Avoid Christian Rationalization With This One Rule

Avoid Christian Rationalization With This One Rule December 30, 2016

Christians and atheists have many major points of disagreement, and these often rest on differing ways of evaluating evidence. How do we evaluate ancient miracle claims? Or modern miracle claims? Or claims of fulfilled prophecy? Or claims of contradictions in the Bible?

Let’s take the Levitical laws against homosexuality as an example. The Christian may argue that Leviticus 18:22 is pretty clear: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is an abomination.”

But the Levitical laws have been dismissed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Kosher food laws, animal sacrifices, prohibitions against mixed fabrics and all that are gone. Why keep this one?

And so goes the argument, back and forth, getting nowhere.

If I may suggest a solution …

Bias enters science as well, and science has a response that we can use: the blinded scientific trial.

For example, the 2006 Templeton prayer study was a blinded trial. The people offering prayers didn’t know the patients they were praying for, and patients were divided into three categories: not prayed for, prayed for (but didn’t know it), and prayed for (and knew it).

Let’s extend the blinded trial into the area of everyday apologetic arguments.

Imagine that an atheist charges a Christian with bias, stating that the Christian is guilty of special pleading (having a special rule or exception just for his position). The charge might be that the Christian labels as fulfilled prophecy a claim in the Bible, though they’d reject an equivalent claim from another religion. Or that a modern-day Hindu or Muslim miracle is disadvantaged compared to its Christian counterpart. Or that the Noah flood story is assumed to be history while the Gilgamesh flood story is labeled mythology.

Here’s how the blinded trial would work.

1. The Christian and atheist agree on the claim. To take the case given above, the claim might be, “The rejection of homosexuality in Leviticus is binding on the Christian today.”

2. Since it was his claim, the Christian proposes the rules for evaluating the evidence, defines terms (“objective,” for example), and identifies the relevant evidence (the NIV version of the Old Testament, for example).

3. The rules are evaluated by the atheist for ambiguity and bias. A rule such as “but let’s retain all the anti-gay stuff” would be an obvious example of a biased rule.

4. If the atheist isn’t satisfied with the proposed rules, he can offer them. It doesn’t matter who proposes the rules; it only matters that everyone agrees that the rules are clear and fair. If there is no agreement after several rounds, then the worldviews of these two antagonists may be so incompatible that discussion is pointless. That, too, would be a victory of sorts, because it would at least identify that nonoverlapping worldviews are the problem.

5. With a fair set of rules for evaluating the evidence, give the problem to a third party agreeable to both parties. With the claim, the evidence, and the rules for evaluating that evidence, this judge decides if the claim is met.

A third party acceptable to everyone may not be hard to find, at least in principle. Sure, the Christian might want a Christian and the atheist an atheist, but what about a religious non-Christian? The Christian couldn’t object that this judge had an anti-supernatural bias, and the atheist couldn’t object to Christian presuppositions.

Submitting the issue to an actual person for evaluation could be as simple as finding a Hindu blogger or a leader in a local mosque and emailing the problem with the title, “Could you settle a religious question for me?” Nevertheless, I see submitting the problem to an actual person for evaluation as mostly a thought experiment. Instead, I propose a less formal final step for most situations:

5′. The two antagonists work through the problem themselves. No, they’re not guaranteed to reach a common understanding (and perhaps this isn’t even likely), but simply going through this process with the agreed-to rules may clarify the issue so that a point of conflict dissolves away. Maybe the two parties didn’t realize that they were using a term differently, for example. Or maybe imagining the harsh light of an objective outsider on these questions erodes one party’s certainty.

This process is symmetric, and it would apply to an atheist claim as well as a Christian claim. Nevertheless, with the burden of proof typically on the Christian’s shoulders, the blinded trial would in practice be applied mostly to Christian claims.

If Christians want to just believe, that’s fine. But if they want to play in the arena of evidence, this is a way to ensure that everyone’s playing fair.

In adversity,
everything that surrounds you is a kind of medicine
that helps you refine your conduct,
yet you are unaware of it.
In pleasant situations,
you are faced with weapons that will tear you apart,
yet you do not realize it.

— Huanchu Daoren

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/26/13.)

Image credit: Dan Backman, flickr, CC


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  • Jim Jones

    > The Christian may argue that Leviticus 18:22 is pretty clear: “You must
    not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse
    with a woman; it is an abomination.”

    And yet that is a deliberate mistranslation.

