The Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge (Easy Version)

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 12, 2010 in General Atheism,Resources

ultimate truth-seeker challenge

Over a dozen people are taking the Debunking Christianity / Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge. The idea of the challenge was summed up by John Loftus:

I have a challenge for Christians. It’s a challenge few will take up… even though many expert Christian apologists have done it without a loss of faith. Other Christian thinkers… end up rejecting [their] former faith.

Do this. I’ll call this the Debunking Christianity challenge… Read up on all of the top Christian apologetics books and then [decide] in fairness to read all of the top skeptical books…

What are you afraid of? If your faith can withstand our arguments then you will be a better informed Christian with a much stronger faith. If your faith cannot withstand our arguments then your faith wasn’t worth having in the first place. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE!

But my original challenge is pretty difficult. Many of the books can’t be understood without the equivalent of a Ph.D. in philosophy! So, we need a version of the challenge that is much easier to swallow.

And here it is, my Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge (Easy Version):

  1. Bart Ehrman – Jesus, Interrupted (304 pages). A leading Biblical scholar explains the basic facts of Biblical scholarship, and why they undermine conservative Christian views.
  2. C. Stephan Layman – Letters to Doubting Thomas (240 pages). Presented as a series of letters between a Christian and an atheist, this book presents a case for God not based on the usual arguments but on why God is the ‘best explanation’ for the way things are. A careful and respectable case for God’s existence.
  3. Guy P. Harrison – 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (354 pages). Each brief chapter explains one of the 50 most common reasons people give for believing in a god, and summarizes why skeptics are not persuaded by that reason.
  4. Paul Copan & others – Contending with Christianity’s Critics (304 pages). Eighteen major apologists respond to the New Atheists and other contemporary critics of Christianity.
  5. John Loftus & others – The Christian Delusion (385 pages). Michael Martin writes: “Using sociological, biblical, scientific, historical, philosophical, theological and ethical criticisms, this book completely destroys Christianity.”
  6. William Lane Craig – Reasonable Faith (416 pages). A leading Christian philosopher’s defense of theism and Christian doctrine, with all the standard philosophical and historical arguments.
  7. Richard Swinburne – Is There a God? (144 pages). Many philosophers think Richard Swinburne has given the best evidential case for God ever conceived. This slim and attractive book is Swinburne’s own attempt to make his arguments accessible to the layman.
  8. Richard Carrier – Sense and Goodness Without God (444 pages). A comprehensive case not just for atheism but for a full, enriching, purposeful, and moral naturalistic worldview.

That gives us 1,487 pages of skeptical literature and 1,104 pages of apologetic literature.

If you want to embark on either version of the Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list! It would also be nice if you comment every so often with a status update.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

David Iach March 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

Well you could add another Christian book, there are 300+ pages available to assign and there probably are a lot of books that could fit.
Plus although I understand why you made the challenge easier, I don’t get it why you made it so short. 800 pages of Christian Apologetics can mostly count as an introduction, and the same can be said for the 1100+ pages on atheism. There is no real challenge in that.

But anyway its your challenge and you can make it however you like, you can even challenge people to read one article on each of the subjects involved and tell them they resolved the mystery, and of course you can call it The Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge.

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lukeprog March 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

David,

People who want the full challenge have it available to them. This easy version is just that – a short, easy version. 2000 pages of theism vs. naturalism in far more than most people ever reader in their lives on the subject.

Yeah, I might want to add another Christian book. Let me think about that.

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Charles March 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

It’s very hard to find good books for the Christian perspective at the popular level.

Find me something that (a) doesn’t commit glaring logical fallacies, (b) doesn’t argue from Bible verses, (c) doesn’t argue against the fact of evolution, and (d) doesn’t treat blind faith as a virtue.

I’ll read it.

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svenjamin March 12, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Should probably add (e) Doesn’t grossly distort accepted historical facts. (I’m looking at you, Dinesh)

On some level, beliefs “become accepted” not by critical evaluation, but by “becoming plausible” through application. In other words, it is learning to see the world through a given perspective that brings us to adopt that point of view.

