On Testing Christianity

Warning, this post rambles and is a bit unmoderated (perhaps aggressive?). It would likely look different if I wrote it in a calmer mood. But what would be the fun in that?

(Did you arrive via the Unapologetic Book Tumblr? Welcome!)

John A. David, at The Critical Eye, linked to an article by Francis Spufford suggesting that atheists are focusing on the wrong things when asking questions of Christianity. Why are atheists asking the wrong questions? To quote Spufford, “Christianity is changing, in ways that turn the case for faith into something much closer to the case for imagination.”

In short, Spufford concedes that God’s existence and Christianity’s truth cannot be proven. “Despite the best efforts of apologists like William Lane Craig, the ‘evidence’ for Christianity’s truth is, in truth, not the kind that science will or should ever admit.” Hold on, Craig doesn’t try to prove God’s existence through science. William Lane Craig and all other apologists that argue for God’s existence and Christianity’s veracity are philosophers and theologians. They are using reason and logic and argumentation to support Christianity. They don’t (nor do they claim to) do science to find evidence for God.

Instead of proof, “…believers mean something different by the word [truth]: something that puts faith permanently in the category of irreproducible results.” Spufford continues, “The most argument over the facts can do for us [Christians]–and it’s very important, of course–is to show that faith is not in conflict with the facts about how the universe works. Beyond that lies a guess we must make, an intuition we must act on.” Here’s more: “the case for the dignity and seriousness of faith becomes the case for the dignity and seriousness of the fundamental human activity of framing to ourselves what we cannot know: in short for imagining.”

Let that sink in.

Christians are fighting against the use of contraceptives in AIDS ravaged countries because of guess work and their intuition?!?!?!? Because of imagining?!?!?!?!?! WHAT THE FUCK???????????

And, no, I won’t take some shitty “Those aren’t real Christians” defense. Nor will some “they’re not truly following their intuition” defense work. Spufford is suggesting that faith claims reduce down to nothing more that guess work and intuition. Because we all exist in a certain vacuum of uncertainty, truth is imagination. Seriously. Fuck. You.

It gets better. Here is Spufford again: “I’m with Coleridge, when he said that the best argument for Christianity is ‘that it fits the human heart.’”

I’ll pause so you can vomit.

In my post about violence committed by Muslims, I stated that religious belief, that faith, plays a positive role in people’s lives. It leads them to positive actions. It gives them a place to ask questions and seek answers. However, it also produces violence, intolerance, injustice. It is multifaceted and deserves to be treated with the complexity so engendered.

Spufford’s article is one of the most trite, puerile, pollyannaish attempts to justify faith I have read in a long time. One of the strongest claims theism has going for it is that, if it is true, the dictates of the god that exists can be treated as absolute and objective. In other words, if the Christian God does exist, and this God does deem immoral the use of contraceptives in all situations, then the people resisting the use of contraceptives (even in AIDS ravaged countries) would be on the objectively right side of morality.

Spufford’s take on faith, as far as I can tell, makes God irrelevant. If belief in God is nothing more than unprovable guess work and intuition, why does belief in God matter?

For example:

(1) I believe in God, and god says stealing is wrong. So, I won’t steal. I don’t know if God exists, and it cannot be proven. But, I have faith that God exists.

(2) I believe stealing is wrong. So, I won’t steal. I don’t know if stealing is wrong, and it cannot be proven. But, I have faith that stealing is wrong.

What’s the difference, on Spufford’s account of faith as ‘imagination’? Honestly, I would like to know. Is there one?

Yes, I know that Spufford thinks God’s existence matters. He says as much. Here’s the quote: “I’m not saying it doesn’t matter whether God exists.” But he doesn’t make it clear exactly what role God is playing that makes Him significant and relevant, yet unprovable. His answer is to give some steeped in theology quote from St. Paul.

Spufford, to what do you appeal to verify St. Paul’s quote? I don’t mean whether or not St. Paul actually said it. I mean, how do you know what St. Paul meant with his words? Apparently, you “know” by imagination, guess work, and intuition.

One last thing, going back to the Coleridge quote, if Christianity just “fits the human heart,” why is more than 2/3’s of the world’s population not Christian?

Look, I think Spufford is correct on something. Human beings genuinely care about their lives. The want to live them well. They want their lives to be fulfilling, meaningful, rich, and virtuous. I understand why Spufford wants to move away from ‘Faith-as-God-exists’ to ‘Faith-as-that-which-matters-in-our-lives.’

But Christianity is more than that. Not all Christians are like Spufford. Christianity’s waning influence doesn’t mean that the claims of Christianity become unprovable guess work and imagination. It suggests they may be false. Which is good. Because then we can tell those people in AIDS ravaged countries to go ahead and use contraceptives. We can tell women they’re more then help meets. We can live humanely without the unnecessary need to insist on praise to an irrelevant deity.

My first posts on the page were on a similar topic (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). The move to try and make faith claims untouchable to confirmation and disconfirmation just makes them irrelevant. And this move seems to misunderstand knowledge. Yes, we humans can never (it seems) acquire knowledge with absolute certainty. But we don’t need absolute certainty to know things. If you need to make your faith unchallengable to keep it safe from critique, you should probably just abandon it altogether. It’s probably bunk.



  1. Pingback: On Being Kinda Embarrassed | The Caveat Lector
  2. tmso · November 14, 2013

    I don’t think you need to be embarrassed by this. It is raw, indeed, but it is also your initial reaction to that article, which is perfectly valid.

    • thecaveatlector · November 14, 2013

      Thank you. A little validation never hurts. Embarrassed might be a little strong, but the situation definitely had a bit of Murphy’s Law to it. BTW, how is it that I haven’t been following your blog all this time? Issue rectified.

      • tmso · November 15, 2013

        No worries. I don’t often blog about atheist stuff on my writer blog. But I do have a book review site that you might be more interested in:

        The problem with that one is that I don’t often review books! 🙂

  3. Pingback: On the Past Month | The Caveat Lector

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