just need to decide if the ideas that are being illustrated are Biblical or not. Or used to manipulate.
- Understand tactics like steamroller technique and examples vs. evidence – The purpose of understanding tactics is to identify when they are being used. That way, a person can say “Oh, this language is intended to be manipulative. I should read a little slower to see if what is being said is evidential or emotional. If it’s emotional, I can admit to myself “This may or may not be true. How does it make me feel? Do I think those feelings are based on truth, or am I reacting to the way the writer has presented the information?” You’d be surprised how far it’ll take your kids just in identifying a tactic. When it’s identified, it takes the teeth out of its persuasive power.
- Possible problem: Just remember, whatever we teach our kids to identify manipulation within the secular arena can equally be applied to things within the Christian arena, and I don’t actually think this is a bad thing. But it is something to be aware of. There are a lot of “techniques” that some churches use to manipulate people’s feelings and bypass their brains. I object to this happening in the church just as much as I do outside the church. However, we need to make sure that we don’t convey the message that emotions are themselves bad and never to be trusted. Again, I recommend the emotionalism chapter in the Mama Bear book. When you can identify the myriad of tactics Dawkins uses here, it takes the teeth out of the book's persuasive power. #OutgrowingGod @richarddawkins Click To Tweet
I hope this gives a brief insight into the psychology of Dawkins’ new book, as well as how some people are being distracted by the laser pointer red-dot (bad scholarship) while ignoring the real purpose and tactics of this book. Dawkins gives examples instead of evidence. When he does give evidence, it’s often factually wrong. He makes casual, sweeping statements that require long rebuttals, and uses emotional storytelling to sway the emotions before the truth of Christ can penetrate the mind. And Christians think he doesn’t know what he’s doing? I disagree.
What do you think? Am I giving him too much credit? Tell me about it in the comments. 🙂
Hillary Morgan Ferrer is the founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. She is the chief author and editor of Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies and Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality: Empowering Your Kids to Understand and Live Out God’s Design. Hillary has her masters in Biology and has been married to her husband, Dr. John D. Ferrer, for 15 years. Don’t let her cook for you. She’ll burn your house straight to the ground.
I think you are spot-on! It made me think of Satan in the Garden— and let’s be blunt, Dawkins is being used by that same enemy. All Satan did was cast doubt in the minds of two people (Adam was there too) who’d taken their eyes off of God and had their focus on their bellies. All of the emotional reasoning came flooding to the forefront of Eve’s mind and she replaced logic (Do I believe God Almighty?) with a well-crafted, emotionally-manipulative story (Did God really say…?). Evil is not stupid and we’re fools to think so. Great article! I’ll be making notes!
A story told from two sides to show how truth can be manipulated is the very battle for our minds and votes in the western political system and the media they control.
For an unorthodox example, may I cite the scene concerning the ex-leper in Monty Python’s Life of Brian? (The script and video are available on the web.) Here’s a leper who was cured by Jesus still trying to eke out a living through begging. He complains that he never asked to be healed and that it has impacted his earnings as a beggar. Brian offers the simple solution of the ex-leper: asking Jesus to return him to his former state. But he doesn’t want that exactly… maybe lame one day of the week to help in the begging, but not leprosy again. Brian gives him half a denarius and the ex-leper complains that this is all he gets for his life story!?! Brian responds with “There’s no pleasing some people!” to which the ex-leper responds “That’s exactly what Jesus said!”
The curing of the ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19) can be cited as the other side of the story, but note that the lepers asked Jesus to have mercy on them, in contrast to the ex-leper’s claim that he never asked to be cured. That only one leper – a he a Samaritan – returned to thank Jesus is emphasized in the text, thus pointing out the ingratitude of the other nine.
The Life of Brian was originally intended to satirize Jesus; the script writers found they could not do that, since Jesus was humble enough that any attempt to ridicule him would reveal themselves as being cruel and despicable. [What would Dawkins say the the beside of a dying child? That this was the natural consequence of the struggle between selfish genes and cells gone rogue (cancer) or infection (bacteria, viruses) in an indifferent universe who vastness of space and time renders human existence inconsequential and irrelevant?] Instead they focused on those who believed that Brian was the Messiah and how their interpretation of his actions became signs and symbols of their belief, dividing them into opposing camps (gourds and shoes) that mirror the denominational divisions of Christianity. The film is instructional in that it points out what invariably happens when we elevate people or doctrine to be something to be worshiped instead of the one, true, triune God.
