A reader having a crisis of faith sent me an e-mail describing his situation; with permission I’m posting excerpts from it with my responses:
As you may have realised, I’m having a crisis of faith. Partly because of the horrible things that God apparently commanded, but there’s more to it. The more I research, the more I realise that pastors and evangelists lie. Sure I realised all along that William Lane Craig and Kent Hovind were dodgy, but when a professor of zoology uses the “hopeful monsters” parody of punctuated equilibrium, it’s tough to believe he made a mistake. When pastors make claims about there being no contradictions in the Bible, it’s tough to rule it out to being illiterate or ignorant, so when an elder in the church told me yesterday that they’re basically trained to lie about these things, I was livid. The lure of Heaven or threat of Hell have never really motivated me, it’s about doing things for other people, getting the truth (whatever it may be) to people, so they can make informed decisions. If people need to lie to support their position, they probably don’t have a very strong position.
Thanks for sharing your experiences here. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear you’ve seen Craig is dodgy all along (the emphasis above is mine). Normally, I feel like it’s a huge struggle for me to get people to realize this. Craig strikes me as a charlatan who’s done a very good job of refining his scam for the type of people who wouldn’t be taken in by Hovind.
To add to that, after reading Dawkins and Harris, who didn’t shake me, I read a book that did make an impact, mainly because it asked some really good questions about the prophecies of Christ. You may be familiar with the book, it’s called UFOs ghosts and a rising God. I think it comes down to that Harris deliberately cherry picks things from their context to make out like you need to stone people to be a good Christian, whereas you put things into their context to refute them.
It’s flattering that my book had such an impact on you, but I’m not sure I’d agree with you about Harris. I don’t think I’d ever say good Christians need to stone people, but I don’t think Harris ever says exactly that either.
What I would say, and what I think Harris would say, is this: even though the overwhelming majority of Christians don’t want to execute people for adultery, or blasphemy, or homosexuality, they’ve still inherited a holy book containing laws whose closest modern equivalents is the sharia law found in today’s more repressive Muslim countries. It’s not clear that Christians have a good reason from within Christianity to claim those laws don’t apply today, but even if they did, the fact that those laws are in the Bible at all is a serious problem for Christianity.
I’m not sure where I’m going, whether I can stay as a Christian, or move on. I doubt being an Atheist is nearby, I do believe (as I have always, even when I wasn’t a Christian) there is something more to it. I don’t find it convincing that evolution could produce such complexity through random processes. Sure, design is a pretty rubbish argument, but so are genetic algorithms.
I remember when I was on my way to atheism saying something similar to what you just said, roughly, “I feel like there has to be something.” Now, though, I realizing that that was a hopelessly vague statement. An undefined “something” might be nothing like traditional conceptions of God or gods.
As for evolution, describing evolution as working “through random processes” suggests a misunderstanding of evolution. If you haven’t already, I recommend spending some time with TalkOrigins.org, Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution Is True, and Richard Dawkins’ books on evolution.
Unfortunately, within those places, I’m a little unsure where to tell you to start. TalkOrigins is great because it’s free. Among Dawkins’ books, The Greatest Show on Earth is the one that presents the evidence for evolution, but if the issue is clearing up the misunderstandings of evolution promoted by creationists, The Blind Watchmaker might be better. The Selfish Gene is my favorite Dawkins book, but it’s more about the finer points of evolutionary theory than countering creationists.
Obviously it’s tough to make a conversion or deconversion online, Leah Really impressed me, even though I was somewhat unimpressed with her going to Catholicism and citing moral grounds as a reason after have blogged so much about how they were morally dodgy. That’s her though, not me, and I’m not sure how to go about things…. Maybe I’ll be able to retain my faith, but I’m really not confident in that.
I’m sorry if I’m rambling, but I don’t really have anyone to go to with this, not anyone I feel won’t in some way judge me. I figured you’d been here, and would understand. I’m not sure why you, I could, I guess, have emailed Daniel Fincke or Chana Messinger, or Hemant, all of whom I follow. I guess I engage more with your blog though.
No problem. When going through a crisis of faith, it’s really important to reach out to people who can let you know you’re not alone. I have no idea if there are atheist groups in your area or what they’re like, but it’s worth trying to attend a meeting, pub night, or whatever if possible. You may be surprised by what’s available–atheist groups are often stronger in more religious places, because they’re more needed there. Even if you don’t know of any, try searching on Google, Meetup.com, etc. and see what you find.
I should mention that while having to “come out” as a non-believer can be rough, it went fine for me. In retrospect, I regret not tearing that band-aid off sooner. My experiences aren’t universal, of course, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
You may also find Luke Muehlhauser’s advice helpful here.