Sunday, September 14, 2008

Debunking Skeptianity

We have received some contact asking what we've been up to and I thought we'd fill ya in.

It all started when Rachel -- she's always getting us into trouble ;-) -- got involved at an anti-Christian blog known as Debunking Christianity (DC). Many of their arguments are based on outrage, over generalization, and blatant ignorance/misrepresentation of what they critique.

Sadly, many well intentioned Christians respond with arguments that are also weak and unwittingly give an undue appearance of validity to many of the skeptic's arguments. We (especially Rachel) have been engaged in debates with skeptics for years and have been in the line of fire by those who are best described as "skeptic-fundies" (SFs) -- those who make absurd statements such as "If God was standing right in front me I still wouldn't believe -- I'd assume I was hallucinating" or "Even if all the evidence pointed to a divine creator we would reject that conclusion because it's not naturalistic." Exposing this kind of rabid fundamentalism -- the kind that essentially states it would reject a conclusion that doesn't align with it's preconceptions -- is where we are currently investing our resources. While we hope otherwise, we are sadly convinced that anyone who has hardened their minds against even the evidence of a direct manifestation of God have committed intellectual suicide. Ironic that they do so in the name of holding the intellect in such high regard.

Some who engage in such bravado do so to elevate their status among fellow skeptics and/or as a psychological step in convincing themselves they really believe it. There are many others who lurk (or rarely post) who have not yet sacrificed their intellect. Some of these are sincere Christians looking for answers to their honest questions and are getting unsatisfactory answers from their peers and spiritual leadership. Others are genuinely undecided and are looking in to determine which side is most convincing. It is this group of groups, which is statistically much larger than the SF group that makes most of the noise, that we believe we can sway. It is this group of groups that retains some degree of intellectual honesty that we think possible to win by demonstrating that the SF claims are almost entirely repackaged, age-old, weak objections which have equally age-old and solid responses.

We don't seek confrontation, yet for the sake of winning those who are on the brink of converting to SF ideology we are increasingly willing to hold the line and push back.

Our current effort has been to prepare curriculum for a 12-week series on apologetics at our church. This series goes beyond sound-bite apologetics; we point out weak arguments frequently used by Christians as well as the weak claims the skeptics use. The goal is to equip Christians to recognize that SFs prey on ignorance and rely heavily on poor logic, poor scholarship, and bald assertion to support their claims.

Pray for us in this endeavor; it's past time for this generation of Christians to take ownership of its own beliefs rather than sticking its head in the sand and hoping the SFs will go away.


  1. Hey Stephen,

    Thanks for the update! It's good to hear about your new ministry. I'll be praying for your efforts. I noticed the links to Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig. These two men were both very helpful in my research on the groundless gospel - both brilliant and solid scholars.


  2. Thanks for the note JP, we are excited about this. We've been engaged in apologetics on a personal level for years but it's time now to pass on our experience to others.

    William Lane Craig is a favorite of mine. In particular, I was introduced to the Kalam Cosmological Argument through WLC. I wasn't convinced of the KCA myself at first but I've read many attempts by skeptics to debunk it that utterly failed. Seeing that skeptics were having such trouble dealing with the KCA honestly caused me to reconsider it and now I'm a believer.

  3. Hi Stephen:

    Glad you were able to post this article. Always enjoy your participation in the discussions.


  4. Hi lou,
    some of us "skepticians" point out that the bible violates rational principles. For example, you invest a lot of time, effort and energy into an ideology that is derived from a poor information source (according to data quality principles of course).
    for example, if you think about what your teacher required from you in terms of sources for your research papers, then you wouldn't be able to use the bible as a source of information for much except for the abrahamic god (because it is the original) and even for that it is a poor quality source of information. We have every right to say that based on higher quality sources of information, there's no reason to trust most anything in the bible since it violates principle of information quality.

    here are some criteria for quality information sources:
    the most obvious violations are
    - the authors are unknown,
    - we don't know what version we have,
    - they make claims that contradict established natural laws
    - make claims that contradict established principles
    - Does not fit with what you observe, or already know
    - Does not have support else where. in other words does not have reliable corroboration
    - it Is not internally consistent.

