Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight Questions Atheists Must Answer. Really?

My friend Larry Tanner over on his Textuality blog had an interesting post up which replied to the Discovery Institute denizen Michael Egnor’s 8 questions to Atheists. I thought I’d give it the good old college try.

1) Why is there anything?
2) What caused the Universe?
3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?
5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?
6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?
7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)
8) Why is there evil?

My Non-Answers to Egnor’s questions:

1)Why not?
2)  2)Something or nothing. Both equally valid choices—since we simply DON’T KNOW.
 3) Because.
4)  4) That’s two questions actually. The pragmatic response would be to say whichever of them are applicable, not which is real, therefore apply where necessary.
5)  5) Probably because our perceptions are restricted by our senses and therefore subject to our brain’s interpretation. You have a brain don’t you? Interpret that!
6)  6) It’s called neurology—look it up.
7) Again, two questions, unless you assume it is (actually) natural rather than magical metaphysical and therefore have answered your own question. Congratulations!
8)  8) Why is there good or evil at all? Could it be we made up such terms to better describe our experiences of unjust suffering and the problem of pain? If not, then why indeed?

Allowing for a certain level of sarcasm and rhetorical question begging, the truth of the matter is Michael Egnor’s questions have all been thoroughly answered by professionals in the respective fields which focus on these very subjects. Whether it be cosmology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, philosophy, ethics and moral theory, physics, etc. etc. most of these questions have answers. Except for the ones that don't.

What annoys me about these “theist metaphysical monologues” in which believers feel like sharing their profound thoughts, all I can say is—please don’t. If you want to know the answers to these sorts of questions, then I suggest you do what I do, look it up. Read a book! Reading rainbow! Stop wasting your breath and do the research yourself for a change.There's a novel idea!

Now just to clarify, I’m not saying theists should stop asking questions. Asking questions is good! More than this, it’s vital! It’s how we learn. What I am saying though, is it would help to actually put some thought into the questions before you ask them. One of my pet peeves is when people ask stupid questions they know their opponent can’t answer just to feel superior to them. The problem is when a theist asks these sorts of questions you know goddamn well they’re not going to investigate them and follow them to any reasonable conclusion—their minds are already made up. Which makes such question sessions little more than sophist monologues with stuck up know-all-know-nothings because they want to ‘engage’ atheists. This is all a smokescreen for proselytizing, evangelizing, witnessing to you the greatness of their God and all the wonders he can explain that you can’t. And if you don’t take them intellectually serious then they cry snobbery and blame you for intellectual elitism. I guess the best thing to do would be just to ignore them and let them embarrass themselves (and their entire faith) by flexing the muscle of their ignoranity.

Ignoranity = 1) ignorant to the point of saying or doing insane things normal people would not say or do; 2) being woefully ignorant—so much so that it actually causes others pain and drives them to the brink of madness with your stupidity; 3) credulous to the point of inadvertently sponsoring puerile nonsense. 

Update: Mike D over at The A-Unicornist has taken a stab at the 8 questions as well. Check it out!

Advocatus Atheist Film Recommendations and Book Update

I haven't had much time to write this week, so I offer some random updates instead. The book is coming along well. I am finishing up the initial editing, tweaking things, and putting on the final touches. Soon I'll be drafting some proposals and try and get a publishing deal. Stay tuned for that.

Now here are some film recommendations about religion or which have a religious theme. I recently watched Agora just for the historical value. It's basically Christians go wild and kill everyone. Virgin Territory is a delight if you're comfortable with brazen nudity. It's a light breezy, sexy, kinky film about star crossed lovers, randy nuns, and it has sword play... lots of sword play (I think there's a pun in there somewhere). 

Of course, I've enjoy the Prophecy trilogy and Constantine for their dark fantasy. I think films based on the mythos of a spiritual war between Heaven and Hell with Earth caught in-between can be deeply engaging. Although I find films like Stigmata and The Devil's Advocate a little unsettling. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, The Matrix trilogy is another great set of films that are saturated with religious undertones. 

The Name of the Rose is truly an excellent film--a genuine classic. Watch it if you get a chance. Of course Dogma and The Life of Brian speak for themselves. Both brilliant. Both hilarious.

Finally, you'll probably wondering why I put a hard edged sci-fi thriller called Sunshine into the mix. I personally find it the best example of what happens when religion goes awry--but I don't want to give away any spoilers. Just know that it sort of crops up on you unexpectedly. But the real reason I love Sunshine is because science and rationality win out in the end--and save the day (literally)!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Over 10,000 Page Views!

