Chink in the Armor

Michael Bird at Euangelion mentions a recent article in the journal Theology in which the researchers asked college students in a philosophy course to read and react to selections of New Atheist works:

Since all the participants are university students and undertook this exercise as part of an introductory course in philosophy of religion, it is unsurprising that they were able to critique a number of the arguments presented by Dawkins and Hitchens. It is quite striking, however, that their encounter with an historical-critical approach to the Bible caused them so much consternation. It was obvious in listening to them that this was completely new information for them. Clearly biblical criticism is not part of the conversation in their congregations. That their Christian education is deficient in this regard is most disappointing. Quite apart from anything else, it leaves them, and their fellow parishioners, vulnerable to new atheists’ rhetoric.

Hmmmm … useful information.

(What is it evangelicals study in Bible classes anyway?)

  • Mike_B2

    If you’re interested to know what evangelicals learn in Bible classes, I can tell you. I was a seminarian for a number of years before losing my faith. In truth, they do learn about Biblical criticism, but it’s pared down and hidebound by doctrine. It’s actually an interesting topic, the way that evangelicals have learned to participate in biblical scholarship while they slalom (awkwardly) around the thorny issues. I could tell you more if you are interested.

  • KimFish

    As a former evangelical who went to a Christian school, we studied a lot of bad arguments to sort of “zing” other people.
    We were told over and over again that the Bible held no contradictions and how impossible that would have been if it had been simply done by men. (A couple “seeming” contradictions were brought up as proof that the Gospels were not done by collaboration, but had some errors due to eyewitness testimony, which further proves validity somehow, despite other claims that the Bible is perfect and without error.)
    There were a lot of bad arguments against evolution that stemmed from a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Their arguments would have been good ones and evolution really would be ridiculous if it actually was what they claimed, but it’s not. There were other bad arguments, like the Second Law of Thermodynamics being evidence against the natural formation of the universe, and then just a lot of weird stuff, like the sun decreasing at a steady rate of 5 feet a year, which would leave it too big for life to exist on Earth more than 10,000 years ago. I have no idea where that came from.
    A lot of historical evidence that contradicted the Bible was due to people being deceived, but evidence that supported the Bible was paraded around.
    Oddly enough, we talked about illogical arguments in one of my classes, and that later came back to me as my faith was in the process of coming apart. It was researching this “evidence” when I got to college that destroyed my belief. I was prepared to argue for it, but wanted to have sources. Couldn’t find a single thing.

    • JohnMWhite

      If the sun were 50,000 feet larger in diameter, it would be too big
      for life to exist on Earth? That’s a new one on me, too, as is the
      claim it’s shrinking at 5 feet per year. I have heard a similar
      argument regarding the moon, though, that its orbit is receding or
      expanding so much a year that it would have been way too close more than
      a few thousand years ago. Is that what you’re thinking of?

      I love the idea that the bible must be true because the gospel accounts
      conflict with each other in a perfect book lacking contradictions. It’s
      such perfect illogic as to be almost art.

      • KimFish

        It was definitely the sun that was shrinking at a steady rate. I thought about it years later and it doesn’t even make sense. Its volume would be changing at different rates and that would affect the rate of reaction inside the sun, I think. I learned so much weird crap. But I’m grateful for it, because trying to verify it all so I could argue with my “evil God-hating” professors is what got me out of religion. =)

        I even joined the dark side and teamed up with evolutionary biology.

  • Geds

    It is quite striking, however, that their encounter with an
    historical-critical approach to the Bible caused them so much
    consternation. It was obvious in listening to them that this was
    completely new information for them. Clearly biblical criticism is not
    part of the conversation in their congregations.

    Yup. I took a Bible course in college at a state university. It was right as I was finishing up my history requirements for my degree (history major/religions studies minor). It was the first time that I put history and the Bible together in a critical way and thought of the Bible in terms of historiography and actually considered its construction and veracity as a historical document. The entire exercise was eye opening and was a key component to the crisis of faith I was also having at about that time becoming a real critique of Christianity and the Bible.

    I eventually realized that no matter what happened I couldn’t avoid approaching the Bible as a historical document and arguing with it. That put the resolution of my crisis of faith on a very different trajectory than I’d expected. It’s a key component to my decision to leave Christianity.

  • evodevo

    Depends on who is in the classes – the working lay people I know as coworkers pick a single passage and go on and on about its relevance to their lives/modern times/etc. all the while totally ignoring its historical/socioeconomic context as much as possible. Occasionally a relatively complicated passage will be explicated, very carefully, ignoring logic and contradictory passages (usually in the same chapter or book!). Slaloming is right ! And when you point out the contradictions, they just stare at you like you grew a second head, and then ignore/gloss over what you said. They have no answer except “I’m praying for you.”

    • Hiro

      Evo, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Before deconversion, back in about 2000 I was involved in leading “home groups” in our church. Typically these were weekly meetings to share, pray, support and study. The age groups tended to be ’30′s – ’60′s and most worked. The “study” portion was “successful” if you reinforced already held beliefs, with maybe a tiny twinge of “I’ll do better” e.g. reading the bible regularly. Bible study was expected to reinforce, not challenge evangelical hive mentality. At that time the “Emergent church” was the hot topic, but any discussion of social justice was usually met with crossed arms. My experience is that the majority (generalization warning) of people, once they reach “middle-age” simply don’t want to be challenged or invited outside their comfort zone. I think they can’t or won’t deal with everything that conversation might entail for their faith plus the day to day challenges of putting food on the table, raising a family, the need for a new vehicle, etc.

  • Josh B

    What do Evangelicals learn?

    Depends on the age-group but most congregations are taught that the bible contains no contradictions and is historically validated. The translations are well-preserved without alterations and were written by eye-witnesses or people who interviewed eye-witnesses (if they are history books). God influenced the minds of the men who wrote the different books and, together, it paints a coherant message. Some even teach that it is the oldest and most reliable piece of history.

    This is taught from the time a person is a child and becomes the basis for how they view the bible. If they pursue further education in biblical studies they usually go to places which hold the above views first so certain arguments and methodologies aren’t discussed unless they reach post-grad studies.
    I am lucky to have studied history and literature at university (not a religious one either) and was able to understand the arguments from literary criticism and historical analysis when it came to biblical claims. It remains the main reason I left my faith – I learned too much about it.

  • Sebastian Fauste

    In real classes we DO discuss inconsistencies in the bible, I’ve led a whole study group on it. We go through what everything means and even go through Hebrew and Greek translations and their direct meaning. Unfortunately most “Christians” do not follow Christ and simply read without understanding and interpret things that are never stated. One must understand that religion is not about divinity but about control and power, true followers get no (perceived) benefits and a ton of persecution.