Updates on the Debunking Christianity / Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 5, 2010 in General Atheism,News

ultimate truth-seeker challenge

Over a dozen people are taking the Debunking Christianity / Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge. If you’re taking the challenge, be sure to let me know. Also please comment when you’ve made progress.

Here are some updates:

Phil Porvaznik (christian) has read nearly a dozen books so far. His ‘faith-o-meter‘ dropped from 20 to 18 after reading the New Atheist books, but then jumped back to 20 after reading Christian rebuttals to the New Atheists.

Bobby Kern is reading through John Loftus’ Why I Became an Atheist.

Micah Cobb (christian) is reading through Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (not my choice).

Chris Hallquist (atheist) just finished Letters to Doubting Thomas.

‘Michael’ (believer) is reading through Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted.

Mitchell Leblanc (atheist) has read seven of the books on my list so far.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan March 5, 2010 at 7:12 am

Phil Porvaznik read 5 books in 15 days?! Really?

“Began 2/15/2010. Finished 3/1/2010.

  (Quote)

Mitchell LeBlanc March 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

I apologize if my reading process is slowing down a bit, school won’t leave me alone!

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk March 5, 2010 at 8:26 am

I am reading God’s Problem by Bart Ehrman. It is a combination of a survey of how suffering is viewed in various books of the Bible and an argument from evil against theism.

The main point of the former is that suffering is viewed very differently in different parts of the Bible. The main OT view is that suffering is caused by God as punishment for disobedience, although a lot of it also occurs as collateral damage due to actions of God and humans. In Job, suffering is caused by God to test someone’s faith.

A major departure occurs in the apocalyptic books such as Daniel, Revelation, etc. in which suffering is imposed by the enemies of God. The suffering will cease when God defeats his enemies, which will be Real Soon Now (as it always has been).

The current, common, and shallow view that suffering is necessary for free will is hardly mentioned in the Bible at all.

I didn’t get very far in before I realised that I just don’t care very much about how suffering is portrayed in the Bible, because I am pretty far away from my Christian youth, which was never strongly Bible-based anyway.

  (Quote)

Sabio Lantz March 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

We are still patiently awaiting the short list for people wishing to take the challenge with only some time to read.
Maybe 5 books. You’d have many more people taking the challenge and you could ask them to post a running index post telling us the shift (or not) in their confidence meters.

  (Quote)

thesauros March 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm

“Common Sense Atheism”

That’s funny! The rest of the blog isn’t as humorous as the title suggests but still, it’s a good start.

  (Quote)

thomasblair March 5, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I will take you up on the challenge. I’ve ordered the first two – they will arrive on Tuesday the 9th of March. Will keep you apprised of my progress.

Short background: raised in Christian home, recently became atheistic, but beliefs are not what I consider learned or rigorous. I hope to change that.

  (Quote)

Joshua Blanchard March 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I’m reading Why I Became an Atheist, which has already shattered the expectations I had built up for its author based on long padded lists of praises he had collected for himself.

  (Quote)

Adam Sparkman March 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Luke,

I started your “Truth Seeking” challenge last month. I’m a 22 year old recent college grad. I’m a Christian, but have become much more liberal in how I interpret the scripture in the past year. I’ve finished Harrison’s book and am about currently about half way through Craig’s “Reasonable Faith”. I had to rearrange the order b/c I’m living overseas currently and can’t access some books via Kindle. I’ve additionally read Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” and Plantinga’s “God, Freedom, and Evil” as add ons to the challenge. Probably will add on a few more books as well. Aiming to finish within two years.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Very cool, thomasblair. I added you to the list. Keep us updated! Also, would you like to give your full name and occupation?

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Cool, Adam, you’re added to the list. Keep me updated! Care to give away your profession?

  (Quote)

Michael March 5, 2010 at 10:19 pm

New post on blog after finishing Jesus, Interrupted. On to Scaling the Secular City since Warranted Belief is on back order. Suggestions on book for actual arguments for atheism rather than simply refuting theistic arguments? Preferably not on evil, because Plantinga and Craig and many others have done a number on the logical problem, the rest being mostly that some don’t like a God that would ever allow any evil for any reason. Also, trying to stay away from too many “popular” works. Thank you kindly.

