As I prepared to begin phase 2 of my research – examining the truth claims of Christianity and the Bible – I quickly determined that regardless of where my investigation led, these would be my new foundations for belief.
- Truth should withstand scrutiny.
- “Faith” with insufficient evidence as a basis for belief is a liability.
- Minimizing presuppositions is necessary if I hope to discover the truth.
- At a minimum, a just god who punishes is morally obliged to inform transgressors of the requirements ahead of time.
- The burden of proof is on the one making the claim.
Along with the evidence (and lack thereof, in some cases), these ideas would later underpin the reasons “Why I’m Not a Christian” (WINC).
How does one discern truth among a multitude of mutually-contradictory (religious) claims? By challenging them. By requiring evidence before accepting any. All scientific-like.
“Truth should withstand scrutiny.” This became my mantra. It defined the approach of my research.
I was going to go for the jugular. If Christianity is true, and God is good, and I am made in his image, and he wants me to know him, then he should want me to know it, and I have good reason to expect that its claims should withstand rigorous examination.
Faith is a Virtue?
I could accept that, if the Christian God hypothesis is true, that a faith that “fills in the gaps” could be acceptable, or even virtuous. But faith without evidence, as a foundation for belief, won’t cut it. That would leave me open to believing all kinds of falsehoods.
Such a faith would be blind faith. Credulity. Gullibility.
Not a virtue.
As I explained in Why I Was a Christian, I had presupposed both God’s existence, and revelation to man. This would not do any longer.
In my experience, Christians are prone to claiming that (1) they presuppose the existence of God or a god, whereas (2) atheists presuppose that there is no god. Therefore we reasoned that the former was acceptable, and even virtuous; whereas the latter was a jump to a conclusion, and borne out of rebellion.
Christians who presuppose God’s existence are assuming (at least a large chunk of) their conclusion. In reading what well-researched atheists and deconverts from Christianity have to say for themselves, I’ve come to find that, in general, they didn’t make such an assumption. They just evaluated the Christian God claims, and found them unsupportable in some cases, and demonstrably false in others.
In any case, here was (and is) my take on it:
- Maybe a deity (or deities) exist.
- If so, maybe he/she/it has revealed him/her/itself to us. Maybe not.
- (Or maybe they have revealed themselves…)
- If no such revelation has occurred, then humanity would not yet have the answers to things neither revealed nor yet discovered–especially as it pertains to the origin of the cosmos and human sentience.
- There is definitely a “how” we got here. There may or may not be a “why”, i.e. an external purpose from a sentient being(s).
Presuppositionalism is a lazy, dishonest shortcut. I aim to only presuppose things that are necessary for intelligibility, like the existence of the external world, and logic. But I think maybe these things are not even presuppositions at all, as they are borne out by the evidence.
Required to Inform
At a minimum, a just god who punishes is morally obliged to inform transgressors of the requirements ahead of time. Even the apostle Paul tries to claim that everyone has been informed (Rom 1:19-20). He just doesn’t offer any evidence for his unfalsifiable claim.
Would someone challenge my claim? Maybe based on the legal principle that “ignorance of the law does not excuse“. On the contrary, I contend that this non-universal principle is in place to avert a graver injustice – that of a guilty perpetrator feigning ignorance to wrongfully escape conviction. It is the best effort of humans to work within our own finiteness. An omniscient, omnipotent deity could ensure that we’re all informed of the requirements (like Paul suggests he has), and he could provide proof that we have such knowledge (which Paul didn’t). Therefore the principle does not apply in this situation.
Perhaps – or probably – a compelling case can be made that there are no circumstances under which eternal punishment for finite crimes by finite beings is justified (whether by torture or annihilation). But I didn’t need to go there, at least not yet. The above was enough for me to proceed to examine the evidence. I could circle back if need be.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof is on the one making the claim. This is the justified rule in debates. It is how we discern between competing, mutually exclusive claims.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (Carl Sagan)
“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchens’ razor.)
I pretty much formulated the thoughts in the first paragraph on my own, before digging into my research. And I came across the two quotes rather early on in the process.
Threshold of Evidence
Some believers may not believe me (ha!), but I planned to – and I feel like I did – give Christian truth claims the benefit of the doubt, to a reasonable extent. As I mentioned when embarking on my research:
I’m not expecting to find proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”. I’m just hoping that the “preponderance of evidence” leans one way or the other.
Having given some thought to my approach, I proceeded to focus on the research itself. Lots of reading (sources with multiple perspectives), watching and listening to debates (especially on the historicity of the alleged resurrection of Jesus), and reading and commenting on others’ blogs ensued.
1. Not that I listed them at the time, and it’s not necessarily a comprehensive list…
2. If I didn’t give them the benefit of the doubt, then I might have dismissed them out of hand, as most of us do with the vast majority if not all of the world’s religions.
3. For the most part, I did not post here on my own blog as I researched. Hazards of being an introvert?