You get extra points for citing Monty Python. 🙂 I haven’t watched that movie since high school. I should pull it up on Netflix. Hopefully they have it. Thank you for your comments. That is a good perspective.
The mass crucifixion scene at the end is not mocking Jesus’ crucifixion as was decried when “The Life of Brian” was released. It The end scene was a parody of the film, “Spartacus.” For you youngsters out there who aren’t familiar with the film, (My high school senior trip we went to Niagara Falls….And that was when Niagara Falls was brand new) Spartacus was an escaped Roman slave who led a revolt. which ultimately failed but not before creating a lot of death and political havoc for the Roman army. At the end the Roman’s told Spartacus to step forward from the crowd of captured slaves so they wouldn’t all be crucified. Spartacus steps forward and says “I’m Spartacus.
Then one after another the slaves all step forward and declare “I’m Spartacus.”
…”No. I’m Spartacus” It ends with a mass crucifixion scene which is what Python was parodying.
Sorry for the diversion but when 1960s-70s British humor is mentioned I’m like a detonated bomb.
Now, on the post itself, I fully agree about Dawkins M.O. and have also speculated the same about Trump throwing out decoys. There are myriad atheist video blogs on Youtube designed similarly which are downright evangelical in their passion to “save” Christian kids from the evils of God in general and Christianity. And virtually every single one of them (a few possible exceptions) grew up in legalistic Christian homes and churches where questions were not welcome and anti-intellectualism reigned. Just about all of them mentally walked way around 11-13 years old, with virtually zero understanding of how all those Bible stories they learned in Sunday school fit together contextually, all pointing to Jesus. Then they experience hurt of one kind or another and no one is there to help them. Sad thing is, far too many adult Christians who were “born” into church from the youngest age, have always been active in Christian church activities and now are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and older who can’t articulate the Bible theme cogently and communicate it effectively to the world, there now grown and disengaged children and now there grandchildren.
New American Standard Bible
6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. 7 The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who [d]survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash……10 [“All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.”]
I’m working on discipling 3 of my “unchurched” grandchildren, ages 11, 12, and 13. This is due to my own neglect when their parents were kids by my not being spiritual leader in our home. Thus, a generation who have(had) zero point of reference when I tried to introduce them to even the most basic concept of God and the things of God. No matter how basic I tried again and again to be more elementary than the proceeding attempt, I was still talking over their heads…until recently. Now they are responding with “Yeah, that’s like…..” and they run with their own analogies. Problem is, there are only 3 Christian grandparenting ministries in all the Internet and they work together. They do good work in their chosen lane but nothing about introducing their believing grandchildren to basic theology and zero about teaching them apologetically. A much bigger problem I’ve discovered is (and I’ve searched high and low) their is the Internet is absolutely void of anything and any ministry that that addresses the issue of discipling “unchurched” grandkids in any fashion much less introducing the most basic, age appropriate Christian theology (what the story of the Bible actually entails) and why they can be confident it is true.
Sorry for the long post but this is an appalling tragedy. I’ve been working on a ministry to help grandparents with “unchurched” grandchildren disciple their own but realized I first had to figure out how to effectively accomplish the task in my own family before I can offer help and hope to others. As I mentioned, it’s going to be a pioneering endeavor.
Anyone with any interest in this area and/or ideas, I’m open.
“Sorry for the diversion but when 1960s-70s British humor is mentioned I’m like a detonated bomb.” Hahahaha!!!!
When I was an atheist child, I spoke like a child but then I put away childish things… Atheist arguments are meant for emotion, one of them is to be in the cool kids club and to make them feel smart and sophisticated without any work. I was 17-18 and I was saying all the things atheist still say (religion is a crutch, made to control people and to hide from the painful, ugly truth that there is nothingness) I’m 41 now and that was before the internet atheist movement, in other words, I came up with that on my own. My point is how simplistic it is, only after living some life and realizing I don’t know everything and then going on a philosophical journey of reading hundreds of books and actually trying to find Truth no matter where that path took me did I find God. Now I pray not everyone has to go through all that to find God, who is so near to our hearts yet so far from our minds, but the popular delusion that faith and the bible are simplistic and only atheistic materialist philosophies are well thought out is just bunk.
That’s interesting that you came to all the same arguments on your own. Nobody’s ever accused the enemy of being all that creative. Thank you for your testimony. It is valuable.