    While you and your congregation are comfy cozy with your brand of christianity, I don't think you'd be so comfy in some other denomination. Why do you think that is? They interpret the data in a different way that you don't agree with. Why is that? Are they evil? Stupid? no. The problem is the data source. The bible is incoherent.

    The reason the bible is incoherent is that the authors and compilers did not use any principles of information quality, therefore christianity turned out to be the interpretive mess that it is.

    therefore of dubious veracity.
    simple as that.

  5. Uh, not sure why you addressed that to Lou specifically -- considering he pretty much just said "hi" to me.

    Other than that your post is mostly grenades of unsubstantiated assertion and little substance -- typical SF.

    If you'll be specific we can have dialogue, "You can only go so far on [that other stuff]".

    This isn't DC so keep it clean.


  6. sorry stephen, my bad, and I always keep in clean, you can verify for yourself on DC. I avoid using profanity on DC. What you are referring to is in my profile.

    would you mind quoting or cut and pasting what it is you find unsubstantiated and we can start there?

  7. Stephen:

    Err, uhh, mmm...

    I think I know what he is getting at, which appears to be calling into question what may in part be the Inspiration of Scripture.

    Maybe it is the (Rush) Limbaugh Letter that has him flummoxed.

    Maybe he has been to my blog.

    Anyway, I'm going to leave any interaction with him on your plate. Not interested here because for me this has the Matthew 7:6 signs all over it.

    Kind regards,


  8. Hi all,
    i've got the lou-stephen thing worked out.

    lou, that mat. 7:6, if I understood you right, is not much of a vote of confidence for stephen. It sounds like you want to shut down the dialogue. Or do I have a misconception?

  9. Mornin' fellas, been busy preparing lessons and debating my brother on the upcoming election. :-)

    Lou, we believe it's necessary to engage the skeptic directly at times to keep our arguments fresh, honest, and intellectually effective. A key reason for us doing a class in the first place is the realization that many Christians have been given, and been giving, weak answers to our kids and each other that actually play into skeptics' hands. Answers like "you just gotta have faith" are intellectually offensive and should never be our response, particularly to outsiders. (I'm not saying that's your response, but it is sadly common). 1 Pet 3:15 instructs us "to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you". The word "defense" (Apologia) can be defined as "a reasoned statement or argument". Saying "you just gotta have faith" doesn't meet that standard.

    True, there does come a time when it's apparent the args are falling on deaf ears and it's probably best to move on at that point, but it won't be before we make an attempt at conveying a reasoned answer.

    Rachel and I have debated skeptics for years. It was a bit intimidating at first but as we grew it was soon revealed that the arguments against God/Christianity just aren't that scary. Rachel is by far the more adept of the two of us irt handling skeptical arguments but I'm coming into my own now that we've started these classes. I'd label myself a Rotweiller Puppy in that I've "dabbled" in the debate and have some proven potential but I'd place Rachel somewhere between Eagle Scout and Kung Fu Master -- she gives people a fair shake, but she knows her stuff and when she DOES strike, watch out.

    Lee, I don't want to put you off but I posted this article mostly to let our Internet friends and foes -- people like Lou, JP, and others -- know what we've been up to and why our blog has been so silent of late. That said, the things that have kept us away are still going on -- namely Rachel is already engaging at DC when she can and collectively we're preparing for our classes. I am not dismissing you but do want you to know that I may well go days without responding as I have a deadline on lesson prep but no deadline on blog posting. :-) I'll be around, just letting you know my responses won't likely be quick.

    Regards, Stephen

  10. Hi Lee,

    I see you followed me over here like Scott did. :-) Thanks for stopping by.

