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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!

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on March 30, 2010, in Apologetics, God, Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I find it outright dishonest of you to take complex human beings and their many views and opinions, and let these skeptics get *one* reason, paraphrased and idiomatically treated by you, as for why they left their faith. What sort of perverse black and white world do you think we live in?

    As to those pointers to people of faith arguing so well for the various stands, and the reason you won’t find many skeptics pointing to them is mostly because, well, they’re not that good. You pointing to them doesn’t make them good. Them stating their arguments as rock solid doesn’t make them rock solid. We’re talking about skeptics who eat Reason for breakfast here, and you want people who discard reason for faith to earn you brownie-points? No, sorry, but I have read all of the materials you’ve pointed to, and they are simply not solid arguments. They are “more of the same”, so to speak, failing in basic logical argumentation on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. And *that* is why we don’t refer to it.

    For example, in one of your pointers to the problem of evil, Gregory Koukl goes to lengths at rewriting the semantics of “evil” to bare no semblance to ontological premise. Ok, how about “things that I consider evil.” There, I just made a category, defining – in strict ontological terms – evil. This is as lame as the ontological argument for God; it’s just linguistic nonsense with a semblance of failing logic on top. I’m not impressed. These are not good arguments.

    Instead, invite those skeptics you talk about into a conversation with you about why they left their faith. Let them have a *real* conversation, and we might all be a bit wiser for it. I dare you.

    • I’ve taken criticism recently from a former Christian who has said that since I present myself as a Christian, I should be more charitable to commenters. Up to this point, it has been my policy to be as mean to the person as their comment deserves. Then, I started thinking that maybe that former Christian was right after all, and I should be more charitable. So I decided that I would do just that.

      Then I read your infantile, infuriating comment and remembered why I started being mean to commenters in the first place. They deserve it, and they bring it on themselves. Therefore, I will ignore my critics and you will get what you deserve, and you will get it with both barrels.

      I find it outright dishonest of you to take complex human beings and their many views and opinions, and let these skeptics get *one* reason, paraphrased and idiomatically treated by you, as for why they left their faith. What sort of perverse black and white world do you think we live in?

      Reading comprehension FAIL. I’m not the one who distilled these men’s reasons for leaving the faith down to a single bullet point, moron. John W. Loftus is the one who did that. I made that point perfectly clear in this post, and I even linked to the source post! So I don’t appreciate you calling me dishonest, not in the least. Make a false accusation like that again and I’ll put your happy butt on moderation.

      As to those pointers to people of faith arguing so well for the various stands, and the reason you won’t find many skeptics pointing to them is mostly because, well, they’re not that good.

      I write more for a popular audience than some of the stuff I linked to on the problem of evil. Since you have proven yourself unable to understand my blog, I’m sure that other stuff is way beyond your comprehension. Therefore, what you have to say about it is irrelevant.

      For example, in one of your pointers to the problem of evil, Gregory Koukl goes to lengths at rewriting the semantics of “evil” to bare no semblance to ontological premise.

      It is important to define what you’re talking about. Without knowing to which article you were referring, I’m assuming that that was what Koukl was doing. It’s interesting that you’re acting like you know better than Koukl what “evil” is. I’m assuming that you’re an atheist, and that means that you have no ground to stand on for defining good or evil. Your worldview doesn’t allow for transcendent anything, so all you have is what is. Good and evil are defined by public opinion in this setting, so it is perfectly natural for you to “make a category,” as you put it. That’s all you can do.

      The only thing I can’t decide is if this qualifies for a Screwball Award from TheologyWeb. Probably not, since it doesn’t stand on its own for screwiness; one has to read my initial post to understand how badly you fail.

      • Very impressive, Cory, straight for the ad hominem and calling out that I’m getting what I deserve, but you know, as far as calling out ‘reading comprehension FAIL’ (in that l33t way) I must ask you to, eh, how to put this? Well, read and comprehend a bit better yourself.

        Now I’m not going to call you a moron, that stuff is just childish and immature (although, I should have expected to get the Christian treatment from someone who’s running low on actual logic and reason), so let’s get to the meat ;

        The reason you’re dishonest is because of that very thing you stated; reading comprehension. Now, comprehension is more than just being able to read the words and grasp their informational explicit meaning, but also get a grasp on the knowledge and intrinsic meaning of what the author is trying to communicate. It means taking a string of words and put them together to form something more than the sum of those words, and in this case your very premise for your blog post is that a) some people have different reasons for leaving, and b) the reasons on their own aren’t irreconcilable. And then you go on to deal with each individual reason and shows that, indeed, things are complex. The underlying theme of your post is that these people were quick and, well, silly to leave for such reasons.

        Let’s exemplify, from the beginning. Big Doc left for some reason. Your response: “He needn’t have been so hasty.” But if you read the original post you linked to you get quite a different story. He was not in a hurry. This was a process that took many years of struggle with his faith, and the final straw was whatever reason he had. So you’re being dishonest in simplifying that reason, and more so in simplifying it for that person.

        Let’s exemplify further. Exapologist you say, left for some other simple reason, but, again, that is simply not true. Loftus was pointing to http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/09/exapologists-de-conversion-story.html which is a long, complex story of de-conversion, and no simple matter. (In your defence, Loftus forgot to link to it, but if you’re reading that blog then you probably read it as well) So you’re being dishonest by saying the reason he left was trivial, when we know it was far from trivial, and if we give you special pleading powers of never having heard of Exapologist before or you don’t know to do simple web searches, we are still left with the fact that all human beings are complex beings. There are no simple black and white reasons for why people have paradigm shifts.