Curious how adolescent rebellion and questioning the way things are tie in with atheism. All atheism offers is nilhilism and meaninglessness. The number of youth committing suicide – or worse, murdering others with guns and then committing suicide – may well be related to this worldview. But proving that assumption has its problems, one being that the perpetrator is no longer alive to query/analyse. So we blame it on the video games or music rather than the dominant worldview in our society which champions violence and celebrity over compassion, empathy, and valuing the life of every person rather than a select few.
Frederick, YES!!! Nobody wants to look into the worldviews that caused these things! It has to be something tangible, something we can outlaw or censor. Of course I’d also like to mention the prevalence of fatherless homes as a major contributor. I think I saw somewhere that 27 out of the 28 major school shooters in the last few years came from fatherless homes. Dads matter. I know we can’t say causation or correlation right now, but that’s an awfully suspicious statistic.
This is great analysis! Thank you so much for your thoughtful post.
I totally agree- and believe he relies heavily on his position of ‘celebrity authority’, which allows him to hold court on a grand stage without having to answer objections in a meaningful way.
As I read your post, I was disturbed to recognize that his rhetoric about Old Testament irrelevance and mythology has echoes within the church. In the past few weeks, a teacher at my community wide Bible study, missionally founded on Biblical inerrancy, was saying that Genesis was merely a book of theology, an ancient creation myth like all the others, and that a god who would flood the earth is akin to Hitler. I was pretty fired up about it, but also disheartened that in a room of around 150 women, just two of us pushed back. I fear Dawkins would find a broader audience than one would hope. It seems that there is too much biblical illiteracy in the larger church to refute those steam rolling arguments, especially when the pump is primed from within by false teachers.
It’s made me more deliberate in my prayers for discernment and wisdom in the body of Christ!
And I really appreciate your voice of reason.
Peace to you-
I haven’t read Dawkins’ book. You argued that his approach was sloppy. That may be, but that doesn’t give me much of an idea of the arguments he used or (more important) the responses you have that shore up Christianity.
Maybe an idea for a subsequent post?
Bob, I gave you several examples in the article here. His treatment of Gilgamesh, his sweeping statements without evidence (some of which are flat out wrong.)
Thank you! The length and substance of this article are just the right size for a busy mama to share/converse with her 16-year old son who questions everything, including the claims of Christians and atheists alike. (PS – and we are Monty Python fans as well so will definitely use that conversation starter 🙂
Great post! Thanks for giving practical and well summarized thoughts that can be practically used by anyone. I’m in the middle of your book now and look forward to buying it for my sister and other moms 🙂
Point 1: Do parents know exactly what they’re doing when they introduce their children to a worldview in which the consequence of disbelief is burning in hell for all of eternity? Is that not the manipulation of those “who don’t know better”?
Point 2: What type of “emotionalism” is occurring when the emotion of fear replaces a child’s ability to think logically about the idea of hell?
Point 3: The argument from morality, minimal facts, cosmological, ontological, anecdotal, etc… the “evidence” is overwhelming. But really, who needs all of this when you know you’re going to hell if you don’t believe it?
Point 4: His portrayal of the Isaac story bothers you because the story itself should bother anyone who cares about humanity. You’re forced to be Isaac for just a few moments, and it’s horrifying. Empathy is powerful.
Point 5: “Why would a kid go looking for answers that he/she has been assured don’t exist? They usually won’t. And if they do, they’ll often bore too quickly to fully address the falsity of these statements.” You’re right, especially when the trusted adults (parents and church leaders) have provided all of the answers.
Critical thinking requires the ability to think objectively without invested emotion, an ability to turn the tables on yourself and your beliefs, to form a judgement without bias. I’ve not read the book, but it seems to me many Christian apologists use the same exact tactics that you’re accusing Dawkins of using, therefore hindering critical thinking.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It sounds like you had a really scary introduction to hell as a child. I don’t blame you at all for feeling angry if all Christianity had been presented to you as was “Believe this or you’ll burn in hell for eternity!” That definitely is not the spirit of love, reason, and humility that I see happening in the Scriptures, especially with Jesus. Here are some thoughts on each of your points.
