Summary View of Why They Left the Faith
John W. Loftus from Debunking Christianity made a post summarizing why he and other members of the DC team left the flock. Most of these are fairly typical objections to Christianity.
- Loftus left because he couldn’t reconcile the Genesis creation account with the scientific knowledge.
- Robert Price left because of New Testament textual criticism.
- Exapologist left because of the failed prediction that Jesus would return to the generation to which he spoke.
- Ken Pulliam left because there is no cogent explanation for the Atonement.
- William Dever left because of biblical archeology.
- Bart Ehrman left because of the problem of evil.
The trick is that none of these alleged problems are irreconcilable.
The Big Dog of the DC blog says he left because of conflicting dates in the Genesis account versus the scientific account of the origin of the earth. He needn’t have been so hasty. The excellent website Evidence for God from Science has written many articles to show that the Genesis account is true, but the scientific age of the earth is also true. For another spin, a good friend and great brother in Christ, Mike, has his own website on a theory he has spent time developing: Geocreationism.
What about people like Ken Hamm or Kent Hovind, who insist that science is dead wrong in this case and that the earth really is only a few generations old? Well, they seem to have a decent case. There are some conflicts in the age of the earth. I will admit that a younger earth makes more sense with the biblical account. But I also know that God gave us our five senses to tell us the truth about the world around us, not lie to us. The use of those senses, coupled with scientific instruments, seem to tell us that the earth is much older than the Bible seems to indicate.
It is undeniable that human understanding has crept into the Bible along with divine truth. We may not know the age of the earth for certain because of this. The good news is that the Bible is meant to chronicle the history of man’s dealings with God, not convey unquestionable scientific truths. Morally and spiritually, the Bible is infallible. I would question its use as a science text, which is precisely what Hamm and Hovind are trying to use it for.
Use the Bible as a guide for right living, not as a scientific textbook.
My study of textual criticism has laid the foundation for my belief that the New Testament text is in tact, with nearly unquestionable integrity. Others, even experts like Robert Price, seem to disagree with that position. Price is a document expert who has done much work in the realm of textual criticism. It amazes me that he concludes as he does, as many others more accomplished in the field than he have come to vastly different conclusions.
Bruce Metzger, who is largely responsible for the United Bible Societies’ official Greek New Testament, believes the biblical text is accurate. So does F.F. Bruce, author of New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? I follow updates from the ministry of Dan Wallace, who would also side with the group that believes in the integrity of the New Testament text. Craig Blomberg is another. Strange that none of these scholars seem to turn up on skeptical reading lists. Perhaps the skpetics only examine one side of the issue?
Exapologist left because of the failed prediction of Jesus to return within the lifetime of his hearers. The problem with this is that Jesus never made that prediction. The events of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24–and specifically the fall of the Second Temple–were what Jesus had in mind when he said “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (verse 34). “These things” refer to the fall of the Temple and other signs that happened in a.d. 70. They do not refer to the Second Coming.
But, Jesus clearly states that the Son of Man will ride in on a cloud (Mt 24:30), doesn’t he? Well, he’s referring to the Son of Man imagery in the book of Daniel. Jesus assuredly understood himself to be the Son of Man envisioned by the prophet Daniel. The scene in Daniel 7:13-14 that Jesus is referring to involves a great victory, vindication over naysayers and enemies–not literally riding in on a cloud.
For a fuller discussion of the Olivet Discourse, see here.
The misunderstanding that exapologist has is understandable in light of folks like Tim LaHaye who promote dispensationalism. Dispensationalism has had a profound influence on modern theology and is the default position in eschatology for pretty much every Protestant church operating today. Only a very few embrace preterism, and even fewer historicism (I lean to the historicist viewpoint, and have defended the historicist understanding of Rev 9:1-11 here and Rev 13:1-10 here). My in-laws, many more studied in the Bible and its theology than I may ever be, all raised an eyebrow when I mentioned that there are positions contrary to what is portrayed in Left Behind. They didn’t have any idea that there were other eschatological positions out there!
Ken Pulliam’s objection to Christianity is one of a group of objections that basically run, “I don’t understand it, so it doesn’t exist.” That’s really shallow. I expect better from folks who have a Ph.D in theology. In Pulliam’s case, he can’t get his head around the Atonement.
Admittedly, the Atonement doesn’t make sense on the surface. Why would any judge, let alone the only Righteous Judge, allow an innocent man to take the condemned man’s place (2 Cor 5:21)? But, the sacrificial system described in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy prefigure the Atonement, and no one is saying that it doesn’t make sense. Quite the contrary, this is how most nations during the Bronze Age appeased their gods. That idea seems somehow ingrained in our consciousness, as almost all cultures offered some form of sacrifice or another for various occasions. The idea is widespread, even among cultures that have no possible ability to influence each other. Jesus offered himself as the Ultimate Sacrifice. It may not make sense from a modern penal standpoint, but it certainly makes sense as how to appease God from a cultural and religious standpoint.
I haven’t put any time into studying biblical archeology. It seems, however, that critic William Dever has left Christianity because of it. I don’t know what problems that Dever uncovered during his tenure as an archeologist that led him away from the Christian faith, so I can’t answer those. I know of some problems that skeptics have forwarded, primarily concerning the Exodus and the United Monarchy. Skeptics generally are of the position that neither are historical.
Simcha Jacobivici and James Cameron, no friends of Christianity, have produced a special entitled Exodus Decoded that makes a case for a historical Exodus. Like their previous Jesus Tomb documentary, this special is filled with intentional errors and misdirection in order to reach a presupposed conclusion. While some archeologists regard the Exodus as ahistorical, there is no consensus. Jacobivici may have been on to something in Exodus Decoded: perhaps the problem lies in the dating of the Exodus.
The Bible appears to be the sole document that mentions Israel’s United Monarchy. No confirming evidence from archeology is forthcoming. However, Arthur E. Cundall says that qualifiers exist for what is actually meant by “United Monarchy,” “Israel,” and “Judah” during this period. He says that a United Monarchy existed only in principle, not in fact.
It’s funny to me that Bart Ehrman gets more study by skeptics than people who actually know what they’re talking about. Ehrman does raise interesting challenges against Christianity relating to orthodoxy and what it actually is, but not relating to the problem of evil. Others more skilled than I work tirelessly to answer the problem of evil (also here and here), and skeptics pay them little (if any) mind. This cements my position that people are looking for reasons to not believe.
These problems, though real, are certainly not insurmountable. And many of them are held by people who should know better. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during five years of apologetic work, it is that there are answers to all of these conundrums, if you only take the time to read them. Unfortunately, it seems that many people simply don’t do that. Like J.P. Holding, I blame the church in part for not equipping people with a basic apologetics toolkit. Some people don’t understand that these answers even exist, and I doubt that the skeptics who hold these positions are going to encourage a doubter to read up on these answers–assuming the skeptic himself is even aware of the material!