    Google “lyings of a woman”

    Also, Google (centurion pais)

    • The_Wretched

      Your use of argument via suggestion or inference is interesting but also squishy.

      • Jim Jones


        • adam

          You know ‘sweaty’ butt cheeks squishy…

  • kraut2

    “But the Levitical laws have been dismissed by the sacrifice of Jesus”

    No, they have not been overridden by JC “sacrifice” myth. “Jesus” or whoever the originator of those texts was stated unambiguously that he had not come to abandon one tittle of the law but ORDERED the followers to abide by mosaic law.

    ““Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I came not to
    destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and
    earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from
    the law,
    till all things be accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18).”

    Everything else is of course apologetic wiggeling and Christian Pretzel logic based on Paul’s antisemitism. Whoever says they follow the bible literally and makes exceptions to mosaic rule is actually flouting the word of JC…or whoever words they were. Just check out this sqirming nonsense.

    Talk about rationalization

    • Gussie FinkNottle

      Two things. 1. Paul’s disagreement with members of his own ethnic group over religious dogma doesn’t count as antisemitism. 2. IMHO it’s fallacious to assume that JC or a JC-like figure predated Pauline Christianity in the sense you are claiming. It’s not the Paul’s pretzel logic corrupted the ‘original’ teachings. It’s that Paul’s weird Mystery Judaism (one among many) got mixed up with the totally separate teachings of a mystery man / men in Roman Palestine.

    • I see your point, of course, that Jesus was a Jew. Nevertheless, Hebrews in particular is used to argue that the sacrifice of Jesus was such that all the OT sacrifice crap can be dismissed with.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Good luck getting the pious to abandon the shadows for the light.

  • eric

    According to some fundies that I’ve talked with on the intertubes, the flaw in your plan is that anyone who (is aware of Christianity and) rejects Jesus, is knowingly following Satan. They know the truth, they just don’t want to admit it because that would cause them to feel bad about giving in to their desires. In this theology, there are no sincere atheists, or sincere Hindus, or sincere Muslims; they all know the truth in their hearts, and satanically reject it so that they can go on sinning.

    To such a person, there is no neutral arbiter…except another fundamentalist Christian. Everyone else is by definition a lying sellout.

    • Myna

      They know the truth, they just don’t want to admit it because that would
      cause them to feel bad about giving in to their desires….

      Sometimes, Christian jujitsu is almost an art form. Jeesh.

      One of the primary reasons I came to reject Christianity is that I couldn’t reconcile the unmitigated ego of it. I could no longer associate with a doctrine of condemnation toward unbelievers. If a mere mortal, say someone like the Dalai Lama or just anyone with conscience really, can have greater compassion toward sentient beings than the Christian stories, what does this say about the Christian god?

      • Rudy R

        What turned me off of Christianity was the scapegoating of god to compensate for their own racism, bigotry and prejudists. I don’t hate fags, god does!

        • Michael Neville

          It’s just another case of people knowing the mind of the unknowable god and this god has exactly the same opinions, attitudes and prejudices as his mouthpieces.

        • Rudy R

          Theists know the mind of god, only when they don’t. God loves us. Why is there evil? Only god knows.

        • Greg G.

          I said it. God believes it. That settles it.

        • Greg G.

          You hear, “I don’t hate the sinner. I just hate the sin.”

          But there is no distinction in their actions and attitudes between hating the sinner and hating the sin.

        • Some Christians say, “Homosexuals are fine! They just need to be celibate to be OK in the eyes of God.” What I want them to do is walk the walk. Take their own medicine. Be a straight Christian who’s showing that their prescription is doable.

          But no—they just take the easy path—prescribing and finger wagging.

        • Greg G.

          If God’s coin flip had fallen the other way, would they give up heterosexuality?

        • Rudy R

          It would be interesting to list the sins heterosexual Christians are unwilling to forego. Are fornication, adultery, and divorce any less a sin then homosexuality?

      • MNb

        What turned me off was the Atonement Doctrine. To be specific: when I was 13 or 14 two students from Youth for Christ visited my class to explain christianity (in The Netherlands it’s legal). It was the second half of the 1970’s; the military dictatures in Chili and Argentina were hot topics. A girl asked if Pinochet would go to heaven. The answer was yes – as long as he confessed and repented etc. His unbelieving victims would not.
        It struck me as totally unjust and still does.

