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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Interview with Jim Spiegel – Part One

It’s a pleasure to welcome Jim Spiegel to Cloud of Witnesses to answer some questions about his recently released book, The Making of an Atheist.

I will post the second half of the interview tomorrow, and as mentioned last week, I will collect a few follow-up questions from these posts for Jim to respond to.  So, we welcome your questions related to the book or the interview.  In addition, everyone who posts a question will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of The Making of an Atheist.

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Chris Reese: What prompted you to write The Making of an Atheist?

Jim Spiegel: As I’ve followed the new atheist movement and Christian apologists’ responses to atheists’ arguments, I’ve been dismayed at the lack of attention to the moral-psychological roots of disbelief. Since this is so heavily emphasized by the biblical writers, I thought someone needed to address it. Also, I wanted to confirm an intuition shared by many Christians who read the new atheists—that their books are more the product of anger and bitterness than an even-handed, dispassionate look at the facts.

CR: What has the response been so far to the book and website?

JS: The response has been largely positive. In fact, I have never received so many encouraging notes from strangers who wrote to thank me for writing the book. But there have been some negative responses as well from some atheists and agnostics who insist that their rejection of God has been purely an intellectual matter.

CR: Many atheists will be offended at the thesis of your book. What would you say to an atheist like this who claims he grew up in a basically normal home and is a decent person, but just doesn’t feel there’s good evidence to believe in God?

JS: I would note that growing up in a basically normal home doesn’t preclude moral rebellion. And regarding those who insist that they are morally “decent,” I would be curious as to what they mean by this. Before I was a Christian there were many things that I considered to be morally permissible—from sexual promiscuity to resentment and certain forms of revenge—which I now recognize to be immoral and even distorting of one’s perception of reality. The fact that a person passes his or her own test for moral decency is hardly reliable as a gauge for their actual virtue.

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Updated Blog Tour Schedule for The Making of an Atheist

Coming to an apologetics blog near you . . .

Blog Name Blogger Posting Date

EPS Blog Joe Gorra February 10-12
Cloud of Witnesses Chris Reese February 14-16
Apologetics.com Rich Park February 22-24
Truthbomb Apologetics Chad Gross February 25-27
Triablogue Peter Pike March 1-3
Apologetics 315 Brian Auten March 4-6
Mike Austin’s blog Mike Austin March 8-10
The Seventh Sola Joel Griffith March 11-13
EPS Blog Steve Cowan March 15-17
Evangel and TeamPyro Frank Turk TBD
Doug Geivett’s blog Doug Geivett March 22-24
Say Hello to my Little Friend Glenn Peoples March 25-27
PleaseConvinceMe.com Jim Wallace March 29-31
Just Thinking William Dicks April 1-3
Oversight of Souls Ray Van Neste April 5-7
Constructive Curmudgeon Doug Groothuis April 8-10
A-Team Blog Roger Overton April 12-14

Interviews with Alvin Plantinga

Image of Alvin Plantinga released by Plantinga...

Image via Wikipedia

[tweetmeme]Alvin Plantinga, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, is one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of the 20th century.

The following videos (about 25 minutes altogether) are of Simon Smart (Centre for Public Christianity) interviewing Plantinga. They talk about reasons for belief in God, the arguments of Richard Dawkins, and personal faith. “Plantinga provides a summary of his evolutionary argument against Naturalism, as well as giving a personal reflection on the highs and lows of a life of faith.”

(HT: Between Two Worlds)


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How Michael Behe Was Pulled from Bloggingheads.tv

Christianity Today gives the story behind this incident, which seems to reveal a selective intolerance toward dissenting ideas.

An online clearinghouse for intellectual debate has discovered the apparent boundary for its controversial conversations: Intelligent Design.

Bloggingheads.tv posted a video interview between journalist John McWhorter and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe in late August focused on the Lehigh University biochemistry professor’s 2007 book The Edge of Evolution. It was taken down the same day after the website received a barrage of online criticism for not asking tougher questions of Behe and for hosting him at all.

The explanation given for pulling the interview: “John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable.”

Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright reposted the interview four days later upon discovering the incident, but Behe says that action didn’t erase what happened . . . (Continue)

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Watch the 10 Best Twilight Zone Episodes Online

Last Friday marked the 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone’s debut on American television, a big occasion for fans of sci-fi, horror and suspense. To celebrate the anniversary, TV Squad pulled together a list of the 10 best episodes of Rod Serling’s show. At the top, you might put the episode called “Eye of the Beholder,” which we’ve posted above. For the remaining nine, visit the TV Squad list and also see the interviews with Rod Serling toward the end of their page. Enjoy.

