Moreland: Christians are biased, but less biased than naturalists

According to Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland (as paraphrased by Melinda Penner), Christians are biased, but they are less biased than naturalists. In Melinda’s own words:

when a Christian deals with issues like science and faith, or the historicity of the Gospels, it’s fair to say that he’s biased in that he has a point of view, like everyone else. But a Christian’s bias doesn’t inform his conclusions in the same way that biases inform the conclusions of a naturalistic scientist–like Carl Sagan–or a liberal critic of the Life of Christ–like Jesus Seminar’s Marcus Borg.

And how, precisely, does it follow that a Christian’s bias doesn’t inform his conclusions in the same way that a naturalist’s bias informs his conclusions? Melinda continues:

Both Sagan and Borg start out, a priori, with the idea that there either is no God or that God does not directly intervene in the machinery of the universe. Their bias arbitrarily eliminates options before the game even gets started. These men must come up with conclusions that leave God out of the picture because their philosophy demands it. There can be no evidence for a miracle–whether the miracle of creation or the miracle of the resurrection–because miracles just can’t happen. A Christian is not so encumbered. He believes in the laws of nature, but is also open to the possibility of God’s intervention. Both are consistent with his world view. This means that he can follow the evidence wherever it leads him, unhindered by a metaphysical view that automatically eliminates supernatural options before even viewing the evidence.

So we have the following argument:

(1) Naturalists cannot consistently remain naturalists and conclude that a miracle (such as creation or the resurrection) occurred.
(2) Theists can consistently remain theists and conclude that a miracle (such as creation or the resurrection) occurred.
—————
(3) Therefore, theists can follow the evidence wherever it leads while remaining consistent with their convictions, whereas naturalists cannot.

Is this a good argument? As it stands, it is not. For starters, the conclusion of the argument makes an unjustified generalization on the basis of a small and extremely biased sample set (two theistic arguments). There are other pieces of data that are equally relevant but are not embodied by the premises of Moreland’s argument. Consider the argument from evil. Classical theists cannot consistently remain theists and conclude that there is pointless suffering. Naturalists, on the other hand, can consistently remain naturalists and “follow the evidence wherever it leads” regarding the existence of pointless suffering.

Or consider so-called incompatible-properties argument for God’s nonexistence. Theists cannot embrace the conclusion of such arguments as theists, whereas naturalists have the flexibility to embrace or reject such arguments according to their merits.

In short, since Moreland’s argument does not even attempt to consider all available relevant evidence, its conclusion is unjustified. (I think there are additional problems with the argument, but I will stop here.)

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    ‘ These men must come up with conclusions that leave God out of the picture because their philosophy demands it.’

    The case of Antony Flew proves that naturalistic philosophies do not in the least demand that all conclusions must leave a god out of the picture.

    On the contrary, Moreland knows very well that atheists feel free to go wherever they personally feel the evidence as they see it is leading them.

    Flew shows that atheists are actually very open minded. Perhaps too open minded….

    I’m sure that Moreland could retort that theists too are open minded and they too can examine the evidence and come to conclusions that contradict their philosophy.

    After all, many, many theists have converted to atheism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    Is JP Moreland really saying all that or is it Melinda Penner? Notice that Penner didn’t even leave a source from whence JP Moreland believes about the biasness of a naturalist. Furthermore, all she said was that Moreland pointed out that when “a Christian deals with issues like science and faith, or the historicity of the Gospels, it’s fair to say that he’s biased in that he has a point of view, like everyone else.” The contrast after that (“But a Christian’s bias doesn’t…”) maybe Penner’s and not Moreland’s.

    Perhaps, you’re making the same mistake “Moreland” is making: “an unjustified generalization on the basis of a small and extremely biased sample set.” After all that blogpost at STR was extremely simplistic and short.

    Just my two cents.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    steven carr: After all, many, many theists have converted to atheism.

    Frank Walton: *roll eyes* And many, many atheists have converted to theism. Maybe they were being too open-minded, huh?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    Many atheists have converted to theism, but it is very striking the number of people who study Christianity to the extent of joining seminaries, becoming preachers and engaging in missionary work who then leave Christianity.

    Many atheists, on the contrary, become Christians because they were having an emotional breakdown, and found fellowship in Christianity.

    Read any issue of ‘Alpha News’ for any amount of such testimony.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    The baseline population of Christians is much larger than the the baseline population of atheists, so, all else being equal we’d expect to see more conversions from Christianity to atheism than from atheism to Christianity. What percentage of each converts to the other would be a more interesting statistic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12459891984373393444 Taner Edis

    I’m not sure that we should assume that, all else being equal, we should expect to see more Christians converting to atheism than otherwise. If we assume equilibrium as a first approximation, the numbers of conversions back and forth should be roughly equal. In which case a far larger percentage of atheists convert to Christianity than the other way around.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    I guess there are lots of ways we could look at this–I would say that everyone’s born an atheist of the weak variety, in which case there are far more conversions from atheism to Christianity, but that’s not terribly illuminating.

    What percentage of atheists are children of atheists, as compared to the percentage of Christians who are children of Christians? My subjective impression (has anyone studied this?) is that the vast majority of Christians are children of Christians, while most atheists are not children of atheists–and thus it appears to me that there are more conversions from Christianity to atheism than the reverse. But I am more likely to hear about conversions from Christianity to atheism than the reverse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    Well, America’s eductation system is very secular. I grew up in that kind of environment as do most people (and most Christians BTW). Yet despite all that I became a Christian – not because of emotional appeals but because of reason and evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    Steve Locke has a page on deconverting from Christianity
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html and
    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/whatsnew.html

    where he documents the large number of professional Christians who made their living from Chrsitainity before deciding it was bunk.

    He constrasts that with the vanishingly small number of people who were in atheist organisations , who then left to become Christians.

    Ed Babinksi documents *entire seminaries* that have left behind conservative Christian beliefs

    http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/religion/anthony_flew.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    Frank is right that the education system in the US is very secular.

    Here in Britain , religious education is compulsory. Children are forced to examine the Bible, and learn about Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

    In my opinion, compulsory religious education is what has led to the collapse of religious belief in the UK.

    That is only my opinion though, and I don’t think there have been studies on what effect compulsory education in religion has on religious beliefs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02029462910780407687 Andrea Weisberger

    It may not be that compulsory religious education alone has led to the collapse of religious belief, as Steven notes…

    But it may be compulsory religious education that focuses on more than one belief system, such as was mentioned (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) does in fact lead to people failing to adopt a religious world view.

    I seem to remember reading a study long ago claiming that exposure to many religious systems early in life led to adoption of none. Pluralism in this case seems to have a real world effect.

    One difference in the US is that religious education (when compulsory in private schools) focuses only on one belief system to the exclusion of all else, purporting that system to be THE truth. This type of indoctrination usually takes hold and is difficult to extricate from.


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