So I feel like these lists should include at least one book from each side that isn’t a polemic, but a reasoned analysis of some phenomenon or other that simply assumes at the outset a Christian or naturalistic atheist perspective. It would be especially useful if they were analyses of the same issue.

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Wade Anes March 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Maybe add Craig’s new ‘On Guard’ to round out the Christian side?

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David Iach March 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Luke, I do agree with you that most of the people will never read 2000 pages on this subject. But most people don’t take a challenge that is being called “the ultimate one” in this subject either. I really liked your original challenge, because it includes a lot of really good material on both views and anyone who takes it could say that he/she knows what both views are. On the other hand someone who takes this short version of it I don’t think can say the same thing.
In a way my problem is with the name of it, cause I don’t think its the best way to call it The Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge, just think about an “ultimate challenge” in economics that requires you to read 3 books, or the same thing in science, or psychology or anything else.

Btw I am a Christian that reads your blog daily and I must say it is my favorite blog, although I disagree with much you say.

@Charles: most Christian books don’t argue for the truth of Christianity, rather they accept it as a premise and work from there on. A very few of the Christian books written do argue for the truth of it. From those that do argue, not many are written for the general public. Many of the books that do argue for the truth of Christianity from a popular level perspective do commit logical fallacies (but that is something you will find in every field where someone argues for something from a popular level perspective), mostly informal fallacies, and also many of them do argue against not the fact of evolution, but against the theory of evolution (here I am making sort of a joke), but the vast majority of them do not treat blind faith as a virtue nor argue form Bible verses (where they use Bible verses they do it mostly to show to the Christians who might read them that their arguments are also supported by Scripture, but not the other way around).
But I do thing that there are some very good books from a Christian perspective that do meet all your criteria and here you could try some of the books of C.S. Lewis, Craig and others.

The problem is that I can say the same thing about atheism too, there are very few good popular level books on atheism.

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lukeprog March 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm

There is a much greater lack of solid atheist books at the popular level than there is a lack of quality Christian books at the popular level.

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Charles March 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Luke and David,

You may be right. It hasn’t been my experience. For me, finding stuff on the Christian side feels like roulette. I can pour over Amazon reviews for hours and still wind up with duds.

It is fortunate my library had “What’s So Great about Christianity”. I would hate to spent money on that one.

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lukeprog March 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I would never, ever, recommend ‘What’s So Great About Christianity’ to anyone.

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Rhys Wilkins March 13, 2010 at 3:10 am

Hmmm,

Vox seems to have quite the thing for Dinesh and his literature…

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Matt Jordan March 13, 2010 at 5:49 am

Moreland & Wilkins’ *Jesus Under Fire* wouldn’t be a bad addition, insofar as issues surrounding the historical reliability of the New Testament are relevant to the debate.

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lukeprog March 13, 2010 at 6:19 am

Matt,

That book is a bit too specific for my very short list. It’s basically a response to the Jesus Seminar. But thanks for your suggestion.

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lukeprog March 13, 2010 at 6:21 am

There. I decided to add Contending with Christianity’s Critics.

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Sabio Lantz March 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I would suggest breaking into two groups of “Truth Seekers”:
a) “I took the Atheist challenge” (short & long list)
b) “I took the Theist challenge” (short & long list)

Then make a badge for each that folks could pick up at your site for their own site. Just an idea.

