Who Can We Trust? (RJS)

I recently read three posts on the blog Cognitive Discopants worth some serious discussion. The first,  Why I Have Difficulty Trusting Christians, leads to the title of my post today. This post outlines a journey from acceptance to distrust of evangelical apologists and authorities. The next two posts provide an approach to searching for truth in the face of complex questions. The titles reflect the journey described in the first post: Tips On Not Getting Duped Again Part I and Part II. I recommend these three posts in their entirety – especially for those who are pastors, or who intend to be pastors or Christian leaders.

The first post, Why I Have Difficulty Trusting Christians describes Chris’s experience as his intellectual world expanded to include a wide variety of views and perspectives. As young Christians we think we know who to trust. Our pastors, Christian scholars, the experts and apologists who claim to know. We quote authorities and perhaps consider their tribe in evaluating reliability. We learn what to think, but seldom how to think about questions and problems. Chris encountered problems when as he puts it his “truth filter broke. Irreparably.” This happened first with a careful look at the scientific evidence for the age of the earth and for evolution. It continued on to other areas of study. The search for truth, the search to know who to trust, became decoupled from his faith community. More significantly, it became apparent that, on some issues at least, his faith community could not be trusted.

Have you ever felt deceived? Does it impact your willingness to trust?

What do you look for when deciding who to trust or distrust?

Chris concludes this first post as follows:

It’s been a few years since I began to see my truth filter for what it was. I’ve come out the other side like a Boy Scout after a geomagnetic reversal – my compass now points the opposite direction. In the same way that I once distrusted non-Christians, I now distrust Christians. That’s not to say that I think the average Christian is likely to lie to me. On the contrary, I find that most Christians do prize honesty and usually try to be truthful, at least on a personal level.

The problem is our willingness to lie to ourselves.

In assessing trustworthiness, my first question used to be, “Is this person a Christian?” Now I ask, “Is this person trying to defend a belief system to which he has an inflexible commitment?” If the answer is yes, I realize that I need to be cautious. Christians aren’t the only ones who do this. Atheists are more than capable of deluding themselves in the interests of rejecting theism or Christianity (as attested by the prevalence of Jesus mythicism). But no longer does the Christian ethic of honesty provide me with assurance that a Christian source will be credible. While it might dissuade them from knowingly lying to me, their prior theological commitments can easily lead them to delude themselves (and me in the process).

I’m incredibly thankful for those Christian writers, scholars and bloggers who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. When I see that someone has the intellectual honesty to acknowledge even those truths that unsettle his or her faith, that’s when I begin to trust again.

My experience was similar in some ways to that described by Chris, but not entirely. Young earth creationism was an option and probably the most common position in the church I grew up in, but it was not passed off as the only possible answer. One of the youth group leaders taught biology in the local high school and we had some discussions of the options. Still, the questions of science and faith were and are serious issues.

On other issues, such as the nature of scripture, my experience was eerily similar to Chris’s. The largest question became who to trust and where to go for answers – not pat answers to the troubling questions, but honest evaluations of the evidence and its consequence. It isn’t necessary to agree with someone on every issue, or even most issues to have this foundation of trust, but it is necessary to understand and respect the thought processes that lead to the positions taken.

The first question I ask these days when reading or listening to an expert or authority is not “what does this person say?” but “how does this person think, how do they make their argument?” This is true across the board, but it is especially true within the evangelical subculture. I am also thankful for those who will interact with intellectual integrity and deal with ideas and evidence honestly.

We need to look for truth, not protect pet ideas and concepts. Intellectual integrity is not a code for “agree with me.”  We only move forward by open discussion and interaction – no one group or person has the corner on all truth, knowledge, and understanding. I have respect for many who disagree with my positions and conclusions – it is the form of the argument and the honesty of the interaction that counts.

How to evaluate authorities – including Christian authorities. Chris goes on in the next two posts, Tips On Not Getting Duped Again Part I and Part II, to put forth some guidelines or tips to avoid being duped by sincere but uninformed or deceptive arguments and reasoning. His list with some comment of  my own is given below. (He expands on each in much more detail in the posts linked above.)

1. Don’t reject an opposing view until you’ve read the best available material in support of that view.

In general don’t trust the opponents of a view to do justice to its arguments. Sometimes they will, but too often they will not. Read the proponents and interact with their views at their strongest.

The Christian thinkers I trust, whether I agree or disagree with their conclusions, are those who deal fairly with the opposing view, interacting with it at its strongest in a form that would be recognized by the proponents.

2. Don’t assume that because someone has a PhD, he knows what he’s talking about.

Credentials are important, but they are not enough. There are always credentialed individuals to support any idea. Chris notes: There will be outliers in any field. Don’t let your opinions rest on the views of a single expert, no matter how impressive his resume. This is particularly troublesome in the discussions surrounding science and faith. The credentials of those who challenge evolutionary biology are often only marginally related to the field. Receiving a Ph.D. should ensure a level of knowledge and critical thinking ability within a given field, but we must evaluate how and why people hold any given position. This is far more significant than the possession of appropriate credentials. A Ph.D. alone is no guarantee of wisdom or of careful thought process. (This I say as one who has supervised 11 completed Ph.D’s to date, sat on the governing board of a graduate school, read dozens of dissertations and sat through an equal number of defenses.)

3. Always find out what other experts in the field have to say.

Stray outside of your comfort zone. Know what is being said by others outside of your small circle of friends or authorities. If you stick with only reformed scholars, only evangelical scholars, only creationists, or only those approved by your pastor or perhaps even your professor, you will probably go wrong somewhere. Chris suggests “Try to determine what view is held by scholars in mainstream academic circles, not simply the view within your particular corner of the intellectual world.” This doesn’t mean that the mainstream view is correct, but you have no way to ascertain its value if you don’t understand it.

