Thursday, July 21, 2011

For once, I agree with a Christian apologist

I know...  that title might scare you a bit.  Well, the agreement is not quite what you might think.  The apologist in question is none other than Josh McDowell.  McDowell's brand of apologetics is actually quite popular, partly because the level of intellectual effort put into them is so utterly superficial.  Nothing he writes about in his books has been researched to any degree beyond maybe just looking at some stats on Wikipedia (more likely Conservapedia) with the sort of obscene lack of intellectual rigor that can well be defined as status quo for the average fundie down the street.  I'm sure that's what makes him popular as well, seeing as how he puts so little thought into his work that it makes it easy to grasp for the average religious person who also puts similarly little thought into the matter of belief.

In any case, where I agree with him is his current assessment of what constitutes a threat to Christianity.  Just as lack of thought, lack of knowledge, lack of intellectual rigor are rife throughout the attitudes of all apologetics, the presence of though, information, intellect, etc. all serve to work against faith.  So what's the greatest threat to Christianity?  Why, it's the Internet, of course!!

Ordinarily, when you hear fundamentalists bleat about the Internet and how it causes problems, they're usually talking about Internet porn.  And sure, McDowell gets on the topic of pornography as well, but that's not really the focal point as much as it is an extra point.  That too, it's not the point at which I agree with him.  No, he focuses mainly on the access to information being too generic and how it levels the playing field between information pertaining to reason and modern science and information pertaining to faith and archaic mythology.

And this is where he's technically correct.  The fact is that open access to information means you don't get shielded from what you are exposed to.  Whether that is something that is religious apologetics or atheists' various eviscerations of the same apologetics.
“Now here is the problem,” said McDowell, “going all the way back, when Al Gore invented the Internet [he said jokingly], I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”
Well, it's certainly a problem from the perspective of religion, I guess.   For atheists, it's not really a problem at all, but he is right to presume that exposure to knowledge and information will lead to skepticism.  As well it should!
McDowell, -snip-, said atheists, agnostics and skeptics didn’t have access to kids earlier. “If they wrote books, not many people read it. If they gave a talk, not many people went. They would normally get to kids maybe in the last couple of years of the university.” But that has changed now.
What I find most amusing here is how the general sentiment leads down the path of -- "exposing children to knowledge and information is bad."  Knowledge is bad?  Well, more exactly, knowledge other than the knowledge the evangelical crazies want you to know and accept without questioning.  Children should not have the opportunity to learn what other people think.  They should not be exposed to anything that might undermine their blind acceptance of Christianity as indisputable truth.  Any facts that might raise doubts are dangerous and that makes the Internet a threat from which your children must be cut off save for the exposure perhaps to "True Christian" fairy tales.

It's particularly appalling because what he's advocating is teaching kids to be ignorant.  He advocates the idea of raising kids in a bubble "protecting" them from information.  It's funny because he realizes, just as much as atheists do, that the more you know, the more you recognize religion to be a hollow and pathetic charade.  He realizes that being exposed to knowledge of all kinds from various sources, whether it be from arguments against religious faith or even the claims of other religions gives rise to doubt and scrutiny.  That's dangerous to him because religions completely fall apart under even minor scrutiny.  So given that he's so worried that it's all "marginalizing the maturity of the witness of Christ"...  well, he's right to be worried, because what basic logic, reason, and facts show is that there is no maturity at all in the "witness of Christ."  It's nothing more than a systematic glorification of the act of intellectual laziness and anti-thinking behaviors.

A number of my extended family members live in Chennai (formerly known as Madras), which, although being Hindu dominated, has some of the oldest Christian churches in India, and the people there believe that the Apostle Thomas is buried there.  Funny, though, how Thomas is taught to be the least revered of all the Apostles.  He was the one who sought evidence of Jesus' resurrection, and the story goes that Jesus admonishes unto him that believing on the basis of evidence is okay, but to believe without evidence for no good reason whatsoever is a far superior attitude.  I can't imagine anything more deplorable to teach to anyone.  This is all too laughable as well considering that atheists are not worried about scrutiny and doubt because there are actual facts and basic rules of logic to back up our position.  What that really means is that taking the position of disbelief as a default (i.e. as the null hypothesis) is something that can be shown to be correct when put under the lens of doubt and scrutiny.  Same thing goes for any of the positions commonly rejected by theists such as biological evolution, the age of the universe, the possibility of life outside Earth, heliocentrism, General/Special Relativity, etc.

We atheists don't fear questions because information and knowledge is available to answer those questions, or at least elucidate the nature of the problem if no such answer yet exists.  This is something the religious do not like at all.  They revel in their lack of knowledge.  They don't see mystery as a challenge, but as an end in and of itself because they can define their god as mysterious, and anything they don't understand falls in that same category.  Unfortunately for them, not everyone approaches the unknown in the same way, and that becomes the reason why there is so much knowledge available today that we could never have even dreamed of decades ago.  And where is it all?  Why, on the Internet of course!  You just have to go look.  It's all there, widely available.  So yes, I have to agree at least in part, with Mr. McDowell here.  Knowledge is the enemy of religion, and learning and exposure to information is truly the bane of the shepherds who try to keep their mindless herd in line.  Fear not the power of learning, ye pitiful sheep.  The pastures are much greener over here.