  (Quote)

Adam Sparkman March 6, 2010 at 12:40 am

lukeprog: Cool, Adam, you’re added to the list. Keep me updated! Care to give away your profession?  

I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language in Prague since graduation last May, but am heading back to the U.S. at the end of the month and will start searching for a new job.

  (Quote)

Jake de Backer March 6, 2010 at 1:28 am

Michael,

Personally, I wouldn’t devote any more of your time on the atheistic side with Ehrman. Atheism, in my opinion, has much more effective protagonist’s, i.e. Michael Martin, Graham Oppy, Gregory Dawes, etc.

Meeting your criterion as a “book for actual arguments for atheism”:

1) Michael Martin – Atheism: A Philosophical Justification

2) J. L. Schellenberg – The Wisdom To Doubt

3) Daniel Howard-Snyder & Paul Moser – Divine Hiddenness: New Essays

I think these next two qualify because they show why the “reasons” offered in defense of theism don’t qualify as legitimate reasons as well as explore some of the logically invalid attempts theist’s use to make them appear as if they were:

1) Gregory Dawes – Theism & Explanation

2) Jordan Howard-Sobel – Logic & Theism

The remainder contain an amalgam of both positive arguments erected in defense of atheism as well as negative arguments leveled at theism:

1) Nicholas Everitt – The Non-Existence Of God

2) Graham Oppy – Arguing About Gods

3) John Loftus – Why I Became An Atheist

I would also recommend Michael Martin’s anthology wherein you may cover the landscape of issues concerning atheism and naturalism from several authors in one book:

Michael Martin – A Cambridge Companion To Atheism
Michael Martin – The Impossibility Of God
Michael Martin – The Improbability Of God

For the price, I would certainly recommend Martin’s Impossibility/Improbability publications. They contain several dozen arguments each and are around $17-$25 on amazon, whereas some of the university publications (Everitt, Howard-Sobel, Dawes) are upwards of $75-$125. These fucking universities should be brought up on criminal charges of extortion.

Theist’s taking these challenges have my sincerest approbation but reading Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne and Moreland to defend your own beliefs then turning to Dawkins, Ehrman, Hitchens and Dennett to defend ours isn’t exactly playing an even-handed game.

J.

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 6, 2010 at 5:44 am

Michael,

To my knowledge, most theistic and atheistic philosophers acknowledge that theists carry the burden of proof. (Apologetic theists are the exceptions.) Thus, undermining confidence in theistic arguments would lead to agnostic atheism.

Thanks for the update!

  (Quote)

Anthony March 6, 2010 at 6:38 am

Jake: reading Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne and Moreland to defend your own beliefs then turning to Dawkins, Ehrman, Hitchens and Dennett to defend ours isn’t exactly playing an even-handed game.

I’ve noticed the same thing and agree with your assessment and book recommendations. I have also noticed some theists will arrange their reading list by placing the atheist works first and then followed by the theistic authors, thus giving their own side the last word.

  (Quote)

Micah March 6, 2010 at 7:53 am

Thanks for the mention, Luke.

I’ve fallen behind on my postings, so I apologize for it. I am a full-time grad student, a new father, and I work jobs that total 30-40 hours a week. So I’m afraid the blog is destined to be neglected more than I had hoped it’d be.

Regarding my choice to read Ehrman, I didn’t expect much from the Ehrman book. In his debates and interviews, I found his arguments lacking. However, an atheist friend of my love Ehrman, so I decided to read the book to see if I had underestimated Ehrman. I didn’t.

My reading isn’t limited to Ehrman; only my posts are. I’ve been reading through *Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology* among other things. I just don’t have time right now to post on my readings.

–Micah

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 6, 2010 at 8:03 am

Thanks for the detail, Micah. I certainly understand being busy!

