Tom Gilson

So You Want An Unbiased Opinion On Christianity? You’re Piling On More Bias Than You Think!

John Loftus and Book the Christian Delusion

Book Review: The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Part Two

Bias To the Max

Jason Long survey’s persuasion theory in chapter 3 of John Loftus’s The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Similar critiques apply to what I wrote about the rest of the book’s part one. But there’s one thing in particular that bears analysis. It’s the idea that you can’t trust a biased opinion. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Long puts it this way:

Scholars who begin with no emotional investment in Christianity probably present the most unbiased conclusions about it simpley because they are more open during their studies to accept evidence that contradicts their tentative conclusions. …

The focus we need to place on apologetic defenses of the Bible is the likelihood of the offered explanations and how an unbiased, dispassionate individual would rule on these explanations.

Well, I’m all in favor of reducing or eliminating bias. But that includes biased rules of decision-making. Too few people realize what a whopper of a biased rule this one is. Bias? It’s bias to the max!

Here’s why. Follow me closely, please. I know I’m presenting a counterintuitive argument. It might not make sense on your first read-through. Read it again if you need to.

Objectivity’s Natural End

There are many scholars who have decided to follow Christ following an open-minded investigation. At that point, they have all lost objectivity; or at least, they’ve lost objectivity if they have any sense in them! They’ve encountered a person they believe to be the answer to their deepest questions, the one source of all love, the one who has called them to love and to trust, the one who promises an eternity of life with him. Why shouldn’t they become emotionally invested? How strange it would be if they didn’t!

Some scholars, in contrast, have studied these things and have remained detached. Now, which stance is more trustworthy: involved or detached?

Why Objectivity Isn’t Always An Objectively Valid Requirement

Be careful how you answer. You may think you’re advancing the position that the process must be emotionally detached, but if you say the detached scholars are more credible, then you’re actually saying that the conclusion must be emotionally detached. You’re saying that if someone reaches a conclusion that’s emotionally involved, his conclusion must be thrown out just because he’s involved in it. And what if he reached his conclusion by rational means? No matter! Throw it out! He became attached to it! He can’t be trusted!

This is question-begging. This is what it would take to be confident Christianity is true on those terms: There must be a significant body of scholars who are convinced that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again for their sins, conquering death and changing the course of history for all eternity; and having become convinced of that being true, they still say, “Hey, I don’t care if it’s true or not.”

If they didn’t care, they would be showing themselves irrational. In this case their emotional investment would be evidence of their rationality!

Evidence- and Reason-Free Conclusions

This is a silly rule that skeptics roll out in debates far too often. And Christians have allowed it way too often. It’s a rule that says, “If you care whether the Christian message is true, and if you believe it’s true, then your opinion is worthless.”

Here’s another way to put that: “We can tell the value of your opinion by how much you care about it.”

Sounds a bit strange, right? Then how about this one, which follows logically from what we’ve been saying: “We don’t need to hear whether you’ve got any evidence or any reasons. We know your opinion is worthless just because you have it and you care about it.”

And you thought skeptics cared about evidence and reasons more than anything else in the whole world!

Logically it’s entirely possible that the reason the dispassionate individual (if such a person exists!) has no emotional investment in Christianity is precisely because he has invested herself in the wrong conclusions about it!

The Wider Problem: Piling On Bias

Let me repeat two things.

One, objectivity in a conclusion-reaching process is often a good requirement; objectivity with respect to the conclusions one accepts is a question-begging requirement, at least in this case.

Two, people often confuse the two. “Why is it that no argues for the resurrection except people who think it’s the greatest thing in the world and want everyone to believe it? They’re all biased!” Sure. Christians, don’t duck that one. Run with it. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! If people weren’t excited about the resurrection once they decided it was true, they’d be nut-cases. If they didn’t want others to believe it they’d be uncaring and self-centered.

That includes the gospel writers, by the way. I’ve heard skeptics ask, “Why didn’t anyone but Christians write about the resurrection happening?” They think it’s a sign that Christians colluded to pretend it happened. I think it’s actually a sign that people aren’t stupid! Do skeptics really think we have to find a source who believed the resurrection happened but didn’t care if it did?

When skeptics disallow “biased” sources they’re piling bias on top of the whole investigation, tipping it all the way over in their direction before anyone even looks at any evidence. Call them on it.

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6 thoughts on “So You Want An Unbiased Opinion On Christianity? You’re Piling On More Bias Than You Think!

  1. Loftus falls at his own mark here. He can hardly be regarded as a “unbiased, dispassionate individual”.

  2. An excellent point. Made my day.

    This also follows the “end of study” protocols for research and clinical trials: Notify study participants of conclusion and results, provide results for future research and publish the results.

    I’m assuming that any researcher (who follows true scientific method) would believe/be emotionally invested in/be passionate about their conclusions. All without “bias.”

    But that is your point.

  3. This is similar to the understanding that Pascal offered about all of the beliefs in God and all of the beliefs that there is no God. That they are all faith positions.

    There is no proof God exists. There is no proof that he doesn’t. All of our beliefs one way or the other represent a faith position. They are religious beliefs. They are beliefs (or faith positions) because they are conclusions that we have reached based on our reasoning and evidence and whatever else we considered, that fall short of being proof. Thus, they are definitionally beliefs. The subject of those beliefs is a religious subject i.e., the existence of a deity. Thus, we all have religious beliefs. Conclusions we come to that fall short of proof about a religious subject.

    But if you listen to non-believers they will often accuse believers of having “biased” religious beliefs while their beliefs stand of the firm ground of logic and reason and aren’t thusly tainted. And again, as Tom explained above, it’s not the process of evaluating the evidences that’s different between the two. It’s the conclusion that we each come to that they rely upon as proof of a bias. If it’s not bias for one it’s not bias for the other.

  4. Indeed, this claim / objection from skeptics is just plain ridiculous. After all, imagine this scenario in a courtroom: “Hey, you can’t trust that Detective’s testimony because he is invested in the outcome of this trial because he charged my client!” The correct answer to such foolishness would be: What!?!

    The fact is, the Detective remains objective during his investigation of the crime, but then, once he determines who the suspect is, the Detective obviously and unavoidably becomes invested in the case because he is seeking to find and charge the suspect that he reasonably believes is guilty. But no one in their right mind would disregard the Detective’s original investigation concerning the suspect simply because he became invested in seeking out the suspect and arresting him. In fact, it would be insane if the Detective, after determining who the suspect was, did not become invested in catching and charging the subject.

    I swear, sometimes I think that the people who make these objections are too detached from the way real-life operates to be taken seriously.


  5. Loftus and context:

    [1] which opens with,

    New Atheist pamphleteer John Loftus is like a train wreck orchestrated by Zeno of Elea: As Loftus rams headlong into the devastating objections of his critics, the chassis, wheels, gears, and passenger body parts that are the contents of his mind proceed through ever more thorough stages of pulverization. And yet somehow, the grisly disaster just never stops………..

    [2] which opens with,

    Being insulted by the pop atheist writer John Loftus is, to borrow Denis Healey’s famous line, like being savaged by a dead sheep. It is hard to imagine that a human being could be more devoid of argumentative or polemical skill. Commenting on my recent First Things exchange with atheist philosopher Keith Parsons, Loftus expresses bafflement at Parsons’ preference for the Old Atheism over the New Atheism. Unable to see any good reason for it, Loftus slyly concludes: “Keith Parsons is just old. That explains why he favors the Old Atheism.” He also suggests that Parsons simply likes the attention Christians give him.

    Well, as longtime readers of this blog will recall from his sometimes bizarre combox antics, Loftus certainly knows well the reek of attention-seeking desperation. Sadly, being John Loftus, he tends to misidentify its source………….

    Context is usually helpful.

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