Recently I wrote:
“Few of the skeptics in the above mentioned magazines have theological training. While Dawkins, Dennett, Harris excel in their respective fields of expertise, their writing often shows they lack theological training.”
A reader asked me this:
Considering the fact you’re an atheist, I find it difficult to comprehend why you feel “theological training” is important. If we are in agreement that The Bible is not in any way inerrant, whether it concerns Genesis or Jesus, then why should the faculty of theology hold any weight whatsoever? If The Bible is nothing more than another book, despite its indisputable importance to literature down the centuries, I struggle to see why we should need to be schooled in theology before being able to dismiss it as just that. Should we all have an in-depth knowledge of Scientology before attacking it for the depraved sham that it is? Should I waste valuable time reading through each pamphlet I receive from the Mormons before debunking it as nonsense?
Theology matters because the vast majority of people in the world have theological beliefs. If the skeptic community is going to effectively reach religious people then they must be conversant in that which they criticize.
I subscribe to every skeptic/atheist/humanist magazine that is available in the U.S. Every issue there are multiple articles about religion, mostly about Christianity, and every issue there is an author that shows they are long on criticism and short on knowledge. Sometimes, I think they do what skeptics deplore, a Google search, end of research. There was a commenter on this blog who used to do that all the time. The depth of his “knowledge” about Christianity was as deep as what could be typed into a search field. As an atheist, I was embarrassed by his ill0informed rants about Christianity.
I am not suggesting that someone must have a theology degree before criticizing Christianity. However, skeptics routinely dismiss Christian critics by challenging their training, degrees, etc. How dare the Christian critique the scientist, scholar of professor. They don’t have sufficient training to do so.
Yet, the same is true when skeptics criticize Christianity. Christianity is treated as a shallow, simplistic system of thought that any idiot can understand in 15 minutes. In what other school of thought do we allow such a thing? If a person is going to be a critic of Christianity then they must sufficiently educate themselves about that which they criticize.
That’s why people like Dan Barker, John Loftus, and yours truly are in a better position to criticize Christianity. We have the training, the background, and are conversant in Christianese, especially Evangelical Christianese. Evangelicals may vehemently disagree with us BUT they KNOW we KNOW and I suspect that is what upsets them the most.
Now I know where my educational shortcomings lie. That’s what you will not see me get into certain debates and arguments. I don’t have sufficient training and I don’t like looking like a fool so I stay out of some debates and arguments. When it comes to science, I leave it to those who are trained in the sciences. When it comes to Christian church history and the languages of the Bible, I leave it to scholars and experts like Bart Ehrman or Elaine Pagels. (I have a lot of training in Christian history and some in the original languages but I would never suggest I am an expert on these subjects)
I wish that some critics of Christianity would do the same. They may be brilliant scientists but it is evident that their understanding of Christianity is lacking. Better to leave the criticism of Christianity to those who have a background in it and focus on the things you have expert knowledge about.
Years ago, an old man and his “son” walked into our church asking for money. They needed to buy a bus ticket, or so they said. The old man said he was a preacher and my father-in-law gave him some money. I told my father-in-law that I thought the old man scammed him. He asked, “how do you know that?” I said, “Look at the Bible he is carrying. It is a 3.95 Sunday School give-away Bible. Do you know of ANY preacher who carries a cheap, cardboard, give-away Bible?” Preachers are known for their leather bound, expensive Bibles. I always used Oxford Bibles. Top of the line. The Bible was a tool of my trade.
More than a few critics of Christianity remind me of the old man with the cheap Bible. Yes, they have a rudimentary understanding of Christianity BUT their arguments (and rants) show a lack of true understanding and depth. Since it is unlikely that they will get additional training, the skeptic community would be better served if they refrained from criticizing Christianity unless they absolutely had to.
Let me be clear, I am not suggest for one moment that people NOT share their experiences with Christianity. This is a whole other genre in the critique of Christianity. Personal stories are vitally important and many people are drawn to this blog for this very reason. My story resonates with them. However, my personal story, which shows the “effects” of Christianity, is not he same as criticizing the specific teachings of Christianity,
I also wrote:
“…the whole knowledge thing seems to be a one way street”
A reader stated:
The scientific method does not have an agenda. It slowly, but surely reveals the fabric of reality as it is, “Nature is there, and she’s gonna come out the way she is. And therefore when we go to investigate it we shouldn’t pre-decide what is it we’re trying to do, except to find out more about it.” ~Richard Feynman What point is there in wasting precious academic resources learning more about gods that don’t exist? Knowledge is a one way street, and on the journey along that street we out grew our primitive first interpretations of the world around us.
While the scientific method does not have an agenda, scientists do. To suggest that men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris don’t have an agenda is ludicrous. In fact, I would say most science is driven by some form of agenda or another.
There is this fanciful notion that science is this this pure, virgin pursuit untainted by the machinations of men. Virtually every science article I read shows the folly of such a belief. Scientists are hired by companies who have an agenda. Scientists work at labs and universities that have an agenda. Agendas are everywhere you look.
And that is OK. All of us are agenda driven. None of us are unbiased or neutral. This whole notion that a person can pursue the truth in a bias-free, agenda-free vacuum is not rooted in reality. This might be a grand objective for all of us to aspire to but we are humans and we have biases and agendas. That is just how it is.
Now, I certainly think the reader is right in suggesting that we should not start with a conclusion and then find evidence that fits the conclusion. True, honest, inquiry requires a person to follow the evidence wherever it leads. I like to think that is why I am an atheist today. I didn’t start out with the idea that I wanted to become an atheist. I just wanted to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and in doing this I was set on a path that led from Evangelicalism to Liberal Christianity to Agnosticism and finally to Atheism. This is not a path I would have willingly chose.
Most of the criticism of Christianity is agenda driven. To think that people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Barker, John Loftus, or even myself, are agenda free is laughable.
We have an ax to grind. We don’t like what Christianity has done to the world we live in. We don’t like how Christianity has affected us individually and the people we love. How could we NOT have an agenda.
Let’s face it…….most of what Christians believe really doesn’t matter. Why should an atheist care one bit about a person’s religious beliefs? As long as those beliefs are kept private and personal, who gives a shit?
Of course, the problem is that Christians (and Muslims) are heaven-bent on forcing everyone to believe like they do, obey their holy book, and live according to their moral and ethical standard. Because of this, we must forcefully criticize Christianity. If Christians would take their beliefs and retreat to the privacy of their home and church house, people like me would have little to write about. However, Christians are insistent on shoving their beliefs down everyone’s throat. They want the Bible to be the civil law book. They want sectarian prayer in school. They want their views on matters like abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex and the like taught in the public schools. They want to teach creationism as science. They want a Christian nation, owned and operated by Christians according to the Christian Bible. (and yes I know all Christians don’t think this way)
And so we fight and it is an agenda driven fight.
I do appreciate the comments of this reader. I hope my response is in some way helpful.