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                   Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 7:29PM CDT

The skeptic's responsibility

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One of Christian (or theistic) skepticism's major indictments against believers has been one of a supposed inability or unwillingness to be open to, or even hear/consider at all, information or evidence that might point in another direction than that person's beliefs. Sadly, I concede that this is not an entirely inaccurate synopsis of many, if not most, believers. But what I've found in my many years of studying and scrutinizing (and eventually confirming) my own faith is that many, if not most, skeptics don't follow this principle when it comes to their own non-belief.

I fully support the right of a skeptic to consider all of the evidence for and against faith. I don't believe that even God has a real problem with this. What I do see, however, is that often a skeptic is just as satisfied with poor arguments/sources against the faith just as much as Christians settle for poor arguments/sources for it. I see many web sites cited by hardened skeptics that, in the realm of Biblical scholarship, are about on the same level as 9/11 conspiracy theorists in their actual credibility. Many, if not most, of these blogs and sites are run by amateur, independent crusaders that are outside of their area of expertise in the subject matter, and are by no means actual authorities. Many of their citations are of other similar bloggers/critics, and most of the accusations and assertions are more opinion and conjecture than peer-reviewed, evidence-based historical facts. The conclusions of these sites are often at odds with the bulk of professional scholars and historians (both Christian and non-Christian) who are really the true experts in the material.

For example, the issue of whether or not Jesus even existed is a classic subset of what I've just described. I see many of these popular sites/blogs that proclaim a near certainty that Jesus never existed at all, citing all sorts of objections and so-called 'devastating' revelations trouncing the long-recognized record. However, you will be hard pressed to find a real scholar or historian - one who has done it professionally for decades, has written peer-reviewed publications, and so on - that has any doubt that Jesus was a real, actual, historical figure. It is as if the hardened skeptics are not willing to consider all sides of the arguments, and are being skeptics for the sake of being skeptical. Of course, I could be wrong there, but it puzzles me why they give such uncredentialed sources a commanding influence, while ignoring the true experts in the field. Again, those experts include Christian and non-Christian scholars/historians alike, who are near unanimous in agreement that Jesus was a real historical figure. (Here is an interesting Youtube video someone compiled to that point).

Case in point - I listened to an interview that one of these popular atheist bloggers did with New Testament scholar and historian Bart Ehrman. Skeptics should need no introduction to Ehrman, a well-respected historian on Jesus and NT textual criticism, who nonetheless is NOT a Christian. Him not being a believer I think is a good thing for the sincere truth-seeker, as it removes any perceived bias that might be present in a believing scholar (not that I think believing scholars can't be unbiased and well respected themselves, quite the contrary). In the interview, the atheist blogger pressed Ehrman for a good 10 minutes on the issue of whether Jesus even existed or not. Ehrman kept saying, in essence, that Jesus' existence has never been in question to any serious historian. However, the blogger just would not accept it, continuing to pepper Ehrman, almost belittlingly, with "what about this or that" type questions. Here he was, talking to one of the foremost authorities in the field, and he wouldn't budge. It was if the conclusion was already made in his mind, and despite the evidence laid out before him by a reknowned, respected historian - a NON-Christian one for that matter - he still could not accept it.

It is this type of stubborness by many skeptics today to consider ALL sides of the issue, resting their conclusion on almost laughably rediculous sources, that has really opened my eyes to the true nature of today's predominant Christian skepticism. Almost all of the indictments they levy against Christians: anti-intellectualism, sloppiness in logic and reason, and closed-mindedness - are just as prevalent in skepticism as they are in believers.

If the skeptic's motive is a sincere search for truth, he or she has a responsibility (to themselves) to consider ALL facts and sources, to question their own questions, to give weight to the real experts, and to scrutinize their counter-claims as much as they do the original claims. Whether you are a believer or not, an eternity in some form is waiting on the other side of this life for each and every one of us. I personally wouldn't play so fast and loose with something that determines that outcome. In the end, that choice affects no one but yourself.

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