Defending Apostates’ Intellects Against A Dismissive Christian Apologist

This morning, I posted a few of Evangelical Christian Drew Dyck’s condescending and disingenuous attempts to understand the growing trend of sustained apostasy among young Christians.  In the last post I criticized his ideas and value prejudices which guided his discussion of the role that sexual development in young adulthood plays in leading people away from faith (whether as a temporary phase or a permanent matter).

In this post I will explore his all-too-easy dismissal of the intellectual reasons that apostates offer him for leaving:

However, in many cases, moral compromise wasn’t the whole story. For example, one friend has had distinctly postmodern misgivings. When his father learned of his decision to leave the faith, he rushed his son a copy of Mere Christianity, hoping the book would bring him back. But C. S. Lewis’s logical style left him cold. “All that rationality comes from the Western philosophical tradition,” he told me. “I don’t think that’s the only way to find truth.”

I also met leavers who felt Christianity failed to measure up intellectually. Shane, a 27-year-old father of three, was swept away by the tide of New Atheist literature. He described growing up a “sheltered Lutheran” who was “into Jesus” and active in youth group. Now he spoke slowly and deliberately, as if testifying in court. “I’m an atheist and an empiricist. I don’t believe religion or psychics or astrology or anything supernatural.”

Notice what he’s done there?  The irrationalist postmodernist is just rejecting logic (which is clearly on the side of Christianity) but the New Atheist convert who explicitly and conscientiously embraces logic, critical thinking, and empiricism is just some one “swept up” by popular literature and winds up talking like a cultist who regurgitates meaningless phrases drummed into his head to brainwash him and insulate him from external influence.  I think Dyck is projecting quite a bit on this one.

And it makes sense he would, because to countenance for a second that those persuaded by New Atheist books actually encountered strong and objectively good arguments that painfully undermined religious beliefs these young people wanted to hold onto but felt bound by their intellectual consciences to reject, would be to abandon his simplistic, condescending narrative that only moral failure or spiritual wounds can really explain why anyone would leave his faith.  This insulates him from ever having to actually critically reexamine the intellectual merit of his irrational (and irrationally held) beliefs.

I have news for the Drew Dycks of the world: less than 16% of Philosophy PhD’s say that they either lean towards or outright accept theism.  It would take quite a bit of prejudice to assume that 84% of non-theist professional philosophers are all just spiritually hurting, “morally compromised” people.

And given this sort of general consensus among experts as to where reason leads with respect to the God question, it is reasonable to assume that a larger portion of those apostates, who started out as predisposed to religious belief by years of indoctrination and by deep social ties and yet deconverted after reading the New Atheists, were actually persuaded by the same sorts of rational considerations that persuade an overwhelming majority of specialists in philosophical topics.

And while I disagree with the postmodernist’s irrationalism and relativism, fundamentalist Christianity’s absolutism and distorted views on what proper reasoning entails is the same error at the opposite extreme.  And, in fact, many presuppositionalist Evangelicals are just as guilty of exploiting postmodernist relativism for their advantage when they think it can insulate their faith from criticism that comes from outsiders.

But more than this, the irreligious postmodernist, despite being wrong in many ways, is making an understandable rational mistake of overextending the important rational principles that advise us to always be vigilant against our own innumerable prejudices.  As an over-correction against the willfully absolutist and closed-minded indoctrination the apostate postmodernist was raised in, this reaction is understandable.  I myself went through a long phase of irrationalistic postmodernism as an overreaction to my upbringing in absolutism.  It was a matter of serious, scrupulous principle for me—not some allergy to logic.

By contrast, the religious apologist who tries to insulate her faith from criticism by asserting that no one outside the faith can validly understand or criticize it is exploiting the fact of prejudices to justify actively embracing her unsupported presuppositions as a necessity for finding truth.  And, worst of all, the postmodern religious apologist who claims a right to proudly bias-based beliefs which turns rationalization into a virtue, goes on to abuse reason even further and more shamelessly by also claiming that her beliefs are absolutely true and that her values are absolutely binding for all people, despite having admitted she can only hold these beliefs on unsupportable, faith-based grounds.

