Interview with Jim Spiegel – Part Two

Today we continue with the second half of our interview with Jim Spiegel on his new book, The Making of an Atheist.  We’re continuing to collect questions for a follow-up Q&A post, and everyone who submits a question is entered into the drawing for a free copy of the book.

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Chris Reese: Your approach to apologetics in the book seems to have a lot in common with a presuppositional stance. Do you find much that you agree with in that method of apologetics?

Jim Spiegel: I’m not a presuppositionalist, but I do appreciate the insight of this approach that sin has a warping effect on the mind, that there are, as Alvin Plantinga puts it, cognitive consequences of sin. And it is just this dynamic that I think explains both a person’s descent into atheism and the ongoing obstinacy of atheists when faced with clear pointers to God. Having said that, I believe the study of the evidences for the faith is profitable in many ways, as it can quell believers’ doubts and clear away obstacles to belief for those who are sincerely investigating the Christian faith.

CR: Mainstream apologetics has tended to pass over issues of psychology and morality in relation to belief in God or Christianity. Why do you think that’s been the case?

JS: There are probably several reasons for this. For one thing, it might seem like a distraction to explore the psychological determinants of false beliefs about God when there are so many positive evidences to discuss, not to mention skeptical objections to refute. Also, it might appear to be an ad hominem fallacy to theorize about the moral-psychological roots of disbelief. But, to be clear, my thesis commits no such blunder, because an explanatory account of atheism, such as I give in my book, is different than an argument against atheism. My book does not aim to prove theism or disprove atheism (though I do mention many noteworthy evidences along the way). Instead, I aim to explain how atheistic belief arises.

CR: What do you see that’s promising as well as lacking in apologetics or Christian philosophy of religion today?

JS: It’s hard not to get excited about all that is happening in the area of intelligent design, both at the cosmic and organismic levels. The data regarding the fine-tuning of the universe is becoming more astounding every day, as is the evidence for design in cellular biology. (That such data prompted the theistic conversion of Antony Flew should make even the most hardened atheist think twice.) As for what is lacking, we badly need to see more work connecting ethical and psychological insights (e.g., about self-deception, moral weakness, the role of the emotions in belief-formation, etc.) to skeptical attitudes toward God and religion. And I would like to see work connecting aesthetics to philosophy of religion (e.g., developing arguments for God and/or against naturalism based on the reality of beauty in the world).

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Can We Trust Our Emotions?

Sage advice here from Dr. Gary Chapman.  I believe emotions are a perceptual faculty that give us glimpses of reality that we probably don’t perceive in other ways.

Why do we consider our emotions as an enemy?  One reason is that we know our feelings change.  The lift us up and they let us down.  Our highs don’t last, and our lows are painful.  We conclude, therefore, that emotions are unreliable.  Perhaps the chief reason is that negative emotions don’t seem to fit with our idea of being a “good Christian.”

Anger, fear, disappointment, loneliness, frustration, depression, and sorrow don’t fit the stereotype of successful Christian living.  The fact is negative and positive emotions are morally neutral.  It is what we do in response to our emotions that leads to good or bad.  Negative emotions call for positive action.  Positive emotions call us to celebrate.  Take time to listen to your emotions.

Have you ever done a Bible study on emotions?  When I wrote The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted Bible Study, I felt it important to include a chapter on “Becoming Friends with My Feelings” because I think many Christians have a distorted view of emotions.  Many people are surprised to discover that Jesus felt depression.  Read it for yourself in Matthew 26:36-46.

We have wrongly concluded that negative emotions are from Satan.  The Scriptures teach that emotions are a gift from God.

They motivate us to take constructive action.  Anger motivated Jesus to clear the temple of robbers and thieves.  Emotions call us to engage the mind and to make wise decisions on what needs to be done.  When we make wise decisions, emotions have served their purpose.

Would it surprise you if I told you that Jesus experienced fear?  Fear is an emotion that pushes us away from a person, place, or thing.  In Matthew 26, Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”  He saw what was ahead and his emotions pleaded for a different way.  Jesus did what we should do with our fear – express it to God.

The proper response to fear is to run to God.  The Psalmist said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.”  365 times in the Bible God says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”  Our fear leads us to God and we rest in His strength to protect.  Don’t put yourself down for feeling fear, just run as quickly as you can to the loving arms of God.

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