Introduction to Evidence Considered

This is an excerpt from the Introduction of Evidence Considered: A Response to Evidence for God (available here). Over the coming weeks, I will be posting a few sample chapters, building up to the release of the full book.

I was a Christian for more than three decades. I had the usual questions and experiences but held fast through them all. The feeling of struggling to understand the Bible or of feeling like your prayers go nowhere is somewhat familiar to Christians, I think. But I held on because I believed that there was convincing evidence for the claims of the Bible. I believed that people had witnessed Jesus alive again and then gone on to be tortured to death, rather than admit that they had not seen him. I read, I studied, I led Bible study groups, I went to church, and I prayed despite the long, dark nighttime of the soul. I was determined to be the “good and faithful servant.”

One day in the middle of 2015, a question popped into my head: What do atheists make of the evidence for the resurrection? I had read many popular books by atheists but felt that none of them adequately addressed that question specifically. Of course, such books exist, and with the internet, it was easy enough to find them.

I was unafraid of the truth. I was sure that I would find the gaping holes in their arguments, and the cognitive dissonance that atheists must have to hold their worldview together. I was convinced that my faith would only get stronger as a result of this study. It rocked my world to discover that within a couple of months I was ready to become an atheist. It shocked me, even more, to find out that I had a greater sense of contentment than I had ever had before. The journey from one to the other was disquieting at first, and so I started to write. After all, Christianity had been a large part of my identity.

Many atheists dismiss religion on general grounds, saying for instance that the atheist and the Christian are both atheists when it comes to the vast majority of religions (Ra, Jupiter, Odin, etc.), but the Christian suddenly loses their skepticism when it comes to this one set of claims. Whatever the merits of this approach are, I have not followed it here. The issue is that it causes the two sides not to engage with each other. Christianity is the dominant religion of the culture in which I live, and so I wanted to tackle Christian arguments directly, robustly and with integrity.

I expect that most Christians will agree with most of what I have said, that some Christians will agree with all of it, and that nearly all Christians will agree with some of it. Christians should welcome a close and critical examination of apologetic arguments as part of their search for the truth. As Peter exhorted (1 Peter 3:15), they should be ready “to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

One of the benefits of writing is the opportunity to read and learn. A book that grapples with these issues is the collection of essays edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona entitled Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science. I am open to evidence, and so I read this book closely and with fascination. I admire the quest for truth and the broad scope of apologetics that it covers: it took me on a journey deep into areas that I had not considered before. However, as I worked through it, reading and learning as I went, I realized that I wanted to bring my own thinking to bear on these questions. I do not seek to belittle or attack the writers, nor to critique Evidence for God, but rather to test their arguments and findings.

Of course, to be a Christian, you need only to find one argument convincing. But you do need at least that. So my hope is that this book will help you to refine your thinking and take you into areas that you have not necessarily considered either.

Evidence for God contains four sections:

  1. The question of philosophy;
  2. The question of science;
  3. The question of Jesus; and
  4. The question of the Bible.

Each section contains essays by various apologists. I have mirrored that structure in this book. In each chapter I summarize the argument made in Evidence for God, quoting frequently (with the kind permission of the publisher) to try to ensure that I am not responding to a straw man of the argument. I have included sufficient detail so that it is not necessary to have read Evidence for God. I have not shied away from any of their arguments but wrestle with each in turn. Even if a particular chapter’s topic does not interest you, you may find my response reveals a new facet for you. If it does not, feel free to skim or skip, as each chapter is self-contained, and I reference other chapters where necessary.

Even with 50 arguments, several major reasons for belief remain uncovered. For example, a personal experience of God, or the existence of the church. I discuss these and an overview of the argument from nature in the fifth section. A personal experience, in particular, is the reason most Christians I have spoken with choose to believe, even in the face of other evidence, which is why I wanted to be sure to cover this topic. This book attempts to show why I am unconvinced by any of these arguments.

For many people, their religion is tied up with their lives, families, friends, and identity. Even to think of abandoning their faith is uncomfortable. In my own life, I realized that I was censoring my thinking at least partly because of this, so I can hardly criticize anyone else for it. But I hope that you can read this book with an open (though critical) mind and that it helps you in your quest for the truth.

I want to make a brief comment on the term atheist and the concept of certainty. Atheists are often vilified as a group or counted among the religious. The word “godless” is synonymous with debauched and evil. But atheists are simply people who are not theists. There is nothing more to it, and therefore, though people can, of course, choose to define their own labels, everyone is either a theist or an atheist. If your answer to the question “is there a god?” is yes, then you are a theist; if it is anything else, you are an atheist. Atheists do not universally adopt this definition, but it will suffice for my purposes. Whatever definition you use, no atheist of whom I am aware accepts a definition in which God is rejected on principle or as a matter of faith. The usual consensus of atheists is that there is insufficient evidence to accept god; for many (perhaps most) this goes beyond god to include the supernatural more broadly.

Many people choose the term agnostic. But, by my definition, an agnostic is either a theistic agnostic or an atheistic agnostic. The former believes there is a god, but that his/her/its nature cannot be known (many Christians believe this on some level when you dig a little); the latter believes the question of the existence of god is undecidable in principle. In this sense, the agnostic makes an assertion about the unknowability of god that goes beyond the theist-atheist dichotomy. Many atheists are skeptical of the agnostic’s ability to know what is knowable.

Most people who use the term agnostic today mean that they personally do not know about god, not that god is unknowable in principle. This definition is equivalent to the defining position of an atheist, which is “I am not persuaded that there is a god.” However, the connotations are that agnosticism is less threatening than atheism, with the former having a subtext of “I do not want to talk about it,” while the latter is seen as more antagonistic to the religious. However, there is no belief associated with atheism; rather a lack of one. Note “atheism,” not “atheist” in the preceding sentence—people may have all manner of beliefs. My point is that those beliefs are not strictly part of their atheism. Some atheists actively believe that there is no god, but this is a stronger position. Most atheists will agree that such a statement cannot be proven. But the burden of proof is on the theist, so if the theist’s evidence does not convince you, you should be an atheist, at least if you wish to be rational.