    Stephen wasn't able to check with me before his first comment to you :-), so I'll vouch for you that you rarely use profanity on these blogs that I've seen. Actually, most of DC is pretty clean, one reason why I don't mind keeping up over there.

    The thing with your "quality information sources" is simply a matter of expectations and possibilities. The Bible is an ancient document, not a modern internet source, so our levels of what we would see as "quality" are vastly different.

    One thing I find somewhat frustrating with skeptics is that they tend to use broad, sweeping generalizations that are difficult to explain without lengthy discussions on each detail. For instance, just ONE of the items on your list is that the authors are unknown. Good grief man, many books have been written about just ONE of the authors of the Bible (Moses), let alone the NT authors! Do you seriously expect for anyone to provide a quality rebuttal to each and every one of those items on a blog?

    Nevertheless, just for fun, I'll give your "obvious violations" a brief overview.

    - the authors are unknown

    Nope, we're pretty confident about 99% of the Bible's authors. There are specific tests for authorship of ancient documents, and we can and do perform those tests on the books of the Bible.

    - we don't know what version we have

    Oh please. Let's see, copy of Isaiah matches with copy of Isaiah from 1000 YEARS earlier almost word-for-word. Ancient oral tradition was very reliable and copyists have proven to very reliable as well, as every scrap of the Bible that has been found have all matched with what we have VERY closely. Certainly no major doctrines are anywhere close to being affected. See my recent discussion with Toby about this over at DC.

    - they make claims that contradict established natural laws

    So? That doesn't disqualify it in and of itself, unless of course you have a naturalistic presupposition. And I don't see how miracles constitute a "contradiction" of natural laws. Jesus walked on water - we make boats that float on water too. Just because we can't do it doesn't mean it "contradicts" natural law. OTOH, evolution doesn't fare so well in this category...

    - make claims that contradict established principles

    How is this different from the above?

    - Does not fit with what you observe, or already know

    I can't think of anything besides miracles in the Bible that doesn't fit with what I observe or already know (evolution doesn't do too hot here either). So unless you can give examples of something different than that, then this is the same as the last two.

    - Does not have support else where. in other words does not have reliable corroboration

    Bzzt. Early historians, church fathers, creation/flood myths throughout the world, Tel Dan, etc. You might complain about some specific item not having support elsewhere, but there's a heck of a lot of outside support for much of the Bible.

    it Is not internally consistent

    Yes it is. Every attempt I've ever heard to show otherwise has failed miserably, and the skeptic usually resorts to saying that God doesn't exist anyway so there. Which has nothing to do with whether or not the Bible is internally consistent.

    P.S. Lou, regarding Matt. 7:6, I'm sure Lee knows that I'm not writing for him, as he is not writing for me. We both write for the fence-sitters, the ones with questions, the lurkers, the readers. Granted there's probably not too many of those over here, but for me it's a chance to test and sharpen my beliefs and arguments.

  11. Hi Rachel,
    nice place you have here.
    you are a gracious host thank you. I'll be a gracious guest.

    I had a lot to say, but I really don't have the time to do extended debates elsewhere. I just get a google alert and go see what its all about and sometimes make a comment, like i did here.

    forgive me if I attribute a belief to you that you don't have. There are so many christians and so much variety and combinations its hard to keep it straight.

    One thing I find somewhat frustrating with skeptics is that they tend to use broad, sweeping generalizations that are difficult to explain without lengthy discussions on each detail.
    I think the same thing about you all!

    All I have to say in a nutshell is that I am sure your position is well thought out, but I question the scope and quality of information you use. I was an apologist once as well.

    to succinctly answer your response, and then go back to my hole....
    - the best scholarship you have says that moses was the author of the pentateuch? how did he write about his own death and afterwards. He is TRADITIONALLY believed to be the author, and Moses cannot be verified as being more than a legend. Biblicaly authorship are traditionally attributed people, of whom some of them may or may not have existed.

