Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Faith Lost Pointlessly

It always saddens me to hear stories of young men and women from Christian homes who have gone off to university and purportedly “lost their faith”. The all-too-common phenomenon strongly suggests two things: (1) it wasn’t much of a faith; and (2) the students who truly abandoned the faith over intellectual difficulties placed more trust and confidence in their secular professors, textbooks and the mythical gods of Science and History than in the Bibles they had been reading their entire lives.

We can’t do much about the first problem.

With almost two decades of lead-time influence to work with, parents and elders who fail to model and teach a robust personal relationship with, dependence on, and love for Christ before packing their children off to institutes of higher learning shouldn’t receive all the blame when their charges fail spiritually, but they usually deserve some. The failures of the past should motivate us to up our game in our own local churches with prayer and proactivity.

It is also frequently the case that the temptations of worldly behavior seduce young people away from home. These leave the faith not because of intellectual difficulties but because they are in love with some aspect of sensuality or worldliness. More data will not help these folks, sadly. When they talk about the failings of scripture, it is only a cover for sin, overt or covert. One local church elder recently told me that in his experience, apostasy is 100% behavioral, not intellectual.

Apostles in Attack Mode

But the problem of genuine intellectual conflict with the teaching of scripture is something I rarely see addressed, perhaps because it is so rare. An intellectual foundation for the faith cannot be built only on the positive teaching of scripture. Even the apostles didn’t try to do that. The New Testament epistles explore the theological implications of the gospel narratives about the Lord Jesus, but they do it primarily by reacting to and rebutting the false teachers of the day. They don’t just build up defenses, they frequently attack the enemy and demolish his arguments. Peter learned early on the power of “Lord, to whom shall we go?” as a rhetorical red light to apostasy. To stop following Christ, the honest disciple requires not mere negation, but an alternative way of looking at the world that is more plausible and trustworthy. It does not exist, and the apostles kept proving it.

Galatians and Romans respond to the false view of God as a legalist nit-picker. 1 Corinthians reacts to reports of abuses of freedom that also result from misunderstandings of God’s character. 2 Corinthians reacts to a false view of how God works in spreading the gospel. Colossians stresses the preeminence of Christ in response to philosophers, Gnostics and ascetics. 2 Thessalonians responds to the false claim that the day of the Lord had already arrived. (God’s wrath against sin is WAY bigger than anything that happened in the mid-first century!) 2 Peter is written in anticipation of destructive heretics and scoffers infiltrating the church, and 1 John addresses the lie that Jesus was not the Christ.

Most of the New Testament is written in anticipation of various arguments raised against the Christian faith, armoring the recipients of those letters against the folly of the heretical teachings most relevant to their experience. These books do not just tell us that certain teachings are wrong; they also tell us how and where those teachings fail logically, historically and practically. To the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”, Paul gives both logical and theological answers. To the question, “Is the law sin?”, the apostle offers his personal testimony in dealing with that thorny subject. To the query, “Is God unjust?”, he calls on the evidence of history.

That’s all well and good, we may say, but we’re fighting different enemies today. Of course we are. But there’s no reason we cannot do what the apostles did in showing the weaknesses of the other side’s case, wherever those may be.

A Sham and a Caricature

Christian families who homeschool their children seem to be better at helping their kids build an intellectual foundation for faith by attacking the alternatives, probably because the discipline of teaching a full range of subjects at home opens parents up to consider the multitudinous ways in which the public school system attempts to undermine Christianity in young minds.

Modern science is a sham and a caricature. Homeschooling parents know to take advantage of opportunities to discuss its constantly shifting public face with their avid students. Kids love to be contrary, so teach them to contradict the right people: the proponents of bogus science.

Peer review is a massively flawed process. There is little evidence it actually works, and much to demonstrate it is abused as often as 50% of the time. You may as well flip a coin to find truth as read a science journal. A recent paper by Richard Smith analyzing the universally accepted mechanism of validating and promoting alleged truths about our world concluded with this amazing statement: “How odd that science should be rooted in belief.”

Your kids don’t know this, and they should. A public school education will leave your child uncritically accepting every new pronouncement of scientists as forever settled, when real science is about the ongoing testing of theories so they can be discarded or refined as evidence accrues for or against them. Science is always a work in progress. It is not a religion, but our society treats it with a reverence no religion would ever be granted.

Teach your children to be irreverent about it. The modern educational system needs a little less “go along to get along”.