4. Don’t reject the consensus view of experts unless you truly understand it.

Chris notes: “Scholars and scientists, on the whole, are not idiots. If at any point you find yourself thinking, “These experts are all fools. How can they believe something so obviously wrong?” chances are, you’re the one who doesn’t get it. There are usually very good reasons behind widely-held conclusions.” This is an excellent point – and one that deserves a great deal of consideration.  If you can not articulate the reasons why most scholars or most scientists hold a position you are not qualified to reject it. You don’t actually understand the strengths or the weaknesses of the position.

I do not put much trust in an expert, Christian or otherwise, who ridicules the consensus view and argues with humor and putdown rather than data. While the person may be correct, the odds are strongly against it.

5. Don’t justify your theory’s lack of acceptance by appealing to a conspiracy.

Nothing is more annoying in the science and faith discussion than this appeal to conspiracy, whether it is a conspiracy to cover up the truth or a conspiracy to avoid certain arguments for fear of where they may lead. In the conspiracy view Christians in agreement with mainstream science are cast as hoodwinked compromisers, while non Christian scientists are cast as intentional evangelists of materialism hiding the truth to win their point.  Neither is true. Yes, politics and peer pressure can be at play on occasion, perhaps many occasions, from all sides. But grand conspiracy? – no, not really; the social forces and processes are more subtle and convoluted, both within the church and within the scientific community.

“Be skeptical about people who offer these sorts of justifications for their theory’s unpopularity.” Excellent advice.

The original post asked for more suggestions of tips for thinking through questions and conflicts and for evaluating the reliability of authorities.

Do you have any suggestions to add?

What should pastors and other Christian leaders do to build, earn, or retain trust?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • J.L. Schafer

    Great post.

    I would broaden Point 5 to ascribing and imputing any kind of ulterior motives to those who hold opinions other than yours. There lots of parallels in alternative medicine. I’m not saying that alternative medicine is all bunk. But proponents of alternative medicine routinely ascribe dark motives to the medical professionals as a first line of defense and attack. Ad hominem arguments are simply wrong. Unfortunately, Christians are often the worst offenders in this regard.

  • Jason Lee

    Wow, this is a great post!

  • Thank you for this, rjs, and for introducing us to that blog. In answer to your first question, Yes, I have felt deceived. “The problem is our willingness to lie to ourselves.” The new convert that I was devoured books that developed and supported my new worldview. The trick was not that I didn’t read outside my comfort zone, but that I had accepted that the faulty presuppositions of those writers made pretty much everything they said untrustworthy. Therefore I was able to read “nonconforming” books without really engaging them. I just picked them apart in my mind as I read and thought I was clever.

    The gradual turning point came as I learned to trust my own thinking. I had been dependent on “authorities” far too long.

  • Great post!!

    Gonna share it with as many people as I can.

  • Chad Gibbons

    Sadly, I’ve grown to distrust Christian apologetics for these very reasons. Along with these helpful tips, I’ll add one that has worked wonders for me: Get to know how Conspiracy Theorists argue.
    First, spend some time at the Flat Earth society websites – not to debunk them, but just go along with them. Familiarize yourself with the types of arguments being made and how their apologetics work. Then, check out some other conspiracy theories as well and notice the similarities.

    Once you start to recognize their tactics, you would be surprised at how often ‘respected’ people and scholars use them to defend their points as well. If you can hone your conspiracy theory detector well enough, you can protect yourself from misinformation and being taken in much easier.

  • MatthewS

    Looking for truth, not protecting pet ideas.

    Reminded me of 2 things that communicate something similar:

    Tim Keller recently said that the best way to interact with an opposing viewpoint is to first express that viewpoint in such a way that a proponent would say “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Now when you begin to critique you have earned a right to be heard.

    There is the story of the physics prof who would first ask a student, “What evidence would make you change your mind?” If none, then the prof would refuse to discuss, calling it a pointless conversation.

  • “Have you ever felt deceived? Does it impact your willingness to trust?” -Scot

    I was deceived for over two decades regarding a wife’s responsibility and how a good marriage should operate. When I finally came out of the fog, I felt very betrayed by preachers/ministries whose teachings I had trusted and embraced.

    “Do you have any suggestions to add?” -Scot

    Putting any man where the Holy Spirit should be is a form of idolatry. Hear and learn from the Holy Spirit instead of putting trust in earthy “authority figures” 1 John 2:27; John 16:13; Eph 4:20-21; Jer 31:31-34

  • rjs

    Matthew S,

    I am not going to point to people I find to be part of the problem – but I would like to comment here. Even when I disagree with Tim Keller, and I do on a number of issues (Calvinism and Women in Ministry to list two), I respect the way he thinks through and deals with the issues. You hit the major reason why.

  • bill

    This kind of post is why I continue to read this blog. I like MatthewS’s comment.

  • DRT

    This topic is the most important topic in today’s world because for the first time in history nearly everyone has access to the appropriate information to make an informed decision. We still do not understand the consequences of that situation as we seem to chose echo chambers instead of knowledge.

    My journey has been similar, but it involved an intense and multi-year period of mourning for the loss of my naïveté and rebellion that led to the realization that some I held as authority were corrupt with typical fallen human qualities. I have come to realize that intelligence has absolutely nothing to do with integrity and the integrity of the source is something I value. Having said that, there are so few people of impeccable integrity that it becomes important to consciously apply methods like the five points you outline above. Very good.

    One of my most important coaching topics is now how to tell if someone is lying to you when they are not aware that they are lying. Everyone does it, but we can’t become paralyzed by skepticism.