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raichel March 16, 2010 at 5:51 am

I’m 28, a Christian, I was raised in the Church of Christ (non denominational). My parents would be considered liberal and their children even more so. My father was an Atheist and not raised in the Church. My mother was, her father was an Elder in the Church. My father is an extremely intelligent man, a computer engineer, physicist, he can fix anything, reads math books for fun. I’m trying to convey that I have a lot of respect for him and know him to be a very logical reasonable person. His decision to become a Christian happened when I was very young and since then he has studied and read all about the Bible and his confidence and understanding of the scriptures has grown over the years. He instilled in all his children that we should not be afraid to challenge our beliefs and that if we seek the truth we will find it and it won’t lead us from God but deepen and strengthen our faith.
I will do this challenge but I dunno if it’ll lead me where I was once confident it would.
I’m gonna try and get some friends onboard too, Atheist and Christian.
Will keep you posted! Great website btw! Very refreshing change from what you see and hear from popular Atheist.

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lukeprog March 16, 2010 at 6:23 am

raichel,

Excellent. You’re added to the list.

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Timothy Mills April 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Luke, my wife and I are going to take this challenge. We’re torn about where to start, though – your podcast and blog have featured some of the names, so we’re curious about (for example) William Lane Craig’s book, as well as the lauded Christian Delusion, and others. We will, of course, read all eight (and, if still hungry, move on to the Ultimate ultimate challenge you issued earlier). But we want to know whether the order you’ve given the books in here is a recommended reading order. Does it matter where we start?

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Timothy Mills April 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm

PS: Put me down as an atheist for the list.

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Deena April 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Hi Luke, I’m looking forward to taking the challenge with Tim and we’ll start as soon as a book arrives. Now as for adding me to your list… – best put me down as an atheist. I’m currently an atheist/agnostic/freethinker/secular humanist and a member of a unitarian church. I have a bit of a “checkered past” in that I grew up in an agnostic household but when I was thirteen years old I became a born-again, fundamentalist christian – a true-believer (I was seeking the truth about life, death, and everything and the church had all the answers). After serving god faithfully for several years I gradually shed my christian faith over the next 15 years (mostly because of cognitive dissonance) and dabbled in a few other faiths before reaching the beliefs I currently hold.

By the way, I looooooove your podcast – the recent one on prehistoric religion was fab. You are an excellent interviewer and sometimes I could just kiss your mind!

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lukeprog April 25, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Cool, Timothy!

I should re-arrange the order. ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ is maybe the best starter.

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lukeprog April 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Interesting story, Deena! Thanks for the compliment.

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raichel June 7, 2010 at 4:10 pm

i signed up for the truth seeker challenge a while back (easy version). it took me a while to get the first few books so while i was waiting i did a lot of listening to podcasts from ‘conversations from the pale blue dot’ and reading on this blog and others, especially richard beck’s. i finished ‘jesus interupted’ in a couple of days (couldn’t put it down). now i’m on the doubting thomas book, and can’t seem to pick it up.
i’m commenting on here cause i’m looking for some motivation and i wanted to write an update on my status. i started as a somewhat liberal ‘church of christ’ christian, (if there is such a thing). now i’m not that at all. i don’t know what i am and while i’m interested to learn more i just am so disillusioned by the christian side of the debate. i want to be well informed of both sides and come to some solid conclusions. first of all becuase i think its important and second because i don’t want to drift in my agnosticism until perhaps i drift back to a safe place that is uninformed and weak. plus i don’t want to become dogmatic in any position and the better informed i am of both sides its less likely that will happen.
i wouldn’t even say i have gone through a time of mourning for my previous beliefs. even though my bro (age 24) is dying of cancer and i don’t have the comfort of heaven anymore. i’m just numb, embarrased, and very interested to hear everything from the agnostic and atheist side that i once thought unworthy of my time and i’m angered by the christian perspective even though i don’t yet have any firm convictions either way.
anybody got any insight or encouragement to keep me going. or maybe its good that i take a break for a while??

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lukeprog June 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Raichel,

That’s very interesting. ‘Doubting Thomas’ is certainly more abstract and philosophical than ‘Jesus, Interrupted.’

Consider this: It might be okay to not know who you are and not have a worldview. Listen the Jaco Gericke interview… that’s where he is now, after passing through both Christianity and a Dawkins-type atheism, and he’s quite happy with it. The toughest thing is to shed what you’ve been taught before: that you have to believe certain things, that you have to have a firm idea of who you are and what you believe, that you can’t live without a worldview, and so on.