Bogus Theories Uncontested

The worst of these bogus theories is TENS, which is only accepted and promoted in schools because secular minds have nothing more convincing to offer your children as an alternative to special creation, which they are desperate to make go away. Scientists have known since 1967 that the timeline for fixing beneficial mutations by natural selection or any other mechanism proposed simply does not work. It is orders of magnitude too short. But the mechanisms they propose to generate more rolls of the dice than the timelines currently allow are closer to wish fulfillment than anything resembling evidence.

You can find solidly intellectual dissections of the theory of evolution by natural selection all over the internet today, many of the best ones (and the plain language ones) written by unbelievers. No child from a Christian home should be entering higher education without repeated exposure to these. And yet I constantly meet liberal Christian parents who would never think to question what their child’s science teacher tells them, and have never bothered to find out. As in every other area of life, you get whatever you are willing to put up with. Don’t be surprised when your child apostatizes if you cannot be bothered to equip him to stand against a narrative so feeble that an afternoon’s serious investigation of exclusively secular sources of dissenting opinions should be enough to call it into serious question.

The Biggest Bugbear in the Room

After modern science, history is the biggest bugbear in the room. We are constantly told that various statements in the Bible are “unhistorical” or “false” because they contradict the current, very subjective opinions of hostile atheist historians. We could wait for archeologists to produce new evidence for the reliability of Bible history, as they frequently do, but if you haven’t the patience for that, just start reading Thucydides or Plutarch in your spare time. They will quickly teach your children to take the accepted secular version of history far less seriously than our educational system does. We tremble at the barrage of critiques leveled at the accuracy of the word of God because 99% of us have read nothing secular and have no relevant point of comparison. So go read secular history as translated from the originals, rather than uncritically accepting whitewashed executive summaries cobbled together for dissemination by public school teachers who have not read the originals either.

If you want to understand the depths of depravity to which nations can fall without knowledge of the true God, read Plutarch’s biographies of the Greek and Roman greats. For all the philosophical and intellectual progress they made, those civilizations were debauched in ways most of us cannot imagine. Few stronger demonstrations of the universal, desperate need for Christ exist than a close examination of what the history of our world looks like in places with no local revelation from God and no hope of a Savior. As an added bonus, reading Plutarch will armor your kids against foolish cultural arguments used by liberal Christians to try to loosen up the apostle Paul, as well as providing them with a little perspective on how favorably the writers of Bible history compare to those of secular history.

A Fragile Secular Narrative

Most Christians do not have a solid understanding of the fragility of the secular historical narrative. Plutarch’s constant quotations from conflicting historical sources in his biographies will quickly teach you to hold much more tenuously to everything you think you know about every major event that has ever occurred. It is said the winners write history, implying that we often come across accounts that make bad people look good. This is true, but historians also have to make a living, and the ones who have lasted longest and been widest read did it by opting for liveliness and interest in their material rather than faithfulness to the facts.

Thucydides is called “the father of both scientific history and political realism”, strongly suggesting we should call into question the veracity of all who came before. He produced an account of the Peloponnesian Wars that is the envy of historians, exceptionally well researched for its day. In it, he dismisses his closest contemporary competition, Herodotus, for lack of objectivity, inaccurate reporting, embellishment, the inclusion of fantastical and mystical elements, and inadequate understanding of human nature and the role of chance.

Critics tend to side with one ancient Greek or the other, but the point is this: with disagreements so fundamental, it’s impossible both renowned historians were portraying events accurately or analyzing their causes correctly. It may be that neither was. And these are the best of the best among ancient sources contemporary with the writers of scripture.

When in Doubt, Just Make It Up

By far my favorite Thucydides moment comes in his first book, when he describes the process by which the speeches in his historical masterwork came about:

“With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said.”

Basically, he made them up. I love that. At least he is candid about it. My Bible says men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, so we can trust what they wrote. Believe it or don’t. But the best of human history from the same period says men spoke from the creativity and flawed memories of historians who may or may not have been present and at least one of whom had a tendency to romanticize. Why should we trust them then? Faith, I guess.

Given any real understanding of the fragility and incoherence of the best secular narratives, the lame attempts of the critics to find demonstrable contradictions in the gospel accounts start to look like seriously weak tea. Or maybe raging envy of the confidence with which our Lord’s biographers state their cases.

Faith All the Way Down

Your kids should know it’s not just the Bible that requires faith to believe. Both history and science sit atop far feebler foundations than the word of God, and require you to put your trust, not to mention the fate of your mortal soul, in the hands of others, many or most of whom are demonstrably undependable, and some of whom are provably brazen liars.

Faith lost is always sad. Faith lost pointlessly in ignorance of the facts is sadder still.

Don’t ask your kids to dig up answers you haven’t been bothered to find for yourself. Go, read, enjoy and share. This stuff makes great dinner conversation.

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