“What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods…and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers’ barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, page 138
We need neither gods nor goddesses; this world is glorious enough on its own.
My guest this week is Barrett Evans, author of The Contemplative Skeptic. Barrett wrote the book for those who are skeptical but drawn to spirituality. A former evangelical seminarian and ex-Roman Catholic, Barrett is an agnostic who has retained a fascination with contemplative spirituality. Building on what he learned in his divinity, counseling, and historical studies, he draws on hundreds of religious and secular sources in an effort to combine honest doubt with the best of contemplative experience.
Perhaps ironically, dogmatic religions claims now seem to me to critically undercut two of the most valuable spiritual ideals for fallible people – humility in the face of complexity and honesty in the light of human limitations.
We discuss how honesty and humility lead to doubt. Barrett’s look at comparative religion reveals the reasons for doubt and the wisdom of a contemplative life. We ask what does it mean to be “spiritual.”
And as history of religions and other psychological phenomenon show, delusions can be passed from one person to another with some rapidity, especially if they are in close relationships and it is a time of stress or excitement.
The tremendous range of religious diversity is one of the greatest reasons for skepticism towards any particular religious belief.
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 Jimmy. As early as the beginning of 2020 Jimmy was still in the closet trying to determine how he would come out as an atheist and humanist. By mid February he had told his family and was bracing for his church to find out. Jimmy was a serious and dedicated Christian drawn to Calvinism by family and the intellectual rigor.
It wasn’t that I was running away from it. But I think at that point I had internalized that I wasn’t a believer … I realized I was going to have to come out at some point. I couldn’t maintain a charade.
As the years went by and his attempts at self-betterment were not realized he began to be drawn by the pragmatism of Stoicism. He eventually realized that counseling would be beneficial, though this had so far been off the table. Through these active measures he began to see some success at self-betterment.
[Stoicism has] this very pragmatic approach to making yourself a better human … [Stoicism] hit me at a time when I needed something.
Jimmy’s chief concern was not damaging the relationships with his believing friends and family. He was very careful to show them he loved them and had no contempt for their faith.
It is one of these things where I think, this has got to be a band-aide I am ripping off and not a cancer I am injecting into my family. And I am going to do my darnedest to make sure that this works and that they know I love them.
I love these people How can I not harm them? Or how can I minimize the harm?
Jimmy is eminently quotable so here are more quotes from the episode
I had a long list of potentially scary things that could happen … I wanted to see it in writing to remind myself why I am trying to be careful and it is because of people I love. The best people I know are die hard Christians. The would die for their faith. Like I would have 10 years ago.
So I don’t want to harm these people and I don’t to make them think that I think they are idiots … I don’t want to conjure up of images of Christopher Hitchens sneering at them whenever they look at me.
The whole feeling alone thing. That is just hard. All the people you really care about you can’t tell
Jimmy’s book recommendations
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B Irvine
Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary, by Kenneth W Daniels.
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 Leighann Lord, comedian, author and podcast host. She has traveled the world doing comedy and has been on VH1, Comedy Central and HBO. She has co-hosted on Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Start Talk Radio and on CFI’s podcast, Point of Inquiry. She hosts her own podcast, People With Parents. She has written two books: Dict Jokes and Real Women Do It Standing Up.
Leighann went to Catholic school growing up and is now a humanist activist. Leighann was awarded the 2019 Humanist Arts Award for her work as the New York City face of the African Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry.
[First attending humanist gathering]: I had my discovery and my sincerity.
We talk about humanism and what it can add to the conversation about race in America. Leighann handles my naivete with grace and elegance while still pointing out the world is a complicated place and racism is a persistent problem in America.
What [BLM is] doing, I believe is the work and ideal of humanism. Which is human beings realizing that they have a stake. You want to light a candle? That’s great we still going to have to get in here and do this work. And to me that is humanism. Human beings trying to be better humans. Actually doing the work.
Leighann’s podcast, People With Parents, deals with the role reversal of taking care of elderly parents. It is also a raw and real look at grieving the death of parent. We discuss secular grief and the need to be more public about grief as non-believers.
[Regarding grieving a loved one] Everyone is there for you week one. And most of them are saying the absolute wrong thing. So while you are trying to grieve you are also busy being angry.
We geek out about comedy and how it can let truth sneak past our defense mechanisms. Leighann shares her top five comedic influences. She talks about first seeing Marsha Warfield on stage, “I didn’t know we did this. Which tells you the power of role models.”
Leighann’s comedy specials which are available on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Prime have much to say about living in 2020 though they were recorded a few years ago. They cover race, religion, sexism, sex, wealth disparity, and the lack of education in the current administration.
You realize nobody changes their opinion or even starts to hear your side when your finger is in their face. That’s just not how humans work.
My guest this week is Bryce Harrington. Bryce and I have been colleagues off and on at a couple of different companies over the years. But most importantly he and I had a seminal discussion back in 2012 while killing time in an airport. At the time I was a dedicated Evangelical Christian and Bryce has been a life long atheist. Even though I had an ulterior motive at the time Bryce was kind, gracious and genuinely curious as he wanted to understand how and why I believed. As you will hear, ironically, my former believing self changed Bryce’s view of religious people.
And so I went through a lot of my childhood with this kind of weird relationship with religion. It was like, I just didn’t get it, it didn’t make any sense to me. And everyone around me seemed to be just totally bought into it. And I just didn’t understand why.
Fast forward to today, I told Bryce I had deconverted last year. He was shocked and amazed and wanted to understand how I had changed my mind and why I was doing the podcast. This turned out to be a really fun and interesting conversation that I am glad to be able to share with you. We did not pre-plan the questions. What you hear is Bryce’s genuine curiosity. He may have a career in podcast interviews.
I felt very alone. Everyone else in my family that I knew was religious but I couldn’t share with them at all about these questions that I had or these feelings.
We also get to hear Bryce’s story. The isolation and loneliness he felt growing up the only non-believer in his community. That sense of isolation lasted for much of Bryce’s life. I think many of you who are life long atheists or who have just recently deconverted will be able to relate.
You certainly should not be rude to other people but you should also not pretend to be somebody that you are not just for someone else’s sake. And I have found myself in that role from time to time and it is very uncomfortable.
My guest this week is Richard Swan. Richard grew up Catholic, became an Anglican and then moved on to Pentecostalism. He was a worship leader and an active member of the Christian music scene including touring as Graham Kendrick‘s choir director.
He began to notice that regardless of his person life the people responded in worship under his leadership. This began his questioning which eventually led to his deconversion.
It seemed to be working and I didn’t like the fact that it was working because it didn’t make sense to me.
Post-deconversion, Richard is now the director of London City Voices, a non-religious community choir.
London City Voices is so much more than your average London choir… We are a community, a group of friends, an increasingly-large group of drinking buddies… and we are also a dynamic non-religious, non-audition community London choir.
Richard has figured out how to use his passion for music to build a secular community. In our conversation, we talk about the power of music to bring people together, how it can be manipulated and what it takes to be a community builder.
Church can give us a little window on [ the human response to music]. If it’s linked to your belief system it can have an even bigger impact. Or not because maybe your a humanist and you just bloody love music and that is no less of an experience.
My guest this week is David Johnson, the co-host and creator of the Skeptics and Seekers podcast and blog. David is a former Church of Christ member and a pastor’s kid. He was baptized at 7, leading the church in song at 7, preaching at 12, the youth leader at 15 and assistant minister at 21.
Was I the real thing? Pathologically so.
His deconversion process began as he examined the Church of Christ’s doctrine against musical accompaniment in worship. He says “the little things, were the big things.” And if the little things were wrong, what else might be wrong?
You know, I think we might be wrong about that [instrumental accompaniment]. And that was hard for me. It was hard in a way that I am not going to be able to express. For me, if we were wrong about musical instruments, we were wrong about everything.
It was so hard for me to say, not out loud mind you, “I don’t believe there is a god.” And then to say it out loud … alone in the woods where no one can hear.
Today David uses an unabashed polemic approach to counter-apologetics to reveal the problems with Christianity and faith in general. You can find him on his Skeptics and Seekers podcast and on his appearances on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast. You can read the book he co-authored in response to Justin Brierley: Still Unbelievable!
The damage I did on the other side [as a believer] keeps me up at night.
My guest this week is Stephen Barry. Stephen was a Seventh Day Adventist who deconverted while attending college studying theology. When he was exposed to other ideas and other people even within his own faith tradition, this small amount of scrutiny led to deconversion.
I was waiting for that … something; fasting and praying, ask and you shall receive.
After losing the community of the black church, Stephen has found secular community. Though he notes we have a long way to go to be more inclusive of people of color in the secular community.
No voice is going to tell you the meaning of life, you need to go out there and make your own meaning.
Stephen is a musician and a music critic. He blogs about this love of music with great insight on Tublr. We discuss explicitly spiritual music and how we interpret it post-deconversion.
Now I am just more comfortable being who I authentically am.