  (Quote)

Alec March 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

Hey guys, just to update, i’ve been focusing on skeptical versus believer outlooks on the historical jesus. I’ve read ehrman’s jesus: apocolyptic prophet, and am now reading pope Benedict the 16th’s book jesus of nazareth, which might have been a mistake since he admits in the introduction that he’s not even trying to take a logical approach, but it’s the only historical jesus book I have on hand right now that’s pro the historicity of the gospel’s, so it will have to do for now.If anyone has any recommendations for books on the historicity of the gospels that would be great.

  (Quote)

Michael March 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Jake de Backer: Michael,Personally, I wouldn’t devote any more of your time on the atheistic side with Ehrman.Atheism, in my opinion, has much more effective protagonist’s, i.e. Michael Martin, Graham Oppy, Gregory Dawes, etc.

Theist’s taking these challenges have my sincerest approbation but reading Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne and Moreland to defend your own beliefs then turning to Dawkins, Ehrman, Hitchens and Dennett to defend ours isn’t exactly playing an even-handed game.J.  

I understand that many of the most outspoken atheists are not the “best” ones, and that was exactly why I posed the question. Thank you for the suggestions, I will look into them here shortly.

I agree that there is a fine line that one must walk in order to try to be objective. It would not be right to read an atheist book, then a theist rebuttal every time. On the other hand, to do the reverse would also not be objective. Even worse still, reading all atheist or all theist books and not hearing out the other side. My plan is to read a theist book, an atheist on the same topic (possibly a rebuttal, but not necessarily), then an atheist book, followed by a theistic book on the same topic, as to attempt to give each side a fair share. Some topics may require two or three books per side.

I just read Ehrman on the topic of the Bible, and based on previous knowledge, I don’t feel the need to read the opposing view. My next topic is actual arguments for/against. So to Luke, this is why I asked for arguments for atheism. I actually tend to agree that the theist maintains the burden of proof over the person who says it is highly unlikely or not knowable, etc., but that the person who claims that the existence of God is actually impossible does indeed hold a burden as well. The point is that to make a positive claim for something requires positive evidence. I can deny something and without asserting something in its place. But if I do assert something else, this must be justified, or as Plantinga would put it, “Warranted.” So to undermine theist arguments would undermine Christian belief, making one at least agnostic. But apart from positive evidence in favor of atheism, then one would be stuck there.

  (Quote)

Jake de Backer March 7, 2010 at 1:27 am

See Keith Parsons: On The Burden Of Proof-A Reply To Ralph Mcinerny

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/mcinerny.html

Or for another interesting read, try the book:

Keith Parsons: God & The Burden Of Proof-Plantinga, Swinburne & The Analytic Defense Of Theism

  (Quote)

Michael March 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm

But to claim a positive atheism also has a burden of proof. i agree that the fall back position is agnosticism, but not atheism. “Atheism” is usually defined as the belief that gods or God does not exist. This is very different from “agnosticism” or “agnostic atheism” as these are defined as the lack of a belief in God or not able to know. A “true agnostic” (diferring from previous mentioned agnostics) makes a claim as well, viz. that belief in God CANNOT be known. Any person that carries a positive belief ha a burden of proof. But of course the person who says I have no belief or simply rejects a belief need not carry one as they posit no belief at all. The statement “No god exists” requires just as much a burden of proof as the one who says “there are no minds.” Which also means that the one who says “A God exists” has as much a burden as those who claim “there are minds.”

The point is that a positive claim or belief requires a burden of proof, possibly of different size, but still a burden nonetheless. But those who don’t hold a particular belief don’t have a burden as they aren’t claiming or believing anything.

  (Quote)

Jake de Backer March 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Michael

I agree with the universally accepted logical axiom that those who make the assertion carry the burden, however, as you define us, atheists are asserting “the belief..” and that’s where I think you misstep. While there may be some atheist’s willing to assent to such a strong positive case for atheism, I certainly wouldn’t agree with you in representing that group as a majority. Perhaps I’m mistaken and anyone willing to comment hereafter could correct me, but I have been under the impression that most atheists nowadays –despite Craig’s dishonest attempt to make it appear otherwise– are simply disinclined to assent to the belief in a supreme being and are usually, but not necessarily, unwilling to assent to supernaturalism and an afterlife as well.

