Straw and Sand

Men and their Foundations

I know a lot of people who don’t like the idea of apologetics. It seems to leave a sour taste in their mouths. I can imagine good reasons why they might feel this way: the tenets of Christianity cannot be proven, faith comprises a great deal of personal experience, and people aren’t interested in losing arguments for which they are ill-prepared. I empathize with the general aversion to arguing about religious truths, but I object to the general apathy that has spread throughout the church. [1] Two consequences are immediately obvious to me: many people do not know why they believe what they do, and critics are getting away with too much. Though the former problem is graver than the latter, it is about the latter that I will write here.

The problem is, by some counts, symmetrical. People with unfounded belief encounter people with unfounded unbelief—but when such encounters occur it is the believer who must limp from the fight, fix the problem, and return to the skeptic with an answer. Belief requires justification. Skepticism alleges that justification lacks. In a world where justification is not sought, the skeptic is vindicated.

Skeptics are not necessarily out to crush religious believers. They are often content to provide a personal interpretation of religious belief, along with their reasons for rejecting it. Unfortunately, these often take a familiar form—a lofty metanarrative that is handily dismantled, followed by the implication that skepticism should be defaulted to, and need not even be defended. If beliefs built on sand ought to be shaken, then unbelief of a similar nature ought to be shaken as well.

The arguments I am referring to lend themselves to itemization:

People used to believe in God because we needed explanations for the world around us. Today science has explained the world, but the idea of God has lingered on regardless.

It is not sufficient to present reasons why one might have religious beliefs, if one were mistaken. This does nothing to falsify the belief itself, and it does not address the beliefs held by people today. In a pre-scientific age, it is only natural that the unknown should be attributed directly to a God that is already presumed to exist. This aside, science has not answered the unknown—it has only rearranged it, and at best, hidden it from plain sight.

People believe in religion because they aren’t strong enough to cope without it.

People also reject religion so that they can have increased personal freedom (usually having something to do with sex). Both statements are ultimately meaningless.

Religion is irrelevant to my life. I do not need it. Therefore, there is no reason why I ought to believe in any religion, or even the existence of God.

God is admittedly irrelevant—unless, of course, he happens to exist. You consider religious belief irrelevant because you believe that it is false. You live as if it is false because you consider it irrelevant.


This is an example of something that works better in practice than in theory.

I am morally outraged by a God who would produce the result that I see before me.

This is a legitimate concern with a long answer. There is also a short answer: there is no correlation between the truth, and how much it makes you mad. [2]

Lots of scholars, academics, and most of my professors at university say…

What do you say?

I find that, similar to poking holes in a theory without offering a replacement, many arguments against belief are arguments only against illegitimate beliefs. It does not matter why some people believe—it does not even matter why most people believe. What matters is whether the belief itself stands up to scrutiny, and moreover, whether it is true. Has it really come to the point where our position on religion is chosen in a similar manner to our taste in clothes?

A proper argument for a non-religious worldview attempts to demonstrate fallacies in the belief system itself. More importantly, it makes a case for why skepticism is the better alternative (as discussed previously, it supplants the theory).

I struggle to answer difficult questions, but I will not make concessions to someone who fails to ask me those questions.


[1] Or society in general, of course.

[2] Even Einstein, who surely realized this, couldn’t let quantum physics be.


One Response to “Straw and Sand”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Your clear reasoning and your wry bluntness continue to be most pleasing.

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