        Want more? Your lamest response is this one; “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.” See what you did there? You created a straw-man, a simplistic and wrong notion, a paraphrased bit on fiction, no less, and then claim it to be really shallow. That is dishonest because you know you’re paraphrasing, and hence the original thoughts and ideas are most certainly not simple, and you are smart enough to know that you’re using straw-men which you can easily burn.

        So my comment still stands; What sort of perverse black and white world do you think we live in?

        You’re a smart dude, and you know perfectly well that the world ain’t that black and white, that people’s stories of how they lost or gained the faith in anything ain’t simple. Why you invoke the afflicting power of straw-men like this is thus beyond me, but that is why I was reacting to it; dishonest.

        Next up, “I write more for a popular audience than some of the stuff I linked to on the problem of evil. Since you have proven yourself unable to understand my blog, I’m sure that other stuff is way beyond your comprehension. Therefore, what you have to say about it is irrelevant.”

        Well, that is all nice and well, but I don’t actually understand what you’re reacting to here. You’re screaming foul, that I don’t understand what you write, therefore I am unable to understand anything else you write, therefore the links you pointed to to other people’s writing will be even less understandable to someone such as me? Something like that?

        But we keep coming back to reading comprehension. For example, when you say “It’s interesting that you’re acting like you know better than Koukl what ‘evil’ is.’ I find this statement fascinating, simply because no where do I state I know what evil is. I was referring to a specific conundrum of moral philosophical, that of the ontological problem. Now I’m a epistemologist, so I guess you can say I have a given viewpoint of ontological conundrums (that I think they’re stupid would be one), so here we *are* – exactly! – talking about semantic definitions of what we’re talking about. Why are you criticizing me for arguing for semantic definitions of the stuff we’re talking about by saying I need to define what I’m talking about? Amusing, in a strange kinda way.

        But it gets better. You then tell me: “I’m assuming that you’re an atheist, and that means that you have no ground to stand on for defining good or evil.” Well, you assume wrong of course (not everyone who disagrees with you stands at the opposite side from you), but the mere thought that someone who don’t believe in God have no say in what is good and evil is the stupidest thing I’ve read in quite some time. Maybe we’re back to the way you view the world, that things must be black and white, that people who don’t think just like you must obviously be wrong, must obviously be using a language different from you, and even live in a world different from yours. I have nothing more to say on this matter, because excluding people’s opinion on what is good and evil based on their religious belief is just outright insane. I’ve met fundamentalist crazies with heaps more nuanced views on the basic premise for ethics.

        Further, “Good and evil are defined by public opinion in this setting, so it is perfectly natural for you to ‘make a category,’ as you put it. That’s all you can do.” Look, if you don’t understand the ontological argument for God, then just say so. Right now you’re embarrassing yourself by thinking it has anything to do with anyones atheistic views and how that doesn’t allow for something you’ve made up that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else but you. Seriously; “[Atheist] worldview doesn’t allow for transcendent anything” shows a serious dubious knowledge of ethics, and perhaps more telling, a lack of understanding to what transcendence actually means.

        Anyway, I’m sure you’re either going to yell more profanity at me, or call me names, or, heck, even delete this comment (hey, it’s your blog), but, well, I’m not actually impressed. Reading comprehension, indeed.

      • I was planning on ignoring the comment, because you’re doing something I hate: raising additional issues without actually dealing with what was said in the first place. I don’t delete comments unless they’re obvious spam, though sometimes I leave borderline ones in. I will, however, make one additional note: the title of the post is “Summary View of Why They Left the Faith.” SUMMARY VIEW. I’m not dealing with all of the issues, only the issue that Loftus cites as their primary reason for leaving the faith. In so doing, I’m not saying that they had no other issues with their faith. Loftus says that these are the primary reasons that these folks left the faith, and that is the issue that I am dealing with in the post. Just as there are a myriad of reasons that I believe in God and place my faith in Jesus Christ, there can also be a myriad of reasons that these folks reject the same. But, one final attempt: I’m not dealing with all of their reasons, just the one reason cited as primary. Is that sinking in at all yet?

      • Cory, what is it with you and being so snarky and unpleasant in pretty much every comment? Does it really irk you so much that people don’t agree with you? Why are you always attacking the receiver of your prose, rather than perhaps thinking about your prose?

        Look, it’s well and fine that your post is called “summary view”, but you’re simplifying the argument against in such a way as to become dishonest; the arguments become straw-men, easy for you to burn, and you know this, we all know this. Not only that, but you know the post you’re referring to isn’t an argument for anything; it’s a stupid little list thrown out there to make people share their similar stories; that’s the point of the whole thing.

        This again comes back to reading comprehension and all that jazz; there’s a narrative someone else wrote, a narrative you read in your head, a narrative you then write, and people who read it make up a fourth. Somewhere along the road it changed from a silly list to a list taken very seriously. And I object; You’re taking a non-argument and turning it into one. If one were to seriously argue with you, allow the full story to emerge, and then we can argue with that. Straw-men is an intellectual dishonest tool to use.

        Oh, and no, Loftus does not say these are primary reasons, he only states that his is mainly the reason. I’m sure we can assume that these are some of the primers, but with any primers they are bogus and does not reflect the true argument.

  1. Pingback: Why They Left the Faith, part II « Josiah Concept Ministries

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