Point 1: You’re right. The theology of hell can be presented really badly. I don’t ever remember being afraid of hell as a kid. I think it was presented to me very matter of factly, so the emotional aspect just wasn’t there. I don’t think we can just NOT teach about hell because some people have done it poorly. If the Bible is true, and hell is a reality, then it’s definitely something we’d want to make people aware of. But the whole purpose of Jesus is that he doesn’t want hell for any of us. If we DO in fact have to make a choice, and it really IS 1) Be protected under Jesus or 2) Be separated from God (which does entail hell), then we can’t fight against reality. If it’s not true, then ignore. If it is true, then it’s probably best to understand it.
Point 2: I think you are totally right. I don’t think hell should be presented in such an emotional way, and especially not to children. Again, I believe that it IS possible for a presentation of hell to be done in a way that doesn’t scare children. I know it’s possible, because I have lived it. Again, I am so very sorry for your experience with Christian leaders in the past. I think that it must be very scarring and traumatic, and that is cause to be angry. Jesus was very protective of the children. It makes me angry on your behalf.
Point 3: I still agree. I do think the evidence is overwhelming. That is why I am so thankful that my relationship with God and Jesus is not based on fear, but on truth and love. Again, I am so sorry that the doctrine of hell has overridden everything else.
Point 4: I absolutely agree that the story of Isaac is disturbing. However, if we only stop digging when we encounter our first questions about difficult stories, then they stay difficult. I personally believe that we must push past tough questions for answers. Why did this happen? What was the point? I don’t believe that there are good answers despite evidence to the contrary. I believe there are good answers for tough questions because I’ve learned and experienced so many good answers to tough questions in the past. Because of this repeated exposure, when I encounter a difficult passage in Scripture, THEN I can have faith that this question, too, probably has a good answer. If I did not have repeated exposure to good answers to tough questions, I’d be having blind faith that all the stuff in the Bible “must mean something.” I am thankful that I do not have to have blind faith in that regard.
Point 5: I think your statement is true of Christians in general. I don’t know if I would categorize most apologists in this manner, especially not the ones I’m familiar with. There is a certain branch of “apologetics” that I think does do what you describe, but I won’t name it here. I think you have correctly summarized critical thinking, so I applaud you for that. That is our aim here at Mama Bear. And for what it’s worth, I think I am able to recognize Dawkins’ tactics because I have seen them operate in the church, and it bothers me there too. It bothers me way more when I feel that the tactics are leading people AWAY from truth, but it does bother me either way.
I hope this helps.
I haven’t read Dawkins’ new book, but I have read The God Delusion. I honestly couldn’t believe how bad his arguments were. I actually wish that I still had a copy, so I could let my kids critique them! Some of his arguments in that book could be chalked up to very sloppy thinking (his strange critique of visions comes to mind), but others are based on misrepresentations of the facts that seem intentional. For example, he describes the story in Judges 19 about a woman being raped and murdered in a strange city and uses it as an example of the misogyny of scripture, implying that the Bible condones such actions. However, he included no mention of the last verse in the chapter, which contradicts his point completely: “Everyone who saw it [the body of the murdered woman] said, ‘Such a horrible crime has not been committed since Israel left Egypt. Shouldn’t we speak up and do something about this?’” (Judges 19:30, NLT). The next chapter describes the people of Israel going to war against that city in response to the murder. Is it really likely that Dawkins read the chapter and somehow missed the last verse, leaving him with the impression that every action reported in the Bible is condoned? I think it’s more likely that he misrepresented the story intentionally.
Hillary, thank you for taking the time to respond. I agree that if Christianity is true based on the teachings within the Bible, then hell, as Jesus taught, is a place of eternal torment, an unquenchable fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, the key word is IF. Maybe your experience was different, but in my 30+ years as a Christian, Christianity was never taught as an “if this is true, then…”. It was taught as the Truth by the people I trusted the most, no critical thinking skills required. Further, whether one is traumatized by the concept of hell or not, it stifles a person’s ability to make well-reasoned decisions and judgements regarding belief. How could it not? Virtually the worst thing imaginable is the consequence of disbelief.
I have no problem with children/young adults being taught arguments from all sides. In fact, those arguments should be presented first, and one side should not be presented as the Truth. In other words, one should reason their way into Christianity, making an informed decision based on the evidence presented. Only then have critical thinking skills been allowed to flourish. I know we don’t see eye to eye, but thank you for being such a compassionate person.
Do conservative Christians think critically when they ignore the overwhelming scholarly consensus that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses? But what if these four books are eyewitness sources. Should we believe them? No. Here is why: