Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To Search for Truth, it's Best to be a Bit Agnostic

Recently, I have been reading Why I Became an Atheist by John Loftus. It's not a bad look at the topic, and, if you have never explored the arguments for atheism, it might be a good place to start. Be forewarned, however, that Loftus mostly aims his battles against Christianity as opposed to religion in general. This makes perfect sense, since Loftus was once an evangelical preacher with a ThM, earned under Wm. Lane Craig, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Most of his arguments are pretty conventional ones, dealing with such issues as the reliability of miracle stories, the resurrection of Christ, the virgin birth, etc. As might be expected, he gives considerable space to the issue of theodicy-- as does Erhman in his God's Problem. All in all, the book is pretty conventional, but a good read.

His more original contribution is found in Chapter 4, "The Outsider Test of Faith." Here he makes a very good point, not often "caught" by many. It is simply this: If you are seeking truth in a religion (or better yet, if you are seeking the truth of religion) you need to do so as an "outsider." As Loftus points out, most of us embrace our particular faith by accident of birth. If one were born in Egypt, s/he would likely be a Sunni Muslim. Iran? A Shi'a. Thailand? Likely a Buddhist? The US? Probably a Christian.

All of this is significant because our religio/socio/cultural presuppositions will likely color any investigation we make of religion. In short, we will automatically be biased toward the mode of religion in which we were reared. It is hard to see outside of that "frame of reference."

Loftus points out that the only safe default position from which to investigate the truth claims of any religion is not that of another religion. It is not that of atheism. It is that of agnosticism. I agree. What he doesn't tell us, however, is whether anyone can actually so divest themselves of bias that they can achieve honest agnosticism. I am compelled to say that it takes much work and is only achieved by degrees.

Loftus thinks that anyone who goes down the road of the "outsiders test" will certainly end up an atheist. Although Loftus and I do share some concerns, we end up different places. You may read the first three chapters of my book to get a hint of the approach I take at The Recovering Fundmentalist.

If you have never explored the more traditional arguements for atheism, Loftus might offer a good starting point. However, just now atheism is a "hot topic," and there are many recent works from which to choose.

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