Atheists: There are No “Heavyweights” of Theology
I’ve seen an interesting claim several times recently by different atheist bloggers. It’s been stated a few different ways. Let me illustrate. First, John W. Loftus:
In my opinion there are no heavy weights for Christianity just as there are no heavy weights for Scientology or Islam or Orthodox Judaism or Hinduism. It’s all improbable to the core and I see no reason why one religious myth’s scholar is any better than another. (source)
I see it in this post from Ray Garton, as well:
I’ve got news for you. We’re all experts on religion to one degree or another, every last one of us. Religion is not like, say, heart surgery or entomology or aviation. Sure, there are people who spend years in school studying theology and the bible, years in seminaries becoming clergymen. But there are also people who wake up one morning and decide to start their very own religion, and then do it. You, if you so desired, could go online and, for a small fee (small compared to the tuition that would be required to get a degree in anything), become an ordained minister, start a church and – presto-chango! – become a tax-free religion (yes, it really is that easy).
In any field of endeavor in which you are free to make it up as you go along, the word “expert” has little or no meaning.
In this video, Angie Jackson (aka Angie the Anti-Theist) also makes the claim (2:02-3:13). When criticized for not taking on better theistic arguments, she responds by saying that theism is self-evident nonsense no matter who she takes on. Therefore, she doesn’t need to seek out any better arguments because she can defeat all of them easily.
The underlying idea is that all we, as theologians, are doing is making this stuff up as we go along. That presupposes many, many things. First, it presupposes that they are absolutely correct and there is no God. From that, it it goes on to posit that there is no revelation, since no one is beyond this world to reveal it. And finally, it concludes that rigorous and lifelong study of the Scriptures yields no useful knowledge, no matter whose mind takes on the task.
The first proposition shows an incredible arrogance. To suppose, from material investigation only, that the immaterial doesn’t (or can’t) exist isn’t being fair-minded at all.
The second proposition, building from the first, concludes that there is no divine revelation due to the fact that there is no divine. The Scriptures are nothing but the scribbling of ignorant Bronze Age herdsmen. This proposition is accepted based on the erroneous conclusion that there is no God. God can be deduced from science, but not proven by science. If there is no reason to accept the first proposition, then the second proposition is also nonsense because special revelation is the only way to understand God’s character. It’s impossible to know the full character of God from general revelation only.
A written Scripture, in that framework, makes sense.
The third proposition is a negative consequence of scientism, which is the philosophy that only science can yield truth, and therefore knowledge gleaned by science is the only valid knowledge we can possess. (This notion has been linked to positivism, and they both can be refuted by the simple fact that, while they both require empirical evidence to prove everything, there is no empirical evidence to prove either of these propositions.) This rules out almost all of classicism, and philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle–anything that isn’t science isn’t knowledge.
By that standard, what I do (philosophy with some theology) is bunk to these people. Philosophy can’t be proven by science, though I would argue that science can suggest the truth or falsity of certain philosophies. Some people who subscribe to scientism go so far as to say that nothing learned before the Age of Enlightenment is worthwhile anymore.
This just isn’t so. The classical philosophers have much to offer us.
But, here’s the real problem. Assuming that these guys are wrong, and there really is a God who sits in judgment, who do you want teaching you his Word? L. Ron Hubbard, who (by all accounts) wholesale made up Scientology, or a godly Christian pastor, who has studied the revealed Word of God his whole life?
Before you make your choice, think about this. The soul, the part of you that is you, that is your essence, your being, is eternal. The beginning of anything sets the trajectory for how that “anything” plays out. This life, the beginning of your eternal existence, is going to set the trajectory of your eternity.
Philosopher Peter Kreeft used geometry as an illustration. Planar geometry represents this life, while adding a third dimension represents eternity. A planar shape, such a square, magnified into eternity, can only ever be a cube. Same with your life. In eternity, your “shape” is determined by the foundation you laid in this life. You can’t get around that.
Eternity is a long time. I want the guy who studied his stuff to teach me about God.