Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Claim Check: Introduction

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

In Reality Check, Ernie suggests that

... Alan's critique of Christianity appears (key word: appears) to be largely orthogonal to my defense of Christianity. That is, it seems almost (key word: almost) as if we could each grant each other's basic arguments -- and facts -- yet still not resolve the underlying question.

In particular, Alan's two favorite arguments against Christianity appear to be:

  1. The Bible we use today is an imperfect document created by fallible human beings
  2. The Biblical description of Hell is incompatible a rational understanding of Justice


On my side, my basic claim is that Christianity -- as a theory -- provides better explanation of observed phenomena (which I trust Alan will allow to include retrodiction as well as prediction) than atheism. However Alan -- again, as far as I can tell -- appears willing to concede that the "idea of God" may well provide all the salutary effects I claim for it, but still argues that this does not constitute empirical support for Christianity.

That strikes me as a fairly reasonable summary of where we are. (My statement about the Bible would be a bit stronger, but I will return to that in a moment.) Ernie suggests that we each take some time to "spell out our core rationales for why we each prefer our belief system to the other's." I am agreeable to that.

I will start with a list of arguments, without elaboration. In later posts, I will elaborate as it seems helpful.

I assert:

  1. That (some) Biblical authors, beyond being imperfect and fallible, were actively dishonest
  2. That the historical record contained in the Bible is insufficient to warrant belief in the critical events on which Christianity rests
  3. That eternal damnation is unjust and contrary to the supposed character of God; further, that alternate conceptions of hell are ad hoc rationalizations.
  4. That the history of Christianity and of Judaism before it is best explained as a purely human development, evolving primarily due to cultural and political influences.
  5. That Christianity does not offer a reliable method for separating truth from error
  6. That subjective experiences offered as evidence of God's intervention in our lives are common to otherwise contradictory belief systems, and so are not evidence of the truth of any of them.
  7. That Christians have throughout history engaged in evil due to their flawed understanding of reality, and especially because of the supposed ultimate authority of their God. This continues today.
  8. That Christianity promotes submission to authority at the expense of personal responsibility and critical thinking.

I may think of something else tomorrow, but that is at least a good starting point. Please keep in mind that these are only brief statements. I can anticipate some objections, and perhaps if I were sufficiently skilled, I could avoid them here. Instead, I will try to respond to them as I flesh these out.

Now, I can imagine a belief system that is (in my opinion) vaguely Christian but which sidesteps these objections. This system would accept these flaws as being part of humanity's slow and often confused process of discovering God. Even so, I think there is insufficient positive evidence for such a position, and that agnosticism is the more appropriate response.

If both Ernie and I are simply going to take a few posts to elaborate on our core rationales for our preferred belief systems, I am not sure that strict alternation of posts is really necessary. I may just charge ahead as time permits, unless Ernie prefers otherwise.

1 comment:

Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Alan, not a bad list, but I'm still a little unclear on what you are proposing as an alternate belief system -- i.e., your "null hypothesis" which you present as superior to Christianity. If you could work on that while I'm working on my own list, that would be extremely helpful.