(Via Open Culture)

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Interview with Roger of Faith Interface

I recently interviewed Brian of Apologetics 315 (here and here) and enjoyed hearing the insights of a fellow apologist and blogger.  Today, I talk with Roger of the very fine apologetics blog Faith Interface and get the scoop on his blog, background, and advice on doing apologetics.

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Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Roger and I live in Queensland, Australia. I have a day job as a health professional, but my real passion is the interface between science, philosophy and the Christian faith. This interest is quite broad, incorporating Christian theology, Christian apologetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion and classical philosophy. I’m also interested in comparative religions, church history, historical theology, history of philosophy and the psychology of belief. The discipline that I find seems to link all of these wide-ranging interests together is Christian apologetics.

How did you become interested in apologetics?

After being raised in the Uniting Church in Australia (a merger of Methodist, Presbyterian and congregational denominations), I recommitted myself to Christ at university. I struggled in the early days under the misconception that as a Christian, I somehow had to bypass my rational mind to experience Christ fully. I truly felt that to be a powerful Spirit-led Christian I needed to switch off my rational mind and ‘just believe’. I had been told that my rational mind was an impediment to “true spirituality” and that I needed to convert head knowledge to heart knowledge. After a while, I wondered why God would have created me with a rational, inquisitive mind if he only wanted me to throw it aside and pursue blind, unthinking faith. I gradually realised that my mind was not the impediment to faith that I had been told, and in fact was essential for my Christian faith to mature into one that was robust, defensible and satisfying. So I got to reading anything I could get my hands on, and then a few years ago got an iPod and started listening to a wide range of MP3 lectures available on the Net.

Like most Christians, I have contact with non-believers on a daily basis. Australia is quite a secular and rationalistic culture, so evangelical Christians are definitely in the minority. I must say though, that most non-believing Australians are of the “apathetic agnostic” type, rather than the aggressive and outspoken atheist species, so most non-Christians in Australia are quite content as long as your faith is a private, personal thing that you don’t try to exercise in the public domain. I accepted that for a while and it seemed to work for me – the quite, private, almost apologetic Christian (in the colloquial sense of the word ‘apologetic’!). This was epitomised by the “I’m a Christian, but please don’t hate me” approach. The problem with the private faith option is that non-believing associates then assume you are “one of them” and don’t quite understand when you don’t participate in common non-believer activities with the same amount of ease as they do. Soon however, I realised that the privatised Christian faith was insipid, impotent, compromised and dishonest. So I started to speak out, especially with work colleagues who tend to be more the intellectually-arrogant, university-graduate type of atheist. I realised after ongoing discussions that I really enjoyed apologetic discussions and came to realise that defending the Christian faith against straw man arguments, caricatures, wildly simplistic and inaccurate critiques and charges of “blind faith” and “irrationality” was not only enjoyable, but absolutely essential. I love defending the Christian faith!

What was your purpose in creating the Faith Interface site?  What kinds of feedback are you getting from both believers and unbelievers?

I decided to set up the blog in April of this year. I realised that all this reading, all this listening to lectures and all the knowledge gained through these enjoyable pursuits needed an outlet. I needed to put this to use for the glory of God and His Kingdom. My background in the sciences (particularly the biological sciences) and my other interests in Christian theology and philosophy gave me the idea to start a blog where the interface of science, philosophy and Christianity could be showcased and discussed. Hence “Faith Interface” was born. I think symbols are important, and I put quite some thought into the blog’s logo. The Faith Interface “triquetra” is an early Christian symbol (adopted from earlier pre-Christian symbols) made up of three overlapping “vesica pisci” (a type of ancient fish symbol) and represents the Holy Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. It sits within a triangle, representing God’s sovereignty over science, philosophy & theology. I think it turned out pretty cool and seemed to summarise what I was trying to achieve. At the advice of my blog designer, I started promoting the blog on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and, more recently, Circle Builder.

The interest in the blog internationally and the feedback has been very encouraging. I have interacted with a large number of other Christians through the blog and discussions have been stimulating. They have been very supportive and encouraging. The blog has a good following from non-believers as well and I have a number of regulars who post frequently on the blog and the networking pages. Most of the time, these non-believers are polite and respectful and we have had some excellent and stimulating exchanges. I’m fairly thick-skinned and so the occasional “ad hominem” attacks don’t worry me too much. I figure that if they bother to post and argue, that at least is better than being irrelevant and therefore ignored. I am amazed, though, how simplistic and fallacious some of the arguments put up against Christianity have been. I am not formally trained in apologetics, but there is rarely an argument that stumps me. If I have a particularly challenging question, I utilise a number of professional Christian scholars and apologists that I have met through networking sites. They are always happy to help out, time permitting.

What are the big apologetics-oriented questions people are asking about Christianity today?

