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.