  • Aaron

    I would Echo Donald Miller:

    “If you drop your preconceived grid when you go to the Bible, you may in fact find out that the grid you had been filtering the Bible through isn’t as concrete as you previously thought, and you may then have to admit that you were wrong. I wonder if our grids aren’t so solid for this reason, rather than as supposed guardrails to keep us from straying from the truth. What I mean is, a grid can help you understand the truth as much as it can cause you to reject the truth. When I hear a pastor or theologian speak in concrete terms about their grid, and especially when they defend that grid with emotion, I trust them less, not more. I trust them less because their paradigm is fixed, and they simply aren’t open to Biblical interpretations that contend with the ideas upon which they’ve stated and defend, ideas associated with their identities and even their financial security.”

  • The black/white distinction is maintained by Chris. The dilemma in discussion is illustrative of “knowing in part” “disputable matters” and “the more knowledge, the more grief.”

  • DRT

    Now to directly answer the question. Tips for knowing who to trust.

    First, recognize that at some point nearly everyone will allow their personal situation to cloud their judgment regarding truthiness. The reasons that happens are manifold and include such mundane situations such as the person is having a fight with their spouse so they don’t have the patience to deal with the situation at hand. Just because someone occasionally is not correct does not mean they can’t be trusted. No one can be fully trusted at all times.

    Second, most people out there really are not concerned with truth but with happiness. This certainly sounds cynical, but I argue this point regularly with my wife who adopts the view that we actually do not have the right to tell people the truth if they are content where they are. There are more people like that.

    Third, correlate falsifiability among your experts. This is a two part piece of advice. The most compelling arguments and augmenters contain the conditions under which their conclusion would be false. If two people on opposite sides of the argument agree as to the conditions under which their argument would be false, then you really are on to something.

  • You’ve raised the critical issues of being open to positions that may be foreign to your tribe. But another challenge I see is for those who become disillusioned with their tribe. They enter a mission to be contra-tribe, despising everything the tribe believes and seemingly embracing alternate positions, not because they have really examined them and embraced them on their own merits, but because they have plausibility and contradict the tribes positions.

    As you know, I’m very much interested in economics and economic development. I’m not an economist but I’ve tried to understand the economic principles around which there is wide acceptance while recognizing that when it comes to policy decisions in some areas there can be wide variations in what is recommended. Policy decisions always involve trade-offs and weighing trade-offs involves values. There is considerable room for discussion but a basic knowledge of core economic principles around which there is strong consensus is essential to having an informed discussion.

    Over the past decade or so, when I’ve been around emerging church folks, it has been abundantly clearly to me that the desire for truth is often deeply entangled with the desire to be contra-Evangelical. Many younger Evangelicals were raised in homes where their religion was tightly intertwined with conservative Republican politics and economics (I was not). Consequently, when I raise economic issues that sound remotely conservative, there is a visceral rejection of anything I have to say. There is an inability to have a real conversation. In fact, to raise such an issue is for me merely to demonstrate I’m “one of them” who doesn’t get it. It quickly becomes apparent that their conversation is not with me but with me as symbol of something they detest.

    While asking questions and breaking free from the constraints, don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. In doing so, you allow your the tribe to define you, except in this case it is now to be contra-tribe instead of in the tribe. Come to your positions because of discernment and be willing to embrace truth that may favorably overlap with what your former tribe believed.

  • rjs

    Jeff Stewart,

    I don’t think that comment is fair – at least not without more clarity on the specific issue you have with his posts and without some indication of your viewpoint.

  • Matthew #6

    I think you’ve nailed an essential piece for face-to-face conversation … getting to where you can articulate your opponents position to the point they say “Yes. That is what I’m saying.”

    I think another piece is learning how to ask good questions and listen. I’ve come to this conclusion later in life and I still struggle with how to do it well.

  • EVERYONE proceeds from presuppositions. But many seem to be unaware of what their presuppositions are or unwilling to question their presuppositions. The testimony of “experts” (whoever they are and whatever their field) can be no greater than their presuppositions. If the premise is faulty, the conclusion will be suspect, no matter how well the argument may be constructed. If the presuppositions are faulty, the testimony will not be dependable.

    “Experts” do not really tell us the way things are. They can tell us only how things appear as viewed through the lens of their presuppositions. If I do not find their presupposition to be reliable, I will not find their testimony to be any more reliable.

    And if they seem to be unaware of their presuppositions, or unwilling to question them, I will not find their testimony to be particularly persuasive.

  • Aaron #10

    I don’t think it is possible to read Scripture without a grid. Rather, I think we need to A) work to be more conscious of the grid we use and the assumptions it contains, and B) expose ourselves to other grids that might be employed.

    Kenneth Bailey talks about living our lives with tentative finality. “Tentative” because we need to be open to correction and new learning. “Finality” because we can’t suspend our lives until we get it all figured out just right. And in fact, it is the process of living out what we believe with some conviction and reflecting on it as we do so that reshapes us.

  • The fundamental question that needs to be asked is that asked by Pilate of Jesus. “What is truth?” The problem with much discussion that I’ve seen is that we do not have fundamental agreement on how to evaluate the truth of any particular claim.

    Inflexibility cannot be the standard. Jesus was inflexible on many issues. If we are standing on the truth, we should be inflexible.

    The focus has to remain on Scripture and how to understand it and how to apply it to today. Any other standard will lead to error.

  • rjs


    I disagree – the focus has to remain on God. Scripture is an absolutely indispensable record of God’s work in the world. It is a gift, profitable for teaching, and inspired of God. It is a light and a lamp. But when scripture is our foundation we’re standing of the wrong thing.

  • It’s fair, because it is my own personal observation. It appears to me that Chris still desires to draw a line and fall on one particular side. You want me to lie? ;-D

  • rjs

    Jeff Stewart,

    Of course personal observations are not necessarily fair. I can observe that some one is an idiot or biased or deceptive or egotistical or arrogant. I may or may not be right – but if I do not defend the observation it is patently unfair.

    Your observation needs more detail because it comes across as a drive by shot at a person.

    Why do you think Chris desires to draw a line and fall on a particular side? What aspects of his posts give this impression? How does it relate to the topics I brought up for discussion here?

  • Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Andy W.

    Great Post RJS! This is basically why I struggle so much feeling comfortable in the church community…It’s actually not a safe place to be honest. I realize how horribly sad that sounds, but I have consistently found this to be true. I don’t believe this is intentional, most folks just don’t think about these things or are more concerned with defending a belief system then having honest conversation. I’m reading a great book right now called “Mistakes Were Made but Not By Me” about cognitive dissonance. As I read, I can’t help but think about the amount of cognitive dissonance Christians live with and yet ignore as if it’s just not there. Is this the way it’s suppose to be? I sure don’t think so. While I struggle with belief and doubt and the disruption this causes to my ordered world, I actually find that my *trust* in God is alive and growing. While my simplistic beliefs in propositions about God are often being shaken, my *trust* in the character and goodness of God is secure.

    What should pastors and leaders do? Be as honest as possible and model this tension that is a reality. Build community! Nothing tears down our false image and ideas more then living in community! Create a culture where honesty, transparency and grace is expected. Never be afraid to talk about opposing position with respect and grace and never present a caricature of any opposing position.

  • It’s not a drive-by shot. I resonate with his point more than you may think I do. I am of the opinion that “apologetics” is a modern rendition of Peter wielding a sword.
    I read Chris’ blog and he state he grew up seeing things as black and white. The transition he has experienced does not suggest anything gray. He basically says: “This is how I saw it – this is how I now see it.” I see no ongoing tension, but rather abandonment replace by adoption.

  • I don’t think it is limited to Christians. I think that generally everyone is willing to live with some cognitive dissonance, to one degree or another. I think it is true on both sides of the creation/evolution debate. Some of it has to do with unawareness of one’s own presuppositions or unwillingness to question them.

  • rjs

    Jeff Stewart,

    He’d have to answer whether he still sees things in black and white … maybe.

    This is all a process and we all continue to grow (or so I hope). I thought the suggestions for evaluating ideas were good suggestions to put on the table, to get some discussion.

  • C. Ehrlich

    The difficulty is to translate these into pedagogical guidelines for Christian ministers. Think of all the youth pastors and apologists coming out of, e.g., Biola, planting the seeds of disillusionment in their lopsided portrayals of the arguments and evidences. Deprived of such methods and manners, would they still have employment?

  • henrybish


    I initially accepted the theory of evolution after reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Selfish Gene’, but then at a later date I did a fairly detailed study of the evidence and found it to be rather meagre indeed.

    I can honestly say that even if I was not a Christian I would have a very hard time believing the theory of evolution. When a person so confidently asserts it is true it makes me wonder whether they really understand the evidence and the challenging critiques it is burdened with.

    Since I presume you have read the best ID literature, it makes me wonder whether you are in fact a victim to the sinful craving of mainstream academic respectability.

    The fact that, as you mentioned above, you manage to come to your egalitarian conclusions about women in ministry would strike most honest non-believers who read the Bible for themselves as very odd. Give any honest person without an axe to grind the New Testament and they would laugh at your conclusion that Paul wanted women to be elders. Perhaps you are honest enough to admit that this is what Paul taught, and take the Jewett or Webb route instead?

    With conclusions like these, in areas where I have actually looked at both sides of the evidence, I can’t say your voice instils the greatest amount of trust in me, Sir, either in science or exegesis.

  • Karl

    I think Michael Kruse makes a good and important point in #13. The visceral reaction contra everything believed by one’s own tribe can lead one to be just as unfair and anti-intellectual as one accuses the tribe of being.

    I also like the Keller quote by Matthew S in #6. Real communication can only begin once we repeat our dialogue partner’s position back to her in words that she would own and say “yes, that’s what I believe.” Until we can do that we aren’t in dialogue, we are just being a demagogue. There is a lot more demagoguery than true dialogue that goes on – especially on blogs and the internet.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    For those interested in Pilate’s question, listen to Johnny Cash’s old song “What is Truth?”

    Randy Gabrielse

  • Scot McKnight


    One of the requirements of good conversation is listening well enough to understand, and your statement that RJS is a “Sir” indicates you have listened well enough to three years of her posts that are more than fair and informed. To suggest, further, that you know her motives — suggesting sinful cravings — is unfair and unwarranted. I’d ask you to avoid imputing motives to someone and to avoid accusations until you have listened well enough to her informed voice to know what she is saying and not saying.

  • DRT

    AndyW#23, said

    What should pastors and leaders do? Be as honest as possible and model this tension that is a reality. Build community! Nothing tears down our false image and ideas more then living in community! Create a culture where honesty, transparency and grace is expected. Never be afraid to talk about opposing position with respect and grace and never present a caricature of any opposing position.

    I go to a cross denominational bible study and was nearly kicked out this past week because I said I don’t think it is required to have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to heaven.

    Scot, that was incredibly gentle.

  • Tim

    Great post RJS!

    I’ve been hoping you or Scot would expand your discussions to address the critical thinking issues at play in Evangelicalism. This post does so admirably. Thank you for bringing this issue out into the open.