If such is the case, atheist’s, like a-santaclausist’s, a-easterbunnyist’s, etc. are and will continue to be without any burden whatsoever.

J.

  (Quote)

Michael March 8, 2010 at 7:17 am

I agree with pretty much everything you said. I did not mean to assert that most atheists are positive atheists, though those who are do have a burden of proof, while the negative “a-theist” does not, though that is not to say that they should not have reasons for their position as well, it simply means they don’t have to show that their view is right, since they aren’t asserting anything.

So I agree that a majority are a-theists and not the classical atheist, but I don’t think Craig would say that the majority are the classical atheists. I think he holds the same position that I do, and that you agree with, that if one makes a positive assertion, then they have a burden to bear. I think the reason he comes off differently sometimes is that the people he debates often have made claims that they are positive atheists, but when they get into the debate and have no arguments to present, they fall back to the “a-theist” view. Craig usually will call them out on this, and usually they will say that they don’t have to show anything, and Craig will go on treating them like an “a-theist.” His, and my beef, seems to be that the people who claim “atheism” in a positive manner have no reason to do so and that is actually irrational, or unwarranted, in that they can’t assert any positive reasons for their belief.

I would say that “a-theism” is a more respectable position, and where I would fall if all of my defenses of Christianity fell through.

  (Quote)

Wade Anes March 8, 2010 at 9:40 am

I’ve read through Ehrman’s “God’s Problem”, Harrison’s “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God” & Kreeft’s “Handbook of Christian Apologetics”. I am currently reading through Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” & thinking of getting his new “On Guard”.

  (Quote)

Michael March 11, 2010 at 9:22 am

Jake de Backer: For the price, I would certainly recommend Martin’s Impossibility/Improbability publications. They contain several dozen arguments each and are around $17-$25 on amazon, whereas some of the university publications (Everitt, Howard-Sobel, Dawes) are upwards of $75-$125. These fucking universities should be brought up on criminal charges of extortion.

No kidding. I recently bought Plantinga’s “Warranted” series in paperback for $100 (all 3) in paperback. For the same books in hard back, it woiuld have been $400+. Being a college student and all, I don’t have money trees in my back yard. I am currently saving up to get Oppy’s “Arguing about Gods,” Craig/Moreland’s “Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” and “Logic and Theism” by Sobel. Another book I plan on reading is Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism” which I found for $20. Craig/Moreland’s book is a mere $200 list price, though I can get it for $112.

For others interested in buying books, check out this site.
http://www.spotcost.com/

  (Quote)

lukeprog March 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

Michael,

Huh. I thought I knew all the good cheap book stores, but that is a good one. Thanks for the link.

  (Quote)

Michael March 11, 2010 at 10:24 am

It’s an awesome site. It’s where I get all my textbooks as well. Goes through quite a few internet book stores, compares pricing w/and w/o shipping, and even posts eligible coupons.

  (Quote)

Ron Krumpos April 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm

While researching various views on “conscience,” I read “Jung on Evil” (Princeton University Press 1995). He offers an unimpassioned view of evil which is totally dependent on humans.

The editor, Murray Stein, summarizes Carl Jung: When humans adopt a more disinterested viewpoint, they transcend the categories of good and evil to an extent and view human life, human behavior and human motivation from a vertex that sees it all as “just so.” Human beings love each other and we hate each other. We sacrifice for each other and destroy each other. We are noble and base. And all of this belongs to human nature. The judgments we make about good and evil are bound to be biased by our own interests and tilted if favor of our pet tendencies and traits.

In my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org I wrote a short paragraph: Evil and deliverance. Many orthodox religions personify evil as Satan, the Devil, Iblis, Mara, or other demonic forces. Most mystics hold us responsible for our own evils, not an external source. Some say that evil exists only in rejection or lack of awareness of good, or to balance good in the apparent dualities of this life…not in unitive eternal life. Mystics have to eliminate personal wrongs to realize divine oneness. Deliverance comes by overcoming the selfishness of our egos, ignorance of our minds and stubbornness of our senses.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment