My guest this week is Meir-Simchah. Meir-Simchah Panzer lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their four children. He co-hosts the podcasts Two Christians And A Jew, with Frank M. Taylor and Dr. Jennifer Brown Jones, where the team dives into how Christians and Jews read the Hebrew Scriptures differently and what difference it makes for our lives, and the Artifact Podcast with Nachliel Selavan, where ordinary objects become portals into the history, ideas, and existential mystery behind them. Formerly, he co-hosted Holy Madness – The Show, with Tzvi Zucker. Meir-Simchah is a student of Rabbi Matis Weinberg. He is a co-founder and executive at Ohalecha Arts and Events Center; he writes essays, poems, and stories; and he teaches the Hebrew language and Hebrew Scriptures for individuals and groups.
Meir and I discuss his work on Two Christians and Jew, how he interacts with the Christians, what he actually thinks about Jesus and the NT and the influence of secular Judaism on secular humanism.
My guest this week is my wife, Michelle. Though I have deconverted from Christianity, Michelle is very much a dedicated Christian. We still love each other and we are making it work in an “unequally yoked” relationship. We have an honest conversation about how we got to now and how we go forward in the future.
When you told me …. It was the first time when I felt like “we are real” and I am seeing what is really going on inside of you. And that felt, in spite of all the bad stuff that was there, that at least felt good.
Michelle does work that is social work adjacent. She is a better practicing humanist than I am. I admire her for who she is as a person. I admire her for the work she does. And, yes, I admire her for her faith.
We sit down at our kitchen table for an honesty contest. You can hear the love, but you can also hear the tension and the hurt. We discuss how we met, how we have “deconstructed” over the years, when I told her I could no longer believe, and how we are making it work “unequally yoked.”
Almost from a week in from the point that you told me, I was released to have my own relationship and faith and to dig as hard as I wanted to and as deep as I wanted to and not be holding back … So that significantly changed and I felt free.
In this episode, we respond to listener questions about our loving relationship when one of us believes and the other does not. Send in your questions for a potential future episode with Michelle and me.
My guest this week is Randal Rauser. Randal is, in his own words, “a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion.” He is a professor of systematic theology, aplogetics, and worldview at Taylor Seminary.
Randal has written a number of books on apologetics and atheism. I first became aware of Randal’s work around 2017 when I read “Is The Atheist My Neighbor.” At least in the circles I am a a part of, Randal is considered to be a fair and honest apologist and is widely regarded for “steel-manning” atheist arguments before giving his arguments against them.
My own shifting relationship with certainty and doubt, confidence and questioning, is reflected in my history with apologetics.
This week we discuss his new book, “Conversations With My Inner Atheist.” In this book, Randal personifies his doubts as an interlocutor named Mia, My Inner Atheist, who presents the atheist, humanist and naturalistic arguments against his faith. Randal shows real vulnerability in several of these dialogues and often leaves the matter without a satisfactory conclusion by either party (believing Randal or non-believing, Mia).
Instead, I believe that certainty can journey along with doubt, confidence can welcome questioning, and together they can work to create a healthy and balanced Christian community.
As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on these matters most of which I express in the Final Thoughts section of the podcast. We also discuss a recent back and forth between Randal and Ian Mills of the New Testament Review Podcast fame on the topic of methodological naturalism.
The truth is, I’d rather accept that there are some questions I may never answer rather than return to the simple days where I thought my answers were beyond question.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:11 Welcome to the show.
3:09 David’s background in apologetics.
10:26 Why should we listen to apologists?
19:04 Good Exegesis vs. Good Hermeneutics.
24:52 If theology is true, why is it always changing in light of science?
31:31 Paul’s analogy of the Oak Chair.
35:56 Is the resurrection a significant theological idea or something that is important for your faith?
42:54 Why those who invoke miracles only do so after the natural explanations have plausibly been exhausted.
49:50 Why we use history as validating miracle claims or theological claims.
54:50 What leads to deconversion in the church?
59:58 The problem of evil is a problem and one should wrestle with it.
1:06:30 What’s the ultimate argument that can hurt believers?
1:11:37 David shares how he came to understand that he was mistaken.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheists podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to start off by thanking a few of my listeners for reviewing and rating, the podcast and the apple podcast store. Che and film watcher, thank you so much for the lovely things that you had to say about the podcast. I also want to mention, I've received a number of really lovely emails from people talking about discovering the podcast, going through the back catalogue and really feeling seen by the stories that you and I tell thank you to the listeners continue to tell your friends and family about the podcast. Or if you know somebody who's going through a period of doubt, hopefully, this podcast can give them some sense of not being alone. Very briefly, for my US listeners, just a note to recognize that we've been experiencing quite a bit of grief the whole world has as well but the US in particular over the last few months, has had a rough time of it. And if you are just feeling the weight of that grief, I just want you to know that I see you I feel you on there too. And we need to stick together and love one another to get through this time. onto today's show. My guest today is not from the US he is a Canadian he is Dr. Randall rouser. Rendell is a professor at Taylor Seminary where he teaches systematic theology, church history, apologetics and worldview. Randall has written a number of books, two of which I have read, one I read way back in the day called, is the atheist, my neighbor. And in the book that we were talking about today is conversations with my inner atheist, where Randall personifies an inner atheist in his mind, whom he calls Mia to challenge his beliefs and it is a back and forth of some very difficult questions about Christianity and belief. If you're a longtime listener of the show, you know that I really don't like debate. To whatever extent this was a debate, Randall wins he is much more educated he is much smarter than I am. I'm not trying to debate Randall. As usual, what I am actually trying to do is have an honesty contest and to challenge some of the ways in which I recognize I was mistaken before my deconversion I will have a bit of editorializing to do in the final thoughts portion of the podcast so please hang on. for that. I give you my conversation with Randall rouser.
Bowser, ultimate graceful atheist podcast.
Randal Rauser 3:09
Thanks for having me, David. Good to be here.
David Ames 3:12
So Randall, you are a professor at the Taylor University. That's a seminary, correct? Yes. And there? What's your area of expertise?
Randal Rauser 3:23
I've been there for 18 years and I it's a smaller school. So I wear a few hats. I teach systematic theology and church history, apologetics and worldview.
David Ames 3:35
I know, most of my audience will know but could you expand on the concept of worldview for just a second?
Randal Rauser 3:40
worldview refers to kind of the use a metaphor the glasses through which we see reality or interpret reality pertains to our fundamental convictions about the nature of what exists, the nature of what human beings are, what our problem is, I think every worldview has to address the fact that in some sense, the world is not as it ought to be. And then it provides some account of how human beings can be reconciled or find a way to live to their fullness. And so those would be the basic elements of a worldview.
David Ames 4:11
Okay, so we have you on today because you've written a book called conversations with my inner atheist, a Christian apologist explores questions that keep people up at night. I also read a few years ago, is the atheists, my neighbor, that was my introduction to you. So you've written a number of other books with the is the atheist, my neighbor, what you are doing, I think, is really interesting in that, although you're not defending atheists, you are at least speaking to the church to say, for example, I think the premise of is the atheists my neighbor is that atheists are not fools that the proverb doesn't really apply to the atheist. And so you're really interested in steel Manning conversations, and ultimately, that is the premise of this book, conversations with my inner atheists that you are steel Manning these arguments of potentially these are arguments that you've even wrestled with yourself. And so you are posing the question to yourself and then responding to it. Why don't you introduce the character of MIA for us?
Randal Rauser 5:12
Yeah, that's a good introduction. So it does reflect something of the book, the premises and interior monologue, I guess, soliloquy, perhaps a debate, though, with oneself over certain fundamental beliefs one has, and yeah, it's steel Manning. So it's really there are a couple of different elements. One of them is to try to get into the mind or the perspective of a critic, which is really that steel Manning part. What might they say if they were going to offer a strong criticism of my beliefs? And the other part is actually more immediate and existential for me. And that's the part where some things that I myself do wrestle with, that I don't necessarily have wholly satisfactory answers for myself. So those are things I explore like, it's it's a matter of taking on a certain degree of vulnerability that I'm, I'll put it this way I talk in the introduction about how lawyers know that when you're asking a question, under cross examination, you never ask a question of a witness, if you don't already know the answer, because you don't want to let be left embarrassed by the court. Right? Well, and so many Christians and other people, right, we pursue things like apologetics, in the same way that we won't address an issue, unless we're confident that we've already got the right answer. And the problem is that that's going to prevent you from exploring some difficult aspects of your beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be. So I'm kind of throwing that caution to the wind, and through the character of MIA. And that's an acronym for my inner atheists. So because it's also a female name, it becomes a female interlocutor with me throughout the book, a conversation partner, a foil through whom I can develop my own ideas, she challenges me throughout the book. And I don't always know where the conversation is going to go. And that actually is true. Like I wrote this book over a span of a few weeks. And I didn't know where each chapter was going to go when I began it. When I would commit to asking a question, I wouldn't know how I would necessarily how I would answer it. So I think it does bring a sort of rawness and immediacy to the book.
David Ames 7:20
Yeah, I think one of my greatest appreciations of the book is that there's a couple of chapters where you end where neither you the character, Randall nor the character of MIA are terribly satisfied at the end of the trying to answer a particular question, and you leave it open. I think that's really good.
Randal Rauser 7:37
Yeah, there's actually one where I kind of put in there, I give an answer, a final answer. And then Mia gets the final word. And she says, Yeah, but you didn't answer the question I asked. Right. And I think that, you know, we were all going to have those moments in conversation with other people. So
David Ames 7:53
yeah, yeah. So I did something very similar in that, while I was reading it, I mentioned to you Off mic a minute ago that, you know, what the podcast is mostly about is the process of deconversion of supporting people that are going through doubts, and processing, in many ways, my own loss of faith. And so as I was reading it, I kept in mind, what I affectionately referred to as bd 15, believing David and 2015 or earlier of, you know, how would, how would that have felt the your, your answers and that conversation to me then. So we'll get into that a little bit as we go along. I think the main question I had for you was, Who is this book for? There's times where it feels like this is for believers who are doubting there's times when it feels like it is answering internet atheists that you've spoken to. And there's times when it feels like this is truly raw. Randall rouser himself is wrestling with this. Who is it? Who's this book for?
Randal Rauser 8:56
And I just, this just popped into my mind, I have to say it. So I would say BC you could say as being Christian, and then ad would be after deconversion?
David Ames 9:04
Hey, go. All right. Yes.
Randal Rauser 9:07
I think it was written, you know, for all of the above. I mean, it was, first of all, it begins truly as me wrestling with my own questions. I wanted to and there are again, there are cases where I ended up formulating my answers in a way that I found to be more satisfactory than when I began. So I did learn through the process of writing the book. So it was for me. It's also definitely for other Christians. The introduction is sort of written ostensibly to fellow Christians, who I think also need to explore their own inner atheists. explore their own reasons for questioning and doubting, and, and hopefully, thereby growing in faith. And it's also written for folks like yourself, people who find themselves on the outside looking in. I hope that doesn't sound I mean, it's not like like, you're not missing out necessarily, right. I mean, from your perspective, yeah. But from the perspective To someone who they're an insider to the community, they want to say, hey, you know, this is another way to think about it. And so hopefully, in that way, like, as you know, we are in very polarized times right now. And that's across the spectrum of politics and religion and all sorts of matters. Hopefully, a book like this can have a modest a use as being a bridge builder and providing a basis for exchange between polarized parties.
David Ames 10:26
Right, right. I want to just state explicitly that anytime we have a conversation between a believer and an atheist, we have to just take as given that there's some disagreement there, and I don't want you to worry about offending me. I hope the same goes I'll try to be nice. So yes, you need to be able to express what you're feeling and why you wrote the book. And I get it that you're definitely trying to reach out as well. So I understand that. I'd like to go over maybe just a handful of the chapters. I'm going to bring up one just to start us off. And then maybe you can mention one or two that were your favorites. And the first one is, and I think this because this kind of sets the stage quite well is. The question is, why should we listen to apologists? My reaction to that was interesting in that you are kind of defending the idea of apologetics and you compare it to maybe activism or being a proponent. First of all, you tell me like what is apologetics mean to you? And then I'll tell you a little bit about my response to that.
Randal Rauser 11:27
Sure. So I think it's a little bit of an unfortunate accident of modern history, that the word apologetics has been co opted to be just this thing that Christians do when they defend their beliefs. In in its Greek origins, a poly Gaea is not a word that has any special resonance with any particular religious group. A polygon is simply the practice of providing an explanation or a reason for the convictions that you have about a particular subject matter. And from that perspective, everyone is an apologist for something. In fact, we're apologists for all sorts of things. We are apologists for the kind of car that we maybe think you should be purchasing, or who's going to win the championships in our favorite sports league, or how that team should be doing their plays in order to achieve the championship. When it comes to politics, of course, we're in an election season in the US right now. Oh, there's a lot of apologists on all sides arguing for why to vote for their candidate. So it's not just about what Christians do. It's about what everybody does. And once we appreciate that, we can also appreciate that people have come from a particular religious or skeptical or post Christian perspective, also have a perspective that they want to defend. And so we're all apologists in that sense.
David Ames 12:50
Okay, so where I agree is I'll say that I'm going to be coming from the perspective of the doubt apologist or the D convert apologist. So I completely understand that you are saying each person comes to the conversation with a perspective they are trying to promote. I guess my initial question to you in my head as I was reading it is, you are aware that the general connotation and modern usage of the word has a negative connotation? Yes. When we talk about a political apologist, or a war apologist, or, or what have you, generally, there's a negative connotation that
Randal Rauser 13:27
would depend on the context, right? It would depend on the audience in which you're using the word. There certainly are contexts in which the word could have certain negative implicature or implied meaning. But to my mind, that's really a secondary issue. The primary issue, whether or not you use the word apologist is really somewhat irrelevant. The main point to appreciate is that everybody has a perspective and we're all seeking to defend our perspective over against other alternatives. And whether you want to call yourself an apologist, in light of that fact, is secondary.
David Ames 13:59
Okay. Is there a chapter that for you that you think is just one of the more important ones, you know, something that you wrestled with? Personally?
Randal Rauser 14:10
Oh, I, yes, for sure. I mean, there are there are chapters that deal with certain things like biblical violence. There's a specific chapter on can the Bible be God's word if, if it has immoral laws and commands in it? And then so I give me the floor at that point to present some of the objections she has, and she highlights some difficult ones like in the Torah, in God's law in the Old Testament, it outlines among other things, the practice of stoning a young person to death and insubordinate youth. And one way that Mia has of making me really feel the pressure on that is by putting it into a contemporary context. And she says, imagine if you read in the Associated Press, that there was a child was stoned to death in in the Swat Valley of Afghanistan by tribal elders of a Muslim village, because that child had been insubordinate to his or her parents, you would automatically as a Christian call that a crime against humanity. And you would believe that what they had done was intrinsically wrong. It's only later on when you realize that that's in the Bible, just a similar command to do that, under certain conditions, that you begin to qualify your opinion. And at that point, I think you're moving into a deep cognitive dissonance. So you're trying to reconcile the fact that the Bible appears to command. I mean, there's several things here, first of all, depending on your intuitions whether capital punishment is ever morally justified, second, whether it can be ever morally justified, to undertake capital punishment by way of pelting people to death with rocks. And third, whether it can be ever morally justified to apply capital punishment to illegal minor, somebody who at that point had not yet achieved the cognitive maturity in order to anticipate consequences, and to have impulse control that is possessed by adults. And those are two good reasons why nations today do not apply capital punishment to legal minors, they don't consider them to have the same degree of culpability as adults. So on those three points, or at least two points, the text within Deuteronomy, and in the contemporary scenario in Afghanistan runs smack into our deeply held moral intuitions and we got to figure that out. So that's one of the topics I wrestled with in that chapter.
David Ames 16:38
Yeah, I think that was one of them that that really stuck out at me is it felt real. I think the other one that really felt like you you personally were wrestling with was talking about Mary's age at divine conception. That felt like you were legitimately wrestling with that one. Do you want to describe that?
Randal Rauser 16:56
Yeah, that's a fair, fair observation. So now, I mean, New Testament scholars can be wrong on this. But the generally the, the view seems to be from what I've read, because I'm not a New Testament scholar. I'm an a contemporary systematic theologian, so I'm depending on on their, on their work. But from what I've seen, it was common in the ancient Near East, that the average marriageable age was approximately 1213 years old. And so marry then is the truth at the age of 12, or 13. Now, one of the questions here is when does puberty happen? What was maturation like? So there's that factor? Another factor to consider is is, were children at that point, psychologically, a more, more mature at that age than they would be today. But the bottom line is that, nonetheless, it's, you're going to be hard pressed to find somebody, let's say in Western society today, who thinks it is advisable to have 12 or 13 year old children entering into matrimonial relationships and becoming pregnant? Yeah. And so you have to really wrestle with the fact that, I mean, assuming I mean, you could always say, Well, Mary must have been older. But that's, there's no evidence that she was outside of the norm in terms of her age. So I mean, it's a reasonable assumption that she would have been the standard marriageable age, and if so, then you have to wrestle with that, and what do you do with that? So, I mean, we go back and forth on that, in that chapter. I don't think there is a clear and simple solution to it. But I certainly wanted to raise the issue. I also noted in the chapter that there was a film produced around 10 years ago called the nativity story. So it was meant to be kind of like the Passion of the Christ, the Mel Gibson movie, but applied to the Nativity of Jesus. So a more earthy human. Yeah, a presentation of the reality of the birth of Jesus and Mary, the actor, the playing Mary is 16. So I mean, even that is, seems to me as the father of an 18 year old girl, that's a man that's young. Yeah. So yeah, if you think 12 or 13, that's very young, so that's awkward.
David Ames 19:04
Yeah. To be fair, my tiny Christian bible college education talked a lot about good exegesis, understanding what the original author's intended what the original readers heard. And then good hermeneutics, which is taking what is super cultural out of the Bible to apply it to modern day. And I do think these are some of the you know, cultural norms of a particular moment in time. And so I can hear where, again, the typical internet atheists probably challenges you on these, and they are offensive to our modern ears out at the same time, I think we can let that one go. A question that I have for you. Another chapter is about basically the classical theistic God or the philosopher's God, the way you describe it, and the God of the Old Testament, is to go back to your point earlier about never asking your question you don't know the answer to I legitimate We don't know the answer to this. When did we start to combine those two? Because it seems to me, as I was reading that chapter that it struck me. That is where a lot of the trouble comes in as trying to marry this idea of the Omni, powerful, Omni benevolent, omni present omniscient God with the God of the Old Testament, which seems much more earthy, much more emotional and much more human, to be totally honest with
Randal Rauser 20:28
you. Well, I mean, frankly, that conversation has been had as long as Christianity has been around. So a Philo was not a Christian. He was a Jewish philosopher in the region of Alexandria, Egypt, but contemporaneous with the Church of the first century. And he was famous for attempting to meld the philosophy of Plato with Jewish categories. So for example, seeking to reconcile the two creation accounts of Genesis one and Genesis two, with an image, a story of the formation of the Platonic forms and Genesis one and then filling in the archetypes with concrete particulars that exemplify those forms in time in Genesis two. And then many Christians took a similar tack to, to Philo. So in the second century, Justin Martyr, mid second century, he takes up this idea that he's very enamored of Plato as well, he sees that believes that God was already revealing himself to some degree in Plato. And there has been a tradition ever since then, the Alexandrian School of early Christian theology, so people like Clement of Alexandria and early third century and then later on Origin, they were very much on this idea of having a positive rapprochement with with philosophy of Plato, later on, people like Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, focused instead upon Aristotle, right. And so he sought to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity. Perhaps even if you go to the New Testament itself, you can see in some of the language of texts like John chapter one, or Paul speaking and Mars Hill and x 17, you can find them engaging positively with stoic philosophical categories as well. And some people believe in the book of Hebrews that you can find some hints of a platonic way of thinking. So these ideas have been cross fertilizing since the origin of the church.
David Ames 22:20
Do you see though that from an outside perspective, that there is some difficulty and combining those two? In other words, let me put it in plain English, the goddess of lust philosopher seems different from the God of the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament.
Randal Rauser 22:39
Yep, yeah, no, I mean, I would say that, one thing you have to be careful about is when we come to the Bible itself. Speaking, and this is not a reflection on you. This is reflection on the way the language is used to talk about the God of the Bible, or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as you said, versus the God of Anselm or the philosophers. But in fact, there are a variety of theological perspectives within the Bible itself. And it does seem, for example, that if we go through the Hebrew Scriptures that we call the Old Testament, that we find something of a developmental theology. So early on, we find a picture of God that appears to be much more incarnate much more, with an emphasis upon imminence presence in the world. And so for example, God walks in the garden and the cool the day, with Adam, and they commune together with intimacy. But as you go on through the narrative, God becomes more and more grand and Exalted are transcendent. And so when the temple is built, and Solomon says, not even the highest heavens can continue, let alone this temple. And then by the time you get to deutero, Isaiah, so from Isaiah 40, to 48, you have this very transcendent picture of God and knowing the end from the beginning alpha and the omega. And he sort of unveils the illegitimacy of all the idols because they know nothing, and God knows everything. It's a very exalted view. And so when we talk about God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we're in danger of missing the developmental theology that's already present within the Bible. And it's the same thing when it comes to, let's say, Greek philosophy, or just pagan wisdom, or whatever term we might want to use, is there are a variety of different views. And so what a systematic theologian does like myself, as we tried to interpret the presentation of God as revealed in Scripture, and then bring it in dialogue with all the best wisdom we find in the world, including things like science and philosophy, and we try to develop a coherent, overarching understanding of reality and of who God is based upon the interaction of those ideas. So it's, it's a complicated issue, but yeah, I wouldn't say that there's any it's just not it's not like there are these a square peg in a round hole. It's a lot more going on than that.
David Ames 24:52
Okay. One other question you pose is if theology is true, why is it always changing in light of science? And I thought It was interesting that you open the book quoting Fineman about, I would rather have questions without answers than answers that can't be questioned. How do you see the roles of theology and science? How do they do they overlap? How do they work against or alongside each other?
Randal Rauser 25:18
Yeah, a good question. So there are different models for sure of how theology and science relate. On the one hand, you have somebody like Stephen Jay Gould, the famous paleontologist who defended what he called an independence model or non overlapping magisteria model. So he said that theology is a legitimate discourse, but it deals with a region we call values where science deals with facts. And so they're just two independent spheres of discourse that don't overlap. On the other hand, you have somebody like Richard Dawkins, who argues for a warfare or conflict model. And on Dawkins views, science and theology, deal with exactly the same subject matter. The only difference is that science is good at explaining that subject matter and theology fails. And I think that both of those views are wrong, but I think that talking to you is much wrong or okay to borrow a line from Isaac Asimov, but in a different context, then then Gould. So the view that I would advocate for is a correspondence or interaction view that theology and science have overlapping fields of discourse. And so the challenge for the theologian then is to explore how theology properly relates to science. Now, in terms of it is a good question why, why does science not change in light of theology, but theology changes in light of science? And I think the reason that that happens that there is an asymmetry there is because these are different fields of discourse. what science does is it tries to understand nature through certain ordered processes of study, such as experimental methods, historical sciences, what theology does is it attempts to systematize a body of knowledge with respect to a multiple different independent sources of knowledge. So it seeks to interact with the Bible with areas like philosophy, and with areas like natural science, and to draw all of them into an overarching understanding of how Christians should understand Christian doctrine. So it's to be expected that theology changes in light of its interaction with these various subject matters, including science, but we shouldn't expect science to be changing in parallel with respect to theology.
David Ames 27:32
Okay, and so where the rubber meets the road on this, I think, is the the topic of miracles. I think you clearly believe that miracles occur. I did want to clarify with you do you believe that miracles occur today? Because that isn't always a Baptist Theological perspective. I'm curious what your response is to that.
Randal Rauser 27:53
Yeah, I believe miracles can occur today. There are, I don't want to, there's probably more theology than some of your listeners are interested in. But I'll just say that. So there are two different issues here. One issue is the issue of cessationism. And that's the idea of do supernatural sign gifts continue in the church to today? And there are some Baptists who are cessationists, they believe no, there are no longer supernatural sign gifts. The other issue is whether God still performs one off miracles. And I think it's much more unusual to find Baptists or Christians generally denying that there are any miracles or can be any miracles today. But it's more common to find them denying that there could be supernatural sign gifts operating within the church, like for example, a person having the ability or the power to heal, or to provide prophetic insight, etc.
David Ames 28:42
That's interesting. I don't think I've ever heard anybody explain it like that. So okay, so I've heard you be critical of, I think we're going to move into the next topic here of Oregon talk about the resurrection of secular or atheist or naturalistic arguments that basically presuppose that miracles are impossible or in the scientific terminology, methodological naturalism. So in your book, you pose the question, isn't a natural explanation more plausible than the resurrection? First, let me hear your response to that. And then we'll jump into some further questions on that.
Randal Rauser 29:19
The one area that I don't really get into in the book, so much is definition of miracle. But I think it's at this point that I would want to say that we need to begin with a proper definition of the concept. So I understand a miracle to be a special sign of God's action in the world. And one important thing to understand is that one can identify an event as a miracle, even if one has a closed natural account of how that event occurred. Okay, so let me give you an example. Let's say that you have a rock slide and then the let's say, that this guy is like God give me a sign that you exist. And then there's suddenly a rock slide and then the rocks spell out. I am here. That's actually interesting kind of similar to a famous cartoon by NBC, the cartoon member of the cartoon BC, or BCE. Praise God, give me a sign if you're up there and then assign false when heaven saying I'm up here. Now, the interesting thing is, you can explain the collapse of the hill. And even the fact that the rocks appear to spell out a name through purely natural geological processes of a faultline maybe an earthquake, etc, you wouldn't need to appeal to divine action. But if the event that occurs has a particular significance, such as if the rocks appear to spell it or name, you would be warranted, I think, in attributing that to being a divine sign of God's action in the world, even if you had a closed natural account of how the event had occurred. So you could have a miracle. That is, it's not a gap in natural explanation, but it's consistent with natural explanation at one level, just like and I'll end with this, just like you can explain an event like the boiling of water, both with respect to the fact that the pot is sitting on a stove, and the molecules are getting jumbled around by the heat of the element. And you can also explain it by the fact that I want to have tea, and you can have an intentional explanation of an event that also has a closed natural causal explanation.
David Ames 31:31
Okay, so on the surface of that, I agree. And you you pose another analogy of the oak chair, and you talk about it from the quantum level, there's a description of it from an atomic level, there's a description, there's from a, you know, human size, scale level, the way we describe it, chairs, just radically different. at the atomic level, you can say there's, this is just all space, really. And obviously, we would have a different experience of that. So I agree entirely, that there are levels of abstraction, the way we describe things. My immediate reaction, when you give that example of rock falling and spelling something out is have you ever experienced a miracle? On that order? I think I would be, I would be quite challenged. If I, you know, saw rock spelling out, I am here like that would be pretty powerful.
Randal Rauser 32:24
Yeah, I haven't experienced anything specifically like that. But the thing, the point is that it's a thought experiment. And for a thought experiment to be legitimate, it doesn't have to have been actualized. In the world, it only has to be conceptually possible. So if it is conceptually possible that that kind of event would occur, and you would simultaneously have a closed account of natural causes, as well as be warranted in inferring that it was a sign of God's miraculous action, then that just accomplishes the point I wanted to make. So my point doesn't depend on whether I've experienced it, it only depends on the fact that you could have a miracle that is consistent with closed natural causation.
David Ames 33:01
Sure. Okay. So onto the topic of the resurrection, because I really feel like this is this is the topic this is the conversation that when atheists are at conference, talk to Christians that sometimes we dance around it, so I like to just hit it straight on. So Paul says in first Corinthians 15, if resurrection isn't possible, Christ isn't raised, then you are dead in your sins, your faith is futile. Do you agree with Paul?
Randal Rauser 33:30
I think it's a little bit like I'd be uncomfortable with proof texting him on that, to be honest, I have a chapter in another book, where I talk about not all liberal Christians are heretics and some kind of thing I'm trying to do here. Okay. And so I actually in that book, I talk about the contrast between NT right, and Marcus Borg, NT right, is one of the leading defenders of the resurrection of Jesus in the world today, right, he wrote an 800 page book, the resurrection of the Son of God, for example, Marcus Borg was close friends with with aunty right during his life, he was also a respected New Testament scholar. But he could not get over his skepticism about the resurrection as a historical event in history. Nonetheless, he had had spiritual experiences that he interpreted within a Christian context. And so he adopted from a Lutheran Theological perspective, something like a view of the resurrection, like what Rudolf Bultmann, or some others from that background have interpreted some, I don't know, something like the resurrection could be viewed as the body of Christ Church coming back to life. Now, I find that to be very inadequate understanding the resurrection, but what I have to appreciate is that Marcus Borg had certain a range of experiences that he was trying to interpret, and he had difficulties with faith confession that I don't have a difficulty with. And what anti rights assessment is, is that while he thinks Marcus Borg really miss something important in his doctrine, he was nonetheless See Christian. And I'm willing to say that there's room for Marcus Borg. Now, if I had somebody in my church, like Marcus Borg, who they believe they're a Christian, they wanted to be a Christian, but they couldn't get over the hurdle of this stumbling block. And Paul talks about it in First Corinthians, one of the resurrection. But they've had these experiences, they wanted to follow Jesus. They're welcome in my church. They whether they could take communion, you know that I'd leave that out to the pastor to sort out, I don't think they could become a full member. But they'd be welcome as a healer as a participant within the wider community. And so for me, it's just a little more complicated than taking First Corinthians 1514. So I understand why in the rhetorical context, that Paul is laying a foundation for the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, I understand why he says what he says where he says it. I also think that within the life of the lift community, it's a little bit more complicated than that.
David Ames 35:56
Let me see if I can reframe the question for you. Is a literal resurrection, a significant theological idea or something that is important for your faith?
Randal Rauser 36:08
Absolutely. I mean, if you if I stopped believing in the resurrection, I might become a liberal Christian, like Marcus Borg, I might end up leaving Christianity to get altogether I don't know. Okay. So but it's clearly central to my faith confession, it's a foundation for my Christian beliefs, for sure.
David Ames 36:25
Perfect, thank you. So this was a significant part of my deconversion, in that I was a Christian for 27 years into long into my adulthood, went to Bible college was more on the pastoral side of things, and not necessarily studying New Testament history or things of that nature. But I always had, in the back of my mind, someone has got to have better evidence than I've seen. So far. There's lots of analogies for this, you know, put that on the shelf. You know, Tim sledge says, The exceptions to the rule of faith, you know, there's all these ways of describing these things where you just kind of, you know, there's this problem, and you put it away, and you kind of somewhat ignore it. And so that was one for me. And as I began the process of really deconstructing really coming to what do I believe anymore, it was really the resurrection, that was the final nail in the coffin. And for me, with all due respect to our liberal Christian friends, for me, it was a binary thing, the resurrection has to have occurred, as stated on the tin, literally, Jesus literally died, literally was in the, in the grave, and literally raised from the dead and literally ascended into heaven, or the power of Christianity, all of the claims of Christianity just don't have the the value there. So for me, when I went in and looked at the evidence, such as it is, I wasn't satisfied. It wasn't enough, it wasn't sufficient. For me. One of the points I want to make, or one of the topics I want to bring up is you recently had this discussion with Ian Mills, who along with Laura Robinson, they do the New Testament review podcast, they are both I believe, PhD candidates in New Testament history. And both of them make the argument that when doing history, you need to use methodological naturalism, which, in a sense, rules out the miracle claim of the resurrection. So to put it in plain English, even though they are believers, they are Christians, they do not use the historicity of the Gospels as proof. For the resurrection, you're out, you had a problem with that, and there was some back and forth, I'd like you to maybe describe that conversation. Because I find it fascinating. Obviously, I'm going to have a criticism, but here are believers who are putting this forth and that's their area of expertise. So let's just chat about that for a minute.
Randal Rauser 38:52
So I'll just say that the here's the summary point, as I recall Ian's argument. And summary point was a sort of reductio ad absurdum or reduction to skepticism. The idea being this, that in principle, if you allow that there is an omnipotent deity that can intervene in the course of nature, that will undercut your justification for concluding any historical event happened through natural causes. Because you will not know that that event did not actually occur through the divine intervention of that being. So for example, if I'm driving along in my car, because it doesn't have to be ancient history, this could be contemporary history that happened a moment ago, I'm driving along in my car and the snowball hits my car. And I see a group of kids standing there. If I'm not committed to methodological naturalism, which would be committed to always looking for only natural explanations and events. That's how I understand it. So if I'm not committed to that, then I would have no reason to believe that one of those kids had thrown the snowball rather than that God had created it x me hello and throwing it into my car, thereby framing these children. And I just think that's a bad argument. So the one objection that I presented to that argument is if you prove anything by that argument, he proves too much. Because what he's doing in that argument is just saying, because allowing God's ability to intervene would create skepticism, we're just going to shut out God from our historical explanations. But in fact, he hasn't done that, because he hasn't argued that God does not exist. So on his view, is perfectly consistent with God's actually existing, and actually doing the very things that he says would lead to skepticism, which means that his decision to be committed to methodological naturalism is merely a pragmatists way of saying, I'm not going to consider the fact that the existence of God currently undercuts all my historical beliefs about anything at all. And so again, as I said, if you prove anything, he proved too much. He's undermined all of his historical work. And his commitment to methodological naturalism is merely a refusal to acknowledge in his work, the skeptical consequences of his own view.
David Ames 41:08
Okay, so I don't want to continue too much with Ian's criticisms, because I don't know that I follow them all, to be totally honest with you. So let me get let me jump to, to my criticisms. First of all, I think methodological naturalism is just is not saying that miracles are impossible. They're saying that they're saying that we're not going to jump to that as a description of what has occurred without a tremendous amount of evidence, right. And so what I find fascinating about Laura and Ian, saying that, as believers and New Testament historians, they don't think that the Gospels are proof of the resurrection, they feel the resurrection occurred, but they don't think that you can use even if they even if you take them, even if we grant that they are historically accurate, up to say, you know, the miracles, that that can't be used as proof. Here's, here's my criticism, my criticism is, I feel like we often confuse. And I'll use some tech term here, but requirements versus sufficient, it feels like the evidence that we have, would be required to believe the resurrection. But it doesn't rise to the level of sufficient, right? And if we lowered the standard to the amount of evidence that we have for the resurrection, in the gospels, or the New Testament, that would allow in many, many other faith claims by other religions. Do you feel like that's a fair assessment or No?
Randal Rauser 42:43
First of all, I don't accept your definition of methodological naturalism, because what you said it is, is simply looking for more evidence for a supernatural claim. But of course, those who invoke miracles only do so after the natural explanations have plausibly been exhausted, they don't start with them. Like a person that says, Let's look for a resurrection only look for a resurrection, after they've considered the possibility that Jesus swoon didn't that didn't die, or, or that the tomb was with or the body was moved from the tomb, perhaps in by way of a conspiracy, or that they went to the wrong tomb, or that Jesus actually had a twin. These are among the hypotheses that have been proposed. Another one is that they experience grief hallucinations, which explain the post resurrection appearances. Or perhaps that Paul to just add to that was so conflicted by his interior guilt at persecuting the Christians that he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus, which could explain his conversion. It's only after you've looked at the implausibility of all of those natural explanations in light of all the data that we have, that you will then come to the resurrection as a hypothesis to be seriously considered. Now, if you're a methodological naturalist, you're in principle closed off from that, you're saying no, we're always going to look to a natural explanation. If you just want to say, I'm happy looking at the natural explanations first, and then considering the supernatural one, then I'm fine with that. That's my view, too.
David Ames 44:18
Okay. So again, I don't want to get hung up on semantic whatever definition of methodological naturalism that you have, let's use that. Let me try to reframe the question see if I can get get you to respond to it. So my conjecture is that there are a near infinite number of potential naturalistic explanations for why a group of people would believe their leader resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven. I feel like you have to ignore all of religious history, both recorded and potentially unrecorded, of how people come to faith make faith claims. Believe in miracles. ones that you would disagree with, right? But the one that immediately comes to mind is is Mormonism and Joseph Smith and talking to an angel and discovering the special glasses, all these things you would reject. And yet the level of evidence is fairly comparable. Now I know you're gonna respond. Well, we know Justice Smith was a liar, and I get that. But my point is that, and this is where I would lean on in and Laura to say, This is why we can't use history as as proof for a miracle claim.
Randal Rauser 45:36
You said I get that, but actually, that's exactly the salient point. Okay. There's, first of all, like, like Joseph Smith, if I would just say read a fun Brody's no one knows my name. That was a history of Joseph Smith, written in the 1940s by a very even handed historian. She provides all the evidence, I think they're laid out in that book, to show that he was a charlatan, that that he was ready. He was a treasure hunter working in upstate New York at the time when people do that he had a history of fabricating things, he was not a credible witness. I'll tell you one of my the other things I do in my professional life is I'm also a professional investigator. So I do interviews with people, I do credibility assessments. Joseph Smith does not pass the smell test in terms of being a credible witness. He has like the 12 witnesses of the golden plates, I think it's like nine of them later retracted their statements, for example. You don't have that when it comes to people saying that they saw Jesus raised from the dead.
David Ames 46:38
Let me stop you there. This is my question. Obviously, I agree with you on Mormonism, because Mormonism took place, just you know, what, 150 some odd years ago, it's it's so recent, that we have accurate assessments after the fact, with the Gospels and the New Testament, we're talking about 2000 years. And as you know, as well as I do, the winners tend to write history. So is it not possible that there were negative pieces of evidence that have been lost to history?
Randal Rauser 47:11
I guess I'm gonna say a few things here. First of all, I just want to come back to a point that you you raised earlier, because I don't want to miss it, you talked about how there are always so many different possible explanations for any event. That's true, irrespective of whether one is open to drawing a supernatural explanation for an event. It's just called the under determination of theory to evidence for any particular historical event, there is, in principle, an infinite number of possible explanations for that event. And we are always going to preclude exclude the vast majority of explanations. And that's going to happen due to our own plausibility interpretive framework as we come to the event that just doesn't consider certain options to be live options for our study. So that's not something that's unique to someone who invokes supernatural explanation is just the nature of evidence being under determined relative to theory. Okay, so then the next thing I would want to say, is, I really think that that so you said, well, the history is written by the winners. And this is where we get into what I think is just a kind of sweeping skepticism about the nature of history that I don't think is justified. You talked about, well, we're 2000 years after the events. Yeah, but there are good reasons why New Testament scholars, ranging from conservative scholars to atheists, like your Lindemann, or a liberal mainline person, I would say like Jimmy Dunn, that they date the creed that Paul cites in First Corinthians 15, into the 30s. There are good reasons which I could certainly talk about why they do that. And what they're doing is they're then tracing core confessions about the death and resurrection of Jesus and the fact that he was witnessed by early followers, including someone like James, the brother of Jesus, who then appears to have converted to the Christian movement and was later martyred Josephus independently witnesses to that, or Paul himself, who we have to explain the fact that Paul began as the most vigorous persecutor of the Christians and something changed him. She says quite explicitly, he was my experience of the risen Jesus. So what we have to do is we have to look for non psychological mechanisms for explanations as to why they would believe the body disappeared, why they believe they had seen him resurrected, why they believe that his death was atoning, why their understanding of the nature of Messiah ship was revolutionized why their understanding of God was revolutionized. And this is all happening in the period of the 30s to the 50s. That's when all of this is happening. So as a historian, there's the old Sherlock Holmes thing once you've excluded all of the possible explanations, what is the same note that the
David Ames 49:49
whatever is left has to be it has to be true? Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I don't want to belabor this too much. But I want to I want to try to just one more time. So for example, As you know, throughout the Roman Caesars, many of them claimed divinity, we literally have the coins with their image stamped on them that they play apart in the gospels, as Jesus and Peter are arguing about taxes. So there is much greater attestation to the divinity of Caesars, then there is for the divinity of Jesus. So my point is, if we use history as validating miracle claims or theological claims, it seems to me that lowers the bar.
Randal Rauser 50:35
Okay. I think again, what we have to do is move from general observations to specific data. And I think here we just have a false analogy. We can explain where the language of the deification of the Caesars or the Emperor came from, because it came back to the second century BC, they began talking about something called the spirit of Rome, which was the idea it's kind of like the spirit of the US like, patriotism, pride, the spirit of Rome was the idea of taking pride in the Roman nation state. And then they'd have temples in places like Pergamum that were devoted to the worship of the spirit of Rome alongside the other gods, because it is in the value of the empire, to have the worship of Rome at this benevolent reality, the spirit of Rome that has granted us the Pax Romana, and that unites us as a people and that we can fight together against the Germanic tribes, and against the Persians. And then eventually, it was a natural step by the time of Caesar Augustus, to begin to move from worship of the spirit of Rome, to find the spirit of Rome being concretize within a historical individual, the Caesar or the Augustus, the ruler of the entire empire, you can explain where that language comes from, and the rhetorical force of it through simple, straightforward, historical, natural development. You cannot do the same thing when it comes to what changed Jews living in the 30s in Jerusalem, who just saw their, their leader crucified within Jerusalem, just like every other leader of Messianic movement that had come along, the Romans always killed them off. But in this one unique case, instead of dying out this movement explodes across the Roman Empire, the cannibal if he was raised again, they revolutionized their understanding of the nature of God, and of the nature of Messiah. It's just a different kind of thing. And we have to look for the best explanations of it. And I think resurrection is the best explanation.
David Ames 52:29
Okay, something I wanted to state out loud here is that I'm not one of those people who say that believers are irrational. I think that's a completely irrational perspective to take that the evidence is convincing to you. I'm going to take one more stab at this. And then this will segue into my last set of questions. And I don't want to disparage I don't know how old you are. But I'm old enough to in my lifetime, we have a guy named L. Ron Hubbard, who was literally a science fiction writer, literally said, I think I want to start a religion. Start Scientology. And if you spoke to a Scientologist apologists today, you would have very similar ish arguments about why Scientology is correcting Christianity is wrong. My framing of this is to say, it's not, why say Jesus's followers would change. The question is, why as the changes of many, many, many other religious peoples throughout time, and their changes in theology, changes in behavior change, you know, lifestyle changes, etc. Why were those all invalid? And only the followers of Christ? were correct?
Randal Rauser 53:46
Oh, so the first thing about Scientology again, I think it's just a false analogy. I mean, I think we like you said, we can clearly trace Scientology through the work of L. Ron Hubbard writing Dianetics wanting to found this religion, there have been no shortage of critiques of Scientology, in terms of its exploitation of people, that it's this whole idea of getting people to go clear and having to pay large sums of money to the church as a way to do it. You get that kind of corruption in Christian churches, but it's not in the DNA of Christian churches, right? There are churches committed to poverty and so on. It's not the church itself that is corrupt, but the entire institution of Scientology is, in my view, corrupt and documentaries, like going clear, certainly make that point. So I think that that's just false analogy. Now in terms of, well, why this religion and not all other religions, I mean, we start at the beginning by briefly talking about worldview. And so rather than just talking about religion, let's take a step back because religions are just a particular subset of worldviews. And so again, just as we're all on the spectrum with respect to being apologists for something, we're all on the spectrum with respect to having a worldview. We all have An understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, and the human condition, and how to address the bad parts of the human condition in order to achieve some degree of human flourishing. And so for each one of us, you can say, why your view and not another view. And again, that's where apologetics comes in that each one of us whether you're going to be a Christian, or a Buddhist, or an atheist, or a Mormon or something else, we all have to provide apologetic arguments and reasons why our view rather than another.
David Ames 55:26
Okay, so how I want to segue is just to say, to steal man, the the argument and then explain why, for me, it doesn't work. If I grant you the very, very early dating that you're asking for, for the creed, and First Corinthians 15. And all of the non miraculous bits of the New Testament, let's just grant that as historical, which is granting something right? Like that isn't a given. Even given all that information lead all the way up to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, that still was insufficient for me to continue to believe in the resurrection. At some point, I began to value evidence, more than protecting my faith. And it started to crumble for me at that point in time. The segue is this, we've had a lot of very high profile D conversions. So obviously, you don't you don't know me, who cares about me. But we've had all these people that are relatively famous within the Christian community. I'm very curious to know, what is your perspective on deconversion? I've seen you argue that they don't have a privileged perspective. Fine. But I'm just curious what your perspective is on deconversion? How is that different than the average internet atheists?
Randal Rauser 56:49
Yeah, so I would just say the idea of not having a privileged perspective, I said that in like a couple tweets or something, and the point I was simply making there is, in the same way that like the person who lived in Europe for a summer and had a bad experience, and then said, Europe sucks, don't ever go to Europe doesn't necessarily have the informed perspective on what it is like to live throughout Europe all the time. In the same way that a person has a limited experience of a particular Christian Church, let's say that disappointed them, and they found it abusive, even. And then they just toss Christianity altogether, all 2.4 billion Christians and different institutions and theologies and cultures, etc. Again, we got to be careful about reasoning from the particular to the general. So that's the simple point there. Now, in terms of what leads to deconversion, I mean, I think that there are a complex number of factors. And I mean, I mentioned, if I can't believe Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, would I become a liberal Christian? Or would I just leave it altogether? I don't know. I often talk about the problem of evil with respect to the role that plays in deconversion. Of course, there's a chapter on the problem of evil and the current book we've been discussing. One of the themes that came back, I should say, one of the characters that came back in one of my books or in several of my books, his name was Bob Giono. And so he was a I first met him so to speak by watching a 2006 documentary called deliver us from evil. And it's about the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. And it focuses upon one particular priest named Oliver O'Grady and O'Grady had been shuttled around the different Diocese of California for more than two decades, and raping children the whole time. And when issues would arise in one diocese, he'd be shuttled off to another one. And, you know, they always had a sweet deal with the police. So there were never any charges, he would agree to go away to get some retraining by the church, and then they'd send them back out again, and he raped more children. And so then we meet Bob Giano, and his wife and his daughter, and he was a pious Catholic. And then in the mid 90s, they began hearing stories about how their beloved priest had allegedly been raping all these children. So he calls up his daughter, and he says, Isn't this crazy what they're saying about about our beloved priest? And then she just kind of says, oh, yeah, okay, interesting. And then she just hangs up. And then in a second, he looks at his wife and says, Do you think you did something to her, and their world begins to crash, they call her back, and she burst into tears. And they discover that this priest had been raping their own daughter in their house for several years in back in the 70s, early 80s. Because they would have him stay over right. They wanted to be welcoming to the priests. So they even had a guest room where he would stay and he would get up in the middle of the night and go down the hallway and rape their daughter. The father is an atheist now, as as of the time of the making of the documentary in 2006. And so I've often asked myself, would I still be a Christian? If I discovered some kind of horror Like that had befallen my family? I don't know. But I'll say this that what I do. When I think about it from the perspective of someone like Bob Giono is, it doesn't give me any sense of superiority, when I look at a person who's deconversion, because I simply don't know what their story is.
David Ames 1:00:18
Wow, that's hard to follow. Yes. I mean, and again, I commend you for truly wrestling with the problem of evil in the book. I do. I've said this very often that I think Christians basically pick their favorite theodicy for the problem of evil and call it a day and never think about it again. And I think the problem of evil is a problem. And one should wrestle with that, I think it's a significant question. I am going to stick with a dig on purpose for just a second and just say, Let's steal man deconversion for a second, and let's talk about, say, the clergy project. So people who have dedicated their lives to Christianity to preaching to speaking, writing, what have you, and they subsequently can no longer believe back to kind of Paul in First Corinthians, If I tell you, Randall, you know, I had a nuanced, powerful faith. I honestly evaluated the evidence, and I concluded I was unable to believe, Am I justified in not believing in God if I don't believe the resurrection occurred?
Randal Rauser 1:01:21
Possible? Yep. So I think always wait, we have to be aware of our own cognitive biases, and that kind of thing. And we could have, for example, aversions to evidence that we might not be aware of. But that of course, cuts both ways. Right. It applies to Christians too. And then the same token, it goes the opposite direction again, like, I'm not in a position to say that Bob Giono is irrational for certainly, I mean, that's the earlier book you mentioned, is the atheist, my neighbor. It's a big theme in that book that we can't just go around and dismissing people who end up disagreeing with us about the fundamental nature of reality. It's all let God sort all that out to let God sort out how he's relating to other people with respect to where they are on their journeys. It's not for me to say,
David Ames 1:02:03
Okay, so last question. You mentioned in the introduction, that your mom loves to read your books, but did not care for the title of this book. I'm just curious if you could share what that conversation was like.
Randal Rauser 1:02:16
It's funny, because she got a copy of the book in August when it came out. And then she read the dedication, where it references that and then she emailed me and says, I liked your title. But actually, that she, she back in May, when I mentioned it to her. She said, Oh, Rand, why do you have to be so controversial all the time? or something of that effect? Yeah, I think you know, there's a little bit of the concern of the mom. And the other reality is that truly writing a book like this is not without some degree of risk, because you do put yourself out there. One of my editors, for another book I'd written once called me a troublesome priest. It's like, I'm going out there, and I'm making trouble for people. Yeah. And you might upset some people, but what you have to focus on is the people that you connect with. And so that's what makes it worth it. The conversation we've had that's what makes it worth it. Right? You you can build bridges with other people. So some Christians aren't going to like what I said, but as Martin Luther said, at the Council of Vermes, here I stand, I can do no other read a goddess speak truth as I see it, and just let the chips fall where there may.
David Ames 1:03:25
Excellent. We've been discussing Randall rousers book conversations with my inner atheist rental, let people know how they can get in touch with you and find your work.
Randal Rauser 1:03:34
Yeah, you can find me online at my website, Randall rouser.com. And I am on Twitter, my name again. So just search at rabble rouser. And yeah, I also do some YouTube but I usually just post that on to my blog anyway, so you can find me there, find my books at Amazon.
David Ames 1:03:52
Great. We'll have some links in the show notes and links to the Amazon Kindle versions on my blog. Randall, thank you so much for giving us your time and talking about your book.
Randal Rauser 1:04:02
Great being with you, David, thanks for the conversation.
David Ames 1:04:11
Final thoughts. I have a lot of thoughts. Probably none of them are final on this particular episode in this conversation with Randall. I want to begin with the ways in which I do agree with Randall he is doing something that is really important with his book, I highly recommend that you buy his book conversations with my inner atheist in that he is challenging his own beliefs and taking seriously criticisms of his beliefs. When you are the host of a podcast some of your best guests are those who have taken the time to write down their thoughts in book format that takes a tremendous amount of work and it is something that I respect deeply, sincerely Ando has written a number of books, we have a lot of his thinking that we can go through and examine. One consequence of being the host is the challenge of being gracious to your guests. And my primary goal when I have a guest on with whom I disagree, but who also, I am giving the opportunity to present their work is to promote them, in order to give them a platform to get some exposure, even when I happen to disagree with them. That makes it challenging to truly challenge the points made during the conversation. Another limitation is the amount of time that you have for the recording. Again, I wanted to give Randall as much time as possible to present his piece of work here without constantly challenging him and him not having the opportunity to do so. I say all that to say this, I have a few things I literally need to get off my chest here, or it will feel as though I have done myself a disservice. And in some ways that is unfair, because Randall is not here to respond to these criticisms. I'm certain that Randall who has a YouTube channel will take the opportunity to respond. And I will do my best to promote that as much as this podcast episode as well. So here are a few of my thoughts. I of course, disagree with Randles usage of the term apologists and indicating that is more like a proponent or an activist. But rather than arguing against that, I'm just going to lean into it. So I am going to do deconversion and doubt apologetics and provide cover for those of you who might be experiencing doubt. For Whom the pat answers now sound, Pat, for whom evidence has started to be more important than protecting your faith. You are not alone. There are many of us out here where we have experienced the same thing. Just generically, as I mentioned in the intro, what I'm interested in doing is having an honesty contest. And in our conversation, I think you hear some of that tension. I specifically want to highlight the conversation about Ian mills and Laura Robinson's New Testament review podcast and their argument for methodological naturalism as it pertains to the way we use history. And the point I want to drive home in there is that they are believers, then they believe in the resurrection. And they also say you can't use history as proof for the resurrection. And so that highlights some of the tension that I'm talking about. That is the kind of thing that I think is significant. And what ultimately can hurt believers and ultimately lead to believers de converting my deepest criticism, and I can say this as kindly as possible, of Randles book is this, as I was reading Randles book, I kept in mind, my previous self bt 15 that I made reference in the conversation. And my deepest criticism is that the BT 15 was unconvinced, and would not have been convinced by these arguments, even though that version of me that previous version of me, believed in God and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I have mentioned before, apologetics was a major portion of my deconversion. And the reason for that was, I recognized that I was convinced of the conclusions of apologetics by faith, but that I began to recognize more and more the flaws in the arguments. And if your faith is built on arguments, those arguments are susceptible to refutation. I have more to say about apologetics. Before I do that, and in order to make it clear that I'm no longer talking about Randall specifically, I'm going to say thank you here to Randall, thank you for being on the show. Thank you for sharing your work for putting such an effort to put all of your thoughts and to challenge yourself. And to put that into book form that is very much appreciated. I can tell you Randall that many of the people who I follow online, adore you and adore your work. You're doing something right, even if I disagree with you on the conclusions. So thank you again for being on the podcast. To be fair here, I want to make things clear these criticisms now following are much more about apologetics in general, rather than Randall himself. To be even more fair, I think this is also true of the counter apologetics side of the house. We have pushed both sides so deep into their corners, that it becomes an elite club of those who are analytic philosophers and everyone else is left out as if they have nothing to say. I have used this example a few times in other places, but it reminds me a lot of John Stuart back in the early 2000s went on a show called Crossfire, which was between in the US Republicans and Democrats basically having a debate show. And he came on the show to say you are hurting people. And the point was that the debate had lost any usefulness at that point. And I sometimes feel the apologetics counter apologetics discussions and debates have lost meaning and they are hurting people. I think they are hurting doubters. I think apologetics hurts believers. I think counter apologetics is ineffective and doesn't actually change people's minds. It is trite to say that most people did not reason their way into faith and therefore reason will not bring them out. But there's some truth. There's a kernel of truth there. And my ultimate argument here is that we are human beings, and not Vulcans. And so if we are in our enclave of intellectual high towers, high fiving, one another about the most recent, analytic argument, we are missing out on real human beings, people for whom this is actually a deadly serious question. My remedy for this has always been brutal honesty. If you are a believer, and you're listening, I'm an atheist, of course, I disagree with Randall. But more than me saying that you are wrong or Randall is wrong. What I am saying is I came to understand that I was mistaken. I believed that the experiences that I had the miracles that I thought I saw were from God. What I came to understand was my moral sense was my own conscience, that those miracles were typically good people doing good things. For other people. I came to understand that I personally was using special pleading for the way I saw the Gospels. And that it was clear to me that other religions and their sacred texts were wrong and could not be trusted. And yet, I put all my trust in the New Testament specifically, I came to recognize that with special pleading on my part, and again, I'll refer to E and Lauren, they have a wonderful podcast, I highly recommend you go listen to that. That is the reason you cannot use history, for proof of miracles. Because if you lower the bar to that point, all religious texts, all religious claims of miracles, come on to the table. If you can easily discount Scientology and Mormonism and Hinduism and Islam. And yet, you think that your text the Bible, the New Testament is without error and flawless. Or even if you don't believe in the inerrancy, but you think it is authoritative and trustworthy. The only thing I'm saying to you is, that might be special pleading. And here's a really easy way to see that get Randles book and read it. Read the New Testament, read the Bible. But every time you see the word God or the Lord, replace it with Allah. Every time you see the word Jesus, replace it with Mohammed, just feel how the experience of reading that changes. And if that changes, what does that tell you? The last thing I want to bring up is, why does the field of apologetics exist at all? My faith was in an infinitely powerful, all knowing, all loving God.
Why does that God need apologist to defend him? Why is it that we have sophisticated answers for divine hiddenness and the problem of evil instead of God just showing up and telling us? I know there are 1000 responses to those two questions I just asked. But I'm not asking the apologists, I'm asking you the listener. Why is it necessary at all? On that cheery note, the secular Grace Thought of the Week is this, the truth will set you free. It was the same drive for truth that led me into Christianity that ultimately led me out. Be willing to find the truth wherever it exists. Be willing to admit when you might have been mistaken. Be willing to admit when the strength of your evidence is not as strong as you wish it were. A bit of humility goes quite a long way. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful firstname.lastname@example.org You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.
This has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
My guest this week is Joel Furches. Joel is a Christian and a psychologist researching topics of religion. He has a BA in psychology an MA in education, and he is working on his PhD in Behavioral Analysis. He he has focused on conversions and deconversions and has written a well researched article entitled: Why Do Christians Become Atheists? A Case Study.
The people I find most likely to adopt the label atheist and deconvert are the people who tied their identity most importantly to the Church.
Joel and I discuss his research and walk through his model of deconversion. We discuss the “Market place of ideas” and “The Christian Bubble.” We define the terms disaffiliation, deconstruction and deconversion.
I would advise intellectual humility and the ability to say “I don’t know” about things.
Joel’s advice for Christians who are seeing more deconversions:
[What] I would say to Christians in general is that it is not their responsibility to re-covert [the deconvert]. They have not failed because this person deconverted and they will probably not succeed in re-converting them. It is to respect the person who has deconverted, respect their experience. Give them the right that any other human being would have which is to defend their views. And interact or engage in those views as important.
My guest this week is John Marriott. We are talking about deconversion from the Christian perspective. John is the Director of Global Learning and teaches in the department of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Biola University. John did his PhD dissertation focused on deconversion from Christianity to atheism. He has written a book on deconversion called “A Recipe For Disaster,” which is directed to the Church on the ways they are setting up believers to lose their faith.
I define [faith] as having enough reasons for a hope worth acting on. I think there enough reasons for me to act on this [faith].
I first came across John’s work in an interview he did with Randal Rauser. I was struck by the honesty and clarity that he had in describing deconversion. In particular this quote:
Something similar underwrites a significant percentage of deconversions. The biblical narrative that once easily fit within their childlike understanding of reality began to get squeezed out as they matured in their understanding of reality. The stories in the Bible about miracles, witches, giants, demons, etc. began to feel as out of place as Santa. To resolve the problems they may seek answers that will allow them to continue to believe in such things as adults in the 21st century. This is the experience not just of those who deconvert but all educated, reflective Christians today. I suspect that even for those that do remain Christians, the cognitive dissonance never completely goes away, it just has been reduced to a level that allows them to continue to believe. For deconverts however, the cognitive dissonance is not sufficiently assuaged by apologetics. It grows despite their efforts and reaches a tipping point. As in the case with Santa, the only way to resolve the tension is to admit what they know is true. God does not exist.
John proved to be as honest in person as he is in his writing. He met me in an honesty contest and we found points of agreement on what it is like to deconvert. Even though we disagree on the conclusions we were able to have a vital conversation.
The reason why I believe it is there is enough evidence for me that I find it persuasive. I don’t find the counter-arguments conclusive so there is sufficient and adequate reason for me. But why do I find it sufficient and adequate? That is the real question. And to answer that question it is so complicated: there are personal reasons there are sociological reasons there are emotional reasons of course there are some rational reasons but at the end of the day we’re are so much more than mere Cartesian thinking machines. To be able to say well “I am a Christian because its the truth and it is true because the evidence points in that direction so clearly and I have reasoned it out this way.” Is I think naive in how we actually go about forming our beliefs.
This is a 20 Questions with a Believer episode. John and I take turns asking each other questions and then crucially allowing the other person to answer.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome and welcome to the graceful ideas podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. It has been a number of hard weeks, the tragic killing of George Floyd has shaken up my country and forced all of us to re evaluate our implicit biases. I just want to say up front that it should not be necessary to say black lives matter. But it is black lives matter. It should not be necessary to say that the police should de escalate rather than escalating violence. But it is much of what I talked about here with secular grace and humanism is about putting people over ideology. And the number one thing that we should recognize is when people are being hurt, the ideology is wrong, not the people who are demanding justice. For my international listeners, excuse me for a moment to being US centric here. Our nation is founded on the idea that equal justice under law is available to everyone. And when we recognize that that is not happening, we need to respond. Before we get into today's show, I just want to read a few statements from our founding documents and what I think are great humanist expressions of human dignity and human rights. We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. From the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, and I'm gonna use the original language here, so forgive the use of some of the archaic language. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government. laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness and from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and have the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts, which have outraged the conscience of mankind and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech, and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. Whereas it is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. Article One, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. People over ideology, people are being hurt. People have had their rights trampled upon. People have been unjustly imprisoned, Black Lives Matter. On today's show, my guest today is John Marriott. John is the Director of Global Learning and teaches in the Department of Philosophy of Religion and ethics at Biola. University. He did his dissertation on deconversion from Christianity. So today's show is about deconversion. From the Christian perspective, John has also written a book called a recipe for disaster in which he is describing the way the church sets people up for deconversion. What drew me to John is a level of honesty from a believer and in some ways, an apologist that I haven't seen anywhere else. And I want to be clear here, John is very much a Christian and very much wants to convey the need for everyone to believe in Jesus and the God of the Bible. At the same time, he seems to recognize the humanity of those of us who have D converted, and rather than straw man arguments against us. He almost defends us and the reasons why we might de convert, we'll get into the details of his argument, which ultimately is an argument to the church. I mentioned multiple times and interview between Randall Rosler and John Marriott. That is the thing that stopped me in my tracks and made me go out and reach out to him and I'm gonna read you just the paragraph that stopped me. He was making the analogy of the way children lose their faith in Santa Claus. And again, I want to preface this by saying John is not saying that, from his perspective that God is like Santa Claus. But he says something similar underwrites a significant percentage of Deacon versions, the biblical narrative that once easily fit with their childlike understanding of reality began to get squeezed out as they mature, and their understanding of reality. The stories in the Bible about miracles, which is giants, demons, etc, began to feel as out of place a Santa to resolve these problems, they may seek answers that will allow them to continue to believe in such things as adults in the 21st century. This is the experience not just of those who do convert, but all educated reflective Christians today, I suspect that even for those that do remain Christians, the cognitive dissonance never completely goes away. It just has been reduced to a level that allows them to continue to believe for D converts. However, the cognitive dissonance is not sufficiently switched by apologetics. It grows despite their efforts and reaches a tipping point. As in the case with Santa, the only way to resolve the tension is to admit what they know is true. God does not exist. Again, I really want to preface this that John himself is not making this argument. He is just defending what D converts go through. Having said that, amen. This is one of the most accurate descriptions of deconversion that I have ever heard from a believer. And, again, that made me appreciate John, reach out to him. My conversation with John was fantastic. What you will hear is that neither of us spends very much time arguing against the other person, we spend a lot of time trying to find the common ground, it turns out we have quite a bit. I think this is the epitome of an honesty contest of the kind of thing that I often try to do on the podcast. If you are listening, and you think I didn't press John hard enough. You're right. i That wasn't my goal. My goal was to hear John's argument and full. I did present my perspective, my experience, and I felt that John was equally as graceful. And I appreciate that. I seems like I am saying this every episode these days, but the audio quality in this episode is not up to par. If this is the first time you're hearing the podcast, please don't judge the entire podcast by this episode. The audio quality was not good. Unfortunately, John's mic was too hot. And as well, because of the state of the world these days and everyone using Zoom every minute of every day, we had a lot of internet breakout. And in fact, I want to apologize to John, there are a couple of moments where he's making spiritual points. And I want to make clear that I didn't intentionally edit these out, but we lost two or three of these points due to internet connectivity problems. I plan to have John on the podcast again Sunday, he has another book coming out that I will be reviewing and when that day comes, we'll make sure that we get the audio in better shape. Having said all that, here's my conversation with John Marriott.
John Marriot Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
John Marriott 9:26
Oh, thank you. It's very good to be here. I really appreciate the invitation.
David Ames 9:29
Yeah, I was, as I was saying, I really appreciate that you have engaged with me, I emailed you and you were very responsive. And I appreciate that. Want to start by telling the listeners who you are just a little bit of your CV that I've seen, you're the Director of Global Learning, and you teach in the Department of Philosophy of Religion and ethics at Biola University. But the really interesting thing about you is that you did your dissertation focused on deconversion from Christianity to atheism, and you have written a book called a recipe for disaster. Fill that out of bed a little bit more about yourself and why you are interested in deconversion.
John Marriott 10:04
Yeah, I do work at Biola, which many of your listeners will know is an is an evangelical Christian University in Southern California. And my role there is I oversee, we have two distance learning centers, we call them the centers for intercultural study. One is in Switzerland, one is in Thailand. And we also run one on campus and in that department, as the director for global learning is to make sure those are unwell. And I also teach in a part time role in a couple of different departments at Biola. One is undergrad philosophy. And then one is the philosophy of religion. It used to be called philosophy, religion and ethics notes. It's called Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology. And I've been doing those now for about for about 10 years, I did do my dissertation and on deconversion. And it started out by I was looking at the I was on the internet one night, and I came across a website that cataloged people who have stories of people who had left the faith, and I was so intrigued by this, the more that I went down the wormhole of the internet, I found that there were literally 1000s of deconversion narratives online. And I thought, well, that's a fascinating area of research, I would really like to know why it is how it is, and what's the impact of people in the lives of people who have left a faith that is one that I hold. And so that's how the whole thing got started.
David Ames 11:28
Yes. So, you know, that's fascinating being on the other side of that, finding people that are interested in this. And part of what made me reach out to you, John, was I ran across an article, an interview you had done with Randall rouser, and I appreciated the honesty with which you described D converts. And so maybe to begin the conversation, I would say, there's been a rash of very high profile D conversions lately of high profile, worship leaders, authors, Christian authors, written link, the famous YouTube guys. And one thing that I'm fascinated by is the apologetic responses to these, there is, I imagine from your perspective, justifiable concern. But I often think these apologists have never spoken to a D convert clearly, because they are arguing against a straw man that doesn't appear to exist. From my perspective, from the interviews I've done, and my personal experience. Why do you think that is? When what is your approach when you are talking with our studying D converts?
John Marriott 12:36
That's a really good question. And because of the like you put it out the rash of well known people who have left the Christian faith and the responses that have have come from that, I put some time into thinking about this. And I really think it's, I think that there are two issues. I think there are two driving factors in this. And the first one, I think, is that Christians who remain in the faith are humans, just like everybody else. And I think that there is a natural knee jerk reaction that comes that wants to ascribe maybe blame to these people, whether it's moral blame, or just poorly understood Christianity to begin with, we were never truly in the face. Actually, you know, that it came out that they weren't Christians, because of the fact that they decided to leave. And I think that that's a natural reaction that just about any group has when someone leaves their group. Sometimes it's called the No True Scotsman fallacy where they say, Well, you were never really a Christian at all. And I think that the the human part of the people who make this argument comes out of a certain sense of maybe a little bit of fear, fear that says, Well, if these people who seem to be the great examples of faith, if they can lose their faith and leave, then maybe it can happen to me too. And I don't like that thought, and it causes me a lot of turmoil inside. So the best way to deal with that is to say, well, you know, they weren't actually really Christians, and I really am one, and they aren't. And so that's why they left now, I've seen this actually happened to a gentleman who was quite active in the atheist movement. And he was on he works online, he worked for a well known blog site, and he reconverted back to his Christian faith. And the same thing was said about him was that, wow, he never really adopted him. So I think this is a very natural human tendency. I think the second thing is though, when it comes from Christians, there might be a theological component that's driving it as well. And especially for someone who comes out of Joshua Harris, his background because from a more reformed perspective on Christianity, there is this belief that if you really are born again and God has saved you, then you will persevere to the because he keeps you. And if you can't lose your salvation, sometimes it's called eternal security. And if someone leaves, then it just shows that they were never really saved. And there are lots of Christians who would believe that and it is certainly a defensible, biblical doctrine. There's enough passages in the scriptures that say things like they went out from from among from us, because they were never of us in first, John. So I think those are the two driving factors. There's the human fear component, and then there is the theological component.
David Ames 15:33
Right? Yeah, a lot of that resonates with me. And first, I want to acknowledge that absolutely. I think the atheists side that we are just as guilty of the No True Scotsman fallacy as as Christians can be, just from a personal story, and I think this is what I want to bring to the conversation is, you know, my personal experience, it's always a really bizarre conversation to have with a believer in which I find myself in the position of defending my former faith. So that often that blame is happening, where is if I'm speaking to somebody who's reformed, you know, and I happen, maybe I say, I'm more of our Minion background that well, that's, that's, that's why you didn't understand the sovereignty of God. If it's the reverse, well, you weren't born again, you didn't make a decision for Christ. If a person is Catholic, and you're speaking to an evangelical or vice versa, you just didn't know you were in the wrong tradition. And you just wind up in these conversations where you're like, I'm not interested in defending that. But just to start at Ground Zero to say, you know, I was a person of real faith. And I think I said in my email to you, what I focus on are typically adult deconversion people who have lived some good portion of their life deeply, profoundly impacted by their faith, and who subsequently are no longer able to believe. And just starting at that ground zero. Sometimes it's challenging, particularly from an apologetic perspective.
John Marriott 16:58
Yes, I can understand that. And I am troubled when I see someone like Joshua Harris, or Marty Sampson, or Rhett and Link, and there's this latest gentleman from the band Hawk Nelson, who made an announcement. It's troubling to me that there is such a quick diagnosis as to why this happened. And a number of websites will start writing up policies of life and interview their friends and ask them questions about whether or not they've been going on for. And I don't find much of that helpful, because most of the time, the people who are doing writing these articles, and sometimes they're just well known, high profile Christian thinkers, don't know these people at all, I have never talked with them have never engaged with them don't know them on a personal level. And someone reached out to me from an apologetics organization last year, when Joshua Harris lost his faith, and my response to them was I don't know, Joshua Harris. I don't know why he did what he did. I don't know what his underlying reasons were. And I don't think it's helpful. I think it's helpful. In in a, in a sort of a research broad picture, to be able to say, here are the general reasons that the converts give, here are the general processes that they go through. And I think that can be helpful, but I don't think it's helpful to then say, so here's why this person lost their faith, or here's why that person lost their faith. I just, I think it's doing some sort of a diagnosis from a distance that we're not qualified to make.
David Ames 18:41
Exactly. And we can't read minds. So there's no way to the particular set of circumstances that lead somebody to change their mind,
John Marriott 18:48
the best diagnosis I think I've ever read. And I think this is a fair one is the BART Campo lo Tony Campo lo documentary and book one, which is, that's called why I left and why I stayed and it's for your listeners, if they're not familiar, Bart Campo is the son of Tony Campo, this very well known evangelical preacher, and an evangelical leader, and his son, worked with him for 20 years doing inner city ministry preaching the gospel and living a very sacrificial life serving the disenfranchised and the marginalized, of the inner city of Cincinnati. And it got to the point, though, that BART eventually lost his faith. He said that he wasn't that he would not believe but he just couldn't believe any longer. And in the book, why I left, why I stayed, they interact with one another. And Tony will say, here is my take on Bart's deconversion. And I think that there's something to be said, for a father's take on watching his son who is known for a long time. So I think this is something that played into his loss of faith. But unless it's someone in that sphere, I don't think saying very much specific about anybody is helpful. It's morally most likely just speculation.
David Ames 20:00
Absolutely. I'd like to turn now to your book, you have specifically five ingredients you call them for your recipe for disaster. And I'd like you to just give us the highlights of what those five ingredients are. Maybe you could tell us how those might apply to either a BART Campolo, or the gentleman from Hawk Nelson.
John Marriott 20:22
They don't know, Bart, and they don't know the gentleman from Hawk Nelson. So it's it's kind of challenging to be able to say, this is what, you know, this is why they did what they did. But it seems to me that when you when you step back in when When people found out that I was writing a book on deconversion, and I did my dissertation on deconversion, they always asked the same question. And you could probably guess what that is, and it's why do people lose their faith? And I understand the reason why people want to ask that question. They want to know what they can do differently. But it's, it's never one reason why people lose their faith, right? There's never one reason why people become Christians. And there's never one reason why people lose their Christian faith. And so I decided to try and make the case that it's more of a of a recipe. And you could apply the recipe in some way to the reason why people become Christians, too. But when it comes to losing their faith, it seems as though there is a certain set of ingredients that all recipes have, there's a preparation of those ingredients. And then there's a cooking environment. And the synopsis of the book is that the ingredients are the personality traits that seem to be typical of people who wrestle with faith. The preparation is the poor ways that the Christian church or parents or mentors have have worked with those individuals. And then the cookie environment is the secular world that the environment of the United States or Canada or the West, that is becoming increasingly secular, right. So that's the three parts to the recipe. And so you're asking specifically about the ingredients. And so in short, it seems as though there's a handful of characteristics, that people who end up leaving their faith or even people who identify as non believers who have not gone through a deconversion process seem to typically have in high numbers. And that would be there is a tendency for people who lose their faith to be above average in intelligence. Now, this is sort of debated, there are some people who will say, look, the statistics that show that and the studies that show that aren't actually all that accurate. There are other studies that say that maybe people who lose their faith are more analytic. And people who who are believers are more intuitive in their reasoning processes. But that has actually nothing to do with intelligence. But there are a number of studies out there that can't be ignored that seem to point in the direction that people who are non believers have high intelligence. The second thing was that they possess a personality trait, which is sometimes called being open to new experiences, psychologists identify at least five major they call them the five big personality traits that people seem to have that they're born within that they have throughout their entire life. And one of those is being open to experience. And that just means that if someone says, Hey, there is someone giving a talk down at the Student Union about some new position on something, you say, Oh, I'm interested in that I'm up for it. Let's go listen. Hey, skydiving next week, and you want to try that yeah, I'm open, tend to lose faith to be score quite high in. And this is seen in both Europe. And in the United States, hein stripe is a researcher over in the UK, in Germany. And he's done a cross Atlantic study on people who have D converted, and one of the things that they have in common is that there really is this open to experience category that they score high. And he also found that there is an anti authoritarian and anti fundamentalist feeling that many of these folks have, they don't like being told what to do. And they don't like submitting to, to authorities that they find to be overbearing. A fourth one is that there's a high degree of tolerance for ambiguity, which means that, you know, if, if you're in a faith that is very locked down and very narrow and has all of the i's dotted and T's crossed, and says you this is exactly the way that the world is. If you score high in the in the personality trait of of having a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, you're gonna have a hard time maintaining that faith because you're going to be able to see the tensions that exist in the gray, and be inclined more to want to live in that. But you're being called to live in a faith that is very black or white. And then lastly, the inability to process and reconcile difficulties with their faith. And this comes out of work done by a scholar named James Fowler, a number of years ago, and he wrote a book called stages of faith. And he says, there are six stages that people of faith of any kind go through. And stage three is stage three, four, and five are the important ones. And so stage three is a person who is in stage three, when and he defines most people in most churches in the United States at stage three, when they don't think that any other worldview that other than theirs is a descriptor of reality, it's more of a, you know, a blissful ignorance. It's not an arrogance, it's just an ignorance the world just is the way their worldview describes it to them. And that seems to make sense. There's no cognitive dissonance. But you know, if you get exposed to other people and other views, then you might move into stage four, where now you're starting to recognize that there are tensions between the reality that you have been taught and the reality that, you know, stage five, is when you somehow managed to go through stage four and go back to stage fright and move up to stage five, were you able to live with the tensions of your worldview, and you realize that not everybody has to see the way the world that you do and that everyone's worldview has some tensions. And so you kind of chill out and are and say, Okay, I can handle this. It seems as though people who lose their faith are unable to push through from stage four to stage five for whatever reason, and this is not a criticism, it just seems like, this is where they're at. Because Fowler says that stage four can be so mentally taxing and exhausting. But you can't go back to stage three because the genies out of the bottle you can't go back to and, and you can't fight and find way too many to hold your faith because you use the only other option you have left. And so those seem to be the characteristic ingredients of people who ended up leaving the faith.
David Ames 26:24
Again, why I reached out to you is that this resonates with me, I want to point out and say, the obvious care not because your first element is about intelligence. And in fact, I think that might be the one I would challenge. In that I've said often that this is rarely about intelligence. And in particular, because the person that I was, as a believer, used, you know, whatever intelligence I have, and that didn't change, when I became a D convert, one of the things I wanted to engage with you about is I see it as kind of these waves that take place, you begin with the very highly analytic type of people and people that at eight or nine years old, they say, You know what, I can't accept this, right, and they never become believers at all, then you have, you know, maybe a second order group of people that do have faith for some period of time. But again, they have kind of an analytic to them. In my case, I think the technical work that I do just being wrong often and error correcting constantly. I think this is what this bug is. And no, that's not what it was, I was wrong. Okay, let's try a different thing. Error Correction just brings out about, but I think what we're beginning to see now, and maybe the thing that is concerning from your perspective, is a kind of a third wave of people where, because the gate has been open, so to speak, there is more of an intuitive, or a more of, like I've seen apologists accused people of Well, it's because of their feelings that they're now D converting. And I think there's a small grain of truth there, right like that. It's become publicly acceptable on some level. And so you're starting to see people who maybe aren't that hardcore analytic perspective that are coming to this deconversion. Does that resonate as true to you?
John Marriott 28:17
Or? Yeah, I really think it does. I am becoming more persuaded that when it comes to maybe moral issues, that it is almost an intuitive moral gut instinct that directs the rationality and the reason. And then that almost circles back and justifies for us, the position that we are almost already inclined towards heading towards because it doesn't maybe line up with our, our values. Let me give you an example. One of the there's a researcher in Hong Kong, his name is Terry, who we viewed and followed for three years 623 Chinese Christians he interviewed I think, was about 900. At first, and then other people he put through a battery of tests, then he got 623 of those who identified as Christians. And then he followed this, those 623 Throughout the next three years, and intermittently had them redo the same kind of tests, personality tests. What he found was that there were 623 people out of that 900 That became Christians. And then after three years, 188 had left and they were no longer Christians. And what he thought what he found was very interesting is is that when you look at the values that those people who left the faith had before they became Christians, they scored high in characteristics in values such as self determination, power. hedonism was another one that they scored high in low in benevolence low in tradit seat, you know, in the respect for tradition, and so his he didn't draw this final conclusion, but he did say that that, because the there was there was a bit of a longitudinal aspect to this study, that there are certain predictors in the values that people hold as to whether or not they will retain their faith because at some point, they might realize that the values that they have, and the values of their faith don't really line up. And then if that's the case, it's it's much easier just from a human perspective. And I'm not criticizing anybody for doing this, because we all do it, to start to find reasons for why we think intellectually, that it's probably not true. Right? You always have, I've always had these doubts in the back of my head about the Trinity in the resurrection anyway. And now you're telling me, you know, as a Christian, I need to submit to this and to submit to that, and to believe this, and this is an important value. I don't think this is true anymore. So I think that's the case for a lot of people, right. I think that Jonathan Hite, the researcher out of UCB, and I think he's at NYU, now with us at Stanford. He argues that the elephant in the rider, the rider thinks that it's the owl, that He's directing the elephant, but really, it's the elephant who's deciding where he wants to go for the most part and and our moral gut level intuitions operate on the subconscious deep level, and almost make those decisions in the moral areas for us before it gets to a reason. And then our reason sometimes justifies it. So I'm not sure how far I think that holds. But I do think that there's some truth there. Which is why the whole part about whether who's smarter than this debate might not really matter all that much.
David Ames 31:33
I totally, totally agree. And in fact, you mentioned Jonathan Hite, I feel like I'm swimming in this zeitgeist right now about questioning our own reasoning, and that our reasons tend to be post hoc rationalizations of decisions that we make based on moral intuitions. You've got thinking fast and thinking slow with Danny Kahneman. You've got the enigma of reason. You've got Solomon's the knowledge illusion, and then Jonathan heights, the righteous mind, and all of those seem to be pointing at, you know, we think we are much more rational than than we are as human beings. And so I would agree with you that and one of the one of the ways that I say this is when I tell my deconversion story, and I'm giving the reasons. I'm also aware that some of that is constructed that it's some of it is post hoc, it is how I feel about it. It's my pine sight perspective. But in the early days, I really tried hard to remember what was I thinking, literally, from the days leading up before when I finally kind of admitted to myself, what was I consuming? What was I thinking about? That kind of thing? And I've lost track of that? Yeah, in all honesty, right? I can give you a detailed discussion of the reasons. But I am also strongly aware of the post hoc nature of that, oh,
John Marriott 32:53
I had a former student, not my personal student, but he was a university student reached out to me and say, Hey, I don't believe anymore. And I'd like to get together with you and have a discussion about our different worldviews. And I knew that the question that would come from him eventually would be so why do you believe like, I don't believe it anymore. But you do. So give me your reasons. And I knew for him it was going to be all cognitive, right? I knew he would want to know, what's all the reasons. And as I thought about it, I realized, I mean, I will tell him the reasons the reason why I believe it is because I think that there is enough evidence for me that I find it persuasive. I don't find the counter arguments conclusive. And so there is sufficient and adequate reason for me. But why do I find it sufficient? And adequate? That's the real question. And to answer you that question, I would have, I would say it's so complicated, because there are personal reasons. There are sociological reasons. There are emotional reasons. Of course, there are some rational reasons where I think I'm trying to do my best to evaluate the truth. But at the end of the day, we are so much more than just mere, you know, Cartesian Thinking Machines, that to be able to say, Well, I'm a Christian, because it's the truth. And it's true, because the evidence points in that direction. So clearly, and I have reasoned it out this way is, I think, naive in how we actually go about forming our beliefs. And so I agree with you on this. Now, that opens up a whole nother can of worms, right? Like then, how are we supposed to determine what is the truth if our reasoning is kind of isn't always that valuable? But I guess that would be time for another discussion.
David Ames 34:31
Absolutely. We may have to have a second discussion. I'm curious, just if you agree or disagree, I often try to describe this as something that happens to me and I hear lots of other D converts describe it as well, that there came a point in which my choice was engaged, my volition was engaged and I began to go do some research. But up to that point, it was things happening to me, right? So I wonder if you agree that belief or lack of belief, or or disbelief is really not a choice entirely that all these sociological and environmental factors and genetic and nurture factors all come into play all at the same time.
John Marriott 35:14
Yes, I definitely agree with that I will qualify it in in a minute. But I do think that belief for the most part is involuntary. I don't think that you can force yourself to believe in something that you are overwhelmed with evidence for the contrary, I do. I think that if I were to force myself to believe in Santa Claus, I would be lying to myself, and I would know that I was lying to myself. There's not even a positive case that can be made for the existence of Santa Claus, like I think that there can be for the existence of God. Now, some people might say, Well, no, I think they're actually equivalent. But it at least for me, they're not equivalent. But I do think that, for the most part, belief happens to us it's involuntary. From my worldview, and my perspective, I have to open up some space for there to be some responsibility for our beliefs. And I don't think I don't want to say that we are completely determined from all these subconscious and environmental factors that bring us to a particular conclusion. I want to say that I think those shape and form and impact us and are way more powerful than what we realize, I think we are often, you know, like swimmers who are swimming in a current, and the current is actually taking us where it wants to go. And we think that maybe we're actually the ones determining where we're going by the direction of our swimming. But I don't want to say that it's fully determined, because I think that there is a personal responsibility that we have, like you said, to investigate and to think and to come to certain conclusions on things. And then from my biblical worldview, I do think that there are other factors going on there as well. Right. So you know, as a former Christian, that there would be this idea that Jesus says things like, you know, people love darkness more than John writes and says, you know, people love the darkness more than they love the light. All of those would kind of come into how I think about this, but I agree with you that belief for the most part is involuntary.
David Ames 37:16
Okay. Yeah. And I think part of what is making our conversation you and I work here is that I appreciate and understand that you are fully convinced. And I think that you understand that I am not convinced. Yeah. And so like, it isn't about, you know, trying to undermine your reasons for why you're convinced or vice versa, right. So we just we are where we're at, and we're having the conversation. Oh, and,
John Marriott 37:41
and I appreciate that. And for full disclosure for everyone who's listening. When David reached out to me, one of the things I said was, look, I'm not I don't consider myself an apologist. And I don't find that interaction to be very helpful. And I'm not very, not very good at it. You know, I'm not I'm not a good quick thinker on my feet. But the other part of it, why I'm not really a great apologist is because you mentioned you said, you know, I know that you're fully convinced, and and the reason why I'm not a great apologist is because I'm not fully convinced. I think when it comes to faith, I define it as having enough reasons for a hope worth acting on. And so I think that there are enough reasons for me to act on this and to step up every day, and act that out and put one foot ahead of the other and continue. I am more convinced than others. And if I read a read Christopher Hitchens, I start to feel squeamish inside. And so I think it's helpful, you know, for the listening audience to know that, I think that that's okay. I think that we can undulate in our confidence, depending on circumstances, or I'm just a very weak believer. I don't know,
David Ames 38:51
I think you're very honest. And again, that is what really drew me to engage with you is, I can't tell you how rare just what you just said is, very often, people speak in absolutes, including from my side. And I think just acknowledging that we're all trying to figure this out. And we all have the information that we have, and we're convinced, or we're not convinced, I want to make sure that we don't lose track of time here, I want you to have some more time to talk about. So you've discussed the ingredients. And then you have two other concepts, the preparation and environment environment you've mentioned is the secularization of the culture. So we'll kind of leave that to the side. What is the preparation in your recipe that you're describing? And how do you feel the church has done on that? What is your recommendation to the church to change what they're doing?
John Marriott 39:40
Right? Well, I think that there are four things that seem to come up quite a bit in my interviews with people and reading narratives of people who have lost their faith and the four very briefly are this is that their people get over prepared. And by that I just mean many folks are told and in a suit And I don't even blame them for assuming this because this is what they've been told. And you we generally trust those who are in our authorities over us. They say, Look, this is Christianity. And unfortunately, it's not Christianity, what they're given what they're given is often a very bloated, very fragile, very inflexible House of Cards, kind of faith that says, All of these things are essential and have to be true. And if you pull out one, the whole edifice is going to come crashing down. And so you have to believe in literal six day creation, because the entire Bible rests on literal six day creation, you have to believe that the Bible is absolutely inerrant. And that is the foundation of your faith. Because if there's one error in it, then why trust any of it, because it's God's word, you should just throw the whole thing out. And it's not even just those, those are the primary ones, but then there are others, you know, like that the baptism has to be this way, and that women have to have this kind of a role. And what folks don't realize is that, I think, well, it's justifiable to have secondary and tertiary third level beliefs, I think what is helpful is to believers, and so this time raising my kids, these are the essential beliefs of Christianity. And I know that you could debate what those are. But I will point back to early creeds of the church, where the early church is a unified body, you know, before these various schisms, and they'll say, like, here are the 10 essential things to be an orthodox kind of, within the parameters of the community, Christian. And so as long as someone has that sort of a sociological view of Christianity, that I that I think is the one that needs to be passed on, and then to go deep on those beliefs, but for the most part, like I interview people, and they almost always come on to these very conservative fundamentalist backgrounds, who don't think that being any other kind of Protestant is okay, who thinks that Eastern Orthodox are all going to hell, you know, all Catholics are, are going to hell. And I want to say that that's way over preparing them that you're giving them something in Korea, Christianity for them, and making them carry this huge Wait, when they don't have to now, if you do, just give them the pared down essentials version, and then tell them listen, you need to think well about secondary issues. And third level doctrines like you should think about those things. That doesn't guarantee that they're still going to that they're going to stay in the faith. It's just one less impediment that sets them up for a crisis. Right. So that's number one. Number two is being underprepared and underprepared. I just mean, the Bible is a book that's been that's written, you know, even if you just go back to the time of King David, it is as far in the past to us, as 5500 is in the future to us, right. So we really have to help in the church, we really have to help people who pick up the Old Testament and look at it from an I don't mean this in a negative way. But from our modern moral sensibilities and understanding of the universe, we often tend to read through those lenses back into the Old Testament and see it as this just whacked out understanding of talking snakes and naked people in a garden, and floating axe heads and donkeys that are talking and all of genocidal sort of violence that's asserted assumed. I don't think that we've done a very good job of helping people think well, about the nature of the Bible. And let me just give you one sort of classic one, just one really quick example, then I'll give you the next one. So, you know, my, my, my daughter is in the third grade right now, just going into the fourth grade, and she will learn higher level math next year. And then after that higher level and higher level and higher level, and if she sticks with it, by the time she's done University, she will know enough math, that if she majors in it, she will love math to be able to see the rock. She'll understand the physics. But she will probably have the same Sunday School understanding of Adam and Eve story in the Garden of Eden. Right? It never seems to get nuance levels of understanding helped to be seen in a different kind of a light that seems to be able to make more sense in a 21st century world of science and technology, and also at the same time trying to be faithful to the text. Right. So I don't think that so I think it's very challenging and very difficult for students who go to UCLA to go to a church that takes that that would say they have a high view of the Bible. And that reads the stories in Genesis and maybe a fairly literal sort of maybe not nuanced, simplistic way, and talking about snakes and naked people and all that stuff in the garden. And then they go off to their physics class at UCLA, and they're figuring out how to beam their voice to outer space to a satellite and then to their friend on the other side of the world instantaneously. How do you hold these two in you know, intention? At some point you go I don't get it. So that's The second one, I don't think we've done a good job. I think you're underprepared. And quickly the last two, ill prepared is when I think and this is someone will certainly could argue this with me, but is when I think that young people specifically, are given a set of expectations and assumptions about what they can expect from God, or what God's going to do for them or what Christians should be like, or what it means to believe the gospel. And it's a very poor understanding and a very poor concept. And that sets them up for expectations that don't get fulfilled. And then that sets them up for for disappointment. I can't tell you how many people who I've met who have said, you know, God didn't come through for me, God didn't do this. God didn't do that God didn't intervene. And why am I suffering arises hardship going on? And then I will ask them just nicely, like not trying to be argumentative, but just wanting to know. But are you familiar with any of the passages in the Bible that talks about people suffering and what to expect and suffering will happen and that Jesus suffered, and, and this just seems to be a foreign concept to them, because they have this Americanized view of Christianity that we should be prosperous, and we should succeed, and that nothing should ever bad should happen. And that if I'm good to God and follow Him, then God's gotta God has to have my back and has to do what I expect him to do. And so there's that. And then the last piece is, is that they're painfully prepared, and that is when when Christians just really treat them poorly. Right, judge them, criticize them, have no patience with them, demonstrate hypocrisy, all of those are the kinds of ways that I think that people who have this particular set of of ingredients are negatively affected by by those of us in the church. Yeah, I
David Ames 46:40
think I have interviewed probably people in most of those categories, that would point to, you know, they wouldn't frame it that way that that was kind of the thing that led up to a deconversion for them. So you and I exchanged some emails. So I've hinted at where I'm going with this. But I'm curious what you think, for a person who does have a nuanced perspective on the Bible, who has, I know kind of what's trendy right now as Mere Christianity, you know, CS Lewis's perspective on, it's about the resurrection, it's about what Jesus did that kind of thing. And yet they still they find themselves unable to believe that the resurrection occurred, right. So so rather than looking at the tertiary issues, looking at the main thing, as they, as the apologist says, If I am unable to believe that the resurrection occurred, Am I justified in not believing in God's existence?
John Marriott 47:37
Yes and no. Right? So of course, I'm answering this from my own worldview, sir. And so let me give you the Yes, part first, I think that in order to be rational, we need to form beliefs in the proper way. I don't think that a belief is necessarily inherently rational or irrational. Maybe there are some very rare exceptions. But I think that for belief to be rational, it needs to be formed in the in the proper way. And part of that proper way is having some reasons and having some, some arguments to support it. And so if someone comes to the position where they say, I've looked at all the evidence that I've looked at all of the reasons, and I am unconvinced, then then I think that there is a certain amount of there's there's not a culpability there, right? Because because there is this part, where if you aren't convinced you you don't have control over necessarily what you believe. Right? You just don't, you can be in some sort of willful, state of to varying degrees of self delusion, I suppose. And that's, that's possible. But I think no, so on the face of it, I would say no, of course not. If you're not, you're not responsible if you come to this conclusion. And because you don't think the reasons are good. But then there would be from, from one biblical perspective, and I try and qualify that by saying one biblical perspective, because there's not necessarily just dance but I think that that would say you would be the part where Paul would say things like in Romans one where he uses the word that God has revealed himself to the degree that people are without excuse and the word he used there, you might well know is the word of Pollack, yeah, that there without any kind of defense because for what has been made manifest of God can be known by them because he's clearly revealed himself. And then Paul goes on to say, in the created order, and then in just consciousness as it were itself. Then he says, the reason why they don't see this they're not convinced of the reasons or because of this propensity and this desire to not just to sin but to fail to recognize God as an authority in in their life, and in Ephesians, he makes the same kind of argument where he says, you know, their, their, the blindness of the hardness of their hearts is really the reason why there is this, this ignorance that he uses that term in, in the belief in God, and specifically the God of that he's talking about the God of the Old Testament, the god of Jesus. So. So on that regard, if I'm a Christian, and I take the Bible as my final authority and criterion for truth, then I would say that, yes, there is a certain amount of culpability there because the Bible says that, that you are responsible for that. Does that make sense?
David Ames 50:37
Yeah. And again, you know, having been a former Christian, I know exactly where you're coming from. That's why again, so one of the features of both the the interview article which I will have links in the show notes, by the way, for the listeners, and I've only unfortunately read the first chapter of your book I plan on reading the rest of it, is that you seem to be very generous and acknowledging the deep converts are really seeking after truth. They're trying to be they have integrity, about their intellectual honesty, they are trying to resolve cognitive dissonance. And I think I put that question to you this way, there's a way of reading your work, which seems to make the skeptic look really good. And if you read it in kind of a negative way, or almost, it's almost negative towards the believer, I'm very curious if you've gotten any pushback from either University, or pastors or people of faith from your work.
John Marriott 51:36
Well, I'm a I'm a small fish in a very large pond. And so
I think my royalty check from that book, but my wife and I dinner at a low end restaurant. So
I don't think I think I'm sort of off the radar. In most cases now. The it has been some people who have read it and have it. I think that I want to listen to and that I, I'm concerned about. One criticism comes from a particular theological perspective. And this one, I think, is, from their perspective, I understand where they're coming from. And so will you they say, since a Christian cannot lose their salvation, John Marriott has just gone out and interviewed a whole bunch of people who were never Christians, right. And then taken from that information, distill that down into advice on how to keep non Christians just churched. Keep them in the church. But But still, they're not Christians. Yeah. And so I hear that I need to do a better job of explaining what I'm doing there. I have had some people say, look, you've given away too much in your emphasis on the essentials and having, you know, in pushing people to to go deep into affirm, you know, the kind of creedal statements that have always been part of his historic faith. Are you saying that it doesn't matter if someone believes that Abraham offered up Isaac, is that just fair game, you can just ignore large swaths of the Bible because the Bible doesn't talk about the Creed's don't talk about things in the Bible. And I think, Oh, I thought that was kind of a given that, that didn't have to be said that you should still take the Bible seriously. And that it is a criterion for truth, you know. So there, there has been that I try in I, you know, I'm writing as an insider. And I'm writing as an insider in in, hopefully a way that offers a corrective and I want to be gracious and charitable to those who have left, because I've seen how oftentimes they how they feel. And the impact in their life has been quite startling, for at least the first while. And so I'm trying to write as a social scientist, as opposed to a theologian. And from a social scientists perspective, I think that yeah, we haven't always done a great job in in the way that we've engaged with people. And I do think that, and this is where I could maybe get in a bit of trouble. I do think the apologetics industry has oversold the case for the truthfulness of Christianity and has not done it has done a disservice because you go in and look at bookshelves in a Christian bookstore, you'll find titles like Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And the verdict is not in question, right? Like it's so clear that it demands a verdict or beyond reasonable doubt. That's another book title. Yeah, without a doubt, that's another book title. And I think these may, might sell but you're really setting up people for a crisis of faith, because if it was all beyond any kind of reasonable doubt, it would seem as though there would be no room for it whatsoever. And it seems as though God is relationship, not one that is just built on the end of a logistic syllogism. So that's kind of why I try it. Be a little bit more compassionate to those who have left the faith. Now, I also want to say just in balancing that out, I've interviewed a lot of people who I can who I mean, as far as I can tell, after the interview, I walked away and said, Wow, they sure had an axe to grind, or they didn't want to be Christians to begin with, or they never truly understood what was, you know what Christianity was, like, when I hear someone say, Well, I prayed a prayer, you know, and, and I pray that prayer, and that's what made me a Christian. And then, you know, they say, oh, and then I found out that I couldn't just do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And I was supposed to submit to the Lordship of Jesus and all that kind of stuff, then I say, okay, yeah, there are people like that out there. But not everyone is like that out there.
David Ames 55:45
Yeah, again, I want to acknowledge as well that, you know, people either choose not to continue their faith or to investigate it, or, you know, the the idea of just the examined life, you know, people that aren't interested in that there are certainly people that are that are like that, again, anecdotally, the people that I tend to talk to, really did, they worked very hard that, in your words, submitting to the Lordship of Christ, of trying to live out that faith doubling down as the doubts came, and yet still found that the House of Cards came down.
John Marriott 56:21
Yeah. And those would be the people that I would have interacted with, at least I tried to interact with doing my dissertation. And those are the two people who are trying to interact with now. Because those are the ones I think that are certainly the most interesting, right? It's easy to say, that guy, you know, by his own testimony was never truly serious. And it was never deep in his life. And it was maybe an intellectual kind of ascent. But but then I was just talking with a friend of mine, who is a pastor at church. And he said, he said, Yeah, I know, a fella who I went to seminary with, and he was a pastor for like, 20 years. And he no longer believes he's lost his faith. And when I talk with him about it, he's heartbroken over it. He says that belief, you know, unbelief happened to him. It wasn't something that he sought. And I think that that's really interesting to figure out why that happens. And if I ever do, then that'll be the book that gets all the attention. It's so complicated, and people are so you know, people are so complex.
David Ames 57:35
Yeah, I resonate with that. I think if you ever engaged with people from, say, the clergy project, which is a number of people who are or were in roles of leadership in the church, who have subsequently D converted, that you would find a very common thread through their of trying very, very hard to do the right thing and still finding that they were unable to do so. One of the my last few questions is, is it just because the statistics are available that we tend to focus on the 20 year old who walks away during college, I very rarely see either research or books written about adult D conversions. Why is that? Is it just that there's no data available for that?
John Marriott 58:19
That would be my first guess my second guess would be that, you know, I think I think a piece of why deconversion happens that's really hard to quantify. And I think that this is a controversial statement. But I do think that when psychologists talk about something that's called like, they call it a false self, I think this concept of false self is, is sometimes at play. And a false self is not. It's not a pejorative term. It's a term of censure, there's no criticism of a false self. The false self is just the self that grows up believing what they think they're supposed to believe in doing what they think that they're supposed to do. And at some point, they realize that that might not be who they really are deep down in their core and, and at some point after that they become strong enough and mature enough and emotionally developed enough to be able to say, Hey, this is not who I am. I think maybe a parallel could be when people maybe know at a young age that their same sex attracted, but yet they believe that it's wrong, they think that it's wrong, they would, you know, they don't act on it. They may not even admit it to themselves. But at some point, they become an independent, strong, psychologically stable, emotional person. And then they go, Oh, this is actually who I really am. And I think that that process probably happens for most people in their, in their 20s in their, you know, post adolescence, when they start to gain independence and think a little bit more for themselves and realize this is what I believe this is what I think. And so maybe that's why we see more folks who deconversion leave whatever faith tradition there is around that period of time, because they're also leaving home and being exposed to all kinds of different thinking and different ways of living and worldviews? Well as the older we get, it seems like we become more thinking unless we're working really hard. And there probably are less people who are going through that may be false self to authentic self transition at that point in life. Now, I just want to say one other thing is that I'm not exactly sure what I think of the false self authentic self kind of transition. But it does seem to me that if you can remove any kind of sort of moral condemnation from those terms that they might connote, there might be actually something there.
David Ames 1:00:42
Yeah, it's interesting. And again, one of the things I appreciate it and your work was, you know, you talked about integrity, you talked about authenticity, all of those things, really, maybe it's my ego talking, but really resonated. It's like, Yeah, I mean, those are the reasons. You know, that's what led me to, at some point in time, give myself permission to go look for answers outside of the bubble, so to speak. And ultimately, that led to deconversion. If you have any questions for me, we could do that now.
John Marriott 1:01:13
Oh, sure. How about? Let's see, I didn't have any questions thought out. And I'm sure that you probably recounted this other places. But I'm curious as to what would have been the intellectual reasons that when of faith that you conclude, like you said, you know, I either don't think there's sufficient evidence here to warrant belief, or I think it's just untrue. What were some of those?