I got over 600 page views this week alone sending me over the 10,000 hits mark in less than a year! I'm pleasantly surprised because I thought it would take a lot longer. Thanks for reading folks! Next goal: 100,000 page views.

Thinking about Probability

This is a great video on probability and flawed thinking in how people use n statements of probability to give one's owbeliefs plausibility.

Monday, October 18, 2010

William Lane Craig = King of Bullshit

Most of what comes out of William Lane Craig's mouth is purely fantasy invented by William Lane Craig. When a person engages in serious discussions of heavy philosophical topics to boldly say whatever fantastically inspired puerile nonsense which he can conjure up without a moments thought, he is practicing  the Philosophy of Nonsense, which is just another way of saying: bullshit. William Lane Craig is the king of the bullshitters. He even has a degree in Theology Bullshit. 

And that's why I don't care about anything Craig has to say. Half the time what he says is painfully incoherent, the other half it is simply mad ravings of a delusional bullshitter. But you don't have to take my word for it.

Now that we know William Lane Craig is a compulsive liar, consider this following quote by Craig:

Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.”  (Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994, p. 36.)

Translation: I know for a fact that there are fairies in my garden and a leprechaun living in my anus, but (BUT!) nothing you can say or show me will ever change my mind that I'm wrong, or even a little bit mistaken, because my brain waves are tuned into the divine frequency of--I'm right and you're wrong--neener neener. Suck it God-deniers!”

All this goes to show is that William Lane Craig is not a serious philosopher, rather, he is a Propagandist. He wants to spin the truth, to make it his truth, and then he wants you to take his truth--preferably bending over backwards with a sordid sort of smile on your face that says--no--but really--yes

So why won't I cut the guy some slack? Well, other than Craig's winning pearly white smile, he doesn't really have much else going for him. He constantly lies to bolster his arguments, he confuses terms which even an amateur philosopher is clear on, he misrepresents others--including experts he contends with, but worse, neglects to make amends for deliberately misconstruing the truth when called on his bullshit. Other than immense intellectual dishonesty, which makes me dislike him as a philosopher, and his smug confidence in knowing how infallibly right he is (because he has the little voice in his head Holy Spirit telling him as much), while he adheres to a theology which claims all those who disagree with him will burn in hell, I can't seem to find a single redeeming trait for why I shouldn't despise him as a person. 

As an advocate for science, reason, and intellectual integrity I simply am not going to cut the man any slack. He can ship up or take a good drilling for being a hack. Until then, I feel we all have an obligation to keep calling him on his bullshit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Live Well Be Wise

I've been writing a blog post once a week on average for a full year now. I have racked up over nine thousand page hits in little under a year of starting the Advocatus Atheist blog. So I felt a thank you was in order for all those who have subscribed and who continue to read my humble writing. So thank you everyone. Live well and be wise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Theology Fails: On the Transcendental argument and IPUs

How the Transcendental argument for God is Not Even an Argument
Theologians like to bemoan the fact that most atheists aren’t aware of the really “good” theological arguments for God. They like to claim we’re theologically naïve. Well, if theologians could actually agree on a single coherent definition for God would help us in taking them seriously. No, I’m afraid Thomas Paine pegged theology for what it really is more than two centuries ago, the study of nothing.

The philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, Steve Zara, and the biologist PZ Myers all seem to agree that there can be no scientifically meaningful “evidence” for God because the concept is so ill-defined. Other scientists and thinkers such as Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and Victor Stenger seem to think that the concept of a personal God is untenable not because most definitions fail or because they are so ill-defined (although that may be part of it), but because they are mainly rationally incoherent and have no explanatory power (due to a lack of the invaluable thing called evidence).  Yet what all this goes to show is that attacking a nebulous or ill-conceived concept of God is a fool’s errand and a waste of time. Polemics against theism are mostly useless. We can only explain our personal reasons for why we find specific arguments lacking.

So here's one of mine: there is no single, clear cut, definition or conceptualization of God. Most religions have their own version of a deity, and various sects which have schismed off from these main religions have their own versions of God too. Each variant faith, much like a Russian Doll which has another doll inside it, contains a series of differing religious denominations which share theologies and may even have concepts which resemble each other but which may simultaneously be at odds with other groups within the same faith. This is why there are so many schismatic groups. Nobody can seem to agree. About the only thing they can agree upon is the persuasion that God exists—but what it is exactly that they are agreeing on nobody knows. 