    Needless to say my own experience, yours, and Chris’ have some commonality. The sense of being betrayed (albeit unintentionally I’m sure) by the community you trusted and were raised in involves a certain amount of trauma. It did for me anyway, as I deeply care about truth. And now this cuts both ways for me. In my youth I was on the inside, trusting in the weak/fallacious arguments of the Evangelical “authorities” whom I was encouraged to trust while remaining “skeptical” of some exceedingly well-supported mainstream views. Now I am on the outside, and have the (dis)pleasure of being given the “skeptical” treatment myself – which mainly involves a circling of the wagons and a complete lack of anyone caring about what my views are or why I hold them. Yet when the pastor talks about these same issues, or they hear them on Moody radio, their ears perk right up.

    So again, I appreciate your bringing this up RJS.

  • Andy W.

    DRT #32,

    I know I’m dreaming, but I keep trying to model this in the classes I teach at church (as a lay leader).

  • Simon Fowler

    This is all good advice. It’s desperately sad that Christians aren’t simply truth-seekers and truth-speakers, in love and humility.

    I particularly like Michael Kruse’s comment, #13. It feels like, depending on the tribe you’re talking with, the words you use reveal one as closed-minded or gullible. It seems increasingly hard to know upon what to base trust. Consensus and reason don’t seem wholly reliable these days.
    Is there not at least a methodology or process (that appropriately includes or acknowledges reason, evidence, history, experience, and motivation) that we could come to some agreement about?

    These links illustrate my problem:
    The science of why we don’t believe science: http://bit.ly/h9UtSw
    The Non-Science That Explains What’s Wrong with Science Explaining Non-Belief in Science http://bit.ly/hnyKbc
    Voodoo correlations in neuro socialscience: http://bit.ly/joN2gb

    The last post is particularly interesting, especially the comments. (Social neuroscience is a big trend in workplace learning and leadership development, the field in which I work), but it gives me a headache questioning everything.
    To my point about methodology and process, this comment goes in a direction that I think is helpful (not that I agree with it entirely):

    “There is an epistemological crisis in the sciences, especially the social and medical sciences. It is simply not possible to rely, even tentatively, on the results of studies published in even the premier journals. The fact is that scientists and researchers are experts in their subject matter, not in the methodology of statistics-based research and analysis, a field in which they might have taken a course or two back in grad school.

    Peer review is utterly inadequate to the task of ensuring the methodological soundness of published research. In my view every serious academic journal must put on its payroll a professional statistician trained in methodologies of social or biological research. It is long past time for us to stop treating this complex and subtle subject as something for real scientists to pick up in their spare time.”

  • Yes rjs – it *is* a process. We will agree on that, for sure. When I read Chris’ blog and I didn’t honestly see much resembling a process. It looks like a theological/philosophical hop-scotch.

  • Tim

    Here is an interesting book that explores how untenable beliefs are formed and maintained. for any who might be interested:

    The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth


  • henrybish


    As a matter of fact I have a read a good number of RJS posts, and know where she is coming from. And I know more than enough of the ID/evolution debate to know that she is very unfair on ID. As to why I am singling out her interaction with ID here, it is because the posts she is linking to explicitly deride it as one example of ‘who can we trust’, as has she on previous occasions. Knowing what she has written in the past it is quite obvious who the kind of people her current post is intended to apply to, and is made explicit (even actual names) if you follow the links she provides.

    I have refrained from commenting on her posts in the past, but this post irked me so much that I decided to object. Quite frankly it shocks me that you allow such links to be posted in a positive light on your blog.

    You admonish me with the following:

    To suggest, further, that you know her motives — suggesting sinful cravings — is unfair and unwarranted.

    You made a public pronouncement about John Piper’s motives based on a ‘Farewell Rob Bell’ tweet. Just 3 words.

    In fact RJS herself has made motivation inferences and character judgements on a number of occasions, here are some quotes from her past posts:

    The motivation for Intelligent Design is not scientific, it is philosophical and theological.

    Dembski… twisted the event to support his point

    [Dembski and Witt’s book] is difficult to read because of the demeaning rhetoric

    I also think it is unbiblical to try and shut down any admonishing by playing the motives card. Paul rebuked the apostle Peter, publicly no less, based on interpreting his actions when he decided to eat at a certain table!

    There is a danger that the (biblical) desire for ‘civility’ can be allowed to displace the biblical notion of admonishment and accountability. In my view, you should allow a place for both.


  • RJS,
    Thanks for reviewing my posts. It’s been inordinately busy on my blog today. 🙂 I’m glad the posts resonated with you and your readers.

    Jeff Stewart,
    My world is anything but black & white now. It’s lots and lots of gray. I still believe in objective truth and am all the more committed to finding it, but I am way more cautious about coming to firm conclusions, especially where the evidence isn’t clear cut. Hope that clarifies.

  • Jim


    I think Scot means to indicate that rjs is a woman….

    I also want to urge you to re-read what you’ve written. It’s fine to disagree with folks on this forum, but we have to do it in an agreaable manner. I don’t know if intended to question rjs’s motives when you suggest that she is “a victim to the sinful craving of mainstream academic respectability” seemingly only because you disagree with her position. Can you provide more reasoning beyond simply disagreeing with her?

    Also, you suggest that those who disagree with you and are not complementarian are not honest and have an axe to grind. I must tell you that I used to be a complementarian and in fact have defended that position in front of my academic colleagues to their scorn. However over the years, I’ve come to believe that the crystal-clear position of scripture, *when examined through cultural lens scripture was written*, is an egalitarian position. I recognize others disagree with me and I have respect for the complementarian position. I simply believe it’s not biblical. So here’s my question– what axe do you think I have to grind?

    I wonder if perhaps maybe your kind of thinking that you seem to be exhibiting is what Chris was critiquing in the first place.

  • AHH

    Excellent, thought-provoking post, but there is one angle that I think has not been brought out.

    I’m reminded of a post on another blog a few months ago, where the blogger implored pastors to tell us the truth. Several pastors commented that being more honest with the congregation about things like their own doubts about some doctrines, the presence of difficulties in the Bible, the recognition that not all is simplistic black/white, etc. would cost them their jobs.

    There seems to be a tension. If a pastor feeds the flock stuff like Josh McDowell, or The Case for Creation, or indefensible simplistic doctrines about Scripture, he sets them up to lose trust if they ever look into things more deeply. But if he resists going down that common Evangelical path, he might lose his job.

  • Dennis J

    i really like this blogger’s criteria for examining differing works on a given subject. but, after reading his posts i find he holds an overly postive view of acedemics.
    although i have had no personal interaction with experts in given fields, the professors (and profesionals)that i have interacted with are often so caught up with particular idealogies that it is like speaking to brick walls.
    in my experience, a truly humble prof. who isn’t towing some party line, is almost impossible to find.

  • rjs

    Henrybish (#39),

    I agree with you on this … It is wrong to shut down all admonishing. In fact sometimes it is absolutely necessary to admonish and hold accountable in some fashion by calling out a mistaken approach, position, or argument. In fact we do no one any service when we fail to do so. If I didn’t agree with you, you wouldn’t have found those quotes to highlight.

    But I don’t go out of my way to highlight the negative. I’d rather interact in a positive fashion in agreement or disagreement with the actual ideas and positions. This is far more constructive.

  • rjs

    AHH (#42),

    I recommended Chris’s posts, not because I agree 100% with everything (although I do agree with these five suggestions for evaluating arguments), or because I think that pastors need to teach skepticism, but because I think it is worthwhile for pastors and teachers to know and understand this perspective when trying to find the right path to take.

  • Terry

    RJS, you know I have been a fan of your posts, and today you also have my gratitude–this scratches, what for me is, an genuine itch.

    I have felt deceived, and it has certainly effected my ability to trust. In fact, unfortunately so, because the perceived deceit has come so blatantly from those well-respected in my tradition it has made trust even in my tradition/peers a challenge. Sadly, I re-quoted similar falsehoods for many years before one well-known apologist and expert went a bit too far against someone I had known in college, and I decided to check it out for myself. I was amazed to discover how the trusted source (the apologist) completely fabricated ‘facts,’ and misrepresented context, in order to support their apologetic position.

    I discovered pastors quoting that source, and other sources and maligning the likes of Eugene Person, Richard Foster, and Scot (of all people!) among others, with ‘facts’ that were simply made up. The day I heard one expert apologist go after Scot on his radio gig I made the decision to right the wrong. All attempts to set the record straight were responded to with something along the lines of “well, even if it’s not exactly true, it’s a good warning because these men are dangerous.” I talked to the pastors who were quoting, but I also went up the ladder to the sources the pastors were quoting (who were the ones inventing ‘facts”), they did not have ears to hear. They justified their dishonesty in the name of protecting the church. They basically said they didn’t want to be confused with the facts.

    What should a pastor do to build, earn and retain trust? I am working at this, and it has not always been an easy road, but be humble, and be honest. It is the only answer I can give. As a pastor I do want to protect those that are under my care, so in that I want to be honest in their best interest (which means I am discerning and discreet when it comes to how much honesty and when, and the rest.) But the deceit has got to go. Thanks for this discussion.

  • DRT

    Terry#46, I am no pastor, but here is my view.

    I don’t mean to trivialize the issues you have, but I have been researching the mindset of various sectors of now conjectured, and have come to realize that the prevalent disconnect is one of values. I realize that word alone is quite laden with value judgments, but the realization comes down to the end-game hierarchy that people associate with their values.

    For example in this paragraph you said: I have felt deceived, and it has certainly effected my ability to trust. In fact, unfortunately so, because the perceived deceit has come so blatantly from those well-respected in my tradition it has made trust even in my tradition/peers a challenge. Sadly, I re-quoted similar falsehoods for many years before one well-known apologist and expert went a bit too far against someone I had known in college, and I decided to check it out for myself. I was amazed to discover how the trusted source (the apologist) completely fabricated ‘facts,’ and misrepresented context, in order to support their apologetic position.

    My current position is that it is simply because those “well respected” in your tradition are putting a significantly higher value on the tradition that you may be doing (or at least as I have been doing). For me, it is outrageous for someone to throw logic to the wind for supporting their teacher (though even I would concede that some amount of that is not only warranted but necessary), but for many that is not only a token towards tradition, but is the overriding factor in any dispute despite the otherwise persuasive arguments of others.

    What should a pastor do to build, earn and retain trust? I am working at this, and it has not always been an easy road, but be humble, and be honest. It is the only answer I can give.

    You have the wrong question here. You want to build trust but to you being humble, and honest, and faithful to what seems to be the truth is = truth. But to many that never really matters in the end (and those so inclined are typically reticent to admit as such). The most important thing is to be loyal to your group!

  • DRT

    My formatting did not work out as intended. I meant for the second paragraph to be a quote after “you said:”

  • Brian Considine

    One point that can be added is “Don’t buy into logical fallacies however clever they may be presented.”

    What I find disengenous with respect to those who favor science is the persisent uses of straw-man arguments using the word “science” when they mean “evolution,” as if they are one and the same, and cannot exist without the other. Objecting to evolutionism is not the same as opposing science. Is the scientist willing to consider the odds against evolution being true which are astronomical (but doesn’t necessarily mean a God beyond our understanding didn’t use that method of creation), or are they as dogmatic, or worse dishonest, as are some YEC’s.

