July 20, 2013 Leave a comment
Periodically I get into discussions with both theists and atheists online. Generally they’re useful, if for no other reason than to understand another’s point of view. But several months ago I got into a conversation with a particular theist on her blog, which has become quite enlightening. The conversation itself didn’t lead very far, as we very quickly realised we were in the ‘agree to disagree’ position. Thankfully we realised the reason for this was due to very different educations, and we agreed to try to share these lessons with each other.
This resulted in my recommending her a couple of books, and she several for me. Of all the books she recommended the one that stuck in my mind was, as you may have guessed, ‘The case for Christ’ by Lee Strobel. I’d heard of this book before and heard very divided opinions on it. The believers revere it and the skeptics can’t stand it. Hearing of it again from this passionate lady I resolved myself to rise to her challenge and get the book.
Roughly $100 later I left Amazon.com with copies of ‘The Demon Haunted World’ by Carl Sagon, ’50 popular beliefs that people think are true’ and ’50 reasons people give for believing in a god’, both by Guy P. Harrison, ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ by Bart D. Ehrman and, true to my word, a copy of ‘The Case for Christ’ by Lee Strobel. Maybe not the most balanced selection of books, but I did stick to my guns.
I chewed through ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ and cannot recommend it highly enough. Anyone who has even the slightest interest in the Jesus story should pick up this book. So far it is my favourite book on this topic. What I adore about it is that although it sticks to history, facts and science, it can be read by a believer without having a great impact on their faith. That’s not to say your opinions won’t change (I very much imagine they will, regardless of your beliefs), but it can be read without destroying faith. It is first and foremost a history book, not a philosophy book or debating manual.
Next I read through ’50 reasons people give for believing in a god’ and although it’s not nearly as good as I’d been lead to believe, it’s still worth a read.
Finally I plucked up the nerve to take a look through ‘The case for Christ’ and after only reading a few chapters came to a powerful realisation. This book is just so terrible that I can’t read it cover to cover and then write a blog post about it. It is riddled with so much bad logic, exaggerations, stretching of evidence, wishful thinking and on occasion, outright lies that the only way to truly give a good representation of this book is to read it chapter by chapter and give a report as I go.
What bothers me most about this book is that it is honestly very well written. I actually don’t think Strobel realises what an amazing piece of propaganda this is, as he seems to be utterly convinced by his own stories. But it’s not Strobel’s opinion of his own work that bothers me. It’s the fact that thousands, possibly millions out there are also eating it up, hook, line and sinker. And I truly can’t blame them. If this was the first book I’d ever picked up on this subject I’d be pretty convinced too. Thank goodness I chose to read ‘Jesus, Interrupted’ first, as both books raise many of the same points. Ehrman just does a much better job of it.
Strobel relies on people’s general lack of knowledge about the history of Jesus, and then suckers them in because it’s what they want to believe. It would be deplorable if Strobel realised what he was doing, but as he seems so convinced by his own stories it’s just kind of sad. That said, the number of people who are reading this and believing everything written within deserve the truth so they can make up their own minds about what to believe. That’s what I hope to aid with.
Let’s just take a quick look at the introduction.
Strobel is first and foremost a journalist (a point which we will return to another time), and begins the book with a story of a young man being sentenced for shooting a police officer. A vast array of evidence has been collected against the lad and at the end, he confesses to the shooting in a plea bargain. Everyone thinks the case is watertight.
It turns out the boy is in fact innocent, and the point Strobel wishes to make is that sometimes the same evidence, seen in a different light can lead to different conclusions. Sometimes all we need is to change our mindset. Although this is true at times, the way he goes about ‘demonstrating’ this is deplorable. It turns out he’s been keeping a truckload of evidence from the reader! For example, only one bullet was missing from the boys gun, but both the convicted and witnesses said they saw him fire the gun into the front porch. Shouldn’t that mean that there were two bullets missing from his gun? One for the porch and one for the policeman? Well as it turns out, yes. But heaven forbid Strobel might give you all the evidence up front to make up your mind.
The point Strobel is trying to make is that opinions can influence the interpretation of the evidence. He’s trying to be all scientific. But that’s not at all what’s going on here. The truth is he’s just conveniently ignored some rather damning evidence, which is completely the opposite of scientific. A scientific theory is meant to encompass all the available evidence. If it doesn’t, then you have a great big gap in your theory. You need to account for that evidence, not just ignore it because it’s inconvenient!
Strobel admits up front he was convinced of the boys guilt. But that’s not because the case was truly open and closed. It’s because he’s just not very good at accounting for all the evidence, and can easily be lead astray by the pressure of others (the police in this case). Strobel demonstrates this in the next few paragraphs when he talks about his previous atheism.
In regards to his earlier, atheistic beliefs about Jesus, Strobel admits he’d only ever taken a “cursory look” at the evidence. But it’s quite clear he also only took a cursory look at the evidence for a scientific worldview. He refers to evolution as a satisfactory explanation for “how life originated”. No, evolution only speaks on how creatures changed after their origins. If you want to learn the origins of life, you’ll need to research abiogenesis. This is incredibly basic stuff.
I don’t think Strobel is a particularly well read theist, but by the sounds of it, he was also a poorly read skeptic. And this theme carries on for at least the next few chapters, if not the entire book.
Over the course of the book Strobel interviews 13 academics (but not 1 skeptic – not very journalistic either apparently) and each chapter is dedicated to a new interview. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading each chapter and writing a summary. At the end of each chapter there are a group of questions for further thinking. I’ll also be writing my answers to these.
So brace yourselves. This is going to be a long ride but hopefully a worthwhile one. Let’s dig into ‘The case for Christ’.