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The Case for a Creator, Chapter 1

The first chapter of Case opens with an anecdote from Strobel’s days as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, a story from the 1970s when he went to West Virginia to cover a story of rural communities rioting over evolutionary content in their schools’ textbooks. In some cases that anger had spilled over into open violence, with angry locals shooting at school buses or firebombing classrooms, and at least two people had been seriously injured.

Like many apologists, Strobel loves to proclaim that he was once an atheist and hardened skeptic of Christianity, though he offers little evidence for this other than his own word. In keeping with this depiction, when discussing his past, he never misses a chance to give himself lines like this:

“Crazy stuff in West Virginia,” [Strobel’s editor] said. “People getting shot at, schools getting bombed – all because some hillbillies are mad about the textbooks being used in the schools.”

…”Christians, huh?” I said. “So much for loving their neighbors. And not being judgmental.” [p.8]

He later writes that when he attended an anti-evolution rally in rural Campbell’s Creek and was recognized as a reporter, the crowd turned ugly and he was in real fear of physical harm: “my knees were shaking” [p.14]. He was ultimately permitted to stay, but only because he convinced them that he would be fair in his reporting. The undoubtable implication is that he might indeed have been assaulted if the crowd had not trusted him to give their side a sympathetic portrayal.

What’s interesting is that Strobel never returns to these incidents, or draws any lessons from them. He never even explicitly condemns the violence, other than the extremely mild statement quoted above. No, the worst thing he says (in keeping with his portrait of himself as a former atheist) is that he thought at the time that Christianity was a “dinosaur” and “an archaic belief system”.

It’s reactions like this that make me suspect Strobel’s claim of past atheism was fabricated or, at least, greatly exaggerated. Any sensible atheist, when hearing about angry creationists rioting and blowing up schools, would offer criticisms much stronger than calling this behavior “fringe superstition”, as he does. “Violently irrational” or “terrorist lunatics” would be much better terms, at least to start with. But Strobel shies away from offering any such sharp criticism. Rather than criticize the violence itself, the worst thing he has to say is that these beliefs are old and outdated.

It seems likely that he does this because people like these are his intended audience, and it would not do to anger them with pointed condemnations of their behavior. If anything, he comes perilously close to implying that their reactions were justified, as we’ll see in the next post. Rather, his criticism is all of the “isn’t Christianity old and out of touch” variety, provided so his readers can cheer when he dramatically sweeps it away in the following chapters. Accurately pointing out that these beliefs do not justify violence would not be such a convenient strawman for dismissal.

Other posts in this series:

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...