    A few questions and we can find out. First, a simple one, is science falilible? Two, has evidence for evolution ever been proven wrong in the past? Third, has it ever been conflated to fit the evolutionists conclusions? And finally, are there possibly other explanations to explain the data that aren’t being considered by either side because science hasn’t advanced to the point of that explanation yet, whatever it might be? If a scientist answers “no” to these questions then they are certainly being dishonest, which then results in the appeal to authority as presented in Point 4. If they answer “yes” then on what basis should they be believed?

    Point 4 could simply be restated, “We’re right-agree with us because we’re experts.” This is another logical fallacy as history shows the consenus of experts have been proven wrong time and again. So just because the majority aren’t “experts” we shouldn’t disagree seems rather authoratarian. This then leads to less than independent thinking and what does that get us? Unscientific conclusions based on the latest thinking of the experts.

    God bless, RJS, keep up the good fight.

  • DRT

    Brian#49, your argument is sound, but the conclusions would be more valid in 1910 instead of 2010. In what year would you agree with evolution if they keep affirming the same thing?

  • rjs


    Thanks. Trust is so important …

    DRT (#47,48),

    I don’t understand what point you are trying to make.

  • DRT

    rjs#51, The short answer is that ISTM that the deceit Terry experiences is more a disconnect of values than ill will. I admit I am a novice, but I am starting to realize that there are quite a few people out there who value in-group loyalty is frequently more valued than truth (truth as defined as the best thinking without regard to in-group loyalty).

    So I interpret Terry’s plight to be where he (she?) is trying to be loyal and truthful but Terry has a different view of truth than others. Terry says:

    All attempts to set the record straight were responded to with something along the lines of “well, even if it’s not exactly true, it’s a good warning because these men are dangerous.” I talked to the pastors who were quoting, but I also went up the ladder to the sources the pastors were quoting (who were the ones inventing ‘facts”), they did not have ears to hear. They justified their dishonesty in the name of protecting the church. They basically said they didn’t want to be confused with the facts.

    It seems to me that it is evident that in-group loyalty is more important than what I, at least, would call truth.

  • rjs


    Well Terry will have to give his own take on it if he wishes.

    I don’t think in-group loyalty is really the key issue.

  • Churches focus on teaching what they know best (or at least think they do) — matters specific to the faith. They do not usually see their part of education as part of a broader one, of equipping the youths of the church with the tools for figuring out the world around them, so they can know what’s up. Eventually, many people ‘grow up’ and develop those tools separately. Once they do, they see what they were taught as some sort of small, separate section of life, and seeing how small it really was, they try to integrate it into the larger thing. And they find it doesn’t fit. Some people have anger about that, but most simply have drift — they can live without the small part that doesn’t fit, but can’t do without the much larger realm that does. And so they do.

    The fault there is not just that there are no questions asked. That’s just one part of it. The other part is that the faith is taught in a way that’s not part of the whole. Instead of Christ being the core that *leads you to* everything else about life, it is a set of ideas or doctrines or traditional practices or acts of an ancient bureaucracy which is *imposed on* everything else about life. Instead of the Spirit’s gifts bearing the Spirit’s fruit to the others we are called to actively love, the churches turn the teen times and young adulthood into a process of sifting yourself according to the expectations of others. And none of that fits reality.

  • henrybish


    It’s fine to disagree with folks on this forum, but we have to do it in an agreeable manner.

    If by this you mean that one may not say anything that may be offensive to someone else, then I demur. That’s neither a precept taught in scripture nor is it consistent with many examples we find in scripture. Take the prophets. Or some of Paul’s interactions. Or a number of Jesus’ interactions. Or some of Paul’s commands.

    I don’t know if intended to question rjs’s motives when you suggest that she is “a victim to the sinful craving of mainstream academic respectability”

    To be clear, yes I did intend to question her motives, just as she and Scot have questioned others’ motives in the past.

    seemingly only because you disagree with her position. Can you provide more reasoning beyond simply disagreeing with her?

    I think it is clear enough in what I have already written. But if I must expand, the reason I make this judgement is because I have actually looked at the evidence myself, reading interactions on both sides, and am astounded that a person could be so confident that evolution is true. There are *severe* difficulties with the theory. I also know that there is huge academic pressure to conform to the current scientific orthodoxy and that we sinful humans often desire academic respectability above truth. Thus when I see a professing christian confidently assert that evolution is true and that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ for it, I conclude that they must either be ignorant of the evidence or have some ulterior motive driving them in spite of the evidence. Since I have seen RJS reference some of the key ID books I assume she has read and understood them, and therefore is not ignorant. Thus my conclusion. I don’t think I really needed to spell that out in detail.

    … over the years, I’ve come to believe that the crystal-clear position of scripture, *when examined through cultural lens scripture was written*, is an egalitarian position… So here’s my question– what axe do you think I have to grind?

    This is a bit off-topic here and is best left for another thread, but I will give a brief response. Given that the (male/female) authority/submission principles we find in scripture are variously rooted in creation, Christ’s relation to the Church and the Trinity – all things which are trans-cultural – I think it is very bizarre that someone would decide these particular commands are ones that are culture bound. Most NT commands enjoy nothing like the trans-cultural rooting we have here. That is why I think Webb’s approach fails, and Jewett is route one must take if one is honest.

    So to answer your question, I do think you have an ulterior motive for denying this. Even on your own terms you must allow this as a possibility. Given the huge cultural pressure we are under to conform to the pattern of the world and the egalitarian values that we are raised with, there does seem to be a rather straightforward explanation as to why we would try to avoid the teaching of scripture on this point. I myself did it.

    And when I see someone willing to do this with scripture, acting as though the evidence is actually on their side, it inclines be to be very suspicious when I see such confident assertions about evolution too. I know this may be offensive to you, but that is my honest answer to your question. I have found liberal christians to display just as much narrow-minded fundamentalism, stretching the truth, as they accuse some christian apologists of doing. As I think someone here has already suggested, the posts RJS links to are a case in point.

  • Nick

    This is certainly a challenging subject and one I find increasingly frustrating. The frequent misquotations, retelling of unverifiable stories, etc drives me nuts in church!

    I do wonder though, when I was at school (in the UK), it was often said that, as we advanced academically, we had to revise all that we had already learnt at more basic levels. As an example, when I started my A-Levels (age 16 to 19) in Chemistry and Biology I was told by my teachers that everything we were taught at GCSE (14 to 16) needed to be revised because it had been presented to us in a more simplistic manner so there were logic jumps, exceptions missed out, etc. So for example at GCSE we were taught that A + B = C, where as at A Level it was explained that A+B = C only if certain conditions were met and here is the workings… Does that make sense?

    Is this simply what is happening in churches but without the acknowledgement?

    Is it right to tell a brand new believer that, actually it’s not as certain as we (and they) first thought, that the certainty and euphoria don’t last, or should we allow them to hold onto to those beliefs and be available to continue teaching and pastoring as they grow??

    Not to say that we should lie, but rather we should be open that a big part of Christian discipleship is moving from milk to meat?

  • Dan

    Isn’t the notion that ID or Creationism is “anti-science” itself ascribing a motive? I on’t question RJS’ motives personally, but I do see motives ascribed all the time. ID being misrepresented as only a “God of the Gaps” argument, political conservatives being addicted to power, creationists holding their viewpoint out of fear, etc.

    Point being – many who read this blog feel they have been misrepresented and dismissed unfairly.

  • Terry

    DRT @#47/52, in-group loyalty isn’t exactly what my thinking has been either, but there might be some truth to it. I’ve been thinking more along the lines of genuine fear. Fear related to necessary right belief for real saving faith (rather than real faith, in the one who is Right, whom we believe it.) Well, that’s what I had been thinking until Dan posted at 57. Now I think I’ll just keep that to myself.

    My apologies to Eugene Peterson and the world of typos in my previous comment. Everyone’s a fan of iPhone’s auto-correct.

  • rjs


    Is it possible to have this discussion on any level while completely omitting mention of motive? I have a motive in everything I write, and it doesn’t usually bother me when people ascribe motive correctly or even make statements that help me understand my motive better.

    So lets take an example. I think Dr. Mohler has sincerely held theological convictions that leads him to the views he takes on creation and evolution. I appreciated most of his speech last year because it allowed honest interaction with these ideas and positions. But it is not maligning Dr. Mohler to say that his motive is theology and that science is purely secondary, in fact science is largely irrelevant.

    If, on the other hand, I were to ascribe motives of money, power, influence, and job security … I would be in the wrong, and you or others would be correct in accusing me of maligning him.

    And if he or others ascribe faulty motives to me I will object. But I certainly have motives. My motives in writing here are theological and scientific. My theological motives stem from a conviction that the Christian story is true. My scientific motives stem from a conviction that the scientific evidence is a revelation of God’s work in the world and that it is as reliable as the revelation of his interaction with his creatures as contained in scripture. Both require interpretation of some sort. One of my motives is to make sure that the science is represented fairly.

    So a question…what should I do if I see the science portrayed unfairly and inaccurately in a book, article, or post? Ignore it? Interact with it? Ridicule it? Try to explain the error?

  • Brian Considine –

    Is the scientist willing to consider the odds against evolution being true which are astronomical…

    Be careful that the odds are calculated correctly. Consider rain. Drops of water vapor accumulate and eventually get big enough to fall, right?

    Well, no. If you look over the math, by that simple model the odds of an actual raindrop forming are infinitesimal. You’d get a couple raindrops every few billion years in Earthlike conditions.

    Yet if there’s a speck of dust for the water to condense upon, to get the process started… suddenly the odds change drastically. And even then it’s not enough – recent studies have pointed out how important the right kind of turbulence is in forming raindrops.

    The ‘odds of evolution’ calculations that I’ve seen from opponents of evolution have all ignored important considerations like that.

    If they answer “yes” then on what basis should they be believed?

    Anything might be wrong. The question is, how good is the evidence and how good are the arguments against it?

    When speaking about scientific error, too, this essay makes an interesting point: http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

  • Lac

    I’m glad RJS you featured this post and i do hope pastors and bible scholars will read these thoughts with an open mind. The issue of ruptured trust hits at the core of my struggles. Lots of us post-evangelical christians/seekers/agnostics are left searching and struggling alone. I haven’t found unity even within emerging, progressive or mainline Christianity. Additionally, my doubts and altered perspective on the Bible have coincided with a dark night of the soul…so not only do i not know who to trust, but i dont sense Jesus anymore. The Jesus i knew was in the umbrella of conservative Christianity…and amidst cries of heresy, is it not surprising that some of us will stumble and struggle with trust?

  • rjs


    Thanks for adding your perspective. The loss of trust and the loss of community are so significant.

    I think I will come back to this in another post fairly soon.

  • Terry

    Lac, my experience is similar to yours, and parts of my dark night continue to linger. We may no longer be able to sense the Jesus we created, or was created for us, but Jesus the Son is still here, still loves, still prays for us both. I will be praying for you too.

  • Jeff

    Phenomenal post. Maybe the best I’ve read on this site. Thanks, RJS.