A recent incursion of Toxic Christians on this blog reveals a very sore spot for them: false experts. Christian thought leaders claim great expertise in apologetics and other fields, and yet often lack the formal training in these fields that would help them avoid very elementary mistakes and errors. And despite all their mistakes, the flocks themselves neither know nor care that their PROOF YES PROOF is laughably inept and erroneous. Christians adore their false experts, and here’s why–and what essential function they serve as the religion declines.
First, a little background. Lydia McGrew is the Christian culture-warrior who wrote the paper we looked at last week.
She describes herself as “a homemaker and homeschooling mom” who does “analytic philosophy” in her “spare time.” She holds a PhD in English and has written a few papers, most for peer-reviewed journals, two in her own name alone. She doesn’t tend to write about her actual degree field, unless you count her 1997 screed whining about inclusionary language.1 Instead, it’s clear that her real love is philosophy.
Her site is called What’s Wrong With the World. It is subtitled “Dispatches from the 10th Crusade,” because she has no problem at all with identifying with blood-drenched exercises in religious overreach. McGrew describes her site as one defending “conservative and unfashionable political positions,” which means that she tries to make her tribe’s various culture wars sound less inhumanly swivel-eyed than they actually are.
In essence, she’s a perfect example of the Christian false expert. She lacks any real expertise in history. She very clearly hasn’t got even a cursory understanding of biology or anthropology, much less accurate science generally, and no handle at all on opposition concepts like consent.
But she never lets that ignorance stop her from releasing torrents of false information meant to be consumed by her tribe to help them fight their various culture wars.
Just don’t imagine this post today is just about her, though.
We’ve talked about people just like her for years now, ever since the very first year this blog existed. She’s really just a single point on a trendline that’s been established now for decades, one that is a very real strike at her religion’s credibility levels and a substantial part of its current declines. Ultimately she’s just cashing in on one of her tribe’s worst shortcomings. Don’t hate the player, as they say; hate the game.
That trend–that game–is the rise of false experts.
These aren’t unique to Christianity, obviously, but they’re like Bad Christians. Considering Christians’ claims about their religion they should not exist at all. And yet they infest the religion like bedbugs.
The Cruel Dilemma.
Christianity is absolutely rife with untrue claims that believers must somehow, through the magic of rationalization, compartmentalization, and antiprocess, bring themselves to believe. They face impossibly horrific stakes if they can’t manage the trick! The more extremist the Christian, the more likely they are to face this cruel dilemma: an impossible-to-maintain faith in nonsense on the one hand, and on the other brutal punishment if that faith is ever lost.
The big problem these Christians have is that they’re still people, and people nowadays know that it’s foolish to believe nonsense for no good reason. They need reasons to believe–and the people they want to recruit are certainly demanding good and valid reasons to buy in as well.
That need is a problem because reality doesn’t provide Christians any real-world reasons to believe. I know that assertion will make Christians bristle, but it’s still true. That’s the fundamental reason why people deconvert. Ultimately, the only way someone can believe is through sheer faith, but even faith is driven by perceiving adequate reasons for that faith to flower.
So we’re back to reasons either way. And back to the dilemma. Both options Christians face are unthinkable, and yet one must be chosen once a Christian has come face-to-face with the inadequacy of the reasons Christians are given for belief.
The more rational and logical Christians think they are, the worse this dilemma is for them, and the higher their need for anything that vaguely seems like confirmation of their beliefs.
Here, however, we encounter a second problem.
Reality punctures Christian fantasies if it’s allowed to approach too closely.
No, “God” isn’t healing amputees. No, that guy totally did not facilitate a resurrection. No, early Christianity probably didn’t spread like wildfire through lovey-dovey Jesus Aura evangelism. No, Christians aren’t actually better people than non-Christians are. No, no supernatural miracles have ever been credibly supported by evidence.
So apologetics, as a field, has flourished for three reasons. First, many Christians desperately need to believe their own marketing hype. Second, these same Christians have been trained their entire lives to accept apologetics slapstick routines as valid evidence for their claims. Third, they’ve also been trained their entire lives to defer to authority figures.
If one of them forgets these vital lessons, the tribe quickly reminds them with the full force of their Christian love.
Apologists use their cloak of authority to push fallacious arguments onto Christians who want reasons to believe. They seek to quell Christians’ doubts about their religious convictions. They also offer salesmanship techniques that Christians mistake for foolproof recruitment tools.
Because these flocks lack a reliable way to discern reality from fantasy, lies from truth, fact from fiction, Christians have amassed entire libraries’ worth of fake news: pseudoscience, junk and revisionist histories, urban legends long assimilated into cultural consciousness, and assorted bizarre screeds that are supposed to take the place of credible support for their many, many claims about the universe and the supernatural world that Christians imagine exists.
Even if a given Christian knows that some particular claim is erroneous, they can’t really say anything about it–because the apologist is an authority figure. So untrue claims find homes in fundagelical hearts and then never, ever leave. More untrue information is simply added to the stockpile, allowing for the creation of some truly mind-blowingly complex conspiracy-theory-level scenarios.
And then, just for good measure, some later apologist comes along and uses this storehouse of error to create more information based upon it.
Just think about the dizzying column of turtles that apologetics represents!
Apologetics is wrong opinions stacked upon wrong opinions, some of them reaching all the way back into the religion’s very earliest days. Some of these sources Christians use are third-hand and worse, but bless their little cotton socks, they still regard these dubious and obviously agenda-driven sources as being just as valid as a first-hand contemporaneous account would be.
If they had any such accounts at all, I mean.
A Lack of Education and Training Aren’t Automatic Dealbreakers.
Christianity doesn’t need to look like this. Someone who lacks a formal education in history or science isn’t necessarily wrong about every single thing they say about every single topic. But such a person needs to have humility about striding into that field. They must be really careful not to misunderstand important details or push forward errors.
And false experts don’t seem to give a fig about any of that.
As we see in other places where Toxic Christians wilfully ignore and deny facts that are unflattering, zealots can be counted upon to misunderstand why we talk about their idols’ lack of qualifications. I don’t think they want to accept that we’re pointing this stuff out as an explanation for their errors, not as a way to disqualify their idols from consideration in the first place.
So I’ll let a real expert speak about why false experts are a problem in Christianity. As Dr. Hector Avalos, an anthropologist and religious scholar, has written:
Since the rise of the “New Atheism” there have been many Christian apologists who think that they have defeated the arguments of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. A few of these apologists are seasoned theologians and scholars. Others are what I call “hack” writers, who basically cut-and-paste material found in secondary sources, but who do not: 1) check the accuracy of the secondary sources; 2) have the competence to check those sources independently and directly, even if they wish to do so. . . I don’t use the derogatory “hack” writer very often, but I think it is deserved when an author shows a complete disregard for the basic tenets of research and documentation.
Those are the very real mistakes that false experts make if they aren’t trained in the rigors of their chosen apologetics field. They’ll lack the ability to select accurate and representative sources, to evaluate them critically, to put them into context, or to draw from a wealth of other sources when possible to corroborate their ideas–or test them.2
(And yes, this is stuff I think about every time I post.)
It Won’t Cost Much. Just Your Integrity.
Apologetics abounds with self-styled experts who aren’t experts at all. The field itself has such low standards and is so derivative that it’s possible for any self-taught person to enter the field and milk it for success. For every decently educated apologist like William Lane Craig (WLC), who holds advanced degrees in religion-related fields, we can find literally dozens of competing amateur-level huckster apologists like Ray Comfort and David Marshall who literally have no educations at all in the stuff they’re trying to discuss.
What these self-proclaimed false experts have instead are writing and speaking styles that sound persuasive to their target audience of Christians, who can be counted upon not to realize or care that their idols have no idea what they’re rabbiting on about. Apologists are either so lowbrow that their zingers sound easy-to-master and punchy to fundagelicals, or else they are so high-flown and obfuscated that they completely confuse-and-lose Christians, who assume everyone else will be as bowled over by these arguments as they are.
Either approach is extremely dishonest, but dishonest describes apologetics better than any other word could. Even WLC mostly seems to use his good education to abuse debate rules to score false wins at his opponents’ expense, and his pals do much worse even than that.
They can do it because the Christians who bankroll them really have no idea that none of this stuff is close to PROOF YES PROOF for Christianity.
Fake News Outlets Are the Amateur Hour.
Instead of seeking unbiased information from which to form an opinion, these hucksters instead draw upon the column of turtles holding up their belief system. Unsurprisingly, because they in essence assert at the beginning that their beliefs are based in reality, their conclusions confirm those beliefs. Often they will wave whatever educations and training they might have in other fields at their tribe’s dazzled eyes, since they’re so anti-intellectual by now that they can be counted upon to assume that someone with a degree in one field must be an expert in all other fields.
Because these hucksters are simply regurgitating for their flocks the beliefs they already hold, nobody questions them. Nobody would ever dare to plunge to the base of that column of turtles to figure out what the reality of the situation is.
Certainly very few of them even dare to ask the most dangerous questions any of them can have about why this religion’s claims never seem to actually hold up in reality.
All this dishonest and untrue stuff circulates in Christian circles because that is literally all they have. If they had any objective, credible reasons to believe, they’d already have shown it to us. They haven’t, because they can’t.
And gang, I sure don’t have to think hard to figure out why Christians have false experts instead of credentialed scientists and historians working overtime to PROVE YES PROVE their religion’s claims.
NEXT TIME: If you’ve never once heard of anybody who converted through confrontational-style apologetics, you’re certainly not alone. I sure never have. I’m sure it’s happened at least once–it’s a big and funny old world that way–but it’s really not common. And yet apologetics is often sold to believers as a slam-dunk way to both maintain belief and to recruit new Christians. We’ll be looking next time at a Christian group that is totally sure that the brand of apologetics they’re selling is exactly what works to convert people–and we’ll see you then!
1 I tend to use inclusionary language in writing, which is perfectly fine by quite a few grammar people, so I can only imagine her and her tribe’s rage at me just over that.
2 Regarding David Marshall’s cringeworthy debate with Richard Carrier, Dr. Avalos told Marshall, “I’ve seen your debate with Carrier, in which you were clearly outmatched intellectually, theologically, historically, and scientifically.”
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