I’m hardly an unbiased observer. I would quite like you to encounter the Enchanted Naturalism that I enjoy, but everyone has their own journey, and we are very shaped by our own personal histories. The biggest piece of advice I have is that if you’re asking for thoughts from agnostics and atheists, it’s easy to find them in your local area on Meetup.com or Myspace.com, since you can browse for ‘atheist’ and your zipcode. It might be helpful to talk with some people in person who are agnostic or atheist or even Unitarian Universalist and are fine with it.

Losing my own faith was a total nightmare. I was sure I had lost all purpose and meaning and hope and morality. It was like the world around me had been stripped of color and vibrance. Water didn’t taste as sweet, food didn’t taste as deep. I took the hit pretty badly. I’m not sure it’s that strange for you, though you did say you felt ‘numb.’ It will pass. The best thing you can do is to talk to people who have been through something like that – or just agnostics in general – who are currently experiencing the vibrance and pleasure of life.

I’m not sure if that helps at all, but if you want to drop me an email, you’re welcome to do so. Perhaps someone else here will have some thoughts, too.

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Hendy July 4, 2010 at 1:12 am

Hi Luke,

I’ve followed your blog, Daylight Atheism, and DC for a while now and wish to take a modified version of this challenge. I began to question my faith this past Christmas. It all started with a simple question popped into my head that completely altered my life: Did anyone other than the gospel authors write about Jesus’ life?

I decided (like with most other questions) to google it. I couldn’t believe what I found. On one hand, yes, he is mentioned. On the other hand I couldn’t believe the scarcity of info they presented. No miracles, virgin birth reports. parents’ names, day died… literally nothing of note.

Anyway, I began to question and decided that the best way to answer this question would be to not assume Christianity was true and to try and prove it to myself. The more I’ve read, the more I have found naturalistic explanations far superior.

Anyway… I’m in a regularly meeting men’s group and am a lifelong member of a Catholic lay association of families and it has been extremely difficult for me over the last 6 months. I’m told to ‘have faith seeking understanding’ which I’ve always translated ‘believe that you may believe more’, I’m told that I can’t prove it, faith is a gift, that the evidence does lead to Christianity, that I’m close-minded/hearted, etc. I have prayed on and off and wondered why god would let this happen to me or why I can’t muster belief. I just don’t believe.

Sorry to ramble… the bottom line is that this limbo land (not being convinced but having emotional reservations about declaring agnosticism/atheism as my resolution) has been incredibly difficult and I want to make a decision. I think that a lot of reading and plenty more discussion is the way forward.

I have somewhat set a deadline for myself of this coming Christmas. That will make a full year’s journey. So far I’ve read the God Delusion which I didn’t particularly care for and Why I Became and Atheist which I found pretty excellent. Someone recommended What’s So Great About Christianity and I hate the tone. Some of it has at least been thought provoking. I’m also part way through Dubay’s Faith and Certitude which have been interesting.

To close it out, I don’t think the ‘real version’ is even possible for me in 6mos… that would be a book a week which is a lot for a married guy with a kid and one on the way! I may tailor your list to land between the easy challenge and this one. I’ve read a lot of material online (and I mean a lot!), but I want to stick to books for a while. What actually struck me was your post on WL Craig and how he sticks only to books and publications in journals because he figures if it’s worthy to know, it’s made it into print. I liked that philosophy.

So… I do, indeed, intend to take comprehensive notes. I wished I had done that for Why I Became and Atheist, but did not. I actually intend to write a comprehensive PDF of my year’s journey and let that be what I ‘publish’ when I ‘come out’ (if that’s the end resolution). I almost can’t imagine a way back to belief, but it’s possible. I process through writing and also think it will be helpful for me to be able to point to my reasons and also save myself explaining again and again.

Seriously signing off. I’m starting as soon as I finish D’Souza and Dubay’s books. We’ll see what I get down by X-mas.

John

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lukeprog July 4, 2010 at 5:46 am

John,

It is certainly a struggle to go what you’re going through!

Definitely, just try the ‘easy version.’ That alone is tough enough. I suspect ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ will be of most interest to you given the question that sparked your doubt.

Though I would say that’s not the toughest question; not even close. How about: “When I read stories of magical deeds in ancient literature from other religious traditions, I dismiss those parts as obviously legendary. Why the heck would I accept them as probable historical fact in polemical religious literature from my own tradition?”

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Zeb July 4, 2010 at 9:26 am

John, have you ever read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain? That’s the book I was reading when I lost my faith. It did not give me any helpful answers at the time, but it stuck with me. Nine months later when I decided that my only priority had to be getting my questions answered no matter what the cost, my first goal was to go to Merton’s old monastery and see if the monks there could offer me any useful guidance. I found my questions answered by personal experience on the way to the monastery. If all you are open to is evidence and argument, that book doesn’t have them, but for an eloquent example of how to find God in life and find answers through living, I recommend it.

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Hendy July 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

@luke

The original question is definitely not what I think is the most challenging at this point, though as I said, most things I have considered at present are challenging only because I’m not convinced of the Christian answers for those items. By far the most frustrating aspect of this quest was to embark seeking answers via evidence, wherever it would lead, only to be told that there is no actual proof. What gives??

The most important question has no proof!?

So, at this point, I have perceived that my choice is between assumed naturalism (nothing other than natural phenomenon until I see differently) which explains things extremely well, and continuing to believe in Christianity (though I don’t exactly know how to muster belief as with my doubts I don’t even know what it would mean to profess belief in Christianity… I just don’t believe) whose answers are almost always possibilities:

- god has a morally sufficient reason for evil but we don’t know what it is
- we have no basis for time-based cause/effect being true when their was no time but god’s changless mind made a decision to cause something on a non-timeline
- we need to trust that there are good reasons for god’s crimes in the OT
- what do you expect… the gospel writers to tell the same story?
- even though moral instincts to not kill or natural instincts like repulsion to eating one’s feces do not override free will even though these impulses are extremely strong, god could not have given me an inkling about who he is
- on and on

I’ll stick with the easy version and add on if I have time left over. This is more of an attempt to be intellectually honest and become familiar with what apologetics do exist. One of my top questions actually has to do with formulating a plausible fall story in light of evolution and no one has answered that and I have not run across anyone who even really attempts it.

@Zeb

Thanks for the suggestion, though I’m limiting myself to only books dealing with truth claims. I have no doubt that there are great books about dealing with life through the filtered aspects of Christianity (the ‘feel good/do good’ parts of Jesus’ teaching), but I just want to know if it’s true.

Without good reason to believe it’s factually true, I just don’t want to believe it! I would concede that if it doesn’t have validity via the facts and evidence but good results are observed or experienced then there are other factors going on like how the human can trust an external non-existent agent with problems and this leads to stress release.

I will say that I try to be open on a non-factual level, though the idea of believing based solely on non-facts is very repulsive to me. How am I open? The best prayer I have thought to pray these days is, “Jesus, do something I can’t deny.” That’s all it would take. God knows me better than I know myself, knew me before I was formed, etc. and therefore knows my criteria for belief. If that’s the case, he knows exactly what I need.

I am quite open to something being responsible for setting the universe in motion, but am fairly convinced that no religions today have a clue what that something is/was as it generally seems to have none of the characteristics they think it should/does: intervention, desire to reveal itself, etc. If he exists I want to know. If he cannot be shown to exist relatively conclusively in any sense which commands worship/allegiance then I’d like to get on with my life and discover a basis for living that is grounded on fact and evidence.

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Hendy July 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Oh, also… is Swinburne’s Is There a God? a summary of sorts of the longer work, The Existence of God, from the original challenge? I may swap these if you think the latter has enough to add over the former to make it worth the additional work.

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lukeprog July 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Hendy,

That’s correct.

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Zeb July 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Handy, I understand, I felt the same way. It was only after giving up on evidence/argument based answer seeking in utter frustration and despair that I became open to whatever the world or my life itself had to show me. But I did not have a resource like Luke’s site and book list. So maybe you’ll find more satisfaction in philosophy than I did. Best of luck.

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lukeprog July 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Zeb,

What’s your philosophy, now?

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Hendy July 4, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Hey Zeb, I very much relate with that frustration. I guess it seems that you’ve chosen then to abandon them perhaps for something else (perhaps what Luke is getting at). I guess I would have the same question as you referenced your questions all being answered by ‘personal experience’ on the way to the monastery. Did you have ‘senses’ or ‘revelations’? Just wondering what it was that finally did it for you.

I think in the absence of conclusive evidence for a pretty immense claim about reality and the nature of our lives I would conclude that the best answer is the one with the most proven track record of previous answers. This seems to be an assumption of naturalism and a science based understanding of the world.

I would however still be interested in Merton’s book only because I think that many atheist far to easily dismiss the phenomenon of religion. It’s captivating for reasons I don’t think we fully grasp. One can’t simply dismiss it as ‘idiotic’ or ‘superstitious’ and leave it at that. Individuals are immensely engulfed in religion and humanity has been for an extremely long time (I believe wiki has some of the earliest signs of religion showing up at least 25,000 years ago). Bottom line is we’re wired for it in some sense and I think respecting that fact is a key to understanding our humanity more fully… like, why does turning one’s day over to a non-existent being relieve stress, why are we able to persist in trust of this being even if our day goes like hell, why are we so convinced in our one religion and the falsehood of everyone else’s without even studying them, etc.?

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Zeb July 5, 2010 at 3:55 am

Luke, In a formal sense I don’t know; I’m using your blog to help me figure out what it is and what it should be. But I think I probably lean toward postmodern thinking. Informally I believe that rationality is what our minds do, not what reality does, and so reasoning is more suited to analyzing our concepts than to knowing reality. For that reason I prioritize direct experience, and seek a Zen-like approach of open, unmitigated, intentionless contact with whatever is. For me that approach has led to an apprehension of God’s presence and guidance. That said, the efficacy of reason-based science is undeniable, and conceptualization is necessary for communication, so I am not at all dismissive of philosophy as I once was. I am interested to see whether my approach and understanding hold up to rational scrutiny and can be communicated rationally.

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Zeb July 5, 2010 at 4:41 am

Hendy, to flesh out the details a little more, I did have a sense of God’s presence which was hard to deny, and before abandoning philosophy I had come to a sort of argument from contingency as a rational justification of that sense (but this was 1999 and the philosophy BB’s that I found were not very good, so I didn’t know that the argument I was making was an old one, and I didn’t find any of the old counter-arguments). On the way to the monastery I opened more to whatever truth if any could be directly apprehended, and I experienced an undeniable call to accept Christianity. My questions were not exactly answered, but reframed. I set out looking for true knowledge, but settled on finding true action. I wanted proof (in the form of argument or evidence) that some beliefs were right; I ended up accepting that it is enough to know that some things are right for me to believe. Now, I am only confident in that attitude because it’s based on trust in a being like God. If I find convincing reasons why I should not trust God (he doesn’t exist or is not trust worthy) I will have to find other reasons to believe other things, and I don’t think “because it works for me” would work for me. I guess it is worth saying that in my journey to the monastery I did my best to put God to the test – gave away all my possessions and just set out walking, ready to just let whatever happened happen. Everything that happened along the way could be explained naturally (perhaps even my experiences of divine contact), but in the moment it was as if I were being carried along by God in such a way that I could not remain doubtful.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 6:35 am

Zeb,

You may be happy to learn I have an upcoming episode with John Captuo, a leading thinker on postmodernism and religion.