Every branch of faith then has its own unique theology and its own variant explanation for God. If they all agreed unanimously on what God is, or what he means, or how he is defined then there would be no need for the variance (or variation of thought) in the first place. Therefore, even if God did exist, theology would still be useless.

Theology means the study of God. But isn't this sort of like begging the question? What is it exactly that theologians want us to study again? God? Okay, I get that. But what God exactly? Ah, here's the rub! Studying something, by definition, requires something tangible to study. 
The Transcendental argument states that God exists beyond space and time, he transcends them(!), he is an all transcendent being. If he is outside of space and time, separate from the physical universe, then there would never be any evidence to even consider. Simply put, nothing to bother about. So whenever a theologian says, “But hold on there, you’ve neglected one of the best arguments for God yet, the Transcendental argument!” I can’t help but think to myself, “Oh boy… here we go again.”

When theologians peddle theories like the Transcendental argument, stating atheists have yet to properly address such an argument, I don’t think they know what they are even asking. We demand proof, and so they offer up the Transcendental argument, which says God transcends all things--exists beyond our grasp--but this is an old parlor trick. Only after they have safeguarded God from being disproved by making him external to any evidence, they claim victory. I say enough of this old tired out shell-game, anyone who has thought it through knows the game is rigged. It's a dishonest enterprise to say that God exists and then seek to make the claim unfalsifiable. An unfalsifiable theory isn't even a theory, and an unfalsifiable argument isn't really an argument. 

First theologians need to settle upon a universally agreed upon definition to formally enter into the debate. As it is, the nature of theology is so utterly convoluted that nobody actually has any clue what they are arguing for. And theologians have the gull to lobby the fallacious accusation that atheists and skeptics are theologically naïve?! For crying out loud, give me a break.  

Such a position is not only pompous but condescending as well—as if educated skeptics were too “dogmatic” to see how clear and easy theology truly is. Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before, we're all just materialists blinded by our “faith” in science. 

An atheist and a theist are discussing the existence of God. The atheist says, "You know, I just don't see it."

The theist is taken aback, "What?! But it's so obvious!"

"Oh, yeah?" inquires the atheist.

"Of course!" exclaims the theist.

"So where's the evidence? Where's the proof then?" begs the atheist.

"Evidence? You want evidence?! But God transcends science! Don't you get it?! Therefore we can’t have any evidence for something which is transcendent. There is no proof. Only faith! God exists because he is necessary!"

The Transcendental argument amounts to little more than a profession of faith, it's not a valid argument. When you make a truth claim, you have to back up that claim in order for it to be justified. If not, then a skeptic will ask you to divvy up the proof. No proof means your claim is totally lacking and is probably not the best explanation for what it is you are trying to prove in the first place. That's assuming you are starting from a point of clarity of knowing exactly what it is you are trying to prove.

Most theology is so convoluted, so tangled, so labyrinthine that to be clear on what it is we are even arguing about is not at all obvious. Now only if there were some evidence to help us in setting the record straight—that would be something. But, contrary to the pretentious theologians who think they’ve figured out what nobody else has, all we have (in actuality) is a whole lot of nothing. The Transcendental argument isn’t a solution to the question of God's existence, it’s not even an viable answer, it’s a theological trick to safeguard God from the criticism spawned due to a lack any trustworthy evidence for God. 

Pink Invisibility is a Negation: And so is an all loving God who allows for Evil in the World
Needless to say, if God were real (REAL!) he could do a lot better than being a vagary of perception, wouldn’t you think? PZ Myers has stated on his blog that “any evidence of a deity will be natural, repeatable, measurable, and even observable… properties which god is exempted from by the believers’ own definitions, so there can be no evidence for it.” I agree. You can’t say invisible pink unicorns (IPUs) exist without some sort of evidence—indeed, the entire theology of pink invisibility (the classic unicornist theory) or invisible pinkness (the reformed unicornist theory) doesn’t even make any sense. That is to say it’s incoherent—irrational. 

Meanwhile those liberal (hippy) unicornists say both mainstream theologies are way off—the unicorn is real, the invisibility is real, but the pinkness is a matter of the animal’s divine aura! Others might claim they had a born-again unicornian experience so they know—the Unicornian Spirit spoke to them at a religious revival—they know! (e.g. something the evangelical uniconist might say). Or they may be inclined to say that you can’t prove to them that there is no such thing as pink invisible unicorns—you can’t prove that they don’t not exist—so neener neener—we can believe whatever we want (e.g. something the fundamentalist uniconrist might try to get away with).