      • The_Wretched

        I must have been an unusual child. I didn’t believe any of it. None of it made sense to me and it looked like so much of the other cultural artifacts I saw moving around as a kid (like fanatical devotion to a given sportsball team). Then again, I was being indoctrinated into catholicism in India with hinduism being rather prevalent.

    • T-Paine

      That’s presupp apologetics for you. I’ve learned that you can’t debate presupp apologetics from a position of intellectual honesty – because presupp apologetics by its very nature is intellectually dishonest, it’s all assertions without appeal to evidence. So the best way to counter a presupp is by repeating their assertions back to them but substitute the words ‘God’, ‘Bible’ etc for ‘no God’, ‘Atheism’ etc.

  • Christians I’ve discussed this with will concede that while the Leviticus ruling might now be considered redundant, it hardly matters when homosexuality is as emphatically condemned in the so-called New Covenant (Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:9–10). I find them unable to consider the issue – and many others – in the kind of rational, controlled way you propose. They see no need: ‘God said it, I believe it; so what’s to discuss?’

    • But then their argument goes from “God said it” to “some dude named Paul, who had never even met Jesus (or maybe some unknown dude, in the case of Timothy) said it.”

      I could quibble with those 3 passages as well. I can’t say that the NT says nothing against homosexuality, just that it’s unclear how it addresses homosexuality as understood today. That’s still plenty for someone to find anti-gay sentiment in the Bible and imagine it as relevant today.

      • Herald Newman

        > But then their argument goes from “God said it” to “some
        > dude named Paul, who had never even met Jesus (or
        > maybe some unknown dude, in the case of Timothy) said it.”

        Isn’t this true of most of Christian doctrine?

  • Myna

    Not to go off topic, but it’s the fini of 2016!!


    • Yeah–fuck 2016.

      • Greg G.

        2017 is the first year I have dreaded in my entire life.

        • Michael Neville

          The second year for me but the first year I dreaded was 39 years ago.

        • Now I’m curious. Are details relevant?

        • Michael Neville

          I was in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968. On 31 Dec 67 I was dreading 1968. I picked up a Purple Heart (given for being wounded in action) in 1968, so my dread wasn’t completely misplaced.

        • Pofarmer

          My Dad got a purple heart there in ’69

        • Greg G.

          Where were you stationed? I’ve visited Vietnam several times the past few years in many areas.

        • Michael Neville

          I was in a river monitor operating in the Mekong Delta from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to Vung Tau. I wouldn’t mind visiting the place again.

        • Greg G.

          I have spent a lot of time in Saigon. I know District 1 pretty well, where the Ben Thanh Market and the Bitexco Tower is. The Market was probably there when you were. We have almost gone to Vung Tau a few times but plans changed.

        • Pofarmer

          FWIW, Dad was stationed at Cam Rahn bay.

        • Greg G.

          That’s an area I have not visited. I would like to visit Nha Trang and Dalat.

        • Kodie

          I hate to make it even worse, but that was 49 years ago.

        • Michael Neville

          Damn, I’m getting old!

        • Kodie

          “One time a guy handed me a picture said, ‘here’s a picture of me when I was younger.’ Every picture is of you when you were younger.” – Mitch Hedberg

        • Greg G.

          It all happened in the last millennium. What’s a mere decade matter.

        • Kodie

          Good riddance, 1995!

        • Wow–that was a good year to dread. The war ended a few years before I came of draft age.

          Do people thank you for your service? Or is that only for recent combat veterans? I certainly appreciate it.

        • Michael Neville

          Nowadays I get thanked for my service but I live in a Navy town. I spent 20 years in the Navy, mainly in submarines, and retired as a Senior Chief.

          Thank you for paying my pension.

        • T-Paine

          Thank you for your service.

        • Kodie

          I’m optimistic.

  • Mr. A

    If only. Thus would be such a good idea on paper, but I doubt it works that well in real life. The probelm is that it lies in the christian admitting to the possibility that they might be wrong- and I have yet to meet a christian who would do that.

    • Greg G.

      and I have yet to meet a christian who would do that.

      You would have if you had met me at a the point just before I became an ex-Christian.

      • Pofarmer

        Damn, you beat me to it.

      • Max Doubt

        “You would have if you had met me at a the point just before I became an ex-Christian.”

        Yeah, but you weren’t a True Hanging-On-By-A-Thread Christian™.

        • Greg G.

          LOL. I actually heard myself laugh at that.