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Hendy July 5, 2010 at 7:02 am

Thanks for the response, Zeb. Though I’m not familiar with all of the terminology (post-modernism and argument from contingency… I’ll have to google these), what do you do with the problem of evil in light of what you said here “If I find convincing reasons why I should not trust God (he doesn’t exist or is not trust worthy) I will have to find other reasons to believe other things, and I don’t think “because it works for me” would work for me.”?

I ‘thought up’ the outsider test of faith for myself before even knowing John Loftus. If you’re not familiar with it, it suggests suspending belief and looking at your religion how you look at all others. It seems like you had a profound experience and used this to validate a particular version of God you probably grew up with. Is this correct? Did you think it could be a different being who gave you those experiences?

Also, if your reasons aren’t convincing to atheists or to believers in other traditions, wouldn’t that be the very definition of your reasons only “working for you.” I wanted a foundation of facts and evidence so that I could spread the truth, regardless of what it ended up being. I wanted to be as sure as I could be about the existence/non-existence of the supernatural. Anyway, just my thoughts.

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Zeb July 5, 2010 at 10:56 am

Luke, sweet, I look forward to it very much.

Hendy,
In a sense I did take an outsider test. I had come to a vague theism by trying to figure the universe out from the ground up (that’s how I worked out my own argument from contingency), and through mystical experience and intuition. Early after I quit believing in Christianity I had a profound experience of God’s presence, and in the midst of it I had a vision of a stereotypical ‘face of Christ’ which I dismissed as old habit layering artificial meaning on a confusing experience. During my journey to the monastery there were a handful of surprising coincidences in which Christians helped me and shared their faith, but I refused to base my worldview on coincidences. By that time I had already tried to find a place for myself in Islam, which seems like a purer monotheism, but couldn’t buy the whole story of Muhammad. Nevertheless my next stop after Merton’s monastery was to be the University of Georgia, where Coleman Barks works. He translated a book of Rumi’s poetry, and I thought if the Trappists couldn’t help me maybe the Sufis could. I thought my best hope for a landing place though would be Buddhism or Taoism, if I could find a group that would accept a “vague theist”. But, as you guessed, on the trip I had an experience that validated the faith I was brought up in. I did not think it could be a different being in the sense of someone who is not God, but I thought it could be that God is as described in a different religion, and that he might reveal that faith to me. I can’t explain why the identity and intention of the presence was not honestly deniable, but that’s just how I found it – kind of like how you can’t honestly deny that pain hurts. I was quite surprised and chagrined when that presence indicated that Christ is true, and later that I should return to the Catholic Church. Surprised because the whole religion had begun to feel so implausible to me, and chagrined because I had just spent 9 months explaining to everyone why I dropped out of seminary and quit taking communion and why their reasons for belief were inadequate.

Let me just say for sure that I don’t think my testimony should count as evidence for much to anyone. In a physically and psychologically distressed state I had an abnormal mental experience that just so happened to confirm the religion I was (marginally) brought up in. On the other hand, I was skeptical myself for those reasons at the time, and then and now I found the meaning of the experience clear and undeniable. So you’re right, in that sense it works for me but not for anyone else. However that path of direct experience and open hearted appealing to God is open to anyone, and I think in both mystical theology and analytic philosophy it is the path to truth, not the answers, that we most hope to share with others. What I meant though is that no matter how well Christianity works for me, I could not believe it if I didn’t think it was true and that my reasons for believing it were good ones.

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Hendy July 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

Wow, Zeb. Thanks very much for the story.

I am open to something similar, but somewhat abhor it and reserve it for the last possible reason for belief in that I want to be confident of truth with respect to bringing to others and I, in fact, had an extremely strong Catholic faith for 7 years prior to my doubting and still never felt I could confidently evangelize. I loved faith for myself and believe that God was absolutely true. I was baptized in the spirit, part of the Charismatic renewal going on in the Church. I led outreach events on campus, went to adoration/confession/daily mass frequently, prayed in tongues, sang praise and worship to God by myself, heard His word through scripture, etc.

Somehow I guess I’m still open to coincidences actually being what everything was. Emotional experiences that I attributed to one cause which could actually have been chance. As you said, you had experiences in a time of deep emotional turmoil. Some of my most confirming moments were in similar states. Anguish, intense seeking of God’s will in fear of displeasing him, etc.

I suppose where I meet the road’s end with your approach is that now that my intellectual doubts have essentially dispelled all of my former faith… I have prayed for God to reveal himself or simply to ‘give me something I can’t deny.’ What’s my reasonable timeline to either move on or keep waiting for Him to respond?

I also just hate the thought of believing something for subjective experiential reasons which forces me to have to accept truth claims which can only be explained by pointing to possible solutions (evil, biblical inconsistencies, God’s wrongdoings in the OT), speculation, or pure mystery. This seems like believing based on subjective experience to things that have no good explanation that we know of… yet other religions do exactly the same thing.

Your statement about not being able to swallow Mohammed is exactly what someone else is saying about the virgin birth or lack of non-gospel verification of Jesus’ miracles/resurrection. Allowing experience to be the sole ‘proof’ means that anyone can believe anything as long as their belief has possible explanations. Given that all faiths posit claims outside of the realms of testability and falsifiability… they are all, therefore, valid. If I were a Christian based on this, I would absolutely have to be somewhat of a theist who supported all other religions, refrained from any moral prescription-pushing, and so on.

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Zeb July 5, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Hendy, I would love to continue this conversation, but I feel a little guilty doing so here when people might come to these comments looking for updates on truth seeker challenges. Unless Luke doesn’t care about that, shoot me an email at zebbart at yahoo dot com if you’re interested in continuing.

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Hendy July 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Zeb — I thought the same thing… Not positive I need to continue a whole lot longer, but I’ll email you so you have my email and can respond to my last post if you wish. Sorry if this clobbered stuff up, Luke!

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Hendy July 26, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Luke, I noticed I’m still not on the official list… I finally started my own blog and will be blogging through my progress. Check it out:

- Main page

- Intro/Progress Page
- An example of what I hope to put together for each book (this one links to my notes on D’Souza)

If you’re game for adding me to the list, perhaps include a link to the Intro/Progress page above which will update as I read more books and publish more of my notes.

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lukeprog July 27, 2010 at 12:32 am

Hendy,

Added! Very interesting; I’m glad you’re blogging your progress so thoroughly. How should shall I list your current ‘orientation’ and occupation?

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Hendy July 27, 2010 at 6:23 am

Whoops — missed the need for that info.
- Occupation: mechanical engineer
- Orientation: Strong Catholic up to Dec 2009; currently full of extreme doubt, very possibly deconverting

Sorry that’s a long “orientation”, but heck, these things are complicated!

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lukeprog July 27, 2010 at 7:37 am

Hendy,

Thanks.

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Hendy July 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Sorry to keep pestering… I’m assuming the answer to this is Reasonable Faith, but how would you rate Craig’s work vs. Kreeft in the Handbook of Christian Apologetics? I’ve listened to a lot of Craig in debates and was pondering which you thought was better. Again, since it made the list of 8 down from 25… I’m guessing it’s Craig’s book?

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Timothy Mills June 19, 2011 at 6:51 am

At long last, I’m beginning to blog through this challenge. Deena and I are about halfway through reading the books, and it could be a while before we’re done. But my first review (of the Ehrman book) will be posted tomorrow. My blog post introducing the series is here.

I’ll post links from there to the individual reviews as I post them. (We’ve currently read about half the books so far.)

Thanks again for setting this challenge!

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Luke Muehlhauser June 21, 2011 at 12:54 am

Thanks for the update, Timothy Mills!

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