I was also this sort of religious postmodernist, before I was ever a radically skeptical one, for the last year of my adherence to the faith as I resorted to desperate measures to salvage my faith.  My intellectual conscience could not bear such moral compromise for long and so I had to abandon the faith in which I had invested all my life up to that point.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ChucktheAtheist

    “My intellectual conscience could not bear such moral compromise for long and so I had to abandon the faith in which I had invested all my life up to that point.”

    Glad you came out of the cold, my brother.

  • mikespeir

    Some people seem to be perpetually stuck in the middle, though. I just got finished reading some books by William G. Dever. I have to say I very much admire his work as an archeologist, his scrupulous honesty in his considerations of Holy Land artefactual evidence, and his fervent fight against the postmodernist slant of so many modern biblicists.

    He always makes it clear that he is “not a theist.” And he is just as adamant that he isn’t an atheist. Okay, there are people like that. What mystifies and frustrates me is his dogged defense of the Bible as “the meta-narrative of Western civilization.” It’s one thing to say that the Bible has been that meta-narrative, which might very well be true. It’s quite another to determinedly insist that it ought to be. The Bible for Dever is the grounding for our morality–an assertion you expect from a Christian, but not from a “not a theist.” I puzzled over this curious inconsistency as I read, thinking, surely, he was going to mount a believable justification for it. But no, there was none that I make out. Maddening!

  • Jeff Dale

    People whose cherished beliefs defy logic seem to have convinced themselves that “logic” is an ideology, just another fallible and biased way of trying to arrive at truth, so that the conclusions of logic don’t necessarily apply to any other ideology. But no, logic *is* the process of correct thinking, regardless of (and in spite of) ideological commitments. Logic can be done well or done badly, but it can’t be dismissed as inapplicable to any given ideology. If confronted with logic to argue against one’s belief, the answer is not to dismiss logic itself, but to show how the logic was done badly.

    I find analogies are often helpful. If someone decided that the gas tank of his car should be filled with orange juice instead of motor fuel, he wouldn’t be right in claiming that other people who follow the owner’s manual and common knowledge about cars are merely following some other belief system about auto care. There’s a coherent logical chain from the evidence to the conclusion that motor fuel works better than orange juice in gas tanks. The orange juice proponent who finds himself sitting in a vehicle that no longer moves has just obtained more evidence leading to the same conclusion. The logical chain applies to *any* attempt to discern what works best in the tank, not just to attempts by those who “believe in logic.”

  • George W.

    The more I listen to theists speak, the more I realize that they have a predetermined list of reasons for apostasy that they just shoehorn every atheist into.
    I read the most common accusation I face in Dyck’s article, that I was just looking for “Sunshine and Rainbows” Jesus. That I was looking for a God who only “makes things easy”.

    Of course, I am woefully unqualified to judge whether I ever believed this. That decision is best left to my Christian psychoanalyst. Even if my testimony doesn’t say that, even if it expressly contradicts it, that has to be the answer. Also that the church failed me. That has to be it.

  • Eamon Knight

    A year and a half late to the party, but this: And, in fact, many presuppositionalist Evangelicals are just as guilty of exploiting postmodernist relativism for their advantage when they think it can insulate their faith from criticism that comes from outsiders.

    I’ve been noticing that for a while (at least since encountering the presuppism of AiG’s joke of a museum, and made explicit in one statement I saw from one of the makers of Expelled). It’s mind-bendingly bizarre to see the absolutists crawling into bed with the radical relativists. I can only interpret it as apologetic desperation.

  • Stella

    As you say, once Dyck accepts that the empirical evidence undermines Christianity, he will have to accept that Christianity is incorrect – which, of course, is the very reasoning that leads the people he’s discussing away from faith. Dyck can’t accept that, which is why he won’t ascribe any validity to intellectual arguments against Christianity. This makes a lot of sense if you think of it from Dyck’s perspective, but it means he can’t effectively challenge the Atheist Argument from Evidence*. It means his argument amounts to putting his hands over his ears and saying “lalalalala, I can’t hear you”, and it’s not philosophically persuasive.

    Lewis leaves me cold too, but for a quite different reason. I think he’s a very poor philosopher who makes a mess of the traditional Western logical process.

    *By which I mean challenge it in such a way that he could stand a decent chance of enticing the intellectual apostates back to the collection plate altar. I don’t personally believe it’s possible to effectively challenge the Atheist Argument from Evidence, due to the vast and rapidly growing body of, well, evidence.