Regardless of the religious sect, or what particular theological premises they adhere to, their metaphysical assumptions about the supernatural properties (e.g. conjectura) of imaginary unicorns may or may not agree, but saying that pink invisible unicorns must exist precisely because they are beyond our comprehension, that they exist outside space and time, does nothing to prove whether or not there is such a thing at all. Nor does it solve the cognitive dissonance of contradictory features (or attributes) of invisible pink unicorns, i.e. that invisibility is the absence of all color, thus such a thing could never be seen as a color, let alone the color pink. The terms negate one another, pink invisibility just can't exist, just as the concept of an all loving God is negated by a universe filled with pain and suffering, and therefore we know that such a God could never exist (although an evil and amoral God is surely conceivable). Theologians act like theodicy (e.g. the Problem of Evil) is not an obstacle to faith, but ignoring a problem isn't the same as actually tackling it and dealing with it head on.

The point is, however, it doesn’t matter what attributes we assign to these mysterious unicorns, be it pink, invisible, or all loving (or whatever) none of these things will prove their existence. Why safeguard the irrational claims by pretending invisible pink unicorns are transcendent? That makes no sense. And what’s the evidence for these pink invisible unicorns transcendent nature, you might wonder? Faith they say? Wow! Talk about begging the question.

What else can you say to a person who believes as much—that is to say they believe whatever it is they wish because they have a belief in belief that what they believe is so, and therefore it’s real enough to them, so they’d like nothing more than to keep believing it. They act offended any time anyone criticizes these preposterous beliefs, and they immediately start laying on the guilt, talking about how they are being singled out and persecuted, and they protest: don’t attack our beliefs! They’re sacred. This caterwauling can be pretty annoying, but it still doesn’t justify their beliefs. Between believing in God or perhaps discovering that to the contrary the god awful truth is that there is no God, well, they’d rather just keep on believing. I suppose the only thing we could say to someone so deluded is, “Good luck with that.”

Here’s the kicker though, because there is no valid, or at least agreed upon, 'god hypothesis' there can be no testing the hypothesis perchance to prove that particular God’s case. In other words, even if by the off chance one theology out of all the theologies which have ever existed or will come to exist was in fact correct, we still have no way of testing all the minutiae of hypothesis, therefore we have little to no chance of proving said God. The problem is compounded when we realize the more religions which get invented the less likely we are of ever knowing whether or not God exists—an infinite amount of plausible theologies all get in the way—and the probability is always working against the theist. To avoid this problem most religions will profess that they are the one true faith—that theirs is the correct believe—all others are wrong. Yet this is a dogmatic conviction, not a proper conclusion based on the dispassionate and objective inquiry into what the evidence shows—mainly because there is an utter lack of empirical evidence.

The only way God can be proved in a naturally bound probabilistic universe such as ours, would be to manifest God directly. No theology needed. Just show me God. Theology is completely useless. It’s philosophy trapped in a box—the box of dogma drenched doctrines and screeds—worse than this, it’s ersatz philosophy. The irony being that if there is a truth to God’s existence, it is buried beneath a profundity of obscure theological conjecture and will continue to be unknowable for as long as theology continues to generate untestable and invalid assumptions which have nothing to do with the reality we observe daily. Theology is a failed enterprise through and through.

Low and behold, Thomas Paine was right all along. Theology is predicated on nothing, is the study of nothing, and leaves us with, you guessed it, nothing. If theists want to prove God exists, and they want to be vindicated in these devotional convictions, then I suggest they put theology aside and start taking science seriously. Because if there is a God which interacts with humans, causes miracles, is all powerful, created all things, etc. etc.—whatever else he may be these are specific claims, claims which overtly trespass on the domain of science. Science does have the power to prove the existence of god—if he were at all real. The fact that science hasn't found a single trace, not an iota of tangible evidence, should cause the most stubborn headed theologian to stop and give pause. On the other hand, if God is truly transcendent above all things, then it will forever be a futile endeavor to prove God exists.  So either theists must start proving God's existence or else get comfortable with the fact that they just won’t ever know—and can’t know—whether or not God is real.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five Deconversion Factors: And Why Craig Blomberg is Wrong

The Deconversion Factor
Americans are becoming less and less religious. (Refer to the Gallup-poll: “Americans are Becoming Less Religious.”)
At the same time Christianity is under assault by the razor sharp criticism of the New Atheism movement. To anyone who has been paying attention to the religious debate, it seems more and more Christians are leaving the fold (I should know—I’m one of them). The question arises, what can account for this mass exodus of once faithful adherents joining the ranks of the nonbeliever, the skeptic, the free thinking everyday person? Some evangelical apologists have claimed that these apostates were all fake Christians and weren't true believers to begin with—but such an accusation is absurd. The numbers are simply too big to suggest ALL these people were insincere. What then could possibly be contributing to the advance of secularism and the dwindling of faith?