David Ames 1:01:39
Yeah, so it's hard to summarize all of it. I think that there were two key concepts that started to fall apart at the same time. One was, I began to question dualism, itself, right, the idea of something other than the natural and specifically as it came down to the soul, you know, what were my reasons for believing that I have an eternal soul, that is something other than this body, that will go on after I die, that started to fall apart for me. And then, simultaneously, you know, and and again, I know this is post hoc, but like, around the same time, I was thinking about what were my reasons for believing that the resurrection occurred. And as I started to question kind of the one that about the physical nature of who I am as a person, the other started to fall apart as well. I went to Bible college, I wouldn't call myself into having been an apologist, but I liked philosophy. And I liked apologetic arguments. And I found those things interesting. So it wasn't that I had not examined these things very deeply. But there was a part of me that always said, someone smarter than me has proven this or has better evidence or something somewhere. And so when I finally gave myself permission to go seek that evidence, I was a bit horrified to find the weakness of the apologetic arguments. So to be fair, I can totally appreciate you know, someone who looks at the historical record that we have, and comes to the conclusion that the resurrection occurred, there's enough evidence for them. For me, it's an extraordinary event. It's it's the most important event in all of history and all of the universe. And that not to have a lot more evidence. And so that doubt began to erode. What formerly would have been pretty rock solid faith. And the more I thought, someone smarter than me, somewhere has got this nailed down. And I kept looking and kept looking, kept looking, and really didn't find it. That summarizes it in effect, but I just could, I found that I could not believe the resurrection occurred anymore. And for me, I agree with Paul, either Jesus rose from the dead, literally a man who was the God man on earth, died and rose again. Or if that didn't occur, this is all worthless, right? And so when I admitted to myself that I didn't believe that the resurrection occurred, I was done that, you know, I wasn't interested in going to seek out progressive Christianity or various flavors of other theologies or what have you. I just knew I'm done. And then very, very quickly, I realized, I'm a naturalist, right? I didn't know what that word really meant, you know, but now I understand that. Yeah, I think, you know, I think the physical world is is what is and that science is the way that we discover that. And back to just really quickly, one more thought is, again, that error correction, I was willing to be wrong. And I talked about deconversion as kind of the ultimate repentance. What I'm saying is, I was deeply mistaken about the most important thing on earth. Right and it was coming to me See that I believed something that I then subsequently believe did not have sufficient evidence to hold true.
John Marriott 1:05:07
Right. So that sounds to me different, a little bit different than what one of my assumptions about loss of faith is. And so tell me if you if you think that you're a bit more of an outlier, or if what I'm assuming is incorrect. There's a gentleman out here at Claremont and his name is Phil Zuckerman, I'm not sure if you know his name. He's written a handful of books on on this faith exit and, and secular societies and things like that. And he has in his book on faith exit, a section called one of the main reasons why people leave the faith is he calls it acquire incredulity syndrome, by which he means that over time, like, it's like the death of 1000 cuts, to the point where at some point, you just realize like, Oh, it's just completely gone. Like it's, it's, I just don't believe anymore. And it wasn't, wasn't one thing that did it. It wasn't one crisis moment of faith. It wasn't finding one error in the Bible, but it was this whole kind of, there's a pile of straws, and eventually the one straw broke the camel's back. And, and that's why they ended up kind of losing their faith, your sense to be a little bit different, or is there more of a backstory to yours?
David Ames 1:06:28
I relate more to what you're describing there. A good friend of mine, who I interviewed Matthew Taylor, very succinctly said this. And he said, You know, I suddenly became aware that I no longer believed, and he said the suddenly is describing my awareness. The process took years. And I really relate to that, that, in hindsight, I can see steps along the way of, you know, liberalizing opening up my worldview more again, I always was a bit of a pop science geek. So it's not like that was a new thing. But like, really recognizing that I felt, from an epistemological point of view, that scientific method has at least greater authority, if not the most, and that that had deep implications about the positions that I held.
John Marriott 1:07:20
Oh, so. Yes, so that sounds really similar to what you said it Matthew Taylor. Yeah. Matthew Taylor. Yeah. So when Matthew Taylor describes it as a sort of a sudden awareness, that sounds a bit like the journey that CS Lewis took into Christianity where he says, he was sort of, you know, he was kicking and screaming all the way. And then, you know, over time, he found himself realizing that he believed and he describes it as he was on a motorcycle. And he was riding from one point place in Cambridge, I think, to another place in Cambridge. And, and he says, he realized that when he got after it was all done. He was on the motorcycle, he hadn't crossed over to a position of belief. But he knew by the time he got off that motorcycle, it dawned on him, and he was suddenly aware that he actually did believe. And it seems as though yes, this is a similar kind of a process of how he came to faith and how many people exit out of faith, which is why I think that proof loss is very often a, there's a something that happens to people as opposed to something that they're willfully going out and trying to find rest rationalizations or justifications to get rid of
David Ames 1:08:28
two things I want to respond to that. One is I agree that just changing one's mind about some deeply held belief. It has that characteristic. And I will put in the show notes, a TED talk from a lady who describes it and uses the analogy of a phase transition the way water goes from liquid to solid or, or the other direction into a gas. And that it's not that the temperature has been static and then suddenly changes. It's that you know, the temperature can be rising or lowering. And if there's this moment of phase transition that takes place that can from the human perspective, have a sense of suddenness about it. Yeah. And yet that process of the temperature changing has been going on for a period of time.
John Marriott 1:09:14
That's a great, that's a great illustration. That's a great example. I'd like to see that. What is she talking about, by the way, in the TED Talk? Is
David Ames 1:09:20
it about changing, just changing one's mind? Oh, okay. I will definitely I will pass that along to you and email after this conversation, and we'll have it Oh, great. Yeah. Great. And then one other thing I wanted to point out is I've written a kind of a tongue in cheek blog post about the process of the deconversion. But that describes this, right? The first three phases are like, what I call precipitating events, things that just any little thing, a blip in the matrix, something that causes you to stop just long enough to valuate to think about some deeply held assumption. A second step is what I call a critical mass that that might be the analogy of the dark night of the soul, right? There's enough of those precip tedding events that they've mounted, and you have to take it very seriously at that point, and that the third step in there is kind of giving yourself permission to ask the questions. And that's the order in which I experienced it, right? Like these things happened to me, I didn't, you know, I didn't have any control over those. And at some point, I decided, I want to go find out for myself, and I'm gonna go figure this out, wherever the truth lies.
John Marriott 1:10:24
Yeah. And I think that's probably pretty consistent with the the people who I, who I believed had somewhat mature faith, faith that was fairly informed, and then eventually left it it was usually that's sounds like the process that they went through, there are others who did not have that kind of quality to their faith. And, and it was simply maybe a matter of, well, I have to, I'm supposed to believe, and believe is the same as certain. And now I've got this doubt in my head. So I don't believe anymore. So I'm no longer a Christian like, those are those folks. I mean, they're important. And certainly, their experience matters. But that's not as interesting to me as people like yourself who have had a massive change from a faith that from, from all indicators was genuine and real and meaningful and deep. And and I think that that's really where the interest lies in this whole discussion.
David Ames 1:11:25
Yeah. So yeah, John, I hope that maybe you and I can continue to work together. You know, if you have people that you are interested in interviewing, my back catalogue has got some fascinating characters in it. Sure. I do think we are wrapping up on time here. So I want to give you an opportunity, people, I think, will be shocked and amazed to hear your honesty and the way that you are approaching this, how can they find you? How can they interact with you? How can they find your book?
John Marriott 1:11:52
Oh, thanks. Well, first, let me just say that the approach that I do take is is one that, you know, I don't see you as my enemy. I see us as being in two different ideological camps. But those are ideological camps. And that neither one of us is absolutely certain and knows for sure that either one of us is right or the other one is wrong. And so we are kind of in the same boat together trying to figure this stuff out. And I've come to one conclusion, you've come to another. But that does not negate the fact that we're dealing with the same questions. And even if I do think that you've come to an erroneous conclusion, in minds, right, I'm still called to love you as somebody who is made in the image and likeness of God and to treat you with dignity and respect. And so that's how I try and come at this. I'm not interested in getting into apologetic arguments with people about why they're wrong. And and if someone wants to ask me why I think what I do, I'm happy to, to say that, but my explanation and my, my apologetic skills will only go so far. And I don't expect them to to persuade really, to be super swayed very many folks. But having said that, I do have a website, and it is WWW dot johnmarriott.org. And Marriott is like the Marriott Hotel, two Rs, two T's, and John has DOH. And I have a book that is mostly directed to those folks who are in the church, the recipe for disaster. But I have another one coming out with Abilene Christian University Press. It'll be out next year, and it's called the anatomy of deconversion. And what I did was I took all of my interviews with all of the folks that I did in my dissertation and put it into kind of a popular slash academic book that looks at is grounded in the testimony and the words and the stories of people who have lost their faith. And so the first part of the book is, is all that it's the reasons the process the impact, how people mitigated the impact, how they impacted their family life, their intellectual life, their emotional life. Surprisingly, the dissertation itself was called the cost of freedom, because the vast majority of people who are interviewed said, while losing my faith was really hard, but it was worth it. Because I felt like I was set free. Right. So I raised the issue in the book at the very end that it's incumbent upon Christians to ask what kind of faith are they passing on to people if they think that once people leave it, they say hoof relief, right, so so that one actually is probably the one that may be more interesting to folks who are on the other side of the deconversion line, and that that'll be out in a year, but you can find all that kind of stuff on my website. And of course, as a Christian, I would like to try and do things to help people maintain their faith, but to do so in a way that is that has integrity and isn't just sort of some cheap kind of keep them in just for the sake of numbers or something like that. So thank you.
David Ames 1:15:01
Well, thank you, John, for sharing your research and your insights. And again, mostly for your honesty and the grace with which you have described the deconversion process.
John Marriott 1:15:13
Well, thank you. And likewise, I really, I really appreciate the discussion. I really appreciate. It was really enjoyable, and I'd be happy to do it again.
David Ames 1:15:24
Sounds good. We'll have to plan. Okay.
Final thoughts on the episode? Well, that was an amazing conversation with John Marriott I, again, appreciate so much his honesty and the gracefulness with which he had the conversation. I'll point out again that neither of us spent very much time arguing with the other person, we didn't spend a lot of time pointing out the points of disagreement, we did find a number of places where I think we have a mutual understanding, even though we would come to radically different conclusions. I want to say here unequivocally that I understand that John is very much a person of God, and that he believes in Jesus Christ, and that he believes that all people should be Christians. But what I appreciated about him is his generosity with the way that he talks about and interacts with de converts, such as myself, I never felt like I was being talked down to. And I hope that he felt likewise, having said that, I think that what John has to say to the church is really, really powerful, mostly because it is honest, and it is a somewhat accurate perspective on what D converts go through. I want to highlight one particular quote from the conversation. And I encourage you to if you missed it, to go back and listen to the full context, make sure that I don't leave anything out here. But he says the reason why I believe it it is it being Jesus in the resurrection, is there's enough evidence for me that I find it persuasive. I don't find the counter arguments conclusive. So there are sufficient and adequate reason for me. But why do I find it sufficient? And adequate? That is the real question. And to answer that question is so complicated. There are personal reasons. There are sociological reasons, there are emotional reasons. Of course, there are some rational reasons. But at the end of the day, we are so much more than mere Cartesian thinking machines to be able to say, Well, I'm a Christian, because it's the truth. And it is the truth, because the evidence points in that direction. So clearly, and I have reasoned it out this way, is I think, naive, and how we actually go about forming our beliefs. And, again, this level of honesty is incredibly refreshing and also incredibly revealing. I understand that John would argue for the opposite side that atheists D convert has equally complicated reasons for deconversion. But if we can all agree that the beliefs that we come to are based on complicated reasons, many of which are outside of our control, we might have the humility to have better conversations with one another. I hope that my conversation with John was one such conversation. Now hope you appreciate it. I hope you will reach out to John, I actually hope you will go buy his books as well. Give those books to the believers in your lives, so that they might understand why and how you went through your deconversion. from a Christian perspective, I think that would be really valuable. I will have links in the show notes for John and his books, I do encourage you to go purchase them. John, thank you. I want to thank you for being on the show and sharing with us your research, your wisdom, and your generosity. I hope to have another conversation or more than one more conversation with you in the future. And I hope that you will hear from some of my listeners some encouraging words of identification with the way you have described D converts. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists join me and be graceful human beings. Time for some footnotes. The song is a track called waves by mkhaya beats please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let Nino and let's have you on. Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me, come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing, please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful email@example.com You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well, this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.
This has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
My guest this week is Joel Berry, the podcast host of the Petty Prophet Podcast. Both hist blog of the same name and the podcast are from the Christian believer and politically conservative perspectives. Joel is very much a believer. He had listened to the Graceful Atheist Podcast and was curious enough to initiate a conversation.
[Due to fundamentalism] I think that I was teetering, when I was 19, …, and I was deciding which direction to go with my life, teetering in my faith a little bit, and I joined the military, became a Marine Corps infantry man. Within a year I was in Fallujah. [I was] a sheltered kid, [a] home schooled fundamentalist. I am taken out of the [United] States, out of my Christian bubble, and I spent a year in Iraq. … I had a little Bible in my flak jacket that I read when I could.
Joel meets me in an honesty contest in which we both push each other but also take the time to listen to one another. I think it makes for a compelling conversation.
What compels me about Christianity? I think the first thing was that, and this is experiential … , I was taken out of a Christian world … and I open my Bible and I read the words of Jesus in the Gospel and the words of Jesus really drew me in, there was something about that man that seemed other worldly and amazing to me.
Joel experienced a deconstruction from a fundamentalist form of Christianity. He left the IFB. He left a fundamentalist Calvinist theology. But he maintains in his words “a childlike faith.”
[I got into] aplogetics, the reasons to believe, the reasons for my faith, but all that stuff it’s all arguments, none of it is completely conclusive, and there is still an element of childlike faith involved.
This is a 20 Questions with a Believer episode. Joel and I take turns asking each other questions and then crucially allowing the other person to answer.
What happens when you are married to a person based on your mutual faith and one of you deconverts?
My guest this week is Sarah who is a believer married to a former Christian and now atheist deconvert. Sarah describes herself as “born again.” She is a dedicated Christian who is very active in her church preaching and teaching. Her integrity, honesty, and heart for people come through with shining colors in this interview.
After many years of marriage that was predicated at least in part on their shared faith, her husband informed her he had deconverted and was no longer a Christian. He goes on to blogging and podcasting about his atheism while she continues to teach and preach at her church. As you might imagine, this was and is a difficult process of transition for both Sarah and her husband.
This decision that you made on your own affects us; it affects both of us. The core of our relationship was centered around church and being Christians.
We talk about the complexity of being Unequally Yoked. She describes what it felt like when she learned her husband no longer believed. How do they discuss the Bible together? How do they handle their daughter and the Alpha Course? We explore ways to make a marriage work when one spouse believes and the other does not.
This has been a major theme of Secular Grace: that relationships are valuable and worth keeping even when we disagree on faith. And it is our job to love our friends and family through our deconversion process.
This is a 20 Questions with a Believer episode (formerly known as A Believer Interviews the Graceful Atheist). Sarah and I take turns asking each other questions and then crucially allowing the other person to answer.
In these episodes, I will have believers on who I have grown to trust interview me. Rather than try to argue with them I’ll see if I can get them to understand why I no longer believe. The idea is to reverse the roles and have the believer in the skeptics seat asking the questions.
As deconverts, we may find ourselves in the odd position of defending our former faith when believers want to suggest that we must never have been a “True Christian” or that our faith must not have been real. This episode was prompted by a discussion on Twitter on this topic and the genuine and open response from David Hellsten.