I think questions come from two main quarters. Obviously the first type of person is the honest seeker who feels drawn to Christ but has some concerns, some intellectual barriers and/or some ethical questions that are preventing them from making a commitment. They a possibly hearing lots of things in the world about how belief in God and Christian faith in the 21st Century is absurd, irrational, puerile and immature. They may also be hearing that religion is dangerous and that Christianity has only brought misery to the world and should therefore be shunned. They may have heard that to become a Christian, they need to leave their intellect – their inquiring mind – at the front porch and enter the house of Christianity by “just having faith”. They may have met people who professed to be Christians, or at least regular church attenders, who have been rude, manipulative, self-centred and pretty much no different (or possibly worse) than non-believers they know. These honest seekers may need to hear about the rationality of belief in God, the historical reliability of Christian Scriptures, an accurate portrayal of Christian history, or maybe just correct Christian doctrine and that may answer their nagging questions, overcome barriers to faith and open the way for them to come to Christ in faith.

The other type of person is the committed Christian who has doubts in certain areas, feels set upon by non-believers to justify their faith, or are concerned about conspiracy theories commonly circulated in the popular media. They may have been raised or discipled in Christian traditions that shunned the intellect and therefore feel inadequate or unprepared to defend their faith in the face of opposition or criticism. These people probably have the same questions as the first group, but may just need confirmation of what they already know, more detail or a more accurate idea about the major issues.

In particular, in the face of postmodernist attacks on the concept of truth and epistemology, political correctness, religious pluralism and universalism, contemporary Christians may be finding themselves more commonly under fire if they confess to their belief in the exclusivity claims of Jesus and the historic Christian faith. I know that this is a common discussion point on Faith Interface.

In your view, what role does apologetics play in evangelism?  What advice do you have about using apologetics in sharing the gospel?

To me apologetics and evangelism are distinct, but closely interrelated disciplines. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and the flow from apologetics to evangelism is often a smooth continuum. Personally, I’ve never seen myself as having an evangelistic gift, preferring the apologetic approach of defending the Christian faith, correcting misconceptions and highlighting the deficiencies of non-Christian worldviews. In many ways though, evangelism is part of apologetics and vice versa. It just depends on one’s personal emphasis and gifting, and therefore which end of the continuum one decides to jump into. I guess at the end of the day, all mature disciples of Christ are called to be evangelists in some way – be it small or large. It is the thrust of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20.

What is the apologetics “scene” like in Australia?  Do you think it’s much different than in the U.S.?

Well, in general I would say that, compared to the US, Christian apologetics in Australia is more of a decentralised cottage industry. We don’t have an academy of nationally or internationally renowned Christian Apologists as such. I think apologetics happens mainly at the grass roots level – in the lives of individual Christians, in local churches, in Bible colleges and occasionally in secular University campuses. But we don’t have the big-budget, big-name apologetics ministries of the US and Britain – I guess Australia is a numerically smaller country, a proudly secular nation and a different culture in many ways to the US.

Having said that, there are some excellent Australian apologetics ministries gaining international recognition – a shining example would be the Centre For Public Christianity (http://www.publicchristianity.com/index.html) – John Dickson and Greg Clarke from Sydney provide a fantastic multimedia apologetic ministry across a broad range of topics. Their multimedia resources are top class and I often utilise their material on Faith Interface.

The internet and the blogosphere make international apologetics possible for anyone, regardless of geographic origin. So it no longer matters if you live on a continent that sits on the underside of the globe. Hopefully “Faith Interface” will develop into a useful international apologetic resource, originating from down under, and contributing to the glory of God and His Kingdom.

What are your future plans for Faith Interface?  Are there any new directions or developments you can share?

I’m still in networking and “build readership phase” currently. The initial thoughts for the blog were to provide a forum for discussion of the interface of science, philosophy and the Christian faith. As time has worn on, the scope of the blog has widened to broader Christian apologetics discussion topics, discipleship, spiritual formation, ecclesiology – anything really. That’s the beauty of a blog really – you can post anything that comes to mind that might be of relevance and general interest. I’d like to work further on networking with other bloggers and increasing visitors to the blog (aren’t we all!).

After being inspired by the late Robert E. Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time”, I’m soon embarking on a personal experimental pilgrimage into personal observance of the traditional Christian festivals of Advent, Epiphany and Lent (in addition to the usual Christmas and Easter). I have been finding myself getting frustrated by the lack of ceremony, lack of reverence and the directionless approach to discipleship and spiritual formation in the modern western expressions of evangelicalism (particularly in my Australian context). I’m going to experiment with following the historical Christian calendar a little more closely in 2009/2010 and allow the traditional progression of the Christian festivals to guide my devotion times and spiritual formation disciplines. I’m going to use the blog as a kind of diary of my experiences. Watch this space.

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