Craig Blomberg, a Christian Evangelical scholar, has recently posited on his blog that there are three consistent factors that lead to a rejection of Christianity. Blomberg states:

Studies of deconversion find three fairly consistent factors or kinds of experiences that trigger such rejection of Christianity. First, a crisis of some kind unexpectedly intrudes into a persons life. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one, a major personal failure, or even sin, a life-changing injury, a divorce, or a devastating financial loss. Second, the community to which this individual has normally turned to for support in hard times turns on that individual instead. Perhaps it is a kind of church discipline that does not seem geared to lead to rehabilitation. Perhaps it includes interpersonal estrangement rather than empathy. Third, the hurting person is introduced to and/or for the first time takes seriously and investigates seriously an alternate worldview. This may be a different religion or, as it commonly seems today to be, some form of agnosticism or atheism.

So in summary Blomberg’s de-conversion requisites include (but perhaps not limited to):

1.      A personal crisis.
2.      A let-down by the church/religious community.
3.      A questioning of his or her worldviews.

Over at Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity we atheists and nonbelievers discussed the feasibility of Blomberg’s proposed list. Needless to say the deconverts which commented on the above three reasons were mainly split, most finding it too vague and generic, while the majority stated that neither 1 or 2 played much of a roll in their own deconversions. Another objection was that the list was only capable of explaining Evangelical Christian deconversions but failed to take into account deconversions from other religious faiths. To most of us it seemed like a (mostly) inaccurate list. Soon thereafter Blomberg joined the discussion and clarified:

A few clarifications: I would absolutely agree that the same three factors can lead to other forms of religious or worldview change—to or from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, naturalism, etc. The three factors are by no means universal, as several of the posters have indicated, but research from ex-evangelicals like John Loftus and Ed Babinski and evangelicals like Scot McKnight and Hauna Aundrey do show that they are remarkably frequent. My personal experience with friends and acquaintances backs that up too, anecdotal though that evidence is.

Personally, I would like to know what studies is Blomberg initially referring to, and what specific research does he mean when he brings up other ex-evangelicals? A citation here would be nice.

A Few Objections
A couple of things actually. First of all, it is nowhere clear to me that this list can account for other forms of religious or worldview change. It seems it might account for some very specific cases. Maybe this list works for a very narrow demographic of evangelicals who have deconverted but, as Blomberg himself admits, it is nowhere near comprehensive.

Secondly, religious cultures are set up differently in different cultures. In some cases there would be no communal let down because the religion functions separately from the community even as they may share cultural features (e.g. Buddhism). Whereas other times there may be a massive communal let down because the religious culture and traditional culture of the society are so tightly interwoven that it would be nigh impossible to distinguish them apart (e.g. Islam). In most cases fear of being ostracized would defeat number two anyway, so in order for number two to be true the crisis would inevitably have to be bigger than what seems necessary to lead to deconversion. This means that although crisis may factor into a person’s deconversion, it’s not a required factor, and a church/community let down is more likely to be the side-effect of a prior crisis than the deciding factor of the initial reason for deconversion. Therefore we can deduce other factors must be at work.

Thirdly, Blomberg’s list is inadequate in another way too, as it doesn’t explain, for example, apostates such as myself (a post-theist) or those like Thomas Paine (a deist), as well as those like us, who deconverted primarily for rational reasons rather than traumatic ones stemming from crisis.

An Oversight: Missing Other Important Deconversion Factors
An area I feel Blomberg overlooks (or else grossly underestimates) is education. Numerous studies have shown that education plays a large factor in the rejection of or dismissal of prior to held religious beliefs. The recent PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life did a study on “Other Beliefs and Practices” that proved that atheists and agnostics (nonbelievers) knew the most about world religion and religion in general.  

