The Tentative Apologist
8/17/11 at 07:25 PM 0 Comments

The Edsel of Christianity?

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I have now completed Part II of The End of Christianity, a section which aimed through the essays of Hector Avalos, Jaco Gericke and Valerie Tarico, to establish on biblical grounds why Christianity needs to end. At this point I'd like to take a look back at the section by identifying a set of assumptions that appear to lie behind the three essays and why that set of assumptions fails.

 As a launching point to the discussion I'll begin with a passage courtesy of George Yorgo Veenhuyzen which is quoted by John Loftus in his essay on the alleged wild improbability of Christianity:

"The Lord doesn't work in mysterious ways, but in ways that are indistinguishable from his nonexistence. It seems to me that there is nothing in the Christian scriptures, no sentence, paragraph, or idea, that couldn't be anything more than the product of the humans alive at the time the apparently divinely inspired scriptures and ideas were 'revealed'. Sure, it's possible for a god to reveal himself in an inspired book, and throughout history, in ways that are indistinguishable from the work of human minds and human minds alone. But how probable does that seem to you? The available evidence shows that the Bible is nothing but the cultural byproduct of human invention. There is no divine mind behind it." (Cited in 103)

John summarizes the same thought as the following "wildly improbable" belief: "That even God's supposed revelation in the canonical Bible is indistinguishable from the musings of an ancient, barbaric, superstitious people, the Bible is the word of God anyway." (103)

I take it that there is an appeal being made here to Ockham's Razor: do not multiply entities beyond necessity. Since the origin and final product of the Bible can be explained with respect to human artifice alone, it is unecessary and indeed unjustified to invoke a divine cause to explain its origin. Perhaps the argument is like this:

(1) Christians invoke a divine cause to explain features in the Bible which they believe cannot be explained through human causes alone.

(2) But those features in the Bible can be explained through human causes alone.

(3) If you can explain those features in the Bible through human causes alone you ought to do so.

(4) Therefore, you ought to explain those features in the Bible through human causes alone.

(5) Therefore, Christians ought not invoke a divine cause to explain features in the Bible.

As before, this is my attempt at making an otherwise inchoate form of reasoning clear. If John (or George) would like to offer clarification I invite them to do so. But for now I'm going with the argument in this form.

It is really important to make arguments as clear as possible for it helps us to identify the errors. And that's my intention here: to point out the errors in this argument. I offer this as a friendly critique. Will it be heeded? I don't know. I am sad to say to this point that John has ignored all my extensive commentary on this volume of essays except to say that he thinks I am blind and other choice ad hominems. Nonetheless I press on, hoping that he and his fellow essayists will take this critique into account as they write their next book. (Perhaps they'll call it Breaking the Christian Spell, given that John likes to riff off [as opposed to rip off] popular new atheist titles.)

Anyway enough of that. Let me now turn to the critique.

The Problem with (1)

The first problem is that Christians don't generally accept (1). That is, they do not reason as follows: "Oh, this cannot possibly be explained by human causes alone so I'll believe it is divine." To be sure, some conservative Christian apologists have argued this way. (I don't find such arguments successful at all and critiqued them in Theology in Search of Foundations (Oxford University Press, 2009), chapter 1.) But most Christians accept the inspiration and revelatory status of the Bible on other grounds such as through testimony. As a result, if the atheologian wants to attack the status of the Bible in the Christian doxastic community, he/she will attack the actual processes by which Christians come to believe Scripture is the Word of God rather than focusing on strawmen like (1).

The Problem with (3)

Now for an important question. Why should we accept (3)? Clearly Ockham's Razor is in the background. But there is a problem. As I have pointed out before, Ockham's Razor is not an absolute. We all make judgments about which explanations are justified relative to a background set of beliefs. As I wrote in "Ockham Again":

"Of course everybody wants to be friends with Ockham's Razor. Nobody goes around postulating entities willy nilly simply because they like to. Nonetheless, the problem is that "necessity" is in the eye of the beholder, and that beholder always makes judgments relative to a background set of beliefs. The person who begins as an atheist rather trivially interprets data like the distribution of theistic belief in the world without appeal to a superintending divine intelligence. Obviously necessity is defined differently for the theist."

We do not simply navigate the world by seeking to invoke the smallest number of metaphysical posits possible. Rather, we navigate it by interpreting the world within the background set of beliefs we hold. This involves a complex process by which we seek a reflective equilibrium, revising, rejecting or adopting beliefs as necessary with respect to a number of values including Ockham's Razor.

So it matters little to the Christian that it is conceivable that the Bible was produced through human causes alone. After all, it is also conceivable that I am the only mind that exists. That solipsist thesis is a whole lot simpler than the view that there are billions of minds which interrelate in a universe of staggering complexity and diversity. Yet through it all solipsism is never a live option precisely because Ockahm's Razor is not an absolute.


Let's keep in mind what The End of Christianity part 2 is aiming to do. It is aiming to provide positive arguments based on which Christians should reject Christianity (and others should not accept it). In the former task especially the argument is a failure because it seems focused on developing arguments for atheists rather than for Christians. Sadly, the authors are like a group of automotive designers who designed the car they thought the public should want rather than the car the public would actually buy.

You might call The End of Christianity the Edsel of atheological apologetics.

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