    - a thousand year old copy of isaiah, may or may not be identical with no appreciable theological differences, but that doesn't mean it is factual. Many of the events in the bible have not turned out to be verifiable when the evidence is reviewed. Jericho's destruction comes to immediately to mind. Folklore is folklore no matter how well its copied.

    - When was the last time you saw a miracle or have seen one verified in the last thousand years or so? There is no reliable evidence of any precedent. One presumed precedent after another falls by the wayside under careful scrutiny. The shroud of turin comes to mind. To not have naturalistic presupposition would necessitate having a reason to overturn it.

    - Claims that contradict established principles such as god not nurturing adam like a schoolboy when it was clearly warranted given his lack of worldly experience. Or setting up circumstances such that only a blood sacrifice would reconcile humans to god. The violated principles here are education, remediation, and forgiveness, and letting the punishment fit the crime.

    - Early historians had poor tools, technology and were developing the principles that later historians use. Church fathers are hardly objective, and it looks like the hebrew flood myth is a variation of others. Sumeria, the area around present day and the nile both flooded terribly and ruined a lot of parties. At the end of the last ice age, the coasts shrank by about 200 meters all over the world.

    - You are clearly ignoring or equivocating biblical errancy. There are two thelogies in Genesis one and two and two creation myths. But since you don't buy into any form of the documentary hypothesis, you'll dismiss this out of hand. The gospels don't agree on a whole slew of details. There are more, of course, but as you say, fields of study have been made over this, and I'm just a guy with a day job.

    Thank you for you time, patience tolerance and I promise I won't use any foul language at DC, and since I endorse professionalism, even in a blog, I will do my best to make DC a PG rated blog so you all won't feel uncomfortable with the language (at least, if not the concepts!).

    Chance be with you

  12. ooops,
    Sumeria, the area around present day and the nile both flooded terribly and ruined a lot of parties.
    that was supposed to say "present day kuwait"

  13. Hello Lee, I'll take a stab at some of that.

    lee: "how did he write about his own death and afterwards."

    He didn't, A very reasonable explanation is that someone else wrote that to close out his writing. Regardless, it has no direct impact on the reliability of the other information. i.e. questioning "who wrote x" is entirely different than questioning "what x wrote". Or, Casting doubt on the specific author is insufficient cause to fundamentally doubt the content itself.

    lee: "Many of the events in the bible have not turned out to be verifiable when the evidence is reviewed."

    Not verifiable is different than not factual. The fact that the later copies are so accurate over such a long time is strong testimony to the care taken to relay the information accurately.

    lee: "When was the last time you saw a miracle or have seen one verified in the last thousand years or so?"

    They weren't common in biblical times either so this is an objection from an unreasonable expectation. The overwhelming number of people who did live then didn't see them either. So why would you think that you or I not seeing one personally is some great shocker?

    lee: "The violated principles here are education, remediation, and forgiveness, and letting the punishment fit the crime."

    1) I don't see a violation of the necessary principles you listed.
    2) What's your objective basis for determining that these principles are inviolable? I'm not necessarily disagreeing but if you think violation of these principles is so terrible you'll need to provide an objective basis for your moral judgment.

    lee: "Early historians had poor tools, technology and were developing the principles that later historians use"

    Poor tools + poor technology != poor results. You'll need to be more specific for this to be a meaningful objection.

    The accuracy of transmission in the aforementioned scrolls bears testimony that the ancients faired pretty well without our new fangled toys. :-)

    lee: "There are two thelogies in Genesis one and two and two creation myths."

    Assertion and well-poisoning in one sentence, way to work that in there.

    lee: "The gospels don't agree on a whole slew of details."

    You realize you'll need to provide a specific example before such a vague objection can be taken seriously, right?

    Lee, I appreciate your verbal cleanliness and patience in waiting for my reply. I've got a day job too.