Why does having an abundance of knowledge about religion, and knowing about other religions, lead to rejection or dismissal of religious beliefs? Two things come to mind. First, as Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, has quaintly stated, “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

Having knowledge ties directly into the second reason, those who don’t have knowledge about their religious beliefs have no reason to question them (as they have nothing to compare or contrast their own beliefs against). Basically they are free to take their faith (and religious beliefs) for granted. Consequently, this lack of knowledge sponsors a massive credulity and simultaneous ensures they remain completely naïve. Most religious people (especially Evangelical Christians—according to the Christian research group Barna) are ignorant of their faith to the point of being illiterate when it comes to understanding the doctrines which inform their devotional beliefs (see the Barna Group study HERE). So it is no wonder then that knowledge, or the lack thereof, is a determining factor in whether one is religious or not.

Granted there are always exceptions, some highly educated people remain devoutly religious, but the data all points toward the fact that the more (better) education you have the less likely you are going to be beguiled by religious, metaphysical, or superstitious claims. This also explains why many atheists and secular free thinkers tend to be naturalists more often than not. It's a simple deduction really, since the dismissal of supernatural bunk leaves you only with a naturalistic worldview and the rejection of a supernatural God (or gods) leaves you with atheism. Blomberg’s list of factors fails to predict this trend and so cannot be relied on for depicting the extemporaneous factors which do come into play for any genuine deconversion.

So I must disagree with Blomberg, it seems the first key factor in a person’s deconversion from Christianity is education and an improved working knowledge of religion. Not a crisis as he assumes.

Christian Professor of Sociology Bradley R.E. Wright, in an interview with Christianity Today, brings to our attention some more startling factoids. Evangelical Christians are not only biblically illiterate, but they are also the most racist, harboring or sponsoring prejudiced attitudes toward those of ethnicity and other cultural backgrounds, at the same time they are the worst offenders in assaulting gay’s rights and civil liberties. 

I only bring this up because, as per higher education, Wright mentions that those who are nonreligious (and with higher educational background we might assume) are more tolerant and open minded to different ideas, peoples, and worldviews. What this implies, I think you’ll find, is that education and knowledge directly impact our worldview and in turn this enhanced worldview feeds back into our knowledge and education. 

Freedom from Religion
Wright also notes that an inbuilt part of the Evangelical message focuses on demoralizing its adherents, sponsoring shame and regret. Ironically enough, since everyone are (supposedly) sinners, Evangelical Christianity has made a massive profit in selling self help books on how to correct or improve one's life by focusing on God and Jesus. 

I find this aspect of Evangelical Christianity especially wicked. The idea is that if you are living for Christ you'll be less of a sinner and better off for it. Books like The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, God Speaks Your Love Language by Gary Chapman, The Father Connection by Josh McDowel, It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor are all books focused on helping people improve their relationship with God by offering 'uplifting' or 'spiritual' sounding bits of scripture as to give you the means to repair your sinful broken-down life. 

Personally I find the whole enterprise insulting. The reason so many religious people feel crippled by sin and feel their lives are broken down is because their religious faith tricks them into believing it! It demonizes their integrity and worth making them feel shame or disgust for either their behavior or lifestyle sending them on a huge guilt trip. Then, at the last minute, it reverses the demoralizing and degrading assault and suddenly says, "But wait! You aren't worthless like you think--you're special. And God loves you! And he has a plan for you. All you have to do is sign up today! Give yourself unto Jesus, and you'll be seeing results instantly!" It's like an abusive relationship which you keep going back to because, in the end, he always says he didn't mean it--that in spite of it all he does loves you--and that he's sorry only to start the mental abuse and battery all over again. 

Once again, religion seems to be the mechanism which generates crisis--this time by replicating the patterns of an abusive relationship. So maybe people aren't so much deconverting from religion as they are escaping it? I know that when I finally relinquished my religious beliefs I felt a huge relief wash over me, for the first time in my life I felt entirely liberated. Perhaps it is by overcoming the repetitive cycles of religious inculcation, getting free of dogma, and steadily increasing and gaining in knowledge, we can overcome the limitations religion places on our own worldviews.

This leaves us with option three, questioning one’s worldviews. This one I think Blomberg gets right. Gaining a deeper understanding of other walks of life, peoples, cultures, etc. inevitably leads to a broader worldview. I know that this was a substantial factor in my own deconversion, but with one caveat, it wasn’t an external force that caused me to question my Christian worldview, but rather, it was my Christian faith that forced me to since it was directly interfering with and hindering the growth of my broader worldview. Hence the crisis! Albeit a crisis which was generated by my own Christian belief system, thus, once again, it was because of Christianity that I was forced to reconsider my personal beliefs, not in spite of it, and that’s where the distinction needs to be made.

Expanding Worldviews Means Shrinking Religions
The truth is, once you’re thrown into an alien culture with a foreign people who don’t speak your language, where your cultural values are turned on their head, and where you must adapt to all kinds of new social norms, you have no choice—you must question your worldview. And if something is deterring you or stopping you from assimilating it could make for some very uncomfortable situations. It could be as simple as a case of culture shock or something as trying as an inability to adapt or assimilate (something I’ve seen firsthand during my time in Japan).[] Re-evaluating things, whether it is ones personal beliefs, cultural views, political views, or moral ethos is absolutely necessary in learning to understand and cope with a broader worldview.

Yet what about someone who does not face the challenge of confronting their own worldview head on? Why should anyone necessarily feel the need to confront their worldview at all? Easy, this form of questioning and critical evaluation of one’s beliefs and cultural views most often leads to a healthier lifestyle, new friendships, opens up new avenues of thought, lends experience to put someone wise, and can lead to flourishing and happiness. Not only this, but it also gives a person the ability to be skeptical whenever they come across a worldview which limits their growth or else seeks to stifle them. This is what happened with me, my Christianity threatened to destroy my whole world by interfering with my ability to assimilate, adapt, and cope with new worldviews. In other words, it was retarding my growth as a person—an each time I tried to expand my worldview I had to confront the conflicting, frequently prejudiced, demoralizing, backwards teachings of my prior Christian faith.[]

The crisis was that it threatened not only my ability to mature and grow, both mentally and emotionally, but it threatened my well being too. I had no choice but to question the faith I was indoctrinated in, and it took years of deprogramming before I could approach any different worldview without such interference. And it is in this awakening, the one where you realize your religion has failed you, where belief dwindles away and faith crumbles. Therefore an expanding worldview, more often than not, will lead to a shrinking religious worldview.

A Trifecta now a Fivefecta!
Examining the weaknesses of Blomberg’s deconversion list I think I can do one better. Not least of all because, unlike Blomberg, I actually did deconvert from Christianity and so have an insider’s perspective here. My list of factors which lead to a deconverstion of religious faith are:

1.      A higher level of education and applicable knowledge which would help to demystify or disillusion.
2.      A crisis generating mechanism inherent to faith either vis-a-vi doctrinal regulations/restrictions (or in spite of them) which breeds self abjection, shame, and demoralizing attitudes.
3.      The failure of faith to stand up to scrutiny or provide any relief for cognitive dissonance (stemming from 1), moral confusion (from 2), causing one to abandon the faith.
4.      Thus having lost faith, one must re-evaluate their worldview, thereby gaining an expanded worldview in the process (and lending further support for the validity of 1, 2, and 3).
5.      Finally, a personal crisis, either mental (e.g. the problem of evil, etc.) or real (e.g. death of a loved one, etc.), which causes one to lose faith or else cause them to reflect on or address 3 and 4.

Just to clarify, I say applicable knowledge because whereas a firm grasp of Evolutionary theory may challenge one’s religious worldview a strong understanding of baking pastries or motorcycle repair likely would not.

As per 2, a crisis generating mechanism which would generate either cognitive dissonance or moral confusion and/or anxiety and is an inbuilt part of concepts such as original sin, the problem of evil, the threat of eternal damnation, and so on. Such as that we could figure out a way to disavow the emotional crisis bread by the doctrine of hell, and detach ourselves from the fear and terrible worry it brings those who take it all too literally, one would then need to account for the cognitive dissonance which comes up in bad theology.[]

These are the keys factors, as I see them, in deconversion from faith/religion. Also, this enhanced list accounts for the problems Blomberg encountered but was unable to address due to the limited scope of his deconversion list. I feel my list easily includes world religions other than Christianity whereas I think Blomberg's list is restricted only to Evangelical modes of Protestant Christianity.

Needless to say everyone has their own reasons for deconverting or walking away from faith. I can’t possibly create a comprehensive list to explain all the various nuanced forms of deconversion, but I do feel my list captures the main reasons people typically deconvert or walk away from faith.

[] I have spent considerable time in the country of Japan. During this time I have seen students and co-workers come from other countries that not only struggled to adapt but could not adapt to a new worldview. Nor could they assimilate the unique cultural elements which Japan, well, Japan. In fact, I have seen people give up after a year of struggling and I have seen people walk out on contracts as soon as one month into their time in Japan. The question is what is the crisis they are experiencing? Chalk it up to clashing worldviews and the discomfort it causes. Perhaps they feel that they will lose their own cultural identity if they allow themselves to assimilate, maybe they fear they will lose themselves entirely, or maybe they are just so fixed on their own beliefs and cultural ethos that to allow for any change would be a sacrifice greater than they are willing to make? I don’t quite know, but most people manage to adapt. Only a minority few ever experience such trouble. Some people are just better suited to change, or perhaps I should say, more lenient in allowing for change. So, it may be that personality type is another subset of the factors which contribute to religious deconversion.
[] Just to specify, when I first met my Japanese wife I was still under the yoke of a strict fundamentalist piety which warned against interracial marriages with a unbeliever (i.e. non-Christian). The crisis was that my heart said this love was genuine but my faith was telling me I had no right to such love or happiness. Sure, I had a right to be happy, to be loved, but only if my Buddhist wife would convert to Christianity. Those are the rules according to doctrine, according to Christianity. If it was in the Bible, I believed it. Granted not all Christians may take their faith so seriously, but I did. So there I was, at an impasse. I could not force her, let alone expect the woman I loved to change her whole worldview simply by demanding her to. Even if she truly loved me enough to try, I would not dare expect her to, as that’s simply not love an act of love. It’s an act to salvage a love—but from what? Save it from myself—because I was unwilling, nay, unable to change specifically because of the dogmatic beliefs I held. Certainly I felt cognitive dissonance in the fact that my faith taught it would be a sin to be yoked with an unbeliever, and that I would risk an eternity in hell for loving a non-Christian, who would (according to my faith) continually be tempting me away from Christ. Would God punish me for loving someone? How could a loving God, I wondered, allow such a moral confusion? Something was horribly wrong with my faith or my religious beliefs, and so I had no choice but to re-evaluate them. When I did look into it, I discovered the Bible was wrong, so wrong that it hurt to continue to believe it to be the divinely inspired word of God. Once I rejected Biblical inerrancy I could assess the text with a critical outlook using the historical method and critical thinking skills—the rest, as they say, is history.
[] Cognitive Dissonance and Moral Confusion as caused by Religion: Just to illustrate my point, would be a Christian having to explain why an all knowing God would create a glib talking snake only to trick Adam and Eve into disobeying his commands (which he knew they’d do before the whole event ever took place) and then punish them for it (an obvious set up—since God knew prior to the act of sin that they were predestined to sin). But worse still, demand that blood sacrifice be the only means to expiate sin (of disobedience) of eating a fruit which God falsely advertised (i.e. lied about) would bring about mortal death, and clearly a mortal death is distinctly not spiritual death—as some Christian apologists will claim. (This is an obvious harmonization trick apologists like to pull to make God’s lie into not a lie; and a good example of the cognitive dissonance/moral ambiguity problem).
If God was all knowing he would have known (from the get-go) that he’d make such demands, therefore being an omniscient and all loving God would not have made those demands precisely because he knew they would fail beforehand. Only a cruel God could forcibly predestine his creation to sin and then punish them for it anyway (more moral confusion). It makes even less sense that God would eventually use his own son as the proverbial scapegoat, as a tool to expiate humankind’s collective sins, and render the whole demand obsolete—thus contradicting himself in the process—if Christ’s expiation was an ultimate atonement for sin, then why even bother with the demand to repay sins to begin with? This places the demand to repent of sin as a finite offense, since God arbitrarily assigns a finite period for sin, however long it is between the date of Adam and Eve’s (supposed) fall from grace and the act of salvation through Christ’s atonement, which makes no sense coming from a (supposedly) infinite God (yet more cognitive dissonance). In other words, an infinite being would have no reason to set a finite time to even allow for a period of sin. Nor would an infinite and all knowing God create sin only to later erase it by washing out debt clean—of course with the added stipulation that we accept Christ because he saved us (but this tit for tat demand, the I scrub your back so you better scrub mine, you sinned and Jesus saved your ass from frying so accept him damn you, can only be seen as blackmail since, as we saw earlier, the fall of man was an inescapable frame job). See, the whole concept of original sin in Christian doctrine is a mess!
As it seems to any rational person, it would have just been easier for God not to have created a talking snake. End of problem! In fact, it would have been easier not demanded that sins be forgiven only through blood sacrifice to begin with. Problem solved! To a rational person, an all powerful/all knowing/all loving God should be able to figure out a way to sanctify rather than damn. At least, one would think! As it is, a doctrine which sponsors ‘original forgiveness’ makes logical sense whereas a doctrine which sponsors ‘original sin’ makes little to no sense at all, and moreover, leads to both cognitive dissonance and moral confusion.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist